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April 28, 2009

Q&A: HONEYHONEY

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Just from reading their self-penned band bio, it's easy to tell that Suzanne Santo and Ben Jaffe -- who record under the group name honeyhoney -- have a good sense of humor.

Interviews tend to bring out the funny in them, too. Santo and Jaffe recently took time out from their tour in support of the eclectic First Rodeo (released last fall on Ironworks Music, a label run by actor Kiefer Sutherland and musician Jude Cole) to answer a few questions via e-mail.

Medleyville.us: Kiefer Sutherland yells a lot on 24. How loud or quiet was Sutherland when he directed your video for the song "Little Toy Gun"?
Ben Jaffe: "At times very loud, yet at others [as hushed] as a mouse."

What was it like having Jude Cole produce your latest album?
Suzanne Santo: "It was like warm fresh corn muffins baked to a delicate texture."
Jaffe: "Jude has a lot of really good ideas that allowed us to stretch our sound and have a record we love."

How about some insight into the writing of the single "Black Crows"?
Santo: "It was one of the first songs that we wrote together, and [it] has changed a lot since then. We're still experimenting with new ways to play it."

Your band is based in Venice, California. Have either of you seen the Venice-based movie I Love You, Man, and if so, did it do Venice justice?
Jaffe: "Well, it looked fantastic on the big screen, but we think the real deal has a tad more skeez."

Have there been any strange travel or stage incidents during your current tour?
Santo and Jaffe: "There have been a few notable incidents that we feel best to deliver with bullet points.

* Recently a flock of birds flew straight into the van, causing the early demise of two otherwise healthy birdies.

* We have consumed enough Starbucks and Cracker Barrel munchibles to sufficiently damage our systems later in life.

* Suzanne was temporarily abducted by extra terrestrials during the SXSW portion of our tour. They took her aboard their ship and forced her to sing their alien national anthem and eat an exorbitant amount of spaghetti and meatballs."

What are some of your favorite songs and albums from 2009?
Santo and Jaffe: "The Bird and the Bee's Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future, Benji Hughes' A Love Extreme, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' It's Blitz! and Grundelina's recent LP debut, Dick Fingers.”

-- Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior

honeyhoney on tour (schedule subject to change):

* April 28: The National – Richmond, Va.

* April 29: The Square Room – Knoxville, Tenn.

* May 1: Kentucky Derby Festival – Louisville, Ky.

* May 3: Neighborhood Theatre – Charlotte, N.C.

* May 4: Exit/In – Nashville, Tenn.

* May 5: The Loft – Atlanta

* May 7: Jack Rabbits – Jacksonville, Fla.

* May 8: State Theatre – Tampa, Fla.

Photo by Dan Martensen

April 23, 2009

THE GARY PIG GOLD REPORT, Vol. 13

IT WAS FORTY YEARS AGO THIS SPRING

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Believe it or not, the very first real concert I was ever allowed to attend as a wee Canadian tyke was The Jimi Hendrix Experience at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens in May 1969.

I'd already been a fervent fan for a couple of years, having spent most of my grade 8 art class making swirly sketches of Hendrix in charcoal. Plus, the Are You Experienced? album was right up there -- almost -- with The MonkeesHeadquarters on my 1967 most-played list.

Fast-forwarding, Christmastime '68 was spent, between runs down the local tobogganing hill, digging all eight vinyl sides of The Beatles and Electric Ladyland -- and, most likely as a direct result, my gym-class rhythm section and I were just starting to assemble our very own semi-power trio when word filtered along the groupvine that the Experience was planning to stop by our very neighborhood in a few months as part of its possibly farewell world tour.

In a word then? WOW.

My most-trusted pal Ric scored two tickets in the Gardens' nosebleed section, and I fibbed to my parents that we were off to a hootenanny (!) for the evening. Yet no sooner had we approached the venue that word began a-buzzin' that our hero had just been busted for carrying a batch of non-pharmaceutical mood enhancers into Toronto Airport. Hmm …

Undaunted, we climbed skyward to our seats, sat on sonic needles and pins through both opening acts (the pretty cool Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys -- whose big hit "Good Old Rock n Roll" my little band was already struggling to learn -- followed by none other than, uh, Fat Mattress) until the one and only Jimi himself sauntered onstage, miraculously only a few minutes late.

