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Mining Moeller Monday: The Legendary Shack Shakers and the Yawpers PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 24 November 2015 08:58’s Sean Moeller isn’t announcing the acts for his Moeller Monday shows at Rozz-Tox (2108 Third Avenue, Rock Island;, but band publicists have a way of undermining attempts at secrecy. So here’s a preview of a couple groups we know will be playing ... .

Shows start at 8 p.m., and admission is $8 to $12.

The Legendary Shack Shakers, The Southern Surreal; December 7

The Legendary Shack Shakers

One track on the Legendary Shack Shakers’ The Southern Surreal – the 20-year-old band’s first album in five years – is a spoken-word piece by actor Billy Bob Thornton concerning road patching and an injured dog. Backed only by a gentle guitar, he builds to the moment that he lifts his shovel to kill the animal. It’s an expert piece of lean storytelling.

“It looked up at me, kinda thank ya and f--- ya all at the same time,” Thornton says. “It knew what I was gonna do, and it knew why. The dog knew why.”

He concludes: “It ain’t like I don’t think about it. It ain’t like I wanted to.”

But just before that, he says, “You just can’t explain things to some people.” And I imagine that’s true for Shack Shakers mastermind J.D. Wilkes, who has crafted a collection brimming with idiosyncratic personality. The Southern Surreal is a masterfully seasoned deep-fried stew, but it’s nearly impossible to explain why its disparate components work so well together. Thornton’s short story is the most unusual ingredient, but throughout the record are surprising spices that give a sense of the thoughtfulness that went into it – which helps hold together what might otherwise feel like a fragmentary mishmash.

Rock Solid: The Cerny Brothers, “Sleeping Giant”; November 13 at the Redstone Room PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 10 November 2015 17:49

The new album from the Cerny Brothers – originally from the Quad Cities area and playing the Redstone Room on November 13 – is called Sleeping Giant, and it delivers on the promise: It’s a beast awakened, building on the explosiveness of several tracks from the duo’s 2013 self-titled record.

The rock vein is apparent in songs that grow in intensity, but also with the addition of electric guitars to many songs. The album seems designed for radio play and immediate audience connection, and it works as intended. The amazingly consistent duo of Scott and Robert Cerny has produced another front-to-back-solid record, amiable and accessible.

Accessibly Adventurous: The Dawn, “At First Light”; October 31 at RIBCO PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 28 October 2015 07:50

Last year’s album from The Dawn featured the seven-minute jam “Bring It All Home,” which was for me the highlight of the record. It’s safe to call that track foreshadowing, because the new release from the Quad Cities quartet led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Sean Ryan takes the idea and runs with it.

The four songs on At First Light range from just under eight minutes to a touch more than 11. None of the new tracks has the strong, clearly defined verse/chorus spine of “Bring It All Home,” and that certainly makes it difficult to find handholds in the sprawling record; At First Light generally lacks the pop-song niceties that served as a springboard for the jams on the previous-album standout.

The vocal elements are sparse here – a late-arriving verse and chorus on opener “Let Me Down Easy,” bookend singing on “Slow Motion,” and a sustained vocal section on “Paradise.” And while the lengthy instrumental explorations on the new album are never aimless, they are linear to the point of having little shape.

But let’s take all that as a given rather than a flaw. I’ll go a step further and say that by largely discarding formula and recursive structure, At First Light is a bold, committed departure for the band, and it’s evident that these four tracks have been sharpened and polished: The compositions have a lean, focused elegance despite their lengths, and the whole is accessibly adventurous.

A Restless Spirit: Brooks Strause Plays the Devil’s Advocate in Song; October 23 at Rozz-Tox PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 15 October 2015 05:38

Photo by Laura Heath

“It was not really a comfortable situation,” said Brooks Strause. “It was okay. It worked well, and it was worth it artistically.”

Such dull words suggest a mundane departure for a musician – an experimental song, the dipping of a toe into a new stylistic stream. But Strause – the prolific 34-year-old singer/songwriter from Muscatine now based in Iowa City – is not nearly so timid.

He was, in fact, talking about having a bucket of actual lamb’s blood dumped on him for a photo shoot for his second album. Differences in animal aside, Strause volunteered to be Carrie White – and it was his idea.

In that photo, Strause is foregrounded and exhaling smoke, with a couple clutching each other in the background. The concept, he said, “represented love in a way I haven’t seen it represented that much,” which made it a good match for the Strause-ian love songs that made up his album Dead Animals (whose first release was housed, it should be said, in actual animal fur).

In case you’re curious, Strause said “there wasn’t really time” for second thoughts at the shoot: “This photograph has to get done. Let’s do it.” And “it was kind of surprising – the texture. I definitely got some in my mouth very quickly. It wasn’t really as gross as I thought it was going to be.”

So he’s human after all – although that’s not necessarily apparent from the flood of work he’s been producing. His seventh album, the richly rewarding The Chymical Wedding of Brooks Strause, was released this month, and he’ll be performing October 23 at Rozz-Tox. Dead Animals was reissued earlier this year by the Maximum Ames label, and 2014 saw two new full-lengths, Acid Casual and Renaissance Beast.

Oh, but there’s more. He has a rock/folk opera, an album of electronic music, and a solo-acoustic record in various stages of completion, and he’s written all the songs for his next rock-and-roll outing with his band The Gory Details – with whom he’ll share the stage at Rozz-Tox.

Time Well Spent: Satellite Heart, “Between Phases”; October 10 at RIBCO PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 01 October 2015 05:19

The differences between two versions of Satellite Heart’s “Bob De Niro” are compositionally minor, but the new recording transforms the song.

On the 2012 compilation Hello Quad Cities Volume 1, the track was a catchy chug, but it also felt lumbering and unwieldy, with the insistently crashing cymbals exemplifying an overall coarseness.

On the indie-rock band’s new EP, Between Phases, the track is, in all its component parts, pretty much the same – but it’s been compressed and polished, and the effect is like coal becoming a diamond. It’s just 10 seconds shorter, but the quicker tempo and other changes breathe such life into the track that it feels like it’s performed at double speed.

The dynamic range has been flattened significantly, but the sloppy explosiveness lost in the Between Phases track is replaced by additions and refinement: a new buzz-guitar bit, more-precise harmonies given greater emphasis, the on-beat stuttering vocal on the word “my” in “my mistake.”

The changes, said guitarist/singer Andy Smith, can be attributed to the earlier version being a quick take on a freshly written song, while the new one reflects comfort with the material and several years spent recording, mixing, and tweaking Between Phases. The Hello Quad Cities “Bob De Niro,” he said, “wasn’t the same level of detail, the same level of production.” The core tracks for the EP were put down in the summer of 2013, he added, but the band members’ work schedules meant that “it got mixed over a very long period of time.”

The time was well-spent. The new record still rocks plenty hard, but there’s an agile tightness that the quartet’s 2012 album Become the New only hinted at. Smith said the goal with each track was to capture the best version of each song, and that care is evident throughout Between Phases.

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