(Late Show) Ugly Blondes / Whiskey Pilot / Jakethehawk
Since their debut in 2006, Oakland, Californias Howlin Rain has seen as many highs, lows, and wild adventures as any great American rock band. Led by singer/guitarist/lead howler Ethan Miller (co-founder of blistering psych rockers Comets On Fire), theyve performed to worldwide audiences, enlisted a megastar producer and label, moved on from said megastar producer and label, and ultimately embraced a DIY spirit.
With their new LP The Alligator Bride, Millers merry band of pranksters deliver their fifth full-length set of swampy, ragged, and unapologetic rock n roll. The guiding principle for The Alligator Bride was to create Neal Cassady Rock, says Miller. Which is to say, high energy, good-times adventure music, driving the hippie bus, shirtless and stoned, up for four days straight, and extremely fuzzy around the edges. Its their first release on Silver Current Records, the artist-run label owned by Miller, who carefully oversees all curation, recording, graphic design, and distribution.
The Alligator Bride is gleefully indebted to classic rock formations such as the Grateful Deads Europe 72, Mountain Bus 1974 burner Sundance, and Frees masterpiece of atmospheric, minimalist blues, 1969s Fire and Water. But theres a wider context to the Rain. At any given moment, Miller pivots between several projects, each a different facet of his sun-scorched California vision. From the pastoral psych jams of his celebrated Sub Pop band Heron Oblivion, to the scuzz punk freakouts of Feral Ohms, to the sprawling, analog ambience of The Odyssey Cult, to his various books of poetry, Miller cuts a renaissance figure in madmans garb, howling at the moon and cranking out handmade masterpieces.
Which brings us back to Howlin Rains latest. Tracked over three days by Eric King Riff Bauer at the Mansion in San Francisco, The Alligator Bride is the sound of a full band playing live to tape, cutting the material in first and second takes. (It also marks the second installment in the bands Mansion trilogy. First was 2016s Mansion Songs, a less raucous affair, with the gentle touch of Espers/Heron Oblivions Meg Baird on vocals, among other contributors.) Miller attributes the magic to the vibe of the Mansion studio, the same space that gave birth to modern garage-psych classics by Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, and Mikal Cronin. Because it has the word mansion in it, people are like, Oh, I didnt realize it wasnt an actual mansion. says Miller. Its a basement in Chinatown. Its a mansion of the mind. Its a creative castle. Its not a literal, San Francisco mansion.
From the first notes of opening track Rainbow Trout, Millers guitar choogles out an inescapable riff, a sly reference to the sky spirits of Norman Greenbaum and ZZ Top. The riff that riff! unabashedly grounds The Alligator Bride in the classics, but reaches for the stars. Daniel Cervantes bottleneck slide guitar eases into place along with Millers tuneful-yet-ravaged lead vocals, followed by Jeff McElroys bass and Justin Smiths charging drums. Title track Alligator Bride soon crashes the gates like Crazy Horse in all their ragged glory, telling a carnivalesque tale of American splendor, a parade of creatures across time and space. And final track Coming Down slow-burns its way through eight minutes of indestructible twin guitars, blazing to a heroic, acid-damaged finish.
Were in a vortex of futuristic events, ruminates Miller. At this present moment, we can still remember the way the train whistle sounded in the middle of the night, rolling through the dark on the outskirts of town. An old America before we walked on the moon, before TV, cell phones, and the internet. The song (and perhaps the entire album) Alligator Bride is about standing in the eye of that tornado of time between the past and the present in America. Its a fitting vision for the band: torn between eras, an epic perspective on whats come before and what lies ahead, woven into a cosmic tapestry of riffs, rhymes, and resonant frequencies.
Doors will open an hour early at 6pm for extended kitchen service. Come have dinner with us before the show!
Now twenty-five years into his storied career, Cleaves' songwriting has never been more potent than on his new album Ghost on the Car Radio, out June 23.
The characters in Slaid Cleaves' songs live in unglamorous reality. They work dead-end jobs, they run out of money, they grow old, they hold on to each other (or not), and they die. With an eye for the beauty in everyday life, he tells their stories, bringing a bit of empathy to their uncaring world.
On "Take Home Pay," co-written with longtime friend Rod Picott, Cleaves sings from the perspective of an aging manual laborer, fighting looming regret and sadness with stubborn resiliency (and opioid use).
"On my way down to the pawn shop
A couple hundred is all I need
If I have to, Ill hit the blood bank
Im bone dry but I can always bleed
I got some Oxy to keep me moving
It slowly takes some things away
The only thing I was scared of losing
She packed up and left today"
-"TAKE HOME PAY"
"As befits the times we live in, there's a heavy dose of disappointment and disillusion here," he says. But somehow, through the worst of it, optimism remains, as if to say, "Yeah, things are pretty bad out there. But there's still some good stuff if you know where to look."
