Guilty Pleasures

In 1995, Duran Duran released their album Thank You, which after the world-wide success of The White Album, was a bit lackluster. But one thing about the album of covers that I really liked was a small tidbit in the liner notes, “Recreation is the sincerest form of flattery.” For some reason, that stuck with me. In many ways, that sentiment is exactly what I was going for in my newest book of short stories: this nod to recreating elements of local music in a completely new medium felt like the most pure way, as an artist, to give back to the artists that have inspired me.

Many Many Many of Us have visited on air at KWSS. It’s time to give back Amigos.

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Example. Last night I went to a Country Music Album Release at Valley Bar… so The Bayou Bandits came at em Hard Southern Rock, with a great supporting set of genre bending bands.

The Real Fakes opened up the show, and they reached way back with some Count 5. And the crowd at Valley Bar ate it all up!

When it comes to music, I think cover songs can be a bit complicated to judge. A band becomes a band, honing their skills, and learning how to play as a group, on other peoples’ music. As they branch out to playing live shows, many of them start off playing mostly covers before they are ready to play original material. Even when they do have enough originals for an EP, or a full length album, cover songs are still essential to be able to fulfill a 45 minute set list for a live show. What happens, is that fans, or shall we say people who potentially may go to live music events, get this idea that local bands are “just local” or “cover bands”, which at least in my experience seems to come off a bit off the cuff or negative. But here’s the backside blade of the thing, if a band plays all originals that nobody in the venue knows, they are also less likely to engage with the crowd. It is a lot easier to get crowd interaction when you are playing a song that the audience knows. Eventually, they will know your originals enough to sing along… Black Moods shows come to mind. But – early on, a well placed cover can be your golden ticket to a crowd pleasing show.

So when KWSS FM named their Fall Fundraiser Show: Guilty Pleasures it is in many ways a bold, and genius move. Cover events put on by the radio are always pretty fun, I remember one that I went to was Tom Petty vs. Fleetwood Mac, and the bands did covers of one or the other. It was like a Battle of the Bands. It was a great show. It also engages a potential audience that might not listen, or stream, KWSS often, but totally support the mission of community radio. IE – it is a lot easier to invite friends to come on out to a show, specifically designed to play on that idea of a guilty pleasure cover song. You get an audience that knows your tunes… and the potential of grabbing new fans with your performance! It is a win for bands, and it is a win for the community.

This year a host of great bands and performers have come together to offer you their ‘guilty pleasures / sincere re-creations’. This coming Saturday, November 23rd come on out for:

Harper & the Moths: One of the standout bands in Phoenix, most recently Harper opened for UB40 at The Marquee in Tempe, and is hot off a very well received album, Dark Enough to Dance.

Promise to Myself: An alternative pop band from Phoenix, this is one band that I have never seen, and will be looking forward to hearing them for the first time at the KWSS Guilty Pleasures Show. My guess is New Kids….

Gabe Kubanda: is not only a singer and songwriter, but he is also the owner of EPIC PROPORTIONS TOUR which puts bands together for a tour of high schools, parks, and community events that showcase the talent to younger/ under-age listeners. Oh – BTW… did I mention Guilty Pleasures is an ALL AGES SHOW (Youth must be accompanied by adult).

Carol Pacey & the Honeyshakers: This band is an absolute rocking great time to see live. Carol and Andy bring the house down with their energy, their personalities, and their just outright awesomeness! Plus… their new album Bliss is pretty killer!

The Bellwethers: I LOVE this band. They are wonderful people, great musicians, and just fantastic human beings. I am proud to call them my friends. And, by the way, when I hung out with them at Chopper John’s this last Halloween, they played a whole set of Bowie covers….. #JustSayin

Pretty Years: A throw back three piece of guys you just have to know grew up listening to everything from Tears to Fears to OMD to Duran Duran to The Cure and everything in between, these guys are A LOT of fun to see live. They bring great energy, wonderful musicianship, and truly seem to LOVE performing. I am looking forward to WAVES OF NOSTALGIA from their set.

Daphne & the Glitches: I have only seen this band play one time, when they opened for The Bellwethers at Chopper John’s, and they were covering Ziggy Stardust when I walked in. Like Heroes. #NuffSaid

Also performing: Megan & Shane and The Twits Band.

