Strange ramblings and inquisitive whimsy

Category: Music

Mama Lenny and The Remedy Live at the Byllynsgate Ball – Concert Review

As the sun set on a beautiful autumn day in downtown Fort Collins, CO, a relatively new band set up shop on the patio of the now-iconic Lyric Cinema Café.  On any given day the Lyric is simply a thriving independent movie theater augmented by couches in the café and theaters, an impressive selection of local beers and a fun-loving staff catering to film lovers of all shapes and sizes.  On this particular night however, the venue played host to a soon-to-be-monthly celebration of local arts.

The Byllynsgate Ball, the brainchild of owner, Ben Mozer was started to bring together the many facets of Fort Collins’ flourishing artistic community.  The idea is simple: once a month, crowds gather to watch live music, live muraling of the café walls and an independent film (or several shorts) – all locally grown, of course.

The musical guest for this month’s Ball were none other than the fresh, local Mama Lenny and The Remedy.  Comprised of a self-described, “[…] group of musicians who wanted to play some nice music together […]” this 8-piece stunned and ignited the audience with an engaging and admirable take on generations-worth of what the band calls, “Rock, Rhythm, Blues and a whole lotta Soul.”

As patrons and passers-by began to gather around the makeshift stage on the theater’s patio near the corner of Walnut and Mountain, lead vocalist, Laniece Schleicher let out a low and raspy growl that instantaneously grabbed the attention of all within range of the speakers.  With that, the band launched into their set making it immediately apparent to all in attendance that they were a band worth listening to.  With Jeff Blayney’s tasteful and precise drumming setting an infectious backbeat and the band knocked off song after song, pulling the audience deeper and deeper into their sonic playground

Off to the right stands former 12 Cents for Marvin Trumpeter, Greta Cornett adding the occasional brass stab and solo, perfectly complimenting Ken Monk’s exacting and understated guitar work.  Their interplay is at once unpredictable and precise and truly speaks to their individual talent as musicians.  Equally talented and admirably reserved, keyboardist, Thalia Stevensen dances effortlessly on both sides of the line of audible presence; laying back when her additions provide more as subconscious aural warmth and pushing to the front when the right moment comes.

Co-fronting the band alongside Schleicher are two background vocalists, Kelly Keeler and Amanda Ernst.  Projecting diverse yet cohesive vocal style and emphasis, the three voices blended without a trace of miscalculation or false commitment and together, the vocal presence of the group provides possibly one of their most favorable traits.  Adding to the unique sound and accurate reproduction of the music of generations passed is Ben Prytherch’s bass style.  His tone, relaxed yet poignant attack and melodic patterns carried undeniable likeness to bassists of the 60’s, especially those of British Rock fame including The Rolling Stones’ own, Bill Wyman and added a subtly nostalgic air to the overall groove.

Together the band ushered a wave of emotion and excitement over the growing crowd and successfully pulled an entire group of relative strangers into an unforgettable musical coma that left all in attendance hooting and hollering for more long after their last notes died out.  Comprised of a monster lineup, enough musical creativity to power a modern-day magical mystery tour and a refined yet enthusiastic delivery, Mama Lenny and the Remedy gave an awe-inspiring performance that left no doubt whatsoever that Fort Collins can and will stand on the cutting edge of phenomenal musical talent and originality.  Expect to see big things from this group and keep an eye out for future performances and releases.  If you miss it, you’ll kick yourself both now AND later.


Wilco – The Whole Love – Extended Album Review


Throughout a career-long tendency for lineup and label changes, Chicago-based alt rock band, Wilco have released a wide variety of albums in terms of feel, approach and execution.  And with their post-A.M catalog ranging from the highly experimental Being There to the surprisingly unthreatening Sky Blue Sky, it would be easy to expect their most recent full-length, The Whole Love to be either characteristically edgy or approachably bland.  Surprisingly, this release is somehow neither.

Out of familiarity and confidence rather than compromise Wilco have managed to release a record that is at once rife with the experimentation of earlier releases and cohesively palatable.  Featuring a track list dominated by effortless and subdued songs interrupted by the occasional attention-grabbing cathartic experiment, The Whole Love contains enough of the old Wilco’s knack for shaking things up to satisfy those bored stiff by the normalcy of the band’s mid-career releases while simultaneously standing as a more cohesive effort than even a ghost is born, successfully placing it on par with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

As silence is broken with the distorted sound of someone fumbling with a microphone on album-opener, “The Art of Almost,” the listener breathes a sigh of relief – or a groan of frustration – as it’s clear that Wilco have once again returned to the experimental leanings of their past.  But once you endure the 7-minute-long saga of instrumental and vocal indulgence it also becomes clear that there’s a depth on this album to be appreciated.

