The New Year’s Jazzin’ Eve with Art of Cool celebration at Durham’s The Cotton Room will be Monday night’s most gratifying greeting to 2013. This will mark the first time that Phonte Coleman and Nicolay Rook have performed together, in Durham, as the globe-trotting, Grammy-nominated soul outfit The Foreign Exchange. They’ll be sharing the stage with other Triangle notables, including Bull City emcees Toon and The Real Laww, vocalist Yolanda Rabun, the Al Strong Quintet, DJ Apple Juice Kid. But when the clock strikes 12 a.m., it’ll just be The Foreign Exchange on stage, leading us into the New Year in high fashion. After those balloons drop and you take your first sip of 2013, here a few songs from FE’s discography that will help welcome a fresh calendar.
"Take Off the Blues" (feat. Darien Brockington)
When Raleigh’s acorn drops at midnight, you’re supposed to be lip-locked with someone special. Some of you have already designated your co-smoocher, but for those who need help with grabbing a kiss from that sexy stranger (or just the closest person to you), this should guide you. The opening guitar chords are perfect for basking in the climax of the New Year, and the horn solo toward the end is a savory topping—if your kiss lasts more than a couple of minutes, that is. If it’s just a peck, then you can spend the rest of the song two-stepping your way out of 2012 with FE frontman Phonte Coleman. Maybe skip out before the song's end, though...
"Something to Behold" (feat. Muhsinah and Darien Brockington)
The stomach is the way to anyone’s heart. If your love interest has ever brought you food on your lunch break, then you know why Phonte sounds so passionate when he belts out “Twelve-piece, fried hard!” This is what I like to refer to as the “fried chicken wings song,” and it’s one of FE’s best-suited celebration jams. Since The Art of Cool Project is having this NYE bash fed by Triangle Catering, it would make all the sense in the world for FE to give a shout-out to some tasty bird and remind us that food is that great unifier.
If you’re a NYE party rookie, Phonte maps out the night’s strategy so you don’t have to: “Have a couple drinks/ go out dancing/ on the dancefloor/ doin our two-step/ People, they wonder/ Wanna know who the eff/ Is this dude, he/ act so Cooley/ I just school these/ niggas like UNICEF.” Who doesn’t like a confident date, especially one that can take you out-on-the-town on the biggest, last party night of the year?
"Hustle, Hustle" (feat. Critically Acclaimed)
If, on the night of December 31st, you still have no idea what in the hell the fiscal cliff is, it won’t matter. The bottom line is that, just like every other year, you’ll need creative ways to save more, make more and spend less. If you need someone to light the fiduciary fire, this track from FE’s 2004 debut LP might be the most enjoyable way to do it. Carried by emcees Quartermaine and C.A.L.I.B.E.R of the duo Critically Acclaimed, this hand-clapping praise of the daily hustle should encompass each of your resolutions. Improving your love life? Hustle. Fixing your credit? Hustle. Losing weight? Hustle.
“Don’t Wait” (feat. Darien Brockington)
I would normally never advise anyone to co-opt New Year’s Eve, or any other holiday, as an occasion to “pop the question.” It’s selfish, unoriginal, and every year, you’ll have to have a double celebration, which can be both confusing and exhausting. Several years ago, I did just that on my birthday, and I’ll always regret it. However, if you have to make a grand gesture like a marriage proposal, you might as well carry it out when the fireworks are in full swing, and you’ve spent the half of your life’s savings on ridiculously expensive bubbly. Borrow from the Book of Brockington, get on one knee and say to her, “Girl, we are the lucky ones, that’s why I wanna spend my lifetime with you.” Just make us have to stop the party so you can do it on stage, in front of everyone.
Big things are afoot for Peter Lamb and the Wolves. Raleigh reedman Lamb recently recited a litany of good news, from recent developments to upcoming events—including top billing at Durham’s Casbah New Year’s Eve, and the North Carolina Democratic Party’s Inaugural Ball in Arlington, Va., on January 21.
"Certainly the Casbah show we're excited about, but then there's the inauguration for the President, which is a big deal. We're playing across from Arlington Cemetery,” Lamb says. "The other interesting thing is, we're getting a lot of [air]play in New Orleans recently, on the major jazz station down there. It's huge for me.”
New Year’s Eve also marks the start of the band’s new Kickstarter campaign, where they will be seeking to raise $10,000 to record, not just one, but two albums. The same design, recording and mastering team that produced the band’s most recent eponymous CD will reassemble to create one finished album of just the Wolves, performing originals and standards, as well as an official bootleg, available only as a Kickstarter incentive, brimming with local guests. Those contributors include Ed Stephenson, Steve Riley, Bernie Petteway, Mark Simonsen of The Old Ceremony, Mary Boone of the North Carolina Symphony, and th’ Bullfrog Willard McGhee. In addition, Paul Friedrich of The Onion Head Monster fame is creating artwork for new T-shirts and bumper stickers.
