That old trope about doers doing and non-doers teaching holds no currency with saxophonist Dave McDonnell. The Chicago native relocated to Cincinnati six years ago to complete his doctorate Jazz studies at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music, which ultimately led to positions at UC and the University of Dayton, teaching both music and music technology.
At the same time, McDonnell never abandoned his love for performance, composition and recording. Early in his Jazz career, McDonnell divided his time between waiting tables, teaching private music lessons and playing in an impossible number of bands; he even worked with Elephant 6 icons Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control (studio sessions with the former, touring with the latter).
Family life and academic rigors forced McDonnell to dial down his band participation — he currently works with Michael Columbia, Diving Bell and Herculaneum — but his reduced roles also provided him the impetus to resume exploring his own work, leading him to assemble a coterie of friends and bandmates from his Chicago experience (guitarist Chris Welcome, bassist Joshua Abrams, drummer Frank Rosaly, vibraphonist Jason Adaiewicz and cellist Tomeka Reid) and form the Dave McDonnell Group.
Utilizing a blend of crafted and precise composition and free-form improvisation, McDonnell created a masterful and acclaimed debut album, last year's the dragon and the griffin. The album was by turns contemplative and explosive, but always guided by the spirit of Ornette Coleman's similarly constructed pieces, where the tunes' purposefully written passages set the tone and established a foundation and framework for the band's circuitously invigorating spontaneity.
Just a little over a year and a half later, McDonnell and his Group (a version of which features Cincinnati players for area live shows) have returned, once again eschewing upper-case titling and stodgy tradition on the appropriately christened the time inside a year, his debut for esteemed Chicago Jazz label Delmark. While McDonnell adheres to his winning compositional-vs.-improvisational strategy on the time inside a year, he also adds a new wrinkle with a slightly older piece from his canon, namely his three-movement suite "AEpse," which grew out of his doctorate studies at CCM and which he debuted in Chicago two years ago.
"AEpse" stands in contrast to the grooves, shifting rhythms and dazzlingly intricate harmonics of the rest of the time inside a year. "AEpse," as a three-part, 11-minute piece of music, explores a chilly soundscape of electronic expanse, appointed by Reid's mesmerizing cello incantations, which drift through McDonnell's constructed atmosphere like smoke in a virtual opium den. But rather than present this sonorously beautiful piece as a whole, McDonnell chose to intersperse the three "AEpse" movements within his gyrational Bop tracklist, allowing them to serve as way stations along the album's journey.
And what an impressive journey it proves to be. Opening with the quietly propulsive "Bullitt," moving into the slinkily engaging and sensual "Vox Orion" and on to the jaunty "The Contract with Bees," McDonnell displays his considerable skills as both a powerful frontman and a generous bandleader, jumping to the fore with appropriately frenetic flurries of notes or delicately woven passages, or yielding the floor to Adasiewicz's fluid and enchanting vibraphone runs or Welcome's always brilliant guitar contributions, all of it made possible by the gymnastics of Abrams and Rosaly's limber and diverse rhythm section.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the swinging, shattering "Baker's Man," which begins and ends with the band in unison on the song's loping theme and fills its center with a dissonant Sun Ra/Zappa/Beefheart explosion of sounds and ideas. As atypical as it is sonically to the rest of the time inside a year, it perfectly points up McDonnell's incredible compositional skills and DMG's extraordinary ability to go completely off the map and then return to the radar in a fraction of a heartbeat.
Cincinnati has enjoyed a long and storied Jazz tradition, spawning some of the most profoundly talented and inventive players in the country, but even its most revered alumni must be sitting up and taking notice of the jaw-dropping accomplishments of Dave McDonnell and his innovative and musically curious Jazz collective. Clearly McDonnell's depth and breadth of experience informs every second of the Dave McDonnell Group's incredible output, but it is the application of that experience to his own work that is so consistently impressive. Two years and two albums in, and the anticipation of where DMG might head next is palpable and exciting.
THE DAVE MCDONNELL GROUP, with guitarist Brad Myers, bassist Peter Gemus and drummer Dan Dorff, plays Urban Artifact on Tuesday at 8 p.m.
Greater Cincinnati is now home to several major music events. Summer festivals like Bunbury and Midpoint capture a lot of the public interest and fill downtown for days at a time. But for fans like me who prefer their music with a bit more bite, there’s really only one fest in the area that matters — Ironfest. The two-day event, now in its sixth year, is held at Newport’s Southgate House Revival to honor the late “Iron” Mike Davidson, a local musician whose passing inspired the festival’s creation. I may have gone to a Midpoint show or two this year (Jameson makes memories hazy), Ironfest is the one event that I truly look forward.
The founder of Ironfest, John Gerhardt, created the show to raise money for Davidson’s family and he is steadfast in his goal. Tickets for the event are $5 online or $10 at the door for each night, and I suspect that price will stay the same for years to come. With over 50 bands on the bill, the price-to-band ratio obviously can’t be beat, and that’s just how Gerhardt likes it. The low-price mantra even carries over to the merch. An Ironfest shirt will set you back $5 and items like hoodies and hats are also reasonably priced. Even the pizza that’s brought in to help soak up the booze is free, with only a donation requested.
