The Billings Outpost

Carmichael headlines Jazz Montana’s 20th

Pianist Judy Carmichael plays Nov. 2 at the Ellen Theater in Bozeman.MSU News Service

BOZEMAN – Montana State University School of Music will team up with Jazz Montana and the Ellen Theater to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Jazz Montana, to be celebrated Nov. 1-4 with events to be held at both MSU’s Reynolds Recital hall and Bozeman’s Ellen Theater.

“Like so many of the great events in Bozeman this is a true collaboration,” said Greg Young, director of the MSU School of Music and one of the festival’s organizers. “The terrific four-day festival celebrating the 20th anniversary will include concerts, master classes and receptions with an amazing array of guest artists.”

The four days of jazz opens Thursday, Nov. 1, with a reception in the lobby of Howard Hall, the home of the MSU School of Music. The event, which begins at 6:30 p.m., includes wine and refreshments.

The reception precedes a performance by trumpeter Al Hood with the MSU Concert Jazz Orchestra. The MSU Lab band and the MSU Jazztet will open for the performance along with the Jazz Montana Scholarship winners.

Hood toured the world with the Phil Collins Big Band, including appearances at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. He has played in the orchestras of Woody Herman, Glenn Miller and Harry James, and performed on stage with Ray Charles, Doc Severinsen, Natalie Cole, Manhattan Transfer, Arturo Sandoval, the Richie Cole Alto Madness Orchestra, the Summit Brass, Jon Faddis, Conte Candoli, Clark Terry, Curtis Fuller and Wynton Marsalis. He is the professor of trumpet at the University of Denver Lamont School of Music.

Events on Friday, Nov. 2, begin with a lecture by MSU professor Eric Funk at 4 p.m. at Reynolds Recital Hall. Funk, who is a world-renowned composer and jazz pianist, will play and speak on how “Music Is Life.”

Grammy-nominated pianist Judy Carmichael, who is also a vocalist, radio show host and one of the world’s leading interpreters of stride piano and swing, will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2, in the Ellen Theater.

Carmichael will perform with Harry Allen, a world-class tenor saxophone jazz soloist with more than 20 recordings and worldwide concerts. Carmichael’s Grammy-nominated recording “Two Handed Stride,” teamed her with four giants of jazz from the Count Basie Orchestra, Red Callendar, Harold Jones, Freddie Green and Marshall Royal.

She has written two books on stride piano, and has served on several music panels for the National Endowment for the Arts. She is celebrating her 20th year producing and hosting her Public Radio Show, Judy Carmichael’s Jazz Inspired heard on more than 170 stations and on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio.

Allen has been identified as one of the “finest exponents of swing tenor alive today” and is described by C. Michael Bailey as “the ‘Frank Sinatra’ of the tenor saxophone: a master interpreter of standards.”

Local musical favorite Chris Cundy and Bad Betty will open for Carmichael and Allen with a special guest appearance by local legend Dave Walker. A pre-reception wine social will be held in the lobby of the Ellen Theater beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Carmichael will play piano and talk about Count Basie and her life in jazz at a lecture, “From Stride to Basie,” set at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, in MSU’s Reynolds Recital Hall.

Ryan Matzinger, adjunct MSU saxophone professor and jazz activities director, will play with the Detroit Soul Collective at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3. Bozeman’s popular group Basement Jazz will open.

Appearing and performing as “Ryan Montana,” a singer-songwriter, saxophonist, recording artist, internationally touring musician and producer, Matzinger recently returned to his native Bozeman after studying with saxophone icons Jackie McLean, Sonny Rollins and Paul Jeffrey at The Hartt School of Music and Duke University.

He moved to Southern California in 2000 and was hired by rock ‘n’ roll legend Ike Turner. Today he remains the saxophone player in the Kings of Rhythm band, which is noted for some of the earliest historical rock music, and which received a Grammy Award in 2007 for best traditional blues group/album.

The festival will conclude Sunday, Nov. 4, with a performance by the group North by Northwest at 3 p.m. in MSU’s Reynolds Recital Hall. This new jazz group features Bozeman-based favorites Bob Nell, Craig Hall, Adam Greenberg, Tony Vaughn and Sam White playing the music of Blue Note records and the Hard-bop era of the ’60s.