The Casbah show on New Year’s Eve will be two parts jazz and one part variety show, with Footnotes tap dancers and music duo Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz opening for the Wolves.
"The night is going to start as a sit-down jazz show. In the intermission, there's going to be a tap ensemble performing a couple of numbers,” explains Lamb. “Then we're going to come on and just rock it out.”
Lamb says he was delighted to welcome the Grammy-nominated McGarry to the bill.
"She’s new to town. She's lived Manhattan for many years, and now she's here,” he says. “She wants to get the word out, so I called her up and she said she'd love to do it.”
Tomorrow night’s show begins at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15.
Right on the heels of a Chorus Project Cat's Cradle benefit concert this past Monday, sales of this track will benefit KidZNotes, a Durham nonprofit which provides children's classical music instruction and organizes youth orchestras in low-performance school districts.
The track, again, is here.
Walking toward the Pour House Saturday night, I ran into a wide-smiling Jac Cain. This made me a little nervous, so I asked The Pour House soundman, "What do you think about tonight?" He responded with a deep, menacing laugh and not much more.
The Backsliders had not even partially reunited in a number of years until a benefit show at Slim's in late September. So, why now?
"Chip called, said he was doing a set at Slim's for a benefit and did I want to join him as a duo. I said, 'Sure, sounds like fun.' I found out JD and Danny were going to be there with another band and called Chip and said, 'Why don't we all get up there?'" Steve Howell recalls. "We didn't rehearse at all, just picked 7 or 8 songs and went for it."
The crowd that soon packed into The Pour House was of a mixed age range. Numerous conversations mentioned the regret of not seeing them years ago. At the same time, others were telling tales of epic performances at The Brewery and elsewhere.
What The Backsliders delivered was a fairly tight run through of songs that gather the best elements of two-step, honky-tonk and booming rock 'n' roll, a mix this area has been sorely missing since their end. Howell was a monster on lead guitar. As the band worked through all of their well-known songs, it was a pleasure to look around the room and see faces with the expression of pure joy. Cain was ear-to-ear for 90 minutes, throwing up horns and handing out high fives to all takers.
As the show began to wind down, I couldn't help but think, "Is this it?" Thankfully, The Backsliders will be back for another show in March at the Cat's Cradle.
Below we present two songs from either side of The Backsliders spectrum.
When Volume 11 Tavern, the metal-centric Maywood Avenue music venue in Raleigh, closes its doors for the last time on January 1, the bands that served as the venue’s talent pool will lose more than just a room; they’ll lose a sanctuary for decibels.
Motrendus is one such unapologetically hard rock band. “We’re not a low-volume band; we’re a loud band,” says bassist Steve Msarsa. “We’re a band that has Marshall stacks. If we were playing in 1973, ‘74, ‘75, you’d get it.”
Having logged 49 shows at various venues across the state in the past 18 months, Motrendus was accustomed to being told to turn down—except at Volume 11, Msarsa says. With Raleigh's other loud-rock club set to close, the situation for such acts is dire.
“Keith [Fairweather, Volume 11’s’s owner] has a club that’s got a full stage and a big PA and lights and a big room,” Msarsa says. “You can get up there and if you’ve got a Marshall stack, hell yeah, crank it up.”
But as Fairweather admits, that wasn’t enough to keep the club open. On Nov. 30, the club announced its closing online."Sadly, the end of an era has come," the announcement read. "Volume 11 Tavern will be closing at the end of December.
"We had a good run for the last seven years, hosted countless shows and had soooooo many drunken good times together. We would like to thank everyone that visited us over the years for your patronage. Please join us for one last round as we toast goodbye during the month of December. The last hurrah will be held on New Years Eve, so get ready to party...we're gonna go out with a bang!"
In its seven-year run, Volume 11 held on to a strong local niche, but despite the prevailing wisdom, courting national tours didn’t help the business. “The nationals were losing me, like, nine out of 10 shows,” Fairweather admits. “Not enough support around the area: Most of the people that were coming to see them were people from out of town—South Carolina, Virginia, Charlotte, Greensboro, Greenville, all kinds of stuff.”
He adjusted his business plan to focus more on local talent and invite more hip-hop and EDM shows, but it wasn’t enough. “I just finally made, like, a smidgeon this year. And then the tax man eats me up,” Fairweather says. “I’m not saying I didn’t turn it around a little bit, but what it’s doing is just not paying off.”
