Weapons of Mass Creation Festival: NXNEO

Weapons of Mass Creation Fest presented by Go Media

Cleveland rocks! You’ve heard it. Some of us have heard it for what seems like our entire lives. And we’re constantly being challenged to prove it. Jeff Finley thinks he has the definitive evidence. With the help of a number of other creatives in the northeastern Ohio area, he is organizing the Weapons of Mass Creation Festival this spring.

Touted as Cleveland’s answer to SXSW, WMC Fest will feature music, art and film from around the country with a concentration on creators from our region. NTSIB is, of course, most excited about the music aspect. Check out some of the youngsters who will be throwing down. They’re a bunch of promising punky and folky… uh… folks. NTSIB is currently most compelled by Saintseneca, a quartet from Columbus, Ohio, with lots of strings and a strong roots influence.

WMC Fest will center in the bustling (that’s right, I wrote “bustling”) Ohio City neighborhood on May 22 and 23. Tickets are affordable, and they’re even more affordable (i.e. free) if you volunteer or donate. … Continue reading

R.I.P.: Alex Chilton

Alex Chilton died yesterday.

As I suspect was the case with most music-lovers around my age, Chilton wove his way through my life in a non-direct fashion. My first brush with Chilton was through the 1967 hit he had with his young band the Box Tops, “The Letter”. When my father was a younger man, before my arrival, back when he was the sort of person who had friends in bands, he got up at a party and sang a song with his friend’s band – “The Letter”. Anyone who knows my father now would have a difficult time reconciling this fact with the gruff, curmudgeonly Italian-American they know. That is likely the very reason why the song always felt significant to me, that connection to a version of my father that was more like me. That, and it’s a good song. Chilton’s husky, soulful voice is commanding, and the modern sensibility of the song was always a captivating thing to hear in the midst of all the other songs played on the oldie goldies radio stations.


My next, very roundabout exposure to Chilton was the obvious one: the Replacements’ fantastic paean to the singer/songwriter, “Alex Chilton”. … Continue reading

The Famous: Really working to be happy

On first listen, the Famous’ new album, Come Home to Me, sounds like the soundtrack to a roadtrip* wherein Very Bad Things Happen. Can’t speak for your world, but in NTSIB’s world, that’s more than enough to merit a second listen.

The Famous has a birth story reminiscent of the birth story of the Rolling Stones, but instead of Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters albums, the chance meeting of Laurence Scott and Victor Barclay hinged on them both owning the same car: the ’65 model Ford Galaxie. The Rolling Stones comparison could be extended to the way the Famous take an old American songstyle (in their case, country & western) and mix it up with modern sensibilities… but that would be facile and trite, so we won’t do that. We could exaggerate the facts to make it seem that Laurence Scott left his life of farming for the life of a rock ‘n’ roller, but we’ll leave Scott’s 2nd place award in the 1983 Junior Farmers competition at the Dallas Farmer’s Market for excellence in radishes and swiss chard for the tabloids to uncover … Continue reading

John Fahey: Poor Boy

It seems that when one falls in love with music, when it becomes something one feels the need to know everything about, the more one moves forward, the further back one ends up. Or perhaps that’s just my own experience. I may be a special case (feel free to define “special” however you want there), but I find when I fall in love with a new artist, I want to know what moved him, who influenced her, what did they listen to that caused them to pick instruments and play? I’ve found many favorite artists whom I might never have heard otherwise that way: Doc Watson, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, Django Reinhardt, etc.

So when A.A. Bondy listed “John Fahey’s right hand” alongside influences/inspirations like trains, people who play bowed saws and James Jamerson’s pointer finger, I had to look Fahey up to satisfy my curiosity. And, as with many of these backwards discoveries, I felt stupid for having never heard of the man before.

John Fahey was an exceptional finger-picking guitarist who was born in Washington, D.C., in February … Continue reading

Down the Old Plank Road: Carolina Chocolate Drops, Frank Fairfield & Blind Boy Paxton

As has been mentioned in a previous post – and as would likely be obvious from the overall content of NTSIB – I am a roots music fan. This used to mean mainly old blues: Robert Johnson, Son House, Howlin’ Wolf. It would be disingenuous to deny the role of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack album in opening me up to more styles of roots, or “old timey”, music, like Southern gospel-style music, string bands, bluegrass, etc., but it was the advent in my musical life of modern string band hustlers Old Crow Medicine Show that led me to discover that there are a number of young artists keeping the basics of the old music alive while also adding their own, up-to-date flair into the mix. One of the most exciting of those acts is the Carolina Chocolate Drops who are bringing the black string band tradition back to the forefront while evolving the possibilities of string band music with the injection of their modern sensibilities. This confluence of old and new is on exhilirating display in their treatment of Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style”, performed below during their appearance on WDVX’s Blue Plate Special.


