After the disintegration of Chicago’s blues-rock innovators Red Red Meat, the band’s four remaining members struck out on their own, initiating several varied endeavors but never straying too far from their home base, or each other. Ben Massarella and Tim Rutili revived their Perishable Records imprint, Brian Deck opened the Clava recording studios, adjacent to the Perishable offices, and Tim Hurley recorded and released his own Sin Ropas project on the resurrected label. While enduring the fluctuation between crisis and monotony inherent in the daily operation of a small, independent record label, Rutili began work on his next musical project, Califone.

Named after the pedant audio supply manufacturer, Califone was initially just Rutili banging out songs with a computer. Eventually, he began to enlist the help of some familiar cohorts and cycled through several transient contributors; ultimately, the revolving cast spawned 1998’s self-titled debut EP. A joint Flydaddy/Perishable release, the record was distinctly more focused and confident than Red Red Meat’s swan song, There’s a Star Above the Manger Tonight. While still incorporating the bizarre sounds and sequenced beats of that record, this time the band didn’t allow its in-studio experimentation to overwhelm the songs.

Interestingly, at the end of the nascent recording sessions for Califone, someone in Rutili’s new conglomerate noticed that the band was, in effect, a reincarnation of Red Red Meat; the principal members of the supposedly defunct quartet were the only remaining people in the studio. A second self-titled EP followed in 2000 on Portland’s Road Cone label, which soon after was paired with the first on the Sometimes Good Weather Follows Bad People compilation.

With Califone’s fundamental studio lineup at least temporarily solidified as Massarella, Rutili, and Deck, the band recorded its debut LP, Roomsound, with an open-door policy; members of Eleventh Dream Day, Tortoise, and Fruit Bats all performed on the album. Released in the spring of 2001, Roomsound fused the disparate elements the band had been struggling to unite since There’s a Star Above the Manger Tonight, creating a cohesive, affecting album. The limited-edition Deceleration One appeared in February 2002, showcasing some of Califone’s stunning live-recorded instrumentals. It was a combination of film loop mixing by Jeff Economy and Carolyn Faber and a puppetry sketch interpreted by Califone.

A month later, Sometimes Good Weather Follows Bad People was released, capturing the two new tracks as well as material from the band’s two previously out of print EPs initially available on Flydaddy and Road Cone. Rutili and Massarella were on a roll. They collected additional musicians during the summer of 2002 for the recording of the Quicksand/Cradlesnakes EP. It’s a rough-edged, dark effort, but Califone’s ever-changing musical cinema remained at its best. Released in 2004, Heron King Blues further refined their blending of melodic acoustic compositions and experimental tendencies before the band went on hiatus for most of 2005 while Rutili focused on soundtrack work. The band reconvened in late 2005 to begin work on Roots & Crowns, released in October 2006. All My Friends Are Funeral Singers followed in 2009. Bluesy, broken, and impressionistic, 2013’s Southwest-birthed Stitches was the first Califone release to be recorded entirely outside of the Windy City. ~ Bryan Carroll


Slow Moses comes from Phoenix, Arizona. Charity Binge is a record made in an experimental rehearsal/recording space called the Dressing Room (or Droom) that sits across the street from a municipal mental ward in Downtown Phoenix.

When there’s some sun-stroked, meth-addled guy screaming at the pavement near the patio of a restaurant, who gets called? Insanity isn’t a crime, at least not formally... but still, the police come hush the lunatic, shepherd him into Crown Vic and take him away. They drop him off at the ward. He gets screened. No budget for fixing all the broken people in Arizona. Let him loose. He’s got no clue where he is. No money. No ride. He hears amps pushing sound out an open door around midnight. He walks toward it and sticks his head through the threshold to find five guys drinking, smoking and playing music. They all notice him looming, but they don’t stop playing. When he makes a move to enter, they still don't stop playing. When he finds a seat... even still, they don’t stop. He’s got shelter for a second. He’s allowed to be there. It was a romantic idea, an open-door policy. It went awry.

Word spread among the derelicts. Stolen gear. Broken gear. Guys trying to fence stolen bikes. Guys trying to hit rock in the bathroom. Guys getting drunk, getting into it, losing control, knocking over guitars, snapping necks, tipping amps. For every heart-warming anecdote, there were a dozen darker flip-sides. More often than not, the generosity of these boys was a met with an improbable street cunning, the instant recognition that here were five naive dreamers drunk on goodwill. One of ‘em was bound to fall asleep with his wallet sticking out. Methodical survivalism could swim calm as a shark beneath a surface of schizophrenia.

Eventually the goodwill broke down and broke the boys down with it. This record is the sound of that demolition in motion, the sound of innocence getting lost, the sound of beginning to see how radical charity and idealisms can supply their own highs and withdrawals. In the end, the boys were all jaded but somehow still brimming with love for all the strangers that stumbled in to make a mess of youth.

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