Just two months ago, the Indy reported that Mount Moriah—the smoldering folk-rock intersection of Bellafea's Heather McEntire and Horseback mastermind Jenks Miller—had signed to Durham-based indie power, Merge Records. A few weeks later, the label reissued the outfit's sterling 2011 debut on vinyl. And now, right on cue, comes news that Mount Moriah's sophomore effort and proper Merge debut will be released on Feb. 26. The record is called Miracle Temple. That's the barn-burning album art above.
In keeping with the band's momentum, Miracle Temple is a more up-tempo affair than its predecessor, filling some of the group's tension-inducing spaciousness without forsaking the music's emotional resonance. Cut at Nasheville's Beech House studio with Lambchop alum Mark Nevers, the album features contributions from the group's now firmly entrenched bassist, Casey Toll, and frequent drummer James Wallace, as well as Amy Ray and Daniel Hart. The later adds cutting violin that lends intriguing new depth to the arrangements.
Musically, Miracle Temple pushes Mount Moriah in a variety of directions. “Swannanoa” is powered by the kind of searing, strung-out riff that has come to define Miller’s metallic Horseback, adding menace to the bright harmonies of McEntire and Wallace. Opener “Younger Days” is more pop than anything the band has previously tried, bounding forth with a bouncing honky-tonk bass line and a wistful narrative that’s not far removed from the musings of Triangle ex-pat Tift Merritt. Best of all might be “Telling the Hour,” a Bellafea cover that has become a staple of the band’s live sets. Finally given a studio recording, the closing number bolsters Miller’s cathartic guitar lines with ominous strings and piano; it keys on one of McEntire’s most affecting vocal performances to date. The full track list is below:
1. Younger Days
2. Bright Light
3. Eureka Springs
4. I Built a Town
5. White Sands
6. Connecticut to Carolina
9. Miracle Temple Holiness
10. Union Street Bridge
11. Those Girls
12. Telling the Hour
Memorial Hall, Chapel Hil
Tuesday, Nov. 27
Looking relaxed in a turtleneck with its long sleeves pushed up and a Kangol cap worn in B-boy style, 71-year-old pianist Chucho Valdés revealed himself to be at the height of his powers Tuesday night in Chapel Hill’s Memorial Hall. He led a young, percussion-heavy quintet that represents the cream of Cuba’s next-generation sidemen. All of the backing musicians reside in Cuba and perform and record regularly with the island’s premiere artists, such as top arranger and flutist Orlando “Maraca” Valle, Buena Vista Social Club diva Omara Portuondo, and dance band-of-the-moment Havana D’Primera. Valdés moved from Cuba to Spain two years ago to be near his father, another legend of Cuban piano, Bebo Valdés.
Affording a welcome break from the usual Latin jazz blowing sessions, there were no horns in this all-rhythm lineup, which consisted of Yaroldy Abreu Robles on congas, Rodney Barreto on drumset, Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé on batá drums/vocals, and Gaston Joya on electric and upright bass. (If it’s horns you’re after, look to Valdés’ other ensemble: the Art Blakey-styled Afro-Cuban Messengers.)
To a pianist, the appeal of playing orchestra to your very own rhythm section seems obvious, yet I had to ask, at a post-concert meet and greet: Why use this format over any other?
“Africano,” came Valdés’ cogent reply. Not Afro-Cuban, mind you, although the evening was rife with references to music of the Antilles, as well as Europe and North America. Nope, this was Africa in the New World talking.
Indeed, the evening’s rhythm-based experiments never abandoned a steady groove once it had been established, although the ensemble might blindfold it and spin it around in dizzying fashion. Rather than abruptly changing meters, the band played games of ellipses, then recaptured the rhythmic drive forward. In this manner, drummer Rodney Barreto could take even a 4/4 rock beat—pretty simple stuff compared to Cuban rhythms—and create a rambunctiously witty solo by dropping in and out, leaving whole bars empty between his attacks. In this way, the quintet showed the audience how Cuban musicians hear rhythm: always pulsing, even in the silence.
