Greg Antista and the Lonely Streets
Shake, Stomp, and Stumble
Down Orange County, California way, punk music has always held a special spot in the hearts of the locals. Maybe it's because the ultra-conservative John Birch Society had such sway there, and the punks needed to make as much mess as possible to pull their chains. Or maybe it's because the Pacific Ocean isn't that far away, and too much beach tends to fry the brain. No matter which way it happened, punk reigned supreme in the OC for years. Now Greg Antista and the Lonely Streets are pulling out all the stops to keep that tradition alive, and they do it with enough props to power pop and other rock offshoots that it's a glorious mix no matter what it's called. All the band members have plenty of power on their resumes, from the Cadillac Tramps, Adolescents, Final Conflict, Disguster and many more. But it's what Antista and the Lonely Streets are playing today that really counts, and it's a style guaranteed to kick up the dust and put their stake in the dirt. Lead guitarist Jessica Kaczmarek is all fired-up, blasting away with treacherous lead runs which suggest this woman has been lighting herself aglow with all kinds of music since childhood, while bandleader Antista stays jacked to the max and leads his herd home. Los Lobos progeny Louis Perez III weighs in with a vivid cover featuring a pair of skeletons in the throes of the endless boogie, signifying just how timeless this fearless band's music really is. The next time an urge hits to light the fuse and go for broke, head over to Lonely Street, where Greg Antitsta and his group will be waiting at the dark end of the street. Do not wait.
Les Yeux Noirs
For those guitarists who want to jump into the deep end of playing Gypsy Jazz, it only makes sense to be the great grandson of the genre's Grand Poobah Django Reinhardt. Which is exactly who Simba Baumgartner is. Of course, if that was all Baumgartner was, there wouldn't be much story to tell, let alone music to listen to. The big news is that he is also one of the very best guitarists carrying on Reinhardt's prodigious legacy. This debut recording by Simba Baumgartner shows exactly why that is. There is more bounce per ounce than any release like it the past few years, and the guitarist's unrelenting swing guarantees that the blood pressure of those within listening distance will spike pleasingly. Co-guitarists Stephane Wrembel and Thor Jensen join Nick Driscoll on saxophone/clarinet, and the rhythm section of bassist Ari Folman-Cohen and drummer Nick Anderson. At only 21 years old, Baumgartner is like a dream come true for Gypsy Jazz fanatics (and there are plenty): he's one of the new stars who carries a royal bloodline. That doesn't happen that often in modern music, but when it does the lights come on and life feels like everything is making more sense. There is poetry in everything played by this quintet, from Reinhardt originals like "Blues Chair" and "Nuages" to standards classics like "September Song" and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love." In the end, it's as much how the music is played as what songs are chosen, and Simba Baumgartner is just the person to show all how it's supposed to go. Vive la Django.
In the first half of the 1990s, when country music was winding down with the New Traditionalists, singer Marty Brown snuck out of Maceo, Kentucky and looked like he was going to breathe new life into the genre. And he got real close, but in the end Brown just couldn't ride the Nashville train all the way to stardom. After five years the singer-songwriter went back to Kentucky to fish, work on cars and build bird boxes. Yes, bird boxes. He wrote big hits for other artists, but there was still something inside himself that needed to come out. After a 2013 appearance on America's Got Talent, Marty Brown saw a road back to the stage. This new album confirms that when it comes to real country music, young or old, there are very few in the man's orbit. That's because Brown can sing with an intensity and spirit that has few equals, and this time out by partnering with songwriter-producer Jon Tiven he's found the perfect person to show the world what they've been missing. This man is a stone cold country treasure, and there is no way the world should do without him and his passionate populism. On songs like "Umbrella Lovers," "Velvet Chains" and "Mona Lisa Smiles," the Kentuckian is in a class by himself. And when his son steps in to co-write "I'm On a Roll (Better Than It's Ever Been)" with Brown and Tiven, that's about as unbroken as a circle can get. They say they're not many second acts in American life, but if anyone deserves one now it is Marty Brown. An American hero takes a full-blown top-down ride on American Highway. Buckle up now.
The Man from the Hill.
