Skribe’s Postcards: A Special Delivery

Skribe fans know his minimalist approach.  He makes huge music and art with so few raw materials.  He kicks at a ratty old hi-hat cymbal and bass drum fashioned out of a battered suitcase while he yanks tunes out of yard sale guitars or a canjozookie, an 8-stringed creature made from an old oil can.  He plays a kazoo. skribe canjo-zookie It might look like an accident but it sounds like the sorcerer’s apprentice has enchanted a music store.  His sound and his vibe enchanted enough people to crowdfund his entire 2014 album, Less is More.  How one guy makes that much music is magic indeed!

In December of 2016, Skribe released Postcards, a collection of eight songs with him backed by a full band.  It’s exactly the album many of his fans already heard in their heads.  Anyone who has caught him live has seen plenty of high-test musicians lined up to jam with him and been treated to some obscenely good collaborations.  On Postcards, Skribe takes a road trip with all his musical buddies riding shotgun.  And from the first notes, you’re along for the ride.  This is a fun album!  And if you’re not careful, you might learn something too.

“Wide Awake,” the first track, is about insomnia.  You, fellow traveler, follow his imagination “…through the ceiling into outer space” and back again to the central questions of life.  How does he answer them?  He seeks “…the unturned stones still on the old frontier.”  The music buzzes and reverberates and sounds like infinity.  Six instruments include electric guitar, vibraphone and electric carillon.  After a few listens, you may actually dream about scenes from this song.  It won’t disturb your sleep but it might make you hum in the daylight.  It’s the new sound of ancient wisdom and wondering.

The deep thoughts continue on track two.  Yet “Common Ground” reminds us how simple life can be in the moment.  Horns and drums give the tune an international, festival kind of vibe.  He says, “…the settled heads of perfect pours rise with high demand so fill your soul or thirst for more but tonight won’t come again.”

“Home Sweet Home” would make a great rap.  Or it could have been a hit for Hank Williams.  Skribe grins that he’s gonna “…grow on you like a wicked weed.”   It’s a rambler’s tale of chasing a muse.

“Mayonnaise & Honey” is a rock song about passion.  You’ll get it.  It rocks.

The savory instrumental “Canned Ham Blues” is actually played on a hamjo.  Yep.  It’s a stringed instrument made from the can from a canned ham.  It’s all Skribe.

The song “M.I.Y” had its actual debut in a video Skribe submitted to the 2016 NPR Tiny Desk Concert series.  You can make it yourself.  It’s all about perspective.  In the video you actually see a tiny desk and the canjozookie.

The last original song on the record is “Partners in Crime.”  It could be a paean to his muse, his guitar, his band or his audience.  Whatever the meaning, he means it.  It’s obvious that Skribe, aka Aaron Yealdhall, is at home wherever he finds himself.  He’s enjoying looking for himself and for us.  At shows since the record’s release, he’s introduced himself saying “My name’s Aaron and I play in this band called Skribe.”

So fans can now have something in their hands that they’ve heard in their heads and hearts for a while.  Yes Aaron is Skribe but Skribe is also an idea, an entity.  It’s very Zen for garage folk.  It’s also rock, country and the blues with this big-ol’ band and high production values.  It’s the jackalope in the landscape, the wings on the vacuum tube, and the helmet on the dog.   On these Postcards, Skribe delivers some wonders of the world you will want to write home about and visit over and over.

The final song on the album is “Strangers” by Dave Davies of The Kinks, from their 1970 album Lola.  It says “Strangers on this road we are on, we are not two we are one.”  It’s a perfect fit with the journey metaphors of this album and brings us all home together.

Medusa’s Disco Goes Acoustic: Fruit From a Timeless Planet

Medusa’s Disco Goes Acoustic: No No No Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah!

Maybe you’re old enough or maybe you saw it on YouTube.  Once upon a time MTV played music videos and even hosted a performance series called “Unplugged.”  When grunge rockers Nirvana made their “Unplugged” appearance, lots of people were skeptical…for about half a song.  Somehow the raw, painful beauty of their songs still bored into your heart even though they weren’t blasting your ears.

Such is the trick pulled here by Medusa’s Disco on Fruit From a Timeless Planet, their 2016 acoustic release.  The songs still feel like voices in your head.  They muse on disregard and despair.  The boys still ask big questions about the state of the world, time and space.  The screams and roars have become wails and whispers, calling you to consciousness like some lost band of monks chanting and tripping on Ibogaine.  They pick a line, repeat it, harmonize it and build it up until you’re breathing it as much as hearing it.  “Around here…it’s all so simple…it’s not so simple…no, no, no yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah!” from “Ask the Bird” will have you winking and flying off in one verse.

