Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Play Them Songs: Shooter Jennings -- Black Ribbons

Shooter Jennings is an interesting guy. Of course, growing up on a tour bus as the son of country music legend Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, that’s no real surprise.

But Shooter’s latest effort, Black Ribbons, is just plain weird – even for a guy whose first band was self-described as “Guns N Roses meets Lynyrd Skynyrd.”

Just five years removed from his debut album, Put the O Back in Country, Jennings and his backing band The .357s transformed themselves into Hierophant for a rock concept album. The album is centered around a DJ defiantly playing Hierophant – the world’s most controversial band – on his last night on the airwaves before the government takes over his station.

The DJ, Will O’ The Wisp, is voiced by none-other than Stephen King (who has actually name-dropped Jennings in one of his stories). Wisp makes several appearances on the album on his “Last Light Radio” station, setting up songs and going on lengthy diatribes about the woes and evils of censorship and the downfall of freedom of expression in society. At one point he mentions the lack of music on his station, proclaiming that most of it is “processed bubble gum bullshit” and not worthy of airplay. At another point, Wisp recalls his early days as a DJ, mentioning his “Killing for peace is like fucking for chastity” button – which happens to be the image on the disc itself.

Wisp’s rants fit very well in hand with the odd, counterculture imagery of the CD and packing. The cover is a complex, occult-like drawing. The inside sleeve acts as a pop-up book of sorts. At first glance, the outside displays an American flag having been burnt at one end. Upon opening, four crows come out and surround the flag. When you flip it, there’s an extremely perplexing image of a man wearing a sheep-mask handing a little girl a present wrapped in black paper and black ribbons; and beaming from the man’s eyes to the little girl’s is the lyrics to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Inside, there stands a single desk with a lone microphone, emptied Styrofoam cup and turned-over chair inside of a dark forest where every tree has a black ribbon tied around it. And, aside from the aforementioned disc, you get a tarot card of a colored version of the cover art, with different messages on the back – luckily, mine reads “innocent.”

Between the art and Wisp’s rants, the album seems like it’d be better fit as a Bush-Era record, railing against the War on Terrorism and Patriot Act.

Musically, however, it actually works as a solid effort against the corporate-saturated radio of today. Jennings reasoned in one interview that “I think the whole thing is a metaphor for how hard it's been to get my voice heard.” So maybe it’s just Jennings expressing his outrage at modern-day country radio, pissed that Taylor Swift keeps winning awards for her “country” music. In reality, that’s no different than the tone of his first three albums, it’s just presented in a different form.

The songs are intricate but simple, bending genres while still presenting familiar tunes. There’s a song about lost love (“All of This Could Have Been Yours”), a song for his daughter (“God Bless Alabama”), and a song for his critics (“Fuck You, I’m Famous”). The music ranges from Nine Inch Nails-esque electronica to Pink Floyd – had they grown up in Memphis listening to Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. There are slow-rolling piano-led ballads that lead into guitar-heavy rockers. Alone, the songs wouldn’t work, and there really isn't a stand out track that will become your favorite; but paired with King’s Wisp character and his musings, the album as a whole is a successful foray into concept-creativity.

Diehard fans of Jennings and Outlaw Country probably won’t enjoy it, as it sounds nothing like Jennings’ previous three alt-country/Southern rock efforts. But it’s worth a listen for anyone willing to forget for a minute that this is Waylon’s boy, and just listen to an artist conveying his frustrations with trying to make his own name on today’s radio.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hear Them Songs: Druid City Arts Festival

Druid City Arts Festival, Tuscaloosa, AL, Saturday March 27, 2010

Who says you have to travel cross country to see a good festival? There's one right here in Tuscaloosa, this Saturday, March 27th. The first ever Druid City Arts Festival takes place, featuring a cavalcade of local artists and musicians for all to enjoy.

This event is a great chance to get out in the beautiful Spring weather (forecast of 72 degrees and mostly sunny) and support your local artists and see just how diverse and unique Tuscaloosa can really be.

