Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Yonder Mountain String Band: Mountain Tracks, Vol. 5

Written by Fumo Verde

If there were a genre called “high energy bluegrass music,” then Yonder Mountain String Band would be the poster child for it. If you have never been to one of their shows, you are missing something. The level of talent is extraordinary as these four men show how plucking and strumming should be done. This live double-CD pack contains 24 tracks, with some songs only heard at live shows. If bluegrass is your thing, then Mountain Tracks, Volume 5 is something to be added to your collection.

Disc one has eleven songs hand picked by bassist Ben Kauffman who pulled these tracks form live shows ranging from the years 2004 to 2007. “Nothin’ but Nothin’” and “Sideshow Blues” are two song I hope they play at Bonnaroo. “Nothin’ but Nothin’” starts out with a chopping guitar strum as the banjo dances around the bass and mandolin. Though the song only lasts just under three minutes, it feels longer as the music tells a tale of someone who is fed up with another, explaining that this person brought nothing and they will leave with nothing. In other words, don’t come in and try to push this band around.

“Didn’t Go Wrong” is another trip Yonder takes you on. Banjo and mandolin play like a chorus as guitar and bass follow while the lyrics tell the story, “Everywhere I go I keep looking for my baby/ everywhere I look I keep finding she’s gone./ Used to drive her wild, now she’s driving me crazy / damn if the right thing didn’t go wrong / damn if the right thing didn’t go wrong.” Songs like these stay in your head long after you’ve turned off the CD player.

Disc two is from a live show performed in Columbus, Ohio at the Lifestyle Communities Pavilion on July 27, 2007. Listing to this CD you can get a feel for the relationship the band has with their audience. They banter back and forth with each other giving the show a more intimate feel. One of my favorite tracks on this disc was “40 Miles from Denver.” This song is a little slower than some of the others I have mentioned but it still has that foot-tapping beat to it. “Kentucky Mandolin” is different than your average bluegrass tune. The mandolin itself has that old Euro feel to it and when mixed with the Americana banjo sound, these two distinct instruments can conjure up ideas of haunted swamps, far-off bogs, and sleepy hallows all with a southern twang to it.

If you ever go to a Yonder show, and lets say they play three nights in a row, you will not hear the same music all three nights. Each night will contain different songs than the night before so will walk away with an array of music that Yonder has put out over the past decade. Mountain Tracks, Vol. 5 has to be one of the finest CDs YMSB has put together and I’m sure there will be more to come from such an amazingly talented band.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Best Of Steve Riley And The Mamou Playboys

Written by Fantasma el Rey

When I think of Cajun music I think of a real old-school barber I knew that went by the name Frenchy and was born and made frequent trips back to Louisiana. A very lively fellow was Frenchy and he would always have good Cajun music playing as you walked into to get your hair cut. Most times as you were seated, he would offer you a beer. Back in the day, I was just a kid of 21 and got a hoot out of it. Steve Riley And The Mamou Playboys are a band that I think ol’ Frenchy would have enjoyed and he probably knew all about them, seeing as how they have been on the scene since 1988.

The Mamou Playboys carry on the tradition of Cajun music and add spices of their own to kick it up a bit and get the crowd moving. When they started in ’88, they where a group of young men lead by Steve Riley, who was nineteen, that wanted to play and sound just like the old timers they loved so much. As they gigged around and improved on their sound they began to add more of their other musical influences to forge a sound that is modern yet traditional at the same time. These Playboys have done it well for twenty years now and make it stick to your ears like gumbo to your ribs. The band has gone through a few members in their time, replacing some here and there as needed do to death or departures. This 31-track best-of set is a great way to get to know Steve Riley And The Mamou Playboys and what they do well.

The Cajun sound is solid throughout featuring accordion, fiddle, acoustic guitar, and bass and the triangle for percussion, but the Playboys take it beyond, adding some rock and roll flavor to the mix with the way the electric guitars, bass, and thundering drums are delivered. Classic Cajun jump tunes abound in the likes of “Evangeline Waltz Two-Step,” “Pointe Aux Chenes (Pine Point),” “Laisse-Moi ConnaĆ®tre (Let Me Know),” “Lawrence Walker Medley ” and “Between Eunice and Opelousas,” the later two tunes being instrumental gold. They can even hit you with Southern rock as they do well on “Menteur (Liar).”

On the other side of the coin there are the slow songs that at times have a bluegrass feel to them. “Lovers Waltz” is a slow number that you can two-step your girl around the dance floor to while “Marie Mouri (Marie Has Died)” and “Vini, Jilie (Come, Jilie)” are Cajun tunes that go way back and are actually taken from poems. “Vine, Jilie” has an Eagles type sound to the vocals and arrangement, finding Steve’s voice sounding country. “Marie Mouri” is a mournful track that can be likened to the sound of the Stanley Brothers lonesome hill music.