Plodding, steel guitar-laced, “Black Moon” and bouncy narrative, “Capitol City” offer two vastly different incarnations of the band, yet neither breaks the overall tone or flow of the album.  That artistic diversity devoid of unfavorable frenetic disorganization may be the greatest achievement of all.   From the modern British pop influence of “Standing O” (wherein Patrick Sansone pays tribute to Ray Manzarek with an organ riff utterly evocative of The Doors’ own, “Light My Fire”) to the surreal and ethereal “Sunloathe,” the intra-album continuity is a masterful achievement by what finally sounds like a veteran band.

Interestingly, some have pointed to lyrical composition as a weak point on this project.  However, rather than a case of shortcoming I would argue this a perfect example of listeners’ collective unjustified entitlement.  Since the relative dwindle of the psychedelic movement, a myth has developed that everyone should be personally capable of understanding a song’s meaning simply by listening to the lyrics.  Contributing writers of Wilco clearly disagree with this myth and for that I’m thankful.  For a band with a career-long association with major record labels, this group has never been one to be told what to do.  It’s cost them their contract with Warner and the occasional dollar here and there though their integrity and quest for personal, uninhibited expression has remained fully intact.

Contradiction and seemingly incoherent messages have been sighted as key culprits in this release’s lyrical malpractice, however, just because some don’t ‘get it’ doesn’t mean the lyrics don’t make sense.  Did anyone really understand the majority of CSNY’s lyrics?  And how often have analysts, linguists and potheads alike attempted to decode the more obscure of Hendrix’s catalog?  My point is not that lyrics lack importance but rather that incoherent-bordering-on-mystical lyrics are no reason to detract from an album’s worth – and especially this album’s.

A commendable effort from seasoned and accomplished group of musicians, The Whole Love is clearly an indication of a stronger, more resolute Wilco.  Secure in a tenacious lineup and finally on their own label, there’s nothing to keep this band from securing their already lofty position as one of the greatest bands of this generation.

Tori Amos – Night of Hunters – Album Review

Classical composition and Baroque nuance have been present in her music since before her 1986 label debut, however until now, Tori Amos has limited the presence of that influence to the occasional appearance among a sea of more musically current themes and stylistic attempts.  Now, upon the release of her 12th full-length album, Night of Hunters, it seems as though she has finally found her natural place among its entirely classical body of songs.

Released on German label, Deutsche Grammophon, each song is composed as a variation on a different classical theme with the intention of paying homage to influential composers from the last 400 years.  Standing at 12 tracks and just over 75 minutes long (extensive for most artists though hardly out of the ordinary for Amos) the overall musical work weaves an epic tale of the duality between ‘the hunter’ and ‘the hunted’ while simultaneously exploring themes of personal growth and relational hardship; and it does so solely through the use of a symphonic octet, piano and vocals performed by Amos, daughter, Natashya Hawley and niece, Kelsey Dobyns.

The result is an utterly natural incarnation for Amos and one that effectively places her where she has always threatened to go but has never fully ventured.  Classical music has forever been tailored for showcasing natural talent – both for composer and performer – and for that reason this album provides an exquisite platform to adequately showcase Amos as both an unmatched vocalist and as a tastefully talented pianist.  The aural simplicity laced with musical intricacy is a quality rarely touched by most popular releases and it comes as a much-needed sigh of relief for our society’s ears.

Among this project’s best features are Amos’ piano composition and performance and Hawley’s vocal presence; the former which calls upon the more orchestral of Ludovico Einaudi’s work and the latter which ads a depth and variety without which the album as a whole would suffer greatly.  Of course, that’s not to suggest that the listener overlook the expressly dauntless narrative or breath-taking orchestral arrangements (the contribution of long-time collaborator, John Philip Shenale) both of which lend to the album unyielding power and movement.  Overall a stunning effort, I would encourage anyone to delve into this valiant musical saga.

