Buoyant Electro Pop group Stepdad pulls into MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine tonight. The free show kicks off around 10 p.m. with locals Halvsies.
Stepdad was formed in Chicago in 2009 by frontman Mark “Ultramark” Tafel and his roommate, Ryan McCarthy. The duo — which has grown Stepdad into a five-piece band over time — soon relocated to Grand Rapids, Mich., and self-released its debut recording, the Ordinaire EP, online. The EP drew wider attention to Stepdad, which signed to Michigan indie label Quite Scientific and re-released the EP in 2011.
After completing its debut album, Wildlife Pop, with a little help from Kickstarter, the band signed with Black Bell Records, the relatively new imprint founded by Passion Pit’s Ayad Al Adhamy and distributed by Warner Brothers Records. Wildlife Pop, released last summer, is an incredibly endearing listen, layering vintage-sounding synth bleeps and squiggles with broader, lush Electro atmospherics and a rhythmic base that is muscular and dance floor ready. At the core is Ultramark’s steady stream of exuberant melodies, which adds greatly to Stepdad’s jubilant sound (though, spoiler alert, the lyrics can be much deeper and darker than the upbeat vibe suggest). Wildlife Pop falls somewhere between the M83’s shadowy, cerebral Electronic explorations and Capital Cities’ (see below) warm and cheerily infectious Dance Pop.
Here is the music video for Wildlife Pop single, “Will I Ever Dance Again”:
• Virtuoso Blues/Rock/Roots guitarist, songwriter and singer Sonny Landreth returns to Cincinnati tonight for an 8 p.m. show at Oakley’s 20th Century Theater. Rootsy local rockers Monkeytonk open.
After cutting his teeth in the ’70s playing with Zydeco/Cajun/Roots accordionist Clifton Chenier, Landreth (who grew up in Louisiana) launched his solo career in the ’80s, building his reputation as a masterful player and innovative slide guitarist. Landreth’s unique technique involves playing chords behind the slide leads, which he taps, slaps and picks with his right hand. Since the mid-’90s, Landreth has released a dozen albums that have been stylistic adventurous, a testament to his impressive versatility. The guitarist’s playing shows that Blues, Jazz, Rock, Cajun and many other types of music have greatly informed his boundless approach to writing and performing. (Landreth is also a popular session musician, having recorded with artists like Jimmy Buffett, Mark Knopfler, John Hiatt and numerous others.)
Last year, Landreth released another wildly diverse album, Elemental Journey, his first all-instrumental effort which features guests like fellow guitar wizards Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson, as well as additives like symphonic strings and steel drums.
Here is a live clip of Landreth performing at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2010:
• Over at Covington’s Madison Theater tonight, bring your dancing shoes because Fitz and the Tantrums and Capital Cities are going to have the venue jumping with their ear-grabbing/dance-inducing sounds. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. and the event is open to all ages. Tickets are $25 at the door. L.A.’s Electro Dance rockers Beat Club open.
L.A. band Fitz and the Tantrums’ propulsive, modern update of vintage Soul/R&B caught the music world’s attention in 2010 with the release of their debut LP, Pickin’ Up the Pieces, both a critical and commercial success thanks in part to the powerful single, “MoneyGrabber,” a song that was perfectly timed to the national outrage over big banks and other mischievous financial institutions that led to the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Tantrums’ second album (and major-label debut), More Than Just a Dream, was released by Elektra Records this past May. Here’s a clip for that album’s “Out of My League”:
Electro Pop duo Capital Cities garnered a lot of mainstream attention this year with its debut album, In a Tidal Wave of Mystery, released in June through Capitol Records. The album features the insistently catchy and winsome singles “Kangaroo Court” and “Safe and Warm,” both from the twosome’s self-titled 2011 EP debut. Like MGMT’s “Kids” or Walk the Moon’s “Anna Sun,” songs that were originally issued on earlier, pre-fame recordings but were released to widespread success on their respective major label debuts, “Safe and Sound” was released originally in 2011 and, two years later, continues to earn Capital Cities more fans. The duo’s super-catchy Synth Pop is hard to resist and the more people are exposed to Capital Cities, the bigger they seem to get.
