Way Out West with Anthony Ruptak & The Midnight Friends

Arizona, California, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington, you’re welcome. Denver is lending you one of its best and most beloved bands. You are not entitled to keep Anthony Ruptak & The Midnight Friends, but you may enjoy their brilliant tunes as they embark on their first tour of western states this summer with Jacob Russo.

Don’t know Ruptak? From the bio: Anthony Ruptak is a proto-folk-rock band featuring the sounds of bowed upright bass, ambient electric guitar, unconventional standing cocktail drum kit, and acoustic finger-picking driven melodies. Eclectic and passionate vocals convey Ruptak’s mature and stark storytelling.

There is a live track here, recorded at The Walnut Room in Denver, that’s an excellent introduction to the band.

As others have noted, there’s the slightest Ben Gibbard quality to Ruptak’s voice and singing cadence, but unlike Death Cab’s frontman, he bellows like a Fleet Fox with a tail of fire.

When the Midnight Friends lock into their groove, it creates a really inclusive space for audience and band, which is part of the reason audiences are so quick to sing along. Ruptak’s melodies beg for a chorus of voices. Straightforward songs with nuanced playing that straddles the line between folk and ambience.

The band has shared the stage with the likes of A. Tom Collins, Paper Bird, The Yawpers, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, The Tinder Box, Nathaniel Rateliff, and dozens more. They even went to pre-political-thaw Cuba to entertain U.S. troops.

Now, western brethren, they’re heading your way. We know you’ll love ’em, so tell your friends the Midnight Riders are coming.

The tour kicks off at home at Lion’s Lair on June 26th with Poet’s Row and Tree Machines.

7/2 – Boise, ID ~ The Crux
7/3 – Portland, OR ~ The Velo Cult Bike Shop & Tavern
7/4 – Tacoma, WA ~ Independence Day BBQ show w/ Sporty Lee
7/5 – Seattle, WA ~ The Blue Moon w/ Sporty Lee and Medicine Bows
7/6 – Portland, OR ~ The White Eagle
7/7 – Chico, CA ~ 1078 Gallery w/ Jeb Draper
7/8 – Sacramento, CA ~ The Torch Club
7/9 – Sacramento, CA ~ The Shady Lady
7/10 – San Francisco, CA ~ Optical Underground
7/11 – Los Angeles, CA ~ Genghis Cohen
7/12 – San Diego, CA ~ The Tin Roof
7/13 – Phoenix, AZ ~ The Trunk Space
7/15 – Tempe, AZ ~ Yucca Tap Room
7/16 – Tucson, AZ – The Fly Catcher
7/17 – Santa Fe, NM – GHOST (diy space) w/ Cole Bee Wilson
7/18 – Grand Junction, CO – The Local w/ Mount Orchid
7/19 – Montrose, CO – Town Hall Tavern
7/24 – Denver, CO – Denver Post Underground Music Showcase
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Roma Ransom: A Colorado Original

I met Roma Ransom two years ago when they participated in the Mountain Acoustic Music Association’s Acoustic Idol songwriting and performance competition in Woodland Park, Colo. I was taken with their craft, their infectious joy, and their chemistry. Hearing them, I was transported back to my travels through eastern Europe and to my previous home in Edinburgh, Scotland, where sea shanties rang out through the pubs on a nightly basis. They’ve been on my radar ever since, and I’m happy to present their music and their story to you. Gordon Lewis’ remarks are included on the band’s behalf. – Darren

A chance encounter 

Gordon Lewis and Grace Easley met in Springfield, Mo., busking in the downtown square. I was riding in a pedicab playing my banjo, and Grace signaled for me to come over to her and play some music and that’s where it began! We started traveling, somewhat like vagabonds, making money busking and getting whatever gigs we could.

At a Santa Fe gig in July 2011, someone broke into Gordon’s car and stole all their busking money. On the heels of that disappointment, the duo came to Colorado Springs and got teaching jobs. They found the local music scene to be very welcoming and tight-knit, so they stuck around.

The Music, The Muse

The band’s self titled album is for sale at gigs and online.

We have a tough time describing our sound since Grace’s and my musical backgrounds are drastically different. The music we create is a giant conglomeration of styles we have picked up throughout the years. I call our style ‘Eclectic Bohemian World Folk.’

