Red Letter Night: The Get Up Kids w/Great Grandpa @ The Ottobar, Baltimore Maryland July 24, 2019

It's been an uncharacteristically busy year for this Stranger, which has led to what I will assume is a statistically significant reduction in the number of shows I've attended in 2019.

One of the main culprits is the recent combining of households with my ladyfren and usual live music sidekick - and that process seems to have eaten up a LOT of time over the past three-four months with searching, looking, saving, packing, moving, unpacking...etc. It's the damn worst. Further, my "show list" palate has expanded - and now includes more non-music/concert forms. For example, we recently saw Hamilton at the Hippodrome in Baltimore, and we saw Hannah Gadsby's latest "comedy-turned TED talk" at the Kennedy Center in DC last month.

But things are starting to settle down. And last night I experienced what was probably one of the best shows I've seen in 2019.

I wanna say the Get Up Kids first hit my radar in 1999 or 2000 - whatever the year, I know that my best college bud is responsible for turning me on to the band. In the early aughts, I started listening to more emo-tinged bands (i.e., Thursday, Sparta, et al.) and the Get Up Kids were more intriguing because there were heavier doses of pop punk in their sound. Soon after I moved to Arkansas, already knowing that the band was from Kansas City (some three hours north), they broke up. I missed their reunion show at the Record Bar in 2008 - but members of my former band, Damn Arkansan, went,and definitely rubbed it in that I missed a hell of a show!

I say all this to say that after nearly 20 years of listening to this band, last night was my FIRST TIME seeing them. And last night was SPECIAL™.

I've had a couple chances to see Matt Pryor solo (the last of which I didn't do because I was still in recovery from my car accident), and I missed them in DC last year because I was out of town in Raleigh NC to see Father John Misty play at the NC Museum of Art. But - despite being exhausted from work, moving, and general other shit, I wasn't gonna miss the show last night...and I am SO glad I went.

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I think I'm comfortable saying that the Ottobar in Baltimore is my favorite regional venue. It's an easy drive from Frederick (~ an hour), light on traffic, and in a hip area of the city that has good eats and other amenities (record and book stores). The venue itself also has a great layout. Two stories: a lounge upstairs with a bar where they host comedy, small shows, and trivia, and the main floor with a bar/merch area in the back, and the "stage room" which is a split into a stage floor and balcony/loft on stage right. Along the wall on stage left, there are two tiered risers - almost like bleachers - that are at the same height as the steps leading you down from the bar area to the stage room floor. I note this because whether you're up front, on the back or sides on a riser, or in the balcony/loft, there are few *bad* vantage points in the room.

I posted up in the back corner of the room, stage left, parallel to the sound man, and at a great vantage point to get the mix from ALL the PA speakers. I arrived a song or two into Seattle Washington-based opener Great Grandpa's set.

Here is what Pitchfork reviewer Ian Cohen had to say about the Great Grandpa's debut record, PLASTIC COUGH in his 6.7-rated review:

"Familial band name with twee sensibilities, quippy grievance airing over fizzy alt-pop: thanks to the revolution started in Great Grandpa’s hometown of Seattle, this sound provided quite a few Buzz Bin hits and resultant entries in used CD bins in 1997 and has somehow become the sound of indie rock in 2017."

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I mean, I *think* Cohen wants that to be a dig at the band - but for 41 year-old Gen Xers who still go to shows (and I'll tell ya, if you averaged the demographics of this crowd, I was the mean/average to the letter) we couldn't have asked for a better opener (not named Reggie and the Full Effect or Saves the Day).

Great Grandpa's lead singer, Alex Mennes, is a tiny woman, but has an absolutely HUGE voice. I had to do some double-takes when her howling vocals smacked me in the face through the PA. After doing some research, it looks as though the band is usually a quintet, but tonight was a 4-piece, with Mennes also playing bass (usually tackled by Carrie Miller). The two guitarists really added a nice, grungy layer to the songs - several of which were in alternate tunings. This definitely changed the sonic palate and allowed for a richer sound coming off the strings.

I think maybe the a good shoot-from-the-hip description would be this: Great Grandpa sounded like if an emo Delores O'Riordan fronted Pavement - if Pavement were from mid-1990s Seattle.

Roughly 45 minutes after Great Grandpa started, they exited the stage and made way for the Get Up Kids. By this point, the stage room floor had filled up. Even I was shoulder-to-shoulder with some folks back in my corner vantage point.

After a "hello Baltimore!" around 9:15 PM - wasting no time, Matt Pryor hit the chords and opening lines to "Satellite" - the opening song off the Get Up Kids latest (2019) record PROBLEMS. The song was explosive, and the near-packed house was here for it. If Craig Finn was right, and the "sing along songs" truly "will be our scriptures" then this crowd was definitely in church this particular Wednesday night.

The band played about an hour and a half (excluding the 5 minute break before the encore) - and covered ALL their records. It was great to see the band members' reaction to the crowd singing along to the older songs. Pryor remarked on more than one occasion "shit, you guys sing LOUD!" Guitarist Jim Suptic noted "we don't get to Baltimore often enough...but we're definitely coming back!"

Highlight songs included the appropriate opener "Satellite" which has an "old school" Get Up Kids sound for being new material. "Martyr Me" - which is one of my favorite cuts from THE GUILT SHOW - absolutely smoked. "Holiday" from SOMETHING TO WRITE HOME ABOUT (talk about a dang sing-along!) "Don't Hate Me" from FOUR MINUTE MILE (which had a fun false-start where Pryor had to stop and restart the band). Also "Lou Barlow" from the new record PROBLEMS and "Stay Gone" from ON A WIRE were a thesis on how to masterfully create pop groove on a bass guitar.

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Let's talk about bassist Rob Pope for a minute. Not only is he a founding member of The Get Up Kids, but also has been playing with Spoon since 2007 (he actually just quit) - and he really does add an incredible layer with his bass playing over the Get Up Kids songs. His playing got more dynamic with the release of ON A WIRE - a record that did not sit well with fans who were more into the band's emo leanings on the first two records. Considering I just started playing bass - despite the fact that my current outfit’s music does not sound like the Get Up Kids - there is a lot to be gleaned from Pope's playing in regard to how to craft a low-end melody through a song. It was a joy watching him do this live last night.

The hour-long opening set closed with "Action & Action" if I am recalling correctly - and the whole crowd was screaming along with Pryor on the chorus line "I playyyyed the fool!!!" It was cathartic and joyful. The encore was about 6 or 7 songs, and given the crowd response on the night, I wouldn't be surprised if the band had planned on playing a shorter encore. Suptic led the band on his cover of the Mats' "Beer For Breakfast" which the Get Up Kids released on their 2001 LP of covers and rarities, EUDORA. They also obliged a member of the crowd who shouted for "Mass Pike" by playing a rousing rendition of the song. The closer was "Ten Minutes" from SOMETHING TO WRITE HOME ABOUT. Man...if the foundation of the Ottobar wasn't a concrete slab, that floor would have been bowing last night.

I am usually not one to break his phone out a lot during a show, but I captured several songs on video last night because I really wanted to document this experience. I can't remember the last time I felt like I was in a room full of so many people whose expectations seemed to immediately be met and continued to be exceeded - the band's included - as the night wore on. It was an all ages show, and I saw what appeared to be lots of dads and daughters enjoying the show together, which was pretty rad.

The band is off to play two nights in New York next - at the Bowery tonight and the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn tomorrow. If you ever enjoyed this band, I highly, highly encourage you to go check them out if they come to your town on this tour. They're seemingly are firing on all cylinders right now.

The Strangers Almanac Year In (End) Review: 2018



Usually when I pen this year-end review I spend a number of paragraphs lamenting another move to a new town, changing my job, or some other horrendous life event that upended my year.

Not this year, y’all. I’m happy to report that 2018 has been super smooth sailing. Picked up a college teaching gig in addition to my normal research gig, still got the same lady friend and we are talking about getting a place together in the summer of next year once our leases are up. Did a TON of traveling (domestically), and caught a bunch of shows as well (see the list of shows at the end of this document.) Family is healthy and happy. My one and a half year-old nephew is still the cutest kid in my universe.

Yeah, 2018 has been good.

Of course it wasn’t all rainbows and cookies. I worked on a political campaign that got shellacked, and watched in some semblance of horror as the electorate in my county re-elected a racist sheriff, and did not get as soaked by the blue wave as many other places across America. So there is work to do on that front. And, of course there’s all the shit happening with the Federal Government. In a few days, the Smithsonian is going to close while our lawmakers are still trying to point their fingers harder in the direction of blame at the other, (falsely) hoping it will engender support. Unfollowing” all my friends on Facebook this year has helped. I still have an active account but I only use it to keep my social and event calendar synced with my phone. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made (though I am gonna post the link to this write-up on my FB wall, so my hypocrisy is not lost on me).

But whatever. It’s been a good year and I am here for it! The only thing that will be left after pecking out this year-end review will be to make good on my 2018 New Year’s Resolution and commit 10 phone numbers to memory!!

::2018 Songs of Note Playlist::

For your “listen while you read” pleasure, I am including a playlist of my standout tracks of the year. The tracks go in reverse order, that is, the standout track from each of “the elevens” will be at the top of the playlist, and the closing track will be the standout from the number 1 record on the list below. Fun times, yeah?

::The Twenty Elevens::

“The elevens” are listed here in alphabetical order so as not to weight one release as closer to #10 than the next. In reality, any one of these “elevens” could probably be swapped out for #10 depending on how I am feeling on a given day…but here is how it shakes out on this day:

6 String Drag ::TOP OF THE WORLD:: Raleigh, North Carolina alt-country pioneers 6 String Drag won 2018 with a double-dose of music. First, they re-released their seminal 1997 record HIGH HAT to celebrate its 20th anniversary, while simultaneously dropping their first record of new music in three years with TOP OF THE WORLD. Prior to 2015, the band had been largely dormant. TOP OF THE WORLD also marks the band’s first recording with new, shit-hot guitarist Luis Rodriguez and drummer Dan Davis, the band is as tight as ever, and showcased their skills this past December to a largely virgin audience at the annual White Water Tavern Holiday Hangout in Little Rock, Arkansas. But for us old heads, if you liked HIGH HAT, there is a LOT of sounds for you on TOP OF THE WORLD
Standout Track ::Wrong Girl::

Belle Adair ::TUSCUMBIA:: Combine all your favorite things about Big Star, the Byrds, Muscle Shoals, and the south and you have Belle Adair’s TUSCUMBIA. Fans of chime and jangle will rejoice at the sound of the guitars on this record. Recorded at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the vibe of that building coupled with the pop sensibilities of the fellas in Belle Adair made for a solid marriage. This is just a nice, two-windows down jam for springtime kinda record. Much Rickenbacker! Such yay!
Standout Track ::Marooned::

Drew Beskin ::NOSTALGIA PORN:: This Athens, Georgia-based prolific bastard not only released a killer record with last year’s CHA CHING MACHINE, and who once contributed songs to The District Attorneys, PURSES, and Party Dolls, has returned in 2018 with more saccharine power pop that pays more homage to Memphis and Big Star than Athens’ REM. Beskin continues to produce a high quality product.
Standout Track ::Suspicion From The Start::

Bonny Doon ::LONGWAVE:: In the mid 90s, bands like Pavement and Guided by Voices made music that had critics and reviewers tossing around the term “slack rock” because of a lazy and oft sloppy musical delivery that somehow worked. Detroit’s Bonny Doon deserve a spot in that company. The songwriting duo of Bobby Columbo and Bill Lennox trade songs back and forth over 40 minutes of rollicking songs that make you want to do that thing where you drive with the windows down, arm in the wind, letting the wind pick up your arm in a wave-like motion for miles and miles…that is still a thing, right?
Standout Track ::I Am Here (I Am Alive)::