Carolina … Continue reading

Baby Dee: And Yet

On the surface, it can seem like an anomaly that someone like Baby Dee could come out of Cleveland, Ohio. At a glance, Cleveland looks like a blue-collar town that’s lagging ten or twenty years behind the times. People in Cleveland still think the Michael Stanely Band is a big deal (Dear Clevelanders – No one outside of northeastern Ohio has heard of the Michael Stanley Band. I know. I’ve asked). But when you dig into Cleveland, pushing aside the curtain of low self-esteem that the city has blanketed itself with, you find that it’s a complex, layered place. In this regard, it makes complete sense that a town like this could produce a performer like the singular Baby Dee.

When I first learned of Baby Dee, she seemed like a slightly eccentric but mostly unassuming musician, but when I began to dig, I discovered that she has been a member of the Coney Island Sideshow, has been a tree climber and has worked companionably alongside such artists as David Tibet and Current93, Will Oldham, Andrew WK and Marc Almond. This is just … Continue reading

mr. Gnome: I Can See My Soul from Here

This is a good example of why I try to avoid saying “Artist X sounds like Artist Z” – aside from the fact that I have found many of those sorts of comparisons can project the wrong idea into a reader’s mind depending upon their relationship with Artist Z’s work – I would have to use three or four different artists to describe the sound of Cleveland duo mr. Gnome. Just within one song. Moving from gauzy dreamscapes to razor-sharp nightmares, sometimes within seconds of each other, mr. Gnome is the sort of band whose willingness to experiment with sound and whose ability to pull it off with confidence makes me proud to be a fellow Clevelander.

A couple of things you should know before listening to mr. Gnome: Nicole Barille will crush your head with her guitar. And if she can’t finish the job, Sam Meister will be right in to beat the pulp to liquid. But then they’ll sing a pretty lullaby and smile down at you just before you pass out.

Yes, Barille’s voice can sound childlike and pixieish (something … Continue reading

Hell and Half of Georgia: You Could Fix Me Up with a Smile

Okay, here’s what you do: Go download Hell and Half of Georgia’s self-titled album, play it through once, then set it aside and go do something else.

Now, come back and listen again.

The first thing you’ll notice is that you’ve gotten adjusted to the raggedness of Sean Fahlen’s voice and can now hear the sweet center of it. The second thing you’ll notice is that the band’s simple and friendly melodies have already lodged themselves in your brain. These are the best kind of country songs, made of heart and backed by solid musicianship. These songs feel like they belong inside a barn that has been cleared for a dance or at an old gas station during a rest stop on a long roadtrip through the dusty Southwest. When you listen to these songs, you feel like you’re listening to good friends play. And you can practically feel the sun of the band’s homestate of California shining down on your skin (which is very helpful as I sit next to a Cleveland window through which I can see several inches of Ohio … Continue reading

The Heartless Bastards: I’m Gonna See What Tomorrow Brings

I am guilty of misogyny in my listening practices. I am not the most girly of girls, and hearing twee and breathy vocals can turn me off to a song faster than mentions of pina coladas and getting caught in the rain or riding through the desert on a horse with no name. I find a great many female singers either sound alike to me or give me nothing I can connect to. This is one reason I am grateful for Erika Wennerstrom and her band the Heartless Bastards.

[Author’s note: In recent years, this line of misguided chatter has haunted me, and I feel shame whenever I think about it. I’d like to offer my apology for it. Women in music, women in general, people in general, deserve better.]

To say Erika Wennerstrom has a powerful voice is a bit like saying meteor showers are pretty. True as it is, it doesn’t get the whole idea across. By all accounts a diminutive woman, Wennerstrom can belt out vocals like she’s eight feet tall. Though her power is not just in volume, but also … Continue reading

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band: Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?

I was about 13 years old when I visited New Orleans. I was with my parents, visiting family in Alabama and Louisiana, and I was in the throes of a Harry Connick, Jr., fixation, so it was a well-timed visit. I remember that Connick’s father, then the District Attorney of New Orleans, was on the T.V. news due to allegations of corruption. I remember the cute bellhop at the Marie Antoinette Hotel. I remember a riverboat to Chalmette. I remember walking through Jackson Square in a light rain while a group of young boys played jazz on a street corner. I remember walking a few paces behind my parents because I didn’t want them to see me crying. New Orleans was so true to my daydreams of it that it overwhelmed me.

But the best memory I have of New Orleans was visiting Preservation Hall. Even though it’s just off of Bourbon Street, the Hall seems like its own universe in the midst of the lights, tourists and infamous debauchery that punctuates (or blankets, depending on what time of the year you’re there) Bourbon Street. It’s boards are worn, and it is narrow. The benches inside are hard and uncomfortable. … Continue reading