While the fundraising tradition that built Ironfest continues, the festival itself has grown immensely over the last few years. Gerhardt works all year to bring together local and regional talent to fill the house’s three stages, and this year’s lineup was the most eclectic and vast group of bands fans have seen yet. Groups came from Cleveland, Dayton, Chicago and Boston to be a part of this year’s Ironfest, and the genre mix was as wild as ever.
The majority of the bands fell into the heavier genres of Rock & Roll, Punk or Metal, but this year saw Industrial music (Chicago’s Hide), an experimental string music (Kate Wakefield) and Electronica (Black Signal) represented, amongst many other styles. To say that a fest has a little bit of everything is an advertising trope nowadays, but having this kind of diversity in one house over a two-day period is pretty damn impressive. Especially when walking from one room to the other provided massive swings in sound each time you transitioned. The lineup was spread out in such a way that if you truly wanted to see every band (a daunting task to be sure), you could give each group at least some of your time.
As music journalist, Ironfest makes my job easy. With so many great bands onstage at once, there’s bound to be some that I haven’t heard or a young band who’s just starting out. Buying several CDs in one night may hurt my wallet, but my ears couldn’t be happier. Thanks Hide, Good English, Tiger Sex and The Skulx for all making one hell of a first impression on a grizzled veteran (which is a fancy way of saying the drunk guy whose neck is sore from head-banging this weekend).
That isn’t to say that returning bands were slouches this weekend either. There were a ton of amazing performances, but a few are worth a special mention. Valley of the Sun played its first show in months in Southgate House’s Lounge and promptly blew eardrums with a six-song set that featured three new tracks from the band’s upcoming release. The Honeyspiders released its highly-anticipated debut album in conjunction with their Ironfest appearance and offered something special for fans of the Harrison brothers’ previous band when they were joined onstage by former Banderas guitarist Jesse Ramsey (in town playing with his new band, Punching Moses) to perform an old Banderas track to round out the set.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the dirty elephant in the room. With Mainstay Rock Bar’s closing late last year, Cincinnati filth mongers Dandelion Death no longer had a place to hold its yearly show. So when the group were added to this year’s Ironfest lineup, there’s was much rejoicing. When the band took the stage to close out Saturday night in the Sanctuary, the room was full of people who had no idea what they were in for. But those of us who did got to see a Dandelion Death at its most ridiculous, with a stage large enough for the band and its female companions to actually fit on. While Mainstay’s center stage pole was sorely missed, it didn’t hinder any of the ridiculous Metal that only Dandelion Death can get away with.
While Ironfest may be built on a very Metal foundation, for many, it is about more than the music — it’s about community. For anyone plugged into Cincinnati’s Rock scene, Ironfest is akin to a high-school reunion, except everyone’s drunk and people are actually having fun. The sheer number of musicians in the house leads to tons of Rock & Roll run-ins with longtime friends. At times, it’s hard to go outside for a smoke or grab a drink at the bar because walking the 20 feet to either location involves stopping, saying hi to an old friend and catching up. By now, my friends know to just abandon me if I stop on the way to a destination; I’ll catch up eventually.
Ironfest started as a way for one friend to honor the life and memory of a fallen buddy and, at its core, that is what Ironfest still is. But in the past six years, Ironfest has grown into a massive beast that many music fans eagerly look forward to year after year. Those that knew “Iron” Mike speak of the man with nothing but the upmost respect and fondness. His passing truly rocked those who knew him and Ironfest’s origination becomes obvious if you hear just one of his friends speak about his legacy. While I never knew the man, every year I thank him, because his memory spawns an amazing event full of amazing bands and people, and personally brings me so much joy. So cheers to you, Mike; I may not have known you, but I really wish that I did.
The wholly unexpected announcement of a pair of reunion shows by one of Cincinnati’s greatest bands, Ass Ponys, inspired a sense of excitement within me that was matched only by the birth of my two children, the legal end of my first marriage and meeting the woman who convinced me to sign up for a 33-year-and-counting second hitch.
You might think that's overstating a case, and I might think so as well, but the fact remains that I was beside myself at the thought of seeing Ass Ponys in action after a decade-long hiatus. And the reason was quite simple — I had never seen the Ass Ponys during their 17-year run.
As Ass Ponys frontman Chuck Cleaver has said many times since the reunion was trumpeted, the band was never nearly as popular here in Cincinnati as they were out in the wider, smarter world. That fact had nothing to do with the reality that I had never seen them play. I loved them before they'd recorded a single note of music.