The Festival takes place at the old CityFest Lot downtown, and it runs from 2-9 pm. Price of admission? FREE. The afternoon event is open to the public, and is all-ages. There will be a ton of featured visual artists, as well as a killer lineup of musicians, including Sparrow and the Ghost, Kate Taylor, The Hypsys, and Act of Congress.

Now cue the TV infomercial guy: "But wait, there's more!"

After the activities downtown, there are five different after-parties all around Tuscaloosa. Little Willie's, The Booth, Egan's, Innisfree, and Brown's Corner are all hosting DCAF after-parties, featuring great acts like Taylor Hollingsworth, Blaine Duncan & The Lookers, Callooh! Callay!, Baak Gwai, Ben Joseph and plently more. Best of all, one $5 wristband will get you into any of these bars.

For more information about the event and artists involved, including an exact schedule for the DCAF and all after-parties, click here and here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Random Cool Shit: The Bear

Thanks to Corey Hannah for the following video.

Nathan Pitts worked well on our self-titled album, showing up on time, helping with ideas when they were needed, and never griping about doing three or four takes of the same song. I asked Nathan to be on our album because I knew he was good at about anything he picked up to play, and I knew he played with taste.

Now his band, co-formed with his wife Amber Murray and called The Bear, seems to be gaining more and more attention. It is for rightful reason.

Check out a relaxed, cool performance of The Bear. They have recently added members to the group, and things are sounding superb. I am looking forward to recordings from them as well as shows. These are dedicated folks involved with The Bear, so hopefully sometime this year, we can expect one, if not both.

Hope you enjoy.

The Bear - "Can't Change Your Mind" live at Rivertown Coffee from Corey Hannah on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hear Them Songs: Black Willis Band with Twinside

Black Willis Band with Twinside -- Egan's, Tuscaloosa, AL, Sat. March 13, 2010

Normally a staple for at least one or two Egan's shows during football season, Black Willis Band are guys who rock with equal parts swagger and Southern rock. They play loud and in your face. I've never seen them when they didn't tear the place down. They have become especially gratifying with their switch of David Swatzell from bass to co-lead guitar.

This time, they bring with them a new band from our local Birmingham music scene: Twinside.

To my knowledge, Twinside has never played a show in Tuscaloosa, so it's a good reason for all of us to practice what we preach about local music: go see them, find out if we like them, then continue to support them if we do enjoy their show. Quite frankly, there's no better time to see them than at Egan's -- there's never a cover there, so you don't have to worry about that door charge. If it is of any interest to you, Twinside is fronted by a female singer/guitarist. It's nice to see ladies getting their rock n' roll out there, too.

See y'all there.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Coming Soon: Iron Man 2

I almost cannot express how excited I am for May 7th to roll around. Almost. I have been looking forward to Iron Man 2 since the credits rolled on the first one, and the Nick Fury scene after the credits only got me giddier.

I'm not exactly a comic book geek (I don't own any, save for a copy of the Watchmen collection), but I thoroughly enjoy the comic book universe. The culture fascinates me, really. You have these outlandish heroes and villains, with their huge battles and crazy adventures; but their stories are really commentaries on race, religion, politics and society in general.

And now, we have comic book movie adaptations that are actually good movies, and a well done comic book movie is almost the perfect movie theater experience. It takes you away from reality, throws a few jokes at you, gives you some cool special effects, and engrosses you in a good story. It's pure entertainment.

Now, not every comic book movie is good, but recently the ante has been upped, and some damn fine movies have been made. The reason for this, besides excellent writing, is studios have hit some home runs with their casting. Christopher Nolan's Batman series is the top dog overall, with Christian Bale portraying a solid Batman, with support from Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman and of course Heath Ledger's legendary turn as The Joker.

But the Iron Man series isn't far behind. Robert Downey, Jr. is amazing as Iron Man, specifically because he is a perfect Tony Stark. With support from Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges, the first movie was a certified hit, and would've been the talk of 2008 if not for The Dark Knight. Add in Samuel L. Jackson's cameo as Nick Fury, and the series has extreme potential to entertain for years to come.

