Stone Jack Jones with The Hotpipes
Thursday · The Comet
Stone Jack Jones' story doesn't exactly read like his music sounds. Or maybe it does. The fact is, not much else of anything matches up exactly with Jones' singular approach. Hailing from a coal-mining town in West Virginia, surrounded by forest and a creek, Jones avoided going to fight in Vietnam (thanks, epilepsy), grabbed a fiddle and guitar and hit the road, performing all over the U.S., Jones played all kinds of music — Country to Punk —ultimately leading him to a satisfyingly unique, largely unclassifiable sound, which is somewhere between The Velvet Underground and Johnny Cash singing murder ballads.
Jones ultimately landed in Nashville, where he met legend-in-the-making Patty Griffin; the twosome worked on songs together and Jones toured with Griffin on some of her early road treks. Producer Roger Moutenot was another key "chance meeting" for Jones. Moutenot — who has worked with Lou Reed, Sleater-Kinney and Yo La Tengo — became a key collaborator/co-conspirator of Jones', manning the boards for his solo albums Narcotic Lollipop and the more recent bluefolk (which came out on Moutenot's imprint, Fictitious Records, in February).
Jones' latest is a dark, sonic tour de force, evocative and provocative in its use of shadows and smoky, almost noisy atmosphere. Ghostly echoes of drums and layered, miscellaneous percussion recall Tom Waits' Island recordings from the early '90s, while a spectral glow hovers amid the spacious keys and "haunted" (as it says in the liner notes) electric guitars and acoustic guitar. "Rage" has an ominous creepiness, built upon a simple four-note guitar crawl, as Jones croaks beneath, his voice saturated in an AM radio distortion that adds to the otherworldliness.
Jones' voice is a bit like Mark Lanegan's whiskey croon, minus the bear-like huskiness, and on "Bread" (which features trickling electronic drums, egg-shaped electric piano plucks and ... banjo!), it creates a dynamic counterpoint to Griffin's angelic cameo on the chorus. With all of the innovative ornamentation, it would be easy for Jones' soul-burning songs to get lost in the ambiance, but the songs and production are both integral in tandem and it's the songwriting that remains the black heart of the album.
Gothic Americana at its finest and most creative, bluefolk's spooky, cold-chill disposition and adventurous spirit mix to create something at once earthy and celestial. Collectively, it's spellbinding. (Mike Breen)
Mates of State with Maria Taylor and Koufax
Saturday · alchemize
Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel have packed a whole lot of living into their nine years together as Mates of State. After hooking up at the University of Kansas in Lawrence in the late '90s, Gardner and Hammel abandoned their conventional bands for their current keyboards/drums configuration.
After school and a handful of acclaimed 7-inch releases, a move to San Francisco put them in proximity with the city's impressive musical collective, allowing them to record with Beulah and John Vanderslice, and giving them the opportunity to make their debut album as Mates of State, 2000's My Solo Project, a record that was cited by The New York Times as one of the best unheard albums of that year. In the six years since their debut, Gardner and Hammel have toured relentlessly here and abroad, quit their teaching/cancer researching day jobs to pursue music full time, gotten married, recorded their sophomore album (2001's Our Constant Concern) and moved back to Gardner's ancestral home in Connecticut.
The pace with which the duo approaches life had been reflected in the amount of time taken on each of their albums: four days for their debut and eight days for the follow-up. When the time came for the third MOS album, Team Boo, Gardner and Hammel slowed things down just a bit and realized their goal of creating a cohesive album rather than a collection of unrelated songs.
Through it all, including last year's All Day EP and the just-released Bring It Back, Gardner's jazzy/New Wave-tinged Yamaha organ textures, Hammel's insistent tub-thumping and the duo's upfront harmony vocalizing have been the simple ingredients that the pair utilizes to create the ecstatic Cindy-Wilson-meets-Brian-Eno complexity of Mates of State. Gardner and Hammel's mathematical equation recently increased by one with the arrival of daughter Magnolia — that's her singing at the end of "Nature and the Wreck" on Bring It Back — so it looks like Mates of State will be keeping it all in the family in the years to come. (Brian Baker)
The Bill Mike Band with IsWhat?! and Reggie Stone
Sunday · The Poison Room
There are souls out there with a love of music so expansive that it's confounding. They have cars with both Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Buffet bumper stickers and iPods with both Hair Metal and Hair: The Musical. Bill Mike is undoubtedly one of these cats, as his career in music has been a study in devotion, and his current musical outlet, The Bill Mike Band, is a mélange of diverse elements. Guitarist/vocalist William "Mike" Michel is a Cincy native who cut his teeth in local bands and began plying his trade as a hired gun for Ligosa Studios. After working as a roadie out of L.A. for a while, he relocated to Minneapolis, where in the past decade, he has become a shining star amid a notoriously bright music scene. The "favorite son" accolades that the city has heaped upon the transplant seem to be attributed equally to his musical talent and his tireless enthusiasm, both infectious qualities he exudes.
Many would say that there is no more room for innovation on the guitar, but like all players that eventually became legends, Mike coaxes sounds from the instrument that are completely foreign to the ears of most listeners. And while his arsenal of axes and foot pedals are focused on inventing otherworldly noise, it's always in the context of great Pop songs. Along with bassist Chris Morrissey and drummer Steve Goold, the trio merges technical proficiency and experimentation with clever, literate songwriting. In other words, unlike so many restless prodigies, TBMB achieves Fusion without "con"fusion. Even the vocals (a common Achilles heel for those overly-endowed instrumentally) are catchy and powerful. All of this delicious duality is captured on the band's new CD, Better News. Armed with this gem, Mike is looking forward to this week's homecoming, proclaiming, "I will be introducing my bandmates to chili soon! We will plan enough time for digestion before the gig." (Ezra Waller)