The Billings Outpost

Singer back with Killswitch Engage

By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

When it came to Killswitch Engage, vocalist Jesse Leach didn’t want the band to have a Gary Cherone or Ian Gillan experience.

Leach was the metal group’s original vocalist, recording Killswitch Engage’s first 2000 self-titled debut album released on Ferret Music, and its follow-up on the larger Roadrunner Records, 2002’s “Alive or Just Breathing,” before leaving the band. When his replacement, Howard Jones, left the band at the start of 2012, Leach had an opportunity to return, only to initially turn it down.

But then he realized this would mean Killswitch Engage would have to continue with a third different vocalist.

“I think in the history of rock and roll, the third singer is really never a charm,” Leach said in a late-May interview.

Van Halen and singer Gary Cherone would probably agree, as would most people who listened to Cherone’s lone album with the band, “Van Halen 3.”

So might Black Sabbath. (Anyone remember Ian Gillan and his one-album stint with Sabbath?)

So Leach changed his mind and threw his hat into the ring to audition for the Killswitch Engage vocalist slot.

What also had happened was that by the time the other members of Killswitch Engage – guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz, bassist Mike D’Antonio, guitarist Joe Stroetzel and drummer Justin Foley - had decided to audition for a new vocalist, Leach had already resolved the main issue that kept him from accepting the invitation to rejoin the band in the first place.

“I didn’t think I was the guy because I just wasn’t sure I was going to be comfortable singing someone else’s material,” Leach said. “I listened to his (Jones’) tracks sort of as objectively as possible initially when they came out, just following the band, and kind of just felt like it wasn’t really my style.”

But when Leach got word that an audition for a new vocalist was happening, he started thinking again about Killswitch Engage.

“What I did was I went in and really listened to the songs as a fan, and started reading the lyrics and sort of putting my head in the headspace of how could I relate to these lyrics?” he said.

“What do they mean to me? How can I place them in my life that would make sense to me that I would be able to re-produce them, not only sonically, but also have my heart and soul in it. And the first song that really struck me was ‘Arms of Sorrow.’ I read the lyrics and then I listened to it, and I was like this is sonically unique. The music to it is different. It kind of reminded me of ‘Faith No More’ a little bit. Then I just read the lyrics and it was just I could relate to them being someone who suffered with depression. And I think from that point on, it just kind of opened me up and I became a fan and I started to really fall in love with the songs.”

When Leach nailed his audition, it was clear that the chemistry he had enjoyed with his former bandmates was still there.

After a couple of tours, it was clear Leach was again a good fit for the band.

Then the band, which had begun work on its new CD, “Disarm the Dissent,” before the change in vocalists, went back to work on the album.

Going in, the band wanted to make a more aggressive, heavier album than its previous release, a 2010 self-titled album.

“I feel like these guys came out of that record, even before I came on board, thinking to themselves, all right we’ve got to really put the balls back on this,” Leach said. “We’ve got to make really make this record more of a metal record, make it more of an in your face (record), bring it back to the energy, sort of the roots of what Killswitch is.”

“Disarm the Dissent” delivers on the group’s intentions. There is still a pop sense to the new songs, which are concisely structured, blend melodic vocal sections with Leach’s fiercely screamed parts and frequently add in hooky guitar lines. But songs like “The New Awakening,” “A Tribute to the Fallen” and “All We Have” are full-throttle bangers with plenty of churning guitars and pummeling drums to go with the hookier elements.

Killswitch Engage is now on its first headlining tour in support of the new album, playing a set that numbers about 18 songs spanning the group’s career. And Leach says he feels at home on stage with Killswitch Engage the second time around.

“I think just from living, doing tours with other bands and trying out other styles of music, and just from growing up and becoming a man, it’s now something I’m quite confident with,” Leach said of performing. “I know how to deliver my voice. I’m comfortable in front of a crowd of people … . I feel like I am where I’m supposed to be, where years ago, it definitely wasn’t the case.”


 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 June 2013 11:42

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Confederate Railroad in free show

HARDIN — Country music veterans Confederate Railroad will perform a concert at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, June 22, in downtown Hardin (300 block of Center Avenue).

Also performing will be the Road Kill Rangers of Sheridan, Wyo. The public is invited, and there is no charge.

The free concert is part of Little Big Horn Days, a four-day celebration of Western culture and history presented annually by the Hardin Area Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture.

“Confederate Railroad is a perfect fit for Little Big Horn Days,” said Al Sargent, chairman of the Little Big Horn Days Committee. “We are celebrating our Western culture, and what better way to celebrate than with great country music, outdoors, on a Saturday night in Montana?”

Confederate Railroad, the former backup band for both David Allan Coe and Johnny Paycheck, got their big break by signing with Atlantic Records. The first single from their debut album (“Confederate Railroad”) was “She Took It Like A Man.” It went to No. 26. “The next two singles, “Jesus and Mama” and “Queen of Memphis,” went to the top of the charts. Three more huge hits followed, “Trashy Women,” “When You Leave That Way You Can Never Go Back” and “She Never Cried.” “Trashy” would lead to a Grammy nomination and become their signature song.