All Jazz Montana Festival events held at MSU will be $10. Tickets will be sold at the door. Reynolds Recital Hall is located inside Howard Hall, home of the MSU School of Music. Howard Hall is across the street from the MSU Duck Pond with parking in lots at the corner of 11th and Grant Street. MSU parking is free after 6 p.m. and on weekends.

Events at the Ellen Theater are $22 for general admission, $17 for students and members of JazzMontana. Tickets are available at For information, go to or

Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 October 2012 11:28

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Music Awards ‘academy’ added


The times they are a changin’ for the beloved Billings music institution The Tuneys.

Originally the brainchild of Outpost alumnus Scott Prinzing, the Tuneys were so named because of Prinzing’s weekly music column, In Tune. But since In Tune left with Prinzing, it makes less sense.

The new moniker is The Magic City Music Awards, but The Outpost will continue to call the awards given out Tuneys out of respect for Prinzing and Billings’ long-running music column.

But the name is just one of many changes. We are moving away from the “best of” moniker for awards, replacing it with “of the year.” This requires that local acts be actively engaging in their craft, doing shows and making albums to be considered.

While reader participation will still be a part of the awards, because of past abuses we cannot consider it an accurate measure.

Instead, a panel of nine local experts will be chosen to act as an “academy.” The public will still vote and will act as a sitting member of the academy with two votes.

Also the awards event itself is being retuned. Only the top tier awards will be announced, and great care will be taken to keep it a well running show.

Only one man has the clout, the youth and the stupidity to take on the monumental task of rebranding Billings’ music awards: local scene aficionado and musical luminary Steve Brown. Brown hales from one of the most capable and amazing musical families in Billings history. Most of the big changes this year have been come out of his brain.

Steve has always liked the Tuneys but is not hesitant to change it into something better.

Steve enlisted a crack team to aid him in his monumental mission. He brought on his buddy Addam John Ostlund, of Flowers from Her fame, to redesign the logo. Over beers at The Railyard, or “Yarders” as Steve calls it, the logo was created and finalized the next day.

During the logo brainstormfest, a friend of Steve’s, Juliet Parks, happened to chime in with a suggestion about how to set up the Garage Pub. Parks had a lot of experience throwing banquets, so Steve immediately brought her on board to help.

Steve also brought on Bryant Mettler, his partner in crime for another of Steve’s projects, the music series Montana After Dark. Mettler will act as a liaison for sponsors. If you are interested in sponsoring the Montana Music Awards or have any other questions, send a message to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

This is all still a work in possess, but stay tuned. We plan on writing regular articles giving you the latest updates.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 October 2012 22:35

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Tuneys get makeover

By GEORGE MONCURE - For The Outpost

Huddled over a table and speaking in hushed coded-terms, a small group of programmers question the wisdom of releasing the news of The Billings Outpost Tuneys, Vol. 3.0, in the wake of the iPhone 5’s big splash. But time is wasting away as summer has turned to fall, so the decision is made to announce the metamorphosis of the Tuneys to The Billings Outpost Magic City Music Awards, complete with new firmware.

The Tuney Awards were sprouted in Scott Prinzing’s musical mind-garden in 2000 as a way to recognize and celebrate the contributions of local artists to the Billings music scene. The program was simple and linear and relied on Outpost readers to nominate and then vote for best artists, groups, venues, LPs, CDs and DJs. Reader responses and showtime turnouts grew along with the variety of awards and diversity of performers.

Tuneys 2.0 was promulgated in 2009 with a shift to parallel programming, theme-oriented shows and a regular host venue, Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co. While the platform of nominating and voting for local artists did not change, a small cover charge was added to enter the show and to raise funds to support music-related artist and community needs.

The Tuneys now had a dual purpose. That and each subsequent year, cash awards were given to buy musical instruments, provide music lessons and help offset medical expenses of uninsured musicians.