The intricate rhythms and melodies lend this acoustic set a progressive sensibility.  They don’t have the organs and synthesizers of 70’s era ELP or Yes but they do have ecstatic sitar and violin.  Does anything sound more psychedelic and other-worldly than a sitar?  medusa-acousticFor a young player, Wynton Huddle has a sensual hug on that thing.  And Robin Chambers on violin has long been recognized as a portal to another world.  She’s a special addition to the acoustic edition of MD.  Bees, butterflies and buzzards live in her bow.  Alex Aument on percussion shows a deft touch that belies his years of Muppet-Animal-like explosive nature on drums.  Ty Smith seems freed by going acoustic and styling more on his bass.

The human voice, of course, is the ultimate acoustic instrument.  Hunter Root and Wynton wield their voices like Jedi’s.  You hear and feel every swing of their vocal pipes.  Wails and whispers, screams and roars, mind tricks: they capture your senses and your imagination.  They are vocal pyres that throw a lot of heat.

There’s a complexity and depth to the music beyond the expectations of “…X rock band makes an acoustic album.”  And even with all the bemoaning of lies, liars and promises not kept, they still see promise in the world and reasons to pursue curiosity and enlightenment.  “Don’t wait ‘til you die…to become Divine.”  That is some nourishing Fruit From a Timeless Planet.

Medusa’s Disco Forked Tongue Fables is The Truth!

The madcap dervishes of Medusa’s Disco released Forked Tongue Fables in January 2015.  It follows the fall 2014 release of their live ep Live at Max J. Variety Show which helped brand the young band with the weird name and frantic fans.  There’s no pussy-footing around here.  Forked Tongue Fables shows the band at top speed, top down and torching the underbrush as they pass.medusasdisco

The songs vary between trippy visions, wry observations and flip-offs to the status quo. Business or pleasure, seduction or stupidity: you hear these guys having some laughs in every song.  With the energy they bring, we should all be glad they have a sense of humor.  Otherwise, all the stupid stuff that bugs them on a daily basis could be the reason they lay waste to us all.  With their music: they are otherwise unarmed!

The opening song, “Medusa’s Disco,” presents temptations, seductions and sell-outs in a helter-skelter world where you can’t tell what’s real.  It’s a common theme on the album and songs like “Faceplant Attitude,” “Filling in the Blanks,” “Life Caused Cancer” and “Freezer Burnt” make it clear that bull-shitters need not apply.  They see life as weird enough without anyone needing to pose for it.

Other songs like “Nova,” “Cellophane Snake” and “Disease Was Written on the Sidewalk” take a snapshot of life and paint a psychedelic inside joke.  The nine-minute plus “Beautiful Creature” goes in many directions: some serious, some psychotic.  With only two of eleven songs clocking in at less than four minutes, it’s obvious that Medusa’s Disco has plenty to say and are ready to play.  What they’re really singing about is anybody’s guess.  They take satire and humor very seriously.

What does Medusa’s Disco sound like?  They are loud and heavy, as when Sabbath and Zeppelin were called “heavy metal.”  They can be fast and furious in the way of Green Day and Foo Fighters.  They play weird chords and scream like Nirvana and Soundgarden.  But none of these comparisons really capture the originality of their sound.  20150219_192547_resizedWynton and Hunter, the two guitars and two distinct voices out front, are unlike anything I’ve heard before.  If the Everly Brothers had been born in the 90’s, and raised on the bands listed above, and lived on coffee and Slim Jim’s, you might get two voices like theirs.  Tyler on bass and Alex on drums are the motor of this finely-tuned ride and when they step on it, hold on.

Get Forked Tongue Fables by Medusa’s Disco now.  Prime yourself for a show.  Then go leap around and laugh your head off with the band and their ever-growing fan base.  Unless you’re a “Dead Man:” then you’ll be watching them every night!  Get Forked Tongue Fables now at MedusasDisco.com!

 

Sweet Leda’s New Album: Let It In and Turn it Up!

