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Test show

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On my 18th birthday a friend gave me two books, The Toa of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff (still one of the best introductions to Taoism as far as I’m concerned), and All I Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum. That evening was the beginning of my idle research into eastern philosophy and an appreciation for Fulghum’s essays. Both tendencies have been lost to time, but I’m thinking that I probably should dig out one of my Fulghum books for old times sake.

The reason that I bring this up is that in one of his books, Fulghum talks about advice for taking a trip. His first bit of advice is to spend the first night close to home. This way you can ease into the trip and if you realize that you forgot something important, it isn’t to much of a hassle to go back for it.

This weekend was the first night on my little WRock trip. For this first excursion into the Wizarding world, my hosts were the Monsters of WRock; Justin Finch-Fletchley, The Whomping Willows, Draco and the Malfoys, and The Remus Lupins. The situation was ripe for comparisons to my first WRock show back in August, since that show also featured the Lupins and the Willows, and the show occurred at the same venue.

While the show in August was a really fun show which opened my eyes to the possibilities inherent in the WRock scene. The show last Saturday extended these lessons and served as a reminder that, even with the series over, this scene doesn’t seem to be slowing down in the least. While the energy at the Aug show took awhile to ramp up, not really gelling until near the end of the night, Saturday’s show started off strong and built from there.

The night began with a set from JFF. Prior to the show the only thing I’d heard from Justin was his EP in this year’s Wizard Rock EP of the Month Club. The CD had gotten a couple of listens, but hadn’t really clicked with me. The tracks were fun, but not amazing. While I would love to say that Justin live was a revelation, it wasn’t. It was a lot of fun though. His songs have a strong sense of beat that leaves me with a slight after taste of early rock and roll, back when it hadn’t fully shed its rhythm and blues roots. His set began with just him on acoustic guitar. While he was later joined by Brain from the Malfoys (bass) and Matt from the Willows (drums), the full band set up wasn’t really a requirement, more a fun flourish that freed him to push things into a few other areas. The first couple of acoustic numbers showed that he was more then capable of handling his set with no help at all. It also pushed him into the circle of artists that I’m curious to see where they go from here.

After JFF, we were treated by the first of our two returning sets, The Whomping Willows. Recently Matt seems to have started playing more electric shows. I’m not sure if this is just a passing fancy or if it marks a change in his live sound. His albums have always featured generous use of electric guitars and full band arrangements, but his solo touring has necessitated an acoustic approach.

This hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing on his part, but it does limit him somewhat. His style of strumming folk pop comes across best when he is given an audience that is familiar with his work and willing to sing along. Minus this crucial piece, the shows run the risk of dragging. Matt’s banter from the stage and dry wit are strong tools to win the crowd over, but he is basically working with out a net with just him and his acoustic.

The electric though suited him really well. Accompanied by JFF on bass and a drum machine that has been christened Whompy Jr, Matt was free to deliver his songs with a dynamic that is near impossible to pull off with just an acoustic guitar. It leant an air of energy to his slower moodier songs. And pushed crowd favorites over the edge. I Found A Loop Hole was allowed to really achieve the rock and roll glory that has always been simmering underneath and songs like Draco and Harry and Wizard Rock Heartthrob were given an added bounce that had the entire room moving and dancing along, not to mention singing at the tops of their lungs.

This was my first chance to see Matt playing electric, and I really hope someone is feeding him some early Billy Bragg records so he realizes that there isn’t really a need to go back to the acoustic. Not that there wasn’t a certain sense of charm to the old shows, just that the new style provides him with a much better setting in which to display his talents.

Following Whompy’s set could have been a pretty arduous task for a lot of groups. Luckily, this tour had the Malfoy’s on hand. Making their first appearance in VA, the group decided to open the set up to requests from the audience, except for a couple of new tracks to promote their new CD. This was also my first time seeing the Malfoys in person, but judging by the YouTube videos I’ve seen of the group, we got a pretty typical high energy show that was focused squarely on making sure everyone had as much fun as possible. Of the small group of WRock bands that I’ve seen so far, the Malfoys definitely seem to best represent the idea that at its core, WRock is first and foremost about having fun. While the budding social consciousness of the scene is a wonderful turn of events, the scene would be well served to make sure they hit a Malfoys show now and then and remind themselves of this lesson.

With three bands down, it was left to the Remus Lupins to wring out any last drops of energy that the crowd had in them and the group definitely did not disappoint. Kicking their set off with Snape, Alex and the boys kept things at a fast boil through out their set as they wound their way through a set that was heavy on crowd favorites, while still giving room for new tracks from the new album. It is interesting to see just how quickly new songs work their way into being crowd favorites with the Lupins. Songs like Alone on Valentines Day and The Weasleys, off an album that might be a year old, were greeted by the crowd with the same energy and excitement as older songs like the Ballad of Neville and Luna or Snape.

The only divergence from the groups formula of high energy dance numbers was the obligatory rendition of Remember Cedric. A perfect chance for the crowd to catch their breath and cool down a little bit, Alex still managed to mix things up. Before playing the song he instructed the crowd to sit in a circle in the middle of the room. In the center of the circle Alex played solo with just his acoustic guitar and no amplification. As he played, he coaxed the audience into singing along, not just with the chorus, but the verses as well. The effect was magical. This only marked the second time I have seen the song performed live, but I challenge anyone to point to a more amazing rendition. The raised voices of the crowd perfectly capturing not just the mournful qualities of the song, but the defiant cry to continue to fight in the face of tragedy.

After such a wonderful performance, the rest of the set could have easily become anti-climatic. Alex quickly got the focus of the audience back though by picking up where he had left off before Cedric, including bringing the room right back to a fit of energy and moving bodies. Finally capping the evening off with a typically boisterous rendition of Looking For Trouble, this one featuring Grace, from Snidget, on backing vocals.

