12 December 2009

Whiskey, Beer, Punk Rock, and Blues

How many times have you found something amazing that you were never looking for in the first place? You know, when you have your own agenda and then out of nowhere, you run into something completely unexpected? That happened to me this past Friday. Well, I shouldn’t say it was unexpected; I did go to a rock club after all.

Supposedly a typical Friday, a good friend of mine we call A-Bomb calls me up from Philly and says he’s going to be in town for the weekend, so we make plans to hang out. I figure we’ll head to Fontana’s in Chinatown. Fontana’s is definitely a hole in the wall in that you will completely miss the place among the Chinese markets, restaurants, and other stores, but this is no dive bar by any stretch. If not for the lone, pink neon “Bar” sign, you’ll pass through Eldridge St. not knowing it was there. Upon arriving, I say hello to everyone, order a round of beers for A-Bomb and myself, and take a walk down the bar to the lounge. I say hello to one of the owners behind the bar in the lounge, hang a right by the pool table, and we make our way downstairs to where the bands play. Of course I text ahead and made plans with my newest pal Rubes, one of the sound guys: “U workin’ tonight? Ehh, doesn’t matter either way, I’m on my way. That means we’re drinkin’!” The reply is inconsequential, as that’s what happened anyway. Typical night out.

Downstairs, Rubes was just finishing checking a band. After a minute or so, the band clears the stage and all that is left is the lone female keyboard player/singer. She sings a couple of tunes on her own, including a Springsteen cover, then invites her band up to join her, being replaced on keys by Drew Blood, whose name I learned upon her introduction of the band. Jennifer Lee Snowden was her name, I enjoyed her set very much. This guy Drew is kicking ass on the keys. I mean he’s just backing this girl up playing jazz, but he’s got a flare all his own. Judging from his leather jacket, shaggy hair, t-shirt, and jeans, he’s a rock guy. Taking a look at the sticker-covered keyboard he’s sitting behind, it has to belong to him. All this taken into account, this isn’t his regular gig. After the set I walk up to Jennifer, shake her hand and compliment her on a terrific show. She very graciously accepts my congratulations and humbly helps her band break down their gear. After they break down, I go to do the same with Drew, as his playing really caught my attention. He thanks me, then reaches into his book bag and hands me a copy of his band’s CD. With artwork that resembles early drawings done by Rob Zombie and a title like Train 2 The Bottom, I instantly thought “Wow this should be cool”. I thanked Drew and he left. The next thing I notice on stage is three acoustic guitars on stands and a drummer setting up.

There’s a common preconception that acoustic guitar players are “real” players. By that I mean people think you’re instantly amazing if you play an acoustic as opposed to an electric. Nothing against the acoustic guitar players, in fact I wish I played it better even though I play my electrics more. But I’ve seen so many sub-par acoustic acts in coffee shops and open-mics that grows it a little tiresome; perhaps I’m jaded. These guys are setting up, and we need beer. A black girl with some big ole’ hair takes center stage, flanked by her white-boy band. This should be good.

“Good” is the understatement of the month. Bethany Saint Smith of New York backed by The Black Oil Family from Chicago. Now, I have to ask: given all the post-punk, pop, goth, grunge, synthpop, shoegazing, and other oddly named genres we write about on this blog, do any of our readers know anything about blues? I hope you do, but in case you don’t, Bethany Saint Smith and The Black Oil Family will give you the ultimate crash course. I’m talking old 1950’s Chicago blues, ol’ Mississippi Delta blues (worth noting: Bethany gave me a copy of The Black Oil Family’s CD titled Long Way From The Delta). Their set was part Bethany songs, part BOF songs, part covers, all blues. Their sound was incredible; if you closed your eyes you’d swear the ghosts of Muddy Waters and Johnny Cash were possessing them. I hadn’t heard great blues like that in a very long time. Pleasantly surprised to have been wrong about my stigma of acoustic guitars, even more so because one of the guitars was a resonator (sound is produced by three metal cones as opposed to the wooden soundboard of an acoustic). An amazing set to say the least.

And after that, pretty much everything was a blur of beer, shots of whiskey, and then a ridiculous amount of sake at the sushi joint a few doors down. When I awoke Saturday morning wondering where all my money went, I took the CDs out of my coat pocket and left them on my desk. I was much too hung over to listen to new music. When I got to them Sunday morning, what a surprise!