Group harmony shines bright on “Les Clefs De La Prison (The Keyes To The Prison)” and “La Danse De Mardi Gras (Mardi Gras Song)” and showcase what the boys can do together. While “Je Suis Pas Un Couillon (I’m Not A Fool)” is dripping with a 1950’s R&B vibe much like the bands that came from Louisiana during that time, bands like Cookie and The Cupcakes or Jivin’ Jean and The Jokers. When the boys blend their voices, they sound great, and let me not forget that even though Steve handles most lead vocal chores there are tunes where other band members take the mic.

To close each disc the Playboys switch up a bit and add a Rubboard to the mix for two outstanding Zydeco numbers: “King Zydeco” on the first while “Zarico Est Pas Sale (Zydeco Is Not Salty)” closes out the two-disc set. Both cuts jump and make you move, showing again that Steve Riley And The Mamou Playboys can handle all styles with ease and putting their own little spin to them. If you’re a fan, then you should have this material already. If you’re not, you will be after you go out and grab this fine collection of the Best Of Steve Riley And The Mamou Playboys.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Morning Benders:Talking Through Tin Cans

Written by Fantasma el Rey

The Morning Benders have arrived with their debut with CD, Talking Through Tin Cans, carrying with them a sound that is definitely thicker and stronger than tin. Through eleven self-penned tracks these lads, lead by Chris Chu (vocals, guitars, organs, piano) sweetly pound their songs into your head. Chu’s nasal pleading at times borders on whinny emo but is saved by his timing and lyrical talent. Ranking right next to The Kooks as modern masters of the truly great pop tune, stripping the sound back to the days of ’60s legends The Beatles, The Kinks and Count Five. And all just two minutes and thirty seconds over half an hour.

Jump starting the disc with “Damnit Anna,” The Morning Benders show just where they are going to take you on the journey that is Talking Through Tin Cans. Guitars jingle as Chu’s vocals take front and center until the big rumble drums plow forward to let you know they’re going to be a force all along the way. Everything pours rhythm from tambourines, drums, and bass to guitars, acoustic and electric. “Damnit Anna” flows right into “I Was Wrong,” slowing half a hair, then moves promptly to “Loose Change,” which keeps the drums heavy, giving off a brawling rockabilly sound as they thump and kick trough the three-minute mark, where most of their songs end up.

Chu has a way of delivering his crafty lyrics that make them stick as he weaves and bends his vocals through each magical ditty, painting pictures of what’s going on in his head. Keeping his songs edgy is his brilliant wordplay and overall song crafting, giving us a further look through his mind’s eye. Fine examples of Chu’s work are heard on “Loose Change” and “Patient Patient.” “Loose Change” finds our lovestruck hero working long and hard to get his baby to hit him with the truth of what’s on her mind. “Be my mirror/ Show me what I can change…Don’t let me down softly…Why can’t you just say what you mean” and the wonderful “Working too many hours only for your loose change.”

Chu’s is in top form on “Patient Patient,” with “Doctor,doctor…I’m just another book on your shelf/ all it takes is a little commitment/ I’m a patient patient” and “I’ve taken everything you gave me but its not enough/ and I’m running out of love.” It’s easy to hear what is really being said and who the doctor really is but done in a creatively and fun manner, helping the subject mater remain fresh.

“Waiting For A War” is the band’s first single and rightfully so as it spotlights them at their best; it’s playful piano rollicks as drums crash and the bass quietly plucks it’s way along while the guitar scratches chords to make you bop. On the other hand “Waiting For A War” can be taken as a dig on the current state of politics or more love gone wrong and love misunderstood. Chu sings of being tired of living his life like nothings happening and everybody talking and not doing a thing, tired of living like he’s dying and pointing out that talk is cheap but lies are cheaper. Politics or love? Chu leaves the interpretation to you and that’s the way it should be.

The entire time the band, Joe Ferrell, (guitars, pianos, organs) Julian Harmon, (drums, percussion) and David Perales, (bass) stay tight, displaying their skill by the timing they possess. They know when to back off and let the lyrics shine just as well as they know when to push forward and highlight a verse. They come together well showing that their time in the California clubs was well spent. Even as Chu slows up on songs like “Heavy Hearts” and “When We’re Apart,” they come in perfectly following his vocals. These kats can do it all from the funk grooves on “Boarded Doors” to the rockabilly/dark country/ rocking blues beat of “Wasted Time” and the heavy thrash and slash on “Chasing A Ghost,” those latter two tunes are the meanest tracks on the album ringing loud with influences from Johnny Cash to the Cure.

The Morning Benders pulled it all together and gave us Talking Through Tin Cans, a CD that plays well from track one to eleven. Simple themes made interesting by creative music and lyrics is what Fantasma digs the most and these guys deliver. After a good listen you’ll realize how the title binds the album and assists in presenting a complete package and one hell of a debut release.