Steve Brown stands at the table and then waves his hand like a wand over an unrolling page that reveals the symbol of Tuney metamorphosis; the new Magic City Music Awards logo. Steve, a local singer-songwriter, guitar, bass and drums player, and multi-time performer at the Tuneys, leads a group of Outpost volunteers in the system redesign.

The 12th annual award program will feature the familiar nomination and reader voting process, but will be joined by a panel of 10 judges. A 21st century addition is the invitation to submit one-minute music videos as a new category to be posted to the web for review and voting.

The nomination, voting and review process begins in the Oct. 18 issue of the Billings Outpost and concludes with showtime at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co. on Sunday, Dec. 2.

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 October 2012 10:36

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Seether aims for simpler sound, plenty of fun

By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

When Seether’s latest CD hit the market in May 2011, fans heard a band that has grown more collaborative and, more than ever, sounds like a group of guys playing together in a room.

That’s the view on the CD, “Holding onto Strings Better Left to Fray,” from drummer John Humphrey.

This album was a lot of fun,” Humphrey said in a phone interview. “And we were a band, man, living together and working together, demos, recording, it was a full-band process and it was pretty cool.”

Indeed, “Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray,” saw Seether make several key changes in the way it created and recorded its music, beginning with the songwriting process.

On the group’s three earlier albums – “Disclaimer,” “Karma and Effect” and “Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces” – singer-guitarist Shaun Morgan had been the clear leader when it came to songwriting.

“In the past, Shaun has had complete songs that’s he’s shown and introduced to the band,” Humphrey said.

Morgan still brought some songs to the band in fairly complete form for the current CD (including the lead single, “Country Song”), but other songs took a different path.

“We were just in most cases jamming out ideas and things would start falling (into place) and songs would start to form,” Humphrey said.

And when it came to the recording of “Holding onto Strings,” the band also changed things up, going with a new producer in Brendan O’Brien and then following O’Brien’s lead in recording the CD in very different ways.

Yet, for all the changes that went into the “Holding onto Strings,” Humphrey said the CD still very much sounds like Seether.

“I don’t think we’re really far outside of the box as far as Seether is concerned with the (latest) album,” he said.

Seether had good reason not change its basic sound, even if band members Humphrey, Morgan and bassist Dale Stewart were willing to explore new ways of working together on “Holding Onto Strings.”

Since forming in South Africa and releasing its debut CD, “Disclaimer,” in 2002, Seether has seen each of its studio albums yield multiple hit singles, including chart-topping tunes such as “Broken,” “Remedy,” “Fake It” and “Rise Above This.” The latest CD has added to that list, so far producing three tunes – “Country Song,” “Tonight” and “No Resolution” - that have gone No. 1 on the active rock chart.

This success has continued even as the group has expanded on the hard-hitting, darkly hued rock sound that had become its signature.

On 2007’s “Finding Beauty In Negative Spaces,” for instance, “Fake It” combined a swaggering beat and poppy melody to appealing effect.

“Walk Away From The Sun” was a multi-faceted mid-tempo track that broadened the band’s usual instrumental palette with keyboard, piano and vocal harmonies, while “Rise Above This” employed a signature riff that was unusually graceful and melodic for a Seether rocker.

Humphrey said the “Holding onto Strings” CD picks up where the previous CD left off.

“I think of any albums of our catalog that I would compare it closely to, it would be ‘Finding Beauty’ in that it kind of started that new sound and some new ideas, and this is just right along the same line and in some cases a continuation of that,” he said.

Some of the musical progression, Humphrey said, came with the help of O’Brien, who wasn’t shy about suggesting ways to tighten up the new songs and give them more impact.

“All of the ideas were smart. All of his ideas were like ‘Yeah, that sounds great’ or ‘I understand what you’re saying,’” the drummer said. “We could have said, if there was something we genuinely didn’t like, ‘No, I’m not sure about that. That’s kind of weird.’

“There might have been that here and there, but not really. Brendan usually, everything he had a suggestion for worked all the time.”

O’Brien also took a different approach to recording the band.

“Before we’ve done albums with the wall of guitars, and there are like eight or nine guitar tracks, I mean, rhythm upon rhythm, which is kind of great for a record and obviously live it’s different,” Humphrey said. “With Brendan O’Brien, his approach was keep it simple and to do it like you would live, two guitars, bass and drums … .

