This particular version of "Many Rivers to Cross," featuring Greater Cincinnati greats Kelly Thomas and The Mudpies, has been haunting me all week (in a great way). It was recorded as the third episode in a brilliantly conceived yearlong project by Thomas and several of her creative pals, The Sacred Harp Sessions, in which she documents her musical inspirations in monthly installments.
"Many Rivers" is such a great song, with its uplifting and optimistic Gospel vibe shining through the lyrical desperation. Thomas and The ’Pies version might just be the best I've heard outside of Jimmy Cliff's original version (sorry, UB40). And I thought it kind of fitting for New Year's Eve (or, perhaps more fittingly, New Year's Day morning) because, although there is a bittersweet aura, Cliff wrote and sang about overcoming his heartbreak and moving on to cross many more rivers in his future. Though he's devastated that his "woman left … and … didn't say why," he knows he'll live through it thanks to his strong will and pride. If you had a tough 2012, make this your theme song on your way to a better 2013.
The Sacred Harp Sessions (produced, on the video end, by Alex and Tiffany Luscht of Mind Igniton) is an engaging passion project, with Thomas choosing songs, area musicians and even local studios she admires and appreciates. Ultimately, it's a tribute to the things that have made Thomas who she is today as an artist (and person).
In the accompanying videos, Thomas talks about what the songs mean to her, but the short films are not purely autobiographical — they can also be educational. The first episode, for example, discussed Cincinnati's King Records and the city's Hank Williams connection; Kelly recorded Williams' "Lost Highway" with Arlo McKinley at the location of downtown's former Herzog recording studio, believed to be the last standing building in which Williams recorded.
Episode 2 of The Sacred Harp Sessions found Thomas teaming up with Cincinnati Blues piano legend Ricky Nye at downtown studio Sound Images for a great take on Robert Johnson's "Come On In My Kitchen."
Click here to subscribe to Thomas' YouTube channel so you know when the latest installments drop and can watch and re-watch your favorites. And keep an eye on Thomas' website for any updates and for limited-edition free downloads of the latest tracks recorded for the project ("Many Rivers" is currently available).
Thomas is currently singing in three bands — her longtime Kelly Thomas and the Fabulous Pickups crew, the classic Country outfit The Tammy WhyNots and The Lonesome Sound (which formed recently after the aforementioned Hank Williams sessions). She'll be starting off 2013 with free shows with all three acts — The Fabulous Pickups join Sassy Molasses at Northside Tavern Jan. 4, on Jan. 5 The Tammy WhyNots play with Tex Schramm and The Radio King Cowboys and Doctor Bombay and The Atomic Bachelor Pad at Over-the-Rhine's MOTR Pub and The Lonesome Sound has a gig on Jan. 12 at downtown's Taqueria Mercado.
AN OPEN LETTER to the four million members of the National Rifle Association:
Dear fellow citizen,
The NRA released a statement yesterday on your behalf expressing that you all are “shocked, saddened and heartbroken” by the news of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. Yes, we all are.
For years you have willingly given your money to an organization that has largely ignored pleas from policemen across our country to limit access to assault weapons and armor piercing ammunition.
You have spent countless millions of dollars silencing and vilifying voices that, while supportive of gun ownership, were calling for moderation in the distribution of weapons that could be used for mass destruction of human life, including the gun used by Friday’s killer that shot one first grader 11 times. And 19 other first grade children. And 6 adults in the space of a few minutes…
When previous heartbroken victims of gun violence who lost children or spouses tried to speak out to hopefully help prevent others from suffering similar unspeakable loss, you rallied for your rights, and gave the suffering no quarter.
For years you have marketed the idea to the citizens of this country that the US government is a potential enemy bent on harming its own citizens, and the only way we could all be safe was if we each purchased a private arsenal of weapons.
While you are reportedly “shocked, saddened and heartbroken,” how many of your members after Friday’s shooting have changed their profile pictures to images of guns, or tweeted messages like “I’m buying a gun the day after Christmas. Join me! #NRAlifelongmember” How many of your members boasted last Friday that they were going to take their kids to a firing range?