FUNDRAISING IS KEY

KWSS is 100% Independent and locally owned. Like NPR and PBS, KWSS relies on listener support for operational costs: music licensing, promotional materials, broadband connectivity, studio and transmitter facilities, insurance, power, web hosting, etc. Unlike NPR and PBS, KWSS is not part of a larger network of stations. There is nothing else like KWSS on FM radio. This kind of independence – takes support. That is all there is to it.

This year, an amazing way that you can support is through Bravo Pay. If you don’t know about them, go check them out – especially if you are an artist. Bravo is matching donations made during this ENTIRE PLEDGE WEEK. Download it right now!!!

Dinner will also be offered this year from Chef Wade’s Mac N Cheese Food Truck from 5:30 to 8:30 PM. Items have been donated from local artists (signed guitar from The Bellwethers signed by ALL PERFORMERS, and a few Ghost Writer Presents Starter Packs (Spirits of Jerome and Ghost Songs bundled) as well as other artists and retailers for raffle, so get there with your shopping lists! Finally, you can also reserve 4-top tables at the front of the venue for this particular show – $100. General admission to the event is $15.

All pertinent details can be found at the KWSS Website or on their Facebook Event.

Very much looking forward to seeing all of you there…. AND YOUR KIDS !!!

Keep the Greasy Side Down, my Friends !

New Arizona Country: The Bayou Bandits – The Mavericks

It was hot. Really hot! In fact, later we would find out that there was this massive heat advisory in Phoenix, on that late June day, but, well, Swampy Harley and the Indian Man had decided to meet up at Yucca Taproom to take an afternoon ride up to Cave Creek to have some lunch. There is a fine line between Stud & Stupid my friends, and Joshua Strickland and I defined the line that day!

These days everything seems to be a trigger. Whether it is Captain Marvel in Disneyverse or a new Watchmen series on HBO. Somewhere along the line, we forgot how to critically, objectively, THINK. There is an uproar right now about Watchmen being too politically charged. REALLY? My friends, I know I am 45, Generation X, and the Ghost Writer with a Peter Pan complex, but REALLY! Dr. Manhattan is named, MANHATTAN, for a reason. These things were always political! X-Men is about CIVIL RIGHTS folks. Alfa Flight #106 introduced the first openly gay super hero, Northstar in the spring on 1992 (I was a senior in high school, collecting comics), and it sold out in a week! It did not make headlines or cause uproars. Pink Floyd was always political. But when Roger Waters displays, “Trump is a Pig” in Phoenix, people lose their minds.

Why?

Allow me to pontificate, as I usually do – but this one is a bit charged, and necessary. Because we are doing everything humanly possible to SELF – SEGREGATE right now in our world. We move to communities that mirror our values. We enroll our kids in schools (Arizona is #1 in the country for Charter Schools BTW) that mirror what we want our kids to know. We become members of church communities, that even though they may mean well, end up being very insular in terms of where and how we spend our limited free time. We only listen to the news networks that tell us what we want to hear. And we get rid of people that cause us “distress” by labeling them toxic. We are all about creating our own little worlds, and becoming ‘woke‘ on all sorts of issues, but very often we shut down that progression of ideas because of labels, self induced definitions, and stereotypes. Example:, as much as Disney would like us to believe it is moving in all sorts of Progressive directions, it is still a stanch Conservative Platform donor. And we start to realize, as much as we ALL may HATE politics in general, EVERYTHING is political. When schools that educate our children, get to choose the ‘facts’ they teach, and people care more about sameness, than knowledge, we are in real trouble, my friends. There can be no Marketplace of Ideas if people have been conditioned to never speak about anything that matters.

Happy Thanksgiving !!!

When a band sends me an album to review, I listen to it non-stop. Most of the time I will have the album memorized by the time that I review it. I work early mornings at Costco, for five hours a day. It is a great job. And in that five hours, I can listen to your album A LOT of times with ZERO interruptions. After two or three days, I am ready to write. I have been listening to the debut offering of The Bayou Bandits for a few days now. Today at work, a co-worker passing by hears me listening to “Take me Back” and says, “Aren’t you too liberal to listen to that?”

The Ghost Writer Review – The Bayou Bandits

Gumbo As a former English teacher, I am a sucker for a well-constructed extended metaphor. There is really nothing more that I want from this song than my coined hashtag #GotGumbo (at least in this context) to catch on and become a thang! Because honey, when I get home I’m hungry……

Save Me Obviously, right off the bat from the first two tracks, you can hear that The Bayou Bandits are coming at you Southern Rock, they are slinging mud from the sweet dark of the swamp, and they are mixing it up with something here in the Arizona Southwest that is familiar, but unique and special at the same time. You see, look around; especially right now, this time of year, and in this age of change, look at the license plates.

