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.
Music Tonight: Eilen Jewell does her part in putting the "Alt" back in "AltCountry" when she and her band hit the Southgate House ballroom stage tonight at 8 p.m., supporting her fantastic latest album, Queen of the Minor Key. Superb area singer/songwriter Lauren Houston opens up the show. Check out CityBeat's recent interview with Jewell here. Tickets are $15 at the door and the show is open to those 18 and up. Enjoy the clip below of Jewell performing for NoKy radio station WNKU while out supporting her 2009 Sea of Tears album.
Music Tonight: It's a fittingly slow Monday for concerts, as touring bands gradually make their way back to the road after the Thanksgiving weekend. But that doesn't mean there's no live music in the area tonight. You can dance the Mondays away, Salsa-style, at The Mad Frog in Corryville, as Latin ensemble Tropicoso continues its long-running Monday night residency. Or you can enjoy some yummy, spicy grub and check out Gypsy Jazz kings The Faux Frenchmen at Allyn's Cafe in Columbia-Tusculum, one of the quartet's regular gigs. One residency that is coming to an end is Slack Panther's Monday night showcase at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine. The new local Indie Rock crew has been the club's November "House Band," so their every-Monday concludes tonight. The foursome — whose Facebook description claims "post-grunge neo wave" as the band's genre — released the eight-song Love Space Desire Forever Love Heartache Longing Cincinnati this year. It's available at the popular rate of "name your price" on the Slack Panther Bandcamp site here. Below, give a listen to the track "Brightest Star." The band performs two sets at MOTR tonight, starting at 10 p.m. The show is free.
On this day in 1967, The Beatles continued work on arguably their best song, "A Day in the Life." After a debate over how to end the track following the huge orchestral build-up (sustained choral vocals were considered, but scrapped), the group decided to simultaneously strike a massive E chord on three pianos and sustain the notes for as long as possible. Adding overdubs (and a contribution from producer George Martin on harmonium), the final resonating notes hang in the air for over 40 seconds on the recording. As the held chords faded on the pianos in the studio, the engineer had to crank the recording level, which picked up some incidental sounds (like a creaking chair and, certainly, something about Paul being dead) from the studio.
That E-major chord that closes the song — and the whole Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, considered one of the best ever — is widely considered one of the most famous chords in Rock/Pop history. Which means that The Beatles are responsible for the most popular opening chord in modern music — the mysterious G7sus4-ish that kicks off "A Hard Day's Night" — and the most notable final chord with the "A Day in the Life" finale.
Below is audio of BTO guitarist Randy Bachman explaining the "Hard Day's" chord mystery (frustrated guitarists should feel better about their inability to figure it out), followed by today's biggest Pop superstar performing that famed final note from Sgt. Peppers.
Click the jump for "Born This Day" featuring live footage from one of the final Sublime concerts with Bradley Nowell.
Tonight's allegedly the "busiest bar night of the year," so if you like to hang out at places that are really packed, this is your jam. If you like to hear live music when you go out, you're also in luck, as a lot of the top acts seek out lucrative Wednesday-before-Turkey-Day gigs because of the aforementioned packed-ness.
If you want that live music to be (primarily) original, here are a few recommendations.
• Troy, Ohio-spawned Miss May I (whose singer, Levi Benton, recently moved to Cincinnati) is headlining the Alternative Press tour, which conveniently brings the increasingly popular "Metalcore" band back to their homeland just in time for Thanksgiving. The band's most recent release, At Heart (on Rise Records), came out this summer and was greeted with the best reviews of MMI's career and a No. 32 debut on the Billboard Top 200 chart.
The thrashy, melodic MMI headlines tonight at Bogart's in Corryville on a bill that also features The Ghost Inside, Like Moths to Flames, The Amity Affliction and Glass Cloud. Doors open at 6 p.m. and tickets to the all-ages show are $20.
Read CityBeat's interview with Benton here then check out Miss May I's most recent music video, for At Heart track "Day By Day."
• Vintage Rock & Roll stylist Chris Isaak makes his way to downtown Cincinnati tonight for an 8 p.m. show at the Taft Theatre. Tickets range from $29.50-$59.50. Isaak's going to have to play the show then hop on a plane quickly — he's slated to perform in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in New York City. (Click here to read CityBeat's full preview of the show.)