That sweet band name, though … 

We’re not true Roma, so I felt like we are ‘ransoming’ the music from the Roma culture, obviously with no intent for the Roma people having to get the music back from us. I also feel that the term ‘gypsy’ is very derogatory to Romani people so I did not want to use that in our name. I see the Roma culture being destroyed in the media … so I wanted to use our band name as a statement to raise some awareness about the culture as well as the music. And if you flip the word Roma, it spells Amor, which translates to ‘Love Ransom.’ So there you have it – many meanings!

A rich musical heritage

Grace started playing violin at age 7 and picked up the viola as a teenager. She also plays melodica, cello, harp, ukulele and lap dulcimer and is a tremendous singer. Grace was classically trained in St. Louis and was a part of the St. Louis Youth Symphony.

Gordon began playing saxophone at age 10 and guitar at age 12. He took piano lessons in his teen years as well as band and choir. He had heavy doses of gospel and bluegrass growing up, but he also played in metal and punk bands. Gordon is a multi-instrumentalist, too, playing trombone, trumpet, clarinet, flute, bulbul tarang, harmonica, banjo, accordion, oboe, balalaika, bouzouki, bass, assorted hand percussion, violin, and any other instrument he can get his hands on. For live gigs, he mostly plays accordion and guitar but he has also been incorporating cajon, foot percussion, looping brass and woodwinds.

The Colorado Springs Scene

We love the Colorado Springs scene and are grateful for the musicians here and the help they gave us to make sure that we got gigs. We love to see new places, meet new people and try to make the most of our youth while we still have it! Playing music is still very fun for us so we figure we might as well keep doing it as long as we enjoy it. Lots of coffee and yerba mate keep us going!

And Beyond

It’s hard to say what our favorite place is to play. One cool spot we recently fell in love with was the Cloud Station in Crestone. It had a great vibe and was very fitting for our style of music. In Colorado Springs we always enjoy playing at The Wild Goose Meeting House, Coquette’s, Bristol Brewing and Rico’s, just to name a few.

On Songwriting as a Duo

Our process in writing a song is usually me coming up with a chord progression/rhythmic idea that’s typically influenced by a certain style I am into at the time. Then Grace will come up with a melody on the violin, and we will usually go through numerous variations on one theme to determine what our favorite parts are.

Four Questions with The Devil Makes Three

[image by Meredith Powell]

BEHOLD: The Devil Makes Three is back in Denver, baby, with a killer live show and a musical fire in the belly. Hard to believe it’s been a year and change since they released “I’m a Stranger Here” to widespread critical acclaim (and the howls of derision from the bands who ape their sound). They’re going to put the new songs deep in ya this Saturday night. TDM3 is just about elbow-deep into a winter tour, putting their Ameripunkana spell on very willing audiences. They’re a long way from Santa Cruz living rooms now, but this band still gives a damn about the fans, the music, and putting on a wicked live performance.

In advance of the show, Pete Bernhard has taken a minute to field four hard-hitting (not) questions. I love him for it.

SS: Any standout memories of past touring moments in Colorado?

PB: Playing Red Rocks with Trampled By Turtles and Deer Tick and also playing there with Yonder. The most beautiful venue we have ever had the pleasure of playing! 

SS: What keeps touring and making music interesting for you?

PB: Writing new material and having musicians we love sit in with us. Getting to share the stage with people who are heroes like Willie Nelson. 

SS: Who are you listening to – musically or otherwise – at the moment?

PB: I’m listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” and Buck Owens. 

SS: What can the Denver audience expect to hear and see?

PB: They can expect some secret musical guests and to have their faces melted completely off by banjo fury.

The Devil Makes Three, with Joe Pug, doors 8 pm Saturday, Fillmore Auditorium. Age 16+

‘Treat Yourself’ to new e.p. by The Whiskey Treats

If the winter doldrums have you begging for a reason to boogie, keep reading. Denver’s own The Whiskey Treats released their debut e.p. “Treat Yourself” four days ago, and I testify that it’ll make you grab your partner, swing low, raise the roof, and even cause involuntary fits of (in my case, difficult to watch) jig dancing.