Arizona native sons like me… are rare. And, you know what? That is okay! One of the things that has always made Arizona special is its amazing geography, its amazing people, its amazing weather, and the impact that all of that has on the culture of our amazing state! So… in that context. Keep rockin with this southern. rock/swampy/desert/blues inspired hella thunder fest, and #GeuxTigers

Tip ’em on Back Hopefully, after two years, you are starting to get a feel for the way that I write. It is obvious why I am #indie…. I am unique, and I don’t really fit into a mold. I write what I want, and I express why, and how, their music impacted me in the way that I want to. It fits into the amazing community of artists, writers, radio, bloggers, and bands that is Phoenix! Part 1 of this series on New Arizona Country emphasized the first ‘archetype’ of Country. It is Storytelling. It is weaving a narrative around a character that we care about and emphasizing that plot with a theme. Country music does it better than any other medium in popular music. It is part of what makes it…. Country. This song, is a Swampy tribute to that message. Because at some point…. we have all been there, howling at the ghosts with a bottle of gin.

Kandahar Let’s get some facts straight. Not #FakeNews, real stuff. My grandfather, Norman Clark, was Captain at Fire Station 1 in Tucson, Arizona , and he served in Okinawa during World War II. My grandfather, Albert Tompkinson, was a Tucson Postman, and he served on the German front in World War II. My father in law served in Vietnam. My younger brother served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. And me, I taught English literature, coached debate, write books, and am liberal as Hell! If you read enough of my work, my politics and philosophy bleed through, as happens in most Art… but here is what is beautiful…..

Joshua Strickland is one of my best friends. We ride motorcycles together (more on that in a bit). We both support Marc Norman 2020 as a councilman in Tempe. We can talk about gun control. We can talk about our mutual love of the works of Mr. Luis Alberto Urrea. We can talk about the crisis at the Arizona, and rest of the American Southwest, Border. We can talk about medical reform. And we can ride a Harley and an Indian (more on that in a bit)…. and we are brothers. And as my second New Arizona Country Article discusses, one of the archetypes of Country… is the Everyman. The Hero…. we all know, but might never be on the cover of a magazine.

When The Bayou Bandits release their album THIS THURSDAY at VALLEY BAR… with The Real Fakes, I have it on good authority that this symbol of genre meshing awesomeness… will be repeated. GET THERE.

Rooster – in support of Marc Norman 2020

What has happened in America that said…. if you were on one side of the aisle, you could not see, feel, nor sympathize with the reality that all of us have had our own scars, our own battles, our own baggage…. and it marks us as humans. It ought not mark us as enemies, nor remove our standard of empathy. Why is it that so many people, across Tempe, and of all different political persuasions… support Marc Norman 2020? War… marks people. It is traumatic. People die. People change. People are never the same. People….

What… happened to us? Happy Veterans Day, Amigos.

The Swamp Moons, Birds, and Monsters is one of my favorite local rock bands. They are hard rock. They are metal. I defy you to place The Swamp immediately after the MBAM song, Lay that Bottle Down, on a playlist and not realize that the southern swampy roots of Rock…. infuse music across all genres. As Joshua Strickland himself says, “The Bayou Bandits are a little bit of Swamp water mixed with some Bourbon Street in the Arizona Desert.” These guys are brothers from that same Swampy Desert Goodness.

Take Me Back Today, this morning, a co worker overheard my cellphone blasting Ghost Writer Radio from my breast pocket. I was listening to The Bayou Bandits debut album on repeat… for five hours. That is my process. God this song is groovy! It will get stuck in your head right off the bat… promise! But at that exact moment, this lyric blasted from my pocket. “Well the Southern Pride, it runs deep inside, so don’t you tread on me Mother Fucker!

And the co worker commented, “Aren’t you too liberal to be listening to that?”

It behooves me to say, my friends, of all persuasions, faiths, politics, cultures, and traumatic pasts…. we are being DIVIDED. Our news is not meant to be a one dose of one side, that has been bought and paid for. What happened to Walter Cronkite? I coached Speech & Debate at Blue Ridge High School in Pinetop, Arizona. I took me team to Harvard…. twice. When my wife and I left Pinetop, Speech & Debate died, as are many Arts programs across this great State. Let me tell you a secret.