My first exposure to Ass Ponys was their one-song appearance on WVXU's tribute to The Who in the summer of 1989, simulcast live from the station’s studios and appropriately dubbed “Who Cares.” Ass Ponys were among a stellar local lineup that included The Afghan Whigs, The Speed Hickeys, The Thangs, Human Zoo, Bucking Strap, SS0-20, Warsaw Falcons and many others. Each contributed a single song to the proceedings. Ass Ponys, accompanied by local guitar legend Bill Weber, roared through a Who rarity, "Glow Girl," an outtake that appeared on the 1974 collection, Odds & Sods. Having heard about them but never actually having heard them, the band’s R.E.M.-esque take on "Glow Girl" sold me in half a heartbeat. I taped all of the musical performances from “Who Cares” on that July evening (oddly enough the 20th anniversary of the moon landing — insert inadvertent Keith Moon reference here) and I cherish that cassette. Ass Ponys' rendition of the Who's archive gem remains a personal highlight.
Four months later, I took a job with a design/marketing firm and almost immediately began clocking serious overtime. Just over a year after that, I revived my freelance writing career as an adjunct to my full-time position, and hours that might have been used to see local shows dissipated like cigarette smoke in a cyclone. As much as I wanted to see Ass Ponys, the planet alignment of my ability to slink out into a night coinciding with one of their local appearances never occurred.
But I avidly followed the band’s recording endeavors. I bought Mr. Superlove and Grim upon release in the early ’90s, and my freelance writing activity earned me a contact at A&M Records, which resulted in Electric Rock Music and The Known Universe showing up in my post office box. I raged at the cosmos when Ass Ponys was dropped from the label's roster and exulted when they chimed with typical Cleaver "fuck it" bravado and re-blazed their independent trail with Lohio and Some Stupid with a Flare Gun.
Ass Ponys' catalog took on the gravitas of scripture for me, stone musical tablets engraved by the flaming finger of God and sent forth into the world to instruct the unwashed and convert the unconverted. They sang about loss and death and dysfunction and insanity with a cheerily twisted conviction that was infectious and transcendent, and I drank their bitter Kool-Aid with a smile on my face and their songs in my heart.
Obviously, just as the Ass Ponys blipped off area radar screens in 2005, Cleaver’s musical collaboration with Lisa Walker was blossoming, laying the foundation for a decade of Wussy brilliance (which continues next March with the release of Forever Sounds). Yet even as Wussy's star ascended, and the band's permanence was asserted, questions lingered about Ass Ponys' status. They had never regretted to inform their fans of their demise, never bid the faithful a teary farewell at the finale of a blaze-of-glory last show. Ass Ponys simply ceased to be, its members scattering to new situations and directions.
Maybe that's why the announcement of Ass Ponys' reunion shows at Over-the-Rhine’s Woodward Theater Nov. 6 and 7 was met with such an exuberant reception. As inauspiciously as the band retreated into the shadows, Ass Ponys planned their return with an equal lack of fanfare. But the loyal had little interest in allowing the band to shuffle quietly back into the spotlight. It was quickly apparent by way of social media posts that fans from around the country were already planning their Cincinnati pilgrimages to crowd the front of an Ass Ponys stage one more time.
With the Friday night show, after weeks of fairly intense rehearsals, the waiting came to an end and Ass Ponys steeled themselves to the task of presenting material that was, in some cases, close to a quarter-century old. Cleaver reported just prior to the show that he was likely the least nervous member of the band, revealing that bassist Randy Cheek had been up all the previous night thinking about their first show in over 10 years; presumably, guitarist John Erhardt (who plays with Cleaver in Wussy) and drummer Dave Morrison expressed similar signs of anxiety. But Cleaver also noted that the Woodward shows would be populated by the friendliest audiences Ass Ponys had ever attracted.
Friday's show began with a terrific set from Swim Team, which rocked a vibe that was part '60s-Pop melodicism, part Blondie-tinted New Wave edge and part Slits avant Art Rock eclecticism. Frontwoman Lillian Currens veered from a sweet Pop croon to a visceral Rock wail while the rest of the band provided an appropriately dynamic soundscape for her gymnastic vocals to pinwheel around in, creating a Riot Grrrl/Lana Del Ray mixtape. The quartet's brash and jittery opening set was the perfect introduction to what would prove to be an incredible moment in Cincinnati's musical history.
Given that I was an Ass Ponys stage virgin until Friday's glorious deflowering, I can offer no comparisons, no yardstick of performances past by which to measure the band's transfiguration into a contemporary unit. What I do know is that the four members of Ass Ponys have spent the last 10 years playing in some of the best and brawniest and most creative bands in recent memory, and that expansive breadth of experience couldn't help but elevate Ass Ponys' performance to an incredible new level in the modern context. Cleaver had noted during an interview on Class X Radio with Eddy Mullet and I the Monday before the shows that the band had discussed how to approach their material, with everyone agreeing it was best to relearn and rearrange the songs with their current expertise, rather than to recreate them note for note for the sake of some manufactured nostalgia.