• R&B singer Jaheim was already wowing audiences at a young age, winning the infamous talent show at the Apollo Theater three times when he was just 15. It was the start of a long, fruitful career that kicked off in earnest when the singer was in his early 20s and was signed to the Warner Brothers-distributed label Divine Mill. Since his debut album in 2001, Jaheim has been a regular visitor to the upper airspace of the R&B charts. His new album, Appreciation Day, was released earlier this year and earned praise for being one of the best displays of Jaheim’s seamless blending of the classic seductive R&B artists like Teddy Pendergrass and Luther Vandross popularized with today’s Neo Soul and Hip Hop-informed approach. Here’s the album’s single “Age Ain’t a Factor”:
Jaheim brings his “Appreciation Tour” with singer Chrisette Michele to downtown’s Aronoff Center tonight, in the venue's Procter & Gamble Hall. Showtime is 7:30 p.m.
Besides the official music showcases at September’s MidPoint Music Festival, the 12th annual fest featured the most (and best) “satellite events” in MPMF history. These “unofficial” happenings — ranging from “day parties” to various musical presentations, like the free performances at Findlay Market — greatly added to the electricity MPMF brought to Downtown and Over-the-Rhine. It showed what can happen when creative people get into the MPMF spirit and try to come up with clever ways to add to it.
Some of the best examples of this were found just off the MidPoint Midway area at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, where programmers of the school’s gallery (with presenters Fotofocus) decided to run an exhibit of live music photography by area photographers called Reverberation: Capturing the Live Music Experience during the fest, to capitalize on all of the music lovers flooding the streets of OTR. (Click here to read CityBeat's feature about the exhibit.)
Adding another layer of collaborative coolness to the proceedings was “The MidPoint Sessions,” intimate performances by four Ohio musical acts held at the photography exhibit on the Saturday afternoon of the festival. The great Athens, Ohio, Indie/Orchestral Folk ensemble The Ridges performed and curated the rest of the Ohio-centric lineup, which also included Cincinnati’s Molly Sullivan and The Happy Maladies, plus Columbus’ Indigo Wild.
The MidPoint Sessions were filmed by The Queen City Project, a local organization that has set out to creatively document some of the interesting and unique things going on in contemporary Cincinnati. Here’s an entertaining, quick-cut look at MidPoint through QCP’s lens:
And we are thrilled to be able to share QCP’s first video from The MidPoint Sessions, featuring The Ridges.
Be sure to check CityBeat’s music blog every Friday over the three weeks as we unveil the rest of the Sessions series videos.
• Tonight at Covington’s Madison Theater you can catch two of the the best and most influential Roots Rock bands of the past 20 years. Drive-By Truckers and Old 97’s might not have had the expansive, obvious influence of, say, Wilco or My Morning Jacket (who also joined forces to tour this year, joined by some guy named Bob Dylan on the summertime Americanarama tour), but it would be foolish to overlook the impact these two bands have had on aspiring artists.
While both groups recently announced the completion of new albums, their current tour together finds each act promoting some refurbished older material. The Old 97’s released the Old 97’s & Waylon Jennings EP in October. The release includes a pair of tracks recorded in 1996 with the Country legend (they were some of Jennings’ final recordings before he died), plus a few unreleased demos. Drive-By Truckers also did some vault-digging, reissuing a remastered version of the band’s third album, the long out-of-print 2000 live effort, Alabama Ass Whuppin’. (Read CityBeat’s Truckers preview here.)
Tonight’s show at the Madison starts at 8 p.m. and is open to all ages. Tickets are $27 at the door.
Here’s one of the Old 97’s’ collaborations with Jennings, “The Other Shoe”:
• A pair of Detroit-area MidPoint Music Festival veterans — Jeecy and the Jungle (which played the Cincy fest this year) and Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas (who played in 2012) — return to the city tonight for a great double-bill at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine. Showtime is 10 p.m. and there is no admission fee.
Both bands have varying elements of R&B, Funk and Soul, which they spin with their own distinct magic. Jeecy and the Jungle go for a gritty, spiky take on R&B reflecting the Garage and Soul spirits of Detroit’s rich musical history, while the Deltas make uniquely broad, evocative Alt/Indie Pop/Rock driven by Hernandez’s phenomenal vocals, which show a fantastic Soul influence.