“There is some ear candy, some of that stuff where when you put on a headset, there’s a Hammond B-3 (organ) in there, and there are different things that are cool that you maybe don’t interpret live. But there isn’t a lot of overdubbing and layer upon layer.

“This album transitions well live, and it sounds, for us, pretty raw,” he said.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 October 2012 22:14

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Loretta Lynn here in October concert

Tickets are on sale for an Oct. 30 performance by Loretta Lynn with Chuck Mead at the Alberta Bair Theater.

Black Diamond Entertainment presents the concert. Ticket prices are $76 for premier seating, $61 for main floor and loge, and $46 for balcony seats.

Loretta Lynn’s 50-year career has produced a string of hits that include “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man,” “Blue Kentucky Girl,” “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” and “When the Tingle Becomes a Chill.”

Her best-selling 1976 autobiography was made into an Academy Award winning film, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” starring Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones. Her most recent album, “Van Lear Rose,” was released in 2004, produced by Jack White, and topped the country album charts.

This Country Music Hall of Fame artist has written more than 160 songs and released 70 albums. She has had 10 No. 1 albums and 16 No. 1 singles on the country charts.

Ms. Lynn has won dozens of awards from many different institutions, including four Grammy Awards, seven American Music Awards, eight Broadcast Music Incorporated awards, 12 Academy of Country Music, eight Country Music Association awards and 26 fan-voted Music City News awards. She was the first woman in country music to receive a certified gold album for 1967’s “Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind).”

Tickets may be purchased at the Alberta Bair Theater Box Office, The Rimrock Mall Customer Service desk, by phone at 256-6052 or online at

Last Updated on Saturday, 01 September 2012 10:33

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Everything’s coming together for band Fun.

By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

When drummer Andrew Dost was asked to join Fun., the new band that singer Nate Ruess was putting together with Jack Antonoff, Dost knew almost before playing a note in the new group that there was real potential for the band.

“I didn’t know (guitarist) Jack (Antonoff) that well,” said Dost, who had met Ruess as a touring member of Ruess’s previous band, the Format. “I think Nate is just a fantastic guy, and in addition to that, he’s an amazing performer and an amazing frontman and an amazing songwriter. You don’t turn down a chance to work with somebody like Nate.”

Antonoff, whose other band, Steel Train, had opened for the Format, quickly impressed Dost as well.

“I thought he was a phenomenal guitar player, a great songwriter and just a really funny and awesome guy to be around,” Dost said.

“It (Fun.) just sounded like a dream come true, really, and so far it really has been.”

Indeed, Fun. has become one of 2012’s breakout bands.

The group’s recent single, “We Are Young” (which features guest vocals from Janelle Monae), earlier this year shot to the top of the Billboard magazine Hot 100 singles chart and held that spot for six straight weeks, while the CD that features the song, “Some Nights,” debuted at No. 3 on Billboard’s album chart.

The group has also been on an extensive U.S. tour in support of the new CD, which should further boost sales for the album.

Despite the attention Fun. is receiving at the moment, Dost said the band has been keeping its eye on the task of being a touring band.

“I guess we’re just kind of going about our business and trying to keep our heads down,” he said. “We just want to keep working hard and making good music. It’s nice (that others) can see that we’re doing well, but really we’ve been playing music together for so long now that it’s hard to change any habits or even notice when things are going well, or going poorly, for that matter.

We’re just kind of doing what we do, I guess.”

Indeed, the three members of Fun. are experienced in the ways of the music world. Ruess’s band, the Format, was signed by Elektra Records in 2002, and released two full-length CDs and several EPs before splitting in early 2008. Steel Train, which remains together, has released three full-length CDs and two EPs since forming in 2002.

Dost, meanwhile, was a member of the group Anathallo, which released four CDs and two EPs between 2001 and 2008.

But when the Format came to a halt in 2008, Ruess wasted no time in forming Fun., immediately contacting Dost and Antonoff to complete the band lineup.