The wisdom of that decision was proven with indelible and muscular versions of some of the best selections from Ass Ponys' powerful songbook. They went effortlessly from strength to strength, spitting and kicking and tearing through early classics ("I Love Bob," "Azalea"), A&M-era standouts ("Earth to Grandma," "Shoe Money," "Under Cedars and Stars") and late period wonders ("Butterfly," "Pretty as You Please," "Astronaut"), all with a renewed vigor and the hyper-electric jolt of pissing on an electric fence.
As usual, Cleaver was an engaging ringmaster. Three songs in, he noted in classic style, "Some things never change. I still sweat like a whore in church." He then recounted an observation made by a woman he overheard at an Ass Ponys show years ago: "I've never seen a man sweat that much without passing out." Throughout the night, people would call out unrehearsed requests which Cleaver fielded with a definitive "Nope." Cleaver explained the origins of songs ("This one's about a monkey …”) and kept up his standard patter-on-wry, but mostly he thanked the multitude for its dedication and passion, noting how humbling it was to see how many people drove and flew in from all over the country (rumor had it someone was coming from England) with the sole objective of witnessing the Ass Ponys' fresh splendor.
At the end, Cleaver announced — sarcastically and yet somehow lovingly — "This is the one that bought us our luxurious lifestyle," and the group launched into its MTV/college radio hit, "Little Bastard," the last in a long string of sing-along moments. If the show had gone on for another two hours, it would have seemed too short, but with the fading strains of "Little Bastard" ringing in my ears, I felt that my first and likely last live exposure to Ass Ponys was an overwhelming success and quite possibly an ecstatic religious experience.
As Wussy bassist Mark Messerly noted before the show started, the atmosphere at the Woodward was like a high school reunion "where you like everyone and you want to be there." 500 Miles to Memphis frontman Ryan Malott recounted how he had grown up down the street from Cleaver and had graduated with his daughter, ultimately crediting the Ass Ponys with sparking his interest in picking up a guitar and making his own music.
A lot of Friday's attendees had a direct connection to Ass Ponys' past and present. Vacation/Tweens drummer Jerri Queen (who would be opening Saturday's show with Vacation) helped produce and engineer the new Wussy album (as did Swim Team guitarist John Hoffman). The Ready Stance guitarist/vocalist Wes Pence, now bandmates with Cheek, was a contemporary of Ass Ponys with his ’90s outfit Middlemarch. Afghan Whigs bassist John Curley produced or engineered the first four Ass Ponys releases. Tigerlilies guitarist/vocalist Pat Hennessey was fronting The Thangs back in ’80s and ’90s, and was in a Fairmount Girls lineup with Cheek. Jim and Darren Blase helped maintain the Ass Ponys' flame by releasing the 2005 two-disc retrospective, The Okra Years, on their Shake It Records imprint.
Blase, freshly relocated back to Cincinnati after several years in Cambridge, Mass. (stop into Shake It’s shop and welcome him home), rightly noted that while Ass Ponys' influence is far-reaching and pervasive, no one, from the time of their first rehearsal in 1989 to the Woodward show we were anxiously awaiting, sounds quite like they do, a sound Blase likened to "an Americana Pere Ubu." No truer words.
The two Woodward appearances could well be the last we ever see these members on stage together. There are still plans afoot to reissue the band's long out-of-print catalog, and several people noted that both shows were being recorded, suggesting a live record could be in the works. And since Cleaver never says never, he answered the point blank question from a fan after the show — “Will you guys ever record again?” — with a nebulous yet hopeful, "Who knows?"
Whatever happens, however it shakes out, my first Ass Ponys show was a blast. If more crop up going forward, I'll be there, as well. But you never forget your first.
In the fall of 1946, sibling Country (or “Hillbilly,” as it was dubbed) singing duo The Delmore Brothers came to downtown Cincinnati to record a session at E. T. Herzog’s studios (where famed sides by Hank Williams, Patti Page, Ernest Tubbs, Flatt and Scruggs and numerous other legends also recorded) on Race Street. Beginning their career in the ’30s, the Alabama-bred brothers had become well known for their stunning harmonies, incorporating Gospel, Blues and Folk traditions into their Country stylings.
In the mid-to-late-’40s, Rabon and Alton Delmore’s sound began to shift towards something more innovative and modern. The duo was recording for King Records, the legendary Cincinnati institution that made (and, many say, changed) music history when it began releasing R&B records alongside its Country ones. The Delmores were a part of the bridge to this open blending of styles, something that ultimately helped lay the groundwork for the creation of Rock & Roll.
Many consider The Delmore Brothers’ indispensable contributions to the genre dubbed “Hillbilly Boogie,” which blended bluesy rhythms and chord structures into the Country aesthetic, a crucial building block that helped pave the way for Rockabilly and Rock & Roll.
Former Rock and Roll Hall of Fame curator Jim Henke is quoted as saying, “‘Hillbilly Boogie’ by the Delmore Brothers directly anticipated the development of Rockabilly and, later, Rock & Roll. With their close-knit harmonies and their guitar playing, the Delmores influenced the Everly Brothers and countless other Country, Rockabilly and Rock & Roll artists.”