Hernandez & the Deltas have a new EP called Demons that is officially released next week, though you’ll be able to pick up the CD version at MOTR tonight. Paste magazine recently debuted the material; check out a track below:
• Seems like the Cincinnati area has become a favorite stop for touring artists from the exploding “live Electronica” scene. Arpetrio is a Knoxville, Tenn.-based, improv-happy guitar/bass/drums trio (with each member adding Electro ornamentation) that has been lauded for its trippy, Jazz-like take of live EDM, which touches on Trip Hop, Trap, Trance, Dubstep and other modern Electronic music elements. The group’s This Side Up EP is available as a free download here; get a sample below:
Arpetrio performs tonight at Corryville’s The Mad Frog. Showtime is 9 p.m. Also on the bill is Ethosine, a Cincinnati quartet featuring members of Skeetones, Bubble Life and The Jive Turkeys. The group also has a free EP you can download — click here or on the player below.
• Nashville Indie Pop Rock crew The Features, which has built up a nice following in Cincy (and appeared at this past summer’s Bunbury Music Festival), returns to the area tonight for an 8:30 p.m. show at the Taft Theatre’s Ballroom. Locals Justin WW and the Even Tiles open the show. Tickets are $15.
The Features’ danceable, highly melodic sound is on glorious display on their most recent album, a self-titled affair released through Kings of Leon’s Serpents and Snakes Records this past spring. Here’s the music video for the album’s “This Disorder,” a clever song about the effect of modern technologies (i.e. smartphones) on our society:
• Classic Country Rock band Poco was formed in 1968 by Richie Furay after his band with Stephen Stills and Neil Young, Buffalo Springfield, called it a day. Despite a lineup that has revolved pretty much since the band began, Poco experienced great success in the ’70s and beyond; its debut, 1969’s Pickin’ Up the Pieces, is considered one of the greatest Country Rock releases of all time. This summer, Poco — now led by co-founder Rusty Young — released All Fired Up, its first album in over a decade.
The current edition of Poco performs tonight in Northern Kentucky at the Newport Syndicate. The pre-show dinner buffet (included in the ticket price) begins at 6 p.m., with openers Kinsey Rose and Laurel Kincaid beginning at 7:30 p.m. Admission ranges from $35-$70. Click here for details.
Here’s the title track from Poco’s most recent LP:
• The Winery Dogs released their first album in July, but if you are a serious fan of Progressive Metal and Hard Rock, you were likely already familiar with the virtuosic instrumental prowess of the trio’s members — drummer Mike Portnoy (cofounder of modern Prog legends Dream Theater), singer/guitarist Richie Kotzen (Poison, Mr. Big) and masterful bassist Billy Sheehan, who has played with David Lee Roth, Mr. Big and many others. The Dogs sport a heavy, Classic Rock-influenced sound akin to Led Zeppelin but distinct due to the players’ flashy, progressive riffing and drumming.
The trio plays Corryville’s The Mad Frog tonight. Doors open at 8 p.m. and Sixxis is the opening act.
Here’s a nice review of the Dogs’ show in Cleveland over the weekend. Check out the band’s music video for the track “Time Machine” below:
• The instrumental quintet Lotus is one of the leading forces in the Livetronica movement, which features artists taking an Electronic and Dance music core and turning it inside out, mixing in plenty of other influences and leaving arrangements wide open for live-show improvisation. Embraced by the “Jam Band” community, groups like Lotus (which dips into Rock, Funk, Jazz, Post Rock and beyond on its musical adventures) are helping to push the boundaries of improvisational music in a modern context.
The band’s 2013 album Monks is another great example of Lotus’s creative membership pushing forward without any genre anchors around their necks. The LP is a compelling Hip Hop record featuring numerous guest MCs, including Mr. Lif, Gift of Gab, Lyrics Born and several others. The album is available for free download here.
Lotus performs at Covington’s Madision Theater tonight with exquisitely monikered (and musically like-minded) Electro trio Cosby Sweater opening things up at 8 p.m. Admission is $20 at the door.
