Good Medicine & Numbksull Present
Murder By Death, Tim Barry
1025 Monterey Street
San Luis Obispo, CA, 93401
This event is all ages
"I think at this point we're sort of beyond genre," says Nick 13 of his band Tiger Army and its new album V •••–.
It's an accurate statement.
While the 13 tracks comprising V •••– touch on all the exciting hallmarks of great rock 'n' roll, there's a substance and detail on display here that's distinctly out of the ordinary. And considering Tiger Army's track record as one of the most vibrant and inspired groups to emerge from the California punk scene, a career high like this is no small thing.
"It was very important on this record for me to try to do something new to top myself," says Nick 13. "I think a lot of people become complacent after so many years of making music. And I guess that was one reason why I was away for a little while—because that's what needed to happen to maintain that passion and, hopefully, freshness."
The band's first album since 2007's Music From Regions Beyond, V •••– combines stellar production from Grammy winner Ted Hutt (Old Crow Medicine Show, The Gaslight Anthem, Dropkick Murphys) with impeccable playing via singer/guitarist Nick 13, bassist Dave Roe (Johnny Cash, Ray Lamontagne, Dan Auerbach) and drummer Mitch Marine (Dwight Yoakam).
With first track "Prisoner Of The Night" already released and well received by audiences at current live shows, the freshness Nick 13 speaks of could not be more evident. Tiger Army's music has always pushed forward creatively while nodding toward the roots of rock, but this time out, the band is drawing inspiration from the music of the early '60s—that pre-Beatles era when the likes of producer Joe Meek and the Shadows were in full bloom, or when a very young Del Shannon made his mark with his 1961 hit "Runaway." It is a musical period still ripe for rediscovery, and it masterfully evoked with full affection throughout V •••–.
"That whole era gets overlooked, I think," he says. "Because there's the narrative about the end of the '50s with Elvis going into the army, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, and Ritchie Valens dying, Little Richard going to Gospel--that is all true, but the people who were able to carve out a niche for themselves before the British Invasion, and not just do the pure pop things, that to me was some of the most interesting music. And it was some of the most innovative as well. Because the first wave of rock 'n' roll was over, and everybody was trying to figure out what's going to happen next. And I think there was a lot more experimentation, sonically and otherwise, than that era is generally given credit for."
To that end, aficionados of early '60s pop might notice a few touches here and there: A familiar sounding keyboard tone via a rare Clavioline ("Max Crook, who played on Del Shannon's records, used it," says Nick. "It's also what Joe Meek used in England on 'Telstar.' It took some doing to track one down in the States."), and a high-pitched, ghostly female background vocal throughout several songs, courtesy of operatically-trained vocalist Savitri Labensart ("I think she brought an incredible element to the record," He says. "Most female background singers that you find in rock 'n' roll today are usually R&B singers. That sort of high ethereal thing you hear on Joe Meek records and Roy Orbison records are a forgotten aspect of rock 'n' roll that I specifically wanted to bring back for this record.")
Those occasional nods to Joe Meek were greatly aided by producer Hutt, an Englishman who rose to the challenge of attempting to evoke that singular style. "Something that's interesting about Meek's studio techniques is, a lot of times you're just sort of unleashing something and you don't know what you're going to get. It's not something that necessarily produces a predictable result, it's more like you're sort of setting up the circumstance where anything can happen--it might be great, it might not, but when it works, it really works."
Also amply in evidence is the sound and influence of the legendary Roy Orbison, notably on "Happier Times," an album highlight. "It was probably Blue Velvet that turned me on to Roy Orbison," notes Nick. "David Lynch picked up on something-- there's a real emotional darkness to his music, and that was something I latched onto pretty early. So I was listening to that alongside punk as a young kid."
While V •••– is not a complete change of aesthetic direction for Tiger Army, it's a further refinement, an evolution perhaps partly wrought from Nick 13's other career as an alt-country/Americana artist. His self-titled solo album of 2011 won critical raves, expanded his audience via the touring that followed, and provided him some lessons for which he's still grateful.
"I learned a lot," he recalls. "In the solo thing, my intention was to immerse myself in country music of the '50s and '60s--but in doing so, I learned a lot more about not only how country music at that time was played, but how music of that time, not just country but rock 'n' roll, was played and recorded. And that was something that influenced this record most definitely."
Notably having an impact here yet again was Orbison, whose early '60s Monument Records singles rank among his best and most pioneering.
"Before I spent time in Nashville, I never really spent time thinking about Roy Orbison as a Nashville artist," says Nick. "I didn't realize that all of his albums were recorded there. And really, a lot of the elements that they were using on those early Monument singles--the sort of non-R&B female background vocals, things like harp or piano that help give it that sort of otherworldly sound, were pretty much the same thing they were doing on other country records of the time--just minus the pedal steel."
And there's more at the core of V •••– .
Among other things, says Nick 13, the influence of early New York City punk--starting with the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers, The Ramones and Static Age-era Misfits—can be felt.
"I think what it is about those particular artists is that there was a real connection to rock 'n' roll and pop singles of the late '50s and early '60s beneath the surface in their work. You hear it to varying extents," he says.
"And I wanted to almost strip away a little bit of the noise, and kind of play around with those ratios. You know, the urgency of punk at ground zero, and what influence it was taking from the original rock 'n' roll. And just kind of tweak those ratios a little bit. Because that was something I always heard in there."