That album, with six hits and nearly 3 million in sales, brought Confederate the Academy of Country Music’s Best New Group Award in 1993 as well as numerous nominations from the Country Music Association and the British Country Music Foundation.

The second album, “Notorious,” produced one of the group’s most popular songs, “Daddy Never Was the Cadillac Kind,” which became a No. 1 video as well. “Elvis and Andy” and “Summer in Dixie” would further establish the Railroad as one of the most versatile acts in the business. This album would sell more than a million copies. Their overall totals are 18 charted hits and 5 million albums sold.

From rowdy country to raw emotion, a Confederate Railroad concert today covers a wide range of feelings. Young people will be there rocking to “Trashy Women,” while their parents and even grandparents will likely be singing along to “Jesus and Mama.”

The band plays 100 or so dates each year. Whatever the venue, they are right at home, be it a fair, a club, or a biker show. Danny Shirley, the lead singer and vocalist, and his mates, Mark Dufresne on drums, Wayne Secrest on bass, Rusty Hendrix on lead guitar and Cody McCarver on keyboards and vocals, are obviously having fun right along with their appreciative audience. At the end of each show, the band stays around until every fan who wants an autograph, or to pose with the group for a picture or just say “hello” is taken care of.

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 June 2013 10:03

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Queensrÿche, in part, to play in Wyoming

By SCOTT PRINZING - For The Outpost

When I first heard Queensrÿche in 1983, I thought they were going to be the new reigning heavy metal band for the ’80s. I was living in Portland, Ore., and the new Seattle band were playing their second public performance at the Paramount Theater, opening for the Zeppelin-esque trio, Zebra. They did indeed go on to be one of the greatest metal bands of the decade.

This past year, the band has experienced an antagonistic and rather public split, with the three remaining founding instrumentalists sacking lead singer and chief songwriter, Geoff Tate.

Without going into all the ugly details, claims and counter claims, I’ll just say that a judge has allowed both entities to continue recording and performing under the Queensrÿche banner for about a year, until a decision is made.

In the meantime, Queensrÿche fans will get a double dose of what has been called thinking man’s metal. Tate and a slightly revolving band of backing musicians are touring in support of “Frequency Unknown” (as Queensrÿche) an album released a few months ago. The other three original members, guitarist Michael Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield, plus second guitarist Parker Lundgren (Tate’s former son-in-law; born three years after the first Queensrÿche release!), have recruited former Crimson Glory vocalist Todd LaTorre to sing in Tate’s place. That lineup is releasing its eponymously titled album next Tuesday, June 25.

To the good fortune of Billings and regional metal fans, this three-fifths version of Queensrÿche is headlining Rockin’ the Railroad, a day-long festival show in Sheridan, Wyo., this Saturday, June 22. Also on the bill are fellow ’80s metal bands Great White and Slaughter, plus four relatively unknown regional bands.

Most longtime Queensrÿche fans will agree that the band’s greatest material can be found on their debut EP and the five albums that followed: “Warning,” “Rage for Order,” “Operation: Mindcrime,” “Empire” and “Promised Land.” These albums all shared three essential things: They all preceded the Seattle grunge revolution; they all featured all five original members; and they all were predominantly written or co-written by original guitar player Chris DeGarmo.

While Tate was working on his second solo album – last year’s mediocre “Kings and Thieves” - the other guys decided to put together a side project with LaTorre called “Rising West,” which played songs from the initial Queensrÿche albums listed above. When the Tate mutiny occurred, they essentially continued performing under the Queensrÿche moniker. Tate hastily put together a fine bunch of metal musicians himself and tried to re-establish himself as heir apparent to the Ryche (incidentally, Heir Apparent was a Queensrÿche -inspired Seattle band in the late ’80s).

The jury is out in more ways than one. The judge is still hearing oral arguments.

I have listened to the 90-second samples of all the songs of Tate-rche a few times and even though it has guest appearances by the likes of K.K. Downing (Judas Priest) and Ty Tabor (Kings X), it sounded a lot like the Queensrÿche albums of the past two decades: uninspired.

I have listened to a pre-release download of the Todd-rche album, and it sounds like classic Queensrÿche of the late-’80s. LaTorre sounds so much like the younger Tate, that if I was told the songs were outtakes from either “Empire” or “Promised Land,” I would have believed it. I say outtakes, because while the performance is exciting and the production excellent, the songs lack some of the hooks that made so many of the songs from that era memorable.

But, according to LaTorre, whom I spoke with last week, all five band members contributed to the writing on this new album, which was a most enjoyable experience. He did mention that the songs might take a few listens to really make their full impression, so perhaps I will have to listen to it a few more times this week.

In fairness, I should do the same for Tate. But I will say that the Todd-ryche album is the first one that’s really impressed me since “Promised Land.”

