When the phrase “guitar hero” gets tossed around, it’s naturally in reference to some of the greatest six string figures in Rock history. But if there is a subset of that hallowed group — guitar heroes in waiting, as it were — then Natalie Wells surely deserves to be included on that hopefully short waitlist.
The Independence, Ky., native is quickly becoming one of the Greater Cincinnati area’s most powerful live forces with a guitar presence that stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the giants of Rock. A teenage student of the Blues, Wells felt an affinity for first generation masters like Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt and next gen ’60s acolytes like Johnny Winter, Big Brother’s Sam Andrews and James Gurley, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Rory Gallagher and a host of others. Wells’ brilliance in her own guitar pursuits has been in her supernatural ability to absorb a rainbow of Blues and Rock influences and translate them through her own unique interpretive gifts. As she showed on her largely original debut, Mind the Gap, she may have learned from the greats but she’s much more interested in running the guitar flag a little farther up Rock & Roll Hill.
On her new mini-album, Live from Earth, Wells and her chugging rhythm section (bassist Curt Hall and drummer/vocalist Michael Hodges) offer up an all-cover set that simultaneously proves how much she loves her influences and demonstrates her translational power.
Live From Earth’s seven tracks represent just four factions of Wells’ estimable influences and they’re more than tangentially connected; Buddy Guy is one of the primary links between the old acoustic and new electric school of Blues, while Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Robin Trower represent those who most effectively reimagined the Blues in a Rock context. Wells injects swinging new life into Led Zep chestnuts “Heartbreaker/Living Loving Maid” and “What Is and What Should Never Be” while distilling Hendrix’s complex chemistry to a simpler but still impressive formula with her takes on “Stone Free/Third Stone From the Sun” and his avowed classic “Voodoo Chile.”
Wells finds the heart of Guy’s gentle “My Love is Real” and the soul of Trower’s blistering “Day of the Eagle,” all delivered with her fluidly original guitar stylings and a voice that is part husky Blues shouter, part Cher Pop powerhouse. Wells may still has a few minor vocal timing issues to fine tune, but Live on Earth is solid evidence that her guitar chops are cooked to perfection and ready to serve to a wider audience.
At this point, Natalie Wells’ guitar does not gently weep; it cries a bucket of tears, screams with passionate abandon, howls like a steroid-amped wolf and demands to be heard.
This week in my weekly local music column, Spill It, I wrote about the unexpected glut of really strong music events this week. Tonight may be the hardest of all to make a decision about. Let's work through this together, man. We'll find something for you to do.
• Catch a couple of Indie Pop success stories live and in person tonight in Covington as buzz bands Young the Giant and Cincinnati's very own Walk the Moon play Madison Theater, just the latest in a string of sold-out shows on the groups' current tour. We've been writing more and more about Walk the Moon over the past year (here's the latest), as the four-piece continues to charm the masses leading up to their debut album for RCA Records (late spring/early summer is the current target). Young the Giant is a little further along in its buzzdom, having released its first wide-exposure album, a self-titled affair on Roadrunner Records, in late 2010 (digitally)/early 2011 (physically). But YTG did a lot of legwork leading up to that point, building a following and airplay stats in Southern California as The Jakes, before becoming Young the Giant in 2009 and singing its deal. The band got a big shot in the arm after appearing at the MTV Video Music Awards last year; virtually unknown to most viewers, the band was featured between the likes of Lady Gaga and Lil Wayne, performing on some weird cubby-hole/light-box stage for 300 invited fans from their hometown of Irvine. Watch a clip below and read more here.
If you have tickets, tonight's YTG/WTM show starts at 8 p.m.; doors open at 7.