Looking ahead to this spring's sequel, Downey is joined once again by Paltrow. Oscar nominee Don Cheadle replaces Howard, and they're joined by the revived Mickey Rourke, the beautiful Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell (and maybe Jackson makes another cameo...). Jon Favreau is directing once again, and director continuity in a series makes a big difference.

With that cast, and the success of the first movie, Iron Man 2 has a lot of promise. I know I'll be there on May 7th.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Weekly List: Top Five Reasons to Watch 'Sling Blade' Again

The first time I saw Sling Blade, I remember it clearly: I was at home and had went down to one of Sulligent's video rental palaces (it was a more prosperous time in Sulligent when there was actually more than one store to rent a movie). I had not heard a thing about Billy Bob Thorton's masterpiece, but the reviews on the box seemed interesting enough. I had nothing to do even though it was a weekend; Sulligent presented such problems. Anyway, I watched it after coming home late at night. No one else watched it with me. It really moved me in so many ways. To touch on a previous post on this blog, it sort of did for me what good Southern writing can do: it captured the South in a true way, a way that doesn't feel fake or distant.

In no particular order, I present the reasons for you to watch it again (or the first time, if something is wrong with you):

1. The Authenticity: If you've lived in the South, you know the speech in the movie is pretty spot on; however, if you grew up in a small, Southern town, you know that the film really captures almost everything about that lifestyle in it: the gossiping about Karl and Vaughan's lives, the simple interactions of the townsfolk, the particular care to note the exact phrasing of the speech (i.e., listen to Karl say "wash"), and the fact that it was filmed in a small town with its quaint houses and dollar store.

2. The Endless Amount of Funny Quotes: Maybe it is because of their dead-on accents and phrasing or maybe it is because of the great writing. Whatever it is, this movie is as fun to quote as any you've ever seen. Just take these: "I reckon I ain't got no reason to kill nobody," "I play cards with J.P. Shelnutt, Chief of Po-lice!" "I'll whip the dogshit outta you, Vaughan!" "Coffee makes me a might bit nervous," or my personal favorite, "Aw, hell, I always wanted to kill him myself. Asshole's all he was."

3. Dwight Yoakam's Shitty Band: The true irony is knowing that every single band member in Doyle's crappy group of night owls in this movie is a legendary musician. The lyricist is none other than Col. Bruce Hampton, known for making folks dance in and around Tuscaloosa from time to time when he tours through the city. "We Ain't a Damn Band" Randy is the legendary Ian Moore. The guy in the wheelchair, who sadly is thrown around by Doyle in the movie, is recently-deceased, marvelous songwriter Vic Chesnutt. The drummer? Well, he is Mickey Jones, and he did very little but back Bob Dylan during Dylan's 1966 World Tour -- you know, the one where Dylan was heckled as being a "Judas" for going electric. (For a little more insight, The Band backed Dylan for that tour, but Levon Helm had felt so much strain during the American leg of it that he opted to stay back home in the States. This left Jones as the replacement and the change to live in fame as well.)

4. The Soundtrack: If you've never paid attention to the beauty of the soundtrack, that alone is reason enough to Netflix Sling Blade right now. It is at times haunting, sad, and rocking, but it never gets in the way of things. Daniel Lanois, a great musician in his own right, handled the music for this film wonderfully. He's also an excellent producer -- his work with U2 and Bob Dylan have won him quite a few awards.

5. The Subplots: Sure, the story revolves around Karl, the foreshadowing his first speech gives, and his mental state as he's released into the real world again, but the real fun also lies in all the subplots of the movie: it is a gorgeous tale of a friendship, a story of outsiders in a small town, and a take on moral dilemmas. Try not to smile when Vaughan reveals his little (yet obvious) secret to Karl or when Karl is set up with one of Linda's "friends."

Quite frankly, Sling Blade is flawless. I may have to go watch it myself right now.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Hear Them Songs: Vulture Whale at The Nick

Vulture Whale with Lamb Handler, Fervor, and The Bohannons -- The Nick, Birmingham, AL, Saturday March 6, 2010

Chances are, if you're reading this blog, you're a lot like us when it comes to your definition of a good night out: loud, kick-ass music in a dingy, smoke-filled, dim-lit bar.

