‘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.

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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.

Rough Age: Musical Boundaries be Damned

Let us now point our ears south down I-25 to Colorado Springs, a city whose music scene has been called many things but is never boring. As with any other reasonably big urban center, some COS bands languish in obscurity, some gain a regional following, and still others do exactly what they want to do, no matter who is listening. That’s what I think is happening with Rough Age.

“He’s at that rough age.” Get it? Pretty clever band name.

Rough Age flashed lean and hungry onto the scene two years ago, the collaboration of songwriter Nathan Archer with Tracy Santa and Michael Salkind (also a duo called Wild Hares) on bass and drums, respectively. The band’s full length debut, Before It Comes Apart, is available here and here.

It’s a very cool album, not what I was expecting, although it must be said I don’t know what I was expecting. I couldn’t pinpoint a central theme, so I made what I thought was a very levelheaded decision: ask the songwriter what it’s about.

Rough Age, two seconds before they jumped up, grabbed their instruments, and melted your face. (courtesy of

Rough Age, two seconds before they jumped up, grabbed their instruments, and rocked your face. (Image by Sarah Milteer)

“It’s much more of a collection of songs than a concept album,” says Archer. “The common thread seems to be portraits of people losing their shit or struggling in one way or another. A lot of those people are versions of myself or people I’ve known, like ‘Chemistry’ or ‘Tumbling Down’ and others are pure fiction, like in ‘Great Awakening’ or ‘Flammable Parts.'”

Speaking of Flammable Parts, let’s do a wee dissection of this tune. Gentle minor strumming, a touchy bass line sticking largely to root notes (thank you), and a very patient beat, some whistling, some organ. Sparse on lyrics, but they’re delivered in a pensive style that has to be compared to Elvis Costello, which should be taken as a compliment.

In over your head / But then you knew it from the start / She’ll tug and you will tear / Into a thousand flammable parts

In another life, this might have been a hidden track on King of America.

Archer readily confesses the Costello influence, but there are others that we would all be so lucky to have on heavy rotation. “I’ve always loved songs with a sense of drama and danger, however gratuitous – stuff like Nick Cave, the Toadies, and especially Richard Thompson lately,” he explains. “We all love that early punk/pub-rock era, too – Elvis Costello is a huge (and probably obvious) influence of mine – I actually played keyboards in a Costello tribute last fall. I like to think I picked up a little of his vocal delivery, or his ability to deliver edgy, bitter lyrics with a sweet melody.”

Before It Comes Apart takes its name from the lyrics to “San Gabriel.” Grant me this indulgence to be dredged out from my heart / Before it comes apart

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Archer: “I guess it’s both an accurate description of catharsis for me and an admission that some of the autobiographical stuff has been simplified in the lyrics.”

The album was recorded and mixed by a band friend, Dan Nelson, who runs Rainwerks Studios out of his house. Archer says more than half of the album (especially drums, bass, and electric guitar) happened live, much of it in one take. So if you’re looking for something as polished as your church shoes, keep looking. The mix is edgy.

I further asked Archer and Salkind how they would describe their music to someone who has never heard them, without making comparisons to other bands.

NA: “Smart-ass, catchy rock and roll with a touch of country.”

MS:  “A lot of power pop, some new wave (the non-synth variety), and some R&B by way of London in the late 70s.”

Another song from the album, “Al Jazeera,” seems to have some buzz. Acoustic driven, with a strum pattern that is part Sea Shanty, part Horah. A true head bobber about, well, I don’t know. It’s sorta cryptic. Holed up in your castle /You swear you’ll never leave / You’ll be replaced tomorrow with a new regime / Now, all around the world are shiny new facades / I saw it all on Al Jazeera

I’m a lyrics lover, and I am not satisfied with a song unless I know what’s being sung. In fact, I don’t appreciate the music bed as much if I am frustrated by not “getting” the lyrics. I like Archer’s writing. He describes his process: “It’s weirdly important to me that lyrics read well. I probably overthink them a little bit, but I want every song to have a setting, some kind metaphor or imagery, and some kind of narrative flow that directs the dynamics. A lot of these songs have several pages of backstory that never made it into the lyrics, which is why I can’t seem to write anything under three minutes. Too many verses. Hell, some of them have two bridges. Once I hit on a sound that really excites me, I’ll work backwards from it and think of a half-dozen stories I could build around it. It takes me a long time.”

The rock crowd will get into opening track “Adelita.” Santa has a rolling beat going, and there’s a dynamic shift late in the song that could easily free form into epic jam madness in concert.

“Achilles” is catchy as hell. It’s poppy. The bass and lead guitars compete to stay memorable, and they both win. Musically, this might be my favorite. There are numerous cross-genre moments on the album. You’ll listen to it a few times before you get a “sense” for it.