On this day in 1973, Paul McCartney and Wings had their very own network TV special, James Paul McCartney. The variety/musical show was a bit cheeky and a bit sappy — in other words, pretty funny to watch now. Paul and Co. do a bunch a Beatles tunes and a bunch of Wings stuff, including the just released "Live and Let Die." Worth watching (or at least skipping through) if you were a fan of Sir Paul's kick-ass mullet, always wanted to hear a drunk Paul sing drinking songs in a crowded pub or wondered how "The Cute One" looks in a pink tuxedo and mustache.
Paul's most recent adventures in visual entertainment contains a bit more star power:
Click on for Born This Day with Dusty Springfield, Akon and Ian MacKaye.
UPDATE: The DJ Funeral Fresh release party has been moved from Tonic to Mixx Ultra Lounge (1203 Main St., Over-the-Rhine).
Local DJ Funeral Fresh (formerly DJ Skinny Fresh) is hosting a release party in honor of his new "remix tape" tonight at Tonic on Fourth. Fresh has worked shows with everyone from Gucci Mane and Nicki Minaj to Soulja Boy and Jadakiss and he has been nominated for "Best Club DJ" at the Ohio Hip Hop Awards several years running. The new release project is called Da Party Life and Jay-Z features heavily throughout … and on the cover. (Lil Wayne, Beanie Sigel, Pharrell, 50 Cent and Foxy Brown also pop up in the mix.) Give it a listen at mixstack.com or download it for free here, then head to the event (billed as a new release/networking shindig) at 9 p.m. Admission is $5.
Here's the track "Bad Guy" from Fresh's new release:
• A pair of excellent, widely acclaimed and truly unique Indie/Avant/Anti-Folk artists (who are both quite prolific in their output) performs for free tonight in Northside at Mayday, starting at around 10 p.m. Wooden Wand is just one of the names songwriter James Jackson Toth performs under (it's also the project that's been most successful). Toth has collaborated with many artists and put music out on several different indie imprints, rarely falling in line with the rote expectations of a 21st century troubadour. Wooden Wand's vast discography includes cassette and CD-R releases, along with more standardly-issued albums and projects. Wooden Wand was lumped into the "Freak Folk" category when that was a buzz word five or so years ago, but, like other artists put into that box, his musical curiosity has led him to a sound that's impossible to pinpoint with two words. Toth is currently touring behind the double-disc release of his Briarwood album, which features several raw, unreleased demos.
Here's the video for "Winter in Kentucky" from Briarwood:
Jeffrey Lewis is an illustrator who decided to write some songs while he was studying drawing and literature in college. Lewis — whose sound is a bit more eccentric and broader than Toth's, coming off like Beck had he stayed true to his avant grade roots — still successfully pursued his comic book artist dreams (writing and drawing the series Fuff, among other projects), but he keeps plenty busy as a touring musician these days. And he combines his passions whenever possible — during shows, he plays "illustrated songs" that are accompanied by one of his illustrations. Lewis and Toth came up in music around the same time, but their current tour is their first time reconnecting after several years.
• MOTR Pub is also hosting a solid, free Indie show tonight featuring Cleveland Indie Pop up-and-comers Cloud Nothings and Brooklyn Electro/Dance/Pop duo Class Actress, which has had its music connected to various fashion happenings and glowing reviews. Founded and led by L.A. native Elizabeth Harper, Class Actress has been building buzz the past couple of years, earning comparisons to Depeche Mode, LCD Soundsystem, early Madonna and Human League. Read more about Cloud Nothings here and then check out the clip for Class Actress' song "Weekend" below. (CA opens tonight at around 10 p.m.).
• River City Extension extends its tour into Bogart's tonight for an 8 p.m., all-ages show. Admission is $7. RCE is preparing to release its sophomore album, Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Your Anger, in early June on XOXO Records. The Indie Folk crew produced a trailer for the new album. Why, yes, we do have it to embed — look below!