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For those unfamiliar, The Whiskey Treats serve up a bluegrass-punk fusion that might be the stepchild of Ricky Skaggs and Dropkick Murphys. Is this the true definition of farmcore? Who knows. But it’s a great listen and frankly a nice surprise. There’s plenty of traditional bluegrass in Colorado and scads of punk. Fuse the two with a beat that borders on ska, and you’ve found The Whiskey Treats. Great fiddle and banjo duels, upright bass, mando, and guitar with lots of shoutable gang vocals. Upbeat and then some. On the band’s bandcamp page, you can listen to and buy the whole e.p. (only $4, c’mon people!!) and watch a lyric video for “Best Day of the Year.”

The Whiskey Treats are rockin’ the Walnut Room on Jan. 23rd. Shine your boots, alert your pals, organize the taxi, and let the wild rumpus start! Supporting local music means something. When it’s as high-octane as The Whiskey Treats, you’re really getting the best of the scene.

The Stubborn Sounds Top 10 Songs of 2014

Drumroll please … I now present the 10 best songs I heard this year by Colorado bands or those with a close Colorado connection. My ears were bursting with so much great local music in 2014! Thanks to everyone who got in touch to share what you’ve created. I love writing about the Colorado sound. Please note some, but not all, of the songs on the list were released this year. In some cases I only first heard the track in ’14. Let’s get to it.

10. Prize, by Plume Varia (Denver). Beautiful, tripnotic dream landscape. As heard on their Prize / Enable e.p. My original review is here

9. Ocean Floor, by The Wild After (Denver). The ultimate melancholy pop song. I love the lyrics. Saw these guys in late spring as their tour was commencing. 

8. Until the End, by Churchill (Denver). This soulful tune puts a lump in my throat. I’m a huge fan, and I felt very bad in my soul when the band quit. I can’t embed the song here, but it is a doozy. Back in May, I interviewed bassist Tyler Rima. Read here.

7. My Ground, by Esther Sparks & The Whiskey Remedy (Lafayette). Disclaimer: I’m in this band. But I love this song that my friend and bandmate Esther wrote. My wife (also in the band) put down some sick drums on it, too. 

6. Flammable Parts, by Rough Age (Colorado Springs). Fans of Elvis Costello will love this. Great whistling section, killer moody vibe. I love it. My original review is here

5. Riding the Ripple, by Glowing House (Denver). Singer Steve Varney recorded this in Jack White’s Voice-o-Graph booth in Nashville. It’s badass and on their new “Balance With Me” e.p. 

4. Known & Loved, by Joel Ansett (Denver). This gorgeous song has layers. Give it a few spins and you’ll hear, as I do, the work of a serious songwriter. Joel recently crowd-funded a new album. 

3. What You Want To, by Ark Life (Denver). A band I reviewed when they were very new to Denver in early 2013 stormed forth with a killer full length album (“The Dream of You & Me”) this year. The piano riff and great harmonies bring me back. 

2. I’m Not Enough, by All Is Not Lost (Woodland Park). This duo, featuring my nephew Russell Patterson and Benji Hobson, put me on notice this year that the kids are gonna be running the show soon. Or maybe they already do. Don’t believe it? Listen to this.

1. Movement is True, by Run Spirit Horse (L.A./Boulder). West Coast music man Aaron Ferenc regularly comes home to Boulder County to visit family and friends. His e.p., “The War,” blew me away this year. “Movement is True” has been my healing song for months. It’s not on soundcloud yet (click HERE instead). 

Glowing House is Breaking the Music Mold (and I love it)

{featured image above by Merne Judson III}

Have I mentioned that I love local music? That’s not to say that my local music is only heard around here. Oh no no. Denver’s music travels. It innovates. It resteth not on its laurels. It … well … it never sleeps. And since I’m listening to so much of it, neither do I.

So we must discuss Denver’s Glowing House, a quintet featuring Michael John McKee (drums); Neil McCormick (bass); Phil Parker (cello, also cellist for Gregory Alan Isakov); and at the helm married duo Jess Parsons (vocals, keyboard, accordion) and Steve Varney (vocals, guitar, banjo, also guitarist for Gregory Alan Isakov). The band is freshly back from some European dates and ready to soak Denver in its tunes.

Glowing House is in the thick of an e.p. project of sorts. Every two months or so, they’re releasing a studio version of a polished track (the single) and a couple of B-sides (live recordings, reworked older tunes). The first songs have dropped; the latest e.p., “Balance With Me,” is released TOMORROW so get to Hi-Dive Friday night for their gig with The Centennial and Kyle James Hauser); and a third offering is planned for January.