If you're going to play blues in Mississippi, you would be wise to live in Duck Hill. It's not far east of the Delta region, but just far enough away to be its own area. There isn't a massive baggage of previous blues people to compete with, but it's still socked into the Magnolia State's fertile musical proving ground. Willie Farmer is from Duck Hill, and plays music born from what his father and uncle both did. Needless to say, though, Farmer does it his way. His stomp-and-burn attack makes sure it's impossible to ignore what's coming off the bandstand, while his semi-sweet vocals are a seductive vessel for primal wails like "Shake It," "Break Bad," "Fist Full of Dollars" and "Daddy Was Right." There's also a sense of inventiveness inside the songs, which is no surprise considering musicians like Jimbo Mathis, Will Sexton, Mark Stuart and others are in on the studio action with the man. Consider that the 62-year-old Willie Farmer has spent the past 30 years working as an auto mechanic in Duck Hill and is not really known much outside that area, it's like a hidden treasure has now been found and just in time. Mississippi blues singers who actually picked cotton and shucked corn while they were growing up have become a very small lot, but there is something about the way those who did work in those agricultural endeavors early can sing. It's an unmistakable birthmark we won't hear again. For the present day, Willie Farmer is hopefully getting ready to take a victory lap as one of the last of the real Mississippi bluesmen, and share with the world all which that means. It's time to listen up and hear where so much modern music started, from someone who is from that land. Now or never.
Blue with Lou
Lou Reed wasn't much of a co-writer. A few songs with the Velvet Underground, and several more with others over his 50-year career, but at one point Reed and perennial rocker Nils Lofgren got into the thick of it and wrote a lucky 13 songs together. Five of those were never recorded--until now. Lofgren convened a perfect trio at his home studio in Arizona featuring drummer Andy Newmark, bassist Kevin McCormick, several guest vocalists and saxophonist Branford Marsalis on one song, joining Lofgren on guitar and keyboards, and went about finishing what began with Reed over 40 years go. It only takes this first selection, "Attitude City," to know this is a no-fooling treasure no matter how long ago it began. Nils Lofgren has always worn his rock & roll heart on his sleeve, whether it was in early band Grin, his absolutely amazing solo debut album on A&M Records, on through to his inspired work with Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. The man is golden, no matter what he touches. After Reed died in 2013, it fell on his songwriting partner to finally bring the songs out of the closet and into the world. With most tracks cut live in the studio, everything on Blue With You has an instrumental urgency to it, like all the players knew what they'd been asked to finish. Reed's no-nonsense approach to lyrics carries that urban jungle worldview that helped him first make his name in the Velvet Underground, and hearing five new songs never available is a real relevation. Nils Logren throws in with six of his own, including "Dear Heartbreaker," inspired by Tom Petty's passing, and delivers an album as strong as anything he's ever accomplished. There are certain rock & rollers who can be counted on to never stop moving forward. An unrelenting momentum is built into who they are, and there's not much they can do about. Luckily, Nils Lofgren is one of those and he's shared this fine spotlight now with a rock & roll originator. Long live Lou.
Sometimes the end is really the beginning. Not sure exactly what that means, but it seems to make sense. With Memphis' finest Southern Avenue, the last song on their sophomore album, "We're Gonna Make It," is such a time-stopping example of deep soul that it's obvious why it comes at the end. There would simply be no way to follow it. Singer Tierinii Jackson was working her way to the mountaintop on the first eleven tracks, and is surely near the top when she gets to "We're Gonna Make It." With sister Tikyra Jackson on drums and Ori Naftaly slinging guitar, Southern Avenue--with guest bassist Gage Markey--they show what young bands can accomplish when they have all the pieces in place. Their sound is a modernesque Memphis take on rhythm & blues a la Stax and Hi Records, careful to never look too far back in how they approach these new recordings. Luckily, Tierinii Jackson is full-tilt on the future. She obviously spent time singing in the Lord's service, because her kind of vocals can't really come from anywhere else. But she is also careful not to get too churchy, instead working the uptown side of the street so Southern Avenue arrives right out of today's world. As a tip of the past to the greatness first recorded at the Stax studio 926 East McLemore Avenue 58 years ago, singer extraordinaire William Bell makes a guest appearance to prove that age ain't nothin' but a number. Producer Johnny Black blends all this together like a seamless quilt, and Keep On makes a statement that Southern Avenue has a real path to greatness, and the getting there is going to be an intriguing endeavor. New Stax attack.
Indelibly inspired by bluegrass king Bill Monroe, Andy Statman nevertheless follows his own trail. Maybe that's because besides Monroe, mandolinist supreme Statman also cites other artists like Albert Ayler, Junior Walker and Dave Tarras as influences. In other words, the musician has big ears for all kinds of sounds, and isn't afraid to incorporate them into his own individual mix of everything he hears. On this new outing, the so-called Monroe Bus takes an orbital route through all kinds of sonic terrains, and finds a way to stay true to a bluegrass heart, while never getting hemmed in by an overtly retro zeitgeist. Andy Statman is undoubtedly an explorer, and has been since he was chasing the Bill Monroe spirit as a teenager wherever he could find it. Never one to limit himself, the musician also learned to play clarinet and saxophone, performed with everyone from the Grateful Dead to Itzhak Perlman and is featured on over 100 recordings, 20 under his own name. That's working. All that said, Andy Statman just might have outdone himself on Monroe Bus, because he synthesizes all these influences and experiences into one cooking conglomeration. It jumps, it swings, it shouts and it zings, and never repeats itself. That is the true calling of a master musician, which this man most decidedly is. When the urge hits to take a peek into the acoustic cosmos, start right here. Stars be out.