Fairweather and Msarsa agree that people just weren’t coming out to shows. The reasons for this are many. Fairweather acknowledges increasing competition for live music (“Every room that’s out there has a stage with somebody in the corner,” he says.), but mostly he says people just aren’t coming out. “The problem is the people that don’t play don’t go out and really support it enough. We’ve got enough people. They just sit at home. Maybe it’s DUIs; they’re afraid to go out and drink,” he explains, laughing.
Msarsa blames apathy, too. “The musicians around here support each other,” he says. “It’s probably the biggest saving grace of the local scene.” But the audience, he says, hasn’t been engaged with harder, heavier rock music in the Triangle. Msarsa has worked to help promote Raleighmusic.com, a site he sees as a comprehensive guide to live music in Raleigh, but that’s another outlet working to find an audience without an assist from established broadcast media. Local radio stations, he says, don’t work to promote local bands—especially those playing hard rock and metal. For his part, Msarsa and Motrendus worked to build the scene, hosting a weekly full-band open mic and helping upstart bands land weeknight gigs.
But maybe, he suggests, audience apathy is a sign of the times. Rock music doesn’t hold the same market power it once did. “The rebel element, the bad-boy element now cleaves more toward your hip-hop, because that’s where rebellion is personified now, much more than old warhorses like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin,” Msarsa says. “I’m not saying that rock is dead by any stretch of the imagination. I just don’t think it has the reach that it used to.”
The audience of local hard-rock musicians Volume 11 built will have its final chances to say farewell in the days leading up to the club’s closing. This weekend’s KIFFmas Bash boasts an 11-band bill encompassing much of Volume 11’s all-things-loud niche. New Year’s Eve will be headlined by Bonz, the original frontman of the rap-metal hybrid Stuck Mojo. In between, showcases for local rappers and EDM producers, original metal bands and classic metal tribute acts will have their last say.
Even as the concert hall closes, Volume 11 continues to offer a space for loud rock bands. The attached rehearsal spaces and recording studio—in which Corrosion of Conformity recently recorded its latest EP, Megalodon, and filmed a video for “Feed On”—will remain open.
“If I had another five years to stick it out with some backing, yeah, it might work and I might keep climbing,” Fairweather says. “But in this area, it’s kinda tough to tell.”
Some Army—the new songwriting outlet of The Honored Guests' Russell Baggett—debuted with a strong 2012. Starting with a three-song 7-inch early in the year, the outfit expanded it into a seven-song EP of striking, melancholic folk-rock. Lush, reverb-heavy textures deepen the bleary-eyed heartbreak that powers Baggett's richly understated lyrics. The results resound with refined clarity, revelations of a struggling musician confronting new phases of adulthood.
Next year, the band plans to complete work on its debut full-length. The video above features part of a song destined for that release. "To Keep the Lights On" layers ethereal distortion and far-off harmonica onto patiently strummed acoustic guitar as Baggett moans out a list of goals that center on the titular phrase. The song is accompanied by performance footage of the band captured by Adam Graetz, who promises to document Some Army’s entire recording process for future updates.
Today's Carolina Cover comes from Chip Robinson, covering "Who Carried You" from Asheville native Malcolm Holcolmbe's 1999 Geffen Records release, A Hundred Lies. When we set these sessions up and ask for a cover, folks sometimes do not have time to prepare because of scheduling. In this case, Robinson came in with what he said was one of his favorite songs; he delivers the song with a cleaner vocal take than the original but with the same finger-picked mournful spirit.
Chip has two area shows coming up this week: He plays solo tonight at Slim's with Mike Ferrio at 9 p.m. Tickets are $5. This is likely to be an environment to enjoy Robinson's quieter tunes, as we have presented them here. Saturday comes the big Backsliders reunion show at The Pour House. The 10 p.m. show costs $10. Both are highly recommended.
As a bonus we've included another tune from the Chip Robinson session. Here is the title track from his solo release, Mylow.
Mount Moriah, Bowerbirds
Dec. 8, 2012
Saturday brought one of the more anticipated local performances in recent memory to the Cat's Cradle. Mount Moriah — stirring up recent buzz around their signing to Merge Records and the announcement of their next release, Miracle Temple — debuted a handful of rich and powerful new songs. And headlining were the Bowerbirds, fresh off of a nine-month tour and returning to the Cradle for the first time since their CD release for The Clearing in March.
While Mount Moriah played several selections off their new disc, you'll have to see them live to hear those before the Feb. 26 release. One highlight was watching the often unheralded duo of Casey Toll and James Wallace locking in the tight drum and bass sound most noticeable during this driving version of "Social Wedding Rings."
Later in the set and between debuting new songs, the group mixed in a stirring cover of Richard and Linda Thompson's "I Want To See the Bright Lights Tonight."
