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.

The Return of Bear Ghost

Bear Ghost was going on tour with Okilly Dokilly ! Many of us within the music community here in Phoenix saw that bon voyage as the potential end of an era: the boys were all grown up. Then, the unthinkable happened. The band returned from tour, there was a dramatic departure, and Bear Ghost took some time to think about their options.

Touring is rough. Work relationships are rough. Marriages are rough. Bands are kind of like a little microcosm of all three. Any group of humans in close proximity over prolonged time is an interesting dynamic to negotiate, but add the stresses of tour life and the creative process on top of that?! It is no surprise that touring can be a deal breaker for bands that are ready to make that leap. But the Bear Ghost break was deeper, intensely personal, and flamboyantly public.

Without going into great amounts of depth (after all, that is not what this article is about) the Bear Ghost split fueled a local debate on the nature of our woke culture, and how much good or potential bad, that can do. It brought to mind huge debates in our society, such as the resignation of Senator Al Franken, and looking back on it now, in light of the current United States of Disaster – I am forced to wonder, as do many, if perhaps it has gone too far. The departure was certainly on a smaller scale, but it forced our local community into an interesting conversation.

One of the comments I made very early on in the Bear Ghost Fangroup on Facebook, as the band was deliberating between adding members or regrouping was, “Let’s not forget that Ryan Abel can sing.” I am not going to claim the win here, but… it tickles me to think perhaps it helped nudge his confidence.

At last, the end of the summer arrived, and Last Exit Live was pulsing with anticipation at the highly attended show announcing the band’s return. I was there, with my magical cellphone to capture all I could (video is great, but monitors were close. Consider them bootlegs.) After the show, Andrew, Ryan and Mattx took some time to discuss the Road to their Return.

An Interview with Bear Ghost

Ryan B. Clark (Ghost Writer) : Matt (MattX has managed Bear Ghost for 4 years) I am curious as to some of the obstacles the band faced in coming back after tour.

MattX : We are not so much “back” as we are full steam ahead. The fan base that Bear Ghost‘s music has collected over the years is engaged and they want more.

The success of the tour we embarked on with Okilly Dokilly proved to all of us that Bear Ghost is not just a Phoenix band.

They are much larger. We had fans at every show and some that drove from 8-10 hours away just to see us. It was really awe inspiring. The departure made us refocus and retool, but as anyone that was at the show can see, we are rolling along. The vinyl single for “Haunt, The Cartoon Heart” has dropped and the band has already wrapped up recording another single which should be out in the next month or so.

Ghost Writer : I understand Andrew may have to be candid, but the white elephant, and larger issue here, is that this summer was intensely personal for you. Did the degree of this scrutiny scare you on fame, for your safety, or that of your family? We live in a very interesting age.

Andrew : No. It didn’t scare me of fame. Of course it’s incredibly invasive and humiliating when someone uses their own untrue narrative to harm you on as large a scale as they can manage, and I do sometimes worry for my safety with how extremist our society has become, but I have to fall back on the fact that I know what’s real and I know what’s true. I won’t be deterred from living my life by bruised egos or malicious intent.

Ghost Writer : Thank the Maker! So Apache Lake Music Festival 10 is right around the corner, and we all have our fingers crossed.

We should have definite word from ALMF Staff this week.

And after seeing you at Last Exit Live, I am beyond stoked for what Bear Ghost has in store for us at Apache Lake. But, what is next for Bear Ghost beyond festival season?

Andrew : We are super excited for the upcoming album we’re writing. There’s a lot of factors in play and production might take a while to iron out, but we’re hoping for an early 2020 release. That’s our main focus right now.

Ghost Writer : Ryan, Bear Ghost is a complicated band with a whole lot of moving parts. What were some of the specific obstacles in re thinking song arrangements and the Bear Ghost Show?

Ryan : Even without all of the drama unfolding, trying to shape Bear Ghost after Thomas left has been all at once terrifying and freeing. The most work intensive part has been trying to figure out how to tackle the live show. There’s no way to deny that he was a giant on stage, and I’m used to having half the set free to spin around, play more complicated riffs, goof off, catch my breath, or whatever I need to do.

We’ve had to go back and completely re-learn nearly a decade of muscle memory.

With me taking all of the lead vocal parts, and Andrew taking the harmonies I used to sing, we needed at least another live member of the band. There needed to be someone to fill out the harmonies that Andrew used to sing, as well as play some of the more intricate guitar parts I used to play and could no longer do while singing.

Then there’s the matter of taking all of our vocal ranges into consideration, and re-harmonizing nearly every song so everyone is singing comfortably in their range.

In the past, we intentionally wrote guitar parts as extensions of one another, and because of that, our music can be obnoxious to decipher by ear, so I had to learn those parts to teach to our live guitarist, and I think he nailed it. We only had like 3 parts of the live show where keys were played, and we could have done those parts ourselves, but we decided that not only would we like to rely less on samples in the future (GREAT MOVE, in this writer’s opinion), but we no longer wanted to sacrifice one guitar to have keys. So our live keys player is underutilized at the moment, but his role will greatly expand in the upcoming months.

It’s all to be expected, but it was grueling. And while taxing, trying to finish writing a full Bear Ghost album at the same time has given us a chance to revisit our sound from an analytical standpoint and give us a fresh perspective on the intricacies of what make our songs work. We’ve been able to dissect and understand where it’s a good idea to show more restraint, and where to let our creative excesses flourish.

Ghost Writer : Well, the Last Exit Live show was off-the-rails fantastic! What is the next phase for Bear Ghost?

Ryan : In regards to writing the next phase of Bear Ghost, this was horrifying at first. Luckily, I came back from the tour having written the outlines of about 7 songs. Having lost an integral writing partner of nearly a decade, we decided adding another writing member would be impossible for the new record.