“Aim & Ignite” introduced a band that obviously had a talent for writing smart and catchy power pop and the potential to develop into a special band.

And the group’s willingness to take musical risks and grow as songwriters and musicians is evident on “Some Nights.”

Rather than follow down the same guitar pop path of “Aim & Ignite,” the group embraced a new range of influences and partnered with producer Jeff Bhasker (known for his work with Kanye West and Drake) to find a different groove.

The choice of Bhasker reflects the fact that the band members began to fall for hip-hop and R&B after releasing “Aim & Ignite.”

“I think it was our headline tour, I want to say, two years ago,” Dost said. “We had started listening to Drake, and I think we had always been fans of Kanye West. But then from Drake we started to really think about wow, these sounds are really not happening elsewhere. These guys are really pushing it forward. Then once Kanye’s album, ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,’ came out, that was really life changing and really, really blew our minds.”

The influence of hip-hop and Bhasker is apparent in the rhythms on “Some Nights” and in the adventurous attitude of the production and sonics of the CD. That noted, Fun. didn’t forsake its love of pop on the new CD.

“Some Nights” is still first and foremost a pop album. But where “Aim & Ignite,” with its orchestration and instrumental treatments, was an elaborately constructed power pop effort, the new CD is more epic in its personality. Orchestral elements are once again built into several songs, as are programmed beats, electronic elements and synthesizers.

The scope of the instrumentation and sonic impact of the songs created some challenges in figuring out how to play the songs live. Even with three additional musicians in the live lineup, the group still is using some pre-recorded tracks, samples and triggers to achieve the sound it wanted on stage.

“I think that’s a really fun challenge, and it’s really nice for us to not necessarily replicate the album, but to figure out new live versions of it,” Dost said. “I find that to be just a really interesting challenge.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 August 2012 22:07

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Gary Small’s new album shows band at best


By SCOTT PRINZING - For The Outpost

After a few albums that veered a bit more toward his rockabilly side, Gary Small’s latest effort, “Hostiles & Renegades,” takes us back to the sound of his debut, and with great results. That album, 2002’s “Wild Indians,” was a blend of vocal and instrumental; Latin and reggae; and strong songwriting.

That songwriting was good enough to earn Small his first of three NAMMYS, the Native American Music Association’s annual awards. In 2007 he was awarded Best Rock Recording for the Coyote Bros. album, “Crazy Woman Mountain,” with its surf guitar sound.

Although that album celebrated the retro vintage rock of the ’50s and ’60s, he is currently riding the crest of the wave for his 2011 Male Artist NAMMY. Not bad for a Northern Cheyenne kid who grew up in Kirby and Sheridan, Wyo.

The nine original tracks on his latest release were produced by Small in Sheridan at Crazy Moon Recording. This makes five albums with the Coyote Bros.; his debut was as the Gary Small Band.

Once again, Small is accompanied by the Coyote Bros., an all-native group of talented musicians who have backed him for his past four releases. Bassist Jobe Jennings sounds as energetic and creative as he is to watch play on stage. Drummer Jim Willey is as solid as a band could hope for. A variety of musical friends appear on a few songs as well.

Overall, the effect is a great representation of one of the region’s top live bands sounding as good as ever. Many bands have a challenge recreating the vibrancy of their live performances in the studio; Small and the Coyote Bros. do not have that problem. This album is one that you will want to listen to repeatedly for the quality of both the playing and the material.

One listen and there will be no doubt whether NAMMYS were flukes or not. This won’t be the first review to make comparisons between Small’s playing and that of Carlos Santana. That’s not to say that Small is an imitator; he brings his own artistry to whatever style of music he’s performing. It just so happens that some of the music he plays – both here and in live performance – has a Latin rhythm. (He even had former Santana drummer Graham Lear play on his entire debut!)

Some of it is also based in a reggae beat. But that doesn’t sound like Bob Marley; Small has a vocal style that’s distinct from either of those artists and leaves his own stamp on anything he plays.

But even though he’s been recognized for his songwriting, it’s really his guitar playing that shines the brightest. So it’s no wonder that this album includes a few instrumental pieces.