And then the night was over. Autographs were signed. Pictures were taken. Merch was sold. As I headed out to post-show burritos, thanks to an invite from Grace, I was left with a slightly bittersweet feeling. This party was over, but I was only days away from my trip out to Texas where the party would undoubtedly continue. If this was the first night of my trip, where would things go from here?

The day before this show I decided to use up some birthday gift cards and purchased a video camera. The results aren’t great, but I don’t think they’re that bad for my first time. At this moment, I’ve loaded up six videos to my YouTube page, which you can find here. I’ll try to get some more loaded in the coming days, but that should give you a little taste.

One video that I should single out, given the above review, is Remember Cedric. It really was that magical.

Written by Matt

July 7th, 2008 at 10:25 pm

Posted in Reviews,Wizard Rock

WRock or GRock?

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The Devil’s Snare
Lauren Fairweather
buy here (scroll down)

For those who are not up to date on their Wizard Rock (WRock) knowledge, Lauren Fairweather is one half of the WRock group The Moaning Myrtles. About a year ago Lauren started writing songs outside of the Myrtles and The Devil’s Snare is her first solo album.

The first hint that the listener has that this album isn’t a typical WRock offering is that the works are credited to Lauren herself. It is tradition in the WRock community to come up with a Potter related name for your group, even if the group only has one member.

The second hint comes in the topics that are covered on the album. The typical formula for WRock songs, in fact the very definition of WRock, is songs that are about, or inspired by, the Harry Potter series. This can take the form of songs that describe scenes from the book, songs that are written as if the songwriter were part of the Potter universe, or simply songs that are about the WRock scene in general.

The Devil’s Snare though features only one song that fits squarely with in this formula. Several songs, though not all, reference the Potter series, but do so as a fan of the series, not as a member of the universe. Because of this, I’ve found myself wondering if the album should really be viewed as a WRock album, as some will be inclined to do, or simply as a general geek-centric album, more in line with artists like Jonathan Coulton. Luckily the album stands up well in both camps, but I think it is perhaps more fruitful to view it outside of the WRock scene.

One of the biggest complaints of geek-centric music is its reliance on novelty. Critics cry foul that the songs lack emotional depth or resonance in the traditional way that pop music is supposed to. Whether this criticism is fair or not, it is hard to deny that a certain sense of novelty is prevalent with in the scene. It is hard to avoid a sense of novelty when your song revolves around mad scientists or Mega Man.

Which makes Lauren’s album all the more interesting. While several songs on the album openly revolve around or reference Lauren’s love for the Potter series, they do so in a way that side steps the novelty trap that comes from making such blatant pop culture references. Instead they come off as honest autobiographical songs. The references are touch stones which allow the listener to peek inside the artist’s mind, but do not detract from the overall message. These songs will likely carry more meaning for someone who is part of the same fandoms that Lauren is, but this does not preclude others from developing a meaningful attachment to the songs.

Now this isn’t to say that the album isn’t fun. It opens with the wonderfully irreverent track I Want You To Whomp Me, a parody of the classic Cheap Trick song I Want You To Want Me. There are also songs like the Snog Song, co-written with Lena Gabrielle of the Butterbeer Experience, about the infamous Book 7 kiss between Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley. Engines Make Me Hot (Kaylee’s Song) applies the WRock formula to the Serenity/Firefly franchise to great effect. And Nerdfighterlike is a playful song which comes off as a kind of love letter to the Nerdfighter comunity. In fact it is the sense of playfullness that permeates the album that makes it such an enjoyable listen. There is weight to the songs, but Lauren’s willingness to indulge her geeky impulses keeps the album from becoming bogged down.

Another interesting divergence from typical geek rock fare is the timeliness of the language used in the songs. While most geek music has an almost nostalgic flavor to it with references to old video games or TV shows or movies or books, Lauren’s songs reference elements of the geek community as they exist and evolve today. It is to early to tell if this will result in the songs having a limited life span even though the subject matter of the songs is timeless. Or if the appeal of these songs will be limited because of the language. It is still refreshing to hear songs though that are so current. And if one of the measures of a good songwriter is having other people covering your songs, Lauren is off to a pretty good start.

Over all the album is a little raw in places in the same sense that a lot of debut albums are. There is that feeling that she is still fine tuning her own voice as a songwriter and learning the craft, but the album holds a lot of promise. After a couple of listens one is left with the impression that if she decides to keep working at it, Lauren could one day be an influential talent with in the geek culture movement. Whether you buy the album or not, whether you like the songs or not, I highly recommend keeping an ear out for this artist in the future. Devil’s Snare is only her first tentative step into the world of songwriting. I have a pretty good hunch that her best work is still ahead of her and that it will be amazing.

Lauren performing I’m Going to Hogwarts:

Written by Matt

June 8th, 2008 at 8:29 pm

Posted in Reviews,Wizard Rock

Split Seven Ways

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I need to give a hat tip here to Liz, who is the one who turned me onto the UK WRock group Split Seven Ways. A favor for which I’ll be indebted to her for a while yet to come.

I mention this because SSW dropped a new EP on Friday, called Slytherin Hearts. The EP is free to download, as are her albums Love Is The Answer and The Best Days Of Our Lives. She also has an album that you can buy, called Wormwood and Wolfsbane, the money for which is apparently going to help her cover the costs of traveling to the US for WRockstock. You can find the links for the downloads and the link for paypal at her myspace page (see the above link). I heartily recommend checking out the free albums. After digesting those, picking up Wormwood and Wolfsbane will pretty much be a no brainer.

Like her fellow UK Wrockers Riddle TM, SSW identifies as a Slytherin group. Her songs tend to focus on house members, with the occasional foray into other points of view, especially the Marauders. Snape is a common reoccurring point of view in her songs.

As with Riddle TM, the honest talent displayed here is a bit surprising, as is the open emotion in the songs.