We want it to sound as much like a Bear Ghost record as possible, and while we hear bands much more talented and eclectic in the local scene, we don’t hear anyone doing the precise mixture of whatever the fuck we’re doing!

So, we needed to rethink the way we were writing together, and this has probably been the most surprising part for me. It’s just so much less toxic, more collaborative now than it has ever been, and so much more fun. No one is afraid their suggestions are going to be torn down, and we try everything we can think of, even if we’ve already landed a take of something we like. I’m so excited for people to hear what we’ve got moving forward, and the new single is almost wrapped so hopefully people will enjoy the direction we’re taking. It’s much more Necro, Steven Bradley, 12 Years, and Starkiller but we’ll have a ton of surprises, I think.

Bear Ghost also just took part in the 80/20 Records music showcase in Los Angeles. I took a moment to ask Michael Zimmerlich about the experience. “We just finished hosting a showcase in Los Angeles featuring artists on 80/20 Records as well as special guests to present what amazing talent Arizona has to offer. It was an incredible success and greatly appreciative of all the artists that performed, the venue, and our partners for making this happen.”

Ghost Writer : I do not think that I stand alone, proclaiming, Boys…. We are so glad you are back, and we cannot wait for more!

Keep the Greasy Side Down, My Friends.

Nostalgic Fusion: Popular Confessions with Paper Foxes

My father-in-law is a cool dude. He is Canadian, he was a Marine in Vietnam, he was a disc jockey in Detroit, he interviewed Zappa; the dude knows more about music than anybody I have ever talked to. And he raised my wife. In his garage, there is a vintage poster of the Beatles, a Zappa picture, and a weird poster showing the Periodic Table of Elements but with musicians and composers instead of elements. It was my wife’s chemistry project from high school. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

I have always been fascinated by the concept of art, philosophy, music, poetry, the Humanities if you will, of each generation being an answer or response to that which came before. This is a very broad generalization, but especially in the teaching of literature it became a model to organize information. The Enlightenment is in answer to the Renaissance. The Transcendentalists are the American response to the passive spectator quality of the Romantics. Surrealism pushed the boundaries of modern realism. You get the idea. A similar approach can be taken with music, but it much harder to define with such broad strokes.

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It is really fun, for a music fan, to try to map out the history of music. Like a family tree of influence and creative spark. Or an organized Periodic table that makes sense of how each generation built on and changed and challenged what came before. However, much like a list of the “Top 100 Best Guitar Players” in Rolling Stone Magazine, as soon as it is published, people have something to say about how wrong it is. Music is intensely personal to people, and the way that we bring in and combine influences is something all artists do.

As a music writer, and a music lover, I must admit that I have a very odd relationship with time. Nothing feels old, and it takes Facebook to remind me of life’s little horrors: “On this day thirty years ago…..” and all of a sudden context happens, and my inner Peter Pan shadow strains those stitches, and inches further away. I am continually surprised when younger folks that I work with don’t know bands that I would consider absolute common knowledge. It’s almost like they think Post Malone discovered Ozzy. Then, one day… I had a startling realization. When I was in high school, as the 80s gave way to the 90s, I was closer to the Beatles than kids are now to Nirvana.

Nirvana is more classic rock to our kids NOW than the Beatles were for us. That is crazy.

I am asked one question more than any other when it comes to local music. “Who do they sound like?” And if there is one thing that seems to be very true in music right now, it that everything is about fusion. And fusion, breaks down the easy stereotypes of genre by blending multiple styles and influences. In many ways, this makes it harder than ever to not try to describe local bands by framing them as some derivative of what came before.

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This is why I bring this up. In the late 70s, a band called Joy Division defined Post-Punk, and even though their time was short, they had a ripple effect through music that is absolutely undeniable. With the death of Ian Curtis, Joy Divison ceased, and became New Order. The first New Order album is haunted by Curtis, and feels very much like Joy Division, but the band quickly reformulates their sound, bringing in the 80s with dance pop rhythms over the bands somber introspective and socially critical lyrics. New Order maintains that formula for decades. Eventually, another band rises to the fore that seems to channel everything we loved about Joy Division: Interpol. Two superb movies detail this period of time: 24 Hour Party People and Control and show the effect Joy Division had on almost everything coming out of Post Punk UK.

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RELEASE PARTY !!!!!

Paper Foxes are to New Order as Interpol is to Joy Division.

That will answer that famous question that everybody asks. But does it do the band justice? If a person asked what my writing was like, and people say… he’s a modern day Edgar Allan Poe. Love it. If they say he’s Stephen King, paired with Alfred Hitchcock but splashed with The Twilight Zone. Sure, that is cool too. And it helps people get a sense of what I offer, but it does very little to accurately map the intricate set of influences, skills, subsets, knowledges, and life experiences that eventually combine and weave together to create a unique style.

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As Paper Foxes are set to release their first full length album on the world, I found it interesting to use their 4 year career as a way of dissecting this concept of nostalgic fusion.

Paper Foxes is the brain child of front man CJ Jacobson. In fact, of the first Paper Foxes lineup, only CJ remains. The other two are better known now as members of Fairy Bones. And although CJ tells me that he has moved on from that early sound, and even wishes he could get Spotify to remove the tracks – I reminded him of Ministry’s first album With Sympathy. The one that is quintessentially different than everything else Uncle Al did. But I am still glad it is there, and we can experience it. You are welcome btw.

Paper Foxes released Love & Schizophrenia, a four song EP in 2015. Very much a guitar infused, garage rock sounding endeavor, I actually really like this EP. It is fun in every way rock music is supposed to be; dreaming big with a guitar and driving power chords. No, it is not the greatest recording to every drop out of Phoenix, but there are far worse. What I very much like about this recording though is how it showcases CJ’s vocal as fearless and willing to take risks. It also showcases his sense of vocal confidence, early on. The stand out single on the EP is Chopsticks & Merlot, and one that still finds its way onto setlists from time to time. Very soon after the records release however, CJ rebuilds the band by adding Patro Gaston on keys, and Jahlani and Uche Ujania on drums and bass specifically. Uche, also known as Mr. UU, also sings back up and lead vocals, which has given Paper Foxes a very unique sound and range in terms of vocal style. Marty was also in the band as the lead guitar.

