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Unexpected Light in the Darkness: David G. Smith, May 17 at the Redstone Room PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Saturday, 03 May 2014 08:48

David G. Smith. Photo by Avory Pierce.In putting together his new album One House, Blue Grass, Iowa-based David G. Smith “ended up with 10 issues-oriented songs,” he said in an interview last week.

This was a bit of an accident. Smith – who will be celebrating the album’s release with a May 17 show at the Redstone Room – said he brought 21 songs to producer Blue Miller and “figured we’d find an album out of that. ... We ended up recording two albums. ... We’ve got another one on deck. It’s already been mastered.”

And when Smith considered which songs to put on which album, One House’s 10 tracks seemed to naturally go together in the order they appear.

The title track asks the question “Can we live in one house built on higher ground?” “Ivory” deals with the illegal trade of elephant tusks. “Jesus Is in Prison” is about a death-row inmate. “Angels Flew” tells the story of a boat lift rescuing people on 9/11. “Doesn’t Take Much Light” and “Ariel” are specific narratives based on real people – with Parkinson’s disease and the extremely rare Rett syndrome, respectively. (The River Music Experience concert is also a platform to raise money for the latter illness.)

It’s a heavy collection, and for some tastes it will likely be too on-the-nose, even though it’s rarely preachy – which Smith called “the mortal sin of songwriting”: “It’s a supreme challenge to try to write something that will strike a chord with people and at least make them pause and maybe think a little bit.”

The subject matter and directness are countered by folk arrangements that are thoughtful and evocative, but more importantly the album – Smith’s second studio effort – is also filled with hope, conviction, earnest heart, and lovely turns of phrase that elevate it. Smith is at his best finding unexpected light in the darkness.

No Messing Around: Water Liars, May 14 at Rozz-Tox PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Friday, 02 May 2014 05:31

Water Liars. Photo by Maggie Huber.

With the Water Liars’s self-titled album – the band’s third record in as many years – you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re in for a jarring ride based on the song titles and the opening track’s bleak but majestic riff. “Cannibal” is followed by “War Paint” and “I Want Blood.”

You are in for a ride, although it’s less the beat-down and carnage that the titles suggest than a careening from loud distortion to gentle Americana and back. “Ray Charles Dream” is a hooky, punk-tinged rock song sandwiched between the slow-footed guitar lament of “Tolling Bells” and the even-slower-footed piano lament of “Vespers.”

“That’s always been sort of a point for us,” said singer/songwriter/guitarist Justin Kinkel-Schuster in a phone interview last week, promoting the trio’s May 14 performance at Rozz-Tox. “Widely shifting dynamics has always been an important part of our sound ... both live and on records. ... I just always am intrigued by moving between those poles. There’s something interesting about taking a ride like that.”

It’s not merely a sonic roller coaster. The title and sentiment of “I Want Blood” (“I want blood all the time”) would seem to lend themselves to a ravenous rock treatment, but the song instead places the lyrics in a warm and ethereal musical context, making it a reverb-heavy anthem to searching and soaring. “Tension is why art exists,” Kinkel-Schuster explained of the apparent contradiction. “Without tension, I don’t think there’s a whole lot to go on. ... Without tension you don’t have a story; there’s nothing to resolve.”

Photos from the Joe Bonamassa Concert, April 19 at the Adler Theatre PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Matt Erickson   
Monday, 21 April 2014 13:30

Photos from the Joe Bonamassa concert, April 19 at the Adler Theatre. For more work by Matt Erickson, visit

Photo by Matt Erickson,

Keep on Scratching: Joe Bonamassa, April 19 at the Adler Theatre PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 15 April 2014 16:20

Joe Bonamassa. Photo by Christie Goodwin.Roughly a quarter-century ago, B.B. King said of Joe Bonamassa that “he hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface.”

It was an undeniable compliment to somebody not yet in his teens, but it was also a challenge – one that the blues-rock guitarist, singer, and songwriter apparently still takes to heart. Bonamassa continually scratches and scratches to get deeper.

His performance April 19 at the Adler Theatre will be one example, featuring a set with his acoustic band and another with his electric – both covering roughly 10 songs. The acoustic sets demonstrate that Bonamassa isn’t content to skate by on instrumental virtuosity – unlike too many of his ace-guitarist peers. These shows require solid songs, nuance, and variety.

As he said in a phone interview last week, the two-set engagements are “very challenging vocally and on guitar, because you’re essentially switching gears tune to tune.”

Even better evidence of his range can be found in his recent discography. In the past two years alone, Bonamassa has put out the Driving Towards the Daylight studio album, live and studio releases with singer Beth Hart, the third and final album from the Black Country Communion super-group, a studio disc by the jazz-fusion Rock Candy Funk Party, Beacon Theatre: Live From New York, the live album An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House, and the four-disc Tour de Force: Live in London – documenting themed shows at four venues with different band lineups and more than 60 different songs. And he has a new studio album planned for fall release. (The old saw about the weather can be adapted for Bonamassa: If you don’t like his latest record, just wait a few minutes.)

Building to Moments: Decker, April 20 at Rozz-Tox PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 15 April 2014 16:00

Brandon Decker. Photo courtesy Ashley Wintermute.

The band Decker calls its sound “psychedelic desert folk,” and each of those words carries roughly equal weight.

The folk influence is a carry-over from earlier incarnations of the band. Before its fourth album – last year’s Slider – leader Brandon Decker wrote the songs and brought people in to round them out. “I didn’t feel they were really musical,” he said in a phone interview last week. Rather, they were vehicles to say something.

But when the band performs at Rozz-Tox on April 20, Decker will be emphasizing the other two words. In its current form as a four-piece, the folk leanings are somewhat obscured by the wide-open space reflecting its home base of Sedona, Arizona, and the spaciness of psychedelic rock. (The band stylizes its name as “decker.”, but for readability I’m ignoring that.)

On Slider and the epic “Cellars” (from the upcoming Patsy EP), there’s a comfortable balance between direct simplicity and airy, patient exploration. Instead of being dense in any given moment, the songs wander purposefully, collecting detail to achieve their fullness.

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