Don’t miss an opportunity to catch Gary Small and the Coyote Bros. next time they play in Billings. Check their schedule at In the meantime, pick up a copy of this and any of his albums through his page at You won’t be disappointed.

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 August 2012 22:05

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Local band Farthest Edge going places fast


Every once in awhile a local band comes along and you can’t help but think, “Wow, they really have what it takes.” The Farthest Edge is the newest band to join the ranks of the Billings greats, acts like Grudge, Spurge, The Forestry, Krunk, and Reid Perry and The Montana Avenue band, and many others.

The Farthest Edge is a veritable Billings hard rock super-band that came together almost by accident. Guitarist Rich Candelaria, of Grudge fame (and now engineer at Hi Def Studios,) had some guitar riffs that he was developing in his spare time, some of which he had been working on since his Grudge days.

“He had some guitar tracks and some programmed drums. As far as demo tracks go, they were all pretty much solid finished products. He approached me with the instrumentals asking if I would write some stuff to them,” said lead singer Patrick Lee Michaelis, who had just gotten back from ten years in New York. Michaelis did not have any serious music endeavors at the time, outside of a cover band he would occasionally play in with a few of his buddies.

The original intent was to make a few simple tracks here and there and possibly put them on iTunes. “Neither of us had any interest in playing a bunch live or coming together as a full band,” said Michaelis.

Yet fortuitously, when Michaelis came to the studio with his finalized lyrics and melody lines, things went a little too well to be just a part-time side project. Both Michaelis and Candelaria decided to take it a step further and find a drummer.

Candelaria knew that local teenage drum savant Zack Goggins was not in a band. Candelaria had seen what Goggins could do during sessions at Hi Def Studio and asked him to lay down some drum tracks.

Despite still being in high school, Goggins is, according to Michaelis, “bar none one of the best drummers I have ever played with.”

Candelaria then got Matt Gilg, formerly of These Final Days, to play guitar and Michaelis brought on bassist John Keebler, who played with him in his band The Return. All of a sudden they had a full band and were deep into writing their first full-length album and preparing for live shows.

The Farthest Edge describes themselves as straightforward hard rock.

“It’s alive and well in LA but seems to be a little dead here,” said Gilg. “There is a large gap between the indy acoustic stuff and metal in Montana. Hopefully, we can fill in some of those gaps just being hard rock.”

Michaelis added, “I think we are pretty honest and identifiable, and not too cliched or trendy.”

Along with a professional sound, The Farthest Edge has a professional look including a brilliant logo and engaging promo photos.

“A band is a brand and you really have to take it seriously,” he said. “The way we present ourselves visually is a high priority.”

One huge asset The Farthest Edge had in that pursuit was local photographer Tez Mercer. The Farthest Edge was one of the last band shoots Mercer did in Billings before leaving the state.

It’s been nothing short of breakneck speed for The Farthest Edge No sooner did they have their first full-length album recorded and ready to be mastered than they were doing their first show, then they were opening for national act Pop Evil. Shortly after that they found themselves at the world famous Whiskey A Go Go.

“It was crazy; there is a ton of history and photos of legends everywhere but it’s real inviting. It’s just a rock bar, you know. We rocked our absolute hardest. We were twice the band we were at our first gig and that was only our third gig,” said Michaelis. “It was funny: One of the things the sound guy, who worked with huge acts on a daily basis and a ton of LA bands constantly, says to us is he knew we weren’t an LA band. We asked why and he said, ‘Cause you’re not so jaded.’ Simple stuff, like I asked a guy if we could take beer up to the green room. He was floored; he didn’t know how to answer because people just take whatever they want up there. They got a kick out of it.”

While in LA, they did a few more showcases, and they met with industry luminaries like Kevin Black (former executive of Interscope and Warner Brothers) and Bruce Sterling (AEI Entertainment Development), whom they met through their manager, Jaynie Jackson.

You can buy The Farthest Edge’s four-song EP (including a Big J fan song) on iTunes or Google Play or on Spotify.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 August 2012 11:18

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Counting Crows record album of cover songs

By ALAN SCULLEY- Last Word Features

In many cases, a covers record is a group’s attempt to showcase its musical influences and how its own songs came to sound the way they do.