Fresh with a new sound and line-up, Paper Foxes released a second EP, Strawberry Lashes in 2016. It leaps forward stylistically from the previous year’s endeavor. Patro’s sonic keys that lay down a foundation are evident in Nightmares, as is Mr. UU’s powerful vocal that provides a sharp contrast to CJ’s higher tenor. Indica Feels however is the song that leaps out as the earliest example of where the band intended to take us. Patro’s synthesizer is much more pronounced as is the near operatic quality of CJ’s strong voice. Also evident on this EP is the heavy use of guitar distortion and manipulation of the pedal board. Stylistically, this is a sound that has been moved over to Patro’s realm and the guitars are much cleaner on the new record. This evolution is also due to the final band line up, as Marty left the band for creative differences, and Oliver Lemke, of Soft Deadlines, was brought on to lead guitar.

Paper Foxes release their third EP Devil on my Shoulder in 2017. The most striking out take of this four song set is the addition of Mr. UU on lead vocals. Similar to the way Martin Gore harmonized with David Gahan of Depeche Mode on most songs, but took lead on a couple songs a record, Mr. UU sings lead on Breathing Underwater and Not Over Yet here.

But what really starts to set in after two years and fourteen songs is this idea of Nostalgic Fusion. Remember, New Order? Paper Foxes defines themselves as “dance-able guitar riffs, primitive disco-esque bass lines, digital keys, and vocal deliveries that would make David Byrne proud. The band pulls from a well of new wave, dark wave, 70s disco, and indie pop. Fans of Interpol, Joy Division and Bloc Party will have a field day with Paper Foxes.” CJ told me there is this term called “retro future” that is being thrown around, and he admits their most heavy influences are the post-punk revival bands (IE Interpol, Bloc Party, The Strokes, The Rapture) but when trying to market Pop Confessions, the single, folks in the industry immediately called out the use of Post-Punk by saying the band did not fit that classification because they did not sound like Joy Division.

2018 saw the band release two singles. Pop Confessions and Tell Me How You Feel. Paper Foxes now had 14 recorded songs, and was headed in to record their first full length album with Bob Hoag of Flying Blanket Recording.

The interesting thing about Post Punk as a movement in music is that it was so hard to define. It is most easily characterized as a “conceptual assault on rock conventions in favor of experimentation with production techniques and non-rock styles. It also relied heavily on creating a fusion of the arts, where postmodernist artwork, surrealism, and literature where being infused into lyrics” Nicholas Lezard Rip it Up and Start Again. This is very prominent with The Cure’s Killing an Arab, which is firmly rooted in Albert Camus’ The Stranger.

Perhaps, the reason that so many new bands are hard to label in terms of genre is because they are Post Punk, in the strictest form of the definition. They are bucking traditional labels, bringing together a wide range of influences and sounds, and fusing them into something new. It tickles our memory and makes us think golden thoughts of music almost forgotten… but it is seething with something undefinable, exciting and new.

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This Nostalgic Fusion, is exactly what you are in store for with Popular Confessions!

Paper Foxes – Popular Confessions

Strawberry Lashes : Four singles from Paper Foxes early work make the cut to the first record, and this is the first of them. What is exciting about the reworked songs, is that it gives a decisive image of what Bob Hoag was able to bring to them. With this particular track however, the most striking change from the earlier 2016 single is the addition of Oliver on guitar. There is a much cleaner guitar lic that goes through the verses, and supplies a nice pop hook to the song. The backup vocals have also been turned down considerably, to say nothing of the full robust sound that has become a staple and an expectation from Flying Blanket recording. I listened to the original single and this one in 20 second increments, and the juxtaposition was striking. This recording is a full on sonic assault with complex layers of sound, that makes the original single sound tinny, and under-produced, in comparison.
Dance of the Dead : The first single released from Popular Confessions, this song showcases everything that I love about Paper Foxes. As I was messaging back and forth with the band, one of the things that jumps to mind here is what Mr. UU said about dancing. “We consider ourselves dance-rock which is pretty broad. I think what defines Paper Foxes is our dance-able music. All of our songs have a beat with a pulse and I make sure of it. I personally think a lot of bands have a problem with being too slow or too fast and complex. Not a lot of people like being in the middle and that’s where we fit in. I like to keep the audience dancing for the entire song.”

And now, hopefully, my long winded explanation of Joy Division, New Order and Post Punk come full circle. Have you ever danced to Interpol? Joy Division? Bauhaus? Ever see an old school goth dance party? It is like flailing squids and schizophrenic shadows playing with each other without looking like they are having too much fun.

Post Punk is largely defined as a five year era, 1979 – 1984. After that the art house rebellion… had become new wave. Bauhaus faded into Love & Rockets and Peter Murphy. Joy Division became New Order. Southern Death Cult became The Cult. And Killing an Arab…. was suddenly Love Cats. In other words…. goths learned to dance.
Breathing Underwater : The second track pulled from 2016’s Strawberry Lashes EP, this treatment is again, tighter, and more full. Mr. UU gives a stronger vocal, and as before the tinniness of the earlier production is completely replaced with a sonic wall of sound laid down on the keys from Patro.

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Pop Confessions : The third track pulled forward for this album provides the pseudo title track. Once you get to hear this album, this particular track showcases Bob Hoag over at Flying Blanket. The vocal is more polished, and overdubbed with an echo. Also different from the other’s this song is actually lengthened a bit, expanded and that expanse is filled with that rich sound, smashing snares and a continual foundation of funk bass. Just look at the video! The boys are wearing pinks and whites in the bright Arizona sun, playing tennis, and singing about the Rapture. Put that in your Post Punk pipe and smoke it!

