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Getting the Band Back Together: The Deadstring Brothers, August 25 at RIBCO PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 21 August 2012 14:40

Kurt Marschke of the Deadstring BrothersThe Deadstring Brothers never really went away. But in early 2011, singer/songwriter/guitarist Kurt Marschke retired the outfit as a band and instead performed alone under its name – singing and accompanying himself on drums, guitar, and harmonica.

There were several reasons for the change: the frustrations of keeping a band together and maintaining reliable transportation. In 2010, he said in a phone interview this week, he had three different lineups on the road with him and three separate vehicle breakdowns.

“I felt like an administrator,” Marschke said. “I didn’t feel like a musician. ... ‘Is there an easier way to present music to people, where I can focus on the craft as opposed to focus on filling a drum seat or a steel or an organ player? ... Can I be a musician and feel like I am?’”

And going a little further back, the decision of singer Masha Marjieh in 2008 to stop touring meant that the group lacked the harmonies Marschke loved so much. “2009 and 2010 were just strange, because she wasn’t around,” he said. “I’d sung with her for so many years, and not having another singer with me felt strange.”

So when the Deadstring Brothers perform at RIBCO on Saturday, August 25, it’s a bit surprising that Marschke will be leading a five-piece band. It’s a bit surprising to him, too.

 
A Concise Revelation: Jim the Mule, “You’re Gonna Regret Me,” and Sean Ryan & the Dawn, “All Time Low”; Performing August 24 at the Redstone Room PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 16 August 2012 05:53

Jim the Mule

I’ve reviewed several recordings by both Sean Ryan (solo and with his band The Dawn) and Jim the Mule over the years, but the You’re Gonna Regret Me EP is the first opportunity I’ve had to hear Ryan as part of the latter band.

It’s a bit of a revelation, as Ryan’s voice, musicianship, and sensibilities are excellent complements to Jim the Mule’s sturdy country rock. With multi-instrumentalist/singer Ryan and guitarist/singer Tom Swanson splitting songwriting and vocal duties over seven tracks, there’s a natural variety, and the EP format feels like an ideal showcase for the different facets of the ensemble.

More importantly, each song is mature with a fully formed, distinct personality, yet they clearly spring from the same parents; their differences resonate as much as their similarities.

 
An Element of Surprise: Keller Williams with the Travelin’ McCourys, August 17 at River Roots Live PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Monday, 13 August 2012 08:13

Keller Williams & the Travelin' McCourys. Photo by Casey Flanigan.

Given that Keller Williams’ albums feature one-syllable titles that roughly describe their contents, a look at his discography hints at the artist’s aggressively nomadic nature. Over the past few years alone, there’s a bluegrass covers album (Thief), family-friendly music (Kids), reggae dub funk (Bass), and this year’s Pick, a bluegrass record with the Travelin’ McCourys – featuring two sons of genre legend Del McCoury. And Williams is of course known for his solo show, in which he live-loops all the parts to become his own band.

“Although I have not been diagnosed, I would think there’s an Attention Deficit Disorder that’s in play here,” Williams said in a recent phone interview. “And I mean that in the best possible way. I personally can’t just focus on one genre of music without losing interest. ... It’s very easy for me to play bass and reggae music with one group and the next day play guitar in a bluegrass band. It gives me the most joy to be able to do that. Too much of one thing, it could be bad, and I could slip into a rut where I’m just thinking about other things on stage. ... Once I play solo for many weeks in a row, I’m so ready to play with other people, and vice versa.”

Despite keeping his schedule varied, band and solo settings have their frustrations. In solo shows, he said, “I think that thought kind of creeps in: I wish I could playing with other people, communicating without language. The camaraderie of bands ... is just incredible, and I often miss that. At the same time, ... [when playing with a band] sometimes I can’t reach that level of energy that I can reach with my solo act.”

But when Williams performs at River Roots Live on August 17 with the Travelin’ McCourys, neither of those should be an issue. “The McCourys is a whole different ballgame,” Williams said. “It’s such a joy for me to be able to play with them, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to be anywhere else than up on stage with them at that time.”

 
Honestly Alluring: Cains & Abels, August 19 at Rozz-Tox PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Monday, 13 August 2012 08:09

David Sampson of Cains & AbelsThe Facebook biography of the Chicago-based trio Cains & Abels is four words: “honest rock and roll.”

That might sound glib, vague, evasive, or even a dig at other bands – and it is. But a truer explanation is that singer/songwriter/bassist David Sampson means it, and to expand on the idea would simply take too long. When I asked him a general question about the genesis of “Money” – from the band’s gorgeously, patiently articulated My Life Is Easy album – he talked for more than four minutes.

He touched on how his fictional songs seemed to bring their specific sadnesses into his life, and how he decided – almost as a joke – to write happy songs to conjure a different vibe.

“One of the main troubles in my life is money,” he said. He discussed how hip-hop artists rap about what they aspire to, and “if it works out, ... they’ve made it happen by talking about it. ... So I decided at one point that I should try to write some songs about how awesome it is to be wealthy, or at least comfortable financially.”

He then deflated what had seemed a hopeful tale. “I ended up writing a song addressing money as a lover that spurned me,” he said. “It didn’t actually come out the way I intended it to.”

Even Sampson’s fantasies are weighed down by truth; he couldn’t complete a tongue-in-cheek exercise in wish fulfillment.

 
Extra Ordinary: Better Than Ezra, August 18 at River Roots Live PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 08 August 2012 13:20

Better Than Ezra. Photo by Rick Olivier.When I interviewed Better Than Ezra singer/songwriter/guitarist Kevin Griffin earlier this month, I asked him whether the group’s next album – originally conceived as a late-2012 release – had been pushed to next year to mark the band’s quarter-century milestone.

“I had no idea that next year will be the 25th anniversary,” he said. “Oh my God.”

He recovered quickly, though:“This is the 25th-anniversary release, which will ... be our swan song.”

He was kidding about Ezra’s retirement, saying that “it just felt like the thing to say.” And the band certainly shows no signs of quitting at 25 years. The trio is one of the headliners at this year’s River Roots Live festival, it continues to regularly produce new music that connects with fans, and Griffin has built a second career writing songs for other artists (including Sugarland, James Blunt, Train, and Debbie Harry) that keeps him busy when Ezra isn’t.

 
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