One place his characters find solace is with each other. Traditional love songs are not often found on a Slaid Cleaves record. Here he approaches the subject less as a romantic gesture, and more as a world-weary appreciation of the one who's seen you through thick and thin, as in the song "So Good to Me."
"Times were tough but we were tougher
Slings and arrows we did suffer
Scars, weve got a few, but who has not
Words of love and words of anger
Times of peace and times of danger
Never take for granted what we've got"
- "SO GOOD TO ME"
Described as "terse, clear and heartfelt" (NPR Fresh Air), his songs speak to timeless truths. "I'm not an innovator. I'm more of a keeper of the flame," he says.
"Songs are so accessible. You don't need an education to fully appreciate them, you don't need a lot of leisure time to spend on them, you don't need to learn the language of song. We seem to be born with it," Cleaves explains. "With no preparation at all, they can bring you to tears in a matter of seconds. I remember being three or four and getting a lump in my throat when I heard Hank Williams sing."
Now in his fifties, Cleaves admits that it's sometimes hard to stay inspired. "I do become jaded," he says. "I wonder that, at this point in my career, I've had no real national success. No impact on the culture, as my heroes had. The music that I love just doesn't seem relevant to mainstream culture. But then, I have no interest in what mainstream culture offers either."
"But those feelings are always quickly overcome by gratitude," he explains. "I'm making a living as a musician, and making a meaningful connection with people - what could be better than that?"
Ghost on the Car Radio is Cleaves' first release since 2013's Still Fighting the War, which was praised as "one of the year's best albums" by American Songwriter and "carefully crafted...songs about the struggles of the heart in hard times" by the Wall Street Journal. The New York Daily News called his music "a treasure hidden in plain sight," while the Austin Chronicle declared, "there are few contemporaries that compare. He's become a master craftsman on the order of Guy Clark and John Prine."
Cleaves will hit the road this summer and fall in support of the album. For updated tour dates, visit slaidcleaves.com/tour
Lucy Dacus is done thinking small. Two years after her 2016 debut, No Burden, won her unanimous acclaim as one of rock's most promising new voices, Dacus returns on March 2 with Historian, a remarkably assured 10-track statement of intent. It finds her unafraid to take on the big questions the life-or-death reckonings, and the ones that just feel that way. It's a record full of bracing realizations, tearful declarations and moments of hard-won peace, expressed in lyrics that feel destined for countless yearbook quotes and first tattoos.
"This is the album I needed to make," says Dacus, who views Historian as her definitive statement as a songwriter and musician. "Everything after this is a bonus."
She emphasizes that she does not take her newfound platform as a touring musician for granted. "I have this job where I get to talk to people I don't know every night," she remembers thinking on the long van rides across America to support No Burden. Realizing that she would have a dramatically expanded audience for her second album, she felt an urgent call to make something worthwhile: "The next record should be the thing that's most important to say."
The past year, with its electoral disasters and other assorted heartbreaks, has been a rough one for many of us, Dacus included. She found solace in crafting a thoughtful narrative arc for Historian, writing a concept album about cautious optimism in the face of adversity, with thematic links between songs that reveal themselves on repeat listens. "It starts out dark and ends hopeful, but it gets darker in between; it goes to the deepest, darkest, place and then breaks," she explains. "What I'm trying to say throughout the album is that hope survives, even in the face of the worst stuff."
Dacus and her band recorded the album in Nashville last March, re-teaming with No Burden producer Collin Pastore, and mixed it a few months later with A-list studio wizard John Congleton. The sound they created, with substantial input from multi-instrumentalist and live guitarist Jacob Blizard, is far richer and fuller than the debut an outward flowering of dynamic, living, breathing rock and roll. Dacus' remarkable sense of melody and composition are the driving force throughout, giving Historian the immersive feel of an album made by an artist in full command of her powers.
The album opens with a striking three-track run. First comes "Night Shift," the only breakup song Dacus has ever written: "In five years I hope the songs feel like covers, dedicated to new lovers," she memorably declares. Next is the catchy, upbeat first single "Addictions," inspired in part by the dislocated feeling of life on the road and the lure of familiarity ("Im just calling cause Im used to it/And youll pick up cause youre not a quitter "), followed by "The Shell," a reflection on (and embrace of) creative burnout. There's nothing tentative about this opening sequence. Right away, it's clear that Dacus is on a new level of truth-telling and melodic grace.