Music Tonight: The Mad Hatter in Covington this evening hosts a full lineup showcasing the new breed of "Power Pop" — young bands evolving from so-called "Pop Punk," embracing classic Pop/Rock songwriting and developing a sound that is potentially more timeless. Georgian band Cartel headlines, as they gear up for a new EP release (due next month) that will serve as the band's first since 2009's hook-feast, Cycles, which showed clear progress in songwriting and execution. Tonight's Mad Hatter show (the kick-off date on the band's brief Midwestern tour) begins at 6 p.m. and tickets are $15. The Upset Victory, Action Item, Don't Wait Up, 21st Streamline and The Getaway warm things up.
There isn't a huge stylistic gap between Steve Earle and John Hiatt, so it makes sense that they would make a good tour package (one that hits the Taft Theatre tonight for an 8 p.m. show). They're both moderately successful Americana artists with slavishly loyal fan bases and solid bodies of work over long careers (Hiatt having the earlier ’70s start).
To the curious mind, the billing begs the point: What else do Earle and Hiatt have in common?
• They both began their careers as staff songwriters and launched performing careers after one of their songs became a hit for someone else (Johnny Lee for Earle, Three Dog Night for Hiatt).
• They've both been covered extensively by other artists, Earle by Travis Tritt, Robert Earl Keen and others, and Hiatt by Bonnie Raitt, Rosanne Cash, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and many more.
• They both signed with Epic Records for their first deal; Earle never recorded for them, while Hiatt did two Epic albums which sold poorly and expedited his release.
• Their second contracts were both with MCA; Earle had a pretty decent run with the label, including his 1988 hit Copperhead Road, while Hiatt's was a repeat of his Epic experience.
• They've both been nominated for Grammys, but Earle has a commanding lead with 14 nods and three wins, while Hiatt has been nominated twice with no mantle bling to show for it yet.
• They've both been married multiple times, but again Earle has the lead with seven marriages; Hiatt has only had three.
• Both have successfully dealt with substance issues.
• Both are balding; Hiatt has the lead here with more hair, but Earle compensates with a ZZ Toppish beard.
• Both will kick your ass in the live setting, so bring an extra ass.
Here's a clip for Hiatt's "Damn This Down," off his latest LP, Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns.
And here is part of a documentary filmed during Earle's sessions for I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive (also the name of his novel and, yes, both are based on the Hank Williams tune, which he covers on the album as a bonus track. The novel is centered around Williams mysterious "doctor" who traveled with the singer until his death, then disappeared).
The summer music festival season is winding down, but area fans of Americana/Folk/Roots music of varying stripes have a big one to look forward to this weekend, as the fifth annual Whispering Beard Folk Festival returns to the Old Mill Campground in nearby Friendship, Ind., starting in just a few hours.
Founded in 2008, Whispering Beard has showcased both the old and new guard of Americana, mixing legends, contemporary favorites and lots of Greater Cincinnati area artists. This year is no exception; in fact, it may be the best lineup yet. Check the full rundown of performers below, as well as video clips from each day's headliners.
11:30 a.m. Easy Tom Eby
12:20 p.m. Red Cedards
1:10 p.m. Ben Knight
2 p.m. Arlo McKinley and the Lonesome Sound
2:50 p.m. Rattlesnakin' Daddies
3:45 Kentucky Struts
4:40 p.m. Sassy Molasses
5:35 p.m. Al Scorch
6:30 p.m. Frontier Folk Nebraska
7:30 p.m. Charlie Parr
8:30 p.m. Pokey LaFarge and the South City 3
9:30 p.m. Whiskey Bent Valley Boys
10:30 p.m. Langhorne Slim
11:30 a.m. Jive Creek Ramblers
12:20 p.m. Billy Catfish
1:10 p.m. Terminal Union
2 p.m. My Brother the Bear
2:50 p.m. Shiny & the Spoon
3:45 p.m. Jeremy Pinnell & the 55s
4:40 p.m. Josh Eagle and the Harvest City
5:35 p.m. Henhouse Prowlers
6:30 p.m. Bloodroots Barter
7:25 p.m. Chicago Farmer
8:20 p.m. Caitlin Rose
9:20 p.m. The Tillers
10:20 p.m. Justin Townes Earle
11 a.m. Rabbit Hash String Band
11:50 a.m. The Blue Rock Boys
12:40 p.m. Mt. Pleasant String Band
1:30 p.m. Ma Crow and the Lady Slippers
2:25 p.m. Uncle Mike Carr
3:20 p.m. Magnolia Mountain
4:20 p.m. Ramblin' Jack Elliott (check out CityBeat's interview with the Folk legend here)
Weekend passes are $70 (it’s $40 for just Friday and Saturday and $20 for just Sunday). All-weekend on-site camping costs $40 or you can camp off-site for free (while spaces last).
