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“Resistance” Transforms Potential Into Maturity: Lewis Knudsen, “The Way of Most Resistance”; July 23 at the Redstone Room PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Saturday, 18 July 2015 12:42

Lewis Knudsen. Photo by Mike Aubrey.

Lewis Knudsen kicks off his album The Way of Most Resistance with a track titled “Death & Cats,” featuring the slightly ominous lyric “Death and cats are taking over / You better look over your shoulder.”

It’s not the most musically arresting track on the record, but in addition to its great title and chorus, it has a gently infectious (and not at all ominous) slink in both verse and chorus. It’s a low-key charmer announcing that Knudsen’s artistic potential has quickly become confident maturity.

I liked much of what the singer/songwriter/guitarist/pianist and his band were up to on last year’s Joy, Pain, Love, Songs – although its mishmash nature made it hard to divine how its disparate threads could or would be woven into a coherent artistic vision.

While Knudsen admitted that his 2014 album was a collection of unrelated songs, he said via e-mail that he conceived The Way of Most Resistance as an “alt-funk/neo-soul” album. That description is a bit of a stretch given the restraint in tempo and dynamic range – and how well Knudsen’s voice and his band fit within them.

The sax, keys, and bass on “Fire Inside Me” fit that funk/soul description, but the vibe on Resistance seems more rooted in the carefully orchestrated pop of Badly Drawn Boy. (Remember him?) Knudsen’s palette isn’t quite so broad, but his arrangements (as on his previous album) make smart use of saxophone, violin, and vocal textures, while his heartfelt singing and the wit in his songwriting complete the package.

 
Back from the Bottom of the River: Walter Trout, July 21 at the Redstone Room PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 08 July 2015 05:33

Walter Trout last month at Royal Albert Hall

Last year was meant to be a celebration of 25 years as a solo artist for Walter Trout. For much of the year, it looked more like an obituary.

“Provogue Records for the last five years has been planning this big push,” explained the guitarist/singer/songwriter in a phone interview promoting his July 21 performance at the Redstone Room. “They financed a biography to be written of me; they financed a documentary to be made about my life; they released all my back catalog on collector’s item vinyl. And the whole record label was going to call 2014 the Year of the Trout. And to me, being an artist, my ship had come in.”

Trout – a five-time nominee in the Blues Music Awards’ Rock Blues Album category and a veteran of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers band – also had a new album, The Blues Came Callin’. “I’ve got this label and they’re way behind me, and as soon as the record started to come out, I was sick and I canceled an entire year of touring.”

Fast forward to the present. Another new album, Battle Scars, is nearly finished and is slated for release in October. One line from one track neatly summarizes, with a light touch, the fact that Trout missed his own party: “My ship came in and sailed away again.”

You won’t, however, hear the man complain – which is clear by his use of the vague and grossly inadequate word “sick.”

In late May of 2014, Trout had a liver transplant.

 
Earthy, Elemental Explorers: Mondo Drag, July 9 at RIBCO PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 01 July 2015 08:30

Mondo Drag

Describing the evolving musical philosophy of Mondo Drag, keyboardist/singer John Gamino said the band is learning patience: “Letting parts breathe. Kind of letting the listener ease into something. ... Letting things develop. Not rushing them along too much.”

Patience has also been required in other ways for the Oakland-based psychedelic/prog band that got its start in the Quad Cities and will return on July 9 for a show at RIBCO. (Three of the band’s five members hail from the QCs: Gamino and guitarists Nolan Girard and Jake Sheley.)

In 2011, the year after Mondo Drag’s New Rituals debut was released, the rhythm section left. The follow-up album was recorded and co-produced by Pat Stolley in the Quad Cities in late 2011 and early 2012 with Zack Anderson and Cory Berry (both of Radio Moscow), who then moved to Sweden as members of Blues Pills.

“So we didn’t have a band, essentially,” Gamino said. “We didn’t have a rhythm section. We couldn’t promote the album on tour.” And the record didn’t have a label, either. He added that the group had difficulty finding compatible musicians in the Midwest, so in April 2013 Mondo Drag set out for California.

Sophomore album Mondo Drag was finally released this year (on RidingEasy Records in the States) – three years after it was finished.

 
Artistry That Refuses to Linger: Juan Wauters, June 19 at Rozz-Tox PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 10 June 2015 05:58

Juan Wauters

Juan Wauters has been called “one of the most idiosyncratic and inventive songwriters in New York today” (by the New York Observer), “New York’s greatest songwriter” (by Impose magazine), and “one of New York’s most compelling singer/songwriters” (by Spin magazine).

That praise would suggest a few things about the native Uruguayan, none of which appears to be true.

The plaudits for his songwriting hint at something aggressively sophisticated and artful, but the songs on his new Who Me? are uniformly easy-going – simple, warm, and seemingly effortlessly charming. Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the great notices; it’s just that they’re utterly devoid of pretension.

And as much as he’s identified as a New Yorker, Wauters has a fondness for the Quad Cities and institutions such as Ross’ and Harris Pizza.

 
Harnessing Terror, Gently: Strangled Darlings, June 11 at Rozz-Tox PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 04 June 2015 08:12

Strangled Darlings

If you read the bio of Strangled Darlings on the duo’s Web site, you’ll get a hint of tension between capitalized Art and something at the other end of the spectrum entirely.

First: “Jess and George met at party in 2009, with their spontaneous duet of the Prince song ‘Pussy Control.’”

Then: “The songs work with nontraditional subjects for inspiration. Some song subjects include: the works of great authors (Faulkner, William Blake, Gabriel García Márquez, Donald Barthelme, Anna Akhmatova) as well as witchcraft in the Civil War, the morality of Somali piracy, and the media impact of Neil Armstrong.”

Into that mix you can throw in a clear understanding of the crass realities of the decentralized modern music business – the need to get attention, and an acknowledgment that emerging bands have to tour relentlessly to build an audience.

All three of those basic elements are evident on the song “Kill Yourself,” from the upcoming album Boom Stomp King. It’s a bright, cheery ditty on the one hand, with the title and matching refrain designed to generate maximum curiosity.

In a recent phone interview, singer/songwriter/mandolinist George Veech acknowledged some less-than-pure motives behind the song. “The biggest fear of an artist is to not have an audience, to not be heard. I know damn well that saying ‘Kill Yourself’ is taboo in a lot of ways, and I’m not advocating [that],” he said. “It helps get attention. I got your attention now, and then let’s talk about the actual details.”

 
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