Let’s say a National Debate Topic is…. Gun Control. A team does not get to Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts from Pinetop, Arizona without being able to debate both sides of the issues. On a coin flip. That does not happen if you only watch FOX. That does not happen if you only watch CNN.

I can support Bernie Sanders, love Elizabeth Warren, applaud AOC, adore FDR, mourn for Kennedy, ride motorcycles with Joshua Strickland (an Army Veteran AND Registered Nurse) and wish Trump took lessons about National Parks from Teddy….. all at the same time. That is the beauty of Marc Norman 2020. We have lost that. We should remedy this.

Dixie Ass So… it was HOT. Really hot. And along the way from Yucca Taproom to Cave Creek, certain statements were uttered about a certain Swampy Musician’s Harley Davidson Motorcycle at low end, from the jump at a stop light. Certain statements were made about that Swampy Harley’s capabilities at the high end, opened up on the road. Certain statements about the weight, center of gravity, and general glam of said Swampy Harley were made, and discussions commenced. Let’s get back to facts. The 2016 Indian Dark Horse Thunderstroke 111 Original Release Model is the fastest Chief model Indian makes. Jiibay is my 2016 Dark Horse Indian Motorcycle. Anthony Hopkins starred in a movie called The World’s Fastest Indian.

And well… if any of this offends you…. I guess you can kiss our Dixie/ Southestern Asses.

That’s also…. not #FakeNews

Get out this Thursday my friends! Support a light’s out band, with a fantastic record, that is going to make you want to get down with your Bourbon Street Selves!

And Keep the Greasy Side Down!

New Arizona Country: Jim Bachmann & the Day Drinkers – The Everymen

As a past English teacher, one of the literary archetypes I really enjoyed teaching was The Everyman. In literature, as well as all art presumably, the Everyman is this iconic hero of normality. I spent most of my time teaching American and English Literature, so in the context of my classes, the first real exposure to the Everyman idea was with the English Romantics and then continued by the American Transcendentalists.

An Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

Thomas Gray wrote about the many heroes in the world born to blush and die unseen, never remembered, but no less heroic. They are now names in an old church cemetery, and like flowers that grow far from where feet tread, they were no less beautiful. Henry David Thoreau traveled to a cabin on the outskirts of Boston so that he could remember what life was like when every moment mattered outside of a mundane routine. In doing so he immortalized the idea that rather than sucking the marrow from life, we live lives marching in lines like ants. The difference between the two ideas, being that Gray, a Romantic, and Thoreau, a Transcendentalist, is that Romanticism was still rooted in philosophical contemplation. It spawned Transcendentalism in America, fathered by Ralph Waldo Emerson, as an extension of that meditation into action. In other words Romanticism was Passive whereas Transcendentalism was Active.

from Walden

Enter The Man in Black. (Hopefully you read the first part of this series, my review of Laura Hamlin Love You Most. This dialog intro fits right into my contemplations from yesterday, so yes, here we are full circle, back to Johnny Cash. But here is one thing that makes me shake my head in disdain of how ridiculously branded our culture has become. I cannot even begin to count the number of Johnny Cash shirts I see in Gilbert. Either the middle finger Cash shirt, or the one that looked like a Jack Daniels bottle and says “The Man in Black”.

Let’s look at the lyrics to Man in Black (abridged) shall we.

Well you wonder why I always dress in black / Why you never see bright colors on my back / Any why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone / Well, there’s a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the POOR and the BEATEN DOWN / Living in the HOPELESS, HUNGRY side of town / I wear it for the PRISONER who has long paid for his crime / But is there because he’s a VICTIM of the times.

Well, we’re doin’ mighty fine, I do suppose, / In our streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes / But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are HELD BACK / Up front there ought to be a Man in Black.

I wear it for the SICK and lonely OLD / For the RECKLESS ones whose bad trip left them cold / I wear the black in mornin’ for the lives that could’ve been / Each week we lose a hundred fine YOUNG men.

Well, there’s things that never will be right I know / And things need CHANGIN’ everywhere you go / But till we start to MAKE A MOVE to make a few things right / You’ll never see me wear a suit of white.