Old Mill Campground is about an hour west of downtown Cincinnati. Here's a map from Fountain Square to Friendship.
View Larger Map
For complete info on this year’s Whispering Beard Folk Festival, visit www.whisperingbeard.com.
Cincinnati's hard-touring Roots/Rock/Pop band 500 Miles to Memphis has made progressively more impressive albums over the years, culminating in 2010's masterful We've Built Up to Nothing, an epic showcase of frontman/founder Ryan Malott's razor-wire-sharp arrangement and songwriting skills. And, though it's hard to imagine the band being any tighter or more energetically entertaining in the live setting (despite a fairly high membership turnover rate), 500MTM's relentless tour schedule has made the band's shows practically flawless. In early May this year, the group teamed up with locally-based, internationally-known producer Erwin Musper to attempt to capture that magic in a bottle, recording 500MTM's performance at Newport's Southgate House for the band's first live album. Fittingly titled Live at the Historic Southgate House 5.7.11, 500MTM celebrates the just-released-album with — what else? — a live show at the Southgate. Americana/Country rockers Fifth on the Floor open the show up at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $10.
On this date in 1963, right after signing their deal with Decca Records, The Rolling Stones entered London’s Olympic Sound Studios to track its first single, a cover of Chuck Berry's "Come On." The single came out in the U.K. on June 7 and went to No. 21 on the U.K. charts, allowing them to begin playing shows outside of London. The band's singles steadily performed better in the U.K. — the second one, "I Wanna Be Your Man" (a Beatles cover) made it to No. 12 and their cover of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" went to No. 3 (it was their first U.S. chart single, as well, reaching No. 48). In early 1964, the band had its first No. 1 single (in the U.K.) with another cover, Bobby and Shirley Womack's "It's All Over Now."
The first original song by the Stones to make it to No. 1 didn't come until 1965's "The Last Time." Later in ’65 the Stones released the following tune, which signaled the coming of a legendary, enduring band — it reached No. 1 in countries across the globe. Over 50 years after forming, the Stones are still rocking. They ended up doing pretty OK for themselves.
A 50th anniversary tour is currently said to be in the works; reports are that the band has been rehearsing in New York and New Jersey for … something (details have not yet been publicly released). Keith Richards told Rolling Stone their aiming to hit the road next year.
Mick Jagger is hosting Saturday Night Live on May 19 for the show's season finale. He'll also be the musical guest. But with whom will he perform? Maybe those New York-area rehearsals will result in a full Stones performance on SNL? All four members of the Stones were present (along with Don Was on bass). They reportedly rehearsed just a few songs, including "Miss You" and "Jumping Jack Flash."
But Jagger's most recent release was with the "supergroup" SuperHeavy, featuring Joss Stone, Dave Stewart, A. R. Rahman and Damian Marley. Perhaps that's who will play?
My money's on either a solo performance backed by SNL's band or the full Stones. Though if The Rolling Stones are performing on Saturday Night Live, you'd think NBC would be very, very eager to promote that. We'll see.
One thing of which I'm fairly certain — wanna bet Jimmy Fallon makes another cameo on SNL May 19?
Click on for Born This Day featuring Donovan, Bono, Craig Mack and Sid Vicious.