Usually when I write a review it tends to be something of a subconscious thing. I’ve never been much of a lyrics person and so I tend to focus more on the feel of the songs and how my subconscious mind reacts to them. Given that, I’m kind of surprised to find how many times I’ve been referring to the above blog entry (the second SSW link) to read through her notes and lyrics for the songs. Though, I guess when I stop to think about it, it does make some sense.

The first thing that hits you about SSW is how delicate the songs are. The arrangements use a combination of guitar, violin, and keyboard, all of which tend to play simple repetitive fragments over and over again through out the song. The effect of these delicate arrangements is to push the vocals up front. This could be a killing stroke for some artists, since it puts a great deal of demand on the vocal delivery, but SSW pulls it off impressively.

While there isn’t a great deal of emotional range on the album — SSW’s works over all seem to focus primarily on the gothic fascination with angst, despair, and an existential sense of hopelessness — the emotions that are on display here are convincingly portrayed. A good bit of that is thanks to SSW’s delivery, but another significant reason for the quality of the performance has to go to SSW’s lyrical abilities.

If you take the entirety of SSW’s work, there is an obvious affinity for poetry in her lyrics, but there is also a matter of fact, conversational quality to some of her songs. While the best example of this is probably the song Let Go, off Love Is The Answer; Slytherin Hearts offers a good example of what I’m referring to with the song Brains and Beauty. The song, which concerns a non-canonical Slytherin/Ravenclaw couple, proves to be a haunting song in large part because of the conversational quality of the lyrics. The listener is not presented with a poem which attempts to metaphorically capture the scene. Instead we are presented with a straight forward confession. This lyrical technique, combined with SSW’s ability to portray the proper emotions with her voice, removes any need for metaphor. It isn’t a trick that should be recommended to new comers, since it is easy to botch, but it is pulled off to great affect here.

I began this review comparing SSW to Riddle TM. There are definite similarities in feel and approach between the two artist, though SSW falls short of Riddle TM’s polished professionalism. Considering Riddle TM’s background in performing professionally though, this is hardly a slight against SSW. And for fans of her work, it provides us with the chance to watch her grow with each new release. Which in my opinion is one of the strongest reasons for listening to independent music.

Split Seven Ways is easily added to my list of WRock groups that I will be following in the future, not just with in the WRock universe, but beyond as well. Given the growth the has already been made, I imagine the coming years will hold some amazing music from this woman.

Written by Matt

February 18th, 2008 at 10:47 pm

Posted in Reviews,Wizard Rock

Stardust

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So I just got back from seeing Stardust, the new film based on the book of the same name, by Neil Gaiman.

The book tells the story of a boy, named Tristan, who travels into the world of Faerie in order to fulfill a promise he has made to the woman he loves, to bring back a fallen star before her birthday. The woman has promised that if Tristan does this for her, she will marry him. And so he sets off on a quest full of magic and adventure.

If you are familiar with Gaiman’s award winning, and critically adored comic book series, Sandman or, even more so, his comic book mini series Books of Magic, you know how wonderful and amazing Gaiman’s Faerie stories are. In Gaiman’s hands, Faerie is a land of wonder and magic, but also one of danger. Where words take on new meanings and become critically important. His view of Faerie is so rich and detailed, it becomes a place that is fully real to the reader. Where finding the right gateway is all that separates us from our own adventures there.

The book version of Stardust is a modern fairy tale. Not in the sense of Disney movies which have mined these stories, but in the original sense. The book is full of magic and adventure, suspense and love, but most of all, it is full of wonder.

Those who read Gaiman’s blog have been warned that the movie was going to take certain liberties with the story. Neil himself admitted that the story, as it existed in the book, would make a horrible movie and needed to be retold in a way that worked for the screen. Neil consoled fans of the book though by telling us that the parts that were cut where only the parts that needed to be cut. And that the retelling of the story did not sacrifice the underlying story. After seeing the film, I can say that Neil was right.

Stardust, as told in the book, would not have made a particularly good movie. For one it would be too long, but more importantly, the nuances that work so well in the book, would not have translated into film. The team behind the movie have obviously understood this. Instead of simply cutting the book up into pieces and then stringing those pieces together though, the team behind the movie retold the story from scratch. In much the same way that two storytellers can tell the same story in vastly different ways. The real story is still there, whole and intact, it is just the flourishes that have been changed.

The story of the movie is set in a mystical land, but not in Faerie. At least not the Faerie that Neil has introduced us to. The most obvious comparison for the movie is to the Princes Bride. The comparison is a tad unfortunate, since the mark set by the Princes Bride is higher then perhaps any film can reach. The creators of the film appear to have realized this. The movie follows in the footsteps of the Princess Bride, but does not try to be a clone of it. Stardust is its own film, which uses some of the same elements as Princess Bridge, but only because those are the elements of a good story and an even better fairy tale.

There are two compliments that I can give this book.

1) At no time during the course of the movie did I find myself comparing the movie to the book. The story told in the movie, while the same as the book, is also its own story. And it tells its story well.

2) The only real complaint I had about the book, one section that I wished Neil had expounded on, is actually better in the film. And it does it in a way that does not violate the book’s story, but enhances it.

This summer has been full of fantastic stories. From the new Potter movie and the end of the Potter series, to the more futuristic stories of the Transformers movie. With all of the fantasy that has come to us this summer, it is fitting the the summer drifts into autumn with a film that returns to the roots of all fantastical tales. A really good story, told in a wonderful way.

Written by Matt

August 19th, 2007 at 2:46 pm

Posted in other,Reviews

Wizard Rock Live

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So I ventured out today for my first taste of Wizard Rock in the flesh. I’ve heard from a few people who have expressed trepidation at the idea of going to a show where the crowd would be mostly kids. And not the typical punk/indie types that end up at all ages shows, but honest to god kids. Teenagers even! Who smile and laugh and aren’t afraid to dance around and look a little silly at times.