Johnny Cash was an Everyman. And I really have a hard time not seeing the hypocrisy in most of the people that I observe wearing his shirts. He is like the sullen shadow of a gargoyle at work who wears black everyday and pontificates about social issues and putting your money where your mouth is. Hmmmm.

Jim Bachmann & the Day Drinkers are these kind of heroes. And that is what is beautiful about true country music. Again, alluding to my musings from yesterday’s Part I of this series, there is this tendency to trivialize the everyday. It’s not political enough, it’s not big enough. It feels like a Lifetime movie. But, it is anything but. It is a celebration, in poetry, just as literary as Wordsworth, or Blake, or Emerson, or Tennyson, or Whitman, or Willie, or Cash, or Haggard, of The Everyman. As a hero. As your neighbor. As you. And that journey, is a Lifetime, and it is common, but it is unique to each of us. Poetry – music – that manages to genuinely tap into that emotion – is necessary. That feel good chord that strums in your soul when you know you have lived a good day and will sleep well that night – is worth celebrating.

Saturday night, hot off being declared Best Local Band of Phoenix by The Phoenix New Times Reader’s Choice awards, Jim Bachmann & the Day Drinkers are going to serve that Arizona Burrito up on the most heavenly paper plate possible, raise a glass, and remind us – each and every one of us – that we ought to take a moment, remember the words of another Arizona Outlaw, and say, “here’s to life”.

Arizona Burrito, the second album from JBDD, is nothing dynamically new. It is nothing you haven’t heard before. It does not bend any time honored rules, or chart new paths into Nuevo Country. But, if you have spent enough time in Arizona, you know you can spend an awful lot of time going to supposedly New, Fresh, Food Network Infused, Handcrafted, wanna be joints looking for something Vitally missing in an old classic, and realize in the end, you just need to keep going to that old family joint that has been there for generations. We don’t want a Nuevo Burrito. We don’t want you to fix what ain’t broke. We want exactly what we remember, what we adore, and what pulls at our heart strings and says, “Yes! Now that is an Arizona Burrito!”

JBDD’s new record is a tight collection of eight songs that you seriously will find it difficult to skip through. Nowadays, I think it is overly easy to be critical of a shorter record. There is this idea somewhere that says it needs to be 10 songs. But think old school. Think vinyl. Think Sun Records. Four songs a side. Tight. You could slide that shiny new record out, put it to spinnin’ and listen to the entire thing in one sitting, maybe using the flip time to get another beverage. Arizona Burrito is that kind of tightly rolled goodness.

The Day Drinkers are: Jim Bachmann, Josh Williams, Mike Lopez, Pete Gonzales, John Rickard, and sometimes Jayson James. But in the studio Jim is joined by a host of talent! Shea Marshall, Todd Chuba, Ray Herndon, Patrick Clark, Jon Rauhouse, Meridith Moore, Mikel Lander, PH Naffah, Tony Martinez, Jerry Donaro and Greg Varlotta, Jennifer Robinson, Greg Muller, Gigi Conaway, Chip Hanna, August Manley and Dallas Moore all are represented in this Arizona Burrito!

Reap What You Sow Arizona Burrito leaps right out of the gate with a perfect, classic, lap steel tribute to every person in the bar. Without being preachy. I think that is one of the things about Country Music that is special. It really is EMO. It is! (Don’t hate me.) But instead of reveling in that Post-Punk “I’m F-ed” attitude, it celebrates it. You are sitting there in the bar, listening to Jim sing, “One day you stopped and you looked around and all you had was gone / You remember thinkin’ to yourself, ‘Lord, I must be living wrong’. And somehow, instead of crying in your beer, you are lifting it up, and just glad there is another schmo that gets it. Without preaching it. Cuz everybody hates that.

Play That Pretty One This song has been stuck in my head for days. I woke up last night and it had become the soundtrack to some fleeting dream that was instantly out of reach, but it was a pretty one. It is a song that just picks and grins its way to the truth that bar stars play songs everybody knows but nobody remembers their names. “You know the one. I know all the words. That pretty one, you know?” And the Barstar says, “You bet. I know the one.” And the song is exactly the way you remember it, as it should be.