During the Cincinnati sessions at Herzog, the Delmores cut tracks like “Boogie Woogie Baby” and the seminal “Freight Train Boogie,” one of the most distinct precursors to Rockabilly (some even call it the first Rock & Roll record).
This Saturday at 7 p.m., several area musicians will gather at the site of those early recordings (811 Race St., second floor, now the downtown headquarters of the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation) to celebrate their 69th anniversary and the Delmore’s huge contributions to music. The local musicians who will gather for "Delmore Day" to talk about and perform songs by The Delmore Brothers include Edwin P. Vardiman with Kelly Thomas, J. Dorsey, Big Bob Burns with Jeff Wilson, Margaret Darling, Joe Mitchell, Joe Prewitt and Don Miller, Elliott Ruther, Tim Combs, Mark Dunbar, Travis Frazier, David Rhodes Brown with Jared Schaedle and Ally Hurt.
The event is open to the public (fans of all ages are welcome) and free. Here is the Facebook event page for more info.
After a tumultuous period that included personnel change, a career lull, an identity shift and finally an unexpected and unfortunate dissolution, the members of Pomegranates clearly thought their time had come and gone. But now, in a story twist that is equally unexpected and exultantly hailed by even the most casual fan, the Cincinnati band is taking two final bows on stage at Newport’s Southgate House Revival this Saturday, and one final stab at studio redemption with the release of its fifth album, Healing Power.
Two years ago, Pomegranates played what they intended to be their last show. The quartet had toured relentlessly behind its fourth album, 2012's Heaven, and when the band finally dropped anchor, the members began work on what should have been their fifth album.
"We thought we were going to make a noisier Rock record and instead, overall, it seems pretty low key and way more chilled out," drummer Jacob Merritt says. "And it's pretty long, also, with more songs — I don't know if ‘sprawling’ is the right word."
When Pomegranates started shopping their new tunes around, they were more than a little dismayed at the lukewarm reception they received. The departure of multi-instrumentalist Curt Kiser and the arrival of the similarly-talented Pierce Geary infused the band with a fresh perspective, but the indifference to Healing Power flooded them with self-doubt. And with members Isaac Karns and Joey Cook thinking about solo projects, the quartet began to reconsider everything.
"We were a nominally successful, mid-level band and we had been for a few years," Merritt says. "We gave (Healing Power) to a bunch of labels and managers and no one seemed to care. There was this weird stigma, where people were like, 'You guys have been around so long (the band formed way back in the mid-’00s), and you get on all these great tours. Why aren't you more successful?' And no one wanted to take the jump to help us become more successful. Nothing seemed to happen, and the guys were getting tired of the slow, steady growth and the grind of being away for weeks at a time, so we were very disappointed. The lineup had changed with Pierce, and it didn't make sense to release the album as it was, and we were second-guessing ourselves because no new people in the industry seemed to be interested and we were like, ‘Maybe this isn't good.’ ”
Thinking that perhaps they needed to shake things up, with a personnel change representing a good time to implement just such a jostle, Pomegranates dropped their name and adopted the title of the new album as their new moniker.
"We wanted to call the album Healing Power but at that point, we were like, 'Let's turn a new leaf and just be Healing Power,’ ” Merritt says. "It seemed to confuse a lot of people, because we weren't doing anything differently. We were still Pomegranates, playing the same set, but there were people who were like, 'I don't know about Healing Power, I like Pomegranates.’ That was perhaps a mistake, if you want to call it that.”
Healing Power lasted for close to a year before the quartet decided to pack it in. The band's official last show came almost exactly a year ago at the request of one of its biggest fans in Virginia, who messaged the group through Facebook and asked if it would consider getting back together to play a wedding. They thought it was a nice way to go out.
"Our last show was a wedding in a bike shop," Merritt says. "We were like, 'Why not?' We just felt like it."
The reclamation of the Healing Power album began with Merritt's friend Ben Wittkugel, who had become interested in the music industry while a student at Indiana University. Knowing Pomegranates were sitting on an unreleased album, Wittkugel proposed an interesting idea.
"He wanted to start a cassette tape label to go hand-in-hand with a concert promotion company he was trying to get started," Merritt says. “He wanted to put this thing out and we were like, 'Sure. Whatever.’ ”
Wittkugel will release somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 first-edition cassette copies of Healing Power through his Winspear label, and the band has pressed up about 100 CDs — there's also a four-song vinyl EP of re-recorded tracks and one song that was dropped from the album ("I don't know why we were so adamant about not having it on the album because it may be one of the better songs …") — which will all be available at the Southgate House shows. The album and EP will then be available digitally when the limited pressings are sold out.
"Unless something that happens to people in the movies happens to us," Merritt clarifies with a laugh.
