Todd Adelman: Highways & Lowways (in review)

Funny, the people I meet sometimes. I crossed paths with Todd Adelman in a most unmusical way: a business meeting. But the gods decreed that I should find out about his music, and now I’m no less than stoked to report on his latest album.

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Todd lives and runs The Mountain House studio up in Nederland. You might know Nederland from the storied Caribou Ranch studio that brought many a musical icon to this tiny town. These days, Nederland is still home to musicians a’plenty, and the legendary Pioneer Inn is as good as it gets for a pint, a band, and some chin-wagging.

“Highways and Lowways” is officially my summer jam. Music lovers in Colorado tend to go pretty nuts for the blues this time of year, and I can hear these tunes bouncing off the mountains at every festival from Telluride to Trinidad. Anchored by 14 original songs by Todd, the album was recorded at The Mountain House by a bevy of A-list players including Andy Hess (Black Crowes), Diego Voglino (Marshall Crenshaw), Doug Pettibone (Lucinda Williams), Kelvin Holly (Little Richard) and Pete Rubens (The Old Nationals). Chad Hailey (JJ Cale, Neil Young) and Brandon Bell (Alison Krauss, Darrell Scott) engineered and mixed it to tape.

I could stop right there, and you’d be scrambling to pull this album up online.

Highways-Lowways-CD-COVER

These melodies range from 12 bar blues to rock and country with folk sprinkles. I don’t know that I’d call this an Alt-country album. To me, the collective tone of these songs lacks a certain smugness (and I’m glad) that often comes with that label. One man’s opinion. Todd’s a one-man band on his own, playing guitar, piano, harmonica and of course singing, but wow the band kicks ass.

“Save Your Tears (For When I Say Goodbye)” is a jangly piano-driven ballad with bang-on performances on electric guitar and pedal steel. Todd turns some great phrases in this lyrical kiss-off, too.

My favorite track is “Ghost Train,” a straight-ahead song of lament lifted by a subtle horn section and delicate backing vocals set perfectly in the mix. Who among us isn’t haunted sometimes? A song like this grabs the heart and says what you perhaps cannot.

The lead single, “Cold Mississippi Blues,” is the one that’ll get you on your feet. It can hang with anything Drivin’ n Cryin’ is throwing down and summons just a hint of classic Skynyrd. I’m a sucker for songs with place names, too, so I can imagine sweatin’ out this love-gone-bad way down in the Delta.

Front to back, this album bends every note into submission on the way to becoming the sound of Colorado. There are nuanced surprises waiting; it’s a near-to-complete work when heard as a rhythm n’ blues record.

Todd Adelman and The Country Mile, his current band, have a number of gigs booked a little later in the summer. It would be well worth your time to seek them out and hear the live interpretations of these killer tunes. It’s summer – time to rock n’ roll.

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Bad(ass) Case of The UGLYS

The UGLYS have been a band for nigh on three years, yet they performed live for the first time this February. Just imagine … three years of crafting tunes, exploring the sonic palette, before any stage time. I wish more bands would give their songs that much time to incubate, to evolve, to become. The UGLYS are Zach Kane (guitar, drums, voice), Jared Kane (bass … and brother), and Victor Jadlow (guitar, voice).

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Now, things have gotten too legit for The UGLYS and their fans as the band is due to release its “High as Heaven, Drunk as Hell” e.p. on June 26th. It was recorded by former Suicide Squeeze artist Tim Gerak (The Photo Atlas, InnerOceans) at Mammoth Cave Studios in Denver.

The UGLYS are a post hardcore stoner/punk band. I think that distinction is right on. There are too many tempo changes and heavy, heavy riffs to be punk in the Ramones sense of the word. How about this: If The Mars Volta, Screaming Trees, SOAD, Royal Blood and Rancid could somehow all parent one musical child, it might – might – sound a little like The UGLYS. That’s my take. I’m happy to hear something this aggressive that’s anchored by some theory chops. Keeps it interesting. I’m a fan.

“High as Heaven, Drunk as Hell” is a 20-minute blitzkrieg of styles in four blistering tracks. Zach Kane: “Our style is heavily influenced by the post-hardcore bands of the early 2000s, i.e. The Blood Brothers, At the Drive In, Underoath, etc., balanced with late 80s/early90s post-punk Fugazi, The Talking Heads, Liars. Then we threw in some stoner metal to seal in the mix (Sleep, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Bison BC).” Preview a couple of tracks here.