Tickets for the show are $49. But in addition to three top ’80s metal bands, there will be Bombay Black, Quitters Anonymous, Tango Down, and 3oT7. Google ’em.

Expect to hear all the hits, fan favorites, and a few new songs. Based on the YouTube clips, fans should not even notice anything has changed but the set list. It should be a great show.

The show will be held at Trail’s End Concert Park in Sheridan, behind Trail’s End Hotel. For more info, go to TrailsEndConcertPark.com. Then go bang your head.


 

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 June 2013 09:51

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Flautist Klein wows audience

Story - By SCOTT PRINZING - For The Outpost

There’s a new Pied Piper in town and his name is Ben Klein. That may be a clichéd term for describing a flute player, but as one audience member proclaimed after last Saturday’s performance, “I seriously think Ben might be the best flautist in the entire universe!”

The Morning Folk music series at The Fieldhouse Café offered a unique duo whose one-half is one-third of this year’s Renaissance Festival’s opening night headlining act, Trillian Green. Flute player extraordinaire Ben Klein, along with multi-instrumental maestro Jake Fleming, performed an improvisational set that left the brunch crowd in absolute awe.

The Saturday morning series usually finds the musicians set up in the corner near the entrance, in order for the music to be seen and heard in both dining areas of The Fieldhouse. For this event, Klein and Fleming set up on the stage in the lounge area like it is for the Thursday night music events. Folks in the other dining area might have heard the music, but those close by got to watch Klein playing like he was possessed by Kokopelli, the iconic flute player of Southwest ancient rock art.

Fleming is a respected jazz musician from Bozeman. He is a founding member of the Jeni Fleming Trio and part of Pinky and the Floyd, a Pink Floyd tribute act. At this performance, Fleming created loops that were improvised on the spot, using drum beats, bass guitar, acoustic and electric guitar, and a small two octave keyboard. The slightly jazzy loops provided a base for both he and Klein to improvise over. Fleming would either play tenor sax or acoustic guitar while Klein played flute like few others can.

The music was at times hypnotic, at times mesmerizing, but always amazing. It was fully improvised on the spot. The duo had played together on only one other occasion. As Klein put it before the show, “We have no idea what we’re going to be doing. But we know exactly what we’re going to be doing.”

And they never appeared to be lost anywhere but deep inside the music.

While Fleming is certainly talented and created a wonderful underlay for their live playing, it was Klein who left the audience wide-eyed and open-mouthed.

The one break from the entrancing sounds came after two hours of continual music when they played a lengthy acoustic blues jam. It evoked the late-’60s version of Jethro Tull, which should come as no surprise, as Tull’s flute player, Ian Anderson, inspired Klein to learn the instrument.

Ben Klein moved his family to Bozeman from Seattle where he was a member of the instrumental trio Trillian Green. Cellist Christine Gunn still lives in Seattle, while percussionist Jarrod Kaplan lives in Eugene, Ore. Their days of West Coast tours are behind them, but they still try to reconvene each summer for select festival performances.

Fortunately for Billings, one of Trillian Green’s rare performances will be at the Renaissance Festival this July 26. Be prepared for a musical experience unlike any other, while Klein and Gunn interweave their instruments and Kaplan provides percussion that seems to emanate from his body as much as from his instruments. On a few songs, Klein might play his moon guitar, a converted dulcimer.

The all-instrumental trio draws on the world’s classical and ethnic musical traditions, making music that is uniquely Trillian Green.

To get a sense of what is in store, listen to sound clips from their CD “Metamorphoses,” as well as solo works and side projects by the individual band members at www.omnivine.com/trillian.html. Trillian Green CDs can be purchased there or through Amazon or CDBaby.

Those familiar with the “Green Smarts with the Green Man” public service announcements will already have heard Trillian Green’s “Cross-Eyed Crane Fly,” from their live-in-the-studio album, “Psycho Tantric Juju Jazz.”

Anyone who hears the music – and Ben Klein in particular – will agree with just about everyone I spoke with or overheard last Saturday morning: “That guy is absolutely amazing!”

The previous night, the atrium of the Yellowstone Art Museum was transformed into a micro Renaissance Faire as several of the entertainers from the Montana Renaissance Festival and Highland Games convened for an evening of music and more.

Earthshine, Johnny Walker, Wes Urbaniak, a bagpiper, and a troupe of belly dancers performed in a round robin of sorts for museum visitors. The regular Jam at the Yam became “Ren Jam 2013” for the night, providing a look back at the variety of entertainment offered at last June’s inaugural Ren Faire at ZooMontana and a glimpse into this July’s line up.

Friday night’s free event was open to the public, who were also treated to hors d’oeuvres from the museum’s Raven Café. Wine and beer were available for purchase. The performers each took turns at playing a few numbers before passing on to the next musician or dancer throughout the evening.

Two of the performers were both featured at last summer’s festival: Earthshine and Johnny Walker. 