Merritt's description of Healing Power as sprawling is appropriate; the album has several propulsive moments, including the staggering, stuttering majesty of the seven minute "Hand of Death" and the tribal electric blast of "House of My Mortal Father." There is also a fairly diverse dynamic across Healing Power's 13 cuts, which careen from those spurts of high energy to atmospheric and moody Pop confections, like the gentle and aptly titled "Taking It Easy" and the melancholic reverie of "Morning Light," with the strolling bounce of the title track finding the middle ground between those stylistic ends of the spectrum. Logically, Healing Power stands as a natural progression from Heaven, which the band also thought would be louder and less constrained, and it also reveals Pomegranates' impending solo directions, as the majority of the album consists of songs that Karns and Cook brought to the band in more or less completed form.
"In the past, it was 80% Pomegranates, 20% their songs, and this time it's probably 40% Pomegranates and 60% their songs," Merritt says. “It's hard to know, because you perceive it differently than other people perceive it, because you're so close to it. In my mind, (Healing Power) seems less reverb-y and more introspective. Not that there's not a few moments that are a little more up-tempo."
Although Pomegranates splintered at the end, there's no hard feelings among the band members; they continue to work and hang together ("We've been in each other's weddings …"). Cook and Geary are working on Cook's solo project, Merritt runs the Sabbath Recording — where Karns also works, including on a recent project with Aaron Collins — and he keeps a busy schedule recording local bands like Dark Colour and The Yugos, as well as bands outside of the area.
Pomegranates' live return has generated a huge buzz, with the Southgate show selling out so quickly that the band added a second, earlier show to the slate (both of which will be opened by Keeps). That response begs the question of any possible consideration for maintaining Pomegranates as a side project going forward.
"I would say, ‘We'll see,’ ” Merritt says, diplomatically. "Obviously, we aren't opposed to things happening if and when the time arises to play a show here or there. Beyond that, I'm not really sure."
The band's two shows will be structured the same, with older catalog material comprising the first half of the set and songs from Healing Power populating the second half, which will also be distinguished by an appearance from Kiser, who will join the lineup to play the new songs.
Given the fact that these two shows could represent the last time Pomegranates play together for the foreseeable future, though they also seem to be keeping their options open, there is both very little and potentially quite a lot at stake with the release of Healing Power. Still, the band members are happy to just live in the moment and cherish the memory of the impact they've had to this point.
"I know how difficult it is for a band to find their audience and to play music for people," Merritt says, philosophically. "To know that our music has meant enough to people that, if even 30 people showed up for one show, it's like, 'Cool, you guys still care.' But when you hear stories about people who were suicidal and they heard your music and it changed their lives and they credit you as a piece of why they're still alive — those sorts of things are really awesome. There's people coming from Chicago and Virginia and Michigan and North Carolina (for the Southgate shows). It's cool. We found people that our music really resonated with."
Over the past year or so, Northern Kentucky’s SofaBurn Records has risen to become one of the more notable independent record labels in the region. The imprint has helped draw national attention to locally-produced gems like singer/songwriter Jeremy Pinnell’s amazing OH/KY album, and it has also released various singles featuring area artists like Buffalo Killers and R. Ring (featuring Kelley Deal and Northern Kentucky’s Mike Montgomery). Tomorrow (Oct. 9), the label is putting out the latest from former SubPop recording artist and Kentucky native Daniel Martin Moore; you can listen to Moore’s Golden Age (produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James) now via the Wall Street Journal’s website.
Another great local band that is part of the SofaBurn roster is Alone at 3AM, the soulful and melodic Roots Rock crew fronted by singer/songwriter Max Fender that has been kicking ass for the past decade and a half-plus with consistently excellent releases showcasing Fender’s compelling songwriting abilities.
Alone at 3AM’s fantastic new album, Show the Blood, was released by SofaBurn last month and it has already scored some glowing reviews, including one from Roots Rock/AltCountry bible No Depression, which called the LP “a superb album from the first to the last track.”
This Saturday, Alone at 3AM is playing a free show at Northside’s Comet to support the new release. The 10 p.m. show also includes sets from Northern Kentucky’s A City on Fire and Joliet, Ill.’s Death and Memphis.
Ahead of the show, the band has unveiled a new music video for Show the Blood track “I’m Dying,” a Heartland Rock ear-worm that Springsteen/Petty fans should instantly fall in love with. (The track was premiered on Guitar World’s website back in July.)
The “I’m Dying” video is a no-nonsense clip shot in Northern Kentucky. "This video is just a little window into what life is like in Dayton, Ky., where I wrote the album,” Fender says. “(We) had lots of fun shooting it with Sarah (Davis, Alone at 3AM harmony singer and keyboardist).”
After the show at The Comet, Fender is setting off on a European solo tour with labelmate Pinnell. Click here to keep tabs on the latest Alone at 3AM happenings.
With the summer music-festival season winding down and Cincinnati’s MidPoint Music Festival just two weeks away (did you pick up this week’s CityBeat for official guide, right? If not, you can find info here), you might think there’d be a music-fest lull this week. But two (very different) festivals northeast of Cincinnati are keeping the vibe alive this weekend — the Foxfire Freedom Festival in Morrow, Ohio, and the Longstone Street Festival in Milford, Ohio.
