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Thomas Abban – A Sheik’s Legacy

Sometimes, it is easy to miss what is going on in your own backyard. My Chicago-based son turned me on to this wunderkind living under my nose. If I read the local press here in Minneapolis I would have been aware of this guy. Voted most likely to succeed by the local entertainment weekly and cover boy of a local monthly glossy.

The album was originally released a little over a year ago on a local (Minnesota) label Deck Night and more recently re-released on RCA.

Abban has an original approach to classic rock.  Some reference points: Nick Drake, Jack White/White Stripes, Nirvana, Bowie and “Going To California” Led Zeppelin.  He reminds me a lot of Harry Styles, but he is more impressive, in that he does not have the industry behind him. This album was created independent of the star making machine.

The album is all over the map stylistically, yet cohesive. It has hard rock moments and jangling folk moments – sometimes in the same song. If you find Greta Van Fleet a guilty pleasure, Abban has the same Zeppelin vibe but with more originality.

Here is an awesome quote from Abban that pretty much defines my own musical taste:

“I’m not so into movements or genres; it’s more the people,” he says. “It’s hard to say I’m a fan of a genre when it includes people I do and don’t react to.”

I am always blown away by debut albums where the artist comes out of the gates fully realized, Thomas Abban has a vision. Abban wrote the lyrics, the music and played most of the instruments.  It is arranged and produced by Abban and Dark Pony/Deck Night. Deck Night is a fully functioning production company and record label in the Twin Cities. It was founded by producer and songwriter, Jon Herchert (AKA Dark Pony). Per the Deck Night website: Herchert “helps artist tell their stories and share those stories with the world.” Well, mission accomplished.

This is an outstanding and impressive debut album. The most striking aspect of the album is Abban’s ethereal voice. Mostly, he sings in an angelic falsetto, but he also has a gritty rock voice when he needs it. I really like the elaborate arrangements, they almost have a prog rock feel to them.

I looking forward to seeing what he is going to do next and to see what he will do live.

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St. Paul & The Broken Bones – Young Sick Camellia

I saw St. Paul & The Broken Bones live when they were blossoming a few years ago. I was smitten. But I was worried about their longevity:

  • Were they just a retro-soul novelty act?
  • Would vocalist Paul Janeway blowout his pipes?
  • As a wise man once said to my son when he was managing a band: “that’s a lot of mouths to feed boy”

But the band has endured. They have passed the five-year mark.

I was into the first album, but it was the live show I saw that hooked me. That live show was better than the LP. You could see the spark in that first LP. I never really listened to their second album. Bought it, just did not give it an attentive listen. We have tickets to see them live next March, so I figured I needed to get hip to LP number three.

Young Sick Camellia is a doozy. Full on 70s soul, before disco broke soul’s soul. Thank god for hip hop restarting the soul progression, but I digress. This has got it all: Al Green/Memphis, Boz Scaggs, Philly Soul, Curtis Mayfield, a little EWF (damn I love soul horns), even a little bit of Robert Plant, but it still has a modernist twist, I dig it.

  • Paul Janeway has learned nuance, no he has mastered it. I appreciate that Janeway has toned down the vocal histrionics. He has an absolutely amazing voice. He has a once in a generation kind of voices. I love how his voice has improved and has become more varied since the debut. This guy should be bigger.
  • The band’s ambition has grown. This is a well planned and executed album. It is an album and not just a bunch of songs. The album explores what it means to be an artsy kid in a redneck world. This is an album that rewards with each successive listen. It is completely approachable on the first spin, but there is enough depth that each listen reveals new surprises. You can focus on Janeway’s voice, the band, the arrangements or the recording – all are rich and rewarding. This is like a complex barrel aged beer – each sip reveals a slightly different flavor.
  • Per their website:

Assigning himself the image of a camellia, the Alabama state flower, Janeway uses his lyrics as a conduit for interpersonal conversation and excision, in addition to pieces of an actual conversation with his grandfather he recorded months before his unexpected death. “I wanted to explore the dynamics and their views on life,” Janeway says. “It’s an extremely personal record—not that I haven’t written personal records before, but this is more in-depth and with a vulnerability that I was maybe scared to try. But you have to have that exposure. I think we’re in a much better place than we’ve ever been as a band. We weren’t totally confident with the ‘retro soul’ label that was thrust on us and we knew we had to explore more ground. Young Sick Camellia is the first record we’ve done that just felt right all the way through, like we’re doing us. Nothing was rushed and everything has intent.”