“Honestly, I don’t really know what makes us new or modern. We seem to be living in an era where “retro future” is popular and that phrase gets thrown around a lot. I guess if the argument of being Post Punk is sounding like Joy Division, then you have to say New Order isn’t post punk either. However I think the idea of angular guitars and overly theatrical vocals is basically the root of post punk. Maybe it’s new wave. Whatever the fuck it is, it’s music, and I wrote it, and sometimes people like it!” – CJ Jacobson.

How is that for a pop confession?
Not the Right Time : When I think of what CJ has built with Paper Foxes, I see a master of beats in Mr. UU, a rock guitar player with Oliver, and a man on the keys in Padro that rivals the sonic wonderwall of bands like Pink Floyd and The Cure. And then you have CJ’s poignant, often dark lyrics, but mixed together in this bright sunny dance-able exterior. Hmmmm…. almost like New Order getting us to dance on all over the body of a dead wife with Love Vigilantes. It is a fusion that brings to mind bands from the past that we remember fondly, but it blends it and bends it, almost like through a prism, and that refracted light is something altogether unique and new. This song, with it’s driving beat and dare-you-to-not dance vibe is exemplary of that fusion.

Devil on my Shoulder : I love this song. I love it so much I used it as inspiration for the first story in my new book, Ghost Songs. It is a book of short stories inspired by local music. And this song, for obvious reasons immediately took me to Goethe and Dr. Faustus. A happy, sunshine song…. about temptation and devilish sins. Again… look at the music video. It looks like Miami Vice…. but it is seething in darkness. Classic Paper Foxes. As with the other singles brought forward for this record, this version is absolutely fantastic. Pristine. Clean. Artsy, blendings against expectation…. that you can dance to. Perfect!

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Get Off The Wall : Here the band brings on the funk. And it is something out of Solid Gold, it is tribal disco, it is George Clinton by way of the Euro invasion. Mr. UU sings lead, and CJ comes in to offer the chorus, and again the harmony these two voices create is truly a unique experience. It is, my friends, Nostalgic Fusion. And it creates an infinitely listenable album that is genuinely hard to not move to. And, in my humble opinion… this video needs to loot like Retro Future Shaft dancing in a graveyard. For the win.
Last Open Platform : This song, right there with Devil on my Shoulder, Dance with the Dead, and Pop Confessions, brings in the darkness. Heaven is empty, hell is full. Its a tough tough call between living large and living at all. But it sounds like Duran Duran. It chimes of Talking Heads. It purrs with a sense of OMD.

For me, in the final analysis, I would love to debate the music folks who told Paper Foxes that they were not Post Punk. I would argue, that person really had no idea what the movement was trying to do. Every artist I know today, myself included, is up against that wall of “Jesus, everything has been done… but I still have something in me that needs to get out. I still want to challenge the system that dictates the way that I can say it.” I see bands all the time pulling from the crooners, from the hey day of the 50s, from swing, from jazz, from punk rock and classic rock…. and they are fusing into something that resonates at a new frequency. They are inspiring artists like me, to fuse their songs into stories of my own.

This is Nostalgic Fusion. This is Paper Foxes.

Get Yourself to this Release Party on October 5th at the Rebel Lounge, and get ready to Dance Your Asses Off… oh, and….

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Keep the Greasy Side Down my Friends!

Greetings All Ye Playful Prisoners of Spacetime: A Review

Surrealism is an art form emerging in the early 1900s in both art and literature and was defined by its illogical juxtapositions of dissimilar things and ideas. It was a method of unleashing the subconscious in those boundaries that know no definitions. Listening to Greetings All Ye Playful Prisoners of Spacetime, the spectacular new Live album from decker. is a surreal journey.

First, an admission. I did not go to the amazing show with Haymarket Squares and Hot House Orchids. I kick myself over it all of the time. It was not one to skip. That is the way with local music. It is like Brent Babb was saying in our interview. Record it. This stuff will vanish from the world, and you will never experience it again. Record it! And decker. did. I did however see two of the three Arizona mini tour shows that decker. did with Banana Gun and Wyves to celebrate their 10th anniversaries, and much of this live album material was played during those shows as well.

I started off my research for this article with a social media question, as I often do. I asked folks if they liked live albums, and what they liked about them. I was curious. Here is why. When I was younger, I didn’t care for them. They were not clean enough. But, then I discovered vinyl bootlegs in the Import Section at PDQ Records in Tucson. There were recordings of Bauhaus at the BBC! Interviews with The Cure on vinyl records imprinted with pictures of the band. There were rare live tracks from a million different shows, and the Internet did not exist. Not like today. So you could not get this stuff….. anywhere! I started to eat it up.

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Photo Credit: Valerie Luxicon

Most answers to my social media questions centered around two points: the artists reason for wanting to make a live album, and what fans enjoy about live albums. Sarah Chapman, lead singer of Ghost Cat Attack, for instance answered, “Personally I’ve always felt more comfortable onstage than in studio” which was a bonus because they used the recording of their live album almost as “a useful pre-production for our studio album that is currently in progress. We even had Ari Leopold master the live album, which helped him get to know the songs before we went into Lava Lake Studio with him.”

Fellow music writers Jason Kiel and Mitchell Hillman both voiced perfectly what we want as listeners to a live album. Jason wrote, “Has to be different from the studio album or perfectly capture a show.” To which Mitchell added, “It has to stand out from the studio work or capture a magical moment in time and space. I sometimes find there is an unhinged, loose and liberated quality to live album material, which there should be. Sometimes artists are so focused on perfection in the studio, they sacrifice a bit of soul, so to speak.”

