Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Michael Cerveris -- Piety AND Support Chicago Blues!

It seems fitting to review New Orleans native Michael Cerveris' debut album while everyone's nursing their Mardi Gras hangovers. And considering half of the city of New Orleans was involved in the making of this album (see the "Labels" for this article,) Piety is as much a celebration of Cerveris' home as it is of his own creative labors. If you've seen Fringe or are a Broadway nerd, you will certainly recognize Cerveris as The Observer or Alison Bechdel's dad, respectively. So it's exciting to see (and hope) that Piety will give a national stage to some of the country's best and least known talents.

Piety, recorded on New Orleans' Piety Street, is a collection of Cerveris' gentle rock. His music is similar to Paul Sanchez's -- a folk backbone that's fleshed out by zydeco, jazz, and country elements. These songs have an easygoing nature that can best be described as pure New Orleans: a melange of music that coalesces into something delightful. Standouts are the playful love song "Tenth Grade" and, as a teacher of tenth graders, they are every bit as self-possessed and dorky as Cerveris describes. The final track, "Phoenix," is a gorgeous testament to healing and survival. That Cerveris can sell these extremes so easily speaks both to his humane approach to music as well as why he won a Tony for Best Actor.

Michael Cerveris -- Official, Purchase on iTunes

Speaking of cities with amazing musical heritages, help fund Chicago Blues: A Living History's latest album, Alive and Kicking. CBALH is a supergroup of the finest blues players in Chicago, and they're about to put out another album. Be a part of Chicago history and donate below.

Click here to donate

Monday, February 8, 2016

INTERVIEW: Animal City -- Party City EP

Animal City's Bump Head Go Home was easily one of my favorite albums last year. The band has just released an EP of B-sides that they didn't want to part with. Each song on Party City is a unique glimpse into the band's strange humor and piercing observations on every day life. Here to tell you about the EP is the band's most expert interviewer...themselves.

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA -- I walk out of my apartment and blindfold myself. I bend forward, put my head down, and spin around a baseball bat ten times really fast. So fast I’m sick. I take my blindfold off and walk back inside my apartment. There he is, on my couch in the living room, drinking one of my beers, co-founder of the traveling rock-n-roll outfit Animal City. His name is Salvatore “Chico” Cassato, and he’s smoking a cigarette I gave him mere minutes earlier. He’s who I’m here at my house to interview today, and he’s pointing an Airsoft gun in my general direction.

Salvatore: Shoot.

Dakota: Have you ever interviewed someone in your own band before?

S: No. But I guess I interview you a little bit every day. Writing songs with

someone usually uncovers some funny stuff.

D: Well, I’m always asking you stupid shit.

S: And that’s great. It’s amazing how you can know someone for so long and still be getting to know them... Alright, ask me a question.

D: What are you doing here?

S: (Dustin Hoffman impression) I’m working here!

D: I think he says, “I’m walking here!”

S: In Drugstore Cowboy?

D: No, I meant what are you doing in LA?

S: We just shot a video for Animal City directed by our pal Josh Jolcover. It’s for the song “Friend in Florida” off our last LP Bump Head Go Home out on Sophomore Lounge Records. The two of us are about to do a quick tour up the coast in February, we’re making our way up to Oregon.

D: Yeah, we’re recording up in Portland with our homies Milk and Dust and the Making New Enemies crew.

S: That’s really exciting. Run me down the list, what else are we supposed to talk about?

D: The new EP that’s coming out, Party City.

S: Oh yeah, tell me about the Party City EP.

D: Party City is a collection of weirdos and orphan tracks from a bunch of different Animal City recordings we did over the years. They’re songs that didn’t make it onto any of our records, but they’re just too good to get rid of. We’re really stoked that these songs we love finally have a place to live.

So this EP is really special to us.

S: Dude, I’ve thrown away so many songs. It’s crazy.

D: It happens.

S: Yeah, to me... a lot. So tell us how we get a copy of the Party City?

D: You buy it, at ANIMALCITY.BANDCAMP.COM, or you can buy a CD or digital download from us in person at one of our shows.

S: You bet your ass we do.

Animal City -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, February 5, 2016

Dori Freeman -- Dori Freeman

Freeman's album was listed in Rolling Stone's most anticipated country albums of the year. Get a gander of 5 seconds of a Freeman song and you'll know why. The quality of Freeman's voice is just not something that exists in country music these days. She brings to mind the greats of the golden age -- Dolly, Loretta, Emmylou -- without sounding like a wan imitation.