JBDD on Channel 3

Last of a Dying Breed If there is a constant in Country Music, going all the way back, some of the most memorable tunes are duets. Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks. Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. Merle Haggard and Janie Fricke. Reba McEntire and Vince Gill. George Jones and Tammy Wynette. Johnny Cash and June Carter. Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, Brad Paisley and Alison Kraus. Well, you need to add Meridith Moore (The Sugar Thieves) and Jim Bachmann to that list. This is one of my TOP 3 on the record. This is everything you want in a country duet, but it isn’t a love song. Not really. It is a tribute to that person that just keeps on keeping on, because, well…. why the hell not? It is an Everyman Anthem.

What You Deserve It seems that there is a song on this record that hearkens back to some classic sound or classic song that you are reminded of. It is not derivative, not in the least, it is almost like a game. You give five people the same stack of Legos and see what different visions they produce. The Blues have often made me think of that. We all know Blues when we hear it, but the range artists are able to achieve within those confines are glorious. This song is like that, and like the rest of the record, it does not try to reinvent the wheel. It celebrates everything about the perfect wheel we ever loved.

Let’s Get the Band Back Together Everyone knows I love Rock. Everyone knows that I loved the Punk meets Country aspect of The Refreshments maybe a bit more than the Country meets Punk aspect of The Peacemakers. Everyone in the bar loves a good rockin country tune, and that is exactly what this song is. It is my favorite song on the record, and a perfect nod to The Everyman in me, that line about trying to live your dream knowing your alarm goes off at 4 AM is exactly, 100% my every day truth. But again, in classic country fashion, the song does not lament these realities. It celebrates, maybe even honors them, and somehow… that leaves us feeling hopeful, rather than hopeless. Even if we are all blooming in the desert, born to blush unseen.

Waitin on a Train Jim delivers a few lines at the end of this song as the track fades into completion, one that totally hearkens back to some of the classic country tunes that I remember, but it also really nails the bittersweet humor of us Every Folk waiting for our ship to come in. “Man, I ain’t got all day. I got things to do. Gettin’ kinda dark out here. Yeah man, I know.” Every time I am reminded that I am not Stephen King. LOL. Cheers, Amigo.

Upside of Down This is an eight track record, and I have already told you that you will find a hard time skipping through it. That said, if I even want to have a skosh of respect as a local critic, I can’t just rave about every single song I hear. This is a great record, but this is the other song I will put firmly in my Top 3. Maybe it’s because it mixes my love of Stranger Things with a Country love song, maybe it is because the poetry is beautiful, maybe it is because it is what Every One of us…. really want. As upside down as it may be or not.

Live Forever Speaking of duets. There are a bunch of really classic male duets as well. Willie and Merle. Brad Paisley and John Fogerty. Alan Jackson and George Strait. Toby Keith and Willie. Waylon and Willie. George Jones and Merle. Alan Jackson and Jimmie Buffett. What I really love about this song though, is the idea of immortality. If you ask kids in America nowadays, it seems every kid just wants to be famous, and figure out the fastest way to get there. That fame is all they seem to see. But there is another immortality, and it is one that EACH of us can aspire to…. to leave the world better than we found it through our children. They are our immortality. This song is a hidden gem on the record, and one that is so understanted in its purity, it is perfect. So again, you better add Dallas Moore and Jim Bachmann to that list. And while your at it, why not give Dallas Moore’s album Mr. Honky Tonk a spin? You won’t regret it.

Jim Bachmann & the Day Drinkers may include a bunch of Gringos, but damn…. they roll one helluvan Arizona Burrito. Get yourself down to the show on Saturday night, pick up a copy of this CD for yourself and that old school country guy you know at work. I’ll see you there, let’s have a beer!

THE DIRTY DRUMMER 2303 N 44th Street Phoenix, Arizona

Keep the Greasy Side Down, Amigos.

New Arizona Country: Laura Hamlin – The Storyteller

I grew up on Country music. And I hated it. In fact, I despised it. The twang. The steel guitar. The nasally voices drawn out in raspy growls and grumbles that always seemed to be singing about things and places that church on Sunday said were bad. My step father loved the honky tonk bars and riding bulls at the local pick up rodeo on the weekends, and my mother had a thing for cowboys. Eventually though, when they settled down to family and domestic life, the collection of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, George Strait, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Chrystal Gayle, Tammy Wynette, and Willie Nelson records just seemed like a source of confusion.

When I did start to gravitate to music on my own, it was darker. I was a child in the 80s with a streak of rebellion, a head full of literature, and a music collection that showed it. I watched a French Joy Division documentary recently that made this connection: the world of punk was all about saying ‘f you’, and the world of post-punk was all about realizing ‘I’m f-ed’. This is very true, and the music that was resonating with me were these heady, UK bands that seemed to have read similar books and had these huge ideas about the world. Nothing in what I was gravitating to musically was taking me any nearer to country music.