You continue to lobby in support of all of us carrying concealed weapons into schools, day care centers, movie theaters, and public squares. You argue that if only we could all walk around packing heat, our society could be safer and more peaceful. You lobby for wider “stand your ground” laws, so we can all load up and take the law into our own hands and play judge and jury (and God?) in the heat of the moment.
The members among you who call themselves Christian often bemoan the fact that “God has been removed from our schools” and yet those very members ignore the direct teachings of Jesus as recorded in Scripture that call upon all followers of Christ to work to break the cycle of violence and not return evil for evil.
Too many of us have stood by silently while you’ve played the part of the playground bully in our public discourse, and distorted our constitution for profit. While we as a nation have improved upon the vision of our “founding fathers” to end slavery in this country, to allow women the right to vote, and to outlaw hate crimes, you cling rigidly to a few words written when the right to bear arms referred to a single shot muzzle loading rifle.
Your voice has been powerful and strident, and too many of us have remained silent in our disbelief of what we were hearing from you. Our silence has been deadly.
If you are indeed “shocked, saddened and heartbroken” consider the part (if you are able and willing to join the rest of us in searching our souls) your organization has played when it comes to last Friday’s shooting. Consider the fear that your organization markets. Consider the bitter fruit of your labors that we must all taste.
And please consider asking forgiveness, changing your ways, and offering whatever healing you are capable of to the hurting in Newtown, Connecticut, as opposed to condoning responding to violence with still ever more violence, ad nauseum.
Unless you can do your part (along with the rest of us), and change in response to Friday’s tragedy, there will be still worse to come.
I live on a small farm in Ohio, own two guns (and my own business) and have family members who are big game hunters. I am rethinking my responsibility as a citizen of this country. We all are. I invite you to do the same.
You’re holding your big press conference tomorrow. We’ll be listening. But I am confident that many millions of us will no longer be silent.
Holidays are especially exciting times for children and, given the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., kids all over will likely be going to be getting a little extra love this season.
Zak Morgan knows kids. The Cincinnati-based singer/songwriter has already had an amazing career in children’s music, with his second self-financed album, When Bullfrogs Croak, earning numerous awards and acclaim, including a 2004 Grammy nomination for Best Musical Album for Children, a remarkable feat for an independent artist.
Morgan’s accomplishments and hard work (he notches over 200 shows a year for kids across the country) paid off with a contract with Universal Music’s kids’ music imprint, myKaZoo Music. His debut for the label, The Barber of the Beasts, came out in late October and would make a fantastic stocking-stuffer for the little ones this Christmas.
Like his previous releases, The Barber of the Beasts features artwork by famed local illustrator C.F. Payne and contains an extensive booklet of lyrics and drawings. The album also features some notable guests, from local musicians like Dan Dorff, Paul Patterson and Josh Seurkamp to nationally acclaimed artists like Robbie Fulks and locals Karin Bergquist (Over the Rhine) and the iconic Bootsy Collins.
But it’s Morgan’s magical stories and songs that are the focal point. There is a perfect formula for children’s music; like with kids’ films these days, many artists try to hard to make their albums “parent friendly” and tend to go overboard, while those who “dumb things down” tend to be the most annoying. Morgan’s gift is finding the perfect balance.
The Barber of the Beasts is for smart and imaginative kids and parents, seeming designed to be enjoyed together. Morgan is great with clever word play and he isn't afraid to drop a few “big words” (or at least unfamiliar words). That’s where the booklet’s excellent vocabulary guide comes in handy. Parents can go over words with their children, who will have not only been entertained by Zak’s fantastical storytelling, but will also learn something in the process.
Many of the tracks on Barber feature gorgeous chamber string arrangements, but there are also tunes like “Snow Day,” on which Morgan channels his inner Tom Waits (vocally), the shuffling, jazzy Pop cut “Swinging On A Star,” the Country-esque “Nancy Jane” and the great Bootsy collaboration, “The Case of the Dry Markers,” a swingin’, “spooky” Jazz struttin’ mystery with a Halloween vibe.
Here is the debut music video from the album for "The Case of the Dry Markers":
The songs and music are elegant and often downright majestic (particularly the ones with the spine-tingling string arrangements), while Morgan’s clever stories are loaded with a silliness that the young listeners will gleefully embrace.