I’ve seen more shows them I could begin to count. I’ve seen shows in basements and restaurants. I’ve seen shows in bars and hole in the wall clubs. Shows in small theaters and large. And even a few shows in arenas. I even saw one show, in a small rural town, where the band set up on a flat bed truck and we danced in the middle of the street. All of these shows and I can honestly say that I can’t remember ever seeing a show with a crowd that so perfectly matched the music being played.

It wasn’t just that the kids were great, they were, but the fact that the kids vastly out numbered the adults, who for the most part tended to be parents, lent something to the show. They were kids who were allowed to be kids and, in so doing, lent a certain energy to the day.

Now may be I should be qualifying my terms here by saying geek kids. Let’s face it, you have to have a little geek in you to head down to the library on a Saturday afternoon to see a bunch of people sing songs about Harry Potter. I’m going to give the younger generation the benefit of the doubt though and just leave it at kids. You gotta have a little faith in the younger generation.

The day of the show couldn’t have been better. For those not familiar with DC in August, it typically isn’t a good time to be outside. With temps that hover in the mid to high 90s, and humidity levels that are at least that high. August is typically a time when spending a mere five minutes outside standing in the shade, can leave you drenched in sweat. At the end of a week of typical brutal August weather, things began to shift Friday night and by the time the sun rose on Saturday, we were greeted with a lovely warm day with low humidity and a little breeze now and then. In August, we call these days perfect and savor them knowing how infrequent they are.

I drove down to Vienna, VA, a suburb of DC, for the show, arriving about 25 minutes before show time. The library had asked attendees to line up outside the library so that they could get a head count of people as they filed inside. Shortly before the 2 PM start time the line started to move and we filed into the small multi-purpose room which would be the venue for the day. A few minutes after 2 the show began with a surprise set from Snidget.

I say surprise because I hadn’t seen Snidget’s name anywhere on the advertising for the show, but seeing as how she lives just south of DC, it wasn’t a huge surprise. She played for about 20 minutes, just her voice and her hammered dulcimer. This was the first hint of how perfect this crowd was. An act that is this quiet would have normally been drowned out in crowd noise as people talked to their friends and basically ignored the first act. Here though the crowd stood quietly listening to her wonderful songs. Some of the credit here does need to go to Snidget herself. Her between song banter which betrayed a high level of enthusiasm for being there helped keep the crowd focused and kept them from becoming bored. She played a handful of songs in her 20 minute set before exiting the stage. She didn’t have any CDs available for sale at the merch table, but I think I’ll keep an eye out for those in the future.

Next up was Matt, better known as The Whomping Willows. His set didn’t get off to the best of starts. He broke a string during the first song, the House of Awesome Theme Song. After the song he switched his acoustic out for the one used by Alex of the Remus Lupins. As he tried to start his second song though, Wizard Rock Heart Throb, he was sabotaged by a bad cable which kept cutting out. He fiddled with it for a minute or so before pulling the cable out of the guitar and stepping away from his vocal mic to play the song un-amplified to the small room. He was assisted in this by a group of girls off to the side of the stage, which included Anna of The Grey Ladies, who sang along with Matt. As he performed the song, Brendan, the Remus Lupins’ sound guy/roadie, set up a mic for the guitar in front of the vocal mic. Matt jumped back in front of the two mics to finish the song, only to be derailed by a feedback problem which finally killed the song. Not before the new Whompettes completed the verse that Matt was in the middle of though. The crack team of Brendan and Alex fixed the feedback problem quickly and Matt picked the song up from where he left off.

With a set’s worth of technical problems over and done with after the second song, Matt was able to complete the rest of his set with no issues. The set was solid and made only better by Matt’s between song banter. He cracked jokes and interacted with the crowd masterfully. The only possible downside to his set was that his songs weren’t better known by the crowd. His strumming guitar style of folk pop is something that screams out for sing along style sets where the crowd becomes part of the performance. Even with this one downside, the set was still great, with Matt ending his set with probably the most inspired love song in the Wizard Rock world, Draco and Harry.

After The Whomping Willows’ set, the stage was next taken by The Remus Lupins. While in the past, Alex’s set featured only him with his acoustic. This time out he’s brought with him a bass player and drummer and switched between electric and acoustic guitar through out the set. The use of a rhythm section works well in the Lupins, whose most popular songs have always had a strong sense of rhythm.

While the crowd had begun the show with a quiet reverence for Snidget and then an occasional willingness to clap and sing along when they knew the words for The Whomping Willows. It was during the Lupins’ set that we were reminded this was supposed to be Wizard ROCK. It took the crowd a few songs to feel the Lupins out, though they were helped along by the previous set’s Whompettes and a few others who started dancing and pogoing with their opening number, Wizard Rock. The energy was there in the room, but was lacking a little focus for the first half of the set, with occasional dancing, but mostly just rhythmic movement by the crowd. About half way through the set, Snidget joined the band on her hammered dulcimer and the drummer moved over to sax for a great version of Remember Cedric. Shortly after this song Alex commented on the crowd’s tendency to move away from the stage during the set and implored them to move up front. The crowd quickly did so and the band launched into a new song, The Wizard Rock Twist. Bringing the crowd in closer together provided the focus that the energy in the room needed and as the new song began, the entire crowd began dancing and bouncing along. The Lupins completed their set just after 4, ending the show with a typically boisterous version of Looking For Trouble, which featured both Brandon and Matt joining the rest of the band for background vocals.

I’m not sure if it would have made much of a difference in focusing the energy in the room to have the show in a more traditional music venue or if may be there had been a few more older people there who may be had a little more experience seeing live music. I have been at enough shows though, which were ruined by crowds who were more interested in getting drunk and chatting with friends then paying attention to the band on stage, to be grateful to take what I received today.