So where is Rough Age playing live? Next show is Aug. 31 at the Commonwheel Arts Festival in Manitou Springs.

I’ll give Nathan Archer the last word, and it’s about being in a Colorado Springs band.

“I think the local show experience sums up the good and bad pretty clearly: a bunch of great bands playing mostly to each other. I think we have a fantastic amount of talent here, but it does feel like there’s a pretty limited audience for original music. We’re probably better off than most; we’re not completely alien to the typical bar band and can play a few places the more experimental bands can’t. But there’s still this expectation with most people that a bar band should be playing classic rock covers and formula blues, and if you want to get out to where the ears are, you always have to fight it.”

(And fight it, they do!)

Meeting Josh Max (or To Hear Him is to Be Intrigued)

Last Thursday night, my wife and I stepped out to Longmont’s Dickens Opera House to take in some open mic magic. Part of my history is running open mics, and I have a soft spot in my heart for them. It’s great to hear music that’s happening in a truly local setting. Sometimes it’s rough around the edges; sometimes it’s unexpectedly wonderful. And for some, getting on stage takes a lot of guts. Kudos to them! Open mics often create a real sense of camaraderie among participants, and I certainly saw that in Longmont. I must say, too, that Dickens is a beautiful space.

But we weren’t just there for the love of an open stage. I’d taken an interest in the music of Josh Max, who has been a regular of late at Dickens. He played a rollicking, upbeat 4-song set that culminated in his playing both guitar and a djembe slung across his back while singing. He’s a very capable singer and guitarist. You can’t miss that burgundy fedora and Gibson Blues King. His picking style reminds me a little of Mark Knopfler’s (disclosure: big fan). Josh has a lovely tone to his voice, which can roll deep or fly high. He’s a very relaxed and commanding entertainer, who clearly loves to light up his listeners. Josh is also a freelance writer in the auto industry. Pretty interesting cat.

courtesy of Josh Max

photo by Mindy Delmez

I didn’t initially intend to do a Q&A style piece with Josh, but his attitude toward our local scene is so kind and complimentary that I thought my readers would really appreciate it.

SS: What brought you to the Front Range?
JM: I first visited Denver and Longmont in 2004 on a Harley-Davidson press junket, and I loved its loose flavor and the sanity of the place as compared to Manhattan. I had also, my whole life, been fascinated by by Francis Schlatter, a Denver-based healer popular around the turn of the 20th century, so I was glad to come visit and see where Schlatter did his hands-on work.

It was Longmont and Boulder that really attracted me this time around, though – the people were just so friendly and welcoming and appreciated what I was doing, more than any other place I’ve performed music.

I felt like the people at Dickens “got” me, and it allowed me to be completely free onstage.

Anything went, from collapsing on the floor at the end of a tortured Italian ballad to pulling out an Englebert Humperdink or an Al Jolson song, to the theme to “The Flintstones” on the harmonica if I felt like it, to my own songs. Even when they didn’t totally understand what I was going for, they were still willing to come along with me instead of turning off and shouting for Zeppelin as they might have in other places. The level of talent and passion for live music here is considerable.

I didn’t come to the Front Range directly from NYC – I went from NYC, where I’d lived my whole adult life, to Long Island to Philadelphia to Monte Carlo in the space of a year, then to Longmont last May, intending to stay for four days to do some work at a relative’s house. In this house were some very cool people who let me stay and decompress from all the bouncing around I’d done. My nerves were shot when I showed up but they let me alone and didn’t try to fix me. I did work around the house, cooking meals, mowing the lawn and helping out in whatever way I could.

There were also two dogs, a cat and a parrot in this house, all of whom greeted me every day and showed me what pure, unpolluted love and acceptance were, which I’d forgotten about in recent years. There is nothing like a dog who, when you come down the stairs in the morning, seems to say, “Oh, my God! You’re awake! YAY!!”

Then I started really playing from a place of depth in my opinion, and I got the idea for [a one-man, one-hour music/spoken word show called] “Binge Mode” after meeting a dancer who wanted to work with me.

SS: What’s happening musically for you over the coming months?
JM: I have “Binge Mode” sketched out and just need to secure a venue and a date, then put the promotion machinery into play, hopefully by the end of September. I write every day – stories and melodies and lyrics – and my next quick goal is a 5-song EP with my “I quit!” song called “You’re Gonna Have To Find Yourself Another Monkey” and others on it, then hopefully get some airplay … and have my original music out there for people to become familiar with. “Monkey” seems to be the “single” as I play it every time I play somewhere and if I don’t play it, people ask me to play it. Once I get the first Binge Mode up and running and performed and videoed and reviewed properly, then I can book it westward – Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, etc. My best plan is to get an RV and head west to do this while maintaining a base near the Front Range. My problem is that everywhere I visit, I want to stay awhile and meet the people and absorb the flavor. But right now, the Front Range is where it’s at.