I believe The Barber of the Beasts (which will specifically appeal to kids between around the ages of 1-8, but certainly fits the "fun for kids of all ages" bill) was released in time to make next year’s Grammy nominations. It will be a crime if it doesn’t make the cut. When it comes to children’s music, Zak is like the Bob Dylan of the genre — minus the curmudgeonly grumpiness, of course.
This Saturday at 1 p.m., Morgan and a host
of special guests will present the local release party for the album at
The Monastery recording studio (2601 Stanton Ave., Walnut Hills), the
performance/recording space owned and operated by producer/guitarist Ric
Hordinski (who also performed on, produced and co-wrote material on the album).
Tickets are available through brownpapertickets.com for $10 (or $20 for families of two-five people). Remaining tickets will be available at the door the day of the show for $15 (or $25 per family). Your ticket also includes food and admission to the post-show pizza party.
• Influential Maryland-spawned Death Metal/Hardcore/Gindcore group Dying Fetus headlines Newport's Thompson House for a night of hardcore release. Singer/guitarist John Gallagher has kept the Fetus alive for 21 years, maintaining a dedicated following and racking up honors like having his band's 2000 release, Destroy the Opposition, named to Decibel Magazine's list of "Hall of Fame" Metal albums.
Read more on the group from this week's CityBeat here. The band is joined by guests/tourmates on the Fetus' "The Blood of Power Tour," Malignancy and Cerebral Bore, plus Beverly Hellfire, Fenrir, End It With a Shotgun and Soul Rot.
Tonight's show is at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15. Here's Dying Fetus' "From Womb to Waste" from the group's most recent album, Reign Supreme.
• The Madison Theater in Covington is launching its "Madison Theater Band Challenge" tonight. The events will feature a boat-load of local acts — between now and Jan. 4, there are NINE "Round 1" challenges, featuring around nine established and up-and-coming artists from a variety of genres each night. Tonight's first event starts at 6:30 p.m. and features a mix of Rock, Funk and Hardcore, with Banducci and the Wheels, Merry Carls, Pledges, Rebuild The Barrier, Self Ish, The Fallen, The Requiem, Undefined and Victory Over Vanity competing. Visit Madison Theater's site here for a run down of the rest of the challengers. All of the Band Challenge events are open to music lovers of all ages.
• For something funky and jolly, Steve Schmidt's annual Organ Trio Christmas Spectacular concludes tonight at The Comet and is always a popular draw. Click here for details.
Even more live music options in Greater Cincinnati tonight. (Feel free to leave your own suggestions in the comments)
Veteran ace Jazz pianist/organist Steve Schmidt returns to The Comet in Northside to launch his Christmas-themed two-night stand at the venue.
Schmidt's annual Christmas Jazz "Spectacular" has become a local holiday tradition. Schmidt whips out his organ (a Hammond B3; get your mind out of the gutter!) for the occasion and, as always, brings along some top-shelf special guests for the shows. Schmidt is joined by Brad Myers on guitar and Mark Wolfley on drums, plus two amazing singers — Eugene Goss (known for his work with Billy Larkin as Triage) and the great Mandy Gaines.
The Steve Schmidt Organ Trio Christmas Spectacular runs 8:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. tonight and tomorrow at The Comet. There is no cover charge.
Voting for Greater Cincinnati's annual celebration of our amazing local music scene, the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, is now open. Vote for your faves or, even better, do some research online, check out all of the nominees and THEN pick who you think is most deserving.
Click here to get started on your ballot.
The 16th annual CEA ceremony will be held at Covington’s Madison Theater on Jan. 27, featuring more live performances than ever and first-time host Ted Clark, known for his monthly “live chat show” Ted Clark After Dark. Ted will present a special edition of Ted Clark After Dark at the after-party, this year held at The Loft, just around the corner from the Madison and above Tickets (the former home to the Rock club Radio Down). The after-party will also include the annual “Fashion Trashies,” presented by members of local Indie Pop legends The Fairmount Girls and honoring the best/worst/weirdest-dressed CEA attendees.
Tickets to the Jan. 27 ceremony/party will go on sale this coming Wednesday through CincyTicket.com. Proceeds from ticket sales are being donated the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation.