The Denver release gig is on July 17th at Hi-Dive. This is gonna be a serious knockout event. Whiplash warning: Don’t come to mosh without getting limber first. The beat’s too hot for your safety.

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.

Thirteen Questions with Tyto Alba

TYTO ALBA is a brilliant indie rock four-piece “born” in August 2014 that I’ve been listening to a lot lately. Meet singer/songwriter/guitarist Melanie Steinway, guitarist Matt Rossi, bassist Ryan Self, and drummer Jeremy Van Zandt. Steinway and Self previously played together in Howl Moonshine Howl, while Rossi and Van Zandt performed in Umbrella Weather.

Melanie and Matt were kind enough to entertain my queries for the latest installment of “Thirteen Questions.”

1) Why an owl for a band name? MS: It’s the scientific name of barn owls. I love the way it flows. It feels simultaneously graceful and powerful and therefore really emulates our sound. I love animals and most of my artwork circulates around animals and nature, so the name felt perfect in that aspect as well.

Crossword

image by Ian Glass Media

 
2) Can you describe the melding of your two bands into one? MS: It was a bit more complicated than melding together two bands. MR: While Melanie and Ryan carry the melody and softness, Jeremy and I bring in a bit of dissonance and a more aggressive edge. The relationship between the two solidifies our sound. 

3) What’s everyone’s day job? MS: I’m a tattoo artist, freelance illustrator and fine artist. I just make things look pretty. I’ve also recently become a caretaker for two baby guinea pigs, so that’s pretty sweet. Ryan is an online high-school teacher, and Jeremy works part-time as a silkscreener at Indy Ink, but if you’ve got a job for him, hit him up because he sleeps too much. MR: I am a full-time student at MSU Denver studying music production and management. When I’m not in school, I work as a band coach for local high-school rock bands. Other than that, I work part-time at a local boutique where I sell sparkles and candles.


4) How was SXSW? MR: Melanie and I had an amazing time mingling downtown. Our rhythm section is a bit more withdrawn and had a good time enjoying the local food and drinks. MS: I had such a great time and met so many amazing bands and people. I saw Milo Greene live, which was great, along with several Philadelphia bands that I hope to pursue a long-term relationship with, namely Vita & the Woolf, Tutlie, and Owl & Wolf. We also met a great Denver band called Mega Gem. It was such a valuable experience as far as the music scene goes. Also, the food trucks in Austin are amazing. I can’t wait to go back. 

5) Where did you record the “Oh Tame One” ep?  MS: In our drummer’s living room in the good ol’ DIY fashion with our friend and fellow musician Noah Simons of Denver post-punk band Male Blonding. It went very smoothly … because we had been working on solidifying the songs for months. Noah mixed the album as well, and then Brian Bash of Sonido Studios mastered it. 

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6) How did you create the e.p. cover art? MS: I went through two drafts. I made the initial artwork into a t-shirt design and progressed to the second design, which is a bit more stark and looks better at that smaller size. I did it initially with pen and ink and added the color in Photoshop. It’s hard to say how long it took since I chronically multitask while I’m working on artwork. I love doing all of the band’s art. It’s branding at its most personal. 

7) Is Denver a hard place to break out of? What do you think of our music scene? MR: The scene has become much more revitalized as the city has gained popularity over the last few years. We’re starting to gain national attention out here. “Breaking out” is sort of a hard term to identify. MS: The music scene here is pretty tight-knit, so it takes time to establish yourself after walking into the city as someone nobody knows. I love how everyone seems to play in everyone else’s band, and people are just so supportive. Illegal Pete’s has done wonderful things for the music scene here, most notable for us being the SXSW Kickoff Show at the beginning of March. That really helped us and a bunch of other local bands raise money to cover the cost of traveling to Austin. I’ve also seen some bands host some really impressive benefit shows for fellow musicians and friends in need that have suffered expensive injuries, which is really heartwarming. I’m looking forward to participating in this scene and seeing where it heads in the next few years. 

8) Touring plans this year? MS: We may go to Kansas to play with some musician friends of mine or Montana, but we’re mostly staying in the area to work on some new material in preparation for a full-length album. There are more local scenes we’re looking forward to exploring like CO Springs and Fort Collins. I’m from Boulder, so it’s fun to bring the band there every once in a while, too. 