Boygenuis ::BOYGENUIS:: When news broke that Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus would be forming a supergroup, the corner of the internet where all the indie rock kids hang out shattered into a billion pieces. Rightfully so. There is nothing unexpected on this six-song EP. Its only failing is that it is too short. Two more songs from each artist and might-could have had a full Boygenius LP. Hopefully there is more to come, if for no other reason than that the world needs more Julien Baker songs with a full-band treatment.
Standout Track ::Stay Down::

Andrew Bryant ::AIN’T IT LIKE THE COSMOS:: At the 2017 White Water Tavern Holiday Hangout in Little Rock, Arkansas, Andrew Bryant took the stage with a Danelectro Guitar and boutique tube amplifier and proceeded to break the hearts of anyone who was listening. The songs were sparse and heavy, and elicited several whispers of the name “Jason Molina.” Prior to covering “Hammer Down”, Bryant did indeed talk about what a heavy influence Jason Molina has been on his writing. The sparse songs heard at the White Water Tavern that night have been given a full band treatment on COSMOS, but there is still a beautiful loneliness to them. It may be Bryant’s hollow voice, which (probably intentionally) resonates a sort of defeat even on the upbeat tunes. Jason Molina wrote a lot about ghosts. Andrew Bryant may be seeking a muse in Molina’s - and I am here for that.
Standout Track ::The Price Was Right::

Neko Case ::HELL ON:: Neko Case makes a hell of a return with HELL ON. The record is a nice blend of classic Neko Case stylings (i.e., “Halls of Sarah”, “Bad Luck”, and “Last Lion of Albion” - check out the Song Exploder Episode on the latter) and a newer, different sound that showcases Case’s talent and ability to shake up her foundation (i.e., “Sleep All Summer”). A solid effort by one of music’s strongest songwriters.
Standout Track ::Last Lion of Albion::

Dawes ::PASSWORDS:: Admittedly, the last two Dawes records have left a lot to be desired - especially when you compare recent output to the band’s stellar first three records. It was clear that principal songwriter Taylor Goldsmith was approaching his songwriting from a different direction on 2016’s WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE (though the track “Roll With The Punches” was one of the year’s best IMHO). However, PASSWORDS is a bit of a return to form - just not quite all the way there. Still, there is likely a hell of comp to be culled out of Dawes’ recent output.
Standout Track ::Crack the Case::

Death By Unga Bunga ::SO FAR SO GOOD SO COOL:: By the time we reach the end of this year-end list, it will be clear that 2018 was the year that riff-heavy rock-n-roll returned to heavy rotation for these ears. Imagine Thin Lizzy were a five-piece band, and instead of being Irish, they were Norse as fuck - you’d have Death by Unga Bunga. Delicious riff-driven poppy rock -n-roll complete with harmonized guitars, and sick finger tapping. And this is their fifth LP. So if you like what you hear, dig in to the band’s back catalog for more!
Standout Track ::Soldier:: [Note: The guitar solo starting at 2:50, with the harmonized finger tapping at 3:13 is perfection].

The Dirty Nil ::MASTER VOLUME:: Like the riffy Death by Unga Bunga - the Dirty Nil also brings riffy, Thin Lizzy-esque rock-n-roll, Hamilton, Ontario Canada-style. However, unlike the former, The Dirty Nil is only a three-piece. MASTER VOLUME is apropos as the album title as there is a LOT of sound coming out of this power trio of guitar, bass, and drums. Don’t sleep on the band’s cover of the Metallica classic “Hit the Lights” from the 1982 debut record KILL EM ALL [Note: I am not linking the original song and record because fuck Metallica, and fuck you, too, Lars].
Standout Track ::That’s What Heaven Feels Like::

Father John Misty ::GOD’S FAVORITE CUSTOMER:: In the Drive By Truckers’ song “Ghost To Most,” Mike Cooley sings the line “saving everybody takes a man on a mission with a swagger that could set the world at ease…” After seeing Josh Tillman’s Father John Misty this past summer, it’s possible Cooley found his candidate. Seeing an artist live can completely color how one experiences an artist’s recorded work - for better or worse. This was a case for the better as it made Father John Misty’s latest album-length spewing of Gen X. malaise much more palatable. In some worlds, GOD’S FAVORITE CUSTOMER and PURE COMEDY might make one hell of a double album with the similar themes of societal exhaustion after clinging to a myriad of false promises.
Standout Track ::Mr. Tillman::

Hurry ::EVERY LITTLE THOUGHT:: While heading to DC for a Nada Surf show, Spotify did that thing where it suggests music after whatever you’re listening to ends. At the end of the latest Hop Along record, Spotify played Philly-based Hurry’s song “Hanging On” with its Teenage Fanclub, fuzzy, power pop guitars and vocal phrasing not unlike John Davis’ from Superdrag and the Lees of Memory (listen to the way singer Matt Scottoline sings “I’m already hangin on…”) for an example. A mental note was made and the album was later spun. Turns out “Hanging On” was the perfect taste of what Hurry had to offer. Big guitars, lush vocal harmonies, and lots of power pop melodies. Since Philadelphia has recently been cranking out some big names in indie rock as of late (Hop Along, Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs), it is easy to overlook some of the other amazing acts that call the City of Brotherly Love home. Don’t sleep on Hurry if you’re a fan of Teenage Fanclub, Nada Surf, Superdrag, or the Bigger Lovers.
Standout Track ::Separation::

Marie/Lepanto ::Tenkiller:: This one almost came in at #10, but in the end, it was ‘thinly’ [pun intended] edged out. This record evokes a lot of near-and-dear imagery given it’s roots in the Ozarks (Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma) where the songwriting duo of Will Johnson [centro-matic, South San Gabriel, a million other bands] and Justin Peter Kinkel Shuster [Water Liars] have ties. Johnson and Shuster’s voices perfectly compliment one another over songs that sound like they could be outtakes from a lost Crazy Horse session, while also offering softer morsels, like Shuster’s finest song to date, “Tenkiller.”
Standout Track ::Tenkiller::

Mess ::COMFORT CREATURE:: Baltimore Maryland is known for its enduring punk scene, largely overshadowed by New York and DCs hardcore scenes that gained traction in the 80s and 90s. Indeed, Baltimore still boasts a stalwart punk scene, but there is also a budding scene of kids who are starting bands that embrace their parents music: grunge. In that spirit, Mess sounds like they’ve been ingesting a steady diet of Sunny Day Real Estate, Hum, Dinosaur Jr., Codeine, and Seaweed. Don’t be dismayed by the scant 4 songs on this EP, which clocks in at 21 minutes. This record is nostalgia heaven for those who grew up watching 120 minutes, looking for the next ‘it’ band. Also check out the band’s 2017 release TREE, whose 7 songs could easily be sequenced with the four songs on COMFORT CREATURE to create an LP-length playlist.
Standout Track ::Worrybody:: [Note: Frederick, Maryland readers - check out Mess at Cafe Nola on January 5th, 2019]

Mr. Husband ::SILVERTONE and OCEAN PINES:: We’ve opined about the budding, yet underground music scene in Frederick, while simultaneously lamenting the lack of a proper venue (see the end of this post for a review). A pillar of the Frederick music scene is Kenny Tompkins, or as he would say: “but that’s Mr. Husband 2U…” Tompkins released two full-length records this year under his Mr. Husband moniker; SILVERTONE, with it’s full, three-piece band treatment delivering dreamy pop songs that any fan of the Beach Boys/Brian Wilson could find common musical ground and OCEAN PINES, a lilting, quiet, solo effort drawing from Tompkins love of classic country music and Hawaiian steel guitar. Lots to love here from a talented individual with a broad musical and songwriting palate.
Standout Tracks ::Living in Dreams (SILVERTONE):: ::Stranger for a While (OCEAN PINES)::

Ovlov ::TRU:: Man…if you cue up Ovlov’s TRU, make sure nothing valuable is nearby and/or not tethered down, because the huge opening guitars of “Baby Alligator” might have you thrashing around the room in an instant. SUUUPER fuzzy and BIG guitars are abundant alongside dirty, distorted, buried vocals. This is the band’s first record in 5 years, as they’ve apparently had some difficulty keeping things together during the decade they’ve been around. Like the band’s history, TRU sounds like a record that could split apart at the seams any moment. It’s glorious. Hell, even Pitchfork liked it! We recommend paring this record alongside Mess’s COMFORT CREATURE for a nostalgic fuzz-buzz.
Standout Track ::Short Morgan::

Nick Piunti ::TEMPORARY HIGH:: Last year, Tommy Stinson released ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN via his Bash and Pop project. Fans of the Replacements rejoiced as the songs on ANYTHING tickled their Replacements-depraved ears. If those ears still thirst for that sound, you may want to give Nick Piunti’s 2018 release TEMPORARY HIGH a spin. This record seemed to come from out of nowhere, with little to no acclaim, despite Piunti putting roots in his native Detroit’s power pop scene starting back in the 1970s. This record is worth a listen if you enjoy 70s power pop and Replacements-style rock n roll.
Standout Track ::You Invented Hell::

S. Carey ::HUNDRED ACRES:: Folk may recognize the name S.[ean] Carey as one of the 437 musicians accompanying Justin Vernon on stage with Bon Iver. Carey’s music comes from the same corner of the musical spectrum as Vernon’s. Its distant, layered, and atmospheric landscape is easy to get lost in while listening. This is a great “cold weather” record and was much enjoyed this past winter.
Standout Track ::Rose Petals:: [Note: fans of Will Arnett’s Netflix show Flaked may recognize this song from S2]

Sloan ::12:: Not many bands can say “this is our 12th record.” Alas, Canadian power-pop stalwarts Sloan released record number 12 and what a ride it’s been since 1992’s SMEARED. When a band has such a vast catalog, it is tough to avoid playing the “it’s their best since…” game, but this record does seem to be stronger from a musical and songwriting standpoint than some of the band’s more recent releases. These ears think that 12 combines all the best elements of 1998’s NAVY BLUES and 1999’s BETWEEN THE BRIDGES; pop hooks for days, three and four-part vocal harmonies, oooohs and ahhhs, sing-along choruses, and fucking hand claps! All wrapped in a modern-day classic rock canvass painted by the likes of KISS, The Beatles, The Kinks, and Boston. So if that is the Sloan of your heart’s desire, give 12 a spin.
Standout Track ::The Day Will Be Mine::

The Rank Stranger’s Top Ten Records of 2018

10. Thin Lips ::CHOSEN FAMILY:: Philadelphia, y’all!! Killin it in 2018. Thanks to Frances Quinlan, who, at a Hop Along show earlier this year at the 9:30 Club, introduced multi-instrumentalist Chrissy Tasjian as having “a badass band called Thin Lips…” When CHOSEN FAMILY was released in July, it immediately found heavy rotation on the Spotifys. Tasjian crafts catchy pop punk songs that become the earworms you enjoy having stuck in your head. The record starts with Tasjian relating a story about her six-year old self having a dream about seeing a naked woman, waking, and running downstairs to consult her mother, noting that she was afraid she was gay - she was frightened because she didn’t want to go to Hell. Now, as an open member of the LGBTQ community, her songs speak to relationships that span the spectrum. For example, arguably anyone can relate to songs with titles such as “I Know That I’m the Asshole” or “Sex is Complicated” or “What’s So Bad About Being Lonely”. The guitars on this record are huge, which are punctuated by a two-coats-of-paint-tight rhythm section (who are a joy to watch on this Audiotree performance - that bass, y’all!). Pumped to see Thin Lips at Songbyrd Music Cafe in DC on January 28th with Delaware’s Grace Vonderkuhn! If you take a chance on ONE record listed here, let it be this one.
Standout Track ::South America::