Another new aspect of this year’s CEAs involves the “New Artist of the Year” nominees. The acts nominated in that category will perform at the first-ever CEA new music showcase at Bogart’s on Jan. 18 (confirmations pending). Audience votes at the event will help determine the winner of the category, along with votes from the nominating committee (who also choose the Album and Artist of the Year winners).
Tickets for the new music showcase will go sale soon through Ticketmaster.
Now, a few words on "the process." Since the nominees were announced on Wednesday, I've received several queries asking "How do I get nominated for a CEA?" from various artists and/or their representatives.
It's the same answer found in the old joke, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"
Practice. And also work hard and keep spreading the word about your awesome music.
As has been the case in the entire the 16-year existence of the CEAs (and as has been noted every year in our coverage of the event, including this year), a nominating committee is assembled each year to determine the CEA nominees. These include writers, promoters, club owners, local-music radio hosts and others whose opinion on local music-makers we trust. This year's committee included approximately 40 such people. We try our best to include those whose expertise is either wide-ranging or specific to a particular genre represented in the CEA categories. (Judges do not have votes counted if they're cast for an artist with whom the judge directly works.)
This year, invitations to participate in the nominating process were sent out to nearly 70 people, so obviously certain experts declined to participate, missed the deadline for nominees or just ignored our request.
The committee is asked to nominate up to three artists per category who caught their eyes and ears this past year. The only guidelines are that the artists should have been active in the past 365 days, the nominees should be largely original (though certainly talented, straight-up "cover bands" are generally not eligible) and the judges are also instructed to give special consideration to any act that has released new recorded material in that same time-frame.
The CEA nominating judges are listed in the CEA "program" annually. I will not release their names here because I've personally received many rude or stupid emails telling me what an idiot I am for not nominating "fill in the blank." The nominating committee was kind enough to participate; I don't want to open any of them up to such haranguing and harassment.
Finally, I'd just like to say that every year there are TONS of really great acts that deserve a nomination but don't get one. It's not personal. It's not "political." It's not "who you know." It's simply a matter of time and space. If every artist who deserved a nomination got one, the CEA show itself would run 16 hours — and that's just to read the nominations for each category.
I agree to some extent that award shows like these are a little frivolous and that the process for nominations isn't perfect. It never is, for any awards show. We have thought about letting the public nominate the artists (a la the long-gone "CAMMY" awards presented by The Enquirer), but ultimately feel that the way the CEA process is set up works best. Because, ultimately, whoever wins their category is going to deserve it.
Though we take the process seriously, we've always thought of the CEAs as more of a celebration than a contest. I invite you to think of it the same way and join us for the show, whether you were nominated or not. The CEAs are for the ENTIRE Greater Cincinnati music scene. The awards are just a good excuse to get everyone together. Instead of being a sore sport about your lack of attention, come out and congratulate and party with your fellow nominees.
Fans of live, homegrown American Roots music will want to keep their Thursday nights free for the next few weeks. Two strong, weekly events featuring several of the city's best musicians in the field (many of whom were recently nominated for 2012 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards) will continue (at least) until the end of 2012.
Mark Utley (nominated for the best Singer/Songwriter CEA) of local Americana ensemble
Magnolia Mountain (nominated for best Folk/Americana act) is December’s “artist in residence” at The Crow’s Nest
in Price Hill, which has become something of a local clubhouse for area Americana artists. Utley performs solo (and with bandmate Renee Frye) every Thursday this month, each night
joined by some top-shelf guests.
The residency continues tonight as Utley is joined by David Rhodes Brown’s Kentucky Timbre and Kentucky Struts’ Todd
Lipscomb join Utley, while Ed Cunningham of the Comet Bluegrass
All-Stars and Amber Nash of Shiny and the Spoon are the guests Dec. 20
and Sassy Molasses’ Moriah Lawson and Wussy’s Chuck Cleaver join Utley
and Frye for the Dec. 27 showcase.
All Thursday shows at The Crow's Nest are free; music
starts at 9:30 p.m. each night.
Meanwhile, Country troupe Jeremy Pinnell and the ’55s have been hosting "Honky Tonky Thursdays" every week around the area for the past several months. The free event — currently held at Japp's on Main St. in Over-the-Rhine — has also showcased a plethora of special guests from the local Roots scene.