Isaak recently issued a live DVD based on his 2011 double-disc release Beyond the Sun (his first for the Vanguard label). The album was a collection of cover songs originally recorded by artists on Memphis' seminal Sun Records (from Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis to Carl Perkins and, of course, Elvis), a fitting tribute given Isaak's similar approach and sound. The new Chris Isaak Live! Beyond the Sun DVD is a concert flick featuring several songs from the Sun album, as well as some of his big hits. Expect to hear a similar set list tonight. Here's an Isaak original from the DVD, "Live It Up."
• The songcraft experts and flawless musicians of veteran Cincy Pop/Rock band The Newbees host an album release party tonight at Newport's Southgate House Revival. The release show was originally intended to be the second show at the new club (brought to you by the owners/operators of the old, beloved Southgate House across from Newport on the Levee) but a late code inspection held the grand opening up for a week. The Newbs are celebrating their LP Modern Vintage, a patchwork of musical styles and mercilessly catchy songs. Click here for a full review of the album.
The Newbees are joined tonight by The Turkeys, Chaselounge, Honey & Houston, Les Whorenettes, Shiny Old Soul, See You in the Funnies, Sundae Drives and Dave Hawkins. Tickets are $12 at the door (or $14 for those ages 18-20). Showtime is 9 p.m. Here's the Beatles-esque new album track "Up All Night":
• There are also plenty of other local original groups performing tonight. Among the highlights: Reggae/Rock crew The Ohms and soulful, rocking power trio Tattered Roots (which is celebrating its one-year anniversary) join together at Stanley's Pub in Columbia Tusculum. … Rootsy rockers Alone at 3 a.m. are playing a freebie at The Comet in Northside with Jacob Tippey and Matt Wood. … Electronic improvisers Skeetones hold down the party at The Mad Frog in Corryville, joined by guests The B.E.A.T. and Bassface. … Two former members of The Greenhornes — Brian Olive and Eric Stein — perform a free show at Northside Tavern with their current bands, The Brian Olive Band and Stein's Grotesque Brooms. … Rocket-fueled Indie/Blues/Roots/Rock trio The Sundresses headline tonight's free offering at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine, joined by Detroit foursome Jeecy and the Jungle. … And two of the city's best modern rockers — Ohio Knife and State Song — perform a free show at Mayday in Northside (see poster above).
After a successful screening of an acclaimed Sigur Ros concert film recently, the Contemporary Arts Center is showing another concert flick soon, this time on the same night as dozens of theaters nationwide. On July 18, the CAC is listed as one of the venues screening Shut Up and Play the Hits, the much anticipated concert film/documentary that follows LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy as he preps for his band's final ever concerts, which took place at Madison Square Garden last spring.
The film will be in theaters (or art museums, in our case) for one night only, then presumably be issued on DVD. (No release date on that yet.)
Tickets for most screenings go on sale June 8. Click here for updates. The film will be shown at the CAC at 9 p.m. and accompanied by a DJ set.
Here's the superb trailer for Shut Up and Play the Hits.
Music Tonight: Though they moved their world headquarters to Austin, Tex., a while back, The Heartless Bastards will always be a Cincinnati band in the minds of both their local fans and the band members themselves (band leader Erika Wennerstrom said as much when the group performed on David Letterman’s show a couple years ago). And they always keep Cincinnati in mind when plotting out tour jaunts, including their current all-acoustic jag, which brings them to the Southgate House tonight. R. Ring, the acoustic duo project featuring local musician/engineer Mike Montgomery (Thistle, Ampline) and Dayton’s Kelley Deal (The Breeders), warm things up at 9 p.m.
Music Tonight: The Outlaw Country movement that emerged in the late ’60s showcased, as the name suggests, a renegade sound that didn’t pretty up Country for a Pop audience, instead keeping everything down and dirty, building a bridge between Country and Southern Rock that fed into the “AltCountry” trend of the past 20 or so years. That honest, raw approach has also been translated in modern times by artists whose rebellious side includes a hankering for muscular Heavy Metal. Beginning with David Allan Coe and Pantera’s co-mingling, Hank Williams III has furthered the metallic side of Country in clubs across the world, mixing hard rockin’ songs with more traditional Country, all delivered with the same timeless Punk Rock spirit. Hank III’s guitar tech/tourmate Bob Wayne is another Heavy Outlaw purveyor and tonight he brings his ruckus (and his Outlaw Carnies) to the Southgate House’s Parlour for a 9 p.m. show. Tickets are $10 at the door. Here’s a clip of Wayne kickin’ up dust to a shuffling beat and banjo to get you in the mood (NSFW, primarily for language).