The Foxfire fest, dubbed a “music and sustainability festival,” takes place Friday and Saturday at Morgan’s Riverside Campground & Cabins in Morrow, along the Little Miami River (you can even go canoeing if you’re up for it!). The $45 two-day ticket, available at the gate, covers camping Friday and Saturday night (one-day, non-camping tickets are $15). Foxfire will feature vendors and information related to being an environmentally-friendly citizen (the “sustainability” mention), with live music from several area Roots/Americana/Bluegrass performers, as well as acts that play other genres (or a fusion of several).
Friday’s Foxfire lineup kicks off at 6 p.m. and features Dead Man String Band, Easy Tom Eby, Jared Schaedle, Joe Wolf, Heather Hamlet and Richard Cisneros. On Saturday, music begins at noo. The Saturday lineup features Common Center, Baoku Moses And The Image Afro-Beat Band, Lawson Family Reunion, Simply Dan String Band, Aaron Hendrick Trio, Black Mountain Throwdown, Adam Singer, Little Miami String Band, Allen Talbott, Blue Caboose and a songwriters-in-the-round session with Greg Mahan, Wolfcryer and Achilles Tenderloin.
Click here for links to more info on all of the artists.
The Longstone Street Festival takes place Saturday along Main Street in Milford’s historic downtown district. The annual free event celebrates Milford with various food and arts and crafts vendors, plus a stage featuring a variety of musical acts all day long. This year, the music starts at noon with My Brother’s Keeper (featuring Andrew Hibbard). Other Longstone performers include Seabird, Harbour, Along the Shore, Taylor Shannon, Shiny and the Spoon, Daniel in Stereo, Static Wonder and a band featuring students from the School of Rock Mason.
For full details (including info on vendors, kids’ activities and more), visit longstonestreetfestival.com. The times the various performers are playing the Longstone Street Festival can be found at the event’s Facebook page, which also includes music and video samples of several of the artists.
The Foxfire Freedom Festival and the Longstone Street Festival are both open to all ages and are family friendly.
I tried to watch last night's Video Music Awards on MTV, but it was such an awkward and confusing clusterfuck, I couldn’t take much of it, flipping through for a few moments before moving on out of embarrassment for the people on the screen. I usually like when awards shows are a little chaotic (and the VMAs are known for their often-desperate attempts to be “not your mama’s awards show”). And I actually have always enjoyed the pop-culture pageantry of awards shows in general. But on last night’s VMAs, the annoyance factor was so high, I couldn’t even watch it on a “so bad you can’t look away” level. It made me anxious and uncomfortable, like watching someone fumbling over their words and breaking down while giving a speech in public (kind of like Kanye on last night's show).
It wasn’t really even the performances that made it so unwatchable (most were pretty solid for what they were). It was all of the in-between absurdity that made it so cringe-worthy.
Speaking of performances, some Cincinnati artists did well on the big stage. Walk the Moon has become so experienced with these kinds of high-profile appearances that it wasn’t surprising the band’s umpteenth performance of “Shut Up and Dance” was flawless. Airing during the opening of the pre-show “rainbow carpet” portion, I found myself thinking (as I do whenever I hear the hit on the radio), “You know, they have other songs, including a new single?” “Shut Up” was considered a “song of the summer” contender, though it’s been on the radio for like 15 years (OK, it was released as a single in September of 2014, but still). Then the band played the new single, “Different Colors”! And MTV promptly cut them off. (Even “Shut Up” was interrupted mid-song so the pre-show hosts could introduce the program, the clumsiness of which ended up being indicative of the overall mess the VMAs turned out to be.)
The weirder Cincinnati-related appearance came during Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ performance of their new single, “Downtown.” I was not aware of the guest artists on the song (OK, I was not aware they had a new song), so I turned it on just as Hip Hop legends Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee and Grandmaster Caz were rapping while walking down the street, thinking it was some cool old-school tribute the awards show was presenting. Then Macklemore came on and I reached for the remote, still unable to figure out what was going on. Then Eric Nally from late Cincinnati greats Foxy Shazam joined in, singing the chorus and doing some of his trademark stage moves and I officially thought I was just having a dream.
Nally did a great job and he caused a lot of buzz online, mostly of the “Who was that guy?” variety (when the single was released last week, a bunch of idiots rehashed the “Eric Nally is racist” stories from back in 2013 when Foxy Shazam released the single, “I Like It.”)
It’s weird mash-up of a song, parts of which I like, while other parts I find tremendously aggravating. Which is kind of what the VMAs were. Is this the present state of popular youth culture? Throw a bunch of unrelated stuff together, put it in a blender and then just stare at the blender, not caring or knowing what the end result is?