BalanceDigital

Varney explains: “We’re early in the project, but it’s been fruitful so far. Our first release, ‘Your Own Devices,’ has been received really well. We’re watching our audience grow because of it so we’re really excited to keep it going. It also makes us work our asses off rehearsing, writing, recording, making videos, booking … we’re experiencing everything that makes a band better in a much more dense way than if we disappeared for a year and a half to make a full length record. And that’s why we’re doing it this way.”

You have to stay active and present in the minds of your audience, especially in today’s vast, immediate music culture. – S. Varney

Stop. Reread what you just read. Is it me or is this a genuinely refreshing approach to releasing new music? And speaking of music, Glowing House’s sound is delicate and sinewy. The harmony is my weakness. Accomplished instrumental touches, yet nothing showy. Poetic lyrics. Beautiful.

I have heard the new songs, and I want very much to tell you about them. But I shall not do it. That privilege belongs to the band. Do yourself a favor. Get to the gig. Listen well. Glowing House should be on your radar.

You’re on theirs.

The Lone Bellow: Boulder, CO 14th Oct 2014

I’ve been unlucky when it comes to witnessing The Lone Bellow in concert. Both of their shows that I planned to attend in recent memory (Hi-Dive, Denver, March 2013) and Boulder (last summer) were sacked. But my friends, apparently wonders won’t ever cease. The Lone Bellow did in fact take the stage at the Fox Theatre last night, and I wish they were still on it.

If you turned up at the Fox to strut; if you planned to enjoy the visceral experience of live music through a screen while ignoring the stage; if you were a hot mess; or if for any other reason you were too full of Boulder baloney to listen … then God knows you were in the wrong room last night. The Lone Bellow hold nothing, absolutely nothing, back. If their music teaches anything, it’s a twofold lesson that goes like this. 1) Passion counts. 2) Be relentlessly faithful to your gifts.

Elmquist and Williams find the groove. by @stubbornsounds

The boys find the groove.                  @stubbornsounds

It’s a rare band that is chock-full of solo superstar talents so generous to each other as an ensemble. Several times lead singer Zach Williams removed himself from center stage to allow the spotlight to fall squarely on mandolinist and singer Kanene Pipkin. Not even the hardest heart in the room could withstand her take on Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away,” which was performed in the encore. Impeccable three- and four-part harmonies (we heard you, too, bassist Jason Pipkin) were in abundance throughout the set. This of course is a hallmark of The Lone Bellow’s debut album, which was produced by Nashville’s Charlie Peacock.

The show itself kept a fast pace, as did the live delivery of the familiar tunes. I don’t know why, but I was expecting things to be quieter, on the whole. Sure, there were delicate moments when the band’s three principal members gathered around one mic, but songs like “Bleeding Out,” “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold” and “The One You Should’ve Let Go” were absolute beasts at full bore. Drummer Brian Griffin and singer/guitarist Brian Elmquist had the most surprises in store, with huge shotgun blast beats and scorching leads, respectively. In fact, Elmquist’s first surprise came when he stagecrashed, shirtless, the set of opening band Hugh Bob & The Hustle. It was Hugh Bob’s last night on the tour and first time in Boulder. They took no prisoners. Great set, fully of chunky, bluesy riffs and some very well written, thoughtful lyrics.

Williams and Pipkin credit @stubbornsounds

Williams and Pipkin
@stubbornsounds

So, let’s see. I’ve basically told my readers that it was a great concert by talented musicians. What is so much harder to describe is the look, the feel, the sound of a band going all in. It’s sweat flying off instruments. It’s singers gasping for air between songs. It’s water bottles littering the stage. It’s the joy on the band’s collective face when the audience sings the chorus back to them. It’s generosity, like when Williams pulled a wild, bare-chested Jeff Fenholt lookalike on stage for a massive group hug. It’s photographers who should be shooting but can’t because they’re dancing. It’s strings breaking. It’s egos kept in check so that the music may touch hearts without manipulating them. All of these things are unpacked by The Lone Bellow night after night. One can appreciate that when tours last months, it’s not easy to be “on” all the time. But this band will give its fans everything it can. After all, it was only four years ago they were sitting around a diner, asking if this is really happening.

The band is touring through the end of the year, mostly in the Southeast and with a few Midwest dates. Go. Go. Go. Come January, we’ll all be blissing out to the new album. If it has half the melodic power of the first or can strike even a little of its balance between folk and pop, we’ll be in for for something special.