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Photo Credit: Valerie Luxicon

My personal feeling about live albums is that they make a lot more sense than best of compilations in today’s music market. Jim Bachmann, of the Day Drinkers, agrees, “Greatest hits albums in the current landscape don’t make much sense when every song is only a click away.” So it stands to reason that both Banana Gun and decker. release live albums for their tenth anniversary. The Banana Gun album remixes and rearranges some older favorites, brings in a new song, and was recorded as a live session in Mund’s Park, Arizona near Flagstaff. decker.’s album is a live recording of a special anniversary show. But both serve as ten year compilation albums of material you cannot already get with a click.

While preparing to write this review, I listened to the album. Then I listened to it again. Then I made a playlist of the album versions of the songs. I listened to it again. Then I went back to the album. Half way through, with the track “Invocation” my journey divided in a wood with many trails. And the stream of consciousness trip that track took me on illuminated my entire way of processing the songs that the album contained. Everything reset…. with Invocation.

“The only way this album could have turned out better is if they went double album on it… but sometimes a succinct single platter is a more potent production, a synthesis of the evening, the pure distillate of decker.” – Mitchell Hillman

Ryan B. Clark : How do you go about making the hard decisions of what material to include on a project like this?
Brandon Decker : I have been playing shows for over 10 years as decker. Most of this group has been playing shows together for about 6 years. We love to play. We’ve toured the country exhaustively and played 3, 4, sometimes 5 hour bar gigs. So, we knew the kind of set we would play for the 1st half of the evening – the songs that really work for us and which the audience seems to take in and get “there” with us. I had a setlist of 18 or so songs in hopes minimally a dozen would work out for an album. The night was so joyful and energized that we ended up playing for almost 3 hours straight. Most of the 2nd half of the night was off the cuff, especially the covers and some of the deep cuts. There’s no shortage of material. We cut some songs because you just can’t put out an an album with 3 hours of content. It gets expensive. And boring…for everyone.
Greetings All Ye Playful Prisoners of Spacetime

Danny Torgersen is everywhere. This guy and his brass playing brilliance lend themselves wherever they are needed. He guests in the decker. family, he shows up with Harper & the Moths, he guest appeared on the new Carol Pacey and the Honey Shakers album, to say nothing of Captain Squeegee and all the other guest appearances he does. He is like a lucky leprechaun, a merry Rumpelstiltskin, and he is becoming a legend in this town. And what a fitting intro he gave to this magical night, in which he inadvertently, named the live album.

Burnin’ Grass

When decker. takes the stage, any stage, you immediately get the sense that yes, as Brandon said, these folks play together, a lot. It is rare that you see a band that is so polished, precise, and specifically tuned into each other that still allows for life, and passion, and spontaneity to burst into the performance. Here they come out with one of the first songs off their newest album Born to Wake Up, and it is a great tune, but like I said, everything in this set is reset for me with Invocation. It seems to back everything up, and say, “We have invited you in, and you have danced, and you have reveled, but you need to go back, keep your eyes wide open, shut your mouth for just one moment, and listen, because life can be like a locomotive coming this way.
The Holy Ghost

This was the very first decker. song I ever heard. The band goes back ten years, and I have only been back in Phoenix, keeping the greasy side down for two years now. I am quite late to the decker. family, but it has not stopped me from consuming the band’s body of work and rejoicing in having our very own psychedelic, Pink Floyd inspired, Tom Pettyesque, Springsteen style workin’ man, desert dweller of a song master right here, and back for good, in Arizona. And as the song surges, and the energy is starting to channel, I am left with the idea that when we let go, allow something not of us in, to permeate in our souls, we get to this place where we put our heart in your hands and just let go.
The Garden

This is one of my all time favorite decker. songs. I absolutely love it. I love its message. I love how it sounds. I love the staccato lyrics at the end. With these first two songs, I am pulled directly in to Mitchell Hillman’s precisely composed liner notes:

“A decker. show when done right is part rock’n’roll show, part traveling salvation show and a whole lot of psychedelic desert blues. It is inspiring, designed to move you, to leave its grooves on you, to raise you up a notch, either through the words of wisdom from the lead visionary himself, Brandon Decker. This is what his following has come to expect of him, part front-man and lead singer, part preacher – because through there’s no real religion being spoken of, there is a gospel according to decker. That gospel is love, that God is love, and its all there in a nightly prayer.”

The Phantom

As I was expressing at the top, I found after listening to this entire album once that Invocation changes my interpretation of the entire experience. That moment, that daring, honest moment forces me to go back and re-examine those pathways through the desert, through the dream, and dig for … something else. You begin to realize that Mitchell is right, there is a gospel of decker. and it weaves throughout the lyrics and the music and the experience to ferment into something much deeper. Something that demands fuller attention.

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As Brandon explained in the beginning, decker. has been touring and playing, hard, for years. They know the songs that work for them, and for their audience. That is obvious in the first half of this record. That is why I made the comparisons to a best of album, this collection of songs is exactly that…. but it more because of the nightly prayer of it. It becomes a quest to find a light to hold up for the ages…. It becomes a journey of rebirth because we get so tired baby, we get so tired out there… We are here, dancing, feeling, loving, acknowledging that everybody wants a piece of {us}… and we all are all just Phantoms lately…. and we need to be recharged.
Spades

By this point in the evening, Brandon and his band are feeling it. They are channeling it, and this record has captured it. Turn it up! You can feel the energy from that room at Last Exit Live. You can feel the passion from that crowd! You can pick up on the memory of why we LOVE LIVE MUSIC. That feeling. That euphoria. That release! decker. is the totality of that experience, and it is perfectly reflected in this album.

Each song blends and purrs into the next. By this point in the set I am reminded of Pink Floyd concerts, The Cure concerts, bands that are simply superb at weaving songs into each other and creating an entire tapestry of the evening rather than a simple set list.