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9. Leon Bridges ::GOOD THING:: If you read a barrage of “best of” lists that have been published, several have listed Janelle Monae’s DIRTY COMPUTER as one of - if not their favorite - record of the year. They herald how Monae took some of the difficult events of her life and set them to pop music inspired by icons such as Prince and Michael Jackson. Maybe these folks didn’t pay attention to Leon Bridges’s GOOD THING, but you could literally replace her name with his and swap the album titles and the same rings true. On GOOD THING, Bridges gambles on a hard 180 degree turn, abandoning his Sam Cooke comfort zone and putting up 10 songs flavored with contemporary and throwback R&B and pop - some songs in the style of Prince (If It Feels Good [Then It Must Be]), and Michael Jackson (Forgive You; You Don’t Know). The songs deal openly with the difficult subject of a romantic relationships - a topic he was nervous singing about because, given the autobiographic nature of the songs, his mother would learn about some behaviors that she would not agree with. But with this leap (musically, personally, and nervously), GOOD THING settles into a stride…then to a swagger that might take a few attempts to love, but will be worth the effort.
Standout Track ::Beyond::

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8. Jim Shorts ::HALO REPAIR:: The third local/regional release on this list (see Mr. Husband and Mess above), Frederick’s Jim Shorts, the project of recent Chattanooga Tennessee expat David Haynes, tugs at all the heartstrings I possess tuned to my love for Built to Spill. Haynes is not bashful about citing Built to Spill and Doug Martsch as influences, but one spin of HALO REPAIR and you wouldn’t need him to relate this fact. These songs traipse territory often found on the more Americana/Alt-country releases often filling these ears: travel up and down long highways to get back to a loved one. Indeed, Haynes chronicles his road trips between Chattanooga (where he was attending school) to Frederick, Maryland (where his now-wife was living). On these long trips, Haynes had a lot of time to think and write. Some songs (i.e., “24,000”) are directly about getting back to see his wife, others are about talking to yourself (“Meet the Author”) which you can imagine happens quite a bit on long, solo road trips, and learning what happens after we die (“Broadcasting Cosmic Silence”). Though only in his mid-twenties, Haynes has forty (40!) individual releases on his bandcamp page. HALO REPAIR is leaps and bounds the most realized effort to date.
Standout Track ::Tree of Life, MD::

7. Superchunk ::WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE:: Not much to add to what’s been said elsewhere about Superchunk’s latest, and 11th album in their 30-year career as a band. Eleven songs, 32 minutes, and punk-as-fuck. These songs eviscerate the current Presidential administration and point out the absurdities of 2018 America. When President Trump was elected in 2016, there was a call to musicians and artists to use their craft to create a rallying message. Not sure that Superchunk achieve that goal with WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE, but I sure as hell want to fuck a lot of shit up when I listen to this record!
Standout Track ::Black Thread::

6. John Paul Keith ::HEART SHAPED SHADOW:: “Throwback music” can be hit or miss. Some groups have capitalized on it - like soul artists Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, or Charles Bradley (RIP to both), or country artists such as Sturgill Simpson, Zephaniah OHora, and Margo Price. For other artists, such as the aforementioned Leon Bridges, the throwback style didn’t last (and perhaps the same could be said for Sturgill). Some of these artists have been accused of capitalizing on a fad; however, this is not the case for Memphis songwriter John Paul Keith. Though he’s dabbled in pop rock (Stateside), and alt-country with a really early version of the V-Roys, Keith seems to have found his calling in crafting a Memphis style rock-n-roll that not only pulls from various legends that stood on the black-tape ‘X’ in Sun Studios, but also attempts to preserve their legacy by incorporating their sound into his original songs. HEART SHAPED SHADOW is JPK’s first full-length solo record since 2013’s MEMPHIS CIRCA 3AM - and a LOT has happened in those five years. Relationships started. Relationships ended. More relationships started. More relationships ended. Band members came and went. New bands were formed (Motel Mirrors). Songwriters Block. Much of the five years is documented in HEART SHAPED SHADOW. The songs are simplistic, but not simple, familiar but new. And his band, including now longtime drummer Shawn Zorn, and veteran bassist Preston Rumbaugh, and Memphis giant Rick Steff filling on on keys are absolutely on fire. This might be the most fun record on this list.
Standout Track ::Leave Them Girls Alone::

5. Pinegrove ::SKYLIGHT:: First, we can side-step a discussion about the accusation levied against Pinegrove’s Evan Stephens Hall nor the post-mortem take after the band’s hiatus because SKYLIGHT was completed and set for release before all this went down. Records are a snapshot of a band at a specific time. Numerous factors contribute to the singular magic during a recording session that cannot be captured at subsequent recording sessions or on subsequent records. That said, SKYLIGHT stands in a parallel world, unmarred by the fallout and rebuilding since the #MeToo accusation. Pinegrove’s 2016 CARDINAL (now out as an expanded edition) was a juggernaut for musical partners Evan Stephens Hall and Zack Levine - one that amassed to sold out tours, world travel, and the purchasing of a house-turned-studio in upstate New York, a quieter change from the band’s home base spanning New York City and Montclair, New Jersey. Before the media fallout, the band was perched in their new house/studio, recording songs new and old for the anticipated follow-up to CARDINAL. The songs on SKYLIGHT still feature the same shape-like, circular lyricism Hall favors (i.e., “Take a rectangle and tangle your head” on “Intrepid”) or conjuring imagery from prior records with mentions of a “cardinal” and “ampersand” in “Rings”. Indeed, new recordings old songs (i.e., “Angelina”) are more fully realized. Lyrically, the record eerily seems to be written from the perspective of someone holed-up, or walled-in from an outside world that is bright, loud, and generally caustic. If only the narrator could just stay inside all day and hang out with the friends he loves, maybe it will all be ok. Clearly the narrator is navigating a new world that is wholly different from the one familiar to him just a few years ago. Since the release of SKYLIGHT, Pinegrove has successfully completed a mini tour, and has all but sold out all shows on their current tour. Despite the atmosphere currently surrounding the band, whether justified or not, Pinegrove definitely enhances their already strong catalog of music with SKYLIGHT.
Standout Track ::Darkness::

4. Bat Fangs ::BAT FANGS:: The year of the riff continues. North Carolina by way of Washington DC band Bat Fangs isn’t reinventing the wheel with their riff-driven rock n roll, but they’re definitely crafting their own, better model by building on existing blueprints. The duo or Betsy Wright (Ex Hex) and Laura King (Flesh Wounds) crafted a blistering record - 9 songs clocking in at 25 minutes - that draws from female rock icons such as Pat Benatar, Heart, and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Wright can slay a guitar, and King’s drumming could cause an avalanche if she’s not careful. This record is HUGE in all the right ways and makes me wish I still had my old 1986 Chevy Camaro. Hell, I might even take up smoking Marlboro reds and hanging out front of the local arcade…or [insert 80’s badass imagery here]. After seeing Bat Fangs open for Superchunk early on in 2018, and watching Betsy and Laura just own the stage - giving Superchunk a run for their money - I hoped - and still hope - that every parent with a teenage daughter will 1) See Bat Fangs live, 2) buy their daughter(s) the Bat Fangs record, 3) buy their daughter(s) a guitar, bass, or drums and 4) hope the daughter(s) put two and two together, form a bitchin rock band, and show all these sad bois how shit gets done!
Standout Track ::Boys of Summer::

3. Ruston Kelly ::DYING STAR:: Nashville Tennessee typically conjures up a certain image. The neon lights of the touristy bars and honky tonks along Broadway, aging country music stars bedazzled in sequins and Nudie suits singing at the Grand Ol Opry, or maybe arena-sized venues with massive concerts featuring names like Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, and Florida Georgia Line. But there is another Nashville. A darker, smaller-scale Nashville on the east side of the river where scrappy bands get gigs at the 5 Spot, close down the bar at Mickey’s, then stumble home just hours before the sun comes up, coming down from a string of consecutive nights drunk and/or high. This is the Nashville featured on Ruston Kelly’s DYING STAR. Though for all the rough edges around DYING STAR’s narrators (many of whom are probably Kelly himself), there is an certain polish, or ‘Nashville sheen’ to this record that almost disconnects the story from the song. Rightfully so, as Kelly, who has been a songwriter in Nashville for more than a couple years, signed a record deal with Rounder Records (typically a label for bluegrass artists, but has branched out to a more roots music-based palate under president John P. Strohm), and the label seems to have really opened the purse as Kelly created this record. In addition, Kelly’s songs have been recorded by Tim McGraw and the Josh Abbott Band - and though not yet released, “Trying to Let Her” (from DYING STAR) has been recorded by Kenny Chesney. So the “Nashville sheen” on DYING STAR shouldn’t be all that shocking. But the songs…and Kelly’s voice, which sounds like some mashup between Kurt Cobain and A.A. Bondy cuts right through that sheen like a smoker’s cough. Ruston Kelly has a hell of a story to tell…from kicking hard drugs and alcohol, his marriage to Americana darling Kacey Musgraves, and touring with his pedal steel guitar playing father Tim Kelly, DYING STAR is just the start to Ruston Kelly’s story. Since hearing this record, on the days I wake up with a song in my head, 90% of the time it’s a song from DYING STAR.
Standout Track ::Mockingbird::


2. The Beths ::FUTURE ME HATES ME:: In 2016, a quartet from New Zealand dropped a five-song EP called WARM BLOOD. It was stellar. At a glance, with a name like “The Beths”, the band may have been misconstrued as a 60s vocal girl group ('i.e., the Shirelles, the Shondells, etc). But the opening guitar lines from “Whatever” quickly put that assumption to rest. Before the year would end, WARM BLOOD would disappear from Spotify and other streaming/music sites. Thankfully, under the direction of the fine folks at Carpark Records, not only did WARM BLOOD resurface on streaming sites, but so did the Beth’s debut LP FUTURE ME HATES ME. Y’all…this record is pure kiwi power pop goodness. Primary singer and songwriter Liz Stokes sighs her awkward tales of reckoning - with relationships, with past mistakes, and with…well, “Whatever.” Stokes, flanked by lead guitarist and FUTURE ME producer Jonathan Pearce, drive the songs with crisp and crunchy guitars while rhythm section Benjamin Sinclair (bass) and Ivan Johnston (drums) hold down the fort. If you catch the Beths live, prepare for an adorable and awkward display of humility, gentleness, and fucking badass musicianship. They’re a must-see if they come near your town. My tickets for their DC show on March 2nd have already been purchased! Hopefully touring drummer Katie Ham will be smacking the brass again!
Standout Track ::Not Running::


1. Adam Faucett & the Tall Grass ::IT TOOK THE SHAPE OF A BIRD:: Adam Faucett’s voice is an Arkansas treasure. On his finest record to date, Adam Faucett and his band the Tall Grass (consisting of bassist Jonathan “Johnny D” Dodson and drummer Chad Conder) wring another slate of songs out of the humid air and arid silt of the eastern Arkansas flatlands. These songs, like much of Faucett’s catalog, would be an ideal sountrack to a muggy summer float trip down some Arkansas river. The characters in these songs would be the people you might see along the bank…a dysfunctional extended family trying to care for one of their own who was orphaned after both parents died and her brother went off to Africa (“King Snake”) or the world weary folks trying to kick various addictions (“Dust”). The songs on BIRD ponder navigating life as an outsider (“Ancient Chord”; “Living on the Moon”) and grinding through year after year, setback after setback all in the name of doing what you love. For example, many of us can probably identify with the opening lines of “Axe” where Faucett sings “Put an axe to the same oak since early ‘01, she still stands tall, unaware, all I’ve done…” The songs, though covered in a gritty, gnarly, surface all contain a diamond within: Faucett’s voice. High, lonesome, booming, angry, timid - it matches whatever emotion the song presents. And Dodson and Conder perfectly match the tone of the song…be it full-throttle through a rapid or lilting along in calm water. This is Adam Faucett & the Tall Grass at their absolute best.
Standout Track ::King Snake::

Shows Attended in 2018

Since moving to the DC Metro, I’ve had to learn a few things…most importantly that if I want to see a show in either DC or Baltimore, I will need to buy tickets in advance, or the show damn well may sell out. Even with being shut out of a few here and there, I still managed to attend 52 shows in 2018 (counting the three-day multi-act, multi-stage White Water Tavern Holiday Hangout as one). Here are the shows attended with the bracketed number being the show number, followed by the date, the band(s)/artist(s), the venue, and the city.