Well ain't y'all just some lucky bastards this weekend, because Birmingham's own Vulture Whale will be bringing the house down at The Nick in Birmingham this Saturday, March 6th.

Vulture Whale brings a bluesy, Southern punk sound to a blistering live show. If you haven't seen them live, or heard them at all, do your self a favor and get out to this show. After all, The Nick is a great place for your first time.

The first time I saw Vulture Whale was at a Rolling Stones tribute show, and even playing someone else's songs they caught my attention... and then I saw them do their own stuff, and I was sold. Check it out for yourself:

(You may need to sign up to listen to that, but it's free and Lala is a great site to hear music, so go ahead.)

Joining them will be Charlotte's Lamb Handler -- who may have the best band description I've ever seen: "If Muddy Waters met Queens of the Stone Age, had a kid then Howlin' Wolf met the Dixie Dregs and had a kid... And by some miracle those kids got it on... well that union would be Lamb Handler." -- Atlanta alternative rock band Fervor, and The Bohannons, straight from Chattanooga.

If the music ain't enough to sell you, just go for The Nick itself. Great prices, great atmosphere, and you'll probably make some new friends while you're there.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In the Theater: Shutter Island

The following is an email conversation between C.R. and T.D. about Shutter Island, the new thriller from Martin Scorsese starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

TD: Well, it was fucking intense, that's for sure. I spent the whole time debating the on-screen events in my head. I would think one thing, then immediately change my mind during the next scene. One thing's certain: it wasn't your typical Scorcese flick.

CR: As the film progressed, I inched closer and closer to the edge of my seat. I thought the pacing was excellent. I was never bored and never felt like checking the time.

TD: Oh yeah, it definitely passed the time check test. It was by far the most thought-provoking movie I've seen in awhile.

I though Leonardo DiCaprio was brilliant. Is he the best actor alive?

CR: I'd rather pay for a ticket to see him than just about any other living actor. The audience connects with him the instant he appears on screen. That's what makes this movie worthwhile. You genuinely care about what happens to DiCarpio's character. If he didn't pull that off, Shutter Island would be nothing more than a puzzle with moving pictures.

TD: He is definitely on my list of actors who I'll pay to see without question. His characters all have amazing depth, which is why the audience cares so much; and it's amazing to see how deep into his roles he gets. There are plenty of incredible guys out there, but there is not a single other actor I can think of that could've pulled off that character.

But this movie wasn't just DiCaprio. All of the supporting actors were very solid, from Mark Ruffalo to a small cameo by Jackie Earle Haley. I think that was all possible because of the way Scorsese crafted Laeta Kalogridis's screenplay into such a gripping affair without being gimmicky or predictable -- which I was worried about with Scorsese's first forray into the genre.

CR: I can't complain about the supporting cast, either. Don't forget Ben Kingsley, who plays a memorable role as the doctor behind Shutter Island. He's nearly as engrossing as DiCaprio, which is no easy feat.

I've heard a lot of chatter that, in fact, this movie is one big gimmick. I won't spoil it for those of you who haven't seen it, but I'd argue that Shutter Island is far from a one-trick pony. Really, I couldn't care less about the twist. That's not to say it isn't a good one, because I thought it was well done. I just don't watch a movie to play detective. Sure, there are plenty of clues (some more obvious than others) throughout the film. But, I'd rather sit back and enjoy the ride, rather than try to figure out the twist before the director decides to reveal it.

TD: Yeah, I don't buy into that gimmick crap. It's not like Scorsese threw some crappy M. Night Shyamalan twist into it. I understand asking questions and trying to figure things out, but that's not the bottom line with a movie like this. The bottom line is watching it play out and seeing why it happened.

CR: So, I think we both agree that Shutter Island is a must-see for all movie lovers?

TD: Definitely. Between Scorsese and DiCaprio, it's worth the money.