MTV/Viacom had something called the O Music Awards for a few years recently, honoring things like “Favorite Fuck Yeah Tumblr,” “Favorite Animated Gif,” “Best Tweet” and “Best Artist With A Cameraphone.” The O Awards ceremony seemed unscripted and filmed without any director whatsoever. It doesn’t appear the O awards are still a thing; perhaps last night’s VMAs were a sign that the network is turning its long-running awards program into the Os?
The VMAs were largely just a big WTF moment that people would talk about/complain about/make fun of online. Which is probably exactly what MTV was going for and, scarily, perhaps the shape of youth-oriented entertainment to come.
The 2015 edition of the MidPoint Music Festival (owned and operated by CityBeat) is less than two months away, returning to various venues in Over-the-Rhine and Downtown Sept. 25-27, and this morning organizers announced the release of the schedule and a few additional performers.
New artists added to this year’s 14th annual event include The Besnard Lakes, Heaters, The Moth & The Flame, Alberta Cross, The Glazzies and Left & Right. A few more local acts — Mad Anthony, Bulletville and Culture Queer — were also added to the roster. Widely-acclaimed Cincy-area rockers Buffalo Killers will also perform at this year’s MidPoint. You can catch a preview when the group headlines a free show tonight on Fountain Square, part of the MidPoint Indie Summer series. The band is joined by Ohio Knife, Pop Goes the Evil and Go Go Buffalo for tonight’s 7 p.m. concert.
The festival also announced new venues for this year’s fest. Woodward Theater and Maudie’s, plus an outdoor stage at the corner of 14th and Sycamore streets, join previous venues Washington Park, Taft Theatre’s Ballroom, The Drinkery, Mr. Pitiful’s, MOTR Pub, Christian Moerlein Brewery and Arnold’s to host this year’s 120-act lineup.
Back in January at Music Hall, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, under the direction of conductor John Morris Russell, presented its unique “American Originals” concerts. During the performances, the orchestra collaborated with several local and national Folk/Americana artists to perform and celebrate the music of Stephen Foster and other early songs that are the foundation of the “Great American Songbook.”
Read CityBeat’s cover story on the project here.
Rosanne Cash, Aoife O’Donovan (who recently returned to join the Pops for its Fourth of July concert at Riverbend; read our interview with her here), Dom Flemons (formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops) and Joe Henry joined Cincinnati area artists Over the Rhine's Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler, members of the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars and others to perform specially arranged versions of Foster compositions like “O! Susannah,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Camptown Races” and “Beautiful Dreamer,” as well as traditional numbers like “Red River Valley,” “Kumbaya” and “Amazing Grace.”
A live recording of the concert featuring 17 songs will be released on Friday, Sept. 11. (You can pre-order it now here from Amazon.)
Here is the detailed track listing for the American Originals release (via cincinnatisymphony.org):
1) “O’ Susannah” (written by Foster, arranged by Chris Walden and with Joe Henry on vocals)
2) “Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair” (written by Foster, arranged by Rob Mounsey and with Aoife O’Donovan and Karin Bergquist of Over the Rhine on vocals)
3) “My Old Kentucky Home” (written by Stephen Foster, arranged by Rebecca Pellett and featuring Rosanne Cash on vocals)
4) “Amazing Grace” (traditional, arranged by Pellett and featuring Aoife O’Donovan and the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars)
5) “Rolling River: Sketches On Shenandoah” (composed by Peter Boyer)
6) “Why, No One To Love?” (written by Foster, arranged by Pellett and featuring Over the Rhine’s Bergquist on vocals and her OTR partner Linford Detweiler on Rhodes keyboard)
7) “Old Folks At Home” (by Foster, arranged by Timothy Berens and featuring Dom Flemons on vocals and harmonica, Timothy Berens on banjo and Paul Patterson on fiddle)
8) “Kumbaya” (traditional, arranged by Berens and featuring Timothy Lees, Kathryn Woolley, Gabriel Pegis and Scott Mozlin on violins and Richard Jensen on djembe
9) “Slumber My Darling” (by Foster, arranged by Chris Walden and featuring O’Donovan on vocals and guitar)
10) “Aura Lee” (by Foster, arranged by Pellett and with Henry and Ed Cunningham on vocals)
11) “Foster's Folly” (by Foster, arranged by Berens)
12) “Ring, Ring The Banjo” (by Foster, arranged by Walden and featuring Flemons on banjo and bones
and Cunningham on fiddle)
13) “Red River Valley” (traditional, arranged by Berens and featuring the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars)
14) “The Battle Cry Of Freedom” (composed by George Frederick Root and arranged by Berens)
15) “Beautiful Dreamer” (by Foster, arranged by Mounsey with Cash on vocals)
16) “Hard Times Come Again No More” (by Foster, arranged by Berens and featuring Over the Rhine, with Bergquist on vocals and Detweiler on guitar)
17) “Camptown Races” (by Foster, arranged by Mounsey and featuring the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars, as well as Cash, Flemons, Henry, O’Donovan and Over the Rhine on vocals)