In many ways it was fitting that the day’s show ended with The Remus Lupins. So many of Alex’s songs encourage kids to embrace their youthful tendencies and invoke youthful rebellion. Not, as some punk/indie rock bands do, for any great cause, but rebellion for the simple cause of having fun and enjoying life now and then. This tendency, which Alex shares with the vast majority of the Wizard Rock community in one form or another, puts this scene inside a greater tradition of traditional music found all over the world. The US hasn’t really seen a new take on this thread with in the musical landscape since the revival of jug band music in the early 60s, which in turn influenced much of the music that came about during the late 60s (many of whose musicians had started out in various folk groups/jug bands earlier in the decade). As the 60s faded, popular music in this country gained a certain sense of self awareness and social conscious. In exchange for this evolution though, it lost some of its youthful exuberance. That sense of fun for the sake of fun.

Now, I am not ignorant enough to call for a return to the nativity of earlier eras. To much amazing music has been created over the past 40 years, and is still being created today, for me to even entertain such an idea. It is encouraging though to see a return to this tradition poking its head up in this day in age. Hopefully, as we move forward we will find ourselves in the middle of a revival. A new form of traditional music! One that is informed by what has happened over the last 40 years and which will stand side by side with its contemporary off spring. With all that is wrong with the world today. With all the suffering and pain that we are faced with on a daily basis. Occasionally, we need music that we can sing and dance to. It recharges us and sustains us through the dark times.

And it is encouraging to see this return to tradition coming from the youth of today. Those among us who are still young enough to remember when doing something simply because it is fun to do, can be a rewarding experience in and of itself. Now that the series is over, I’m not sure how much longer the Wizard Rock scene will continue on. Hopefully though, those who have been touched by it will remember what they have learned here and take that with them as they live in the world. Hopefully they will allow that knowledge to color their future actions and will infect others with this idea. And even if WRock fades into history, hopefully it will give birth to something even grander before it fades out completely. A new tradition, to teach us new things.

“We are young and we know with world can be so much better
We are young and we’ll make the Wizarding World so much better”

Fated
The Remus Lupins

Update: Thanks to Church‘s fine handy work with the video camera, we now have video footage of both Whompy and the Lupins, mere hours before their run in with a bunch of Death Eaters.

Whompy:

Lupins:

Unfortunately, it looks like one of the Death Eaters at the show (they had Dark Marks and everything) cast a jinx on Church’s camera, so there isn’t any footage of Snidget. To bad.

Church was able to squeeze another video out of his camera. Here it is.

Written by Matt

August 11th, 2007 at 6:39 pm

Posted in Reviews,Wizard Rock

Roonil Wazlib

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So I’m not sure what is up exactly, but I’ve been poking around the Wizard Rock world lately and I’m finding even more to love about this scene. I’m not sure if I’m just in a better mind set to appreciate it all or the quality of the recordings/work has increased by such a degree that its easier for me to grasp the talent that is in this scene. Probably more of the former then the latter.

Anyways, yesterday Roonil Wazlib posted a new blog post which included a wrap up of the shows she’s done this summer and included links to a bunch of videos. I’ll get to the videos in a minute, but first a little about Roonil herself. Who I will now be referring to by her real name of Molly, because Roonil Wazlib is to much of a pain to spell. And hey, Molly was the name of a really fun God Street Wine tune that I used to love live.

The first thing to hit me about Molly when I came across her again recently is her amazing voice. Clear, crisp, with a hint of soul and a bucket load of beauty. I’m usually not much of a lyrical person. For one, I’m just not that much of a poet, but there’s also the fact that a preference for listening to music that sounds better loud, has screwed with my hearing. In most cases I have trouble making out lyrics when I listen to a song, unless I really concentrate. And honestly, I usually don’t see a real need to strain myself. For Molly though, there is no strain at all. Her delivery is strong and her voice is so beautiful that I can’t help but focus on it.

Which brings me to the second thing that grabbed me about her. Her song writing over all is really strong, with a couple moments here and there that I just love. The first track I heard from her was Molly Wobbles, which is possibly the most tender love song I’ve heard in the WRock scene. It isn’t just a beautiful song, but put a spot light on the relationship of the Weasley parents. A relationship that I had kind of taken for granted, but really is a great relationship in the series. So not only did she write a beautiful song, but wrote one that gave me a slightly different perspective on the story over all. Highlighting some of the smaller elements of the story and bringing them into the forefront.

While the song writing is strong over all, as I was watching the videos there were a couple of songs where the word choices and phrasing just really grabbed me. In particular the playfulness in the lyrics of some of the songs and how they rolled off her tongue just tickled me.

Unlike the Moaning Myrtles and Ginny and the Heartbreakers, it looks like we may not have to wait quite so long to see where Molly goes outside the WRock world. We already have myspace pages set up for her Muggle Rock band, The Pizookies (who have their own web site here), and for her own solo work, under the name Let’s Potato. I’m not sure how many of the tracks on her solo site are hers, beyond It’s A Big World. That track alone though leaves me optimistic about the future of this talent.

In a couple of weeks Molly leaves the confines of sunny California for the cold of Boston to attend college. Hopefully, the shift in locale will increase the odds of her slipping down I-95 and doing a show in either DC or Baltimore. Whether it is her as Roonil Wazlib or just Molly, I’ll definitely do what I can to make it.

And now the list of videos. Bookworm is probably the best example of the word play that I was talking about before and features a great melody. And, dude, she whistles! How can you not love a song with whistling? Bookworm is quickly followed by Dragons Make Very Nice Pets and Poor Eloise for word play. All of the originals are recommended though. She’s not quite snotty enough to pull off the Draco and the Malfoys song My Dad Is Rich, but its still a good rendition.

Oh and if Molly reads this, you’re right. Your new Ibanez does sound great.

