2012 should go down as one of the absolute best years in local music releases. I can’t imagine there has ever been one better, though Wayne Bledsoe could likely educate me on the matter. All I know is the music community anticipated good releases by some Knoxville bands and they came through – but then there were others I didn’t see coming who made fine discs as well.
I’ll take them alphabetically. I do have my preferences, but I won’t rank them. The diversity alone makes any comparison perilous at the least and perhaps even superfluous. There is something here for most musical tastes and I find myself gravitating toward different ones of the lot depending on mood and the situation.
Kevin Abernathy: “Some Stories”
Any consideration of this CD, for those who aren’t familiar with Kevin’s work, should start with Wayne Bledsoe’s review. He says Kevin may be the “best unknown singer-songwriter in the country.” He goes on to call this one of the best albums of the year. The album is full of well crafted songs all presented in a low key manner: though it’s not all acoustic, you might not notice that on a casual listen. I couldn’t help being reminded stylistically of Steve Earle’s acoustic work. Kevin’s voice even reminds me of Steve’s at times. So, if your loved one needs a little singer/songwriter gift, here’s the one. Favorite Track: “She Loves Jesus”
Black Cadillacs: “Run”
This is one that surprised me. I’ve enjoyed the Black Cadillacs for some time. I think the first time I heard them they may have still been in high school. It was at the Dylan Birthday Bash on the World’s Fair Park and I mostly admired their willingness to give it a try. I ran into them several times afterward and noticed they had gotten better each time out. One Preservation Pub show really brought home how far they had come.
Their opening slot for the Dirty Guv’nahs at the Guv’s CD release party on Market Square revealed a band who is getting ever tighter. I remember watching the Dirty Guv’nahs themselves making this transformation. So, when “Run” came out, I knew it would rock and I knew it wouldn’t be bad, I just didn’t expect it to be this good. The addition of Kevin Hyfantis on keyboard seems to be one key to the leap they’ve made.
It’s rock music in the vein of the Black Keys or My Morning Jacket, but somewhere along the way the songwriting became much more than an after thought. Think of it as a thinking man’s hard rock with great hooks and frequent lapses of subtlety I just didn’t see coming.
Favorite Track: ” Go On, Go Off”
The Dirty Guv’nahs: “Somewhere Beneath these Southern Skies”
This was the anticipated release of the year and it lived up to the billing. Anyone who has watched the Guv’nahs develop from their days playing Preservation Pub and Barley’s has witnessed the evolution of an excellent rock and roll band. In an era in which other bands have gone electronic and pop, these guys sound more like the Rolling Stones circa “Exile on Main Street.” Yet, their songs are fresh and have only gotten better as they’ve developed.
Musically, they can stand with anyone with double threats at guitar, excellent keyboards, often featuring organ giving them a sound firmly rooted in the history of rock, and a rock solid rhythm section. The new songs are their best as they continue to offer singable, rocking anthems and simple, fun and raunchy rock and roll. Favorite Track: “Good Luck Charm”
The Lonetones: “Modern Victims”
This one caught me a little off-guard. I’ve heard the Lonetones many times from Carpe Librum to the Relix Theater and the performance stage at WDVX and I’ve really grown to appreciate the band personally and musically. Sean does his amazing Kid Stuff program and then they added Cecilia Miller on cello and sealed the deal for me. Still, I expected to like this CD, but not necessarily to go crazy over it, but that’s what I’ve done. One minute I love Steph’s songs and the next I’m thinking I lean more toward Sean’s. Of course, the whole is greater than the parts in this case. I can’t stop listening.
The Lonetones play such a blend of musical styles it’s hard to categorize them. There’s a significant folk element and ethos, but there’s a world music vibe and while their sound is pretty gentle, they can rock out, as well. The lyrics range from simple love songs to philosophical ruminations. Wayne Bledsoe compared them to the Byrds or Wilco who started out as acoustic bands, but inevitably followed their muse farther afield.
It’s tough to pick a favorite, so here are a few for various reasons: “Loosely Based” for Steph’s great vocals and an excellent hook, “Modern Victims” for making an excellent song a stunning cut by adding Black Atticus as guest rapper in a folk song and “Who We Are” which is an excellent song in every way, but also, as Wayne Bledsoe put it, “feels like an anthem for the working-class left.”
Jack Rentfro and the Apocalypso Quartet: “Damascus by Sundown”
Does anyone do “spoken word” music anymore? Rod Mckuen come to mind? Forget about it. This has more to do with Beat Poetry and coffee houses than anything precious. It’s challenging, mesmerizing and sometimes feels like you are listening without a net. The music swirls and twirls driving the recitations to their peak. Laith Keilany directs the revolving band of musicians from behind his oud. Just the presence of an oud as a regular instrument in a western band ups its cool quotient.
Jack’s poetry is by turns angry, pensive, confrontational and blasphemous. No belief or golden cow goes without challenge. His incisive wit and oracular acumen merge with the often complex, multi-layered and constantly altering music to form an aural stew that simply has to be heard to be appreciated. Preferred Track: “Damascus by Sundown” (Hey Soldier!)
They will play today on the Blue Plate Special and tonight in an End of the World show at the Preservation Pub. I hope to catch both and I’d encourage you to do the same.
The Theorizt: “Samurai Love Songs”
Theorizt has it’s origins with local rapper Jarius Bush and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Mike Miller. After working together for a while, they invited Black Atticus, local slam poet into the fold and they formed Theorzt. The solid rhythm section includes Jason Wells on drums and Jon Augustus on bass. Nick Burkhalter plays a pyrotechnic guitar that simply shimmers when he cuts loose.
They call themselves a hip-hop band, but they are that and much more. Mike Miller’s acoustic guitar work lay a ground-work for the sound that distinguishes them from most hip-hop artists. Musically they acknowledge a debt to the Roots and Outkast and those influences are obvious. I also think of Living Colour (the band, not the show) because of the stand-out guitar work.
On this album they aren’t afraid to through in a little reggae rhythm here and an R and B cut there. It’s melodic and the instruments are real, two factors that I virtually insist upon when I step into the hip-hop/rap genre. (That’s why I love the Roots.) The CD even includes an instrumental cut featuring the gorgeous guitar work of Nick Burkhalter. When did people stop doing instrumentals? This track is beautiful enough to bring them back.
Choice Tracks: “Call Me” for your R and B groove, “Eden” for dazzling guitar and “Targets” to get your angry Hip/Hop on.
As a bonus, you might pick up “Homegrown for the Holidays, Volume 3” which features local talent doing their best Christmas renditions. Performers include Kevin Abernathy, Erick Baker, Jay Clark, The Dirty Guv’nahs, Mick Harrison and more. Proceeds go to the Knoxville Area Rescue Mission.
While you are supporting local musicians, you can take it one step further buy supporting local, downtown retailers when you purchase your CDs through the Disk Exchange, Raven Records and Lost and Found. I picked mine up after a walk to the Disk Exchange, but that story requires another blog post.