[1]. 01/19/2018 Middle Kid/Violet Ripken/Mess; Cafe Nola, Frederick, MD 

[2]. 02/15/2018 Superchunk/Bat Fangs; Ottobar, Baltimore MD*

[3]. 03/07/2018 Nada Surf; the Black Cat, Washington DC*

[4]. 03/09/2018 Grace Vonderkuhn/Double Motorcycle/Gorpho; Guido’s Speakeasy, Frederick MD

[5]. 03/30/2018 John Paul Keith/Motel Mirrors; Railgarten, Memphis TN

[6]. 04/19/2018 Julien Baker/Tancred; The Chameleon Club, Lancaster PA*

[7]. 04/20/2018 Marie/Lepanto/PSALMSHIPS; DC9, Washington DC

[8]. 04/21/2108 The Decemberists/Tennis; The Anthem, Washington DC*

[9]. 04/24/2018 The Darkness/Diarrhea Planet; Ram’s Head Live, Baltimore MD*

[10]. 04/25/2018 Durand Jones & the Indications/Aztec Sun/Super City; The Ottobar, Baltimore MD*

[11]. 04/26/2018 Sarah Shook & The Disarmers/Zephaniah OHora; Pearl Street Warehouse, Washington DC

[12]. 04/30/2018 Modest Mouse/Mass Gothic; The Anthem, Washington DC*

[13]. 05/02/2018 Jim Shorts/Cheshi (acoustic)/Too Soon Jokes; The Ottobar, Baltimore MD

[14]. 05/05/2018 Middle Kid/Lucas Laws @ Frederick Friends Fest Memorial to Colleen Magrann Morin; Friends of the Eagles, Frederick MD

[15]. 05/05/2018 Ani DiFranco/Gracie & Rachel; 9:30 Club, Washington DC*

[16]. 05/18/2018 Mr. Husband/Michael Nau/Ghost Baby; 11:11 Cafe, Frederick MD

[17]. 6/12/18 Snail Mail/Bonny Doon; Black Cat, Washington DC*

[18]. 6/14/18 The Beths/Lavender; Songbyrd, Washington DC*

[19]. 6/16/2018 Strange Wayne/The Stereophonic Heartbreak/ Middle Kid; Cafe Nola, Frederick MD

[20]. 6/17/2018 Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks/Lithics; The Black Cat, Washington DC

[21]. 6/21/3028 Lee Bains IIII and the Glory Fires/Bad Moves/The Sniffs; Songbyrd, Washington DC*

[22]. 6/22/2018 Ghost Baby/Aether Fields/ Lucas Laws; 11:11 Cafe, Frederick, MD

[23]. 6/27/2018 Zephaniah OHora; Stage on Herr, Harrisburg, PA*

[24]. 7/12/2018 Snail Mail/Bonny Doon/Romantic States; Parkway Theater, Baltimore, MD*

[25]. 7/14/2018 John Moreland/Old Heavy Hands; The V Club, Huntington, WV*

[26]. 7/21/2018 Jim Shorts (solo); Cafe Nola, Frederick, MD

[27]. 7/22/2018 Chatham County Line/Kate Rhudy; Ram’s Head On Stage, Annapolis, MD

[28]. 7/26/2018 The Hold Steady/Beach Slang; Union Transfer, Philadelphia, PA*

[29]. 7/27/2018 The Smashing Pumpkins/Metric; Royal Farms Arena, Baltimore, MD*

[30]. 8/1/2018 Father John Misty/Jenny Lewis; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC*

[31]. 8/9/2018 Qiet; Pearl Street Warehouse, Washington D.C.*

[32]. 8/13/2018 Jim Shorts/Suggested Friends (UK)/Flooring; Soap City (House Show), Frederick, MD

[33]. 9/15/2018 Ghost Baby/Cheshi (solo); Area 31, Frederick, MD

[34]. 9/15/2018 Mr. Husband; Cafe Nola, Frederick, MD

[35]. 9/17/2018 Neko Case/Thao Nguyen; Whitaker Center, Harrisburg,PA*

[36]. 9/21/2018 Dinosaur Jr.; The Black Cat, Washington DC

[37]. 09/29/2018 Vita and the Woolf/Super City; The Ottobar, Baltimore, MD*

[38]. 10/5/2018 Baby Razors; Guidos, Frederick, MD

[39]. 10/06/2016 The Thing: Cosmic Hallitosis, Flooring, Jim Shorts, Middle Kid, Cheshi, Mr. Husband; Frederick, MD*

[40]. 10/10/2018 Leema/serpentwithfeet; The Ottobar, Baltimore, MD*

[41]. 10/12/2018 Adam Faucett; Capital Ale House, Richmond, VA

[42]. 10/14/2018 The Beths w/ Nowadays; Songbyrd Cafe and Music House, Washington DC*

[43] 10/17/2018 Middle Kid (solo)/Silent Old Mts (solo) 11:11 Cafe Frederick, MD

[44]. 10/27/2018 Ruston Kelly w/ Katie Pruitt; Jammin Java, Vienna, VA

[45]. 10/27/2018 Cheshi w/ Fun Boys; Cafe Nola, Frederick, MD

[46]. 10/31/2018 Rasputina; City Winery, Washington DC*

[47]. 11/16/2018 Amasa Hines w/ Hermeda; Songbyrd Cafe and Music House, Washington DC*

[48]. 11/29/2018 Gurf Morlix; White Water Tavern, Little Rock, AR*

[49]. 11/30/2018 through 12/2/2018 The 2018 White Water Tavern Holiday Hangout; White Water Tavern, Little Rock, AR*

  • Friday 11/30/2018: Matt Woods; Isaac Hoskins and the Glass Mountain Orchestra; Kim Nall & The Fringe; DEADnettles; Tim Easton; 6 String Drag; Lee Bains and the Glory Fires

  • Saturday 12/1/2018: Songwriter in the Round at Lost Forty Brewing featuring Kevin Kerby, Isaac Alexander, Todd May, and Tim Easton. 

  • Saturday 12/1/2018: Hangout at the White Water Tavern; Dazz & Brie, Hanmel on Trial, Stephen Neeper and the Wild Hearts, J Kutchma & Chasing 76, John Calvin Abney, Slobberbone

  • Sunday 12/2/2018: Shane Sweeney, Jim Mize, John Paul Keith, Joshua Ray Walker, Cary Hudson, Brent Best

[50]. 12/7/2018 Baby Razors, Little Lungs, Mess; Guido’s, Frederick, MD

[51]. 12/11/2018 Jim Shorts (David solo), Vista Kicks; DC9, Washington D.C.

[52]. 12/15/2018 Baby Razors, Hex Girlfriends, Cheshi; Cafe Nola, Frederick, MD

*Indicates a show where the ladyfriend accompanied me. This is why our relationship works. She is the bist!!!

A Growing and Incomplete Playlist of Frederick Local (and Regional) Artists/Bands

So…D’y’all Like Local Music?

I have no doubt that the few people who have discovered this blog since we launched it less than a year ago are already familiar with The Thing - a one-day, multi-venue music festival featuring and highlighting local musical talent - that will be going down Saturday October 6th.

The Thing.jpg

This will be our first Thing (though we recall hearing about it last year, but feel like we were out of town the weekend it went down). So it should go without saying, being huge fans of local music, that we’re pretty pumped about it.

In fact, the Thing reminds us a little of the humble beginnings of Fayetteville, Arkansas’ Block Street Block Party, which started as a small, kid-friendly festival along Block Street, with games, local artisan vendors, food trucks, local music, and lotsa booze (as Block Street was home to several local watering holes in our college town).

So the idea of hopping around from venue to venue has appeal. In our minds, we’re thinking this might be something akin to a SUUUUPER scaled-down South by Southwest, but with hometown appeal like the Block Street Block Party.


We’ve been doing our homework since launching The Strangers Almanac keenly taking notes on the Frederick music scene’s offerings. Recently, we decided to take playbook page from this one dude in Richmond VA who created a Spotify Playlist of local and regional Richmond punk/rock/indie bands that helped us learn the lay of the scene right after we moved there. It was a great resource during our short tenure in the River City.

Not long after moving to Fredrick, we became aware of The Frederick Playlist’s coverage of local music, and their role in bringing us The Thing…but we have yet to find a place where you can get a cache of local artists’ recorded output - including those performing at the Thing. The closest we got was this rad google sheet of local artists that was curated by Middle Kid’s Zack Willis.

That all said, we started with Zak’s list and began to cobble together a running playlist that not only includes some of our favorite local indie bands (i.e., Cheshi, Middle Kid, Jim Shorts, Flooring, Gloop, Mess, Mr. Husband, Cosmic Halitosis, J-Berd, Michael Nau, Double Motorcycle, Miss Lonelyheart, and Although), but also recently updated it to include some of the folks who will be performing at the Thing.

Ergo, if you’re anything like us, and simply seeing the name of a band only whets your appetite, then hopefully you’ll get some more gravy for your biscuits by listening to our berth of local talent through this playlist.

We’ve turned the “comments” on for this post, so please, let us know which local/regional Frederick artists who have a record on Spotify we are missing!

See y’all at the thing!

Frederick Double-Header: Ghost Baby/Cheshi @ Area 31 and Mr. Husband @ Cafe Nola Saturday Sept. 15, 2018

Yeah…we’re posting this WAY after the fact, but…


Man…we’re getting there.

For all of the hemming and hawing we’ve done here at the Stranger’s Almanac about needing to breather some life into “the scene” (assuming one exists in Frederick), Saturday September 15th was evidence that we’re getting there.

Because…if you have to decide which show to catch on a given night because two stellar shows are occurring at the same time - that is a GOOD thing.

Saturday brought us a cavalcade of local music scene juggernauts: Ghost Baby (the solo project of Olivia Solomon, of Austin and Oliva fame) and Ashli Cheshire, (of Cheshi fame) teaming up to play a quiet but heavy show at Area 31. Afterward/during, the purveyors of wonderment and friendship, Mr. Husband, were also booked to close down Cafe Nola on the same night - with starting set times about an hour apart. We decided to catch the beginning of the Ghost Baby and Cheshi (solo) show before popping over to Nola to catch Mr. Husband and their brand of jangle pop.

Ghost Baby & Cheshi @ Area 31

Y’all. Ghost Baby’s set was harmony central. But before we get into that, let’s rap a sec about Area 31

From the website: “Area 31 is a space that will evolve with the artists and patrons who participate. Not only is it home to a collection of filmmakers, editors, artists, Frederick’s 72 Film Fest, Archai Media, and and atrhouse theater, the space is available for rent and is host to unique events and seminars. We are here to make it easier for others to create more of whatever drives them.


We’ve not yet witnessed any of the other shows at this space, but we’re gonna keep our eyes peeled. However, we would be remiss if we did not note that the price tag associated with renting the space seems a bit prohibitive. If we are reading the pricing accurately, it cost $750 to put on this show. - meaning you would need to get 75 bodies in the room at $10/per to break even.

Come on, Frederick. Not sure that is making it “easier for other to create more of what drives them” … but we’ll reserve our thoughts on this for another post.

Not there were 75 bodies in the room on this particular night (the cover was $10), so we’re dubious about this show ‘breaking even’ - but if it didn’t, that’s a damn shame. Because it was special.

Despite the above dig on rental pricing, Area 31 is a great venue. No stage, but there is a makeshift bar as you enter, and the room where the music took place was sizable - and could be a full-legit music venue if there was a dedicated stage and PA. On the adjacent wall to the area where the ‘stage’ was set, there was a large screen on which a black and white film of landscapes pictured upside down was displayed - soliciting more than one joke about Stranger Things.