Here’s the Monks track “Cloud 9,” featuring Philly MC Ras Arcane and Digable Planets’ Doodlebug:
• After all the reported in-fighting, hiatuses and breakups they’ve been through, it seems like rockers The Black Crowes have finally realized that, both creatively and financially, they need each other. The band have become a bit like The Rolling Stones in that way — after so many years and so much chemistry, even though Mick and Keith often seem to despise each other, they keep the Stones flag flying because it’s what they do. The Crowes are in an interesting position, where they can still go out and just play their “hits” and fan favorites, continually drawing big crowds thanks to the cultishly loyal fan base they’ve built up over years of amazing live shows.
That’s just what the Crowes will be doing tonight when they return to the Taft Theatre tonight for an 8 p.m. show. There’s no new album (the most recent Crowes release was 2010’s Croweology, a retrospective consisting of mostly acoustic versions of their finest songs), so expect a fan-friendly set of Crowes faves, a cover or two (the band has been doing Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well” on this tour) and lots and lots of jamming. Though the continued success of the band on the road suggests this is far from the band’s last tour, the Crowes have said this will be their last jaunt for a while as they tend to other projects outside of the band.
Here’s a big chunk of a Crowes’ performance in Virginia this past September:
• After four albums on which he played every note, David Obuchowski’s Distant Correspondent project morphed into an actual “band” this year with a self-titled debut album release and the launch of its first full U.S. tour. Obuchowski had been operating the DC project on the side, with his main band, Indie Metal powerhouse Goes Cube, taking up most of his time. Distant Correspondent started to blossom when Obuchowski began trading recordings and collaborating with Michael Lengel over the internet. The collaboration grew to include other members, including Emily Gray from the U.K.’s Meanwhile Back in Communist Russia and acclaimed solo artist Edith Frost.
Fans of Goes Cube should know that Distant Correspondent’s music is a different beast entirely, emitting evocative, hypnotic soundscapes that have landed them the “Dream Pop” tag. For the band’s first full American tour, Cincinnati’s Margaret Darling, whose popular local band The Seedy Seeds announced an indefinite hiatus this past summer, joined the group, taking the place of Frost, who was unable to tour. (Read Brian Baker's DC preview for CityBeat here.)
Here is Distant Correspondent’s music video for the new album track “Shatter.”
• This past September at Cincinnati’s MidPoint Music Festival, South Korean rockers Love X Stereo were one of the more anticipated international acts in the lineup. But due to some travel issues, the band was unable to get out of Korea in time to make the festival. The group, which plays highly danceable Electro Rock music heavily influenced by ’90s American Alternative music and Punk, promised to make it back to Cincinnati as soon as possible and, tonight, Love X Stereo makes good on that promise.
The band performs a free show tonight at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine. Eclectic Bloomington, Ind., Indie/Psych Pop/Rock trio Fluffer — which did perform at this year’s MPMF — opens the show at 10 p.m.
Here is the audio for Love X Stereo’s “Lose to Win,” the lead-off track on the band’s new EP, Glow, which was put together for the group’s first U.S. tour.
New York City Ska legends The Toasters were the bridge from the late ’70s 2 Tone Records-fueled Ska revival in the U.K. to the one that brought Ska into the American mainstream in the ’90s. Easily one of the most influential Ska acts of all time, The Toasters were formed in 1981 by Robert “Bucket” Hingley, a U.K. native (and the group’s lone constant member) who had just moved to The States, taking inspiration from the 2 Tone Ska being created in his homeland (The Beat, The Specials, The Selecter, etc.).
The Toasters, in turn, helped inspire multitudes of Ska bands to form, something that ultimately led to the development of so-called Ska Punk. Having a hard time finding a label, Hingley formed his own, Moon Ska Records, which grew to become the major American Ska indie imprint, releasing music (via albums or the label’s popular compilations) by The Slackers, Dance Hall Crashers, Mustard Plug, Less Than Jake and No Doubt, among many others. The Moon label was a road-map to quality American Ska when the music was more underground; the imprint, which was artist- and consumer-friendly (like Punk label Dischord, Moon always kept prices low), experienced its greatest success during the ’90s Ska boom, but when the music fell out of mainstream favor, the label faded away. Hingley moved to Spain, where he formed another label, Megalith, to continue releasing Toasters albums.
The Toasters were the cool elder statesmen of the Ska scene and they’ve survived the fickleness of musical trends and an ever-changing music industry for over 30 years now by doing things on their own terms and keeping true to their vision.