Def Leppard’s 2006 CD, “Yeah!,” is a good example. Featuring covers of early 1970s glam/hard rock tunes, it was meant to show that the band was rooted in rock and not heavy metal.

The Counting Crows’ new CD of cover tunes, “Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation)” is not that kind of album. The songs the band covers don’t come from any certain genre or era. So it isn’t about helping fans understand the musical influences that shaped the Bay area group.

But “Underwater Sunshine” offers something that might make it more valid as a covers album than most such releases. It helps tell a story about two groups that preceded and helped connect the members of Counting Crows.

Just as importantly, the band accomplishes something that many acts don’t achieve in making covers albums – the Counting Crows make the songs on “Underwater Sunshine” sound like their own.

Without knowing this was an album of songs by other artists, one would probably assume some of the tracks are Counting Crows originals. That’s because the band stayed away, for the most part, from doing songs that are well known.

Only “Ooh La La” (by the Faces), “Amie” (by Pure Prairie League) and “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” (by Bob Dylan and the Band) – and possibly “Return of the Grievous Angel” (by Gram Parsons) – qualify as widely known tunes.

Otherwise, the Counting Crows bring its rootsy pop sound to songs as wide ranging as Fairport Convention’s “Meet on the Ledge,” Teenage Fanclub’s “Start Again,” the fairly obscure Dawes song “All My Failures” and “Coming Around,” by the British group Travis.

The thread that ties together the songs, in the view of guitarist Dan Vickrey, is they are all songwriters’ songs.

“I would say every one of these songs is a good songwriting song,” he said. “It tells a story, has a narrative and therefore has an emotion that that listener can put themselves into.”

The idea of doing a covers album began to surface soon after the Counting Crows – Adam Duritz (vocals), Jim Boglos (drums), David Bryson (guitar), Charlie Gillingham (keyboards), David Immergluck (guitar), Millard Powers (bass), and Vickrey – reconvened after a two-year hiatus that followed the tour in support of the band’s 2008 CD, “Saturday Nights, Sunday Mornings.”

Vickrey said there was no grand plan to return to action with this kind of CD.

“This was kind of where Adam’s head was at, and Adam feels these songs as a singer,” Vickrey said.

“I think the real key (to “Underwater Sunshine”) was making it our own,” he added. “Songs on their own sound good, but I think, my personal opinion is we bettered all of them. But why do them if you’re not going to better all of them?”

The band has had its share of experience with cover tunes over the years. (It even had a hit when it covered Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” in 2002.) While its albums have otherwise generally contained all original material, cover tunes have made frequent appearances during the band’s concerts over the years.

This was true particularly with the Counting Crows’ first tours when the group didn’t have enough original material to fill a headlining set. As Vickrey tells it, Duritz decided the Counting Crows should highlight some Bay area acts that had yet to break out nationally by playing a few of their tunes.

“Mercy” and “Four White Stallions” by Tender Mercies (which included Vickrey and Gillingham) and “Jumping Jesus” by Sordid Humor (which included Duritz and Immergluck) were among the songs commonly performed around the time the Counting Crows’ 1991 debut CD, “August and Everything After,” was released. Those three songs are included on “Underwater Sunshine.”

“I think Adam’s point even in covering the songs early on in that first tour is that there are a lot of great songwriters out there in America that you never will be able to hear any of their music, because they have construction jobs or they just didn’t want to pursue what it takes to go on the road or whatever it is,” Vickrey said. “I think it’s really kind of shining a light on those kinds of singer/songwriters, just to let people know that there are those people.”

On the current Counting Crows tour, Vickrey said, the group is playing about five songs from the new CD, which of course, leaves plenty of time to perform material from “August and Everything After” and the band’s subsequent studio albums – “Recovering the Satellites (1996), “This Desert Life” (1999), “Hard Candy” (2002) and “Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings.”

The band, he said, feels rejuvenated after its time off.