The Drew Blood: “Train 2 The Bottom”

I first put on “Train 2 The Bottom” by The Drew Blood, a 5-track EP of piano-driven punk rock whose lyrics spoke of Drew’s (whom artistically refers to himself as Thedrewblood) experiences with drugs, sex, his nearly being homeless, depression, and thoughts of suicide.

At first listen, if you’re not paying attention to the lyrics, you’ll find the vocals and the melodies are fun and kind of poppy. You get lost in the music before you realize you’re grooving to a sordid autobiography. I got lost in the catchy hooks and the clever piano bridge of “Normal” without noticing it talks about a fucked up past and wanting to leave it all behind to start anew; a plea to be… normal. “Train 2 The Bottom” lives up to its namesake by taking you on a trip to hell on tracks of excess with it’s big, fat, chords, catchy rock n’ roll riffage, and classic rock solo, wrapped up by lyrics that describe where the song has taken you; Thedrewblood is Satan’s tour guide in this one. “Above The Damned” is a more somber tune reflecting on how Thedrewblood’s excesses affect a romantic relationship. Summed up beautifully with the pre-chorus “When we were young it was don’t make a sound – ‘cuz Daddy’s around and he doesn’t want his little girl – to go with a guy like me but now it’s you that’s turned it around”, a realization that his lifestyle is hurting someone he loves. “Thinking With Peter” is a rather comical tale of how Thedrewblood was taken for a chump by a beautiful girl who was “new in town” with no place to crash, no money, no job. Thedrewblood saw his opportunity to play the suave, street-smart bad boy by saying “I’ll show you around – I’ll introduce you to my town”. We later learn Thedrewblood offers her a place to stay the night (in his bed of course), and when we awakes the next morning, she’s gone and has robbed him blind. And finally “All I Ever Think About” is Thedrewblood coping with the state of his life, recalling the events that got him there, and laxly declares, “All I ever think about is drowning, drowning”. Musically “Train 2 The Bottom” is very well written and produced. It’s quite obviously a very personal body of work as Thedrewblood wears his heart on his sleeve.

Track Listing:
1. Normal – 3:58
2. Train 2 The Bottom – 3:47
3. Above The Damned – 4:35
4. Thinking With Peter – 3:46
5. All I Ever Think About – 3:13

Keep up with The Drew Blood at their Homepage and MySpace

The Black Oil Brothers: “Long Way From The Delta”

Picture a lazy day in the country, sitting out on the porch with a beer and a buddy, relaxing, taking in the sights, and some old, country blues playing on the radio. That’s how I felt after just 30 seconds. And while “Going For Broke” starts off the album on the upbeat side, we’re taken on a decline to a more somber tone with “One For Suzy” and “Robert From Hibbing”, a tune about having the blues, about wanting to be great but coming short, and consequently facing heartbreak. Raise your hand if you’ve been there before. The album continues to touch upon subjects that hit home for casual listeners such as working hard for a living, trying to find happiness, life, and death. As I write, it’s very hard, almost disrespectful, to summarize it so trivially. In fact those kinds of things can’t be accurately expressed with words, this kind of thing needs to be heard; and let’s make it clear right now, I highly recommend you do. The great thing about the blues is that it’s a broad canvas for expression. It can make you smile, make you sad, make you dance, and make you cry. It’s a very transparent genre in that an artist can almost effortlessly convey a wide range of emotions to the listener through their music. Needless to say I felt bipolar after listening to “Long Way From The Delta” in its entirety; in a good way of course. The Black Oil Brothers really hit the mark with this record. One thing I hope to see in future releases and performances is the integration of electric guitar. A nice, fat Les Paul or a twangy, jangley Fender makes good blues that much tastier.

Track Listing:
1. Going For Broke – 3:36
2. Goggles Paisano – 4:06
3. Johnny and The Pale Rider – 3:55
4. Wednesday Afternoon – 3:45
5. One For Suzy – 4:47
6. Robert From Hibbing – 3:30
7. Not The Blues – 3:38
8. Indeed Sir – 3:50
9. Riding White Horses – 2:55
10. Love – 3:10

Keep up with The Black Oil Brothers at their Homepage, MySpace, andFacebook

1 comment:

  1. I want to personally thank you for your kind words about our show at Fontana's. I stumbled upon this blog and was honored to have read such a sweet review, my dear. I do have big hair, don't I? My Chicago boys were incredibly happy to have you hear out their album as well. We'd love to keep in touch with you. Thank you again for coming out and for this great blogging site.

    Yours Truly,
    Bethany Saint Smith