CAMMIES: Week three
Rock/Pop, World (Celtic, Latin, Ska), Americana/Country nominees
Like fire and atomic energy, rock ’n’ roll was discovered rather than invented, it just took us thousands of years of banging everything from rocks to strings together to pin a name on it a few generations back. Since the dawn of man we’ve just tried to figure out different ways to harness and move that energy. Chico’s rock CAMMIE club this year carries the ancient tradition of stretching the boundaries of what rock ’n’ roll is.
The Shankers tap the rock in its most primeval form, hearkening back to earlier, more dangerous days while sidestepping retro-kitsch. The frenetic, shared lead vocal front-team of stand-up bassist Kerra and guitarist Johnny Shanker is the local music scene’s Bonnie and Clyde, beloved outlaws. They enter the year guns blazing with a new album and revamped rhythm section featuring the return of once and long-time drummer Christina Shanker.
The term “hot mess” may conjure mental images of spilled oatmeal, but the band Hot Mess is something entirely different. It’s much cooler, less wholesome and a touch decadent, the aural equivalent of having a hot fudge sundae for breakfast. The band and vocalist Storey Condos acknowledge the influence of a certain other Sunday Girl—Debbie Harry and Blondie. A supergroup of sorts with members of Gorgeous Armada, the Puke Boots and Mute Witness, the band dropped its debut, Learn to Sleep With the Light On, earlier this month.
As winner of the Critics’ Choice award for Best Songwriter in last year’s CAMMIES, Perpetual Drifters’ frontman Garrett Gray is the reigning poet laureate of the local music scene. Gray’s literary snapshots and lyrical musings help propel the band’s smooth, country-laced melodies. A little extra thrust was added recently with the addition of guitarist/vocalist Nolan Ford. They just released a new album, Waiting For Saturn, and plan to hit the coast this summer on an appropriately named “Beach Tour.”
Surrogate released their third record last month, an EP aptly titled Diamonds and Pearls. The band continues to mine bona-fide indie-pop gems that have garnered it a following far beyond the boundaries of our little berg. Requisite polish is added by the able hands of Chris Keene, Surrogate’s singer-songwriter-guitarist. Keene began twiddling knobs to produce this project’s first release way back in ’07, and is now one of Chico’s most respected engineers.
Most bands are lucky to have one good singer, but Mute Witness has four of them. It uses them well, and it’s evident that diverse interests and influences stand behind each of those voices, imbuing the band with a varied yet distinct sound. It all boils down to anthemic songs built around soaring harmonies and traded leads. As this is the band’s third consecutive CAMMIE nomination nod, maybe 2011 will be their charmed year.
Even though the term “world music” is a vague descriptor, in a town the size of Chico there just aren’t enough bands to form separate categories for styles such as reggae, Afro-Cuban, or even Celtic, so the World catch-all is what we are left with.
The beauty of such a varied category, though, is that we get a nice variety of artists sharing the limelight. Take the two ska bands in this year’s lineup. Without the World category, neither would have a place to land on the CAMMIES landscape. First-time nominees Chico Ska Orchestra started working out ska versions of old soul and ska standards two years ago. Masterminded by long-time Chico musician Johnny Kind (The Kind, Mystic Roots), CSO features a rotating cast of Chico State music students, including original members Alden Denny (popular trombonist from Rap nominees Eye-Que & Live Assist and punk nominees Brass Hysteria!) and bassist Hypatia Runcie (also of Rock nominee Hot Mess).
The members of Boss 501 (last year’s World winners) say they were “brought together by their shared love of the traditional sounds of Jamaica,” and fittingly their sound is a blend of ska, reggae and rocksteady influences. The band plays both originals and select covers, with a full electric band (Chris Esco, keys/vocals; Brian Matisek, guitar; Ben Stone, bass; Danny Walcoff, drums) and a three-piece horn section (Nick Danty, sax; Daniel Sternberg, sax; Charlie Francis, vocals) driving the energetic party.
Though you’re likely to find some form of Celtic music at most World Music festivals, you won’t find it in the World section of your record store. In Chico, though, playing a World fest punches your ticket. And in Chico, there are two names you hear most often when it comes to Celtic: Pub Scouts and Ha’Penny Bridge.
As band leader Michael Cannon plainly puts it, “The Pub Scouts play traditional Irish music.” Though different players join in and peel away at the band’s weekly home gig, Fridays at Duffy’s Tavern, Cannon and his accordion are constants. Other regulars include (but aren’t limited to) Jewel Cardinet on mandolin, fiddler Vita Segalla, Conor O’Bryan on flute and bassist Ken Rose.
Some of those names (Cannon, Cardinet and Segalla) also do time in songwriter Mark McKinnon’s Ha’Penny Bridge ensemble. A vocally driven band, Ha’Penny features a blend of Irish and Scottish styles on guitarist/ vocalist McKinnon’s original tunes as well as a few reinterpreted traditional selections. Rounding out the band are drummer Jimmy Fay (Spark ’n’ Cinder, Three Fingers Whiskey), percussionist Dharma LaRocca, bassist Tom Haber and vocalist Molly McNally (of ukulele duo Dick and Jane). The band plans to release a follow-up to its debut The Awakening later in 2011.
