This month, the Southgate House’s “Artist in Residence” series features a special pairing of two of Greater Cincinnati’s finest songwriters. Chuck Cleaver, formerly of cult heroes The Ass Ponys and currently a driving force behind Wussy, is joining Mark Utley, leader of Americana band Magnolia Mountain, every Wednesday in May, offering a rare chance to catch both singer/songwriters together and in a solo context. The free, 9 p.m. shows — which begin tonight — will also feature a different special guest each week.
For the AIR shows, the Southgate books a different act each month to play free gigs in the club’s Juney’s Lounge on Wednesday nights. Playing four or five shows a month at the same place and on the same night isn’t too common for the original artists who do Southgate’s AIR shows, so the performers often get creative and use the nights to work out new songs, stage-test recent material or build interesting bills featuring different opening acts each week. (If AIR performers decide not to invite any openers, they also have to get creative to fill up two full sets — sometimes not an easy task for musicians used to playing 40-minute shows.)
You might get a little of all of those extras with the Utley/Cleaver residency. They’ve already booked the openers. Tonight’s guest is Shiny & the Spoon, the folksy, ukulele-driven duo that happens to consist of two of Utley’s bandmates in Magnolia Mountain, Amber Nash and Jordan Neff.
On May 11, Cleaver and Utley welcome Tim and Susan Lee of Knoxville-based trio Tim Lee 3. Tim Lee might be a recognizable name to some, particularly those who were/are hardcore fans of the “Paisley Underground” sound of the ’80s, a brand of jangly Power Pop tinted with sunny ’60s psychedelia. Lee was one of the co-leaders of The Windbreakers, who were pals/collaborators with members of Rain Parade, The Bongos and Let’s Active (the ’Breakers were Mitch Easter’s band briefly and Easter still works in the studio on Lee’s albums). The band was critically beloved and popular on college radio, but, commercially, The Windbreakers’ melodic tunes and various releases didn’t make much of a dent. Today, they’re considered classic cult heroes by some, resulting in various reunions, reissues and compilations since their ’80s heyday. Lee’s Tim Lee 3 — formed with his wife Susan — released the double album, Raucous Americanus, last year to wide acclaim, noted by critics for the solid, diverse songwriting and the way Lee and his bandmates seamlessly incorporate of a broad range of Americana styles without overshadowing his instinctive ability to craft monster hooks.
You’ll have to stop by the Lounge to hear what the headliners have prepared for their performances. Cleaver should be in fine form; he’s seemingly been in a “solo acoustic” state of mind recently, performing a set at Shake It Records without his bandmates on Record Store Day to promote the RSD exclusive release of Funeral Dress 2, a live, acoustic re-recording of the band’s debut (remaining copies of the limited edition release are still available from Shake It via mail order).
Utley has remained busy with Magnolia Mountain duties since crafting the stunning Americana clinic that was Redbird Green. The care and effort poured into the band’s 2010 album was evident in everything from the gorgeous CD packaging and glorious vinyl version to the passionate, soulful songwriting and performances. Utley also put a lot of work into the Music for the Mountains project, a compilation album and release concert designed to raise money and draw attention to the damage mountaintop removal coal-mining can cause.
Ultey recently wrote on his group’s Facebook page that Magnolia Mountain was set to return to the studio this coming weekend to begin work on a third album, suggesting fans will have a chance to hear some previews of new songs during the May residency.