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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Augustus (and everything after)

*image above by Becky Guidera

See what I did there?

So, look. Most of my reviews are about Denver bands. Mile High has a lot going on, musically, and really it becomes a numbers game. There are so many bands to highlight, and most of them have the secret sauce.

But I have a secret, too. Despite being a fierce advocate for Denver happenings, I hang my hat in Boulder County. And I’m delighted when I can bang the drum for a really great Boulder band. So readers please give a warm Stubborn Sounds welcome to AUGUSTUS. I don’t know why they’re only now on my radar (my fault).

Augustus is a modern Americana trio featuring Colin Kelly on voice and guitar, Jesse Wright on cello, and Jim Herlihy on banjo, guitar, and drums. In 2014, they dropped “The Common Collapse” e.p., which you can pick up at their shows, online, at Absolute Vinyl and at Bart’s Music in Boulder.

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I’m generally not smitten with band bios (sorry bands), but I was pretty blown away by the poetry of Augustus’ own description of its sound: “Harvested from the most significant American musical movements—bluegrass, folk, blues, and jazz—Augustus music reminds one of a time gone by that probably never existed, but one wishes it had. And while it is aligned with a current trend—the return to Americana: banjos, cellos, a kick drum, and a soulful singer … Augustus remains distinct, as do all groups that root themselves in truly great songwriting.”

I’m going to let that description do the work because I simply can’t say it any better. However, I do have an observation. Sometimes I get lost when searching for the Boulder sound. The positive of that is there’s plenty of variety in the Republic. The downside is that bands struggle to stand out. When I imagine what a pillar of the Boulder music scene might sound like, it should echo into the night sky. It should feel human. It should not shy from gravitas or joy. Lyrics are sung honestly, without affect. Someone’s truth, accessible to all. I have found this in Augustus.

“North” is the lead song on the e.p., and it’s been a hit for the band. It’s a stompin’ bluesy dirge that Robert Randolph could get down with – a complete foot stomper/head bobber making fine use of that distinct banjo sound. The e.p. is a moody, funky, genre-jumping trip with anchors in Americana.

Too bad for everyone already shaving their ‘tache and wagging fingers at “acoustic bands.” To you I say that when the apocalypse comes and you can’t plug in your Moog, Boulder will be clamoring for its sound, a musical belief system, and Augustus will provide it.

In the meantime, Augustus is playing around Boulder every couple of weeks, so go support and tell ’em I sent ya.

The Still Tide: Stirring new e.p. just released, tour underway

Man oh man, Denver is blessed with a glut of great bands, many of which consist of artists who came here from somewhere else. (The native Coloradan is an endangered species.) Such is true of The Still Tide – a local trio by way of the Big Apple. You’ll know Anna Morsett, singer and songwriter, from Ark Life, Kaki King, and These United States; Jacob Miller, lead guitar, via Anthony Ruptak and The Kissing Club; and Aaron Latos, drums and keyboards, for James Fearnley, These United States, and Karl Berger. Guest member Natalie Tate also appears on recordings and at various Colorado gigs.

image by Ty Hyten / www.tyhyten.com

image by Ty Hyten / http://www.tyhyten.com

The gang of three previously toured and recorded as Yet Cut Breath, and The Still Tide was a solo outlet for Morsett in the wake of helping to create Ark Life and while nurturing other projects, too. Fate saw that the three should reunite over the past year and craft the sound that led to the March release of the “Half Empty Rooms” 4-song e.p. and subsequent tour.

I am emotionally caught up in this recording. “Field of Bells” is a tightly-wound, melancholy tune that dips into deliciously minor keys. I might be hearing a glockenspiel or chimes, and I really love Anna’s vocal delivery. It’s given softly, not forcefully, which causes me to pay closer attention to the lyrics. Some singers play tricks, having written something completely lighthearted that sounds utterly sad. But this is no trick.

In “Empire,” the initial guitar swell makes me think of Bedhead, which is always a good thing. The melody flows like a lazy river, nodding to jazz chords while ascending into a blur of fuzz about three minutes in and then reducing itself again to a quiet beat. The feeling of this song is like waking up to a sweet-smelling rain.

image by Ty Hyten

image by Ty Hyten

The rest, you can discover on your own. Sadly, you’ve missed the e.p. launch, and you’ll have to be in Europe to catch a live show from now until June (unless you’re in Brooklyn on Friday night – The Living Room, 9 pm). But The Still Tide’s dreamy tunes will be echoing again in Denver soon enough. Patience, friends.

Letting it Flow with The River Arkansas

Is Mike Clark a one-man Colorado music institution? Seems that way sometimes when you consider his much-loved bandography: The Ghost of Michael Clark, The Haunted Windchimes, and The Sugar Sounds.

Mike Clark

Mike Clark

Not to be outdone by himself, Clark now fronts a band called The River Arkansas (he lives beside said river) with some of our state’s best players, including members of Clouds + Mountains, Spirits of the Red City, and Princess Music. “Golden Light” is the band’s debut, and it tips the hat to Clark’s previous endeavors, drawing from rock, Americana, soul, and gypsy folk.

The River Arkansas is Clark, Macon Terry, Robin Chestnut, Rachel Sliker, and Danah Olivetree in whose lithe hands banjo, drums, violin, guitar, cello, upright bass, and more make a mighty noise.

The sound of this band is absolutely at home at any mountain festival, but don’t assume it to be another one-trick folk pony. No way. This’ll play in the city.

Just to mention a couple of my favorite tracks … “Cold Lonesome Feeling” rolls along with a loose R&B tempo and gets a little zing from some jangly lead guitar licks. Sample lyric: “Well I try my best to be kind / But my heart’s somewhere down the line / Breaking free, shaking loose, and busting out / Well there ain’t no love left in the city / Ain’t no heart in the walking dead / A cold lonesome feeling in my head /

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Contrast that with the title track, a slow-burning and mournful missive in which violin and cello soar over some truly reflective lyrics. I’ll take this one with my 6 a.m. coffee or my dram on the porch when the sun’s going down. It is a beauty.

The album’s getting its proper Denver debut at Mercury Cafe on April 1st. In the broadest terms, this band sounds like Colorado. That alone ought to get you in the door, but the nuanced performances throughout the recording will keep you coming back and maybe even haunt you. Just a little.

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+

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.