The Los Papi Chulos Band features a world of styles on its own—from Afro-Cuban salsa to Latin jazz and groove. “The Latin music we play is in the spirit of the Fania Allstars, Eddie Palmieri, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, and many others,” is how the band’s trumpeter, Jeff Daub, described it during last year’s CAMMIES. And with Daub’s horn out front, the long-running Chico band features a rotating cast featuring some Chico’s best players: Noel Carvalho, percussion; Zach Cowan, percussion/ vocals; Daebin Gilmore, percussion; Shigemi Minetaka, piano; Jonathan Stoyanoff, bass; Juan Aguilar, trombone; Devon Dorenzo, vocals; Niobel Cintra, percussion/vocals; Greg D’Augelli, sax; Dave Elke, guitar.
The one sub-category where we could probably build a whole new genre is Latin music. La Original Banda La Jalisciense is the first act from the local Mexican Banda scene to make it onto the CAMMIES radar, but don’t think that means no one knows about them. La Jalisciense (formerly Banda La Patrona) plays its brass-heavy tunes in familiar polka time at sold-out shows everywhere from the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds to Lost on Main.
If we can build a bridge from here to the local Mexican music scene that is immensely popular—but frequented almost exclusively by the Mexican-American community—we would definitely have a wonderfully rich new vein of music to share with Chico.
There exists a general misconception that country music and its purveyors are simple folk. Conservative, down-home, hokey—all labels slapped on the genre by the uniformed, despite historic evidence that illustrates otherwise. For example, Hank Williams was a 33rd degree Freemason who dabbled in ritual-sex magic, spoke Latin and helped Jack Parsons invent the rocket fuel that propelled man to the moon; Doc Watson was a cardiologist, and a damned good one at that, etc.
The birth and ongoing evolution of country and Americana is no less significant to our civilization than splitting the atom, and those who contribute to it remain some of the most talented and creative musicians out there. This year’s CAMMIE country club is a fine example of this, a cavalcade of top-notch composers and performers with nary a slack-jawed bumpkin in the bunch.
Take Mossy Creek, whose lineup includes a fiddle prodigy (Christine Hogan), two members with music degrees (Kim Gimbal and Chris Wenger), a banjo-pickin’ black belt (Pat Haley) and a heap of other talent. Mossy Creek’s originals and interpretations of classic songs are drenched in traditions reaching back to Mossy Creek, Tenn., the band’s namesake and spiritual homeland.
Among that aforementioned Mossy talent heap is harmonica player extraordinaire Bob Littell, whose chances at a CAMMIE are doubled by his duties in Make It So. The quartet is centered around the multi-instrumental husband-and-wife team of Peggy and Bob Kirkland, regulars to stages in Chico’s cafés and coffeehouses since the early ’90s. Yes, the name is a reference to a certain starship captain.
Speaking of next generations, Crazygrass’s take on traditional music is something altogether different, propelling the genre into the 21st century and beyond. The band’s music, anchored by Sid Lewis’ masterful flatpicking, conjures images of a broken-down hovertruck on blocks—it’s flux capacitor swinging from a cherry-picker—while Granny sips ’shine from the actual moon in her levitating rocking chair.
Before Merle Haggard drifted north to dip his feet in Lake Shasta, he presided as one of the architects of Bakersfield’s signature sound. It’s from this foundation The Blue Merles draw their power, self-described as “Hard core honky-tonkin’ fun and danceable music about drinkin’, lyin’, cheatin’, killin’ and heartbreak with a touch of tender sentiment now and then.” Leans more toward Dwight Yoakam than Buck Owens, not that either is a bad thing.
In the same vein is Three Fingers Whiskey. It’s fun and frantic balls-out honky-tonk with a shot of estrogen provided by vocalist Lindsay Beltz. Just try to quell the craving for a piss-warm Schlitz after watching the YouTube video of Beltz, her husband (guitarist/vocalist Jason) and the rest of the band covering “Maggie’s Farm” at the Tackle Box.
Chico’s full of banjo slingers, but there’s only one Banjo-ologist: Gordy Ohliger. Ohliger’s encyclopedic knowledge of the instrument is matched by his epic ability to play it and his masterful delivery—his shows are entertaining, educational and one of a kind. Ohliger has a second PBS special in the works and a live DVD release scheduled this year, and his expertise extends beyond banjo: he also channels the soul of Django Reinhardt in the band Hot Potato!
Poa Porch Band sprouted instantaneously in the gap left by the breakup of the Rock Creek Jug Band, and the soul of the much-missed jug-less wonders survives in this sextet. Thrives is a better verb, and active less than a year the band’s wasted no time playing all over town with stops off to record. This energy is palpable in the original song “Swamp Thing,” available on the band’s website.