• Nashville’s Escondido came together quickly but very naturally. The project of Jessica Maros and Tyler James (a solo artist who has also toured as pianist for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros) got its start in James’ home studio when he was recording an artist with whom both were friends. During a recording break, Maros, a Vancouver native and successful clothing/jewelry designer, was casually playing a song in the studio, James hit “record,” added some light ornamentation and, essentially, Escondido was born. That night, the two decided to make an album. Fittingly, the album — Esondido’s debut, titled The Ghost of Escondido — was recorded live in just one day with a handful of talented Nashville friends/musicians, even though it sounds incredibly cohesive, full-bodied and organic.
The making of the full-length, released at the start of this year, was driven by the spirit of Ennio Morricone, the legendary spaghetti western soundtrack genius, and that desert-sunset atmosphere meshes beautifully with the band’s mix of Indie Rock, Pop and Country. The end result is mesmerizing, a hazy, dreamy collection of haunted, mysterious soundscapery and spine-tingling harmonies and vocals, making the band reminiscent of a slightly twangier, more dynamic and grounded Mazzy Star. Along with garnering a wide-range of supporters, from the tastemakers at KCRW to the writers at Vogue, The Ghost of Escondido also made a fan out of eccentric filmmaker/artist/writer/musician David Lynch, who wrote about his love for the band in Mojo magazine.
Here’s the music video for Escondido’s “Black Roses.”
The duo (fleshed out by a full touring band) performs a free show tonight at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine. New York City’s Indie Pop/Garage Rock group Unicycle Loves You opens the show at 10 p.m.
• Tonight at Covington’s Madison Theater is a good chance to hear what a “Jam Band” sounds like in 2013, as several groups join forces for an all-ages, 8 p.m. show. Or, rather, you’ll hear how almost no two “Jam Bands” sound alike anymore, making the Grateful Dead-mimicking cliches about the scene completely outdated. Today, the “Jam” tag has less real meaning than ever, with the groups earning the descriptor exploring a huge range of styles. Jam Bands now often share little more than a tendency to improvise.
Headliners Dopapod epitomize the diversity of the modern Jam scene with their progressive blend of Electronic music, Jazz, Rock, Soul, Funk and various other styles. The Brooklyn, N.Y., group released its third studio album, Redivider, late last year, introducing fans to a Dopapod first — vocals (previously, the band was all instrumental). Read Brian Baker’s preview of the show for CityBeat here.
The support lineup for Dopapod is a varied collection of mostly local bands that reflect the same kind of sonic adventurousness as the headliners, though, of course, each bringing their own slant — Ethosine, Nevele, Us Today, Freeform Connection, Peridoni, Aliver Hall and Blue Moon Soup. Tickets are $15 at the door.
• Though they never reaped the full rewards and commercial success that some bands that came after them did, Michigan’s Mustard Plug was one of the early guiding forces behind the ’90s Punk Ska explosion. The band put out its first album, Skapocalypse Now!, on cassette in 1992 and moved up to third-wave Ska’s version of 2 Tone Records, NYC’s Moon Records, for its second full-length, kicking off two decades of hardcore international touring.
Mustard Plug later joined the roster of Hopeless Records, which would go on to become one of the top independent Punk labels in the country. While the vast majority of Ska Punk bands from the ’90s either moved on to another style of music or imploded after the “craze” died down, Mustard Plug continues to write new songs, put out new music and tour on a regular basis, its loyal cult of fans proving that, while you won’t hear it on the radio anymore, there is still an audience hungry for Ska Punk done well. Mustard Plug has been operating D.I.Y. since parting ways with Hopeless; a new album (the band’s first since 2007’s In Black and White) is reportedly finished and due soon thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Mustard Plug plays a free show tonight at Northside Tavern. Opening is Cincinnati’s Elysian Souls.
• October is coming to an end, which means Rocktober is also almost over and Rocktober on the Square, a new every-Friday concert series at downtown’s Fountain Square, is winding down as well. Today at 5 p.m., the final Rocktober on the Square show starts with a set from great, rootsy singer/songwriter Josh Eagle.
In the 6 p.m. slot is singer/songwriter Mike Oberst of popular Cincy Folk group The Tillers, who are heading overseas for their first ever U.K. tour, playing Nov. 1-16 throughout England, Scotland and Ireland as support for Pokey LaFarge.