Solo guitarist Walker played original flamenco-jazz music to his own backing tracks. His mastery over the fretboard is as amazing to watch as it is to hear. Those who couldn’t get enough in one evening were able to purchase copies of his 20-track CD to take home.

Earthshine’s Kris Prinzing and her husband Scott (the writer of this article), performed selections from their three CDs on acoustic guitars, bass and mandolin. Dressed in their finest Renaissance garb, they definitely looked the part, even if their Ren-talk, as organizer Ken Haak calls it, was no match for his.

Haak is special events coordinator at the YAM, and has brought his extensive experience with Renaissance festivals to the museum. What began as an idea for evening event last year soon grew into an all-day affair before combining with the Highland Games for a two-day festival last summer. This year’s faire will be even bigger, with an opening night concert on Friday, a Saturday filled with pipes and drums and other entertainment, and a Sunday of continued entertainment. Food, arts, and crafts will be available all weekend as well.

Other performers at Ren Jam included bagpiper Anne Allen, singer songwriter Wes Urbaniak and the Black Gypsy Belly Dance Troupe. All are set to be on hand at this year’s big event.

Allen is one of the few women pipers in Billings and was dressed in her Highland finery.

Urbaniak played his distinct original songs on a guitar of his own design and construction. The belly dancers and drummers were all dressed in colorful gypsy attire that flowed when they took turns dancing to their pulsating drumming.

For more information about the Montana Renaissance Festival, go to MontanaRenFest.com.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 June 2013 19:29

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When We Came as Romans coming

By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

When We Came as Romans recorded its 2008 debut EP, “Dreams,” the group approached the project with a do-or-die attitude.

“Dreams” was either going to get the band off of the ground, or the band was going to crash and burn and the group members would go to college and get on with their lives.

The EP did what it was supposed to, allowing We Came as Romans to tour nationally and paving the way to deals with management, a bigger booking agency and a deal with Equal Vision Records.

These days, that sort of uncertainty doesn’t surround We Came as Romans. The band is coming off of a successful first full-length CD, “To Plant a Seed,” and is established enough to headline the first tour the group is doing behind its recently released second CD, “Understanding What We’ve Grown to Be.”

Does that mean the band members can exhale now, and no longer feel the pressure and urgency that started with “Dreams” and extended into “To Plant a Seed”?

Not really, according to guitarist Joshua Moore. Yes, the band, which formed in Troy, Mich., in 2005, is in a good place and its future looks bright. But there was still plenty at stake with “Understanding What We’ve Grown to Be.”

“We had a really good start with ‘To Plant a Seed,’” he said in a recent phone interview. “But once you start, you have to sustain, and you have to be moving forward. I think we did a really good job of that just by setting goals, always having something to reach for. And once we attain that, to keep moving and have goals after that.”

The goals for the latest CD were different than they were for “To Plant a Seed” – and reflected the different stages in the life of the band, which also includes vocalist Dave Stephens, singer/keyboardist Kyle Pavone, guitarist Lou Cotton, bassist Andy Glass and drummer Eric Choi.

“‘To Plant a Seed,’ that whole CD was really about establishing ourselves,” Moore said. “It was our first full length, and we had to, I guess, really appeal to people. We hadn’t had too much touring under our belts or anything, and it was really going to be a lot of people’s first impressions of us, so we had to make a really good one. And with ‘Understanding What We’ve Grown to Be,’ we really focused more on establishing a sound that is our band, that if someone were to hear it and not be able to see what was playing on the iPod, they would hear it and say ‘Oh, that’s We Came as Romans. I know their sound.’”

“Understanding What We’ve Grown to Be” carries forward many of the stylistic elements of the two earlier albums. Once again the group employs the tag team of gravelly screamed lyrics from Stephens and the smoothly sung vocals of Pavone. The band also brings its mix of mayhem and melody to songs like “Cast the First Stone,” “Mis//Understanding” and “Views That Never Cease, to Keep Me from Myself,” as the band rumbles between grinding lower register guitar parts and slightly lighter, more melodic sections.

On tracks like “Everything as Planned” and “The Way That We Have Been,” the band sweetens things with string-like parts – another musical element that carries over from “To Plant a Seed.”

What also defines We Came as Romans are the positive messages in its songs – something that’s fairly rare in the metalcore/aggressive rock genres. The title “Understanding What We’ve Grown to Be” relates very directly to the overall theme of the CD, according to Moore, who is the band’s primary songwriter.

“It’s about figuring out how to be happy with the life that you’ve chosen, trying to be the person that you want to be and figuring out how to be happy with that and how to retain that happiness, how to not be constantly be searching for a different thing that’s going to make you happy based on the day of the week,” Moore said.

That encouraging spirit is something the band tries to bring to its live performances, as the band works hard to involve its fans in the live show through its music, a strong visual presentation that uses backdrops and a light show and the energy and spirit the band members themselves bring to the stage.