Dead Hot Workshop

Perhaps, and in fact, probably, the juxtaposition of these two ideas led me, wrongly I might add, to think that country music was simple. It was just a Lifetime movie with a twang. It didn’t say anything about the larger issues. It was not political, nor academic enough. Then, life happened. And kept happening. And somewhere along the line, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Joy Division, New Order and Nine Inch Nails started to become more and more mixed with Dead Hot Workshop, The Refreshments, Gin Blossoms, and Pistoleros, and the link between my home of Arizona, punk attitudes, and country music started to become more and more pronounced. I mean seriously, can anybody say there was no ‘fuck you’ in Johnny Cash?

The Man in Black

Nowadays, years after the raised middle fingers, the skateboards, the crazy hair, and the eye liner – music is much more holistic to me. It is not about genre, really, at all. It is about poetry, it is about emotion, and it is about instrumentation. I have learned that any human being can write a poem about anything. And that human being can put that poem to a melody that tries to mimic the emotion from where it came from. Perhaps the eventual song will be fueled by rage, perhaps heartbreak, perhaps love. Perhaps one of the voices that communicates that song will be an acoustic guitar, or an electric one, or a steel one, a viola, or a saxophone. But all of them… relay story.

Listen to Love You Most HERE

And I am a storyteller. And this idea brings me full circle to a characteristic of all music, but one perhaps that is highlighted well by the country genre. Storytelling. When I think back to some of my favorite songs in my youth, songs I still know by heart, a lot of Depeche Mode comes out. Blasphemous Rumors, Sacred, Strangelove, New Dress, And Then. Very cerebral stuff. Lots of abstract ideas. Not a whole lot of Lifetime material. But I also think of my parents listening to Marty Robbins El Paso, and that song still plays like a sepia toned film in my head. Lifetime or not.

Listen to Down the Road HERE

This focus on storytelling, and weaving together a human tale with the emotion of music and harmony, is the characteristic that comes to mind immediately upon listening to Laura Hamlin‘s new album Love You Most. A member of the ensemble group Scattered Melodies, in this solo effort Laura’s set of 11 songs that seem to chronicle the scenes of coming of age and leaving home. Nostalgia and innocence, love’s gained and lost, roads of discovery taken, opportunities missed, questions that one is left asking during the journey. She does this by making a country album, but it brings in a wide range of Americana influences. At times, the songs are much more Bluegrass infused, akin to a band like Nickel Creek, other times, they feel most like classic country, more similar to Loretta Lynn, and then finally others are stripped down singer/songwriter songs, almost in the same vein as a James Taylor or a Joni Mitchell. This fusion marks Love You Most as an Americana album for me, more similar to Ivan DenisSlow Burn, which I reviewed a while back than say Jim Bachmann & the Day Drinkers new album, Arizona Burrito, which I will be reviewing next.

The first four tracks of the album seem to focus on the reminiscing part of the story. Lehi weaves a scene of simple small towns, green hills, and blue skies as seen over the handlebars of a child’s bicycle. But that idyllic memory is haunted by the feeling of Spinning Wheels and Love that somehow only feels right when it isn’t. Love You Most is the most classic sounding country song on the record, and it is also probably my favorite. It has wonderfully poignant lyrics, and a great bridge. Illuminate Me is a list of questions, sung simply and beautifully, that paint that scene of a youth coming to a close with the dawning of so many unknowns.

The middle of the record feels like a journey to me. We are going from a place that left too many questions to be answered by staying still. Paradise Awaits is a hopeful, almost ragtime song (this and Real Man feel the most like Scattered Melodies tunes to me, and incidentally, the least country-ish) about hitting the road and feeling that sensation of resurrected freedom. Down the Road, the second single released from the album, similar to Spinning Wheels this is another softer song fused with bluegrass elements. These two songs bring to mind the comparison to Nickle Creek. (Which, incidentally, is not at all bad company!) Waiting, with its beautiful use of Banjo and tempo switches is my second favorite song on the record, with its more hopeful spin on waiting on fate, whereas Into the Blue is the darker side of that waiting, feeling anxious and too drawn from all sides to feel confident with who we are or where we have chosen to travel.