Now, considering all the man had already been through that day, I guess it was no real surprise the evening's set consisted of mainly downcast tunes a la "Red House," though Hendrix did graciously treat the teenage throng with a quick encore full of that fabled, fiery foxey purpleness of yore.

And then, suddenly, he was gone -- Experience and all.

James Marshall Hendrix returned to town briefly that December however, just long enough to be completely exonerated of all narco-charges ("Canada has just given me the greatest Christmas present ever!" he exclaimed to the Toronto Daily Star), but I suppose one could question if, or why, that life lesson ultimately went unheeded.

And I suppose it does say something that out of all the delicately detailed minutiae forever etched upon my grey matter concerning that momentous concert 40 long, long Toronto springs ago, I can still most vividly recall exactly what Hendrix was wearing (Harlem-Asbury chic all the way!), what I was wearing even (don't ask), the appropriately brilliant weather, the commuter train Ric and I snuck on after we told our parental units we'd just be folking around -- hell, I even remember the proto-Bowzer moves Cat Mother & Co. deployed whilst performing their one-hit wonder!

But do I recall a single sliver of the sounds and/or stylings of the Noel Redding-fronted Fat Mattress performance of that same, utterly magical night? No sir, I do not. Which reminds me: Redding himself passed onward and upward to that great big Gardens in the sky six years ago this May 11th.

And the moral, perhaps, to this all? Well, I still find myself revisiting Electric Ladyland on almost as regular a basis as I do the Monkees’ Headquarters.

So, you see, some things, I guess, shall never change.

-- Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M’Lou Music label.

April 16, 2009

DISC DISCUSSION: JOHN DOE AND THE SADIES -- COUNTRY CLUB

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A "drunken promise" made by John Doe to Yep Roc label mates The Sadies planted the seed for them to make music together. The end result is Country Club, and Medleyville.us staffers Chris M. Junior, George Henn and Mike Madden share their thoughts on the album.

Chris M. Junior: After one listen to this CD, the question that comes to mind is: Why didn't these guys do something together sooner? Doe sounds totally at ease singing these songs, and The Sadies provide excellent instrumentation.

George Henn: I'm not surprised at all that Doe pulls this off so well. When it comes to the X frontman's solo career, I've found his material to be a bit dull and have always preferred him singing other people's songs, particularly country tunes -- see his sweet rendition of Merle Haggard's ""Silver Wings," which he has been known to perform with The Knitters. Doe's rich voice suits the melodies, but it contains enough of a gruff edge to make him sound wholly believable on this disc's tear-in-your-beer numbers like "Till I Get It Right" and "Help Me Make It Through the Night."

Mike Madden: Doe must have a knack for doing Haggard tunes because his version of "Are the Good Times Really Over for Good" is tremendous. He gives the nod to nostalgia a modern relevance. He also nails "I Still Miss Someone" by staying true to the original's chugging pace. It's a great song, but too many artists who have covered it in the past have slowed it down way too much.

Junior: The album has a pure 1960s country sound, something that Doe himself has acknowledged (although he claims he's not sure why it sounds the way it does). Instruments and recording equipment can only account for so much of this – it really comes down to whether you have certain qualities in your musical DNA. Doe and The Sadies have this sound running through them just like the Dap-Kings have old-school R&B in their systems.

In addition to the covers, there are four originals on Country Club, and all of them stand on their own. "The Sudbury Nickel" and "Pink Mountain Rag," two Sadies-penned instrumentals, really show off the band's chops.

Henn: Whether it's an original offering or an inventive spin on a well-worn classic, each selection here sounds like the real deal, and maybe we shouldn't be so surprised. Doe has long had country leanings, if somewhat buried beneath his troubadour stance (and lost in his mostly nondescript well of solo material), while The Sadies' sound has always owed more to, say, Bakersfield than to the band's native Canada. It's easy to say after listening to Country Club, but this feels like a wholly natural and logical pairing, and it's even more pleasing to know that it clearly wasn't forced -- this collaboration was years in the making. Based on the results, if Doe and The Sadies work together again, here's hoping they are in no hurry.