Tonight is an especially strong lineup — the 55's will back up 500 Miles to Memphis frontman Ryan Malott (who just announced a Kickstarter campaign to finance his band's fourth LP) for a set of Country classics (and perhaps a few Malott gems) and fellow CEA best Country act nominee Tex Schramm and the Radio King Cowboys open up the night at 8:30 p.m.
Pinnell and Co. today leaked a recording from the band's pre-production rehearsals for their debut album. Look for the LP next year. Here's the demo for "The Way Country Sounds." You can also, for a limited time, download the track from Soundcloud here.
Cincinnati Entertainment Awards voting begins tomorrow at noon.
Tonight in Northside, Mayday presents its monthly new local band showcase, "Unsung." This month's newcomers aren't entirely "new," but they are new to Cincinnati. The Brothers Devine, a quirky and eclectic AltRock two-piece (guitar/drums) featuring bros Andris and Erik Devine, recently moved to town from Milwaukee. The duo takes avowed influences like Green Day, System of a Down, Bad Religion, and the Goo Goo Dolls and concocts a wild-eyed blend of Punk, Indie Pop, Metal, Folk and whatever the hell else they feel like exploring at the time.
Tonight's Unsung show is free and kicks off at 9 p.m. Here's a playlist of the Devine's music to get your ready. Click here for more on the group.
• Fuzzy, Pumpkins-esque AltRock crew Silversun Pickups pulls into Corryville tonight for a show at Bogart's. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for the all-ages show are $30 at the door.
Click here to read a show preview from this week's CityBeat, then check out the band performing on WNYC's Soundcheck. Audio of the full appearance follows.
Those Guys have emerged as one of the more impressive up-and-comers in Cincinnati Hip Hop, both via their digital/CD releases (a handful of singles and a trio of excellent mixtapes) and their live show, which incorporates a three-piece live band. Those Guys features MC's J.Al and Jova, who met as high school freshmen and started the group upon graduation in 2008. Citing influences like Kanye, The Clipse and Kid Cudi, the duo issued Greater Than the Mixtape Volume 1 in 2009.
The most recent in their Greater Than the Mixtape series (Volume 3) was released late last year, kicking off with the monster track "You Ain't Know," which showcases the duo's telepathic back-and-forth, superb lyricism and a fat and funky musical approach.
The duo has been garnering extra attention with their just-released video (Those Guys' first) for "You Ain't Know," which was filmed in Monroe just prior to Halloween and features some spectacular scenes of the crew blowing up a car. Who says you need a big budget for action-movie-like special effects? (The group thanks the City of Monroe's parks, fire and police department as well as the Butler County Bomb Squad in the video description on YouTube, so the fiery shoot was on the up-and-up.)
The video has been creating major buzz on social media, even drawing praise from Hip Hop legend Redman, who tweeted "Dope ass video … thats wut Im talkn bout … sumtn different … hard shit."
Check the clip below, then visit the duo's Bandcamp site to download the latest mixtape and other Those Guys material for free. You can find more about Those Guys at their official site, Facebook page and on Twitter here.
Deft local MC Buggs Tha Rocka, who balances his excellent solo work with performances and recordings with the group Gold Shoes, has become the first Hip Hop artist to participate in the ongoing "Emery Sessions," a series of excellent music videos, filmed in one-shot by world-class photographer Michael Wilson at the restored classic Cincinnati venue, The Emery Theatre. Audio was handled once again by local musicians Cameron Cochran and Henry Wilson.
The series not only celebrates local music but also showcases the grand old theatre, a century-old Cincinnati treasure that fell into disrepair but has recently returned to "active venue" status thanks to the work of The Requiem Project.
Buggs and DJ Ghost performed "Stephanie's Song" for their Session. Unlike previous clips (which have spotlighted a host of local artists, from Over the Rhine to Jeremy Pinnell and the 55s, as well as Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley and many others), Buggs and DJ Ghost don't perform on the theatre's stage, but in another nook and cranny elsewhere in the building.
"Stephanie's Song" is from Buggs Tha Rocka's fantastic The Wrath of Zeus mixtape, which is available for free download here.
Take a look at some of the other Emery Sessions here.