Written by Matt

August 7th, 2007 at 7:56 pm

Posted in Reviews,Wizard Rock

And here I am talking about music

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While I was reading over that last post before hitting the submit button I started listening to this show from Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. The second song is just starting…

I’m liking this a lot. Good bluesy/gospel/southern rock feel to it. They’re a four piece band with Grace singing and playing hammond and may be a little other stuff here and there. I’ve seen a picture of her with a guitar and I’m not hearing the Hammond right now. The girl has the pipes for this kind of music. A throaty voice with just a hint of gravel. The thing I read on them compared her to Bonnie Raitt and Janis. Bonnie I can deffinetely hear. I think the Janis comparison is over done these days. Its like saying a vocalist sounds like Aretha. No they don’t! No one sounds like Aretha. That’s why she’s Aretha. There’s a reason Janis is Janis.

The rest of the band is drums, bass, and guitar. (some decent slide work on the guitar right now) Stripped down sound that works. I wonder if she’s going to rip into the Hammond at some point. So far its just bubbled under her vocals with the solos being taken by the guitarist. Then again, we’re three songs in so we’ll see.

Fourth song is playing now and the bassist is starting it off alone. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever been impressed with a bass solo? An instrument that I love holding things down or driving the beat. Take it away from the beat though and it leaves me cold.

Rest of the band is playing now. Track is about 1:30 AM Sunday morning. On its way to church, but with the memories of Saturday night still fresh. There’s kind of a Texas Country twinge to it that really works. To short though. I was digging that groove.

OK, a slow hammond intro to the next song. I’m going to take the chance to jump out here before this thing sucks me in any further.

Have a night.

Written by Matt

July 3rd, 2007 at 10:09 pm

Posted in jamband,Reviews

The Recipe – Jubilee

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Artist: The Recipe
Album: Jubilee
Genre: Jamband/Jamgrass

Jubilee is an album with a history, both public and private. The Recipe were the last group associated with the jamband scene that I followed before finally deciding that, for the sake of my own personal growth, I needed to make a total break with the scene. Even then, while it wasn’t difficult for me to leave the larger scene, I never fully walked away from the Recipe. Every couple of months or so I’d poke my head in at their web site and see what they were up to and see if there were any local shows. When I finally decided that perhaps I’d hit a point where I could start to think about returning to the jamband scene, The Recipe were the first group that I downloaded from archive.org.

When I left The Recipe scene, the band was just beginning work on this album. And I can’t help but notice that the album was only released after I had come back into the fold. I’ll stop myself before wondering if there’s any connection there, though it is an interesting synchronicity.

As I said, the group has been working on Jubilee for sometime. This is in fact their first studio album since the release of Geode back in 2000. And the band has been through a number of changes since then. First came the loss of original female vocalist, Kristin Wolverton, who was later replaced by Julie Edlow. Then they lost their fiddle player, Hannah Ross. After a period of dropping the fiddle for multi-instrumentalist Kris Kehr, the band eventually brought on Melissa McGinley as their new fiddle player and banjo player Ed ‘Uncle Eddie’ Mahonen. Somewhere in there Julie left, was replaced, came back, and then left again. Melissa took over Julie’s vocal duties after the last time she left before making her own departure. There’s also a couple of bass players in there (at least two that I can think of off the top of my head, Mike Vitale and Q) but the Recipe has always had a problem with keeping bass players.

I mention this sorted history because it does play a role in the album that we eventually received. Through out all of these changes the band stopped and started the process of recording this album. Scrapping tracks when players left and then rerecording them when their replacements showed up. More then once fans were told from the stage that the album was ‘almost here’ only to have someone decide to leave the group, pushing the album back yet again. The very fact that the album has been released at all is a minor accomplishment and likely a weight off the band’s shoulders. They have finally moved beyond the curse of Jubilee and can now focus on the future.

Reviewing the album for me is kind of hard. Many of these songs made their debut during my hey day with the group, and many hours were spent wondering what they would sound like on the album, especially the center piece of the album, the song cycle Davie’s Jubilee. Geode, their last studio album, was the band’s first attempt at making an album that was more of a studio album. Hannah Ross put together a string quartet for one or two songs and Joe Prichard, the band’s primary song writer, guitarist, and male vocalist, definitely seemed to be having fun tweaking the album to make it sound perfect. The expectation was that Jubilee would continue that progression and the songs that we were hearing live at the time, definitely seemed like likely fodder for such experimentation.

The album we got instead is a stripped down collection of songs. To these untrained ears, the extent of the studio trickery seems to be Joe harmonizing with himself on a couple of instrument overdubs. While there are a few places where this approach falls down, for the most part it was the right choice. The Recipe are a group from West Virginia, and sure their lead singer is a self avowed Beatles freak, but at their core, they are still a group that is steeped in the traditions of Appalachia.

People today think of Appalachia as a mono-cultural wasteland of bluegrass, moonshine, and hillbillies. What they fail to realize is that Appalachian culture is a synthesis of the various cultures of poor immigrants who moved into the mountains to work in the mines. It is a highly adaptive culture that isn’t easily over taken by modern trends. Instead it consumes those trends, mutating and changing them until they are something uniquely Appalachian.

The Recipe are carriers of this tradition. Taking a love of 60s pop, roots rock & roll, and the fertile local traditional music scene; and creating something that is uniquely their own. The Recipe sound combines the free wheeling, anything goes, feel of a back woods picking party, with songs that come to mean something and are taken to heart by their fan base. They are proof that a good time party band doesn’t need to be devoid of substance and meaning.

Jubilee is a testament to this ability. Full of songs that can easily move the listener to dance around the room. The album also contains the band’s most poignant work to date.

As I mentioned, the center piece of the album is the song cycle, Davie’s Jubilee. With words provided by Joe’s father Phil Prichard. The piece revolves around the death of a much loved local fiddle player in Vietnam, and what comes afterwards.