And when Spades, transforms into Tom Petty at 3:16 and those beautiful guitar notes precede Its alright if you love me / its alright if you don’t/ I’m not afraid of you running away honey / I get the feeling you won’t…. and something inside you/ is feeling like I do/ we’ve said all there is to say… and then it folds right back into Spades. It is perfect. And it is that kind of mastery that we have become accustomed to expecting from decker. and the band captures it on this album.
The Saint

The simple, clear beautiful piano is so welcome at this moment. decker. has been whipping the night into a fury of powerful emotion, and suddenly, we laughed till we cried and we cried till we laughed… and Brandon’s voice is so impeccably genuine and heartfelt that you feel that he is speaking directly to you. Though you can run, you can run, but you’re going nowhere, you can climb you can crawl but you’re already there… and again, in light of Invocation, my mind goes down the pathway again, and I realize that light we are reaching for is that Love. And Brandon is treading water with us. He sounds so genuine because he has exchanged glances with those pallbearers too. And his music is his way of trying to share that pathway to the light, so that you and he and all of us can hold that light to our souls. Because light needs light. And life breaths life.
Snake River Blues

Before I ever saw a decker. show, my very first experience of decker. was a viewing of the short documentary Matty Steinkamp made of decker. on tour. They showed the film at Film Bar Phoenix, and I was blown away. It was cool to have that song, with its grindy blues and haunting vocal woven into this set…. because we are gonna have to choose and we have nothing to lose…. and we are hear to surrender to these Snake River Blues.

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I Wanna Be Your Dog

This has been the first single released from Greetings All Ye Playful Prisoners of Spacetime. It perfectly showcases what you can expect from the experience. It is a driving, pulsating song, and the band masterfully blends it together with Five to One {Iggy & the Stooges/ The Doors}. It is a fantastic introduction to what you can expect on this record.

Cellars

And again, the mastery of this album is superb. I Wanna Be Your Dog just purrs right into those first driving beats of Cellars, and this band is rolling. Did I mention how stupid I was for missing this 3 hour show!! Gonna kick myself over that one for quite a while. And with this rousing, raucous first half, the walls have come down, and Brandon takes a beautifully heroic risk.

Invocation

This is the ROOT of everything. But in order to really discuss it, I feel it is important to discuss Risk in Art. We live in a culture where folks really don’t want to be told anything. In general, as soon as they hear that trigger of pushiness, they check out. But as artists, the entire reason you are putting yourself out there into the world is to SHARE your experience. So, there is a risk/ reward relationship with how far you can push that.

For instance, both Mitchell Hillman and I overheard negative remarks at the shows we were at. Mitchell even saw a guy walk out at the mention of God. There is a risk. But Brandon does it anyway… and this forces us to think deeper on his motivations.

Brandon Decker : Was it risky to talk about God in the middle of the set? I did consider that – that people have a problem with that word. Can you talk about God at a bar at midnight on a Friday? I trusted that the people would be there with what I was saying – that it wasn’t religious, or preachy. And, most of them were. It was a message of hope. I wasn’t afraid of losing anyone. This is my offering. This has been my message, mantra and ethos for some years now; my practice, my work. We are Spirit. We are the One. It’s not up for debate. One might debate the particulars of that but there is one Universe and we are it. Not only am I unafraid to talk about that, it is what I most want to talk about.

Brandon addresses the risks right out front. He calls out the triggers. He hints at the fact that our culture right now has kind of trained us to be wary, and he mentions that this is a good thing. The trigger he is discussing is quite simple: is this guy a guru from Sedona trying to get me to drink the Kool-Aid, or am I experiencing something…. deeper.

Isn’t it sad that the thought even comes up? That we have so much mistrust, that that shines through first before we can scrape it away and find the real light underneath. But it is a fact, and that wariness is good.

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Photo Credit: Valerie Luxicon

An artist has the responsibility to do due diligence to stay humble, reverent, and do it with all of the right intentions. It does not mean it shouldn’t be done. Regardless of the risk of people walking out. “I think Brandon and I are cut from the same cloth,” Mitchell Hillman writes. “People come to me for advise all the time, but I don’t go pressing my views on others unless they ask. My writing isn’t being forced on anyone, I just offer it to the universe and I think decker. feel that way about their music. They want those that will receive it to get it.”
Awake

The lyrics for this beautiful song speak for themselves, but the video is certainly a bonus. There is really no better song in the entire decker. canon to follow Invocation.


State Trooper (Bruce Springsteen Cover)

This is the moment where you realize, “oh yeah, The Haymarket Squares opened this show”. And that is an interesting combination, and it showcases an interesting omission. The first single from Into the Red, was Matchstick Man, a song decker. wrote about and for President Trump. But, the message of politics, as necessary as it is, is even more polarizing at times than talking about God at a rock’n’roll concert. On first listen, I was surprised that that song was not on this record, but on a second listen. I realized that as important as the message is, it was already served by The Haymarket Squares, and this Springsteen nod to the crisis at our borders.
Songs for Cohen

This particular section of the concert is so special. I have one biological child. I have lived most of my life without her in my life. It has been very difficult. So, that said, and remembering back to the entire purpose of recording a live album – to perfectly encapsulate a moment in time – can there be a more beautiful gift to a child from his parent? That is that the next two songs on the recording do. One a cover of a beautiful Leonard Cohen song Famous Blue Raincoat and then the lovely lullaby, Mexico. What a gift, Brandon!

Down By The Water (P J Harvey Cover)

“When you really want to win a room over you play a PJ Harvey song for ten minutes. I come from that school.” Brandon Decker at Club Congress Tucson, Arizona.
Blackwash

When the record finishes, and as you are resetting it to play again, I think you will find yourself reflecting, like I did on that lack of passion and honesty in modern music. And that is a damn, sorry fact. But not when you dig into our local music. Not here. Not now. And certainly, not decker.
Brandon Decker : I have a good sense that most humans appreciate thoughtfulness, humility, genuineness, kindness and respect. If we do our best to make those ways our intentions, then we can’t get too far off.