Freeman's got some songwriting muscle, as well. "You Say" launches the album with a powerful folk verve. While the press materials like "Fine Fine Fine" to 60s pop, I'd say her voice is too classically country for Freeman to fall into any other category easily. Her sensibility of three chords and the honest, bitter truth pervade the album, giving all of the songs that most elusive of qualities: authenticity. "Ain't Nobody," an a cappella masterpiece, will send shivers up your spine as it simply describes the intersections of capitalism, poverty, and racism and its brutal impact on the lives of those who are most exploited. Freeman is a powerful addition -- not just to the country world, but to the American lexicon of songwriting.


Dori Freeman -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Free Dirt Records

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Anna/Kate -- I Run With You EP

Should you need convincing that queer country and folk (that is often fueled by radically liberal teachers) is totally A Thing, may I present you with Anna/Kate? As a fellow pedagogue, I am always excited to feature the artistic pursuits of humans who have a whole lot of other stuff on their plates. Anna and Kate bring us songs with an idiosyncratic mix of jazz- and blues-influenced vocals, folk-informed lyrics, and poppy melodies.

I Run With You, the duet's studio recording, is an enjoyable, idyllic diary of my idealized twenty-something life. The SubRosa EP addresses more explicitly queer themes, such as "Find Your Beautiful," a compassionate meditation on the travails of gender non-conforming folks. What strikes me most throughout the music is the pair's warmth and humanity: these are songs of celebration, that focus on being present in the moment. Those are lessons to take with us no matter how old we are.

Anna/Kate -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Monday, February 1, 2016

Alex Culbreth -- The High Country

Alex Culbreth's last album, Heart in a Mason Jar, was released in 2013 which, for me, is one apartment and almost all of my girlfriends ago. Like myself, Culbreth's narrators aren't necessarily less of a mess than they were three years ago, but they're more somber and reflective. That doesn't mean the album is a downer: songs with titles like "The Moustache Ride" and "Choke That Chicken" remind us of Culbreth's playfulness (and remind me why I'm a lesbian.)

But The High Country shines in its quieter moments. "Stagnant Waters" reaches back to the genre's gospel roots for a reminder that evil is alive and well. "Trucker's Lament" paints a nice portrait of the long, lonely road. "Vagabond Blues" ends the album with a contemplative note. These three songs allow Culbreth to focus on storytelling, rather than hot-doggin' guitar and double entendres. It's these stories that ground Culbreth as an important voice. And since he'll be opening for John Moreland and Scott H. Biram in the coming months, he's keeping good company.

You can download the album at whatever price you're willing to pay. But drop a few bucks in the hat and see Culbreth if you can.

Alex Culbreth -- Bandcamp

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Heather Green -- Clementine

Heather Green's songs might be dominated by distorted guitars and layered harmonies, but it's Green's carefully observant lyrics that distinguish her. "The Wild Ones," a song that exudes confidence -- not because of the subject matter, but because of Green and her band's certainty in the song itself -- is sure to be a crowd-pleaser at shows. The careful listener will be rewarded by Green's delicate comparison between cigarette smoke and the entanglements relationships cause.

Green nonchalantly mines several decades of pop to deliver her torch songs. "Say Watcha Says" brings to mind some of the more adventurous pop/R&B of recent  years like Grimes and The Weeknd, while "Time" takes us back to doo-wop. Certainly, the '50s would have been a better time if Green had been around to croon queer love songs. Overall, the songs are united by Green's self-assured performances and thoughtful explorations into the nature of platonic and romantic relationships.

Heather Green -- Official, Spotify, Purchase, iTunes

Monday, January 25, 2016

Feral Conservatives -- Here's to Almost

Here's to finally updating this blog! I think I'll finally have enough breathing room for this again.

The Feral Conservatives blew me away last spring with their EP, The Feeling Noise Becomes. The EP was a cherry bomb of barely suppressed energy and thinly veiled anxiety. Now that the band has more room to spread its wings on its first full-length, Here's to Almost, we get to see their sweeter side.

Songs like "Logan's Song" exemplify the trio's knack for giving the listener a meaty hook to latch onto. For the most part, the Feral Conservatives give us irresistible dance songs that are rooted in vaguely melancholy lyrics of depression, nostalgia, and alienation. In other words, it's the perfect '90s dance party. When they slow down for "Acrylics," we're treated to the full emotional weight of their writing. If you're a fan of revivalists like Cayetana, Diet Cig, and Reina del Cid, the Feral Conservatives will be the perfect addition to your spunky pop-punk pog collection.

Feral Conservatives -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp