Thursday, 8 December 2011

NO AID NEEDED FOR THIS 'GATOR

Last month, I conducted an email interview (never as satisfying as a face-to-face interview, or even a phoner) with Alligator Records boss, Bruce Iglauer for the label's 40th anniversary.  Alligator, based out of Chicago, is one of my favourite labels; they've been releasing high-quality blues for four decades now, never compromising on quality, always keeping ahead of the times.  For an independent label to still be active, and indeed competitive, is something special in this day and age of digital downloads and major label demise.

The first half of the interview was quite serious, the second half more light-hearted.  The latter was published in the December issue of Rhythms as a 'quick-grab', but the first half remains unpublished.  I've posted it here in full, along with the short intro from the published piece.

Alligator Records - Bruce Iglauer
Bruce Iglauer.  Pic by Chris Monaghan.



Four decades ago this year, a young Bruce Iglauer (disenchanted with the fact Delmark Records, where he worked, wouldn’t release an album by his favourite blues artist, Hound Dog Taylor) struck out on his own and made that record himself.  Taylor became the first artist signed to Iglauer’s new label, Alligator, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Over the years, acts like Koko Taylor, Albert Collins and Johnny Winter have called Alligator home, as have countless others, and it’s been Iglauer’s effort and persistence that has seen a lot of these acts reintroduced to fans all over the world.  This passion, dedication and pure love of the blues is why Alligator is here today, celebrating 40 years of genuine house rockin’ music, and why it always will be.  Iglauer himself waxes lyrical on 40 years of blues.



Firstly, this year obviously marks 40 years since you first began Alligator – given all you’ve been through since then, how does that makes you feel today?

I’m constantly amazed that Alligator has survived (and sometimes even thrived) for all these years. However, I spend very little time thinking about the past or glorying in what we’ve done. My focus is always on the present and the future. Right now we’re preparing new releases by Joe Louis Walker, Janiva Magness, Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials (I’m producing that one), Curtis Salgado and Michael 'Iron Man' Burks (I’m producing that one too). So my focus is planning for next year, as well as dealing with the ever-more-difficult task of running a label in this ever-changing music business world.  I never wanted to be a businessman, but it’s how I am able to record music I love and share it with the world.

Yr first project, the one which got the label off and running, was yr recording of Hound Dog Taylor back in 1971 – I believe the album was recorded in two days, straight to tape, mastered as you went.  You then pressed 1000 copies and began distributing them from the trunk of yr car – tell me how you felt firstly, as you pulled out of Chicago with a boot full of those tapes, and secondly, how you felt when that record was first played on air, after you’d given it to a DJ.

In those days, I was making everything up as I went along, and spending every penny I had (a whopping $2500, which was the startup money for the label) to alert the world to Hound Dog Taylor. So we definitely mixed his album as we went, because that’s all I could afford! I remember the very first radio spin, at WGLD-FM in Chicago. It gave me a huge sense of fulfilment but also started my ‘addiction'. My music was on the radio! 

Iglauer and Albert Collins.
Now I want more…more…more. So I drove to Detroit and got airplay on WABX and WRIF, and then on to Cleveland, and so on. I realised very quickly that Hound Dog’s music had something that spoke to others as it spoke to me. He knew how to put all that joy and raw energy and blues feeling into his music in a way that others could feel. I thought, 'Maybe I’ll be able to sell enough of this record to continue to record music I love'. And that’s pretty much been the story of my life since then; record music I love, and try to sell enough of it to continue recording even more music I love.  By the way, I’m still in touch with those DJs who gave us our first spins.

You had some notable early successes – reintroducing the world to Koko Taylor, taking Albert Collins to the top, signing Johnny Winter… those must have been tremendously exciting times.

It’s always exciting both to help the recordings be created and to grow the audience for the artists. I only record artists whose music moves me, so every time an Alligator record gets a good review, is played on radio, or someone buys our music, it’s like a personal affirmation. But between 1971 and the late 1980s, I was producing or co-producing the vast majority of Alligator releases. I got to work with Hound Dog Taylor, Son Seals, Lonnie Brooks, Albert Collins, Johnny Winter, Roy Buchanan, Lonnie Mack, Koko Taylor, Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, Professor Longhair, The Kinsey Report and many more. 

I was often producing seven or eight albums a year. Because the market for blues was much bigger then, it seemed like almost every Alligator release was able to pay for itself and make a decent profit. So I was able to spend many, many days (and nights) in the studio. But as the years passed, we signed more artists who either came to us with their own finished master, or with their own producers, or were simply not appropriate for my producing skills. I’m a blues producer; I can help an artist make a great blues record. But my musical knowledge is limited, and I wouldn’t be much help in the studio with artists like Marcia Ball, JJ Grey & Mofro or Anders Osborne who are more 'roots' than blues artists.

Another thrill, then and now, is to be in the audience when my artists get an overwhelming audience response. I get caught up in the excitement — after all, I’m first and foremost a fan. I remember being in great audiences in Australia, seeing Hound Dog Taylor, Albert Collins and Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials. You guys know how to let it all hang out!
Iglauer with Professor Longhair.

It seems one of the reasons Alligator has survived, and prospered, for so long, it that it’s more of a ‘family’ as opposed to a ‘business’ – whether it’s the artists or the staff, it seems yr very close knit – how important has that been to you over the years?

I like to refer to all of us — myself, the artists, the staff — as 'The Alligator Family'. When I signed Joe Louis Walker recently, I sent an email welcoming him to the family. We tend to make long term commitments to our artists. If we believe in their talent and their professionalism, we will work hard to develop their careers, even if it takes a long time. Because we do more aggressive and concerted promotion and publicity than any other label in the blues or roots music world (and perhaps than any other label, period), we have become sort of the Rolls-Royce of labels for touring blues and roots artists.

We never stop working to make their careers more visible and their gigs more successful, even when they don’t have a new release. All the artists have my cell phone number, and before cell phones, they had my home number. And they know how to use it — if the van breaks down, the bass player quits, the club isn’t paying the amount on the contract or their girlfriend or boyfriend dumps them, they call Bruce, and Bruce answers and tries to help. To take it to an extreme, I had one artist live at my home for a month because he was trying to get away from his druggie friends and get clean. Others crashed at my house while on tour to save hotel costs. I’m never off duty. As a result, we often have earned intense loyalty from our artists. For example, Koko Taylor stayed with us for decades on a handshake. She said, “Bless the bridge that carried you across,” and she considered Alligator and me to be that bridge.

As far as the staff, I have the opposite attitude of a lot of businesses. I don’t think people are easily replaceable. When I have an employee who does his or her job well and is dedicated to Alligator and the artists, I’ll do everything I can to keep that person on staff. Alligator can’t pay as much as some other businesses, but we provide good health insurance, a retirement account, and if there is any significant profit at the end of the year, I’ll write bonus checks to the entire staff.

The result is that I have valuable people who have been with the company between 15 and 30 years. These are people I can trust to give 110% even when I’m not looking over their shoulders. Many of them have played a great role in Alligator’s success over the years (and rarely gotten credit). And I’m proud to say that in the 12 years since the worldwide implosion of music sales began (primarily because of illegal downloading), I’ve only laid off one person, and I gave him six months to find another job.

Obviously there would have been some highlights from the past 40 years – give me a few that really stand out in yr memory.

There are so many it’s hard to pick just a couple. Of course my first big thrill was making that very first Hound Dog Taylor record. Taking my favourite band into the studio, producing my first album, directing the mix (which, as I said, we did live; no chance to fix later) and realising that their music would translate from the live show onto record… it was literally a dream come true.

I’ve had huge thrills in the studio since, like when I brought Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland and the ‘new kid on the block’, Robert Cray, together for the Showdown! album and saw the record just about make itself, as each of these three very close friends inspired each other to greater and greater musical heights. 

Iglauer and Lonnie Mack.
Then there was cutting the first album by Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials in three hours, when they had come into the studio to cut just two songs for an anthology and I enjoyed the music so much that I asked them to do, “a few more” (which turned into 30 recorded songs and a debut album). I had a great time making Lone Star Shootout album, another multi-artist session, this one with Lonnie Brooks, Long John Hunter and Phillip Walker. They had all been friendly competitors on the Beaumont/Port Arthur scene in Texas in the mid-1950s. 

We cut some songs by their mutual heroes, like T-Bone Walker, Gatemouth Brown and Clarence 'Bon Ton' Garlow that brought back great memories for them. And when we had one more track to do late at night and everyone was tired, I woke up their senses of humour by mooning them through the glass of the control room. And I had no greater thrill than recording Crawfish Fiesta by another of my heroes, Professor Longhair, the Bach of Rock, in New Orleans. Dr. John was a huge help on that album. 'Fess declared it his favourite album ever, because he had never been given that level of artistic control. On the day we released it, he died suddenly at the age of 59. I guess he felt he had made his artistic statement. I was blessed to have worked with him. That’s the way I feel about most of my career. I’ve been blessed.

Of course I’ve also had great moments being in the audience and just watching my artists reach straight to the souls of the people around me. Seeing Albert Collins with his 150 foot cord walk through a line of Greek police (who were expecting a riot) and into a wildly appreciative audience, for example. Or seeing Shemekia Copeland’s super successful debut at the Chicago Blues Festival right after we released her debut album. And then there was my honeymoon party at Buddy Guy’s Legends club in Chicago, where musicians from all over the country flew in to play for my wife and me (and about 400 of our closest personal friends). That night, Luther Allison and Koko Taylor performed together; I think it was the only time they ever did. And now they are both part of the Great Blues Band in the Sky.

And no doubt some low-lights – hit me with a couple of those.

As you can imagine, having started at 23 with my first artist being 55, I spent the first part of my career dealing with a lot of death. Since I began, I’ve lost good friends who were also key artists — Son Seals, Koko Taylor, Hound Dog Taylor, William Clarke and so many more.  Being a professional blues musician is very hard, and blues men and women tend to die younger than they should. Many of them come from very hard backgrounds — poverty, poor health care, physical labor jobs, and of course my black artists have had to deal with racism. These things age people prematurely. So I’ve buried a lot of people I cared about.

I’ve had great frustration with some artists whom I thought were great and the public never totally embraced. like Fenton Robinson, C.J. Chenier,  Michael Hill’s Blues Mob, Rusty Zinn, Long John Hunter and more.

"I’ve also managed to not sign artists whom I should have signed, like a guy I dismissed as, “the loudest Albert King imitator I ever heard”, named Stevie Ray Vaughan. And that’s not my only mis-step!"

And also some possible hair-raising moments – the bio on the label website mentions you’ve gotten more than a few of yr artists “out of some rather sticky situations”… care to elaborate?

I can think of a lot of them. The most obvious one was when I was in a train wreck in Norway in 1978 with the entire Son Seals Band. Because we had derailed and skidded down a steep embankment and part way into a fjord, no one could get to our train car. The band and I had to rescue all the passengers before the train car slid further into the water. During the wreck the drummer, Tony Gooden, was injured so badly that he never played again. It was the most harrowing night of my life. That night the artists and I got each other out of a very sticky situation.
Iglauer with Mavis Staples

One time I was on the way to a gig in the suburbs with Hound Dog Taylor. We were caravanning two cars and he was pulled over by the police. I stopped of course. In the process of ‘negotiating’ with the cops, I ended up being arrested, spending one night in jail on the South Side of Chicago followed by two years on probation for, “interfering with an officer in the performance of his duty,” and couldn’t leave the county without permission of my probation officer.

On my 60th birthday, I celebrated by spending 14 hours at Cook County Jail trying to bail out a musician member of the family who was arrested on a bogus charge. It took from 9am to 11pm to get him out.

On a couple of occasions, it was the artists who got me out of sticky situations. Brewer Phillips, who played with Hound Dog Taylor, twice helped me deal with people who were coming at me with knives. One was a discontented musician whom I had recorded for an anthology but didn’t sign for a full album. The other was a concert promoter who was refusing to pay the band and the discussion became somewhat, um, heated. In both cases, I was unscathed thanks to quick action by Brewer.

40 years in, and Alligator is still going strong; in fact, you’d have to be the premier indie blues label in the world.  Can you ever see an end to this?  What are yr plans for the future?  Another 40 years?

An end to this? Well, I suppose I’ll die someday, but I intend to keep doing this as long as I can. I’d like to die at either a great gig or in the studio listening to one of my favourite artists cut a terrific performance. But I can sure imagine doing this for another 40 years.

Alligator Records 40th Anniversary Collection is available now through Alligator Records / Only Blues Music.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

HEY JOE

Published in the January issue of Australian Guitar (feature) - excerpt below...


Joe Robinson



Pic by Ethan James
Since winning Australia’s Got Talent back in 2008, Joe Robinson has come a long way.  So far in fact, it’s almost not worth mentioning this talent show triumph (with its connotation as a crass and questionable way of entering the industry), and indeed, he was a consummate guitarist long before he ventured forth to strut his stuff on prime time television.  Joe Robinson, who celebrated his 20th birthday this May just gone, has become known for his six-string prowess, his technical ability and his almost unmatched drive and ambition; a welcome boost that win was, but it’s been on talent and desire alone that he’s progressed since.

Today sees him based in Nashville, that true bastion of country music, where he’s spent the past nine months toiling within the confines of a studio – an environment more than a little alien to him given his obvious penchant for touring – putting together his third record, Let Me Introduce You.  It’s an apt title for Robinson’s third effort in that it serves as a true introduction to Robinson the artist.  Where his debut, Birdseed (’07) and second record Time Jumpin’ (’09), were the public’s first taste of the young man – both rollicking, fast-paced acoustic instrumental releases – Let Me Introduce You sees Robinson finding his feet, his style and, most importantly, his vocal prowess, the latter being something he’s not before captured on disc.  This is his first record, his first introduction then, of himself as a rounded artist – a musician, not just a guy with a guitar.

“I felt like I got to a certain point, and that I needed to push myself in a new direction,” Robinson explains on why now was the time to introduce vocals into the mix, particularly given thus far, his guitar has had a voice of its own.  “Turning 18 and moving to the States was a fresh start in a lot of ways, and I always wanted to sing and make an album like this.  To me, the solo guitar thing was always a stepping-stone to bigger and better things, so I felt like this was the best time in my life to make this transition.

“And it has been a challenge, particularly getting used to the experience of performing live as a singer and a songwriter, because that’s something that doesn’t develop overnight, it needs to manifest,” he adds, and he’s right.  Let Me Introduce You is a starting point for Robinson, it’s his first attempt at displaying his singing, his songwriting, and while the results aren’t stunning, it’s a solid indication that there’s room to move and grow, and that this isn’t just about his guitar.
...
Samuel J. Fell

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

SWITCHBLADE ROCK 'N' ROLL

Published in December issue of Rhythms Magazine

Hanni El Khatib

I remember reading The Outsiders at school – Ponyboy, Soda and Darry, slicked back greaser hair and switchblades, Mustangs and girls in skirts with hair just so.  Elvis was ‘tuff’ and the Beatles weren’t, there were rumbles and packets of Kools and the kids would sneak into the Drive-In and find off-tack ways to get their kicks.  Looking back at the scenes described within those pages now, I can hear a soundtrack to it all, one I wasn’t really aware of at the time, but one which now fuels a lot of what I do on a day to day basis, and I’m quite obviously not alone.  If  I were to pick up a pack of Kools and look to share ‘em with someone today, it’d probably be Hanni El Khatib.

Khatib, an American of Palestinian heritage, channels these scenes through his current music.  It’s a mish-mash of ‘50s-era blues and rock ‘n’ roll and it brings to mind images of knife fights, rumbling trains a-la mid-century America, huge old cars and an attitude one doesn’t really associate with current times.  Khatib brings this all together in a wonderfully left-of-centre way (it’s not neat, by any stretch) and it reeks of authenticity and downright Because I Have To.  And he does have to, a few years ago leaving a (no doubt) well-paid job as Creative Director for a skate fashion label to pursue his musical dream.

I dunno man, music is something that I've always done as a hobby and when I got the opportunity to go for it full time, I was like, ‘Fuck it’,” Khatib relates on this unorthodox (but wholly understandable) move.  “I knew if I didn't jump on it that I would regret it for the rest of my life.”  Regret is obviously something Khatib didn’t want to live with and so off he went, a couple of short years later releasing his full-length debut, Will The Guns Come Out, dropping earlier this year.  It’s interesting listening to it too (full as it is of the aforementioned ‘50s sounds), when you realise what Khatib grew up listening to.

“Well (and this is when I was young, it all changed as I got older), but let's just say it was Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Ozzy Osbourne, Neil Young and Snoop Dogg,” he smiles when asked who, when he was younger, he wanted to be like, musically, when he grew older.  This has indeed changed, but it seems a fair jump from Snoop Dogg to the likes of Elvis and Buddy Guy.  “Growing up in America, music from the ‘50s is pretty much a part of the culture here,” he explains on how he came to find such an affinity with these sounds from times gone by.  “It's pretty much been ingrained in the fabric of our society since that time. Furthermore, me being a child of the ‘80s, I experienced one of the many resurgent periods of that era. So for me it's quite familiar and as I got older I really started to appreciate the recordings and innovation of the time as well as the simplicity and purity of the music.

“I think the simplicity and iconic nature of the era [too] is the main thing that attracts me to it. Such easy and classic style,” he adds.  Easy, classic style is what is printed all over Will The Guns Come Out.  Yes, it is messy and yes, perhaps Khatib should have waited more than just a couple of years before he released it (hone those chops a little, fully grasp the basics so you’re able to then move them outside of the box), but as mentioned, it’s authentic and real and channels not just sounds of old, but some newer ones too, the three groups of more modern times that come to mind being The White Stripes, The Black Keys and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

“In a sense I guess those bands have paved the way for all bands like myself that make stripped down rock and blues music,” Khatib muses when I ask how influential these newer bands have been.  “I don't necessarily think they influence my song writing directly, but I do feel maybe we all pull from a similar bag of references and are inspired by music of the past.”  No doubt, although this now poses a tricky question – how is Khatib going about adding his own brand of originality to this music?  How is he not just rehashing a rehash?


“I feel like what I do is just pull inspiration from old sounds and music,” he counters.  “I don't think I'm necessarily even attempting to make authentic revivalist music. I'm not trying to replicate that sound to the tee. For me, it's about making music that feels natural and it just happens that I'm influenced by all that type of music.”  Make no mistake about it, Hanni El Khatib is doing this because he has to.  He left his ‘real job’, he relishes the sounds from times gone by, he lives in the now.  A heady bunch of ingredients which are informing a musician with a plan.  As Khatib has been quoted as saying before, “These songs were written for anyone who’s ever been shot or hit by a train.  Knife fight music.”  I ask him if those things have ever happened to him, to which he replies, “No comment.”  Just what Ponyboy would have said.

Samuel J. Fell

Will The Guns Come Out is available now through Innovative Leisure / Inertia.  

Monday, 14 November 2011

Record Review - Huxton Creepers

Huxton Creepers
12 Days To Paris
Fuse (Re-release)



There’s no denying the unbridled free feeling you get whilst listening to well executed power pop; equal parts The Breakfast Club (that wind-in-your-hair irresponsibility of a teen playing by their own rules back in the 1980s), equal parts The Pixies (dark clothes and shoegazing rubbed in the dirt and the fuzz), it’s something that grabs you just right and has you flipping your middle finger to the man all whilst kicking up your heels with reckless abandon.

In Melbourne, back in the early ‘80s, this was a common occurrence, as any regular attendee at places like The Seaview Ballroom and the Prince Of Wales will tell you.  Bands like Corpse Grinders and Olympic Sideburns, kicking out the jams, drawing heavily on ‘60s garage rock ‘n’ roll, punk and rockabilly, twisting it just so, give it a bit of sugar and it’s power pop (or is it?) at its Australian best.  Then of course, came Huxton Creepers, and stages, eardrums and the world at large were never the same again.

These cats cut their chops live, that’s where they belonged, on a stage.  Nothing they ever recorded adequately captured what that live set was like – the theatrics of frontman and main songwriter Rob Craw, the rock solid rhythm section of Matthew Eddy on bass and Arch Law thumping tubs, Paul Thomas’ guitar wrapping it all up – the power and the passion these four exuded had ‘em jumping in the isles and they lived the life and became part of the furniture.

When they did come to record, whilst the results lacked the power so evident in the live setting, it was never by half.  Debut 12 Days To Paris, originally released in 1986, was perhaps where they were firing best; re-released today through Fuse (the full record, plus four bonus tracks), you do get that feeling of almost, of a caged beast perhaps – the idea that a full-on live band is indeed in there, lurking just beneath the surface. 

Still, this is where this particular re-release tops all others – the bonus disc.  Live versions of crowd favourites ‘Shake Some Action’ and ‘Ramble Tamble’ (albeit live on 3LO’s Sunday Night Live, as opposed to at a venue) as well as ‘Iceman’ and ‘Wishing Well’ (both recorded at The Ballroom in St. Kilda in late 1984) are there to remind you of those heady days when it was all you could do to keep the Creepers off a stage.

12 Days To Paris, the album proper (here, remastered) remains to this day a cult classic.  That unmistakable guitar intro courtesy of Thomas as he leads into ‘My Cherie Amour’ makes your arm hair stand on end; it epitomises a time and place for many, and the passing of said time has done little to dull that.  The record continues to pulse from there – the chugging rock ‘n’ roll of ‘Autumn Leaves’, the freewheeling ‘Guilty’, the punkish (with a rockabilly twist) ‘King Of The Road’ – it’s all here in its remastered glory, as strong and catchy as it ever was.

Back to the bonus disc: along with the aforementioned live tracks, you’ve got demo versions of a number of the 12 Days… tracks, a couple of unreleased demos and a couple of tracks which featured on various compilations circa 1984 (including ‘King Of The Road’, which featured on Au Go Go compilation, Asleep At The Wheel).  All told, this is as powerful and full a picture of a seminal underground band as you’ll find around.  Huxton Creepers were at the top of their respective pile during the mid-‘80s, and this set shows exactly why.

Samuel J. Fell

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Record Review - The Vasco Era


The Vasco Era
The Vasco Era
ERA Records / Inertia

To be honest, two EPs and now three LPs in, I’m not sure where the Vasco Era can go, or indeed, what they’re all about anymore.  Where once they went about their business with reckless aural abandon, now they seem caged, desperate and lacklustre.  Gone is the raw power and mind-blowing scuzz and burn.  Gone, it seems, is the fun and the freedom they once clung to with an almost fiendish intensity.  Their third, eponymous record, sees the band a shadow of its former self, and given how good they used to be, this is a sad, sad thing.

It’s not to say The Vasco Era is a bad record, but it just lacks anything that makes you snort coffee out your nose and sit up straight, leaning across your desk to turn up the stereo, wondering what the hell is going on here and why haven’t you heard this before.  That’s how I used to feel when I’d put on their early EPs – Let It Burn (’04) and Miles (’05) – and, to a lesser extent, their debut LP, Oh We Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside, a record they laid down after signing (foolishly, in my opinion) with Universal and heading to San Francisco in 2007.

While there are some standout tracks on here – lead single, ‘Child Bearing Hips’ for example – for the most part, The Vasco Era borrows heavily from The Strokes and late ‘80s fuzz which is all well and good, but they don’t believe what they’re doing.  This record has come about after a fairly prolonged absence, frontman Sid O’Neil leaving the band for a year or so after the release of second record, Lucille, and as such, they don’t seem as cohesive as they used to.  And that’s the kicker, because they didn’t used to be that cohesive; their appeal was their scruffy, no-frills attack, and that isn’t here at all – or if it is, it’s buried under far too much polish and production.  This album is just not very good.  At least, not for The Vasco Era.

Samuel J. Fell

Published in November issue of Rhythms Magazine

The Vasco Era is available now through Inertia

Record Review - Sal Kimber


Sal Kimber & The Rollin’ Wheel
Sal Kimber & The Rollin’ Wheel
Vitamin

Not since Mia Dyson first burst – gritty and real – onto the Australian underground roots music scene have we seen anyone of the calibre, of the snake-shimmer-soul of Sal Kimber and this is a goddamn fact.  Possessed of a voice which not only raises the dead but reinvigorates their very loins, Kimber has slowly but surely been growing, emerging, honing her songwriting skill – already razor sharp – whipping the Rollin’ Wheel into a deep, dark, country frenzy, the likes of which are few and far between my friends, make no mistake about that.

Here, Kimber and the Wheel unleash their second full-length effort (the first with this particular band actually), one that’s been a while in coming, but one which makes no apologies, one which just exists in its own murky world of song and story, of melancholy and joy.  Not only that, but Sal Kimber & The Rollin’ Wheel heralds, to my mind, the coming of our next roots star – this is a record that drips with sensuality, it reeks of the dirt and the grime that epitomises country music, the sweat and shimmy of old time soul, the power of rock ‘n’ roll, all encased within the inherent realism of an Australian artist singing from the heart like she knows no other way.

And therein lies the reason why this eponymous record is so good – whether ensconced within the darkness of ‘Rocking Chair’, the boogie shimmer of ‘Do Right’ or the reticent, shy and retiring ‘Your Town’, you believe what you’re hearing, because Kimber believes what she’s singing.  It’s all well and good to pen a handy song and have the instrumental chops to back it up (as Kimber does, and indeed, as her whole band do in spades), but it’s another to take your listener to the same place you are, whilst up on the stage or in the studio, laying the song in question down.  There is absolutely no doubt that there’s more to come from Kimber and The Rollin’ Wheel – the only question is, how soon do we get to hear it?

Samuel J. Fell

Published in November issue of Rhythms Magazine

Sal Kimber & The Rollin' Wheel is available now through Vitamin Records

Record Review - Lanie Lane


Lanie Lane
To The Horses
Ivy League

From an imagined luau in southwest Chicago – ukulele mixing effortlessly with rockabilly twang – combining blues sensibility and ‘50s chic with an eye on the past and no more than a passing interest in what’s happening now, Lanie Lane steps elegantly into the spotlight.  Springing seemingly from nowhere, Lane has made 2011 her own: a BDO appearance, guest vocal spot on You Am I’s ‘Trigger Finger’, national support for Justin Townes Earl, a collaboration and tour with Clare Bowditch and recording time with Jack White in the US – the only thing missing thus far, is a record.  Enter To The Horses.

Whether flirting harmlessly with the silly and left-of-centre (‘Bang Bang’, with its thumping double-bass line and ringing “Bang, bang, bang-idy bang bang” chorus lyric) or pouring her heart out (the title track, with its mournful delivery and lyrics like, “I’m going to the horses, if you can’t catch me then just give up”), Lanie Lane has proven that the growing interest she’s been receiving over the past 12 months is justified.  For this is a record that fairly reeks of poise and musical nous, a record that oozes age and experience and yet has been created by a young woman with barely neither.  Lane seems (in dress and appearance as well as in a musical sense) to have stepped from another time, somewhere where she’s already been doing this for an age and it’s old hat and she could do it whenever she wanted.

Whilst the two tracks she recorded earlier this year with White (‘Ain’t Hungry’ and ‘My Man’) aren’t represented on To The Horses, what is, is a step up; there’s nothing over the top, there’s nothing here that seems forced, there’s nothing that makes you think this is merely an act, a shtick.  It’s simple, soulful music from another time re-crafted into something which, interesting enough, makes perfect sense in this electronic, shot-attention-spanned universe of ours.

If you were to name a weakness, To The Horses is a little lacking in cohesion, containing as it does a number of genres worked together – the aforementioned rockabilly, lilting Hawaiian folk, blues, swing, a little jazz, some surf and spaghetti western – which sometimes serves to overwhelm, but it’s only fleeting.  Because then you get carried away on Lane’s voice, strong and raw with the occasional hint of female vulnerability – “Don’t cry, that’s below you, oh well, that’s what you get, for fallin’ in love with a cowboy” she sings on ‘That’s What You Get’, which is also another example of the tongue-in-cheek stories she tells throughout the record, songs like the bopping and bouncing ‘Betty Baby’ (She’s just a guitar baby”) and the junky and sultry ‘What Do I Do’.

With To The Horses, Lanie Lane has proven she’s worth the ‘hype’.  She’s proven she can write seriously and in fun.  She’s proven she can take ‘old music’ and turn it into something fresh and vibrant and she’s proven she’s a radiant streak of light, wrought upon the darkening roots scene in this country.  A fine record, a fine debut to be sure.

Samuel J. Fell


To The Horses is available now through Ivy League. 

Monday, 24 October 2011

COME FLY WITH ME

Published in Inpress Magazine (Melb), 26th Oct 2011.  Excerpt below...


Fly My Pretties

Today, astute reader, we shall lament the apparent loss of the Big Production.  That auspicious (and all too rare these days) occasion where a group sees fit to showcase more than just a mere gig.  Where the group in question puts on a show, a production, something more than just people on a stage playing music; an all ‘round extravaganza, the likes of which don’t often makes appearances in this fast-paced world of ours where instant gratification is an ethos and the watchword is Now.

Of course, one need look no further back than Pink Floyd to get an idea of where we’re coming from here – these cats were all about the big picture; the music, the lights, the visuals, the stage props, all closely interwoven to present something in a variety of different forms, a feast for all the senses.  Another example, a more recent one and one perhaps not so ostentatious, is North Coast group The Windy Hills, who soundtrack, live, surf films put together by renowned filmmaker (and Hills’ guitarist) Andrew Kidman.  Not as far out as the Floyd, but a combination of elements aiming to give the audience something other than just the run-of-the-mill fodder so prevalent in today’s age.

Who knows why the Big Production doesn’t make as many appearances as perhaps it used to.  You would imagine the cost would be prohibitive, and perhaps people are just lazy these days, short attention spans and all that.  Whatever the reasons, fair reader, we lament the loss of it, because seeing something like that really draws you in, gives you a sense of what the group are looking to convey through something other than their music; it makes you feel they care, and that’s a fine thing indeed.  Enter, Fly My Pretties, a collective out of New Zealand who have made it their mission thus far (since their inception in 2003) to think, act, play and perform outside the box that has for so long constricted and constrained so many artists.  For this collective is all about the Big Production, make no mistake about it.

“Well, it’s just what we do,” shrugs co-founder of Fly My Pretties, Mikee Tucker, who also heads up Loop, an NZ media group who tag themselves as “a multi-level medium for new ways of thinking in music and motion graphics”, the group behind FMP.  “What Loop really prides itself in doing is next level production and giving more for your dollar than just a band standing on a stage with a good light show.  For us, it’s just taking that appreciation of the music to the next level.”


Let us, handsome reader, take in the big picture: Fly My Pretties is a collective consisting (in their present guise) of 16 musicians, plus another 16-odd VJs, lighting, sound and graphic designers.  They’re heading to Australia for the first time this week, just for the one show, but it’s a show that will stand out – the first act, according to Tucker, consists of live visuals playing in time with the music, based around the interpretations of visual artist, Haley King.  “Basically, when we put a new show together, the 16 cast members who write songs are asked to put two or three songs into a pool and we turn that into the new album, which is essentially the first set,” he explains.

“And so each new song in that first set, Hayley will interpret into a beautiful piece of art which is based on what the song’s about, what the artist is about,” he continues.  “So there’s an exhibition in the foyer [of those pieces]… and then a team of boys basically deconstruct and reconstruct and mess with that until it integrates into the song.  It won’t just be the painting appearing or the painting sitting there, there’s some pretty unique and creative ways that that’s happening.”
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Samuel J. Fell


Tuesday, 18 October 2011

FUNK YOU

Article published in November issue of Rhythms Magazine, 2011.  Excerpt below...

The Dynamites Feat. Charles Walker


Earlier this year at Bluesfest, I’m skulking around backstage looking for interviews to bulk out my review, something solid and meaningful, something to fill the void and make the garbled prose I’ve penned thus far a little more exciting, for wont of a better word.  You’d think, given the strength of the lineup, that I wouldn’t need to do much to make it exciting, but I’m hardly getting offered face-time with Sir Bob or Mr King, so I need something big and ungainly, a bit of a booster I guess.

As there’s no one currently playing who I want to see, I continue skulking and my languid persistence eventually pays off as I get offered the only spot with the master of funk, the high priest of the groove, Mr. George Clinton himself, which is indeed an exciting and terrifying prospect all at once – I eventually get ushered into the presence of funk royalty (I’ve actually met him before, he was in his underwear at the time which is another story for another time) and man, it’s funky and crusty, just like I knew it would be.  We talk about fishing and playing four-hour sets.  I have my interesting interview.

I go and see him and Parliament Funkadelic play later that night and I dig those heavy grooves, and I know who’s got the funk, this man does, as did many like him, cats that aren’t around any more, certainly not around in the sense of being able to get up there, spark up a fatty and groove for over three hours – none that you could think of, anyway.

Well, I’ve found one, and not just me, but the world at large, and they found him around six years ago – or perhaps rediscovered is a better term.  Charles Walker is his name, and he was there when the funk was just getting heavy, when the soul actually had soul, when it was sweaty and hot, back in the day.  Now, Walker fronts The Dynamites, he’s their missing link to the music of the past, and these cats can cook, as they’ve shown the world over, particularly right here where people embrace this old style sound wrought for the NOW, as band leader and guitarist Bill Elder told me via email last month.

We’ll be seeing you guys over here again this month, which I think will be the third time in 18 months – you’ve certainly hit a chord with Australian audiences.
Elder, aka Leo Black: And vice versa. We love coming to Australia more than anywhere. It was a great feeling stepping on [stage at] the Peats Ridge Festival [in 2010] and hearing the whole audience singing ‘Do The Right Thing.’ I knew we were mates for life then.


I imagine Australia isn’t the only place which has taken to you so well – where else are people embracing your new take on these old sounds?
Europe has also been a great home away from home for us. We’ve done eight or nine trips over there since the fall of 2007, and there’s always some amazing stuff happening on those tours. Some dues-paying gigs as well, but nobody escapes that. We’re very fortunate to have audiences in all these extraordinary places that dig what we’re doing. And it certainly affects our creative output, too. We’re writing our third record right now and there’ve already been multiple instances of, “Oh they’re going to dig this in Australia!” And then we REALLY go with whatever idea it was that led to that.

The Dynamites formed back in 2006, initially for a one-off gig.  Elder is a student of the funk and the soul that came out of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and so putting a band together for a local funk/soul night was a serious exercise for him.  The only thing he needed then, was a vocalist who could carry it off, who could take this on and bring it like he meant it – enter Charles Walker.  That one-off night went so well, the band is still going, two albums in along with fans the world over.  The funk is back.
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Samuel J. Fell

Friday, 14 October 2011

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM HIS FRIENDS

Article published in EG section of The Age (14th Oct, '11)

Jeff Lang


Disturbed folk and dislocated blues, six twisted strings and a penchant for telling a story, this is Jeff Lang.  Over the past 20 years, via a plethora of solo, live and collaborative releases, Lang has refused to be pigeonholed.  He’s constantly reinventing his music, and as such has risen to the top of the roots music pile in Australia. 

His latest, Carried In Mind, “A batch of brand-new, reconditioned, rust-removed, freshly ventilated, instinct-driven musical conversations” is the high-water mark thus far, yet another chapter in the anthology of Lang’s songwriting life.  “It seems these days I have to make the time to write, which is a change from how things used to be,” he muses on how Carried In Mind began to come together.

“There seems to be a time where I feel, almost, an itch to record, and so I can kind of gauge it off that; there’s just an internal drive at a certain point where I feel like, ‘God, I really need to do something’… it’s almost like you are looking for a new record to listen to and you can’t find it anywhere, and you realise it’s one you’ve got to make yourself.”

Carried In Mind came together in a very ‘live’ sense, Lang and long-time cohorts Grant Cummerford (bass) and Danny McKenna (drums) pressing record after only hearing the basic tracks as MP3s and rehearsing once or twice.  “It results in a beautifully spontaneous and spur-of-the-moment kind of session,” McKenna noted to me recently, something with which Lang concurs.

“Yeah, it’s pretty important, and it’s down to the quality of the players I think,” he says on this spontaneity.  “Trusting them and picking people that you’ve got there because of how they think on their instrument and how quick on their feet you’ll know they’ll be, and their capacity to lean on their instinct and come up with something that’ll surprise and excite you.”


Another addition this time around is the consummate pedal steel playing of Garrett Costigan; it’s this little bit extra which really seems to lift Carried In Mind, giving it a warm, textured underbelly.  “I’ve been wanting to have a project where I could pull him into the fray for a while,” Lang smiles.  “So here, there were a number of songs where I could really hear him fitting in and enhancing it a great deal, so it was pretty easy from there.”

Samuel J. Fell

Carried In Mind is available now through ABC Music / Universal