Sweet Leda’s latest album Let It In deserves tons of attention and hundreds of accolades.  The fat, lush sounds of the direct-to-tape recording process captured the layers of power and intensity behind these songs.  If you’ve seen Sweet Leda live, you’ll feel the heat off this record.  If you’re curious what all the buzz and awards are about, it’s time to Let It In and turn it up!  You’ll find chances later to have a quiet moment with the record.  Your first play should be loud as hell.  Wherever you do that, do it to it.SL4

Julie Cymek wrote these songs and sings them with command.  She belts in the same weight class as Dana Fuchs, Grace Potter, Sister Sparrow and Joan Osborne.  Jaime Horrigan on bass can thump it or go all melodious on you.  He’s a double-threat on beatbox too.  Omar El Dieahy is my favorite guitarist I know.  He plays these crazy prototype guitars and while he invents new tones and textures, he never loses the song or lets it get impersonal.  Don Boyette on drums is The Pocket.  Dude is all sweet spot and grace, a drummer’s drummer. SL6 Joining Sweet Leda on two album tracks, as he often does live, is tenor sax giant Ron Holloway.  How lucky for us all!  You can Google him now or after you hear him, but you will.

Here’s the ten-song playlist and a thing or two about that thing they do: sweet, sexy, funky rock with soul.

  1. “Resolutions:” one of the band’s resolutions for the record must be to let Omar turn it up! You’ll figure out right away that this band means what it says.
  2. “Go Get Your Money:” Omar and Ron Holloway earn it one this one. They go and they get it!
  3. “Fake It:” no posers need apply! If you can’t be real with the open-hearted people in Sweet Leda, you can’t be real.  Whoever you are, I don’t want to know you either.
  4. “Make It Happen:” get off your ass! What’s stopping you?
  5. “She’s Not Coming Home:” I think you blew it mister. This is a song for a woman wronged.
  6. “Baby:” one hot, slow-burning torch of a song about making love. Julie didn’t write it for you but you’ll believe she did.  Deep down believe.
  7. “Bad Boy:” one hot rock song for the bad girls in the house! Bad hasn’t sounded so good since Donna Summer.
  8. “Let It In:” five senses and a whole world right in front of you. Seize something and hang on!
  9. “Something:” by George Harrison…a big romantic version. It’s a love song to a love song.  Omar!
  10. “You Can’t Hold Me Down:” I always hold my head high. I keep moving on.

SL1Those last words are Julie’s and could well describe the album.  Sweet Leda has plenty of reason to hold their heads high with the release of Let It In and the record should definitely keep their careers moving on and up.  But they could serve us all well as a motto for life.  There is great beauty in life and we need to let it in.  When it sparks our curiosity, we need to act on it.  And when people bring the ugly, we need to let it go.  Crank up your copy of Let It In and proceed loud and proud!  Buy it now at SweetLeda.com!

All photographs and digital-oil images here are the work and property of Dan Gillespie and DGital.  Used with permission.  See other spectacular albums at https://www.facebook.com/dgital.me/timeline or for consultation email dgital.me@icloud.com

Album Review: A Ton of Bounce in Grand Ole’ Ditch’s Big Red Ball

This bluegrass band Grand Ole’ Ditch from Cumberland, MD is a serious contender for my band of the year 2014.  They have just released a full-length album and it’s a humdinger!  Here’s my review.

A Ton of Bounce in Grand Ole’ Ditch’s Big Red Ball

I only have two problems with Big Red Ball, the imminent release by the Cumberland, MD band Grand Ole’ Ditch.  It makes me drive 80mph and it’s an hour too short.  Song after song, the energy these fellas pour into the music just drives my heel.  And I don’t want the ride to end.  I want to ramble till the roads turn to dirt, the car turns to campfire and the water turns to wine.Ditch2

The Cumberland Gap is really the trail-head to Appalachia proper.  This young band reincarnates that atmosphere with sounds steeped in centuries of coal dust, thin topsoil and rarified air.  They are a traditional string band and these boys are serious pickers.  Guitar, dobro, mandolin, fiddle and upright bass: they dig deep coal, plow rocky hillsides and soar the steep peaks and valleys in beautiful, challenging territory.