The Kooks – Junk of the Heart (Happy) – Album Review

For a band that has enjoyed international success due largely to their own brand of British rock characterized by high-energy, uber-catchy melodic and lyrical hooks, their third full-length, Junk of the Heart (Happy) is surprisingly mellow.  Or maybe we’ve sold them short with this expectation.  More and more, bands tend to be pigeonholed within a specific niche while they are, in reality, quite capable of exceeding those boundaries.  And though some fans may look at this album as an indication that this once-angsty group is now settling down and, stated begrudgingly, “finding their more mature side,” I would encourage a more positive perspective.

Though this album is certainly mellower and more mature than past releases, it also serves as a more varied listening experience with more to offer.  I would also argue that energy isn’t lost on this record but rather redirected.  Both in terms of artistic restraint and lyrical precision, this is a luminary release for both this band and this genre.

Take album interlude, “Time Above the Earth” for example.  Comprised solely of an orchestral backdrop and Pritchard’s unmistakable vocal quality, this song steps outside of anything this band has done before. That musical restraint – that patience – mirrors other tracks on the record as well; throughout each of these songs lack of instrumental distraction and tasteful execution yields a uniquely intimate experience.

Further adding to the refined nature of this release are the lyrics.  Song after song on this record is – stated simply – poetic.  “Rosie,” “Killing Me” and “Eskimo Kiss” are all heartfelt love songs written with a rarely surpassed elegance while “Is It Me” and “Petulia” achieve a similarly profound effect through more poignant and gruesome devices.

I’ll agree that this isn’t the same record they released in ’06 or even ‘08, but instead of indicating decline in terms of both appeal and relevance, I think this is a step towards a more adaptable and enticing band – a band not easily dismissed after one or two weeks – that has the potential to stick around for a long, long time.

White Denim – D – Extended Album Review

Creating a proper psychedelic jam record is an arduous task to say the least.  I’ve witnessed countless cases of frustration as so-called ‘jam sections’ extend well in to the 3 or 4-minute mark while band members find themselves immersed in a musical world that isn’t nearly as accessible or interesting as they seem to think. Another school of thought might suggest that the band has chosen to give a decisive middle finger to the mainstream and release a record they find interesting regardless of whether or not you enjoy it. Either way, there’s something to be said for fulfilling musical expression that remains accessible to the listener, and that’s exactly what White Denim have accomplished with their fourth formal full-length.

This four-piece out of Austin, TX have been defined as many things since their inception in 2006 and yet D, the group’s most recent release seems to provide palpable evidence that theirs is a sound far too peculiar to allow straightforward categorization. Pulling notable influence from musically adept bands such as Rush and Phish, the melodies and rhythms are intricately complex.  Luckily this is a band that can pull it off; the obviously polished talent that each member exudes results in an unyieldingly tight and truly enjoyable wall of sound.

A perfect example lies in, “Anvil Everything,” a song vaguely evocative of CSNY’s “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” and in “Burnished,” the album’s second track, odd rhythms and complicated bass lines prove this band is more than capable of pulling off a few tricks. In addition to admirable synergy, this band seems to find enjoyment in relentlessly strange song structures.  Proof lies in “Bess St.” which features meter shifts from a straightforward 4/4 to a widely avoided 5/8 that might be just enough to make your head spin.  Don’t think that this album is all oddballs and out-of-the-box concepts, though.  “River To Consider” is a simpler, 70’s-esque track featuring Jethro Tull-style flute and a dancable Latin rhythm that would sound right at home on the soundtrack for Three’s Company.

Something else this band has (that most bands of their sort lack) is a strong lead singer.  Admittedly, since the band’s first EP in 2007, James Petralli’s vocals have come a long way, but on this release they provide a previously unmatched element that I would consider one of the key factors in making this record accessible to listeners of all varieties.  The music, while incredible, is far from straightforward and without actively searching for all the little details, it would be easy to let attention wander.  Petralli’s voice, however, is smooth and simple in comparison to the musical backdrop in which it dwells.

Somewhere between Graham Nash, James Russell Mercer (The Shins) and Romeo Stodart (The Magic Numbers), Petralli’s voice seems to give the recreational listener (as opposed to the music fanatic) something to latch on to – something to focus on.  Surely those benefits aren’t extended to purely instrumental tracks such as “At The Farm” but that’s not the majority of the songs on this release.

Whether you’re an adamant proponent of jam bands or consider yourself of the “IT’S JUST NOISE!” persuasion, I think you’ll find something to appreciate on this album.  Some songs require more attention – more focus – from the listener, sure, but there are certainly a few tracks perfectly suited for placement on a relaxing mix tape.  I think more than anything this LP will provide a bit of much-needed variety to an otherwise static musical landscape.