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An Anything-Goes Tapestry: All Them Witches, February 15 at Rozz-Tox PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Friday, 06 February 2015 05:54

All Them Witches hails from Nashville, and the combination of name and hometown gives you a pretty good sense of a split personality. The moniker hints at a band in thrall to Black Sabbath, and the Tennessee city hints at something Southern – although its debts are to blues and Southern rock and not in any way country. (Bassist/singer Michael Parks Jr. noted, however: “We have been known to just pop up on the street somewhere during tour playing bluegrass on the street.”)

But when the band returns to Rozz-Tox on February 15, it will be apparent that the quartet is far more expansive than that would suggest. All Them Witches embraces not just blues-based music but the blues themselves, particularly on “The Marriage of Coyote Woman” from its most recent album, Lightning at the Door. The elemental riffs of Ben McLeod have the heaviness of Sabbath’s Tommy Iommi but also the razor-sharp lyricism of Queens of the Stone Age’s Joshua Homme.

And, most importantly, there’s an experimental psychedelic core, a grounding in improvisation that allows each person in the band to bring a distinct personality to tracks that might go anywhere – including, to cite just one example, throat singing in the folk-ish and completely un-metal “Romany Dagger.”

And that anything-goes quality is the reason I was curious about this comment I read from drummer Robby Staebler: “As individual players we are more concerned and focused on our own playing. We are not focused on what the others are playing. We all do what we want. It’s why it works.”

 
Roots Seller: The Musical Journey of Area Icon Ellis Kell PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Monday, 02 February 2015 06:00

(For a sidebar on Ellis Kell’s efforts in music education and community programming, click here.)

Ellis KellWhat can you say about Ellis Kell? Better question: What can you not?

He’s the director of programming and community outreach for Davenport’s River Music Experience, and barring a six-month 2006-7 hiatus, has been employed by the venue since November 2003 – seven months before it opened its doors to the public.

He’s an area legend among blues and roots musicians and fans – a 35-year veteran of solo and ensemble gigs who’s an accomplished singer/songwriter, guitarist, and pianist (if, as he admits, maybe not the best trumpet player).

He’s spent a remarkable quarter-century serving as bandleader and performer for The Ellis Kell Band, which has shared stages with, and opened for, the likes of Robert Cray, REO Speedwagon, Willie Nelson, Etta James, Little Feat, Johnny and Edgar Winter, and B.B. King – the latter of whom hugged Kell, on stage, during a 2008 Adler Theatre concert. (The Ellis Kell Band will celebrate its 25-year venerability and versatility in a February 6 concert at the River Music Experience’s Redstone Room.)

And he is, by common agreement, one of the most engaging, and engaged, storytellers you’ll ever hope to encounter, whether speaking at the RME or appearing in a special event at an area library ... or just sitting at a table, quietly recounting stories for an audience of one.

So why say anything about Ellis Kell when, in describing his road to local iconography, he can do it for me?

 
Invigorating Isolation: A 2014 Album PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 23 December 2014 09:36

For the past eight years, I’ve compiled a year-end album of favorite songs released in the 12 preceding months, with no artists repeating from previous years. I’ve done it again.

Beyond the artists presented here, my favorite album was O’Death’s Out of Hands We Go – which, if not quite as consistently great as the band’s 2011 record Outside, is a stunning accomplishment – a warbling, adventurous, authentic backwoods blend of introspection and primal emotion putting bluegrass instrumentation through the aesthetic amp of folk, punk, lo-fi, and indie rock. The band’s “Vacant Moan” is probably my favorite song of the past decade (it was on my 2008 album), and since then O’Death has largely abandoned thrashing furor in favor of a more measured sound that finds its power in places other than speed and volume.

My initial effort at compiling this album was decidedly pop-oriented, with a few digressions into my natural proclivity toward the odd. But 19 songs became 16, and as I pared away tracks I loved that felt a little too reliant on formula, I recognized a thread of elemental music. Sometimes it took the form of naked aggression (another proclivity), but just as often it was songs stripped down to base emotion – concentrated states of the heart and mind. I ran with that.

 
Illuminating a Musical Masterpiece: The Quad City Symphony, December 6 at the Adler Theatre PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Frederick Morden   
Wednesday, 17 December 2014 13:37

In its December 6 concert, the Quad City Symphony checked off three important boxes – things every orchestra should strive for.

It included contemporary American music, in this case a world premiere from a local composer in University of Iowa professor David Gompper’s impenetrably obscure Sunburst.

It illustrated the role of the sensitive accompanist, showcasing six of the symphony’s own members in three pieces.

And finally and most impressively, it ignited and illuminated a musical masterpiece with sizzling passion and a refined artistic vision: The cohesive and insightful artistic ideas of Music Director and Conductor Mark Russell Smith joined with the orchestra’s unrestrained musical abandonment in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s masterful Symphony No. 40.

 
Unchained from the Plot of His Own Life: Counting Crows, December 16 at the Adler Theatre PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 09 December 2014 10:40

Counting Crows. Photo by Danny Clinch.

When Counting Crows visits the Adler Theatre on December 16, it will be a different band from the one that scored top-10 hits with each of its studio albums from 1993’s August & Everything After to 2008’s Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings.

And for that, you can credit a lowly covers record.

It’s more complicated than that, but in a phone interview earlier this month, singer/songwriter Adam Duritz explained that interpreting the songs of others was one of two key ingredients to the band’s revitalization – which is in full bloom on this year’s Somewhere Under Wonderland album. The record also hit Billboard’s Top 10, and many critics have called it the band’s strongest collection since its August & Everything After debut.

Counting Crows’ new swagger is evident in its sets and on the album. Somewhere Under Wonderland’s longest song, “Palisades Park,” is its opening track and first single, and even before the record’s release it kicked off the band’s encores. “We played an entire summer of shows with an eight-and-a-half-minute song that nobody knew as the opening song of the encore, which is kind of crazy,” Duritz said. “We had the confidence to do it.”

Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings marked a sort of end for Counting Crows. Within a month of its release, Duritz revealed that he had depersonalization disorder – which he wrote in Men’s Health “makes the world seem like it’s not real, as if things aren’t taking place. It’s hard to explain, but you feel untethered.”

The announcement coincided with Duritz’s fatigue with the songwriting process that had sustained the band through 15 years and five very successful albums. “By the time we got done with Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings,” he told me, “I was kind of fed up with being locked into this autobiographical record-making. People start to expect a certain plot arc from you, and while you can write as well as you can write, you can’t change the actual plot of your life. I felt like I was not only trying to live my life to get my life together, but trying to live my life so I have a more interesting plot arc for the records. ... I was kind of tired of just talking about being crazy. It’s not all there is to me.”

 
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