9) If the band was starving on a deserted island, who would get eaten first? MR: Probably me. I’d be able to give up one of my legs. Being that I’m the most energetic of the band, I wouldn’t mind getting a sweet pegleg and hopping around. Melanie would probably be the tastiest, though, seeing as she has the best diet of the band. 

10) Does this band have a collective ethos? MR: We all want to explore music to the fullest; music is all we see. MS: The thrill that we all get playing in front of a receptive audience is like nothing else. The sense of community … of family … it warms my heart and makes me feel so full. I love how social of an art form it is, and I constantly look forward to the brilliant new people we get to meet every show. 


11) Most bands imagine themselves to be democracies, but aren’t. Who’s in charge? MR: Melanie. Duh. MS: Haha, I suppose that would be me. I brought the band together and handle the basic songwriting, as well as most of the promotion, booking, and visual/artistic aspects of the band. But everyone contributes. Matt handles a lot of our social media, Jeremy prints our t-shirts, and Ryan helps out with applying to festivals and also made us a sweet stage marquee with our name illuminated.

12) Can you say a few words about your songwriting process? MS: I’ll bring a basic song to the table, and over the course of a band practice it will completely transform in energy and often change time signature. It’s really exciting to see a song morph like that once everyone puts their piece in. I used to get really emotionally attached to the way I wrote a song, so it makes me happy to see myself progress in being able to love a song without being overly attached and embracing its transformation within the group. 

13) Why should someone come to Hi-Dive on April 9th for your e.p. release gig? MR: Because we love running around on stage. I try really hard not to swear excessively on stage because Melanie glares at me, but sometimes I can’t hold it back. Also Jeremy usually takes off his pants halfway through the set. Melanie usually ends up chucking around the drumset in a rage at which time Matt, Ryan and Jeremy attempt their flawless Kenny Loggins set that they’ve been trying to revive since the ’80s. Also we have this kickass new sign with our name on it that Ryan made. MS: We put on an energetic and engaging show. We’ll have our e.p. that I made by hand for sale, and we’re also playing alongside two killer bands: All Chiefs from Boulder and Oko Tygra from Denver. We love the Hi-Dive and it’s going to be a great night!

Brolly is Here (Resistance is Futile)

What’s that joke again? Oh yeah – Colorado should be called “East California.”

Yes, we do have our share of sun-drenched transplants, and none more radiant of late than Brolly.

Brolly is: Jacob Ithurburn (primary songwriter and vocalist, guitarist), Cody Martin (guitar, electronics wiz, trumpet), Kristen and Chelsea Famularo (married) on drums/voice and keys/uke/voice, respectively, and new bassist and Boulderite Adam Burkett. (Chelsea also grew up in Denver.) Brolly has a pair of e.p. recordings, and their new crowdfunded video could drop any day.

Brolly comes to us from Northern California. I’m writing this a couple of hours after witnessing their first Denver gig on Feb. 3rd, an opening slot for The Moth & The Flame and Saint Motel at Larimer Lounge. Fact: They were not easy to follow.

Denver, I am proud to be among the first local music writers to tell you: This is YOUR band now.

Mile-high music lovers always rally around great bands; I know that will happen in this case. But Denver is not just going to absorb Brolly. It’s going to launch them.

Brolly has a densely melodic guitar attack with a monster backbeat. Three-part harmony? Standard. Their sound unpeels in layers, revealing varied sonic tones as songs progress. I don’t think I’m blowing smoke up anyone’s kilt by stating that they are a musically gifted bunch. Not a bum vocal note, and oh boy I was listening.

Jacob Ithurburn-@stubbornsounds

Jacob Ithurburn @stubbornsounds

On this night, the mix was sweet (kudos, sound guy), so there was no flat spot anywhere as I listened in front of, beside, and behind the stage. What is not so easy to describe is the emotional, yearning feeling that Brolly’s music summons in the heart of the listener. I was moved by the band’s collective honest, unassuming demeanor. It’s precisely the right foundation on which to craft such impassioned songs.

Brolly is new to these parts but by no means new to the stage. Of all the music cities they could have moved to, they chose Denver. Show ’em love. Browse the gig photo album here.

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.

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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.