The final three songs feel like arrival. There is nothing about being in a new place, or living a new set of dreams that feels finished. It is not ‘the end’. It means you have the perspective of seeing the twists in the road behind you, but you still feel energized by the River Wild rushing into your future. It means that you have come far enough to be able to see and reflect on opportunities that perhaps you let pass you by in All Reason Denied. And then, in the end, when the bright line of that journey, as is the case with so many of our human journeys, is the longings and learnings of love, perhaps the best most perfect way to close out that album is to turn up the ragtime tempo once again, and set those goals back in order with Real Man. Which, in this writer’s humble opinion is the third stand out track on this record.

Musically, Laura Hamlin called on a town full of absolutely fabulous musicians to help her deliver the depth of sound and sonic stories on Love You Most. Not only does she have Josh Montag and Jack Howell bringing in the rhythm section, (and Mandolin, Lap Steel, and Banjo – Jack!!!) but you have guest appearances from the incomparable Danny Torgesen, co-Scattered Melodies songbird Haley Green, Jack Saba on fiddle, Chaz Fertal on Sax, and Matt Ventre bringing in some additional steel guitar. Love You Most is a delightful album, with several really strong singles, and a depth of Life. Nobody ever said Lifetime had to be Hallmark. In fact, in the really real world… it never is.

Laura Hamlin is releasing Love You Most TONIGHT at Rooster’s Country in Mesa with the support of The Salt River String Band and The Cole Trains. Rooster’s is located at 3731 E Main Street Mesa, AZ 85205 and the party starts at 6 o clock!

Keep the Greasy Side Down, Amigos…. while you get your boot scootin’ boogie on!

Like a Phoenix: 120 Hot Minutes

I remember MTV. When video killed the radio star, we were all lined up, racing home from the bus stop to watch that amazing new network that bridged the gap between auditory and visual entertainment. Music videos used to be big business, before they realized people by the millions would tune in to cheap reality TV made on shoe string budgets… then Music Television, stopped being about music.

VH1 hung in there for longer, with great music shows like Storytellers and Classic, and MTV tried again with MTV2, but eventually, the realm of the music video became YouTube, and the goal was not to land on a show like the once amazing “120 Minutes” but to get as many subscribers and views as possible.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot to be said for the power of a well made music video, it is just that now, you need to seek it out, follow your favorite bands, and they will let you know when a new one comes out. There is also a lot of potential in landing your music video in stores that showcase them, like Journey’s, which the local band New Chums has done – twice.

But, wouldn’t it be cool to have a place, where discovery was a show, 2 hours of pure discovery, where you are seeing something that you never even knew existed for the very first time. Never fear: I got you.

Ghost Writer Radio is a new side project of mine. It started as a Spotify Playlist, just really for myself so that I could discover Arizona music, and then get to the shows of the folks that were grabbing my attention. As this website has evolved, I have tried to kinda of distribute “programming” to my various social media outlets, so as to show a reason for this compartmentalization. The first evolution of Ghost Writer Radio was Church of Rock, a five song playlist of Arizona music currently in my rotation that gets released on Sundays. 120 Hot Minutes is my next step….

For now, it is a collection of Arizona Music Videos that you should definitely check out. Here is the criteria for this first edition. I only chose Official Music Videos. No bootlegs, no live camera phone footage, no lyric videos. So, there are a lot of great bands that I love…. but if you did not have an Official Music Video, you did not make this particular cut.

The fact that I can make this quality of an Official Music Video edition, of ONLY ARIZONA INDEPENDENT MUSIC should tell you something. Videos are presented in alphabetical order.

120 Hot Minutes of Arizona Sizzle

The entire 120 Hot Minutes: Volume I, in order, can be streamed from my YouTube Channel as well. Follow this link.

Authority Zero
Banana Gun
Barefoot
Black Bottom Lighters
Break the Robot
Crowning Thieves
Dead Hot Workshop
decker.
Doll Skin
Dry River Yacht Club
Elvis Before Noon
El West
Empire of Dezire
Fairy Bones
Fayuca
Ghetto Cowgirl
Harper and the Moths
I Don’t Konform
Jane n the Jungle
Japhy’s Descent
Jared & the Mill
Jimmie Eat World
Killa Maus
Mergence
New Chums
Paper Foxes
Ryan David Orr
Sydney Sprague
The Black Moods

Keep the Greasy Side Down my Friends.