The always fantastic 500 Miles to Memphis closes out Rocktober at 7 p.m. It’s the rowdy, rootsy rockers’ last local show of the year; the 500MTM fellas are taking a break from performing to go back into the studio to finish their next album.
Rocktober on the Square is a free event. Click here for more info.
• Don’t forget — the One More Girl on a Stage benefit concerts continue today after last night’s kickoff at various venues in Over-the-Rhine. The OMG fest takes over the Southgate House Revival in Newport for a “whole house” show tonight starting at 7 p.m. Go here for complete details.
• The first time I saw Neko Case was a complete accident. I was in Chicago around the most recent turn of the century and went to see Indie Rock singer/songwriter Edith Frost at the small (but popular) club Lounge Ax and Case and her “Boyfriends,” as her backing band was then called (really Canadian Roots rockers The Sadies), opened the show with a great set. Though I’d heard of Case, seeing her live was revelatory — the singer/songwriter (also part of Canadian Pop collective The New Pornographers) has one of the most soulful, mesmerizing voices in music today and, once I’d heard it, I was hooked for life. Case’s transcendent pipes are only comparable to legends like Patsy Cline (though Jenny Lewis has made quite the solo career aping Case).
Working in a folksy musical realm (though not tethered to any specific style), Case has yet to release a bad album, though her latest for Anti- Records, the recent The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, has received mixed reviews (likely more indicative of a press corps bored with her astonishing consistency than the actual album itself, which is excellent). I’ve seen Case numerous times since that happy accident in Chicago — including dates at Chicago’s Metro and at Newport’s Southgate House — and I’ve never left in any other state besides “spellbound.”
Case comes back to the Cincinnati area tonight for a show at downtown’s Taft Theatre (her largest local appearance yet) with special guest and fellow red-headed singer/songwriter Karen Elson. Tickets are still available for $35 at the door.
Check out Jason Gargano's feature story on Case from this week's CityBeat. Here's the "lyric video" for The Worse Things Get track "Night Still Comes."
• Over the past two decades, Built to Spill has become a legendary cult band, remaining a solid concert draw across the nation and releasing some of the most brilliant guitar-driven Indie Rock albums of the ’90s and ’00s. Led by singer/guitarist Doug Martsch, BtS formed in Boise, Idaho, in the early ’90s, and worked with a lot of Pacific Northwest musical institutions on its way up. In 1995, as the major labels were winding down their signing frenzy in the wake of Nirvana's huge success (signing seemingly every band even loosely associated with the words "Seattle" or "Grunge"), Built to Spill inked with Warner Brothers Records, which has released six stellar albums by the band since 1997, including the crew's masterful debut for the label, Perfect From Now On, and 2009's There is No Enemy, the group's most recent album.
Like label mates The Flaming Lips, BtS has been the rare band that has sold consistently enough to remain signed to a major label for well over a decade thanks to the consistent quality of its work, heavy touring and an incredibly dedicated following. It's refreshing to see a big-time label stay so loyal to a group that will probably never sell a million copies and even more probably won't ever have a big hit single. (Despite rumors, BtS is not breaking up; a new album is in the works and expected by the end of 2014.)
Built to Spill performs tonight at Newport, Ky.'s Southgate House Revival with guests Slam Dunk and Genders. Showtime is 8:30 p.m. and tickets are $25 at the door.
Ohio Dream Pop/Rock group strangewave performs tonight at The Comet in Northside. J. Trenton Crace and Katrina Eresman formed the compelling group in Dayton not long ago and released their ear-grabbing full-length debut, Pop Noir, earlier this year. It's a fantastic first effort full of hypnotic songs that hover in the same realm as classic Shoegaze, Mazzy Star, Blonde Redhead and Lush, with the diversity from track to track keeping the listener drawn in and mesmerized from start to finish. The twosome is joined by a drummer and bassist for live shows.
Opening the free show at 10 p.m. is Seattle Indie Rock/Soul trio Garage Voice, which claims heavy influence from Gospel music and Memphis Soul and has a Garage Rock spirit, thought its songs are far less derivative and predictable that most other groups given that tag. The soulful sounds of the band — which are laced with cool Hammond Organ stabs, soundscapes and grooves — have something of an atmospheric Psych Pop vibe at times (making them a good fit with strangewave), but ignite into dirty Blues and Rock & Roll outbursts with little to no notice.