It's been almost two years since Ryan Gustafson performed his own songs with a full band. At the time, he was rolling with the Drughorse Collective, a mostly defunct collection of Triangle artists with a knack for reinvigorating classic pop and rock styles, and supporting his Donkey LP, a colorful assemblage of old-school rock, soul and folk unified by Gustafson's emotionally devastating songwriting. It was a style that seemed certain to make Gustafson one of the area's newest stars.
But it didn't turn out that way. Gustafson drifted from writing songs and playing with a band, instead oping to support others and dabble with electronic composition. Lucky for local music fans, the hiatus wasn't permanent. When Gustafson shows up to play tonight at Raleigh's Tir na nOg, he'll not only be joined by a band; he'll also be offering a two-song cassingle (cover pictured above) with cuts from a brand-new full-length.
The album, called Desert and attributed to The Dead Tongues (the name of Gustafson's current backing band), will be self-released on Feb. 9. From the Blonde on Blonde-inspired splendor of opener "Call Out to Me" to the windswept heartbreak of the re-appropriated title track, it's a powerful collection that reaffirms his potent songwriting gifts and fits them to refined textures and arrangements. The single displays the album's extremes, pairing the cosmic country swagger of "No Intentions" with "Sleep Talking," a blissful psychedelic experiment that appears near the album's end. Check out the full track list below:
The Dead Tongues
1. Call Out to Me
2. No Intentions
3. The Harbor
4. The Desert
5. Exit Song
7. Hanging Fool
9. Sleep Talking
10. Silver Dove
It's been about 10 months since we recorded this song with B.J. Barham of American Aquarium. Over that time, I've received sporadic text messages from Barham, on tour in different spots across the country, asking, "When are you putting that cover out?" With the year coming to a close, and after recording nearly 30 Simple Music Video Series session, it seems time to inaugurate a new video series, Carolina Covers.
Barham's decision to cover Mount Moriah seemed surprising. I had expected a Whiskeytown or Backsliders cover. "It was my favorite record of 2011," he explained. "Heather McEntire is one of my favorite songwriters and voices in the Triangle. That record was in heavy rotation in the van that year and continues to be."
In the weeks to come, we will be posting more interesting covers tunes. Until then, here is B.J. Barham of American Aquarium performing Mount Moriah's "Lament." American Aquarium plays the Local 506 Thursday, Nov. 29, along with The Mike Roy Show. Tickets are $8 for a 9 p.m. start.
Chapel Hill garage rockers Last Year's Men are going into the studio in December to record the follow-up to 2010's Sunny Down Snuff. With regular local shows, a delightfully bizarre Twitter feed, and unhinged, catchy songwriting, they have become a fun band to follow. And with the next LP taking a different, potentially more refined tack, this four-piece should remain one to watch.
"All the songs on this record could be played on acoustic guitars," says guitarist and songwriter Ben Carr. "We're essentially going to make a really mean pop record. The more punk and psychedelic songs will be saved for another future release." The band is working with Greg Cartwright of Reigning Sound and Carrboro engineer and musician Wesley Wolfe on the upcoming sophomore LP. They will stay at Cartwright's Asheville home for a mid-December recording session.
"It'll be nice to get out of town, not work, not worry about girlfriends, power bills, or responsibilities and only focus on making a good record," says Carr. He jokes about the similarities with the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street recording process, but he's serious and excited about the upcoming immersive experience. "We'll be sleeping in the same house, eating the same meals, and making the same record for four days."
Depending on how it's released, this album may be out by February or March, though Carr isn't rushing it. Having waited two years since the debut, he says, he's content to wait until the mixes are just right before releasing it.
Fans of Frank Fairfield, rejoice! Frank has added a last-minute show this Saturday evening at Cup 22 at the Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw. So if you can't make his performance tonight at The Pinhook in Durham with Deep Chatham, you'll have another chance.
If you are not familiar with Frank Fairfield, he is a phenomenal old-time player. He utilizes fiddle, banjo and guitar in a rough-and-tumble style that harkens back to a more authentic presentation of how these old-timey songs were performed many years ago.