St. Paul & The Broken Bones have transcended the novelty act of their first album and they are the real deal – a band with a vision and the chops to pull it off. I look forward to witnessing these songs live.

https://open.spotify.com/album/4EN9bVE0g7gUvQlNdPrUhL?si=MkpyJ-hmQK2me3tH749asA

Magpie Salute – High Water I

I recently read Steven Hyden’s latest book, Twilight Of The God’s: A Journey To The End Of Classic Rock. This book is a meditation on classic rock in light of the fact that the original practitioners are dying off. One of my insights after reading Hyden’s book is that classic rock will live on in the hands of younger disciples. Bands that start out as tribute bands or highly derivative bands can evolve into their own thing (so there is hope Greta Van Fleet can find their own voice).

A case in point is the local Twin Cities band, The Belfast Cowboys.  They are predominately a Van Morrison tribute band. They mix in originals and inspired covers (the show I saw included The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait”). Even their Van covers had their own unique flavor.  Ultimately, they are more than a tribute band – they are a neo-classic rock band.

When the “gods” are gone these inspired disciples will carry on. No different from what the Stones did with the blues in their youth. As Dylan says:

“Steal a little and they throw you in jail

Steal a lot and they make you king”

Which brings me to one of the Black Crowes’ founders, Rich Robinson and his latest band Magpie Salute.

The Crowes were a mix of the Stones, Aerosmith, The Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead, The Band, etc. The Brothers Robinson have split and I doubt we will ever hear from the Crowes again, but the upside is that we now have two rivers were there once was only one.

Rich Robinson, whether with the Crowes, solo or now with Magpie Salute, is creating fresh classic rock. He is standing on the shoulders of giants and not mimicking his hero’s, but honoring them by make new music “in the tradition.”

Rich Robinson has combined former Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford and bassist Sven Pipien with guys from his solo career: vocalist John Hogg, keyboardist Matt Slocum and drummer Joe Magistro.

This music explodes with rock and roll swagger. If you are tired of the same old classic rock songs, but want that same spirit in something fresh, give this band a spin. Don’t look back, I have seen the future of classic rock and I like it.

Podcast: Political Beats

If I told you that a politically conservative magazine and website (founded by the icon of American political conservative thought: William F. Buckley Jr.), has one of the best music podcasts I have heard, would you believe me?

Another music podcast I enjoy (Steven Hyden’s Celebration Rock), had an episode titled “Can Liberals and Conservatives Still Bond Over Music?” That episode introduced me to Jeff Blehar, one of the hosts of the Political Beats podcast. He was such an engaging guest and obvious music nerd I was compelled to check out Political Beats. By the way, yes liberals and conservatives still can bond over music.

I have listened to a half-dozen or so episodes of Political Beats and I am hooked. Hosts Scot Bertram and Jeff Blehar invite political journalists and pundits from the right and left to talk about their favorite bands/artists. The basic concept is to talk through a band/artist’s discography. The two hosts and guest, nerd-out album by album. The guest is a super fan of the featured band/artist. So far Scot and Jeff seem to be super fans of everything. I assume I will get to an episode where they show some ignorance, but so far these guys are pretty damn amazing music fanboys.

I listened to a recent episode where they shook up the formula – the guest was the subject itself: David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker discussing the band’s discography along with some tantalizing anecdotes from the two band’s history.

The episodes are roughly two hours, but it is the kind of show you can break up, for example, after each album discussion.  I have yet to hear them get political – they stick to the music despite the sponsorship of a political magazine.

My recommendation is that you look through their archive and pick a band/artist that is dear to you and give it a listen. If you are a music head this will be right in your sweet spot.

 

Corsair – Barrel Aged Gin (Made in Tennessee)

Gin aged in rum barrels, interesting right?  It is gin flavored, but sweeter. This is a brilliant hack.

I like a very dry martini and I am the kind of snob who believes that the gin makes the martini, not the glass. So, I like to think of myself as a gin fan.