Full disclosure: this image was stolen from Ghost Baby’s Insta or Facebook, or Myspace page…so photo credit goes to the person who took it.

Full disclosure: this image was stolen from Ghost Baby’s Insta or Facebook, or Myspace page…so photo credit goes to the person who took it.

All that aside, the space really was #RadAF. Olivia and Ashli spent some time decorating the “stage” area with LED candles, and crazy taxidermied lamps of some weird shit involving deer hooves and lots of floral-y stuff. It was incredibly fitting for the atmospheric sounds that were about to fill the room.

As noted, Ghost Baby is the solo project of Olivia Solomon. She’s been active on SoundCloud posting her own music (and some covers) for about 5 months. It is hard to pin-down her sound with a simple ‘Recommended If You Like’ (RIYL), but on this particular evening, Ghost Baby upped the ante by inviting Ashli Cheshire to the set sing harmony and play some lead guitar.

Holy shit.

There were moments of the set where Olivia and Ash singing together sounded like Neko Case (and we feel confident in that assessment having recently seen Neko Case in Harrisburg, PA). Given, the only time we’ve seen Ash play was a solo set in Baltimore at the Ottobar opening for Frederick locals Jim Shorts, it was nice to see this artist in a different context - in this case, adding additional layers of sound and soaring vocal harmonies to this set of Ghost Baby songs [after a year of living in Frederick, we’ve yet to catch a full-band Cheshi show (which will be rectified when they play The Thing this fall)].

Ghost Baby y Cheshi

Everything about this set clicked. From the bizarre, yet kinda rad “stage” to the overall vibe of the crowd and the room - which meshed well with the songs themselves. Ghost Baby’s sound is ethereal. Though, perhaps ‘haunting’ is the better adjective here. The crowd was engaged and quiet (which has not been our experience when attending shows of this ilk while living elsewhere). Despite the skeletal setup of two electric guitars, two amps, and two microphones, these two artists painted every wall with a pretty lush sound. Olivia was plugged into an “organ”-like effect that created a layered, swelling sound with each strum. Her guitar laid a droning landscape that allowed hers and Ashli’s vocals (and their lead guitar) to soar above.

It was gorgeous.

Here, have yourself a listen:

Ghost Baby’s set seemed to end just as soon as it had begun. reluctantly, we bid farewell to Area 31 for the embrace of Cafe Nola and the trio from out of the 4th Dimension, Mr. Husband. Again, all apologies to Cheshi for missing their solo set, but to atone for these sins, we’re gonna be front and center for y’all at the Thing!

Mr. Husband at Cafe Nola

Mr. Husband Nola 9-15.png

If you’ve never seen Mr. Husband before…well…we’ll just say you’re missing a wild ride. Mr. Husband’s sets are just bananas. Before a note of music is struck, you more than likely notice frontman Kinny Husband’s ‘getup‘, which , we should note, has been the same for every show we’ve been privy to attending. From the ground up: black Vans, black denim jeans, dark indigo denim jacket (buttoned-closed) over a white turtle neck, bright-colored faux Ray-Ban shades, and a red, white, and blue bandanna holding back a massive, long, black wig of hair. In fact, he looks a lot like the dude in the photo to the right.

Durning the set, there are lots of references to friendship, wonderment, the 4th Dimension, and just how good each song has been to Kinny and the boys.

If you’re thinking " Come ON, Stranger!! Bands who rely on gimmicks do so because they’re otherwise boring.”

Yeah. No.


Mr. Husband are tight. As two coats of paint. And their sound is completely dialed in (which is not easy to do in a room as echo-y as Nola). Also, for a three-piece, they bring a LOT of sound to the stage. There is something to be said about a good power trio who knows how to listen to each other when playing and know how to play to the room. Mr. Husband’s songs are dreamy, poppy tunes chock-full of arpeggioed guitar that allows the song’s melody to bounce right across the room and into your head - where it will live for a while (not a bad thing). The tunes are filled in by the rhythm section of ‘Bassin’ Jasen Reeder and Chris Morris on the drums. Reeder’s bass lines compliment the bounce of the melodies while still keeping the low groove. Oh, and that in-between song banter about friendship, wonderment and the 4th Domension? It works. There is nothing about the character of Mr. Kenneth Husband that doesn’t seem like he might not be an actual dude you know. He’s not too extreme. He’s not too boring. It’s, as the kids would say, ‘gold!’

We missed much of the opening solo Kinny set, but if the two songs we did catch were an indication of the whole thing (a couple fun old country covers), it’s a shame we missed it (but, you know, Ghost Baby and Cheshi, yo). This begs the question about Mr. Husband’s penchant for country AND western music. The note accompanying the pre-release of OCEAN PINES on Mr. Husband’s bandcamp page suggests that he is steeped in this genre, which is interesting as much of the available output has more of a poppy, almost Beach Boys quality to it (please note that this is a compliment). But hey, we’re no Stranger [pun intended] to country and western music ourselves. So Kinny…[call us].

Mr. Husband’s OCEAN PINES is due out October 26, 2018. You can pre-order via the bandcamp link above (which will get you the title track as an instant download). Really, really looking forward to this record, fellas.

Good on you, Frederick!

So, yeah. More nights of lots of good music, please.

In fact, since this show took place, there have been a steady stream of excellent shows around town (some which we here at the Rank Stranger missed in favor of seeing Dinosaur Jr. at the Black Cat in DC). But we’re DEFINITELY looking forward to the Thing. Indeed, we hope to have a post (or two) about it. Maybe it will shut us up about the perceived fledging music scene here in Frederick!

[fun fact: Mr. Husband must have heard us on Nola’s patio earlier in the night lamenting the lack of stages in Frederick that could lend to a stronger scene because he looked out from the stage and commented that “things seem pretty, pretty awesome” that Saturday night at Nola. We agree, Kinny…we just want a lot more of that very thing!]

The Charm and the Key: Mess, Violet Ripken, and Middle Kid @ Cafe Nola, Frederick, Maryland January 19, 2018

A Level 5 Charm Spell was Cast on Me...

To look around Cafe Nola Friday night, you would never have known that a federal government shutdown was looming - unless you you were hovering over my shoulder, watching me frantically tweet and re-tweet about it while guzzling decaffeinated peppermint tea at the bar (I drop booze, caffeine, and do the whole clean-eating thing every January and February - don't @me). Maybe we all knew, but chose to ignore it because Baltimore band Mess was owning up to their "Charm City" base and winning over the room with catchy, melodic, alt-indie-pop.

Alexa...we DO need a druid...

Alexa...we DO need a druid...

Don't get me wrong, I was paying attention to the music - the tweets happened in-between songs and sets...honest.

Caveat: I'm new to Frederick. I moved here in July of 2017, and have been quietly finding my bearings. I've found several good bars, the city is quite walk-able thanks to a great park system, and I have been getting involved in local politics...but I still hadn't quite tapped into the music scene in Frederick. Hell, I am not really sure there is one (and I noted as much in a lengthly post on the city's subreddit page).

Friday Night was a breath of fresh air, though. Two bands from Baltimore (or 'Bawmer' for the locals) - Mess and Violet Ripken - made their way from Charm City to join locals Middle Kid in the Key City at Cafe Nola for what ended up being a pretty stellar night of live music.

You Mean, Like, The Crescent City?!??

I got to Cafe Nola around 9:30, ordered a caffeine-free peppermint tea, found a seat at the bar and posted up for the evening. My Facebook communique with Middle Kid frontman Zack Willis noted that the music would start at 10:00 PM.

Cafe Nola is a fine establishment. Much like such places in Virginia, from whence I just moved, places that serve alcohol must also serve food. The food at Nola is great. I've had several dishes there while trying to soak up the bourbon consumed at my weekly Drinking Liberally meetings held each Wednesday. One reason the meetings are held there is that for those abstaining from adult beverages, Nola also has a wide selection of coffee and teas available to patrons. In all, there's a lot of things going right for Nola...but it's not really a music venue. Indeed, some of what follows is not necessarily complaints...just, notes, if you will, for potential conversations in the future about how to make establishments that feature live music more closely resemble actual music venues (but again, more on that later)

There is a section of floor opposite the bar that is raised about four inches, and this is the "stage." It works in that it's tucked away from the main trafficked areas (i.e., the entrance and the bar), but the "stage" is so shallow that bands playing there set up in a line, that is, the drum kit is front-and-center, and each other musician lines up beside the drum kit on the left or right. From the player's perspective, this is a nightmare. It's difficult to watch/hear your fellow bandmates...and because of the shallow stage, monitor placement is, shall we say, less than ideal.

Uh, yeah...this is actually J Mascis' amp setup. Three Marshall "full stacks".

Uh, yeah...this is actually J Mascis' amp setup. Three Marshall "full stacks".

Also - it gets oppressively loud in the room (love you Etymotic, mean it!). And it is not like the bands are rolling in with three Marshall "full stacks" a'la J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. But even a power trio (Middle Kid) or four-piece band (Mess; Violet Ripken) are gonna blow the doors off the joint without much effort.

Further, the floor area is peppered with tables (after all, Nola is a restaurant). Indeed, some of the tables had been moved to clear the stage area and the floor directly in front of it. But the tables that remained had not been moved because they were bolted to the floor.

One positive of this setup is that it doesn't take much to make the room seem packed. And indeed, all of the tables were full and there were still folks standing near the front by the time Mess started playing...

What a Beautiful Mess.

According to their Bandcamp site, opening band Mess hails from Baltimore/Frederick (though introduced themselves as a Baltimore band). Unlike my usual routine before a show - I unfortunately did not look up all of the bands on the bill and preview their music. I have been jamming on the Middle Kid EP for a solid few weeks now and just didn't think to do so. So when the group kicked into "Lean" off their recently released TREE EP, I nearly did a spit take with my peppermint tea while spinning around to ensure I hadn't accidentally stepped into a T.A.R.D.I.S. and jumped with The Doctor back to the alternative rock halcyon days. Scanning the stage - flannel shirt? Check. Fender Jazzmaster guitar? Check! Doc Martens footwear?!? CHECK!

It's times like this that I am über thankful for things like Spotify and satellite radio, as they provide younger generations 24 hour instant access to arguably one of the more important eras of music over the past 50 years (again...don't @me). I have a feeling that the dudes in Mess - who are mayyybe mid- to late 20s - have several records in their collection with a 1991 to 1993 copyright date stamped on the back. I hear moments of Sunny Day Real Estate and Hum in their sound. This is all meant as a compliment. After a stellar one-two opening punch of "Lean" and "No Grovel About the Road" (I believe) off the EP, lead singer Erik greeted the crowd in a nervous/muted voice I am guessing was embellished for effect - because after these two songs, Mess had no reason to be shy.

We were treated to all the songs off the EP in what was an all too-short set. In between songs, Erik noted and thanked the other bands for inviting them to the bill and supporting them during the set, thanked the crowd and recognized/welcomed his parents sitting at the table stage center. Luckily for Mess, they now have at least one more fan than their moms and dads.

Their set was stellar. Lush with layered electric guitars that were just filthy with melody, strained/yearning vocals, and an incredibly right rhythm section. The crowd was attentive - likely because the band has a commanding presence. For any fan of that early 90s alt-rock sound, check out TREE on Bandcamp [or click the image above to listen on Spotify]. you'll probably dig it. If nothing else, enjoy the nostalgia.

You Mean, Like, The Iron' Man's Mother??

Violet Ripken WILDCARD.jpg

If you're a big fan of the Bawmer Oweeoes, then you probably recognize the name Violet Ripken as the mother of the greatest baseball player of all time: Cal Ripken Jr.

Yet the 1991 Golden Glove and MVP's mother was not hanging around Cafe Nola Friday night. Better yet, we got a female-fronted Baltimore thrash punk quartet with the same name. Where Mess brought melody and moderate rock tempos, Violet Ripken dialed the room up several notches with buzzsaw guitars, punching bass and drums, and operatic vocals from singer Melissa Weller's booming pipes.