“We’ve always tried to be a real inclusive band live, always trying to keep our fans moving as much as we are,” Moore said.

“If they see us just kind of slacking, just kind of playing through the songs or whatever, I mean, that’s going to be a bummer for everyone,” he said.

“Fans, they want to see what your band sounds like. They want to see what we’re going to do with the songs. They already know what it sounds like. They’ve heard it on the CD many times, probably a lot of times, actually. And so they want to see what that’s going to feel like live. They don’t just want to hear whatever you’re going to play.”

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 June 2013 19:27

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Band past manslaughter charge

By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

At this time last summer, everything seemed to be on track for Lamb of God. The band had released its latest album, “Resolution,” in December 2011, and the album had been greeted with favorable reviews, with some calling it the best album of the group’s two-decade career.

The band had spent the first part of 2012 touring outside of the United States and had a tour set in the States for the fall with Dethklok.

Then Lamb of God’s world got turned upside down. Arriving in the Czech Republic for three shows at the end of June, the band members were blindsided as they arrived at the airport.

“I came off of the plane to, there was a guy on the skyway who was checking passports, checking identifications and as you were. Most people were going to the left, they were sending us off to the right,” Lamb of God bassist Campbell recalled in a phone interview. “I walked up to the top of the skyway, to the side they were telling me to go to, and was asked for my passport and I asked who was asking and I was shown a badge for homicide, and I realized I was more or less surrounded by SWAT dudes with ski masks on and automatic weapons.”

The police were looking for singer Randy Blythe, ready to charge him with manslaughter stemming from an incident at a 2010 Lamb of God concert in Prague in which a fan of the band died.

Blythe, who faced up to five years in prison, was arrested and put in jail, where he stayed for nearly 40 days before he was released on bail on Aug. 2.

By then, Lamb of God had been forced to cancel its tour with Dethklock, but the band salvaged the fall by scheduling a headlining tour for later in the season.

But given the circumstances and the fact that Blythe’s trial was looming in February, it made this first tour of the states behind “Resolution” a very different proposition than any other tour Lamb of God had done.

“On our side of the stage it felt very different because we had mixed kind of emotions about what was going on,” Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler said in a separate phone interview. “Although people coming to the show were seeing Randy up on stage every night under the impression that Randy was free and here we are on tour, we knew what we were still coming to face in February and it was far from over. In fact, it was possibly just beginning in many ways. So we didn’t know if it was our last tour (as a band).”

The worry that Lamb of God was going to lose its singer wasn’t farfetched. In the Czech Republic, the person on trial must prove his innocence, rather than the prosecutor needing to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.And Adler, who testified at Blythe’s trial, said the band thought its singer faced a daunting task at trial.

“From the back seat and the meetings with lawyers and everybody as it was going on, we were all very skeptical that he would be totally exonerated,” Adler said. “We assumed there would be some sort of conclusion with a penalty of some kind.”

So it was a considerable surprise and relief when Blythe was found innocent of all charges by a panel of Czech judges at the beginning of March, allowing him to return to Lamb of God and for the band to book a second run of U.S. concerts in support of “Resolution.” The tour runs from May 16-June 20.

The Blythe saga stemmed from a May 24, 2010, concert at Club Abaton in Prague at which prosecutors in the Czech Republic asserted that Blythe had pushed a 19-year-old fan, Daniel Nosek, off of the stage. Nosek at some point fell, hitting his head on the floor. Later that evening, Nosek became violently ill, was taken to a hospital and underwent emergency brain surgery. Sadly, he slipped into a coma and died from his injury.

The show had been plagued by lapses in security, as fans had been able to get on stage during Lamb of God’s show. But Blythe denied ever pushing Nosek, and there was conflicting testimony from concert-goers about whether they saw Blythe push Nosek, and exactly when and how Nosek fell to the floor.

So the judges cleared Blythe, and now Lamb of God is back on a tour of theaters and large clubs this spring.

Adler said Lamb of God’s live set on the current tour will probably include four or five songs from “Resolution,” but the band won’t neglect its five other albums, devoting about two-thirds of its show to fan favorites from its back catalog.

“If you went out and got the new album (“Resolution”) and you don’t like it, you’re not going to have to suffer through the whole thing,” Adler said. “But if you went out and got it and loved it, you’re going to get a fair amount of it. Hopefully we balance it out pretty well and everybody goes home happy.”

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 May 2013 19:17

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Maxie Ford plays at Babcock

By SCOTT PRINZING - For The Outpost

Billings’ favorite girl group, Maxie Ford, has played its second-to-last gig. With summer taking various members separate ways and the fall taking a few to college or other adventures, their last hurrah may very well be at Magic City Blues in August. Not a bad way to wrap up a one-year career.

Formed last August by two daughters of two stalwarts of the Billings music scene, the group of five to six high school students garnered much community and local media support that seemed to build at every turn. The combination of talent, unique instrumentation, eclectic song selection, and adorableness, culminates with an opening slot on the third day of “Montana’s Urban Music Festival.”