Word!

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Keep the Greasy Side Down, My Friends.

A Little BLISS Goes A Long Way

Last year I released a very special work of poetry that I had “co-written” with my dear friend Rhonda Rae Holcombe.  We had always dreamed of releasing a poetry book together, grouped by topics and viewing those topics from two perspectives through verse.  That was the idea.  I wrote a huge amount of “poetry” when I was younger.  Some of it was good.  But the concept of what we were trying to do was bigger than the actual quality of the verse.

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Support Suicide Awareness and SEE THE BELLWETHERS at Music United Against Teen Suicide September 4th.  Click Link for details.

Then Rhonda took her own life.

Her father, Leonard, who I lovingly refer to as Pops, entrusted me with a small, red, child’s suitcase.  It had two blonde twins holding hands on the front, and the words Going Places were printed above them.  Inside, were scraps of my friend’s heart, left on bits of paper, backs of receipts, filled notebooks: everything my friend had written all collected in a heap of multicolored papers and inks.

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I spent weeks going through all of it, and my own work, to make the book that we had always dreamed we would create.  It is called Kindred Spirits & Mirrored Souls, and all of Rhonda’s portion of the royalty is donated to Arizona Suicide Charities.

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Now, I brought that up, because in my own humble opinion, the best poem I have ever written is in that book.  It is called The Myth of Understandable Absolutes.  I wrote it on a balcony on the North West corner of the ASU campus, drinking coffee one Thursday, waiting to meet my friend to head to Long Wong’s to watch Stephen Ashbrook play.  I had just completed reading Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, and my mind was exploding.  Here is the section of the poem I am referring to:

Soap Box Sunday

Yet, just to title this is to deny myself.

I have to create.

But to stand up here on a box – is to take a step back

But is the reversal the same distance as the gain?

I listen to music… it says the most profound things

I find inspiration… I think we’re on our way…

Then I watch the Grammy’s –

Why don’t we listen to ourselves?

Then again, Who am I to Question the Universe?

So maybe you… yes, YOU… know the answers

Should I stop this?  Should I be content?

Should I be tranquil in my journey – And just Be?

Should I ignore the troublesome – And just write more Stories?

(But…. isn’t questioning the only way to know?)

So is this preaching? Or is it sharing?

Maybe then it’s okay.

Even the Buddha wrote – he shared – he told

So he must have had some desire, if nothing but to help

But if desire is an anchor – How could he be free?

And if Christ hadn’t spoken – How could his message be learned?

So as we go… we leave a map for others.

If this map is a good thing – this guide that we leave behind

Then is desire without ego not bad?

Maybe, it’s when we stop and say that we are Full.

We can’t learn any more.  We are ready to spew Forth!

And give the World all of Our Secrets

(If You can’t learn any more – What Are YOU Still Here For?)

I guess, then, that I Really Don’t Know Anything.

Get to the point, Mr. Clark!

Tangents, my friends, lead to understanding.  Allow one more aside before I get to the Honey Shakin!

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Imagine if the Guru, the Great Benefactor, the Wise Shaded One, on the right…. had never stopped being the revolutionary on the left.  This is the point of the poem.  Once we stop writing and sharing in wonder, and awe, in true sadness, and real pain about the human condition we as poets are both blessed and cursed to reflect through our writing and our art…. We fail.  We find that Soap Box, and lose our message.  The good that we try to do can be traced to all of the hypocrisies that fund it.  And we lose our way.

The third album from Carol Pacey & the Honeyshakers, BLISS, brings this analogy to the fore, and we as rockers, revelers, human beings sharing in our connections, find that once upon a time true voice.  That voice that pings like a tuning fork with genuineness, with goodness, and dare I say, love.

BLISS – The Ghostwriter Review

If Romance is Dead Then I Want to be Dead Too : Some years ago I introduced a friend of mine to Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers and his first comment was, “Wow he crams a lot of words in there!  He is really clear, and surprisingly fast.”  This is true, and also true of Carol Pacey.  Some of the lines in these songs require the vocal clips of a Micro Machines Television Commercial, and you really have to listen carefully to be able to unpack everything she is shakin at you.  Like honey kisses.  But these honey kisses are “so deep {you} can’t breathe, but a dream of a kiss is not all that {you} need.  {You} need it all.  {You} want it all.”  And you can imagine Carol giving it all, laying it out like a filleted heart on the floor, to share that idealistic dream with you.  And you are rockin and dancin and scootin across the floor dancing to rekindle dreams that are all too easily ignored and forgotten.

Caged Dead Birds : Do you love Maya Angelou?  Do you know why the Caged Bird sings?  I do.  So does Carol.  So should you.  “Shame on those who try to tear us down.  And shame on those who sell away our crowns.  Shame on those who revel in defeat.  And shame on those who celebrate deceit.  Endure no more, say goodbye to our innocent souls.  Endure no more and embrace our rebel roles.  Endure no more and our lives will soon rebound.  Endure no more, say hello to our freedom found.”  Preach Carol!  BUT – it’s not.  She is not preaching.  She is dancing with you.  She is pouring honey into your soul because she is ONE with you.  And you can feel it.  It is not a Soap Box Sunday.  It is a young Irish rebel singing, “Where I grew up there weren’t many trees.  The ones there were, we tore down and used on our enemies.”

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Photo Credit: Blushing Cactus Photography

Crumb : Hell hath no fury… like a honey tongued writer who hath been scorned.  So hey, Honey, “little darling, a crumb for you…. The truth is it’s you, that you’re the broken one, Making it so easy for everyone.  It’s because you want it so badly, to believe that you are lovable, To give someone your heart and soul, and for them to see you as beautiful.”  But, dear readers, an aside, an example if you will of the power of poetry and the reason music can be a powerful medium.  My wife deals with a lot.  There should probably be a support group for the spouses of artists consumed.  Perhaps that support group is BLISS and Carol Pacey is just singing with you, letting the honey return to your burns.  But here is the magic…. the song speaks to me too.  And twists into honey for my wounds.  It is specific enough to have a theme, a point, a silver tongued message dripping with sweetness and pain…. but, like the best of poetry…. it is applicable to many.  And it speaks.