Another short set, it sounded like the band rifled through all six songs on their WILDCARD EP plus a few more. Weller also noted that they were glad to be in Frederick as part of this bill. They were definitely a good fit in that both bands thus far had a punk/diy ethos, and it was a treat to get two different sounds.

No, Not the Aussie Three-Piece...They're Plural

Middle Kid YEAH SURE.jpg

Around midnight, Frederick-based power trio Middle Kid took the stage, lighting into two new songs not available on the 2016 YEAH SURE EP or the all acoustic WHINER. After greeting the crowd, front Middle Kid Zach Willis and band commenced with the YEAH SURE lead-off track "Shell" which, musically, sounds like something straight out of Chapel Hill indie stalwarts Superchunk's playbook. There is something to be said about songs that can see-saw two chords back and forth through the verse and chorus and still hold your attention. "Shell" is one of those songs. By the time the band hit the bridge, they were firing on all cylinders. Willis has a lively stage presence. Plenty of jumping around (and being that the band is a three piece, there was more room to do so) such that there were multiple times between songs where Willis had to reaffix his classes and beanie hat to his head. Following suit, the band delivered a short - but punchy and impactful set.

The new songs sounded like a sonic departure from what is available on YEAH SURE. I wouldn't be surprised if Willis had been listening heavily to WOWEE ZOWEE-era Pavement before penning them. Once again, meant as a compliment. To be more specific, the guitar lines on these new songs leaned more toward 'avant' than they did melodic. But that is just the opinion of one set of ears. Looking forward to hearing these songs as they gel. Regardless, I am happy to report that I have a new favorite band in Frederick...

If I Am A Stranger Now To You...I Will AlwayS Be...

This was a much-needed night of local/regional music for me. If you read the Reddit post I referenced above, you'll catch hints of my previous lives in Richmond, VA; Little Rock, AR; and Fayetteville, AR - all three places with strong music scenes - and in two of which where I was an active participant.

If you build it, they will come...

If you build it, they will come...

All of these cities had venues with stages. One benefit to playing in Arkansas is that bars are not required by law to serve food where alcohol was also served. So you could build a bar and a stage and you are golden. Virginia and Maryland have an arcane and bullshit puritanical law that doesn't allow for the construction of *just* a bar. So you're hamstrung into serving food at places that also serve alcohol.

That said, and I am completely spit-balling here, but I wonder if bar/restaurant owners in Frederick view live music as an auxiliary effort. As noted in the Reddit post, venues in Frederick don't really have "stages" - and those that do could possibly utilize their spaces better so that the stage area felt like a music venue.

I am beginning to hear whispers. And a recent one is that the owner of Cafe Nola recently bought the entire building that houses the establishment. That building has three floors. The whispers tell me that there may be plans to put a barcade in on the second floor. While barcades are fun, I can't help but think this is a mistake. Hear me out...

Turn the upstairs of Cafe Nola into a legit music venue with a stage and an upstairs bar. The upstairs bar does not have to be as stocked as the main restaurant bar downstairs. Put someone at the door to collect cover and slap wristbands on those who pay it; these folks can traverse up-and downstairs as they please. If you just want to come to Nola to hang and drink/eat sans music...then you can chill downstairs in the restaurant.

This only works if the music scene in Frederick comes together to help a place like Nola profit from such a venture. And that means putting on shows, then promoting the holy fuck out of those shows, ensuring folks come to the venue, and spend their money (on food, booze what have you). All sides of the music community (bands/artists, fans, and venue owners) need to come together on this. Nola could/would be the place where the "scene kids" (I don't mean that pejoratively) of the music community would hang out. They would see it as "their bar." Fans would hopefully follow suit - because if you have a vibrant music scene, it's kinda rad to run into artists and musicians you may have just seen on stage last week knocking back beers in the same place where you and your friends are hanging out. I've lived in places where this is the norm. Indeed, it is pretty rad.

Over the next few weeks and months, I hope to turn the above into a larger conversation with the music and venue communities. I don't yet know whether or not I will chronicle it here, because who the fuck am I? But there are several other well-established Frederick outfits that might be a more appropriate venue for this conversation (such as the Frederickland Blog, the Subversive Zine, or maybe the Western Machines Blog - which recently published a post sharing this sentiment).

Hopefully some local Frederick folk in the know will read this and reach out.

Til then...

The Year In (End) Review...2017


I am tired of moving. I am in my 4th house in the third "new" town since graduating from my doctoral program in May of 2013. This move puts me a little closer to the old homeplace in Pennsylvania though, which, on one hand, is kinda cool...but also not quite what I had planned.

I didn't want to leave Richmond. But a job opportunity presented itself in Frederick, Maryland, and the money was right. So here I be. Only an hour from Baltimore and the District, so I got that going for me. And it is a quaint little city...though it still needs a personality of its own. The city is thankfully liberal/progressive, but that purples a bit when you get out into the county. I dunno... considering a run for one of the open Frederick County School Board seats. What do you think?

Looking at the dearth of shows I attended in 2017 compared to years' past, I can't help but blame the pretty wretched car accident I was involved in back in March of 2017. I was at a stoplight and a fella in a minivan rear-ended me without braking. Thankfully, nobody was seriously injured (the minivan was carrying an entire family - two adults, three children, and the dog), except my trusty 2013 Toyota Prius; the first *new* car I ever bought. I put over 100,000 miles on that car - mostly road-tripping to shows. Anyway, I did discover the wonders of chiropractic medicine. So there's that.

But hey, I wound up buying another "winter grey" 2013 Toyota Prius. And I still got my travels in. Trips to North Carolina, Arkansas, Nashville, Tennessee, DC and Baltimore - and a fantastic couple days in New York City (working at a community college where you get off a little over two weeks at the end of December is pretty badass)!

So new job, new town, new nephew (I became a 1st time uncle on July 29h!), new lady-friend, new year. Let's keep it going! Here's to ya, 2018!!!

::2017 Songs of Note Playlist::

While you're reading below, please feel free to launch the following Spotify playlist with my "2017 Songs of Note" on it. The songs are sequenced in reverse-order so that if you time it right, you can listen to a song from each artist as you work your way through the list! Enjoy!

::The Seventeen Elevens::

Sad Palomino ::SAD PALOMINO:: Fayetteville, Arkansas "scene" torch-bearers, if you will, released their debut self-titled EP, produced by Will Eubanks at East Hall Recording. For three dudes in their early-mid twenties, they put out one hell of a grunge record from 1991.

Favorite Song ::Feed No Friction::

Craig Finn ::WE ALL WANT THE SAME THINGS:: The Hold Steady frontman returns with his 3rd, and most even solo effort to date. All of the stellar storytelling found on Hold Steady records lives on here, but with older, wiser, and more tired characters.

Favorite Song ::Preludes::

Micah Schnabel ::YOUR NEW NORMAN ROCKWELL:: In a similar vein to Craig Finn above, Micah Schnabel released another solo record as a side boo to his main squeeze: Two Cow Garage. Lately, Micah has also been taking a page from the Finn playbook and "speak-singing" his songs. And rightfully so, as Micah has always been a poet...and these songs feel more like him setting his poetry to music. It works well here.

Favorite Song ::Cincinnati, Ohio::

Positive No ::PARTNERS IN THE WILD:: Hopefully it's not out of line to say that Positive No is to Richmond, Virginia as Superchunk is to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Songwriting duo Kenny Close and Tracy Wilson have been crafting their brand of indie pop together since 2011. This follow up to 2015's GLOSSA is chock-full of great indie rock with off-kilter guitar lines and socially conscious lyrics. Tracy's vocal melodies and Kenny's guitar melodies float over a solid rhythm foundation throughout the record.

Favorite Song ::Kind Reminder::

Waxahatchee ::OUT IN THE STORM:: The latest release from the talented Crutchfield sisters opens with a bang! In fact, someone needs to take "Never Been Wrong"and turn it into a ringtone for me, because I want that opening guitar blast to be my morning alarm clock (yeah, I know it can be done, but I am too Gen. X to figure it out myself). Katie Crutchfield may be center stage at a Waxahatchee show, but don't sleep on sister Allison's pop sensibilities. This guitar on this record is lush from top to bottom, as are the sisters' vocal harmonies.

Favorite Song ::Never Been Wrong::

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit ::THE NASHVILLE SOUND:: The third release since Jason Isbell's noted sobriety offers more songs about complicated characters, typically in Southern settings, encountering or overcoming some burden. The slick production mirrors the album's title. The songs would also befit a 'Songwriting 101' course at Americana University. There does seem to be less of a connection between Isbell and his characters/narrators on THE NASHVILLE SOUND as compared with SOUTHEASTERN and SOMETHING MORE THAN FREE, but even that criticism isn't enough to suggest that Isbell isn't still riding a high wave of inspired output.

Favorite Song ::Tupelo:: (Note: anyone who has ever lived in the swampy South can *damn* well relate to the line "get about a week of spring, and the summer is blistering." I miss Little Rock, but I sure don't miss 95 degree heat in 85% humidity during late April).

John Moreland ::BIG BAD LUV:: John Moreland adds to his canon with BIG BAD LUV. In the press surrounding the release of this record, questions about Moreland's somber songs and demeanor were staved off, with the Oklahoma singer-songwriter noting this batch of songs had a recurring them of love, something he has been riding since getting married between the release of HIGH ON TULSA HEAT and BIG BAD LUV. In addition to the emotive songwriting fans have come to expect from Moreland (yeah, it's still here), the songs are accented with the guitar playing of fellow Oklahoman John Calvin Abney. Don't gloss over the cover photo, which was taken by White Water Tavern owner Matt White. It's a statement of it's own, as are the songs included here.

Favorite Song ::Slow Down Easy::

Lee Ann Womack ::THE LONELY, THE LONESOME, AND THE GONE:: Some country artists have tried, with success, to eschew the denouement of their careers once the Top 40 Country world moves on. Lee Ann Womack has done just that, by releasing records that harken back to the strong, female country crooners from the 60's and 70's. These songs do not tread any new ground. Heartbreak is a common thread throughout the record, but damn if Womack's delivery doesn't sound fresh and hip on these tracks. Even the company she keeps being signed to ATO records trends toward the hipper side of the aisle (label-mates include The Old 97s, My Morning Jacket, and the Alabama Shakes). This is a great, breezy country record for people who are afraid of country music. If you've been digging Margot Price, you'll likely find a similar spirit with Womack's latest.

Favorite Song ::Bottom of the Barrel::

Porter and the Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes ::DON'T GO BABY, IT'S GONNA GET WEIRD WITHOUT YOU:: In October of 2016, I recall seeing my Facebook feed peppered with posts from friends in Eastern North Carolina, who lived along the I-95 corridor, commenting on a horrendous accident in the Northbound lanes. That accident would claim the life of Chris Porter and his Bluebonnet Rattlesnake bandmate Mitchell Vandenburg (while also hospitalizing bandmate Adam Nurre). The news crippled my musical circle. Porter was a giant (yes, he was tall, but he was truly a "giant" of a soul). We became Facebook friends after I was fortunate enough to play a house show in Fayetteville, Arkansas opening for Porter and John Moreland. Porter was attentive, and actually talked to me after the show about specific lines in my songs. He was all about the music. He made me feel like I was part of it all, despite only being a hobbyist at best. Thanks to Cornelius Chapel records, DON'T GO BABY, IT'S GONNA GET WEIRD WITHOUT YOU was released on vinyl late this year. It has an all-star cast including John Calvin Abney slaying on lead guitar, former Drive-By Trucker Shonna Tucker on bass, and centro-matic, South San Gabriel, and all around Texas renaissance man Will Johnson on drums - oh, and he produced the record too. This is a fine example of what the "alt-country" side of Americana *should* sound like.

