New York NY | Rock
NEW YORK, N.Y. — ”We didn’t start with any agenda, other than to make a great record,” Scott Kempner says of the Del-Lords’ unexpected return to action following a two-decade layoff, which has yielded Elvis Club, the band’s first new album since 1990. The album is set for release on May 14, 2013 on GB Music through RED Distribution.
Elvis Club finds the New York-bred foursome pretty much picking up where they left off, embodying the same musical swagger and true-believer passion that originally made them one of America’s most compelling rock ’n’ roll bands, while adding a new sense of experience and perspective that lends new depth to Kempner’s personally-charged songwriting and the band’s infectiously gritty urban garage-roots-rock.
In their original 1982-1990 lifespan, the Del-Lords helped to restore fans’ faith in real rock ’n’ roll at a time when real rock ’n’ roll was in short supply. Over the course of four studio albums and countless sweat-soaked club sets, the band won widespread critical raves and earned the devotion of a large and loyal fan base around the world.
Now, with singer-guitarist Kempner and fellow founding members Eric Ambel (guitar and vocals) and Frank Funaro (drums) joined by 4 great bass players, Elvis Club ups the ante with such indelible new Kempner compositions as “When the Drugs Kick In,” “All of My Life,” “Chicks, Man!” and “Letter (Unmailed).” Ambel, who in the ’90s and ’00s built up his frontman credentials as leader of Roscoe’s Gang and member of roots-rock all-stars the Yayhoos, steps up to the mike to deliver persuasive lead vocals on a trio of tunes: “Me and the Lord Blues,” “Flying” and Neil Young’s “Southern Pacific.”
“Elvis Club confirms to me what I always felt the band could do,” says Ambel. “To me, it’s a different kind of record for us, in that there isn’t so much of a theme to it as a feel, a real band feel. I didn’t really think of it as unfinished business; it was more like ’Here’s what we can do now.”
Kempner (who’d first made his mark as “Top Ten” of ’70s punk pioneers the Dictators), Ambel (a founding member of Joan Jett’s Blackhearts) and Funaro, along with original bassist Manny Caiati, first joined forces in the early ’80s to help breathe life into downtown Manhattan’s temporarily moribund live music scene, quickly winning local renown for the uncompromising intensity of their live sets. Between 1984 and 1990, the band released four studio albums — Frontier Days,Johnny Comes Marching Home, Based on a True Story, Lovers Who Wander — which documented the evolution of Kempner’s provocative songwriting and the band’s tightly wound instrumental rapport.
In the years since the Del-Lords hung up their spurs, the band’s members have trod notable individual paths. Kempner emerged as an acclaimed solo artist with a pair of acclaimed solo albums, Tenement Angels and Saving Grace, played reunion gigs with the Dictators, and collaborated extensively with first-generation rock ’n’ roll legend and fellow Bronx native Dion (who co-wrote the poignant Elvis Club track “Everyday” with Kempner). Ambel accumulated extensive credentials as a solo artist and member of the Yayhoos, as well as hired-gun guitar hero (for Steve Earle, among others), producer (for the Bottle Rockets, Nils Lofgren and countless others) and proprietor of the now-legendary East Village nightspot the Lakeside Lounge. Funaro continued to ply his percussive trade with Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, and joined forces with Kempner and Dion in the short-lived but fondly-remembered Little Kings. Meanwhile, the Del-Lords’ reputation continued to expand in the band’s absence, retaining a place in the hearts of longtime fans while resonating with new generations of listeners.
The band’s reunion came about unexpectedly, after a Spanish promoter/superfan’s offer to book a Del-Lords tour prompted the original quartet to reform for a string of live dates in Spain, as well as some low-key gigs at the Lakeside Lounge, for which the band was pseudonymously billed as “Elvis Club.” Deciding that it would be nice to have some new material to play on stage, they worked up some new tunes, which they recorded for the limited-edition tour EP Under Construction. The musical results stoked the musicians’ interest in continuing their rekindled collaboration on a longer-term basis. Although founding bassist Manny Caiati, now a family-law attorney working with at-risk children, was unable to continue his participation after the Spanish tour due to his other commitments, Kempner, Ambel and Funaro decided to forge ahead with an album of new material.
The making of Elvis Club — whose title is a reference to a favorite anecdote from the band’s early days, in which a passing prostitute bestowed the eponymous sobriquet upon the then-pompadoured combo — was a substantially different experience from the band’s prior recording projects. With Ambel producing the band for the first time, and the sessions taking place at his Brooklyn studio Cowboy Technical Services, the band was able to record on its own terms and in its own time.
“That was a big departure from every record we’ve made in the past,” Ambel observes. “Playing with the guys felt effortless and natural, and it was fantastic to build this thing ourselves, from the ground up. We made the record we wanted to make, based on our own enjoyment. That’s as good as it gets for me.”
“Working with Eric as producer really opened up the musical palette,” Kempner notes. “He was never at a loss for ideas, and he’s quickly inside the music and hears everything from all angles. He can take ideas, including my own, digest the intent, and more often than not, come up with a tweaked version of the idea that’s better than the one suggested. He also knows his way around the lunch options in the neighborhood, which is a crucial contribution, and has the best coffee of any studio I’ve ever worked in.
“On top of that,” Kempner continues, “Eric’s playing has really expanded. Other than ’Everyday,’ he plays all the leads on the record. That in itself was a big sea change for us, but he kept coming up with ideas and I loved every one of them. The same was true with Frank; his playing has grown tall and strong, and busted a hole in our ceiling.”
With no permanent fourth member, the band began cutting tracks for Elvis Club with some notable guest bassists, namely ex-Suicide Commandos/Beat Rodeo vet Steve Almaas, Ambel’s Yayhoos bandmate Keith Christopher, Ron Sexsmith/Ani DiFranco sideman Jason Mercer and Michael “Duke” DuClos.
Now operating on their own terms and free from the music-biz politics that ruled artists’ lives back in the day, the Del-Lords — older, wiser and more determined than ever — are now back to finish what they started.
“We’re just going to get out there and take it to the people, as they say,” Kempner asserts, adding, “We’re doing this now for no other reason other than that we all want to, and that alone is a huge change. Back in the ’80s, everything in our lives depended on it, and with that came a lot of pressure. But now, we have no obligations, and we’re no longer on the hamster wheel of record/tour/record/tour etc. The future is wide open at this point. We will just keep pushing on, with no due dates and no deadlines, just making it up as we go along.
“I always knew how lucky I was to have a band this good that related to my songs, and this time that feeling was more pronounced than ever,” Kempner concludes. “Now I can take a step back and just marvel at how great Eric and Frank and are. They are good enough to play with absolutely anyone, but they’re still happy to play my songs. That really is an honor. But don’t tell them that, because they’ll want more money.”
Lubbock TX | Rock
"Let's not give away what all the songs are about," requests Amanda Shires via email - shortly after an hour-long interview discussing exactly that. "I think I prefer for the listener to decide for themselves what stuff means, because I always hate it when I think a song is about a horse, and then it turns out to be a damn trip to France ..."
And so, by artist request, there will be no handy track-by-track cheat sheet for Shires' new Carrying Lightning. But if you really can't deduce what the songs are all about on your own, then consider yourself equally blessed and cursed, because odds are you've never been knocked on your ass by the wrecking ball of human desire - the kind so lovingly bottled by the young Texas songwriter in the album-opening "Swimmer, Dreams Don't Keep":
"April was the last time I think I saw you
You were carrying lightning
The way you walked into the room,
If I was a flower I would've opened up and bloomed
I say I don't care, but I'm a liar
Look how easy a heart can catch on fire..."
That same charge of romantic/erotic tension courses throughout the entire album, which sways from innocent daydream ("Swimmer") to restless longing ("Love Be a Bird") to explosive lust ("Shake the Walls") to blissful contentment ("Sloe Gin") and, finally, back to wistful fantasy ("Lovesick I Remain"). The specific, behind-the-scenes details - such as who or what inspired each particular song, or to what extent each stems from Shires' own life vs. her sheer imagination - need not be divulged or even probed, because, as the mysterious little messenger in "Ghost Bird," "all feathers and a heartbeat," puts it best, "Baby, we're all running from the same things: broken hearts, broken homes, the tired and the loneliness ..."
"I guess the theme of the record as a whole is just, 'get wrecked in love - and be loved," says Shires. "Or, to steal a quote from Sylvia Plath: 'Wear your heart on your skin in this life.' That's my platform."
The quote may be borrowed, and the emotional terrain of the songs universally relatable, but Shires' voice is distinctly her own. Her Texas twang and fetching vibrato ("less goat, more note!" she teases herself with a laugh) can dance playfully around a melody or haunt a line like a mournful ghost, and she deftly employs her fiddle/violin, ukulele and even whistling skills to similar effect. The resulting sound is a beautiful but woozily surrealistic swoon - as well befits an artist who cites Leonard Cohen and alt-country dark horse Richard Buckner as two of her biggest musical influences. Or, as a review in Americana UK once observed: "At times, her energetic, jittery vocals and eccentric lyrical subjects mark her out as a young female heir to the godfather of strange, Tom Waits. In her more conventional moments, Shires sounds like the weird young niece of Dolly Parton."
In fact, Shires is just a down-to-earth, self-effacing West Texas gal currently residing in Nashville, working her tail off trying to find her niche in the music industry as an independent artist. In the recent Hollywood movie Country Strong, she played the fiddle player in the band backing Gwyneth Paltrow's fictional country superstar. In real life, Shires runs with a decidedly more left-of-mainstream-type crowd, including Jason Isbell (she sings and plays fiddle on the former Drive-By Trucker's latest, Here We Rest) and Justin Townes Earle (she's the lovely model gracing the cover of his 2008 debut, The Good Life). She also maintains strong ties to the Lone Star State, recording and occasionally performing with the Lubbock band Thrift Store Cowboys (which she joined while still in college) and sometimes even teaching fiddle at Texas Playboys' singer Tommy Allsup's summer music camp. She was only 15 the first time she played onstage with the Playboys (the Western swing band made famous by the late Bob Wills) - a mere five years after she coerced her father into buying her first fiddle, a lime-green Chinese instrument from a pawn shop in dusty downtown Mineral Wells, Texas.
In 2005, while still a regular member of the Thrift Store Cowboys, Shires released her solo debut, a mostly instrumental showcase for her traditional fiddle chops called Being Brave. But the fertile Texas music scene was overripe with side-person work for the talented young player and backup singer - so much so that Shires feared sliding into a complacency that, left unchecked, threatened to stunt her growth as a songwriter. So she relocated to Nashville - "to get uncomfortable and make myself grow some guts," as she put it once - and dived headlong into the process of writing and recording the first two albums to really put her on the roots-music map: 2008's Sew Your Heart with Wires, a collection of duets co-written and recorded with singer-songwriter Rod Picott; and what Shires calls her "true" solo debut, 2009's West Cross Timbers. Both were met with enthusiastic reviews and radio support, with the former being voted the fourth best debut album of 2008 by FAR (Freeform American Roots) Chart reporters and the later reaching No. 21 on the Americana Music Association Chart. The Gibson Guitar company featured Shires on their website as one of 2009's breakout artists, and No Depression called West Cross Timbers one of the 50 best releases of the year.
Shires was eager to get right back into the studio, but a busy touring schedule - averaging 120-160 dates a year, including at least one or two annual trips to Europe - necessitated that the follow-up to West Cross Timbers, be recorded piecemeal. "We did it over the course of 16 months in multiple sessions, just coming back and forth home to Nashville between tours," she says of Carrying Lightning, which she co-produced with Picott and David Henry at Henry's True Tone Studios. Fortunately, although it was hard to find time to lay down tracks, writer's block was never an issue for her.
"Some people only write when they're at home, but I just write, whenever or however I can," Shires says. "We ended up recording 20-something songs for the album, and the hardest part was trying to decide which ones to use. But having the whole process take so long is what ultimately helped give the record its shape and focus. I was really able to think about which songs fit together the best, as opposed to just, 'I'm going into the studio to make a record, and in two weeks I'll be done.' I had a lot of time to sleep on this one."
In fact, even now that the record's mastered, pressed and ready for release, Shires still isn't quite finished with it. Taking full advantage of the DIY promotional opportunities afforded by the age of social media, she plans to film videos for every song on the album, with "When You Need a Train It Never Comes" and "Lovesick I Remain" already uploaded to YouTube and more on the way. "We just shot one for 'Shake the Walls' today, and 'Ghostbird' will be next," she says. "I want 'Ghostbird' to be animated."
What's more, she's still haunted by some of the songs that didn't make the Carrying Lightning cut - if only because they didn't quite fit the theme of the rest of the record. Some of these she hopes to release before year's end as a separate EP.
"They were just too dark and would have seemed too random, I guess," she says of the orphan tunes. How dark? One of them apparently involved a girl getting her skin sliced off.
"Actually, that one was kind of a love song," she admits with a sheepish chuckle. "Maybe I should have left that one on the record!"
"Godfather" Waits would be proud.
Nashville TN | Rock
Americana singer/songwriter Tim Easton has been driven westward both geographically and musically since his college days in Ohio. On his 5th album, Porcupine, the Joshua Tree, CA resident lets a myriad of guitar riffs rooted in blues, country, rockabilly and campfire folk set the color for observational lyrics capturing life from the desert to the sea. The new album finds Tim's storytelling skills as sharp as quills, possibly inspired by his friend and pal Lucinda Williams. One of Porcupine's shining moments is the wistful two minute pop-folk jangle "7th Wheel" (conjured by the same spirits that entered the room while Browne and Frey wrote "Take It Easy"). Easton, known for his incessant touring (from Dublin to Anchorage to Ft. Wayne to Jacksonville), will be on the road, supporting Porcupine for a long time.
Hymn For Her
Philadelphia PA | Rock
Hymn for Her have been busy touring across the country and abroad over the past few years, injecting juiced-up backwoods country blues with a dose of desert rock psychedelia that has been described as “Hell’s Angels meets the Amish.”
They recorded their last album, Hymn for Her Presents . . . Lucy and Wayne and the Amairican Stream, in their vintage 1961 Bambi Airstream trailer at locations stretching from Philadelphia to Malibu on a three-month tour.
For their new release, Hymn for Her Presents . . . Lucy and Wayne’s Smokin Flames, due out April 23rd, the twosome kicked it into high gear. They traveled to Ghetto Recorders in Detroit to work with Jim Diamond. They recorded live and mixed 12 original songs in just one week.
The duo certainly covers a lot of musical territory in Smokin Flames. Their wild-eyed mash-up of country, blues and punk led U.K. music critic Steve Bennett to call H4H’s sound “a riotous, rocking roadkill stew,” while others have referenced such diverse bands as Captain Beefheart, Primus, X, R.L. Burnside, JS Blues Explosion and the Ramones.
Impressively, the two create their “ripsaw sounds” (Los Angeles Times’ Randy Lewis) with only a few instruments. Wayne (with the devilish voice), mainly playing the kick-drum, high-hat, acoustic guitar and harp, serves as the group’s rhythmic driving force. Lucy (of the fallen-angel voice) delivers a gritty squall on her “Lowebow” — a custom-made cigar-box guitar: “The Riff Monster.”
Although Hymn for Her hails from Philadelphia, H4H is truly a band born on Route 66. With their daughter Diver, Manny the nanny and Pokey, their spirit guardian dog, this little self-contained unit enjoys life’s unknown adventures on the highway.
Along with launching the new CD, Hymn for Her also have a hot sauce under the same name as the album. It features bananas, jalapeños and smoked paprika.
Catch the two as they burn up the highway and ignite your town this year to promote Hymn for Her Presents . . . Lucy & Wayne’s Smokin Flames.
Come out and taste the heat, y’all!
Purcell OK | Country
Parker was born.
Here's what Bob Moore (the Spacedog) has to say about the events that have transpired since that event:
Parker Millsap and Michael Rose are essentially a force of nature. To compare them to any person, place, or thing is redundant. They are like nothing in the music market and their audience is probably clapping with one hand with that fat naked Buddha leading the devotees’ applause. Comparison is futile. Still, we strive to label that we may pass information on to our peers.
As a duo they are beyond complete, covering the dynamic spectrum with a blanket of supernatural power and lyrical intent. They project more highs and lows than a bus load of manic-depressive divas on the path to temptation. The sound can go from a rant to a rose in a manner that seems so obvious and as new as a revelation, as perpetual as daybreak, as compelling as that new baby smell. Add a hard or the edge of a fiddle in the middle and their music is a foundation for those who accompany to drift into eternal possibilities.
Postmodern implies a paradox and in it’s essential nature becomes the only word that describes the act justly. If modern is the cutting edge, how can something be post? What can possibly come after it?
This mystery manifests itself in the listening experience. Millsap spans the chronology from the growls of the shaman to the domain of the poet, from the bleak pinnacle of destitution to the mysticism of perpetual bliss and all in the span of a song, maybe even a phrase. Rose rises and falls with his partner like a wing man in serious combat, ever-present in the space behind the youthful front man, always filling the gaps with a meter that gives Millsap the authority to take the piece to the limit, and take it out he does.
The voice is the primary definition of commitment. There is no almost in his expression. If he says, “Little Jack Horner sat in the corner” the listener knows without reservation that Horner is in the corner infinitely trapped and never to be released except by an additional lyric. Was there ever any doubt? There is no confetti and blowhole smoke in this show; it is so real it makes you scared. The audience sits, washed in the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion, praying that the lyric won’t get personal, steal their wills and make them sit in the corner ad infinitum.
All metaphysical banter aside, the instrumentals are compelling, the rhythm is emasculate, the vocal is commanding, and the songwriting can impose itself on your subconscious at multiple image levels, just like literature. All of these amazing elements of the show, however, are overwhelmed by the synergy of the performance. The final product is a geometric exponent of the individual parts and that is what makes it high art. That is, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Try this experiment if you don’t believe me. Take a man child, teach him to fingerpick and play a rack harp, suggest he write some tunes and find him a doghouse bassman with timing. Add water, shake, rattle and roll, then pour it on the stage at your local live-in-a-dive joint. If you did this a thousand times you would never get what Millsap and Rose deliver every time. The postmodern magic they project is spinning the clouds in a frantic frenzy, or maybe it’s a slow wise old glacier crushing mountains in its assault, only to have its heart warmed by the caress of a loving desert. One thing is certain: the final product is greater than the separate elements and the real reward goes to the listener, who is drawn to the heart of the matter to accept the gift they give so freely. I wouldn’t miss this one if I were you, and I am.