“It has been refreshing to get back and play the shows,” Vickrey said. “It’s always fun to get back to playing. You realize how much you missed that. So I think that energy will be brought with this tour and the ones beyond. I think it’s all good. It can only help recharge the battery and bring a certain freshness to it.”


Last Updated on Thursday, 02 August 2012 12:02

Hits: 2618

Shinedown likes new album

By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

Zach Myers is well aware that Shinedown has a tough act to follow with its new CD, “Amaryllis.” It follows the 2008 release, “The Sound of Madness,” which featured six singles that went No. 1 on various airplay charts, including “Second Chance,” which crossed over to pop, cracked the top 10 at Top 40 and introduced the band to a whole new audience.

Still, Myers says he thinks “Amaryllis” is a better album.

“I think we did write a better record than ‘Madness,’” he said in a recent phone interview. “I think ‘Madness’ is a great record for what it is. I think it’s the best possible picture taken of who we were at that time. But I also think that in 2012, this is the best picture of us at this time.”

Myers might like Shinedown as it exists today because the band is in a much better place than it was during his first three years as a hired gun for the band.

He came into the band as a touring guitarist in 2005, in time for touring behind Shinedown’s second CD, “Us And Them.” That CD followed a 2003 debut, “Leave a Whisper,” that topped one million copies sold and established Shinedown as a band to watch on the mainstream rock scene.

But all was far from well at the time.

“When I joined Shinedown, it was an utter nightmare,” Myers said. “I mean, Brent (singer Brent Smith), who I had known for awhile and cared about, was completely a drug addict. Jasin (guitarist Jasin Todd), the same thing. Our bass player at the time Brad (Stewart) hated the fact that I was in the band, which now being a grownup, I understand it. No one asked him. Brent wanted me in the band badly and asked me to do it and basically didn’t tell the bass player. I would have been pissed off, too, if I were him.”

Myers, in fact, briefly left the band in 2006, only to return after being told Stewart was being dismissed from the lineup. Eric Bass replaced Steward, and Myers was then elevated to full-time member in place of Todd, creating a lineup (which also included original drummer Barry Kerch) that worked much better together.

And the four band members took a step before work on “Amaryllis” began to help make sure that the chemistry the group had built while touring “The Sound of Madness” continued during the writing and recording of the new CD.

“Before we did this record, we all sat down and we had a big talk,” Myers said. “We got a lot of things on the table that were bothering us and it just helped out so much now that we know everything. It got everything out.”

“Amaryllis” may surprise some fans of Shinedown – particularly those that got to know the band because of “Second Chance” (a lush, full-bodied ballad with a soaring vocal melody).

Rather than playing up the pop ballad style of that single, the band focuses even more on the hard and heavy side of its sound than on the first three albums, which were predominantly hard rocking in the first place.

Songs like “Adrenaline” and “Enemies,” in fact, have the kind of crunching guitars and aggressive drumming that may be too extreme for rock radio. But there are also rockers like “Bully” (the popular first single that boasts a hugely melodic vocal as well as a wickedly catchy opening guitar lick, and  “I’m Not Alright” (a track sweetened with bursts of synthesizer) that are more suited to airplay.

And power ballads like “Unity,” “I’ll Follow You” and the title track sound like candidates to be singles from “Amaryllis.” (“Unity,” in fact, is the current single and has cracked the top 15 on “Billboard” magazine’s Rock chart.)

According to Myers, there was no plan to make “Amaryllis” the group’s hardest hitting album. In fact, he said, for a time he thought the CD was going to fall to the other side of Shinedown’s sound.

“Honestly, this album could have ended up sounding all like ‘Second Chance.’ Those songs were there for the record to be that,” Myers said. “But the heavier songs just kind of stood up and that’s what it was. And there are still some great ballads on this record, but yeah, this is the heaviest record we’ve ever made.”

Shinedown is still in the early stages of what figures to be an extensive tour in support of “Amaryllis,” and Myers is happy to be back on the road.

“We’re just basically trying to get this new album out there, and we’re super proud of this record,” he said. “We just want people to hear it. Granted, we’re not going to play the whole record live, but we definitely want to get it across.”


Last Updated on Thursday, 26 July 2012 22:49

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