Get a taste of Garage Voice's latest album, Amenin, below.
At the heart of even the darkest of music, it’s love that made it possible. Love of singing or escapism. Love of an instrument or a sound. A flourishing love or a dissipating love. That love is especially present in absolutely everything Abigail Washburn does. It’s a love for the banjo, a love for China and a love of people, especially her husband, Bela Fleck, and (most recently) their adorable new son, Juno.
Washburn is currently on tour (playing Miami University Middletown Saturday; click here for tickets and more info) and she’s bringing all the things she loves with her, including her husband and baby Juno. Though Washburn and her banjo rarely tour alone, it’s a little different now that she’s touring with Juno.
“Touring is different with the little buddy. Different in a good way,” Washburn says. “In general I'd say life is richer with him in it. When we arrive at a venue, the first thing I do is grab our blanket and go looking for a big tree to lay under and stare up at the leaves and when we walk around the venue for the first time he has such strong and wondrous reactions to the smallest things. Juno helps me stop and appreciate every little detail of the way the world works. He makes it all seem new and magical.”
As adorable as the mother and son relationship seems, when Washburn references her time with Fleck, even more of that love seeps through. They have a relationship with each other and with their music that seems downright precious and magical in comparison to so many other relationships in the music business.
“We met when he was playing at a square dance and I was dancing,” Washburn says. “But I think it's our sense of place in the world and our passion to contribute to music and humanity that really sealed our deal. We love talking and supporting one another and encouraging one another to reach further and further. This is the cornerstone of our connection and the fact that we push each other to explore is what keeps us together.”
There’s still one more kind of love that fuels Washburn, though. Washburn is also whole-heartedly in love with China, too. It’s a passion that roars to life when she performs, especially.
For fans of Bela Fleck or the banjo who have somehow missed the beautiful stylings of Abigail Washburn, that love of China may seem a little odd. The banjo came from Africa and from there became mostly associated with the musical sounds of Appalachia. So … China?
It started when Washburn left the states after college, heading to China and intent on a law degree. Along the way, she picked up Mandarin and found a cool new way to play her banjo. While her future husband was tracing the banjo’s roots in Africa for Throw Down Your Heart, Washburn was bringing the East to Appalachia … or maybe she was bringing Appalachia to the East.
The connection of romanticism and adventure associated with a foreign land never faded for Washburn, even after numerous trips back to China. That passion has only grown with each new adventure in her other motherland. She’s even documented that love in a play she wrote and performed in New York called Post-American Girl.
“I think it is fair to say that it's like a love triangle between 'us' three … The US and China corners of the triangle are symbolically represented by my U.S. and Chinese mothers in the play,” she says. “A strong theme of going far away to find one's self and discover one's path in life is a big part of the struggle and the ultimate bond connecting all sides.”
Post-American Girl had a limited run in New York. However, with the help of the New York Public Theater, Washburn is hoping to develop the performance further. The hope is that eventually, it might actually tour the U.S.
Washburn still loves China and especially loves watching as others experience the country for the first time. In 2011, she set out on the Silk Road Tour with a few musician friends. Together they played music and experienced even more of China together. (You can see recaps of the tour here.)
While you can experience plenty of Washburn’s Chinese influence when listening to her music and seeing her in person, this current tour is powered almost exclusively on the love of her family and the music they can create together.
“I think both Bela and I are really enjoying playing music together,” she says about their family tour. “There's so much potential and uncovered territory in focusing on the soundscapes that can be made with the claw hammer and three-finger banjo styles. The two timbres and rolls together can sound like rippling flowing water or a swinging old ragtime bounce or driving mountain sounds and so on and on. The musical exploration together is exciting for both of us. And then on a personal level it's downright mystical to get to be together all the time and navigate the road and performing as a family.”
For even more awesome music, check out the music Washburn says “floats little Juno’s boat” like Dervish, Phil Cunningham, Paul Brady, Afel Bolcum, Oumou Sangare and Sam Amidon. She says he also likes a little bit of Bon Iver and Bonnie Raitt, too.
But, Washburn says, “So far I think banjo is his favorite!”