Poppies: Assorted Finery from the First Psychedelic Age
Every so often it's impossible not to want to crank up the cylinders and let music take the soul on a trip to the outer regions of celestial wonder. In other words, dip into the psychedelic age for a taste of the other side of this life. This ultra-suave collection of thirteen songs from the deep catalogs of Vanguard, Stax and Original Sounds Records, is like a crossword puzzle with no clues. Artists, many with a small modicum of recognition, come and go with easeful inspiration, each pulling together to make sure the ride into the cosmos is successful. Southwest F.O.B., The Sot Weed Factor, The Honey Jug, The Human Jungle: the plot thickens on every track. All the artists do their heavenly best to open wide the doors of perception, and while some succeed better than others, there is always an "E" for effort (if not ecstasy, which unfortunately hadn't been born when these songs were first recorded) on the wide swatch of sounds presented. That said, a few more established names weigh in as well with interstellar tracks, like Buffy St. Marie's awe-inspiring "Poppies" and Circus Maximus' righteous"Bright Night Lover," with band member Jerry Jeff Walker showing definite signs of future promise. Improvised beauty marks the way on every song, as well as a shivering sense of discovery for young musicians who were at the dawn of a new age. What it all adds up to is probably better left to less lysergicized minds, but it definitely was fun while it lasted. LSD or else.
Baby Please Come Home
Blues musicians, if they stay true to the inspirations that brought them to the party in the first place, often get stronger as they get older. There is something inherent in the music that says it's aimed at adults. The themes are about grown-up concerns, and the blues itself feels like it's a music for the ages. Jimmie Vaughan has been playing blues for over 50 years. And he would have been playing it longer if Vaughan could have found like-minded souls in Dallas in the early '60s to join the teenager in his head-on pursuit of the holy sound. But it took Vaughan awhile to come up with a band that could bear down on that elemental style where happiness is found in a low-down feeling that frees the soul to get past the hardship that flows through all great blues. And find it Vaughan surely did. When he hitchhiked to Austin in 1969 in search of the freedom to follow his blues muse, the doors flew open for Vaughan and other thrill-seeking players to throw down on what really hit their deepest heartstrings. That would be the blues. Jimmie Vaughan's latest album is his most accomplished yet when it comes to mining the songbooks of America's finest blues people, whether it's T-Bone Walker, Jimmy Reed or Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. Never one to be fenced in, the singer-guitarist also steers his ship of sounds to the songs of Lloyd Price, Chuck Willis, Fats Domino and even Lefty Frizell, looking for the spark to start a fire. Once the whole stage is burning down, you'll know Jimmie Vaughan is in town and is not fooling around. This is blues that is always played for keeps, and to hear someone like this Texan take after it with such soulful savvy is a musical joy like few others. There aren't many others that go so deep and always are able to find what they're looking for. Feeling is healing.
The Wild Reeds
Los Angeles bands really do have their own sound. Maybe it's the endless sprawl of the city that inspires those soaring harmonies. Or it could be all that sunshine, which likely causes people to go a little loco looking for something darker to counteract the light. But most of all it's probably the baked-in cultural freedom of the California lifestyle, where almost anything goes and there's not a lot of resistance to run into. Exploration is the name of the game, and it's full-tilt ahead. The Wild Reeds formed over five years ago with all those influences bumping into each other, and on their third full-length album have most decidedly moved up several notches on every level on the accomplishment scale, starting with songwriting. The three front women--Mackenzie Howe, Sharon Silva and Kinsey Lee--have gelled into an amazing vocal team, one that could go up against anyone now. And the double Nicks (drummer Jones and bassist Phapiseth) in the rhythm section keep the bottom popping with plenty of soulful power. In the end, this release is a quantum leap for the Wild Reeds. Produced by Dan Malod and the band, every song shines with total strength, and a few like "Moving Target," "Play It Safe" and "P.S. Nevermind" point to an unstoppable future for the quintet. Summer is right around the bustling corner, and with the Wild Reeds' music in the air there is no limit to where Sunset Boulevard can go, even if it's right past the Pacific Coast Highway on into that big blue ocean. California or bust.
Bill Bentley © 2019
Bill Bentley was the music writer and typesetter for the original Austin Sun. His book SMITHSONIAN ROCK & ROLL: LIVE AND UNSEEN was published by Smithsonian Books, October 2017.
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