Guitarist and vocalist Katy Kemmick’s father, John, is known for his resonator guitar work with the Longtime Lonesome Dogs, the Muddy Warblers, the Peach Pickers and as a duo with his brother, Ed (who made a guest appearance on blues harp at this show).

Guitarist, vocalist and ukulele player Hannah Haberman’s father, Doug, has played bass fiddle, mandolin and guitar with the Elk River Ramblers, Longtime Lonesome Dogs and the Firehouse Band. Both girls are known in the local scene through guest appearances with their dads while growing up, so it was a welcome development when they combined forces to perform with a group of musical friends.

What has helped to set them apart are the instrumentation and set list. Grace Lamdin plays double bass, mid-year addition Jenny Long plays trumpet, and percussionist Nolee Anderson plays tap shoes. That’s right: tap dancing instead of a drum set. Plus, she occasionally raps. Everyone else, except Katy Kemmick, plays a bit of percussion here and there, as well.

One founding member, pianist Hayley Haw, left for Chicago just as the ball started rolling at the end of 2012. Her replacement, Madison Stone, is the twin sister of talented musician and actor Mackenzie Stone, who has appeared in productions at Senior High, Billings Studio Theater and Venture Theatre. All of the girls have studied at Senior High School, except Haberman, who is graduating from West High School this year.

The show Saturday night was a benefit for BikeNet. The $15 ticket price may sound high for a local cover group, but the band was probably a bigger draw than the cause itself. (Perhaps it was the rainy night, but this writer appeared to be the only one in attendance who actually rode a bike to the show.) Perhaps 150 people or so comfortably filled much of the downstairs seating in the Babcock Theater.

The audience obviously held many friends and family as there was plenty of interplay between stage and crowd. As Katy was explaining their brand new CD, she called out, “I’m getting there, Mom!” Pam Kemmick had apparently wanted to make sure credit was given to Brad Edwards, who recorded a recent performance of them as a surprise. Copies of 40 CDRs (“That’s all we could burn in the past two days!”) were available for $5, packaged in brown paper lunch bags with a Maxie Ford sticker.

The songs covered were a mix of current alt rock, hip-hop, singer-songwriter, and a few old time country classics like, “Hey, Good Lookin’” and “Jackson.” The emphasis is on lead and harmony vocals shared mostly by Katy and Hannah, but with a few raps and vocal parts sung by Nolee.

Grace started playing the bass line from the jazz standard “A Night in Tunisia” and Jenny joined her for a few bars – enough to make her father, Jeff Long, proud. He is a Senior High band teacher and trumpet player with local favorites Funk in the Trunk.

And there is a lot to be proud of, as well as much gratitude for all the community support. Nolee mentioned that when BikeNet board member and past president Nash Emrich introduced the band members and thanked them for performing for free, it was Maxie Ford who owed them thanks, for the opportunity to play at the Babcock. She also thanked the Kemmick family, “Who put up with our crap, and let us borrow a lot of their crap”; her own Anderson family, who let them take over their house for rehearsals; Brad Edwards, for making the CD; and the “Brown boys,” son Steve and father, Bob, who built Nolee’s tap platform (with built-in microphone!).

Opening the show was another young singer, Dallas Martin, whose bluesy voice sounded much more soulful than her teenage appearance would suggest. She was accompanied by Hannah’s father, Doug Haberman, on mandolin and a guitarist introduced simply as “Dave!”

As some members head off to college, Katy and Hannah plan to take a year off to try their hand in Nashville. They certainly have the talent and charm to make their mark in the music business.

Let’s just hope that when they all come home for the winter holiday season, a reunion gig might be in store.

 

Last Updated on Friday, 24 May 2013 00:23

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Edward Sharpe adjusts to changes

By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros had good success with its first CD. The group’s acclaimed debut, “Up From Below,” featured the single “Home,” which got widespread exposure in commercials, movies and television shows.

It might seem that the acclaim and success would have given frontman Alex Ebert and his bandmates plenty of confidence heading into album No. 2, the recently released “Here.”

But that wasn’t the case, Ebert said, because the band dynamic that had developed during three-plus years on tour behind “Up From Below” had changed in significant ways shortly before it was time to start work on the new CD.

The reason: the departures of guitarist/keyboardist Nico Aglietta and keyboardist Aaron Embry – two key members of the group. Aglietta, in particular, had played a key role, co-producing “Up From Below” with Ebert and taking the lead on technical/engineering aspects of the project.

“I’d rather not talk about why (Aglietta and Embry left) exactly, but it was just sort of a part of the process, I suppose,” Ebert said. “Whenever things feel like they’re crumbling and you’ve been working really hard at something for a long time, and the feeling of it is getting a little wearisome, you start to question exactly what you’re doing and where is this going. And I think that we all had probably, maybe not all of us, but to have a moment of sort of repose where you’re allowing the question to sit with yourself for a second.