See Frank tonight at The Pinhook in Durham with Deep Chatham. Tickets are $8 and the show starts at 9 p.m. And Frank's show just added will be at Cup 22 at the Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw. This show will start at 8 p.m., and donations are encouraged.
Below is a clip of Frank Fairfield playing "When the Roses Bloom Again" from earlier this year in Saxapahaw.
Last week marked the 20-year anniversary of Sade’s classic, Love Deluxe. In tribute to the original, Raleigh-based band The Rosebuds (now living in New York) have released their own version of Sade’s Love Deluxe, recorded while frontman Ivan Howard spent some time on the North Carolina coast polishing up demos for The Rosebuds.
Sade’s discography has always strongly resonated with the duo, explains co-founder Kelly Crisp in an essay, influencing the breadth of the band’s work over the years. The album was recorded independent of Crisp, but it still reflects all of the swooning moods and romantic battles that the two have expressed during their career as a couple and, following their breakup, just as bandmates.
In a recent three-part article for the magazine Wax Poetics, journalist Nelson George examines the arc of Sade’s discography, starting with 1984’s Diamond Life and ending with this year’s CD release of live material, Bring Me Home Live 2011. He points out that Sade’s 1992 classic Love Deluxe LP was “mixed almost like a dub album with the silences between the notes as powerful a presence on the record as the instruments themselves.” Later, George calls Love Deluxe “the apex of this balance between rhythm and space, melody and arrangement.”
The friends who helped Howard achieve The Rosebuds’ take on this balance—Rob Lackey on drums, Matt Douglas on saxophone and Jon Yu on keys—don’t mutate much of the original’s jazz and dub undertones. Instead, they fill in those shadows between notes by fogging songs like “Bullet Proof Love” with chords and a sax that reinterprets the blues and erogenous vibes of Love Deluxe .
While missing the percussive droplets that lead the original through themes of joblessness, despair and hatred, The Rosebuds’ take of “Feel No Pain” still captures the song’s social consciousness. The question in the lyrics “Do you ever see a man break down?” is left dangling in both versions, but with Ivan Howard singing it, we hear the testimony of a stand-in man whose past losses in love and life re-teach him how to walk with his head held high. Even if Howard can’t match Sade’s goddess-like incantations, he casts his own spell over this material; he presides with the universal voice of the blues.
Artists from jazz legend Herbie Hancock to neo-soul singer Pru have covered Sade songs in the past; this year saw the release of jazz/ hip-hop virtuoso Robert Glasper’s Black Radio, which featured Lalah Hathaway’s cover of Sade’s “Cherish the Day.” Head-to-head with The Rosebuds’ version of Love Deluxe’s “Cherish the Day,” the two couldn’t be any more different: Howard is almost daring his lover to abandon him, whereas Sade pleads with and preps her lover as she’s gliding towards him. Hathaway and Glasper’s version, on the other hand, leans more toward reunion-worship and doesn’t out-beg The Rosebuds’ call-to-rescue.
Invisible, Eros and the Eschaton
Nov. 16, 2012
It's a rare Nightlight show that starts at 9 p.m., especially on the weekends. Yet this special engagement did exactly that, and was over by 11:15—per the design of headliners Invisible. The Greensboro art-music outfit (band is a tricky designation for them) typically plays alone and in a gallery space, per their elaborate multimedia setup and sculptural or visual elements. This engagement, however, saw them share the stage with Greensboro newcomers Eros and the Eschaton. The opening duo injected romanticism into dreampop forms, resulting in a sort of cloudgaze that ranges from Beach House on a warm day to Jeff Buckley/Ben Gibbard-flavored electric folk.