Yet while the tools and traditions are old, the territory Grand Ole’ Ditch traverses leads you across some rare twists and turns.  They might start out around “Shady Grove” but they swing by Yonder Mountain.  It’s not just high-speed picking with the Ditch or getting from point A to B.  The arrangements, key changes and harmonies are thoughtful nods to the past with modern grins from the restless.  “Cap, Coats & Cables” is a great example.  The breakdowns come, then break down again and you’ve crossed two bridges and a chorus before you realize that you’re home again.  The lyric is that rugged winter landscape we all know but these fellas are grabbing their caps, coats and cables to go tame it.  Whether they’re towing cables, jumper cables or guitar cables isn’t the point.  They’re ready.  “Hindrance” is just as complicated yet as direct as a brick wall; “…I don’t know and I don’t care about useless, mindless things.  If I don’t get out of here I will surely truly go insane.”  This is modern bluegrass ala Yonder, Stringdusters and Trampled By Turtles.

The landscapes in Big Red Ball are populated with drunks, lost loves, dark characters and “Man’s Best Friend,” the song destined to be the favorite of many dog lovers.  The lyrics paint simple, accessible portraits with clever word choices and phrasings.  If the songs were paintings, they would be by Rockwell and Remington.  You will know the people, places and things portrayed.  You just might recognize new details or remember more than you care to.

Vivid, clever lyrics meet sincere, energetic playing and four-part harmonies in Grand Ole’ Ditch.  I’m not the only person who’s recognized it.  I first saw them opening for Cabinet at Dante’s Bar in Frostburg, MD.  The next I heard of them, they were invited to play Telluride, Charm City and other defining bluegrass festivals.  They will release Big Red Ball on a night they share the bill with The Steep Canyon Rangers and Bobby Hicks: October 25 at The Palace Theater in Frostburg, MD.  It’s the evening concert after the Mid-Atlantic Fiddle, Banjo and Mandolin Competition.  I figure even at 80mph I’ll be able to listen to my copy four times on the drive there.  You can download yours at itunes, Bandcamp or http://www.grandoleditch.com/.

SEEDS’ “Questioned By A Ghost” Answers the Call

I wrote about central PA band SEEDS before in my blog Young Lions.  I received an advance copy of their first studio album Questioned By A Ghost and wrote the following review.  In brief: it’s a strong debut!

SEEDS rocking Marion Court Room patio

SEEDS rocking Marion Court Room patio

SEEDS’ Questioned By A Ghost Answers the Call

Central PA band SEEDS has been threatening to release a full-length album for almost a year.  On Saturday December 21, 2013 they will deliver it to a raucous capacity crowd at Chameleon Club in Lancaster, PA on a bill that includes The Districts, Pine Barons and Coronado.  That’s a lot of rock but SEEDS fans can roll with it.  They are devoted and obviously patient.  The band better bring a pile of copies to the show!  Questioned By A Ghost is worth the wait.

SEEDS fans expect a loud, rowdy show but what can they expect from this first studio album?  Two things still abound: unusual chords and whimsy.  The members of SEEDS love a good laugh.  Their humor is more wry than mocking and the twisty melodies and guitar lines match that tone well.  Songs like “Radiation” and “Not a Care in the World” don’t say people are fucked up.  They say humans are goofy as shit.   When they’re angry, they don’t look to lay blame.  They say, “C’mon, man!  We can do better than this!”  Songs like “Flystrip” and “Box of Animals” show the fallacies of image-consciousness and materialism.  Social networking is not socializing, people!  Go live life.

SEEDS sprout plenty of sex, drugs and rock & roll on this album too.  “Strange Chemistry” is an instrumental but it has plenty to say.  “Open My Mind,” “Eyes Are Oceans” and “Medicine” are pretty trippy, especially when the sitar kicks in.  These are also the songs where you can hear how vast the library of musical influences on this band must be.  Peter Gabriel and The Byrds meet Frank Zappa and Aerosmith?  Ravi Shankar and Carlos Santana sit in?  How does that happen?

Then there are the songs “Park Bench Pigeons” and “Endless Questions.”  These landscapes kind of epitomize everything the rest of the album sketches.  They’re weird, funny, ironic tales with jangly melodies.  They are rides through a not-quite-right fun house: twisted and twisty.

So does it rock?  Yes.  Will Questioned By A Ghost satisfy SEEDS fans?  It should.  It’s a youthful, rowdy exclamation and definitely delivers on the production values.  In fact, it might push fans to demand a better mix at live shows.  There’s a depth of layering on this album that rarely gets the attention it deserves on stage.  Now that fans can finally carry SEEDS of their own, maybe they’ll demand a show that’s more layers than lava.  For the lava lovers (and lava light lovers), just turn it up!