Monday, February 28, 2011

Grant Peeples

Okra and Ecclesiastes

Gatorbone Records

Every day, with the sun, millions of Americans rise up and leave their homes, some to jobs and some to sit and watch and wait for one. And each evening, many of those same millions grab a quart of beer and a lottery ticket or two. The former a purchase for short-term gain, the latter the kind of retirement plan that too many of us rely on, the only chance at an American dream that is doled out at too-steep odds.

That’s what Grant Peeples, equal parts troubadour and troublemaker, knows and writes about. And with Okra and Ecclesiastes, produced by Gurf Morlix and recorded in Austin, he has, right here, a pretty damn good record. Grant’s songwriting ability has solidified and as much as I liked his previous one, Pawnshop, the twelve tracks here tell his stories with more economy and confidence. The title comes from the opening track, My People Come From The Dirt, and from a place where clinging to guns and religion isn’t a derogatory remark. (“White bread and kerosene/Catfish and flatbeds, sweat stains and retreads, okra and Ecclesiastes”)

The strength of this record, however, is when Grant’s scathing social commentary blends with a genuine eye for the human condition, like the two married lovers who have no place to go except out underneath the Powerlines, a song that recalls Guy Clark. (“Signs are everywhere: “Danger Keep Away” Well….this looks like the perfect place”)

Grant Peeples sings about these people, because these people are our people. And our people? They come from the dirt.

Curtis Lynch

Playgrounds Magazine

March 2011

PS: If you want this record, Grant trusts you. Write him and he’ll send you a copy, then he will trust you to pay him.

Government Cheese - Hey Hey My My

Government Cheese

The Rutledge

Nashville, Tennessee

February 26, 2011

From the window of a downtown Nashville club, I watched a parade of four or five eighteen-wheelers tap their brakes and roll slowly forward, waiting to load out after the Brad Paisley mega-tour made its brief stop at the cavernous Bridgestone Arena. I turned around and waded back into a densely packed crowd that was stomping and swaying to the sound of resurrection.

Just why was the stone rolled away? In fact, it was because Government Cheese, a reborn band of post-punk ne’er-do-wells, were touring again. Sort of…this Nashville gig was not only the second gig of the tour, but it was also the last. It was also very fitting that their two-stop journey launched in their hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky and then splashed down in the current home of one of the group’s members and keeper of the sonic flame, Tommy Womack. It was Tommy’s drive and desire, his love of what he and his band mates did (and maybe a bit of wanting to finally hear some ackn

owledgement of their place in music history) that inspired him to write the incredibly funny and delightfully insightful Cheese Chronicles: The True Story of a Rock N Roll Band You've Never Heard Of and to pursue purchasing the original masters from ex-manager Scott Tutt (other authors have told tales of being screwed by managers or record companies, but Womack’s are a must-read), then re-mastering and re-releasing them as a two-disc compilation titled Government Cheese: 1985-1995.

I never saw the Cheese back in the day, when they were selling out clubs all over the South. I was content with the music that was blossoming in Athens and with the ones that came to play: REM was (in Womack’s words) “still kickin’ then” and when Jason and the Nashville Scorchers showed up to play The 40 Watt, I saw Peter Buck and Michael Stipe jump onstage and roar through Bully Holly’s Rave On. I kind of imagine that was what Government Cheese sounded like back then.

Not that they didn’t sound good now. They came onstage to an embrace from a crowd that was more family reunion than audience. Womack appeared with a hospital bracelet on his wrist: nothing serious, but serious enough to recruit Warner E Hodges, the Scorchers’ lead guitarist, to go from knowing one song in the set to possibly having to play all of them in case Tommy couldn’t take the stage. As it was, he stayed there through a bunch of songs, even though Tommy played and sang with fire and fever the whole night. After an introduction from Athens’ very own William Orton Carlton (better known as Ort and more than a story on his own), they plowed through about thirty songs, including fan favorites Camping On Acid, Mammaw Drives the Bus, Fish Stick Day, and Tim Krekel’s (and Scorcher cover) Help There’s a Fire. Skot Willis still had the pipes and the moves of a lead singer that had his share of lingerie launched in his direction, Chris “Viva Las Vegas” Becker sneered and stalked the stage (often making sure Hodges was on the same page during songs), Billy Mack Hill played bass and sang with fervor and drummer Joe “Elvis” King pounded the skins as hard as one would expect from someone wearing a Led Zep t-shirt.

As dozens of roadies labored to load tons of equipment into trailers a few blocks away, the Cheese just played on. Maybe, just maybe, the choice isn’t between whether to fade out or to rust.

Maybe you can just rave on.

Curtis Lynch

Playgrounds Magazine

March 2011

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Amos Lee "Mission Bell"

Amos Lee

Mission Bell

Blue Note Records

My first brush with Amos Lee was with El Camino, the opening track here on Mission Bell. Although its not the paean to the late 60s-early 70s muscle-car/truck hybrid I was expecting, it’s still a road song, one that’s full of longing and wishing that’s set along El Camino Real, a historic California highway connecting several Spanish missions, and one that sets the stage for the rest of the record. The thirteen tracks that comprise the Philadelphia native’s fourth release are produced by Calexico’s Joey Burns and feature Lucinda Williams and Willie Nelson on vocals, along with members of Calexico and Sam Beam (Iron and Wine).

Although at times the tunes here sound a little too slick, as some of David Gray’s work does, mostly Lee maintains a soulful folkie tone that propels the songs along, from Jesus (written after the death of his grandfather), which carries an ethereal, Jim White vibe to Hello Again, a Stevie Wonder-infused, horn-tinged ballad. One cannot underestimate Lee’s soulful vocals, which are the strength and backbone of this record. That tragically overused word soulful is most often applied to Lee, but in this case it’s wholly appropriate: by raising his voice, he can raise our spirits, as he does on Flower and Windows Are Rolled Down, as well as on the two tracks where he shares lead vocals with his guests. Lucinda sings achingly on Clear Blue Eyes, while Willie lends his omnipresent voice to a reprise of El Camino. Lyrically, Lee may not turn a phrase as well as he bends a note, but the production and performances disguise that. Mission Bell is a very good record, one that shows Amos Lee has the potential to make a great one.

Curtis Lynch

Playgrounds Magazine

February 2010