Invisible finished its two-date Nightlight micro-residency to a small but engaged crowd. The headliner's stage show—and premise—involves elaborate homemade instruments and extensive A/V elements, used to perform art-music compositions like The New Obsolete. One side of the Nightlight was conquered by their contraptions, transforming the venue into a sort of Bill Nye-meets-Mr. Wizard wonderworld of gadgetry. The show itself featured the four members' elements occasionally conversing, but also gelling into head-nodding rock structures. Mark Dixon's water drip-driven drum machine, Elsewhere's Roof, punctuated the show, though he picked up a headless bass for the more song-like sections. Bart Trotman's projector screen and four Commodore 64 monitors showed homemade and found video, but also provided narration; several segments of the show, for example, were introduced by a text-to-speech voice describing some form of biological or technological obsolescence. Durham-based multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Henderson's samples provided texture (and more than a few chuckles), but his guitar work lent propulsion to the typist Jodi Staley's gorgeous accidental melodies. They're accidental because her instrument is the Selectric Piano, a keyboard she controls with a typewriter.
Yet the beauty of The New Obsolete was the coherence of its statements, even within the realm of interpretive art. Don't get me wrong: When Invisible is funny, or playful, they're lighthearted to the core. But there were moments of dense, brooding emotionality as well. An early segment on linguistic loss started with a video map of language families and a brief explanation of endangered languages before leading into an anxious rock section. Jodi Staley's typing set the tempo and feel. Often she repeats words or phrases that happen to summon neat melodies from the piano; these become sectional themes. The linguistics segment started with Staley typing the names of lost or fading tongues, yet she typed aggressively, with accelerated, angry strokes, and the band matched this sturm and drang. Then, at the section's climax, she repeatedly typed "NO CHILD LEARNS acheron," with the first three words typed with measured patience and the name of the language itself erupting in a frantic tumble of keystrokes. Given the power of her strange instrument, it's appropriate that she was the one to end the likely final performance of The New Obsolete by typing the name of the band and the name of the show.
Then Dixon stood and thanked the crowd, and Invisible started to break down their elaborate, Rube Goldberg-meets-Tom Waits contraptions. It would take three hours.
Phil Cook & His Feat, Sumner James
Tir na nOg
Nov. 15, 2012
Among the advantages of free showcases like the Tir na nOg's Local Band-Local Beer night is the ability to try out new things without much pressure. With no cost to get in and a reliable weekly beer special, the Thursday crowd at the Raleigh Irish pub varies in size, but is always willing to give unfamiliar acts a chance. This week, two Durham talents seized the opportunity to debut new performances that, while occasionally rough, overflowed with promise.
James Phillips opened with what he told the crowd was his first-ever solo performance. This summer, the Bombadil drummer took a break from the band’s eccentric and emotionally potent folk to record an album called 29 Days, which he credited to the moniker Sumner James. The charming collection adds exacting, found-sound details to dubstep-inspired minimalism, a far cry from the work Phillips contributes to in Bombadil.
Playing in a duet format with Elysse Thebner (Some Army, JKutchma & the Five Fifths), Phillips emphasized the electronic end of his aesthetic, weaving ploding, concussive beats with patient keyboard lines and delicate guitar garnishes from Thebner. There were miscues and moments when the duo’s elements felt somewhat out of sync, but the set’s frequent successes resounded with passionate resolve. “Long Life,” a straightforward love song and 29 Days lone acoustic number, was transformed with steely piano and a cold, mechanical beat, making its twee-leaning wish for a long and happy relationship seem like a doomed proposition.
It took us a while, but we were finally able to track down Dan McGee of the Spider Bags to come do a few songs. Between playing a get-out-the-vote rally in Durham, in-store performances and a number of recent club shows, Spider Bags have been busy of late. That's understandable, as their latest album, Shake My Head, is bound to turn up on a number of year-end lists.
Today we present a song from Dan that is neither in his usual tempo nor at his typical decibel level—unless you happen to catch him doing a solo performance at places like The Layabout in Durham, that is. Dan came in to perform a number of solo numbers, as well as a very interesting North Carolina-written cover we will share at some point in the future. Enjoy.
The purpose of the Indy Week's Simple Music Video Series is to capture local and touring musicians who we feel are producing something special. The hope is to capture something very simple in order to mirror the experience of viewing a performance as if you were in a small crowd watching a quiet set. We hope for content of the music to be the primary focus of the series, not multiple camera angles meant to keep the viewer guessing and entertained.
Most bands featured in the series will be a sample of the deep pool of talent in the Triangle, while others will represent some of our touring favorites.