The cycle opens with the song Family Portrait. Here the unidentified narrator introduces us to Davie and tells us how much he was loved by the community of people who came to the Jubilee every year.

The cycle continues with Letters Home, where the narrator continues the story; telling us how Davie was a medic during Vietnam. We are told of his compassion for all life during the war and of his fears that he wouldn’t be able to make it back to his beloved mountains. It is also at this point that the piece first mentions Darlene, Davie’s ‘girl’, and his son Little Davie. The song ends with a somber military drum roll, signifying Davie’s death.

We are next brought forward several years with the song Playing In My Dreams. While here the song is song by Joe, the song was originally sung by the band’s female vocalist, underlining the fact that the story’s perspective has shifted to Darlene. Here she contemplates the similarities between Little Davie and his father, including a talent for playing the fiddle. She laments the fact that Davie never got a chance to see his boy grow up, sure that he would have been proud. The song’s title and chorus concern a fantasy of the two having the chance to play fiddle together.

Here the story takes a slight break for the traditional instrumental fiddle tune, Whiskey Before Breakfast.

We rejoin the story with the song Mountain Wedding Song. The story is picked up by a man who has fallen in love with Darlene. The song’s subject concerns the two falling in love, but also the question of how to explain this love to Little Davie.

Lyrically, the cycle is some of the best work in the band’s canon. And it is easy to see where Joe picked up his lyrical abilities. Musically though, the cycle is probably the band’s pinnacle at this point. Joe takes his father’s words and crafts around them a score that helps to bring out the nuances of the emotions which thread through out the greater piece. A traditional feel is used through out the piece to root it as a distinctly Appalachian story, but Joe uses other flourishes through out to the piece to really bring it home. From the hints of a military march at the end of Letters Home to signify Davie’s military funeral, to the fiddle heavy arrangement of Playing In My Dreams, to the wistful arrangement of Mountain Wedding Song. The entire piece points to a song writer who knows more about his craft then just coming up with a good hook. Thankfully, Melissa McGinley appears as a guest to play fiddle on this piece.

The focus on Davie’s Jubilee is not meant to diminish the quality of the other songs that are included on the album. It is interesting to listen to the album, since it gives the listener a glimpse into the refinement of the group as a whole over the last six years, and of Joe, in-particular, as a songwriter. Songs like Davie’s Jubilee (minus Playing In My Dreams, which came later) and Holy Dice debuted shortly after recording on Geode had completed, while songs like When The Snow Falls and Walk of Shame are much newer. There isn’t a marked difference in the quality of the songs, but there is a subtle shift towards tighter song writing.

Jubilee is easily the band’s most political album to date. The entire album is dedicated “to all persons and their families who have served their country in the military during times of war and peace. Politics aside, all we can and should say to those who have served is, Thank You.” More specifically, Shotgun Wedding, is an obvious comment on the current presidency and war. When The Snow Falls and The World Today are a more general commentaries on the state of the world today.

Even with the possibly negative subject matter of many of the songs on this album, the band retains a certain sense of optimism which only comes from being part of a larger tradition and realizing your place in it. Yes, things are bad now, but they have been bad in the past as well, and they will get better some day. The trick is to not get lost in all of it and retain your own sense of individuality.

While the album isn’t what I was expecting all those years ago, dancing away in strange clubs around the mid-atlantic region, it is a solid album. And the more I learn to put aside my expectations and approach the album on its own merits the better it gets. Full of good hooks, an optimistic vibe that doesn’t come from just ignoring the world around them, and a solid understanding of where they come from and the tradition that they are apart of, Jubilee is the band’s best album to date. Hopefully, now with the album finally out, the group can focus on delivering another album before 2012.

Oh, and just to cover my bases, for the fans who’ve been waiting for this release for the past 6 years. I apologies for any role my absence may have unintentionally played in delaying its release.

A quick glance around the web doesn’t turn up any links to samples of the songs on this album. The Recipe has given permission to archive.org through to archive their live performances for download. So, in lieu of being able to point you at the album directly, I’ll point you to a somewhat recent show (before Melissa left the band). You can find that show band, or through the Homegrown Music Network.

Written by Matt

December 29th, 2006 at 5:53 pm

Posted in jamband,Reviews

Ultraklystron – Sample tracks from Opensource Lyricist

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Artist: Ultraklystron
Album: Sample tracks from Opensource Lyricist
Genre: Nerdcore

OK, so let’s start off with Nerdcore then.

If you aren’t familiar with the Nerdcore genre, you can think of it as a sub genre of hip hop, with the major difference being that its geeks and nerds behind it all.

Years ago I watched a documentary on hip hop. At one point someone (possibly DMC from Run-DMC?) was talking about the Beastie Boys and how three white guys where able to pull this stuff off, when someone like Vanilla Ice got a ration of shit for it. What the person said that was the Beastie Boys weren’t trying to be anything they weren’t. They weren’t hitting the stage and pretending that they lived the same lives as other rappers. They hit the stage and rapped about what was going on in their lives and things they were going through. And because of this authenticity in what they were saying, they got a pass.

A lot of the same things are at work here in Nerdcore. Yeah, you’ll see references to traditional hip hop culture in the rhymes, but they aren’t meant to be taken literally. Instead their the typical post modern pop culture references that litter this sub culture.

Instead you get things like Ultraklystron (aka Karl R Olsen)

This is my master plan / rap about M E -tan /
Then reference-reran / Sana Kurata and/
Akito and Sumiyoshi / Pickled Plum like Umeboshi/
Rap for Blondes like Mihoshi / Get dirty like Master Roshi

I’m the boss number 1 / I’m your Menos Grande
In Konaha they would call me / The 1st Hokage
You wonder why I can make / these boasts so blaize
Cause I’m secure in my style / like my name is Sean Hayes

See I’m the rare MC / who puts people in their place
With references / to actors from the show Will and Grace
Don’t need Harvey Birdman / to make my case
The evidence is illuminated / in my drum n’ bass

Junglist Gamer Otaku / and the list goes on
Of the culture that I talk through / and to which I hold on
if my adeptness does shock you then / don’t roll on
Don’t worry I won’t stalk you / I’m no Lupin

So exactly how many references to you get above?