Let’s get Josh Max into the ears and eyes of Front Range music lovers. Find him here.

On Tamkin: Cedar and Sound

Boulder’s own Dave Tamkin released “CEDAR,” his first e.p. since 2007, on October 1st. Ladies and gentlemen, you’re going to want to hear it. I’ve had it on repeat for a week and can declare it the best collection of local tunes I’ve heard in quite some time.  The Windy City claims Tamkin as a native son, but Boulder is undeniably his physical address, so fans in both cities can now rejoice at his latest musical offering and claim it as their own. CEDAR is an October treat – a perfect accoutrement to the changing leaves. In five songs that are over too soon, Tamkin and band paint a pensive, lithe musical portrait that listeners will interpret differently the more they hear. I’ve detected moments of heartache only to have them trumped by feelings of resilience and joy as I listened through the layers of the songs. It’s a very lyrical recording with genuinely beautiful performances. It doesn’t bog down. Dave Tamkin is one of these local musicians that I don’t get to see that often, so the release of CEDAR was the excuse I needed to catch up with him. The interview that follows is an exclusive take on CEDAR and all things Dave.   1235388_10151867501948944_1391301760_n

SS: Why CEDAR and why now? In the context of your whole catalog, the sound of this e.p. is instrumentally sparing and the lyrics hearken to love and regret.

DT:  I thought it would be fun to record some songs I haven’t touched in awhile and see if I could keep it simple. Drift and Missing On You got away from us a little as we kept adding parts. But Little World, Cedar, and Fly Me really capture a “microphone in the room” feel. I told each player to play what came natural. We took a few takes of each and built something I’m really proud of. I tried to let go of the percussive acoustics and really focus on getting the lyrics across.

SS: Where did you record the e.p.?

DT:  I’m very fortunate to have kick ass friends that I look up to as musicians. Brian McRae played drums. Most of the album was recorded in his studio, The Wrecking Room, up in Lyons. He also mixed Missing On You. We then sent tracks back to Chicago for Wesley John Cichosz to add his electric guitar flavor. Luke Halpin crushed the mandolin in his studio in Denver as well as Neil Ross on bass. Boulder’s Brad Huffman laid down his electric guitar in Jim Godsey’s studio back in Palatine, Ill., during a short Chicago tour. (Jim Godsey mixed tracks 1-4.) It was a nice bonus to have Jessie Garland belt out some harmonies on Missing On You while I was in the studio up in Lyons. Finally, Chris Webb opened up his studio to record the final vocals of most of the tunes. He is a great singer who has a fantastic ear to guide a performance.

SS: In Fly Me, you say you’re not going to “fight for us” anymore.

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Stubborn Sounds photo

DT: I was in a place in my life where I was trying to fix things more than I was accepting how things really were. Once I was able to see that in my relationships, my music, I was able to let go and make decisions on how I wanted to lead my life rather than fix the unfixable. Rebuild, if you will.

SS: What is success to you?

DT: Success is much different to me now than it used to be. I’m very fortunate to have played in front of 10,000 people, large venues and stages, and alongside some pretty well known and inspiring songwriters. But none of that is satisfying for me if I don’t have my Anne, my family, close friends and music lovers to enjoy that journey with. Those are the things that define me and give me the validity to write songs.

SS: So what IS your connection to Chicago?

DT: Chicago is my home, born and raised. It molded me into the player I am today. It’s a big city and you have to work your ass off! The House of Blues, The Metro, Double Door, Schubas were places that we called home after years of playing every gig we could on every night of the week. I will always be thankful for the lessons Chicago has given me.

SS: Are you the songwriter that you were 10 years ago?

DT: No way! I started writing songs to connect with people that felt the way I did. I was no longer alone in my point of view and neither was the listener.  As time went on I had to appeal to the listeners in the packed clubs of Chicago! Drinks flowing, nowhere to move, and loud! Lyrics mattered to me but I’m not so sure about the crowds we were playing to. It was more about the tight groove of the drums, soaring violin and heavy percussion of my acoustic. Colorado has taught me to slow down and ride the song. Take the time and breathe some life into each new tune regardless of their tempo and instrumentation. I hope that I can find a nice balance between the two.

SS: What’s next?

DT: First I plan on spreading CEDAR to every ear I can. For about five years, I was playing 200 plus shows a year. I might not be able to pull that off now, but I’m sure as hell going to try. I also look forward to building the Crowd Funding effort and recording a new project with producer Elliot Hunt in 2014. I was working on a song called “Empty Pages” with him here in Boulder. It has a feel unlike anything I have ever done. Mostly due to Elliot’s inspiration and push to change up the percussiveness of my playing. I really wanted to finish a few other songs with him but realized we would need a larger budget to do it. Crowd Funding! And Dubstep! I want to learn how to dance to Dubstep!