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Escalating Tempers

By Mike Breen · July 27th, 2011 · Spill It
Maurice Mattei has some impressive Renaissance Man credentials. He’s a gifted contemporary designer, a talented photographer and a smart singer/songwriter who sets his scuffed musical short stories to compelling Americana soundtracks. Over the past couple of decades, Mattei has self-released a truly stunning amount of material, the majority of which would fit comfortably in the catalog of just about any major or indie label sympathetic to his brand of twang and burn. (Check www.mmattei.com for more on Mattei’s artistic endeavors.)

Mattei and his like-minded band of gypsies, The Tempers, show off their estimable chops once again on their latest epistle, Strum and Drag. If Bob Dylan references were negotiable bank instruments, Mattei would be richer than God and Bill Gates. Strum and Drag is sure to generate even more Dylanesque chat with shambling roadhouse rockers like “Mother of One” and “Take Your Hands Off My Baby.” Typically, Mattei transcends the Dylan references with his wide-ranging songwriting skills and the sinewy and superb accompaniment of The Tempers (bassist W.J. Grapes, drummer Mike Grimm, harpist Rick Howell and album guests like pedal-steeler Kenny Holycross, saxophonist Ben Walkenhauer, keyboardist Ricky Nye and bassist Bob Nyswonger, among others).

“Ingenue” hints at a slinky Lou Reed vibe, “She Sent Me Home Laughing” and “Ghost Town” shimmer and shudder with Neil Young’s quiet intensity and “A Little Bit Closer” taps into Van Morrison’s Pop/Soul swing.

But for all the sonic reference points, Strum and Drag simply points up the performers’ amazing ability to inhabit a new, original song and invest it with a perfect sense of classicism and easy familiarity.

That studio chemistry will come to blazing life when the Tempers hit the York Street Cafe Saturday to celebrate the release of Strum and Drag. Straw Boss opens the show at 8:30 p.m. (Brian Baker)

Ready for “Action”

Though they’ve impressed local audiences with their live shows and occasional leaked recordings, wildly impressive Cincy quartet The Guitars finally get around to putting out an “official” physical release Friday at Over-the-Rhine’s MOTR Pub. And the EP, High Action, is an absolute stunner, seven songs’ worth of vintage Pop majesty prepared and delivered with an authentic soulfulness and sophistication. Local Folk faves The Tillers open up the free show.

It’s glaringly obvious that the four Guitars members are hardcore record-heads and serious students of classic eras American Soul and Pop. From the masterful arrangements and ace songwriting to the spot-on performances and the general warmth of the recordings themselves, The Guitars’ inspirations are fairly evident. While it might be hard to initially stop yourself from pointing out what songs or performers various moments of High Action bring to mind, the band quickly dispels any thoughts that they’re just mimicking a K-Tel Best of ’60s/’70s R&B and Pop compilation. The passion and care so obviously poured into each song has helped the band create a release that, like the original work of their spiritual forefathers (and mothers), has an uncanny timelessness.

The Guitars take cues from the R&B singles pumped out of Motown, Stax and Phil Spector’s factory, as well as the grand Pop masterpieces by legends like Burt Bacharach and some of the slinkier, smoother Soul of the ’70s. But it’s as if they’ve simply absorbed the lessons from those iconic early records into their DNA. (www.wearetheguitars.com)

CONTACT MIKE BREEN: mbreen@citybeat.com