Needless to say, Ultraklystron’s domain is otaku culture.

These tracks are seven songs from his second full length (which now will come out sometime after he releases an “EP” of things that didn’t make the space requirements for the album). And represent one of my most anticipated albums of ’07.

Musically, Karl (sorry, the MC name’s to hard to spell) delivers his raps over a primarily drum and bass backing which provides the songs with a solid foundation to get people moving. In a song like Coin Figure, the beats enhance the song by providing a level of creepiness to a story of an unloved piece of merchandise.

While Coin Figure provides a POV song that I doubt has ever been tried before, it isn’t the only song of the bunch that is pushing into new subject areas lyrically.

So Long Kids is a protest song centered at the treatment of anime titles at the hands of 4Kids Entertainment.

Buckle Up laments the downward spiral of the Cartoon Network.

Scenester Blues is a call for more unity with in the Nerdcore scene.

While at first glance the subject matter may come off as some what trite, it is anything but, when you hear the songs for themselves. It is obvious from listening to these songs that these are subjects that he has a certain amount of investment in and that mean something to him. It is this investment and Karl’s lyrical skills, which allow the songs to shine.

Judging by these sample tracks, Opensource Lyricist looks to be a huge step up from Karl’s first album, Revision4920. While Revision was a solid debut album in many respects, it also lagged behind in some areas as well. Karl’s flow still needed work in some areas and his flow didn’t always seem to really gel with the beats. With the new album, he appears to have made huge strides in both of these areas. There is still some minor room for improvement here and there, but over all these songs seem to hint at an artist who is really starting to come into his own.

As things stand now, Ultraklystron is definitely one of the artists I plan on using to introduce people to the Nerdcore scene and I’m expecting some pretty big things from him in the next couple of years if he sticks with it.

Written by Matt

December 27th, 2006 at 9:59 pm

Posted in Nerdcore,Reviews

Appalachia

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At the end of July I went on a little record buying binge, placing orders with four or five different labels. I’m still digesting all the great music that I ended up getting, but there have already been a few things that stuck out that I thought I’d recommend.

First off is a new recording from a band called The Black Twigs, from south western VA. The album is called Midnight Has Come And Gone. The Black Twigs are a string band in the grand tradition of southern western VA and eastern KY string bands. This isn’t bluegrass, but instead is part of the tradition that was a major influence on Bill Monroe when he created bluegrass. The majority of the songs are originals, written by the band members, but could be passed off as older songs if you tried. The covers include a nice little gem in the form of the Original Natural Bridge Blues. The linear notes of the album tell the story of how this song, when originally recorded, lost its second verse when the vocalist froze during the recording. Since the band couldn’t do a second take, they played through the goof up, and to this day, most people only know the song with a single verse. Well, while looking through some old family albums, one of the band members came across the original sheet music for the song, including the lost second verse. They made the decision to record the song in its completed form. Fans of old Appalachian string band music, who might be looking for a band that is continuing the tradition into modern times, would be well served to pick this album up.

The second recommendation I’d like to make is steeped in history and tradition. Coming from the Revenant label, this is a collection of songs recorded by Dock Boggs back in the 30’s, called Country Blues. If you’ve never heard of Dock Boggs, he was one of the grand masters of Appalachian country blues. There is a story in the linear notes, told by Boggs, about an incident that happened around the time of these recordings.

It seams that he and his brother-in-law were driving around a town near their home. When they started the trek home, the brother-in-law told Dock that they needed to get more gas and oil if they hoped to get up over the mountain that separated them from their home. The problem was that neither of them had the money for the supplies. Dock, noticing some guys he knew over on a street corner, hatched a plan. He walked over to the guys and struck up a deal with them where he would play a couple of tunes in exchange for the money that they needed. The agreement being met and the money having been collected, Dock got about to playing some songs. After a few minutes his impromptu concert was interrupted by the cops.

It seems that the small group of folks that Dock was originally playing for had swelled in size to a small mob, who were now blocking traffic in an effort to hear Dock play. The cops asked Dock to move things over to a near by park, that could better handle the crowd. He obliged, played a couple more tunes, and then passed the hat around. At the end of the performance, not only did he and his brother-in-law have more then enough money to buy gas and oil for the trip home, they were also able to treat themselves to a nice dinner with the proceeds. Such was the popularity of Dock Boggs.

If you have any interest at all in Appalachian music, then you really owe it to yourself to pick up this collection and hear Dock Boggs the first time around. (A decade after these recordings, Dock had given up playing music. He was later discovered by Mike Seeger in ’63, and came back to performing and recording during the folk revival)

Now, I will give a warning to folks who perhaps are not used to hearing pre-WWII recordings. The possibility of hearing pristine recordings from this age is so remote that it might as well be impossible. The recording techniques of the day did not even record in pristine formats. On top of that, Revenant is a label that prefers to not mess with the raw magic of old recordings in some misguided attempt to “clean” things up, which, more often then not, results in the destruction of the very thing that makes the music so magical in the first place. This is music that was recorded before music had become a business. There is a rawness and authenticity, and yes, even a little magic, in those old recordings. And the static and pops are a part of that.

Now, all this said, the recordings on the record are surprisingly clean. Some of the 78’s they used for this album must have been in pristine condition to sound this good. Even the worse songs on this recording still sound pretty good, but they are also presented as bonus tracks (alternate takes, and Dock playing with other folks)

You can find the Black Twigs album through VHF Recordings and the Dock Boggs album can be found through Revenant Records

Written by Matt

July 13th, 2005 at 7:23 pm

Posted in other,Reviews