Quad Cities musician and engineer Pat Stolley is not a good interview. He’s plain-spoken and blunt, and when asked last week about the origins of Intricate Maps – the new album from his band The Multiple Cat – his answer couldn’t be more ordinary and pragmatic: “I had a band that was doing stuff.”
In the past, the singer/songwriter/guitarist said, he had difficulty keeping a band together, with people moving away or being less than reliable. But following 2013’s The Return of the Multiple Cat, he had a solid ensemble that wanted to keep working. So it was as simple as the confluence of writing songs and having interest from the local label Cartouche Records in putting them out.
Chalk up Stolley’s manner to preferring creation over discussion. Starting with the opening seconds of lead tracks “Maps” and “David,” the record is dense with pop rock that is precise, detailed, and economical but also organically vital and often joyously catchy.
And while the eight tracks that fit that description would be plenty rewarding, the three “Theme”-titled pieces bridge songs and help shape Intricate Maps into a dynamic, breathing album. Listening to the record’s carefully modulated flow, it’s difficult to take Stolley at his word that his limited time dictates that he use just about everything he writes; it’s a triumph of songwriting, instrumentation, and arrangement dovetailing with smart sequencing and evocative connective tissue.
Until very recently, Quad Citians wanting a rodeo experience had no choice but to wait for the i wireless Center’s annual World’s Toughest Rodeo tour. But for the last month, the District of Rock Island has been housing it’s very own, full-time Rodeo – and it’s got the bull to prove it.
“Right now, we rent one for Saturdays,” says booking manager Red Redahan of the mechanical bull at Red Rodeo – the new, Nashville-style nightclub he operates with wife and venue owner Cherie. “But we’re actually going to have our own mechanical bull soon, and he’ll be there every night. And people love it. You land on an air mattress and nobody’s been injured. People just sign their waivers and have a great time.” Red laughs. “And then we throw ’em off.”
For my 10th-annual album of some favorite songs of the year, the simple rules remain the same, although I cheated a little on both: one song per artist, and no artists represented on previous years’ collections.
I’ve never cast these exercises as the best songs of the year because my tastes are idiosyncratic and because it’s impossible to hear everything. The latter is especially true this year: I didn’t listen to nearly as much new music as I would have liked ... but there was still plenty to love.
Two Gallants, “Fools Like Us.” Sixteen years after the debut of the White Stripes and 13 since the first album from the Black Keys, it’s surprising that the indie-rock guitar/drum duo can still be as vital as it is on Two Gallants’ We Come Undone. The taut “Fools Like Us” from the outset has a skip in its step but is completely unassuming until the break – when it shifts to a different unassuming groove with a slower tempo. The key for this coarse power pop is being subtly, simply artful: a finely calibrated sense of the weight of each section, and of the proper time to build, hold, and release the tension.
Award-winning jazz vocalist Sara Gazarek has released three studio albums, plus one limited-release live album, since 2005, and just glancing at their song lists gives you a strong idea of the varied styles in which she finds inspiration.
Take, for example, Gazarek’s 2012 album Blossom & Bee, which CriticalJazz.com called “one of the most impressive releases of the year.” You’ll find “Some of These Days,” a signature hit for the legendary Sophie Tucker; “Down with Love,” a jazz standard popularized by the likes of Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand; “Tea for Two,” the genre staple heard in 67 separate episodes of The Lawrence Welk Show; “Ev’rything I’ve Got” and “Lucky to Be Me,” by the respective show-tune teams of Rodgers & Hart and Comden & Green; “Unpack Your Adjectives” from Schoolhouse Rock ... .
Hold on. “Unpack Your Adjectives”?!
“That was originally sung by Blossom Dearie,” says Gazarek, referencing the late jazz singer and pianist whose artistic output inspired Blossom & Bee, and who originally performed seven of the album’s 12 tracks. “She was really active in the ’60s and ’70s, and her voice is often described as kind of girlish and cute. But her music is witty and sharp, and I think most instrumentalists and singers would agree that it has this veiled simplicity to it, and when you really look at it, it’s incredibly musical and sophisticated.”