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Whisper My Name :  Andy Borunda is one hell of a guitar player.  I have spent zero time talking about him up until now, but it is tracks 3 and 4 where all of a sudden my ear pounds through my meditations on lyrics and says, “Holy shit!  Andy can play!”

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Photo Credit: Ray Squared Productions

And his lead guitar pairs so fantastically beautiful with Carol’s honeycomb words laced with nectar.  I find myself by the middle of this record sitting in a hole, next to my beloved friend Rabbit, honey dripping from my mouth, my fingers, my ears and my soul saying….

I must be going now….

And being unable – nor willing – to leave.  I just want more of that Hunny.

Bliss (The Dead Cat Song) : I have a lot of dead cats.  So do you.  So do all of us.  Robert told us that they were not all grey.  They come in all sizes and shapes, long hair and short.  Garfields and Heathcliffs.  Lovecats creeping in the dark of our hearts.  And we think on them, whatever they are, and however they have treated us, and we can imagine telling them, “it wasn’t sunshine in my eyes.  It wasn’t sunshine in my blue, blue eyes.  It wasn’t sunshine in my eyes rather it was you that got me thinking I could do anything.”  And cats die.  And sometimes they arrive.  And whether they mark us with smiles or frowns… they bring us the bliss of belief.  They bring us Sunshine.

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Add it Up (The Violent Femmes Cover):

NUFF SAID.  Carol and Andy OWN this song.  Remember when Trent Reznor said, “That’s his song now, he owns it”, of Johnny Cash singing Hurt?  Yeah Mr. Gano, step up!

Plan B : I went to college.  I had a full ride to the University of Arizona that I was not mentally, or emotionally ready to use, and I lost it.  I floundered for awhile, and then finally landed at Arizona State University dead set on being the best English teacher Arizona had ever seen.  I incurred a whole bunch of student loans.  Don’t judge.  Politics invade our lives like a cancer, and it sucks, but it is true.  It would be nice if we had Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite back to stop us from hating each other.  Anyway, President Obama had protections against the predatory lending of banks making people hands-over-fist rich off of the pain of people like me.  President He-Who-Is-Unmentionable and his side pony witch Devos did away with those protections.  Yesterday my wages were garnished.  My checks have gone from approx 1100 to 300 in less than 3 weeks.  But Carol was singing to my soul, and even in yesterday’s darkness, I shared this BLISS with my mother, and we laughed a lot, and cried very little.  Because my friends, “You better start now, start making your plans.  You better think about what it is before you Can’t.  You need to think about all what you have done, what you’ve dreamed of and what would give you some Fun.  Because before you know it, things are going to change and you’ll Find yourself in a life you can’t arrange.  You think there’s all the time in the world, but then You’re stuck without much luck.  Well then you’re pretty much…. {phu-ked}.  Forget what you “know”.  The future is NOW!

I’m Gone (Stupid Clown) : You know, I am 45.  I work early mornings, and my wife works long hours during the day.  I am usually conscious for about 2 – 3 hours when she gets home before I turn into a pumpkin.  And she watches her shows, tries to relax, looks at turning 40 and probably thinks, “It’s alright.  I’ve had a lifetime of this.  Somebody even said to me that I haven’t had it that bad yet.  I wonder how somebody who’s never walked in my shoes can tell me how to to feel.  So go on and ignore me“.  This is not in any way to throw shade, it is to show solidarity.  I am sure almost every middle-aged young, married couple in the world has had similar thoughts, male and female and queer.  Everyone.  It is is a human conundrum.  Carol Pacey is speaking to the idealist dreamer in each and every one of us, crushed beneath the reality of the world and the needs of our hearts.

Done :

“As long as I played nice, yo never worried about me twice,
But once I opened my mouth you took me so far down that I couldn’t get out.
Time and time, I tried to share with you my point of view only to get shut down by your
Thoughtless attitude so I drew a line here in the sand where the “me” I like now take a stand
On the side of where my time is close at hand.
And so I’m done.  I can’t fight you anymore.”

#Word Carol Pacey, and my wife would say the same.  And that is why you are a poet.  And that is why we keep trying to achieve BLISS.  But, if you were Guru Bono…. people would check out.  That is why the Soapbox is bad.  The Honeyshakers know this, and dose their sweetness with a humility, a realness, that is inspiring…. and beautiful.

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Kim Dangerous of The Bellwethers and Carol Pacey at Spirit Room, Jerome, Arizona.

Somewhere Beautiful :  “I almost gave up {yester}day.  No, I don’t mean that.  I mean I almost gave into believing someone else’s cold hard facts.  That everywhere you look, nobody seems to care about anything anymore.  Not you, not me, not them, not anything, and I just couldn’t get on board. {…} It’s funny when you’re in it and you can’t seem to open your eyes.  I tried to sell myself on the make believe, trying to hide from all the lies.  But I need to believe somehow we really do all feel the same, That love wins, love rules, and maybe someday a world without so much pain.”

While I was listening to this record, over and over again while stocking the pallets at Costco, and spiraled into darkness with angst and unknowns…. I found one constant, universal truth, that I had always believed but is easy to forget.

Music…. saves.  And this record is Honey Shakin BLISS.

Carol Pacey & the Honey Shakers are ready to share two AMAZING events with you this week.  The first is TOMORROW NIGHT at Chopper Johns!

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The second is an intimate afternoon with Carol and Andy over at Phoenix Film Bar.

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THINK VH 1 STORYTELLERS…. and GET THERE.

 

Poetry….. is Necessary.

Keep the Greasy Side Down My Friends, in All Things.

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