Favorite Song ::Your Hometown::

Ryan Adams ::PRISONER:: Ryan Adams should get divorced about a year before making each subsequent record. He's always written his finest songs when heartbroken. Thank you, Mandy Moore, as PRISONER is some of Ryan's finest recent work. Also - if you loved PRISONER but still nay-say ROCK N ROLL, you need to get right.

Favorite Song ::Doomsday::

The War on Drugs ::A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING:: Fans of Ryan Adams' PRISONER with it's heavy reverb- and chorus-laden guitars will find similar solace in A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING. One major difference, is that Adam Granduciel seems less focused on writing a three-minute pop song, and more interested in painting sonic landscapes via the instrumentation layered throughout the record. This record will no doubt be on countless year-end lists, so there is little need to elaborate here. But if you ever want to get lost in yourself for an hour and six minutes, just toss A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING on your record player and enjoy the ride.

Favorite Song ::Pain:: (Note: This is among my Top 5 songs of 2017. It's perfect).

Son Volt ::NOTES OF BLUE:: To tease NOTES OF BLUE, Son Volt released "Back Against The Wall" in advance. It was a glorious teaser. Classic Son Volt tones and tempo, the song sounds like it could be an outtake from 1998's WIDE SWING TREMOLO. It also features a blistering guitar solo played by frontman Jay Farrar himself - a call back to his days with Uncle Tupelo (for example, listen to the similarities in style and grit in the solo for "Back Against the Wall" and Uncle Tupelo's "Chickamauga"). But "Back..." wouldn't really set the pace for NOTES OF BLUE. Instead, Farrar drew influence, as he has before, from the Mississippi Delta. Songs in open tunings learned from studying bygone blues musicians are selected from Farrar's toolbox to craft these songs, which may be his best since the early days of the band.

Favorite Song ::Back Against the Wall::

Jay Som ::EVERYBODY WORKS:: When EVERYBODY WORKS was released, there was a post made in a group text to me saying "Caleb might make it 30 seconds into this record before tossing it." That statement would be right if it wasn't completely wrong. Give me infectious pop melodies or give me death! And Jay Som's Melina Dueterte is full of the former! Upon hearing "The Bus Song" (another Top 5 song of the 2017), it was all over. Interesting fact: Duterte played nearly every note on this record - pretty prodigious for a 22-year old - and also intriguing considering the sometimes "80's" feel to the songs/tones (listen to the guitar solo on "One More Time, Please" for an example).

Favorite Song: "The Bus Song"

Roger Waters ::IS THIS THE LIFE WE REALLY WANT?:: Twenty-Five years is a long time between records. But that is how long it has been since former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters released his last studio album (1992's AMUSED TO DEATH). Where Father John Misty is likely to show up on year-end lists for his scathing indictment of society in 2017, Waters' latest probably deserves to be cast in the same shadow. However, the themes on IS THIS THE LIFE WE REALLY WANT? are not new territory for Waters - but the catalyst is. Multiple songs take direct shots at Donald Trump, the "deplorables" who helped get him elected, and the societal fallout that ensues from having such a figure in the White House. Where more and more artists are finding the stones to call out the dangers of electing a leader such as Trump, few are as on-the-nose as Waters is here. And even fewer can get away with a lyric like "If I had been God, with my staff and my rod, if I had been given the nod, I believe I could have done a better job." Fans of the musical themes found on the Floyd's WISH YOU WERE HEREANIMALSTHE FINAL CUT, and even Waters' other solo records will be pleased here.

Favorite Song ::Smell the Roses::

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings ::SOUL OF A WOMAN:: The second posthumous release in this list, and it is also a doozy. In addition to the high-energy soul we've come to expect from the Dap Kings, there is a fair amount of gospel sounds on this record, a call back to Jones' days singing in church (before her time with the Dap Kings). For those who watched the Miss Sharon Jones documentary, and knew of her struggles with low energy from chemotherapy while battling cancer, her performance on SOUL OF A WOMAN doesn't suggest the presence of those effects. This is a stellar collection of barn-burning, ass-shaking soul with highlights of soaring gospel, fitting for the nature of the release.

Favorite Song ::Matter of Time::

Susto ::& I'M FINE TODAY:: Imagine if Wilco had not taken such a turn into more experimental phrasings of rock and folk music after the release of YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT. Had they stayed on a simpler path, 2017 Wilco may have sounded much like 2017 Susto. (In fact, here is me trying to illustrate the similarities in two tunes by each band). Though Susto probably fits most squarely into the "alt-country" genre, some tracks stray a bit, making this release appealing to folks who like a variety of sounds. Also, beware if you're not into controversial lyrics, which songwriter Justin Osborne definitely dials up on my favorite track from this record.

Favorite Song ::Gay in the South::

Kate Rhudy ::ROCK N ROLL AIN'T FOR ME:: For those tired of Americana music from the male perspective, give Kate Rhudy's debut a shot. These songs paint images of the barrooms and venues where patrons drink and consort, and sometimes bat-eyes at one another - but through the eyes of the female musician. In some cases, things don't work out, as in "I Don't Like You or Your Band" or "Boy from Charlevoix." Based in Raleigh, and having spent a considerable amount of time there, the characters in Rhudy's songs are not unfamiliar to these ears. The instrumentation is largely acoustic, and draws from the bluegrass and stringband traditions. Twinges of gospel can also be found (Peace Like a RiverValentine - which includes the stellar line "someone once broke my heart by handing me a toothbrush"). For a debut, there is much promise here.

Favorite Song ::Kissing My Friends::

::Top Ten Records of 2017::

10. The Too's ::OUTER SOUNDS:: Fayetteville Arkansas, by way of Joplin Missouri, the Too's have cemented their place in the muted Americana scene of the Ozarks. OUTER SOUNDS is their first full-length. The band hit a snag in the recording of this record when local producer-hero Lou Whitney passed away in the middle of recording. After tapping Kansas City producer Lennon Bone to grab the helm, OUTER SOUNDS found its release. For fans of Susto, the Too's are highly recommended. Melodic Southern Americana with hints of Midwestern breeziness make this a very pleasant listen. On their latest, songwriting duties are split between Isaac Duncan and Elijah Chambers, with Chambers' songs unmistakably nodding to Tom Petty and Duncan to Jeff Lynne. Musically, there is a lot of texture on this record thanks to Chambers' dual attack from both guitar and Fender Rhodes piano/keys. If Fayetteville, Arkansas can keep churning out talent like this, the scene will stay viable. For more on The Too's, read this call-and-response review between me and former Fayetteville Free Weekly editor Nick Brothers.

STANDOUT TRACK ::Certain Kind::

9.  Julien Baker ::TURN OUT THE LIGHTS:: Earlier this year, at a Julien Baker show at Nightclub 9:30 in Washington DC, I watched my friend Alisha, who is one of the toughest, most steeled women I know, completely crumble into a pile or weeping dust two songs into Baker's set. On the heels of the critically acclaimed, and arguably perfect SPRAINED ANKLE, Baker continues to write songs with narrators who are often broken...but most importantly, conveying that it is OK to be broken. That being broken is manageable. That finding support and healthy outlets are important. If just reading the words isn't enough, Baker's bombastic vocals should get your attention. When Julien hits high notes, it's almost as if her whole head becomes her mouth and the room is filled with her voice. Find any YouTube video where she performs the title track, or the final line of "Sour Breath" for an example. The delivery of these songs continues to feature electric guitars drenched in various delay, reverb, and chorus/phaser effects. There are fewer straight acoustic numbers on this release as compared to SPRAINED ANKLE. Instead, Baker switches things up by accompanying herself on piano, which still fits the somber nature of her songs.

STANDOUT TRACK ::Happy to Be Here::

8.  Phoebe Bridgers ::STRANGER IN THE ALPS:: Phoebe Bridgers may get tired of the comparisons to Julien Baker (see above), but if I were Phoebe Bridgers, I would consider myself in good company. Both artists have similarities: they're young, strong female songwriters in the spring of their careers; they spend time on the darker side of the aisle which seems to be where much of their songwriting inspiration is derived. And they even toured together in 2016. But sonically, Bridgers offers a different palate, with tasteful use of a baritone guitar, with a lower register that perfectly compliments the tone of many of the songs on this record. Another differentiation is that Bridgers' songs sometimes receive full-band treatment, like Top 5 song of 2017 finalist "Motion Sickness." In fact, Julien Baker comparisons aside, this track lends itself more to a Ryan Adams influence than anything else (Adams produced Bridgers' stellar debut 7" KILLERS and released it on his own PAX-AM Records in 2015). This is a strong debut from a promising artist.

STANDOUT TRACK ::Motion Sickness::

7.  Benchmarks ::OUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION:: Just as there is always money in the banana stand, there is always room for solid pop-punk in year-end bests list. Nashville's Benchmarks supply that fix here. Singer/songwriter Todd Farrell found his way into many hearts as the lead guitarist for Columbus, Ohio outfit Two Cow Garage. But make no mistake, Benchmarks is definitely Todd's own stamp in the rock n roll ether. If you like crunchy guitars, pop-punk hooks, and sweet harmonies, OUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION should find its way into your queue. Farrell doesn't simply wear his influences on his sleeve, here...he is cut their t-shirt into a back patch fastened to his denim jacket. If The Hold Steady ever put out a pop-punk record, it might sound a lot like Benchmarks.

STANDOUT TRACK ::Girls and Boys::

6.  Drew Beskin ::CHA-CHING MACHINE:: When it comes to prolific songwriters, the names Ryan Adams, Will Johnson, and Daniel Romano get tossed around my musical circles...but with his fourth project in, what, three years ? (The District Attorneys, PURSES, and Party Dolls), this eponymous project doesn't stray from the formula that made those other bands great. Jangly pop guitar is augmented by bass, drums and keys - and the cherry on top of course is Beskin's clear vocal. CHA-CHING MACHINE contains my favorite musical moment of 2017 - and it's pretty subtle. On the standout track "I Don't Know What to Do," just beyond the build-up ("make sure you know who you're taking orders from..."), at 2:55, the bass guitar slides into an A note high on the neck as Beskin launches into the chorus vocal. The bass rides that note until 3:02 when for three beats, it slides down to the A note an octave below where it was riding - before rolling back up to a high E. Y'all!! Those the lower-octave A notes are the bees knees. Something so simple. And it is the ONLY time in the song that this happens. Simple things like this is why I continue to give my ear to Beskin's output, and I almost always find something I love.

STANDOUT TRACK ::I Don't Know What to Do::

5.  Jon Latham ::LIFERS:: At the 2016 White Water Tavern Holiday Hangout, Aaron Lee Tasjan played an acoustic set at the Lost Forty Brewery. He had a fellow Nashville musician/guitarist in tow to accompany him during his set. Midway through, he introduced this sideman as Jon Latham and invited him to play a song. Latham commenced to blowing away the crowd with "Waitressing Sucks" from his 2015 record REAL BAD NEWS. Ok, so if the crowd wasn't blown away, these ears definitely were - and it meant that Latham's 2017 release LIFERS was highly anticipated. To say that Latham is influenced by Tom Petty is a gross understatement. In fact, he was one of several Nashville singer/songwriters who organized a number of tributes in the wake of Tom Petty's death earlier this year. Latham is another new artist who did his alt-country homework. And he did his rock n roll homework, too, with callbacks to 80s artists on songs like "Yearbook Signatures" and "Kimberly Met Billy" - which tells the tale of two parents who met at the 1987 Eddie Money summer tour, found themselves in the back of a "beat-up chevy" and "eight months and three weeks later" the child who is being told the story was born. At 8 songs and 40 minutes, LIFERS has little fluff. Have a listen to the opening track (see below) and see how long it takes for you to walk around singing "first to volunteer to be the last in line..." the rest of the day.