Another key highlight is track five, "Yours & Mine" "the centerpiece where the whole album hinges in on itself," Dacus says. Using a call-and-response format, she wrestles with the question of how best to participate in a community broken by injustice and fear while staying true to what one believes is right. "It's about realizing your power as a person, and deciding to do the less safe but ultimately more powerful move, which is to move physically forward show up and march and move forward politically," says Dacus, who began writing the song during the 2015 Baltimore Uprising against systemic racism.
Historian closes with two stunning songs: "Pillar of Truth," a heartfelt tribute to Dacus' late grandmother, and "Historians," which sums up the album's complex lessons about loss. "From the first song to 'Pillar of Truth,' the message is: You can't avoid these things, so accept them. There's ways to go about it with grace and gratefulness," she says. "Then 'Historians' says that even if you can say that, there's still fear, and loss is terrifying. You still love things, so it's going to hurt. But dark isn't bad. It's good to know that.
Since 2015, Chillent's one of a kind "soul stew" of Jewish-flavored funk, rock, jazz, and blues has heated up Pittsburgh's favorite venues, festivals, and airwaves.
Chillent's generous helpings of original compositions, deep covers, and funky interpretations of Jewish classics have fans comparing their live performances to "klezmer Phish," and "Maceo Parker at a bar mitzvah."
Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, I moved to Los Angeles after graduating from college (later than most people do). Growing up, I was always obsessed with comedy & was always, as the expression goes, the "class clown." I never realized you could get paid for being obnoxious & disruptive until I moved to L.A. and got a job on E!'s hit show Chelsea Lately Hollywood dreams, they do come true!
Since Chelsea Lately ended, I have toured with Dana Gould and Chris Hardwick & have appeared several times on Comedy Central's hit show @midnight (you can see the highlights here). I currently co-host the weekly show Almost Genius on TruTV with my friend Chris Fairbanks.
I've also published my own photocopied zine since the age of 14, and have kept a blog since 1997. I used to work for MTV & regularly contributed pop-culture pieces like these ones right here. ("Well yeah, I guess it's obvious I also like to write.")
What else am I supposed to brag about here? I created & hosted the popular Go Bayside podcast for nearly two years. I make pretty good mixtapes. I think being able to make ends meet by doing comedy & comedy-related things is really wonderful & enjoyable & I feel very lucky. (And did I mention I made lord of the underworld Glenn Danzig laugh once? As far as I know, this qualifies me for a Nobel Prize nomination.)
And because dorks like me enjoy reading this sort of stuff on other people's sites, here are some of my influences: BOB ODENKIRK, Millie De Chirico, Billy Bragg, Paul F. Tompkins, Steve Martin, Vic Reeves & Bob Mortimer, Brian Regan, Bill Hicks, David Cross, Colin Quinn, Tom & Jerry, Kids in the Hall, French & Saunders, Eddie Murphy (I saw Raw when I was like, 8, after my grandparents had gone to bed and left HBO on), late '80s-early '90s Saturday Night Live, Clarissa from Clarissa Explains it All, Christopher Guest, Janeane Garofalo, Mike Judge, The State, those MTV promos from the early '90s with Donal Logue as a gross cab driver, both Wayne's World movies, Professor Harold Hill from the 1962 film The Music Man (for confidence), Bugs Bunny, John Waters, Sassy magazine, Zack Morris, & tons more.
For fans of the song and how to feel it. Kath Bloom (USA) is some kind of legend. She comes from a special place where country, blues and folk are made beautifully translucent and emotive. She has a special gift her voice is delicate and tender, yet retains that raw emotion and hard worn truths that allows each sung word to be felt.
The more you hear of Kath Bloom, the more you notice its not just the arresting voice, but the power of the songwriting. Beautiful is the typical responsethe kind of beauty that comes from truth, musical and the deeply lyrical. There are no good comparisons, but if you like the deep well of Emmylou Harris, the more poignant lyrics of Lou Reed, the joy of Maher Shalal Hash Baz or even Joni Mitchell, you're kinda in the right zone. In reality, shes simply Kath Bloom: horse whisperer, vocalist, mum, songwriter and a beautiful person.
Her albums recorded with Loren Mazzacane Connors in the 70′s/80′s are rare things, full of songs that float and melt into the ether. Impossibly beautiful and hard to find on LP, but check the reissues from a few years ago . In the 90′s Kaths music was famously featured in Richard Linklaters film Before Sunrise. Since then she has been busy writing and recording to great acclaim. Two new albums in the last few years and she and her songs where also honoured on a tribute album featuring Bill Callahan, Scout Niblett and Mark Kozelek.
56-58 South 12th Street, Pittsburgh PA 15203 (In Pittsburgh’s Historic South Side)