Corsair’s Barrel Aged Gin is brown, but don’t be distracted – it still tastes like gin, with a touch of the rum’s sweetness. It is a great flavor. I would not mix it – just pour it over ice or neat. It is such a bright and fruity gin you don’t want to distract it with anything but ice.

Per Corsair:

Barrel-Aged Gin: To craft this spirit, we take our award-winning gin and age it in used spiced rum barrels for 3-6 months. This process imparts baking spice and vanilla notes to the botanical gin, making for a complex and citrusy spirit.

It is a nice desert drink in that it tastes light and fresh after a heavy meal.

I was never a rum drinker. When I used to think of rum, I assumed Captain Morgan. Pretty bad booze as far as I am concerned. But then I had Indeed Rum King and I began to wonder what good rum might taste like. A friend, who appreciates rum like I appreciate whiskey, turned me on to fine quality rum that you sip like a fine whiskey.  With his guidance, I have come to appreciate rum as a legitimate spirit. I am now receptive to beverages aged in rum barrels. This particular Corsair bottle is aged six months in a the rum barrel (it is hand written on the bottle).

I am fascinated by the traditional gin flavor sweetened by rum, a very unique flavor. I am consistently impressed by Corsair. Everything I have tried has been great. Triple Smoke is my favorite whiskey of the moment. Barrel aged gin is a brilliant idea.  Gin – you are now on the brown juice shelf.  You have done it again Corsair!

Charles Lloyd & The Marvels + Lucinda Williams – Vanished Gardens

Whoever’s idea it was to match up legendary jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd with a couple of unique toned guitarists and the queen of Americana is crazy – a crazy genius that is. I was a big fan of Charles & the Marvels last outing I Long To See You. This is a worthy follow up.

The Marvels are Bill Frisell on guitar, Greg Leisz on pedal steel guitar and dobro, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Eric Harland on drums. Several songs have Lucinda Williams on vocals. Vanished Gardens was produced by Lloyd, Dorothy Darr, and Don Was.

I love the combination of Frisell’s folkie jazz guitar, Leisz country twang, Williams’ smokey drawl and of course Lloyd’s charming sax. This would not work on paper, but it works on wax.

I am a jazz and country music fan and typically when you merge those you get western swing. This is something altogether different. It is Americana Jazz, mellow, yet rich. Gorgeous tones ooze out of all the players. It is beyond belief that at 80 years old, Lloyd still sounds on the top of his game.

Low – Double Negative

My introduction to Low was their 2005 masterpiece The Great Destroyer. That album was blessed five years later by Robert Plant covering two of its songs on his Band of Joy album: “Monkey” and “Silver Rider.”

AllMusic describes Low accurately as a:

Indie trio from northern Minnesota who pioneered slowcore with beautiful, atmospheric songs marked by long, unsettling silences.

Double Negative is on the more experimental side of Low’s repertoire. It is filled with noise and stuttering edits. Yet these sharp edges do nothing to diminish the fundamental beauty of Low – they enhance the beauty. It reminds me of the jagged beauty of a frozen Lake Superior winter shoreline.  The weave of Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s voices are beautiful as always. The beauty of those voices, juxtaposed with industrial noise highlights and enhances those voices.

Low’s Alan Sparhawk stated in City Pages that the album is a reaction to our fractured times:

“This is very much a reaction to what was going on,” Sparhawk says. “It’s very much an expression of… sometimes despair, sometimes confusion, sometimes anger. There’s one line in the album [from “Dancing and Fire”] that I keep coming back to: ‘It’s not the end. It’s just the end of hope.’ A lot of the music on the record feels to me like, it’s very obvious that everything is completely flawed, and we are in a dire and almost traumatic situation here. How do you keep breathing? Once our fight with hope has ended, what now? What then?”

This is not easy listening music, but these are not easy times.

Postscript: I recently attend a Low in store performance at the Electric Fetus. They played a short semi unplugged set. Mid-set Alan Sparhawk solicited questions from the audience. After a little Q&A, I shouted out “Beatles or Stones?”  Sparhawk thought a second – I am paraphrasing here – and endorsed the Beatles. He said that whenever he is struggling for composition inspiration, he pulls out the Beatles’ songbook and plays a few tunes. Not to copy them, but to immerse himself into their songwriting genius and to remind himself how it is done – to be inspired by the boys. Pretty interesting take.