4.  Bash and Pop ::ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN:: Any fan of the Replacements who has not yet picked up a copy of this record is missing out on possibly the best post-Replacements release from any member of the storied Minneapolis band (sorry, Paul, but it's probably true). A friend once described ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN as "Rock TM." Yeah, well, if that is a bad thing, then it is unfortunate that you don't like rock n roll. Tommy Stinson's consistent snarl on this record makes me feel like I am doing something wrong - something that might get me arrested - or better yet, drunk - while listening to it. And it always feels good! Released on January 20th (my dad's birthday!), this record has remained a force throughout all of 2017. It was the soundtrack to my spring. "On the Rocks" - a bona-fide two-windows-down jam - was easy to blast in the car, singing those high harmonies along with Stinson ("hiii-ee-yiii-ee-yiii-ee-yide!!!"). Or belting out the high harmony of the title track ("anything could haaaaaaaaaap-unn!!"). Then, just before the breakdown in the song  (What's up, Dave?) there's that guttural "Wooooowwwooohhhh!!" akin to the opening howl in the Replacements' "Bastards of Young." You definitely need to be screaming along with the testy "Unfuck You." Here's to morning singing along to this record with the windows down come spring 2018!!

STANDOUT TRACK ::Breathing Room::

3.  Father John Misty ::PURE COMEDY:: 2017 started under a cloud with the impending inauguration of Republican President Donald Trump - who was elected to the American Presidency despite 54% of voters choosing someone else at the polls. Throughout 2016, with the deaths of many beloved actors and musicians, and the culmination of Trump's election, cynicism in America was pretty off the charts. Josh Tillman effortlessly harnesses this cynicism and delivers his commentary on 2016-17 America through his Father John Misty character. I wrote a piece earlier this year noting how Father John Misty was the embodiment of Generation X ethos (perhaps pathos?) navigating a millennial world, so I won't rehash that here. I will note that I keep coming back to the theme that undergirds PURE COMEDY throughout: That the Earth is a wonderful, beautiful, magnificent place - and humankind, in all our selfish, pompous, haughty, top-of-the-foodchain ways, continuously, and obliviously destroy "this bright blue marble" such that it is now "orbited by trash." Humankind are sloven, selfish, mind-numbed parasites, siphoning every bit of life and beauty from the planet that carries us through the cosmos. I *NEED* this album in my life because each time I listen to it, I want to be a better human being. We all would do well to follow suit. Pair PURE COMEDY with Roger Waters' IS THIS THE LIFE WE REALLY WANT (see above) for a deep dive into 2017 despair.

STANDOUT TRACK ::Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution::

2.  Zephaniah OHora ::THIS HIGHWAY:: Neo-traditional country has been making waves since the Sturgill Simpsons, Margot Prices, and Chris Stapletons hit the scene - and these artists' brand of country is usually preceded by the term "outlaw." Don't get it twisted, Zephaniah OHora's debut THIS HIGHWAY is definitely country...but to precede his style of country with anything other than "classic" would be doing it an injustice. This record hit my radar late in 2018 thanks to a Facebook post from my friend Nate Kennedy in Little Rock who posted the link to THIS HIGHWAY on Spotify. After one listen, it was clear that this record was something special. In explaining THIS HIGHWAY, I keep coming back to what my friend Will Eubanks says about the record: "It's perfect from a production standpoint. There isn't one ounce of wasted space here. And not one wasted note. Everything is perfectly placed." Recall, Eubanks is a producer himself at East Hall Recording in Fayetteville, Arkansas. So I tend to listen when he gives production notes. In simpler terms, Zephaniah OHora sounds like a mix between Merle Haggard and Glen Campbell. In fact, when he is not playing his own material with his band The 18 Wheelers, he moonlights with a residency at Brooklyn New York's Skinny Dennis Honky Tonk with his Merle Haggard cover band The Last Roundup Boys.

Oh, yeah. Zephaniah and his classic country/Merle Haggard sounding self is based in Brooklyn, NY!!! Wot? Apparently there is a small, but shit-hot honky tonk country scene there. Indeed, famed Brooklyn guitar slinger Jim Campilongo had a hand in helping THIS HIGHWAY come to fruition...and he also plays lead guitar on the record. Campilongo's unique playing style definitely adds a noticeable layer to the music. Aspects of his guitar playing sound like a semi-truck barreling past you on the highway blowing its horn, or laying on the "Jake" brake as it rolls by. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Jim Campilongo's main influence on guitar was Trucks. Given the socially conscious lyrics of the records situated at the #3 and #1 spots on this list, it may seem interesting that, lyrically, Zephaniah OHora is composing simple, sweet country love songs. And not necessarily romantic love - there are even songs about "mama" included here (i.e., "Songs My Mama Sang"). OHora composed 10 of the 11 tracks on the record, with the 11th song, a duet with Dori Freeman, covering the Sinatra duet (which he recorded with Nancy) "Somethin' Stupid." Don't sleep on the gospel-tinged "For a Moment or Two" which closes the record. OHora, who grew up in the church (not unlike traditional southern country artists), does not seem out of place at all singing such a number. So if you're looking for solid classic country gold as interpreted by a thirty-something Brooklynite, THIS HIGHWAY is definitely the road you wanna travel.

STANDOUT TRACK ::Take Your Love Out of Town::

1.  Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires ::YOUTH DETENTION:: Jesus Christ, this record should be taught in schools. When Donald Trump was elected, the music and arts atmosphere my life has continued to orbit seemed to call out in unison: "make your voice heard through your art!" If you've been a fan of Lee Bains at all, you know that he's been on that page for some time now, but YOUTH DETENTION ups the ante. Bains is able to take his experience growing up as a white, middle class kid from South Birmingham - an area of town known for it's diversity of race, religion, etc, and bring it to scale in 2017 America. That said, Bains has talked about how he hopes to shed the "white Alabamian" stereotype portrayed throughout history...and in modern times. The songs on YOUTH DETENTION position the narrator(s) (likely teenage versions of Lee himself) amongst his black and Muslim friends, viewing the injustices experienced by his non-white, non-Christian friends through his own lens of white privilege. But rather than shrug it off, the narrator(s) question it. These narrators also have strong, socially conscious adults in their lives who have instilled an ethos of "you ain't no better than no one else" in their offspring. YOUTH DETENTION is a snapshot of 2017 America; the racism, sexism, bigotry, anger, frustration, privilege, fight, questioning, eye to the past, eye to the future - all through the lens of a middle-class white kid from South Birmingham. And that middle-class white kid is equally angry and frustrated. He identifies more with his friends who *don't* look like him. Who are being treated unfairly; oppressed. And he is doing his best to speak out! Lastly, YOUTH DETENTION being my favorite album of 2017 also includes, in my humble opinion, the song of the year: "Whitewash,"as it embodies the thinking that many liberal-minded individuals are wrestling with currently - the idea that we aren't trying to hold on to our white supremacy. We don't desire to be the superior race. We don't want to erase the contributions of other races and cultures because we are scared that the white race will no longer be at the "top." Yeah. YOUTH DETENTION has been a mantra since its release back in the summer. I mean, shit, 6 of the 17 track titles end with an exclamation point! The tone of the music, the immediacy of the performances, and the lo-fi, DIY production fits the lyrical - and current societal sentiment. That said, I *highly* recommend grabbing the lyric book to the record (which is fashioned to look like a zine!) or visit the Glory Fires website to follow along while streaming. Lee can cram 13 words into a stanza where most folk can only fit 4, so reading along with the lyrics definitely helps get the message of the record across. If music really can change the world, I want the result to mirror how I feel when I listen to YOUTH DETENTION

2017 SONG OF THE YEAR ::Whitewash::

::Shows Attended in 2017::

1/7/2017 - I Am Maddox, Dragmatic, The Unlucky 7's @ The Deep South Bar, Raleigh, NC

1/18/2017 - Big Thief @ Strange Matter, Richmond, VA

1/21/2017 - Horsehead @ Hardywood Brewery, Richmond, VA

2/1/2017 - Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires @ DC9 Nightclub, Washington DC

3/1/2017 - Japandroids w/ Craig Finn @ The Cat's Cradle, Carrboro, NC

3/5/2017 - Ryan Adams w/ Phoebe Bridgers @ The National, Richmond, VA

3/31/2017 - Horsehead, Landon Elliott and the Goods, Paulo Franco @ The Camel, Richmond, VA

4/7/2017 - Old Heavy Hands/Benchmarks/Almost People/ Dragmatic @ Slims, Raleigh, NC**

4/13/2017 - Caleb Caudle House Show, Richmond, VA

4/15/2017 - I Am Maddox / Unlucky Sevens / Dragmatic / Rocket 77 @ The Deep South Bar, Raleigh, NC**

4/16/2017 - Surfer Blood, Lazyeyes, The Trillions @ Strange Matter, Richmond, VA

5/1/2017 - Austin Lucas House Show, Richmond, VA

5/8/2017 - BJ Barham @ The Camel, Richmond, VA

5/14/2017 - Pinegrove w/ Russel the Leaf @ Motorco, Durham, NC

5/17/2017 - Cloud Nothings w/ Eric Slick @ Strange Matter, Richmond, VA

5/20/2017 - Bash & Pop @ The Camel, Richmond, VA

6/29/2017 - Diarrhea Planet w/ Cowabunga Pizza Time @ The Ottobar, Baltimore, MD

7/30/2017 - Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires w/ the Sniffs and Priors @ DC9 Nightclub, Washington DC

8/18/2017 - Lee Fields & the Expressions @ The Rock n Roll Hotel, Washington DC

8/25/2017 - Durand Jones & The Indications @ DC9 Nightclub, Washington DC

9/9/2017 - Lee Fields & The Expressions @ Rosslyn Jazz Fest, Rosslyn, VA

9/14/2017 - Dragmatic w/ Chistianne & the Strays, The Eric Scholz Band @ The Pour House Music Hall, Raleigh, NC

10/7/2017 - Glossary w/ Jon Latham @ the Mercy Lounge, Nashville, TN

10/17/2017 - Julien Baker w/ Half Waif & Petal @ Nightclub 9:30, Washington DC

10/23/2017 - The War on Drugs w/ The Building @ The Anthem, Washington, DC

11/3/2017 - Bon Iver @ Sprint Pavillion, Charlottesville, VA

11/11/2017 - Tegan & Sara @ The Anthem, Washington DC

11/17/2017 - Puddles Pity Party @ The Lincoln Theater, Washington DC

12/1/2017 - The White Water Tavern Holiday Hangout @ The White Water Tavern, Little Rock, Arkansas, Night 1: Iron Tongue, Micah Schabel, Kevin Kerby + Battery, Austin Lucas, Adam Faucett & the Tall Grass, John Paul Keith & the One-Four-Fives, Motel Mirrors, Glossary

12/2/2017 - The White Water Tavern Holiday Hangout Day Party @ Lost Forty Brewing, Little Rock, Arkansas: Brad Williams, Bonnie Montgomery, Tim Easton, Joey Kneiser and Kelly Smith

12/2/2017 - The White Water Tavern Holiday Hangout @ The White Water Tavern, Little Rock, Arkansas, Night 2:  Isaac Hoskins, Andrew Bryant, Kim Nall & the Fringe, Tim Easton, The Legendary Shack Shakers, Slobberbone, Two Cow Garage

12/3/2017 - The White Water Tavern Holiday Hangout @ The White Water Tavern, Little Rock, Arkansas, Night 3 (Acoustic):  Larry Fulford (comedy), Dazz & Brie, Isaac Alexander, Shane Sweeney, Kevin + Gus Kerby, John Calvin Abney, Colonel J.D. Wilkes, Brent Best

12/8/2017 - The Too's w/ Lost John and Basement Brew @ The Smoke and Barrel Tavern, Fayetteville, AR*

12/19/2017 - Zephaniah OHora and the Last Roundup Boys @ Skinny Dennis, Brooklyn, NY

12/28/2017 - Hedwig and the Angry Inch @ The Ottobar, Baltimore, MD

** Indicates a show where I played bass with Dragmatic

* Indicates a show where I played guitar with Basement Brew

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