“I felt we were all kind of having that teetering moment to some degree or other. Then everyone had been touring for so long, that even the idea of going up to Ojai (California) to record the album did not sound good to a lot of the guys. You had this sort of feeling of where is the commitment level exactly?”

But eventually Ebert and the other band members decided to move forward, and in doing “Here,” even evolved into a collaborative unit.

“The first album I had written a lot of the stuff and demoed it before we were a band,” Ebert said. “Then we became a band while recording it.”

For “Here,” Ebert had a few demos of new songs, but for the most part, Ebert involved the entire band from the start of the project. The other band members are Jade Castrinos (vocals/guitar), Stewart Cole (horns/keyboards), Josh Collazo (drums), Orpheo McCord (percussion), Nora Kirkpatrick (accordion), Christian Letts (guitar), Seth Ford-Young (bass), plus two musicians who joined the lineup last spring, Mark Noseworthy (guitar) and Aaron Arntz (piano).

“For the most part we sat down and worked out arrangements and put in the time that you put in when you’re doing things together,” Ebert said.

Things went so well, in fact, that the recordings sessions will generate two albums – “Here” followed by a second CD, a self-titled release, which will arrive on July 23.

“They’re a nice complement to each other,” Ebert said of the two CDs. “‘Here’ is, to me, pretty meditative and sort of speaking from a place of being and the next one is sort of a little bit more, I guess, I don’t know, a little less meditative and a little bit more on its toes. So a little bit more aggressive, I suppose, and has a little bit more of a sort of ambitious, adventuresome sort of qualities.”

The current 10-musician lineup is touring behind “Here,” and while a few players are new to the group, Ebert said the group continues to do what it did in touring behind “Up From Below.” The band continues to change up set lists, explore new ways of playing the songs and tries to turn each concert into a transcendent experience for the audience.

“I think night to night it is sort of an adventure because those moments, the map for getting there to that sort of explosive, transcendent moment can be written down, but to actually put it into three-dimensional action, a confluence of energy has to happen,” Ebert said. “So from night to night, it happens in different ways and I think we allow for a lot of, certainly show to show it is different and it also depends on where we are and what the vibe is and are the people sitting, standing, yelling, quiet. It’s all just an interplay.”

The group, Ebert said, has become good at consistently creating the kind of communal excitement the band wants to achieve, frequently even allowing varying numbers of fans on stage during shows to join in the fun.

“Yeah, stuff has been broken and all that,” Ebert said, mentioning one of the problems that goes with letting fans get on stage. “But I think the overall (purpose), beyond just the fun of it, is the importance of sort of remembering that the divide, (we’re) endeavoring to break the divide between us and them, and that’s one way to do it.”

 

Last Updated on Friday, 24 May 2013 00:21

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Texas in July finding that old-time feeling

By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

The second Texas in July CD, “One Reality,” caught the band in a period of transition. In the very early stages of writing that CD, which was released in April 2011, guitarist Logan Maurer left the group.

Maurer had been the main music writer since the band’s inception in 2007, and with guitarist Christian Royer joining drummer Adam Gray as the main music writers, “One Reality” ended up being a bit of a departure from the group’s independently released 2009 debut CD, “I Am.”

“We were all in a weird place with like changing a member,” bassist Ben Witkowski explained in a recent phone interview. “We love the record, but it definitely did tone it down as far as riffing and wild drums. And just overall song structure for a couple of the songs was very mellow. This is just how we were at the time. We were taking on the challenge of writing a record without a huge piece of the band at the time. It was like losing a brother.

“We definitely noticed after it was released that the fans were like ‘Woah, where is the riffing? Where is the shredding, all this type of stuff,’” he said.

The band spent part of the summer recording its self-titled third CD with producer Machine. The album was released on Oct. 9, and Witkowski, who is the group’s primary lyricist, said the album marks a return to more of the early Texas in July.

“We’re really bringing back the old school feel on ‘I Am,’ the shredding and the fast drums and guitar work,” he said. “It sounds great. I love it. I’m really, really psyched for where it’s headed.”

Indeed, between roaring vocals, rapid-fire beats and the mix of grinding riffs and mathy yet more melodic lead guitar lines that inhabit tracks like “Cry Wolf,” “Without a Head” and “Crux Lust,” the “Texas in July” CD gives metal fans plenty of musical elements to sink their teeth into.

Witkowski, Royer, Gray, vocalist Alex Good and guitarist Chris Davis went back on the road almost as soon as they finished the “Texas in July” album and haven’t slowed down since, having already done a tour of Europe and an extensive first tour of the states.

The roadwork figures to be fine with Texas in July, who have been used to a less-than-glamorous touring routine.