The Bowerbirds played a tight hour-long set that featured a few new arrangements and dug deep into their catalog to craft a varied setlist as well as a two-song encore for the hometown crowd. As the group begins to rest from a long year of touring, they've launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund their next record, Phil's side project and the final phase of construction on their home recording space. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
"In the Yard" is off their latest release, The Clearing.
Lost in the Trees with New Music Raleigh
Reynolds Industries Theater, Duke Campus, Durham
Friday, Dec. 7, 2012
With Lost in the Trees, the focal point will always be Ari Picker. The singer and leader of the string-abetted art rock ensemble is a transfixing presence on stage. This isn't just because of the subjects he sings about, though his tales of familial dysfunction and tributes to his late mother are certainly filled with overwhelming emotions. Picker genuinely seems to be baring his soul every night, not just singing his songs, but reliving the stories within, his voice rising from a fractured whisper to a cathartic shout when the narratives reach their climax.
Friday's Duke Performances concert emphasized another aspect of Picker's talents. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a symphony under his belt, his songs are infused with the complexities of modern classical music, strings implemented in a way that complicates arrangements instead of just making them bigger. Joined by the 16-piece New Music Raleigh chamber orchestra, the band emphasized its melodic intricacies — sometimes at the detriment of its emotional resonance.
The mix seemed off early in the performance, blunting the rhythm section and burying Picker's vocals during versions of "Neither Here Nor There" and "Tall Ceilings," both off of this year's A Church That Fits Our Needs. The sound improved as the evening went on, allowing the ensemble to show off impressive new arrangements. String swells and harp combined beautifully during "Red," swirling in bright counterpoint to the song's aggressive main riff. In the opening to "Garden," blasts of bass, tuba and cello clashed colorfully with gauzy gusts of violin, becoming even more dramatic than the beautiful album version.
But all this additional instrumentation distracted from Picker's performance, diminishing the group's reliably overwhelming emotions. This drawback was thrown into sharp relief during the evening's version of "This Dead Bird Is Beautiful." The Church standout gave Picker the opportunity to start things off, patiently strumming a guitar and singing with a delicate but piercing croon. The other players entered gradually, strings, piano and the operatic voice of Emma Nadeau building to a dark crescendo as Picker cried out, "Hell won't come into my house, not while you're around."
Renditions of "All Alone In An Empty House" and "Walk Around the Lake" found a similar balance during the encore, suggesting that the ensemble may have just needed time to feel out each other and the room. But while the evening's highlights were lush in a way Lost in the Trees' ordinary concerts can't match, it mainly served as a reminder of how good the outfit has become at performing Picker's powerful odes. The band was bigger, but the emotions often felt smaller, making for an intriguing performance that couldn't match the intensity of the band's regular performances.
In January, the second annual Cliff Jackson Memorial Show at Lincoln Theatre scored a one-off reunion by regional metal band Maxx Warrior as the headliner. On Saturday, just 11 months later, promoter Marty Burns’ tribute to a friend continues to grow, giving its top slot to the long-running Maryland hard-rockers Kix.
The band formed in 1977 as a trio called The Shooze, and spent the next few years trying various lineups and a new name (The Generators) before solidifying as Kix. The quintet that emerged built a fan base in local bars, and in 1981, released Kix’s self-titled debut on Atlantic Records. The band’s mix of pop smarts and hard-rock sneer, delivered in songs full of AC/DC innuendo, fit comfortably into the hair-band heyday. Their 1988 platinum-selling album, Blow My Fuse, proved to be the band’s commercial peak, hitting No. 48 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart. They notched a hit with the power ballad “Don’t Close Your Eyes.”
Despite some success, Kix never achieved the level of fame reached by peers Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard or, most notably, Poison. To their fans, it’s one of rock’s great injustices, an Anvil-like tale of under-appreciation. “It's been constantly rumored that PA hicks, Poison, nicked every stage move they ever shimmied from the mighty Kix,” wrote Sleazegrinder.com’s Adam T.
In a 2002 interview with MetalSludge.tv, frontman SteveWhiteman addressed the allegations of Poison’s plagiarism. “Yes, they did [steal Kix’s act],” he said. “Though I won't give them any credit for being a talented band at the time, I will say that they busted their balls to get where they got. Think about it: Poison, a Kix song; the color green for the logo, it's the Kix color.”
Whether they were victims of theft, or just bad luck, Kix soldiered on through 1995, when they took a hiatus that would last nine years. In September, Kix released the career-spanning double-disc Live In Baltimore. The band promises an album of new material next year with its current and near-original lineup.
Saturday’s Lincoln Theatre showcase—which also features the veteran cover bands Lexx Luthor and Metal Shop—sounds, undeniably, like a retro throwback. But for Kix, hindsight is better, anyway.