• Gifted, progressive local Americana/Newgrass/Country/Pop quartet Hickory Robot returns to record store shelves (cyber or otherwise) this week with its new album, Sawyer. The band — which features Lauren Schloemer (fiddle, cello, washboard, vocals), Scott Carnder (mandolin, vocals), Jim Pelz (guitars, banjo, vocals) and Mike Georgin (bass) — will host an album release party in Sawyer’s honor at the new Southgate House Revival (111 Sixth St., Newport; southgatehouse.com) this Friday. Showtime is 8:30 p.m. and G. Burton and The Tadcasters open. Admission is $8 at the door or $6 in advance through ticketfly.com.
The band scored some nice buzz in the Americana underground with its 2010 debut release, Firefly, but Sawyer has some serious mainstream crossover potential. The songs on the album are as creative and diverse as ever (from swaying ballads to shuffling Bluegrass), but the band members’ wider range of influence is more ingrained in the sound and a stronger, natural Pop element emerges. Not the sheeny big-hat Country Pop of Nashville, but the cooler Bluegrass-driven style of Pop that artists like Alison Krauss have perfected. Like Krauss and her band Union Station, the playing is flawless and inspired, guided by great vocals and melodies (the group switches off lead vocals, but Schloemer’s voice is the more alluring). If Sawyer reaches the right ears, Hickory Robot’s future is neon-bright. (hickoryrobot.com)
• It can sometimes be hard to make the shift from cover band to original band, but judging by the strength of the LP Extinction, Cincy’s Big Rock Club is making the transition with grace and ease. The debut full-length release from the local band — featuring the core father/son team of Curtis and Tom Dressman — will get “release-partied” this Friday with a free show at the Northside Tavern. Jody Stapleton and the Generals and Black Owls also perform.
With a mix of Modern Alt Rock and some vintage Rock & Roll undertones, Extinction has a crisp, big sound that showcases the excellent vocal work of Curtis Dressman.
The songs are creatively constructed and have a Pop element (and occasional New Wave synth quirk) that would make them a perfect fit for the playlists of most big “Alternative Rock” radio stations, but the songs are never pandering. There’s some great guitar work on Extinction, as well, bringing to mind a mix of Chevelle and Kings of Leon. It’s well-crafted, pleasurable Arena Rock without all the pomp and circumstance and points to even greater things in Big Rock Club’s future. (bigrockclub.com)
• Experimental Indie/Art Pop/Hip Hop group Why? performs in its hometown Thursday for its first local show since the release of the band’s fourth studio album, Mumps, etc., earlier this month. The band plays downtown at the Contemporary Arts Center for an 8 p.m., all-ages show. Tickets are $14 or $12 in advance though contemporaryartscenter.org. After Thursday’s show, Why? gets back on the road for a tour that’ll take them all over the U.S., then overseas for dates in Prague, Croatia, Italy, Germany and Israel, among other countries. (whywithaquestionmark.com)
Here's Why?'s official music video for the track "Strawberries," shot in Northside this summer.
Savages and Psych in Northside
• Boston’s Barrence Whitfield & the Savages are returning to Cincinnati this week in a big way. The Soul-rockin’ crew has several local ties, beginning with super local drummer Andy Jody on the skins. The group also features Peter Greenberg of pioneering Boston band DMZ and pioneering Cincy Garage rockers The Customs (fellow Custom Jim Cole records with the band but doesn’t play live). The Savages are in town to record their new album, but they’ll be doing some warming up at The Comet in Northside, headlining free shows Friday and Saturday night. The group will also make an in-store appearance at Shake It Records Wednesday at 7 p.m. (Shake It, the label, released the group’s last album, Savage Kings, in the States). (barrencewhitfieldsavages.com)
• This Saturday sees the debut of the Cincy Psych Fest, a multi-band event at Northside’s Mayday that was inspired by the popular Austin Psych Fest, which showcases the current state of Psychedelic Rock. The show features several Midwestern acts, including The People’s Temple (Lansing, Mich.), Mondo Drag (Davenport, Iowa), Outer Minds (Chicago), Heaven’s Gateway Drugs (Ft. Wayne, Ind.) and MidPoint Music Festival 2012 performers Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor (Detroit), as well as Cincinnati area bands Children of The Emerald Fire, The Harlequins, Ohio Knife and The Tongue & Lips. Adding to the trip will be Doctor Robert’s Ocular Odyssey‘s Psychedelic Light Show and DJ Blythe Shadburn, spinning tunes between bands. The Cincy Psych Fest will present bands on Mayday’s indoor stage as well as on an outdoor, second-floor stage. Tickets are $10 (advanced ones are available through ticketfly.com) and the fest begins at 6 p.m. Find info on all of the performers and more at cincypsychfest.com.
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