Madden: I'll echo the point about the album having that classic country sound. It really is a nice production all around. Covers albums that are true to the original form are always meant to sound like Country Club. The album has a smooth pace to it – there are no dramatic shifts, and it's ideal for vinyl. Listening to it, you would expect to hear some crackles and pops.

April 06, 2009

A LITTLE BIT COUNTRY

Kevin Russell discusses the latest Gourds album

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The new Gourds album has a slight country flavor to it, and according to singer Kevin "Shinyribs" Russell, that element of Haymaker! (Yep Roc) is his doing.

"My main impetus behind the more country/roots thing was the last couple of records I had leaned the other way," he says. "Granted, there is always an underlying stench of roots in my songs. On the last record, Noble Creatures, I felt like I really stretched things more than usual away from my roots. In so doing, it felt as though I had neglected this redneck angel/devil conundrum that camps on my shoulders. I wanted to honor the 'well-read neck' shadow a bit more on this."

Recording Haymaker! was not a walk in the park for the Austin, Texas-based band.

"Max [Johnston's] songs were tough to get cut," Russell says. "Max and Claude [Bernard] were not around when we cut the basic tracks for this. Consequently, Max had to arrange a time with Keith [Langford] and Jimmy [Smith] to book some studio time and get his songs recorded.

"This may sound fairly simple, but nothing like this is simple with five guys with kids and wives and who travel as much as we do," he adds. "Time at home is precious. The greatest threat to this band is the fact that we have so little time to invest in the creative part of what we do. I think this is the reason many bands either start sucking or break up before they do. Our longevity is a blessing and a curse in this regard."

-- By Chris M. Junior

The Gourds on tour (schedule subject to change):

* April 16: Old Settler's Music Festival – Driftwood, Texas

* April 22: Larry Joe Taylor's Texas Music Festival – Stephenville, Texas

* April 25: Buc Days BBQ – Corpus Christi, Texas

* April 29: The Ark – Ann Arbor, Mich.

* April 30: Beachland Ballroom – Cleveland

* May 1: Martyrs – Chicago

* May 2: Turf Club – St. Paul, Minn.

April 01, 2009

SUPERDRAG -- INDUSTRY GIANTS

Original lineup tosses in a few surprises

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The mid-1990s were a great time for talented, passionate acts, and one such band from that era was Knoxville, Tenn.-based Superdrag. Best known for "Sucked Out," Superdrag released four acclaimed full-length albums and shifted lineups a few times before splitting in 2003.

Following a successful reunion tour in 2007, the original lineup hit the studio to record the recently released Industry Giants (Superdrag Sound Laboratories), on which Superdrag doesn't exactly attempt to reinvent the wheel.

Drummer Don Coffey Jr. literally kicks the music off with "Slow to Anger," and his band mates take their usual spots with lots of power-chord fury. John Davis expresses his conflicted feelings by comparing changing moods to "pushing down the fader."

Elsewhere on the disc, the sounds of the band's past continue to drive the music. "Filthy & Afraid" is deceptively uplifting and has the type of chorus that is hard not to be singing along to after a few listens. "Live and Breathe" slows the tempo down enough for Davis' lead vocals to share a moment with some sublime lyrical phrasing about an attainable better place.

The album's true standout is "Aspartame." It begins with some buzz-saw guitar and Davis' scratchy, desperate vocals. Just when you think that it’s a typical Superdrag tune, the band tosses out a nice surprise in the form of an almost reggae breakdown part, which comes off as a hook and not a cheap gimmick.

"Aspartame" isn't the only left turn on Industry Giants. "You're Alive" has louder and more disdained growling than anything Superdrag has attempted before, but it doesn't work out too well for the album's flow. "5 Minutes Ahead of Chaos" follows, and it’s a punkier turn that sounds more like a lost demo than a well-thought out effort.

As the disc draws to a close, so does some of the optimism that drifted amongst the riffs and pounding drums. "Deathblow to Your Pride" means what it says and says what it means. It also serves as a fine closing curtain on the return of a band that was ahead of its time and should enjoy any accolades that may come along this time around.

-- By Mike Madden