In all, V •••– reaffirms Tiger Army's status as a long-lived band that continues to grow, to get better with age, yet never without forgetting their roots or what brought them to the music. There is a consistency in all their music and the creativity that drives it—and though much has changed since the band's first recordings, much of what is most important has not. And it's all there to be heard on V •••–.
Murder By Death
Indiana's Murder by Death (formerly known as Little Joe Gould) layers the vocal sounds of an old saloon with the haunting strings of a Hungarian folk dance and the hard driving rhythms of pure rock 'n' roll, producing what Stuff magazine has called "lush, orchestrated songs," somehow simultaneously reminiscent of Johnny Cash and Radiohead. Added to that thick and intriguing sound are a series of dark and ironic lyrics, combining the mood and tone of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds with the narrative force of The Decemberists or a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Adam Turla fills out these sometimes frightening, sometimes beautiful lyrics by conjuring up a cast of character voices, allowing the songs to speak with the force of the characters themselves, and providing the listener with a sense of ensemble unique in rock music.
But this ensemble feel is not only the result of Turla's vocal playfulness, but of the cohesive playing of the band itself. Sarah Balliet channels her Kentucky bluegrass roots through the skilled hands of a concert cellist, playing point and counterpoint to the lyrics and guitars with magnificent grace and style. Matt Armstrong's bass guitar provides the rhythmic framework of the band, but also takes the lead with surprising frequency, guiding Murder by Death into driving highs and brooding lows. And Alex Schrodt's drumsticks almost dance across the skins, giving the band what the Chicago Reader called "a rhythm section Nick Cave or The Faint would die for." The result is a fascinating slice of American Gothic, replete with trail rides, whiskey shots and Old Scratch himself.
The first time one of his friend's fathers saw singer/songwriter TIM BARRY perform, he summed up his thoughts with a Yogi Berra-worthy declaration: "You're old-timey in a modern way."
That's a near perfect description for the artist who sums up his latest solo release, Lost & Rootless in a single word: WOODEN. "That's the feel that I was going for when I picked the songs," says Barry. "There's violin, voice, a wooden resonator guitar...there's a very subtle electric bass on one track, but otherwise I
wanted to do a wooden record."
To create that stripped-down, earthy sound, Barry (along with sometime accompanists Josh Small and sister Caitlin Hunt) selected an equally wooden venue: his own shed, mic'd up and MacGyvered with blankets, bits of carpet, and pallets for soundproofing. This gave Tim an opportunity musicians are rarely afforded: the ability to record any moment that inspiration struck, without racing the clock or pulling out the wallet. "It's not always relaxing in the studio unless you have so much loot you don't care how much time you spend in there. To be able to go into my shivering cold shed and play music whenever it hit me was pretty awesome," he says.
Opening Lost & Rootless with the forlorn "No News From The North" (drawn from 2005's solo debut Laurel Street Demos, one of which he has re-recorded for each subsequent release), Barry then unspools twelve more songs toggling between spare soliloquies and toe-tappers, telling tales of sadness and of celebration, and portraying the narrator as both partier and poet.
With a cohesive musical feel, a vivid cast of characters, and not one but two mentions of his own daughter Lela Jane, one might think there's a larger tale being told here. Don't spend too much time trying to tie it all together, though: "I'm not bright enough to make a concept record!" Tim exclaims. "Going all the way back to the early days of my music, I just write what's around me, what I feel, who I know."
The album is thick with examples of that that autobiographical (and auto-geographical) writing style, featuring references to Richmond's Laurel Street, its Manchester neighborhood, and the James River (each also calling back to Barry's past recordings). His surroundings also set the scene for one of the album's story song highlights: "Solid Gone," about one family's fight to survive outside the confines of the law. Tim notes that the subject matter reads a bit like a country music stereotype, "But that's what it's about: drugs, guns and family. I'm not sure the average fan of Willie Nelson would like it, but it's what happens in the state of Virginia."
The one song on the album that's not drawn from Barry's background or environment is a reverent cover of "Clay Pigeons" by the late Austin musician Blaze Foley (the subject of the Lucinda Williams song "Drunken Angel"). Originally turned on to the song via a mixtape from a friend, Tim quickly became obsessed. "It was just TOO GOOD," he stresses. Seeing that the song only had a paltry number of YouTube views, "I started asking everyone I knew if they knew the song. Only two people out of maybe twenty did, so I said, "F*** that, I'm recording this!"
Of course, the challenges of making an album don't end with the recording: figuring out the best order for the songs is another chore entirely. In keeping with his old-school approach to creating the music, Tim took to a slightly vintage sequencing method. "My favorite part of the entire recording project is using cassette to sequence the album," he says. "I really believe in listening beginning to end, and it forces me to listen all the way through. Then if I want to change it, I've got to sit down with the CD and hit play and record and do it all over again. That's how I'm going to do it from now on."
With the release of Lost & Rootless this fall, and the tenth anniversary of his solo career in 2015, you can bet that Tim will be playing a town near you soon, whether it's a bourbon-soaked hole in the wall or as the opener for one of his longtime comrades. As he chuckles, "All my peers are becoming stars, and I'm staying exactly the same. I'm just excited to get the record out and get back on the road!"
$25.00 - $28.00
Fremont Theater - SLO
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