“Yeah, we’ve been touring for awhile,” Witkowski said. “The first couple of years of Texas in July going on tour were very, uh, unprofessional, but fun, like sleeping in the Walmart parking lot and showing up to the show and the guy that booked the show doesn’t even show up. You call him and he says I canceled that show a week ago, and us walking around a small town promoting our band, trying to get people to come to our show. In North Carolina this happened once, and we got about 15 people to come to the show. It was a bunch of moms and dads and kids, whoever we found at local shops. We were running around asking people to come out. So those days are kind of over.”

The early days for the group were in 2007 when all of the band members were still in high school in the Lancaster, Pa., area. Witkowski and Royer had been in bands, while Good and Gray had also played together for awhile before that point.

“So two separate groups of people that played music together kind of came together at school and formed one,” Witkowski said.

Only a year or so after forming, the band had made enough noise on the local scene to get signed to a Lancaster label, CI Records, in 2008 and release a debut EP that October, followed a year later by “I Am.”

The record deal, according to Witkowski, started the band members thinking that Texas in July might become something more than just a way to play music and have a good time with friends.

“That’s kind of when the big picture started changing for everybody,” Witkowski said. “That (being a full-time band) is a big idea, a big leap to take, especially with music. You just never know.”

It turned out that after getting a taste of life in a band that was releasing CDs and touring nationally, Maurer decided it wasn’t the life for him. He quit the band so he could start college.

“Nothing’s bitter between us and him,” Witkowski said. “He just had to go. He didn’t like the tour life, and he just had to continue on with school and other things.”

Although with the new self-titled CD out, Witkowski and his bandmates have lots to look forward to, he said the group is trying not to get ahead of itself.

“We just honestly take it one day at a time and never get ahead of ourselves and just kind of go with it as it comes and hope for the best,” he said. “It’s taken us to a very good length. We’re happy with how it’s coming along thus far.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 May 2013 20:06

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Cheyenne musicians shine at NAMMY awards

By SCOTT PRINZING - For The Outpost

Two Montana American Indian musicians won Native American Music Association awards (NAMMYS) at last weekend’s 14th annual awards show in New York. Joseph FireCrow and Gary Small, both members of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, each won one NAMMY.

FireCrow was awarded the Flutist of the Year NAMMY for his album, “Night Walk.” Small and his band, the Coyote Brothers, were awarded the Best World Music Recording NAMMY for their album, “Hostiles and Renegades.”

Both men are multiple NAMMY recipients going back over a decade.

Both of these talented musicians were nominated along with four others for Artist of the Year. They were the only two nominees from the same tribe in the running for the top award.

The sold-out event was held at the Seneca Niagara Events Center in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Initially scheduled for last November, the ceremony was postponed until May 10 after Hurricane Sandy hit New England shortly before.

FireCrow was a featured performer at the ceremony; Small was a guest performer this year. They have both performed at the NAMMYS at least twice before.

According to Small, at least three of the other nominees have won Grammy Awards before.

Joseph FireCrow is one who has. He performed on David Darling’s 2009 Grammy-winning New Age Album, “Prayer for Compassion.” FireCrow has been on two other Grammy-nominated albums, including his own, “Cheyenne Nation.”

FireCrow’s NAMMY wins include Songwriter of the Year (2003), Flutist of the Year (2004 and 2010), Artist of the Year (2010), and Best Instrumental Recording in 2004 for his collaboration with composer Jim Cockey, “Parmly’s Dream” (performed with the Billings Symphony Orchestra and Chorale). That performance was recorded at the Alberta Bair Theater in downtown Billings.

Gary Small has taken home a few NAMMYS before, as well: Songwriter of the Year (2002), Best Rock Recording (2007), as well as four other nominations along the way.

Gary Small and the Coyote Brothers perform regularly across Montana and Wyoming, occasionally in other northwestern states, and performed at Magic City Blues in downtown Billings in 2010.

NAMMYS are presented in 30 categories. Voting is done by a combination of NAMA members and a public vote through the organization’s website.

At least one other Montana tribal member was nominated this year, Shawn Michael Perry (Salish/Mayan), for Best Pop Recording for his album, “Shawn Michael Perry and Only the Brave.”

Other important awards were presented to Nelly Furtado (Living Legend) and Russell Means (Hall of Fame). Pop star Furtado is a First Nations Native Canadian. She recently featured native hoop dancers in a music video for her song, “Big Hoops (Bigger the Better).”

Means was an iconic activist, actor and author, who released a few albums of spoken word set to hip-hop beats. The one-time vice presidential candidate died in October 2012.

Past Montana NAMMY winners include Blackfoot Confederacy (Blackfeet), a powwow drum group based in Browning, Jack Gladstone (Blackfeet) and Rezawrecktion (Crow), a hip-hop group led by Supaman, based in Crow Agency.

Another scheduled highlight of this year’s show was a performance by Southern rockers Blackfoot, led by NAMA Hall of Fame member, Ricky Medlocke (longtime member of Lynyrd Skynyrd).

The ceremony was streamed live at NativeAmericanMusicAwards.com. The public is invited to sign up for e-mail notifications on the site and can register to vote in next year’s competition.

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 May 2013 20:04

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