On this day in 1973, wishful thinking channeled through a Pop song paid off for rootsy New Jersey Rock group Dr. Hook when they appeared on the cover of the Rolling Stone. The band formed in 1967 and, in 1970, Dr. Hook was asked to cut a couple tracks for a film that featured songs written by poet/illustrator Shel Silverstein. Those songs led to a record contract and the group continued its collaborative partnership with Silverstein. After modest success with its debut, Dr. Hook's second album, Sloppy Seconds, was completely written by Silverstein and featured what would become the band's signature song, "The Cover of the Rolling Stone."
The song was a lighthearted, ironic take on the amateurish idealism of young musicians who believe that if they could only make the cover of a major magazine, they'd finally be successful. (It reminds me of my grandmother who once suggested to me that if my garage band could just get on that David Letterman show, maybe we would be more popular and successful.) The smart-asses at Rolling Stone put them on the cover in caricature form under the caption, "What's-Their-Names Make The Cover."
Dr. Hook indeed became Rock stars after that and continued to have hits into the ’70s with Soft Rock material like "When You're in Love with A Beautiful Woman" and "Sexy Eyes." The band broke up in the mid-’80s.
Here's the band's first big hit.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a March 29 birthday include star actress/singer Pearl Bailey (1918); Brazilian Bossa Nova singer ("The Girl from Ipanema") Astrud Gilberto (1940); Greek musician/composer (Chariots of Fire soundtrack) Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, better known as Vangelis (1943); singer for soft rockers Toto, Bobby Kimball (1947); late smooth Jazz taxman Michael Brecker (1949); master Blues harmonica player William Clarke (1951); late original lead singer for Ohio-spawned New Wave band The Waitresses ("I Know What Boys Like"), Patty Donahue (1956); singer/harmonica player with ’90s hit makers Blues Traveler, John Popper (1967); and Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell (1959).
Born Peretz Bernstein in New York City, Farrell grew up to be one of the leading generals of the Alternative music revolution of the ’90s. Besides being the engine behind one of the leading bands of Alt music's eventual mainstream takeover, Farrell created the Lollapalooza traveling festival in 1991 (the first year also served as Jane's "farewell" tour). The fest, itself a kind of traveling Woodstock, paved the way for like-minded tours like Lilith Fair and H.O.R.D.E.
The traveling package tour trend petered out and, after a failed attempt at another touring fest in 2004, Lollapalooza became a stand-alone "destination" festival in Chicago's Grant Park in 2005. It remains one of the more anticipated events of its kind alongside Bonnaroo in Tennessee and Coachella in California.
Farrell has reformed Jane's Addiction yet again and this summer the band is touring extensively, playing several music festivals around the world that undoubtedly owe some debt to the success of the initial Lolla tours. Jane's comes to Cincinnati to headline the opening night of the inaugural Bunbury Music Festival on July 13.
Check back later today for news on Bunbury's lineup. An announcement is expected at noon.
Here's some raw footage from that very first Lollapalooza in 1991, with Jane's playing "Classic Girl."
The inaugural Bunbury Music Festival — three days of top-shelf Alternative music at Cincinnati's riverfront Sawyer Point Park — is just four days away. All this week, CityBeat's music blog will be featuring samples from some of our "sleeper picks" for the fest, artists who some may not be as familiar with as they are Weezer or Death Cab for Cutie or Jane's Addiction.
Our next "sleeper" is Imagine Dragons, performing Saturday at 5:15 p.m. on the Bud Light Stage.
Founded in Las Vegas four years ago by primary songwriter Dan Reynolds, Imagine Dragons went through a variety of permutations before settling on the current line-up (guitarist Wayne Sermon, bassist Ben McKee, drummer Daniel Platzman). Since 2009, Imagine Dragons has turned out a quartet of impressive EPs, including the just-released Continued Silence, featuring the YouTube sensation “It’s Time,” all of which is a preview for the fall release of the band’s debut full-length, Night Visions. A quick spin through Continued Silence — the band’s first work for Interscope since signing last year and, like the new album, produced by renowned British Hop Hop boardsman Alex Da Kid — is like panning in a creek bedded with gold nuggets; glints of Coldplay, Everclear, Train and any number of other chart-topping Pop icons, but with a discernibly beat-driven Indie edge. As epic as Homerian poetry set to a U2 soundtrack and as intimate as a candlelight dinner in the Nevada desert.