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Friday, December 19, 2014

Nathan Kalish and the Lastcallers Dec 20 at Elk Brewing

On Saturday night Nathan Kalish and the Lastcallers whisk into Grand Rapids on a greased rail looking all the while like svelte short track speed skaters. OK, it’s more likely the twangy twosome shows up wearing football helmets and double runner skates. Either way, dagnabbit, these boys kick up a rooster tail spray of musical ice chunks on the hard stop and turn.

The last time Kalish and company were on this end of town it was a Thursday night at Elk. They went on to play an unprecedented six more times in the area--including two gigs in one day—at the Intersection and Salt of the Earth in Fennvile, among others. But that’s the kind of crazy schedule it’s been for Kalish in 2014.

Nathan Kalish and the Lastcallers are set to let the yuletide ring with a memorable holiday show December 20 at Elk Brewing in Grand Rapids.

“We’ve been all playing over the country all year, pretty much any place that will have us,” Kalish said. “We played upstate New York at the B-Side Ballroom in Oneonta a couple of months ago. Then we played the Taste of the Catskills festival. They let us go on the big stage second to last and gave us food tickets for all the local vendors.”

Their most recent travels have landed them in Nashville. TMGR caught up with Kalish as he was going over to the studio to put finishing touches on a new project.

"Me and Eric Soules (dog house bass) made a record of the songs we've been playing on the road all year," Kalish said. "We had our buddy Robbie Saunders from Texas put guitar on it. Next we're adding pedal steel and other instruments.”  

Kalish says he’s enlisting help from the Nashville music community, utilizing the many connections he’s made over the past two years.

“Next we're doing overdubs from other people we know from around the country,” Kalish said of the recording process. “It's turning out pretty good too.” 

Kalish is excited to feature the talents of producer Gordon Hammond. Hammond is considered the go-to guy for his recent work with Willie Nelson and Don Williams.

“Gordon is about our age,” Kalish said. “He’s worked on some very cool stuff.”

Kalish says together they are trying to capture the essence of the stripped down, minimalist early Sun records days

“It’s country and roots music,” Kalish said of the new material. “We’re striving for the sound of the Tennessee Two.”

The historic sound of early Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two never featured a drummer. Kalish is steadfast in following that inspiration to the letter.

“We don’t do drums ever,” Kalish said. “The no-drum thing doesn’t affect the band at all.”

Kalish says he and Soules provide more than enough rhythm, particularly on the rocking numbers when they employ what has become known as the "freight train" sound.

“Drums don’t make it more fun or upbeat,” Kailsh said. “In fact it detracts from the fun because they’re so loud and distracts from the rhythm sometimes. 

“We’re a rock-n-roll band,” Kalish points out. “You can play faster, tighter grooves with no drummer. That’s what makes it fun.” 

Nathan Kalish and the Lastcallers, 8-11pm, December 20 at Elk Brewing.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Toasters NYC Ska Oct 26 at Founders Brewing

A defiant punk attitude lives on in Robert “Bucket” Hingley. When Hingley started his ska band the Toasters in New York City in 1981 he was influenced by the 2 Tone bands he was hearing in his native England. 2 Tone music is characterized by the infusion of energetic punk rock with traditional horn-based sounds coming from Jamaica.  After 35 years in the business, including stints as record company owner and industry consultant, Hingley maintains an anti-establishment streak true to his punk roots.

“Streaming music services like Pandora have totally undercut the hard sales of CDs.” Hingley said. “We are expected to provide content for virtually free. The music business is now the enemy of the musician. How distorted is that?”

True originators of the Third Wave of Ska, The Toasters bring their energetic, dance-friendly presentation to Founders Brewing on October 26.

As royalty checks shrink more music acts are forced to remain on the road touring. It’s the only way they can make money.

"There's a downward squeeze from the top of the music industry," Hingley tells TMGR. "Bigger acts are playing smaller rooms. There are almost too many bands out there."

As an independent record company owner (Megalith Records) Hingley is a witness to the change of scenery and tactics of big record companies.

“There are hardly any indie labels anymore,” Hingley said. “Mainstream record companies are vultures. I prefer not to deal with them.”

With no distribution available for independent records, indie labels can't survive in the current zero income scenario, Hingley said.

The Toasters are renowned for blending ska with rap, R&B, and calypso. They've endured for the simplest of reasons. 

“Musically the band is back to playing American 2-tone which is where we started. But the landscape for indie bands is extremely desolate.”

Hingley feels the ska bands of the 1990s disappeared for one reason. They weren’t really ska bands.

“Music lovers know what’s going on,” Hingley said. “People want to see the real deal. That’s what we bring them every night.” 

The Toasters wsg The Sailor Kicks, 9 pm Oct 26, at Founders Brewing. Free. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

BettySoo June 18 at The Intersection--The Stache in GR

Writers keep a notebook on the front seat of the car hoping to capture that often elusive phrase. Austin-based singer/songwriter and former English major BettySoo has tried this on-the-fly method before but found she prefers the good posture, both-feet-on-the-floor writing exercise.

“I had a little hand held recorder with me I’d use in the car,” BettySoo said this week during an interview. “Now I just use a phone memo. Unless something really hits me over the head, and then I’ll pull over and record it, I prefer to sit down at my computer to write.” 

Besides, BettySoo says, the pen and paper approach leaves the door open for time-consuming doodling and drawing.

“I’ve never been one of those people you see at the music festival underneath a tree furiously scribbling out a song that inspiration suddenly attacked them with,” BettySoo said of her writing habit. “So much happens in your sub conscience that your brain works out between those sit down and write times that I’m not chasing the muse constantly."

BettySoo, with a singing voice described as "the perfect combination of strength, vulnerability, and clarity," appears June 18 with Alejandro Escovedo at the Intersection/The Stache in Grand Rapids.

BettySoo packs a lot of heart into her five-foot nothing frame. She recently spent a fair amount of time on the road visiting friends in rehab and helping others clean kitchens and bathrooms when they could no longer do it themselves. She admits these are not go-to topics for today’s singer/songwriters.

“My music doesn’t shy away from the graphic times in life,” BettySoo said. “For me it seems natural to be there for people; it’s what friends do. That’s what love is, I think. Loving when it’s convenient and loving when it’s not.”

And so what about that name: Betty Sue is one of those names entrenched in American culture. She says its been both a blessing and a curse.

“My parents had decided to name me Betty Sue and at the very last second changed the spelling to S-O-O,” BettySoo said with a laugh. “They don’t even remember where they heard the name and they had been living in the states for 7 or 8 years.”

They say you can take the English major out of the classroom but you can never take the classroom out of the student. Maybe that’s why BettySoo still writes on a typewriter.

“I feel like the physical affects the mental, and the physical affects emotional,” BettySoo said. “Sometimes having a different feel of the keyboard underneath my fingers brings out a different connection to the brain. Maybe I’ll write a different song than I would at the computer. I think it’s good for the brain to have change.”

Alejandro Escovedo wsg BettySoo tonight 7:30 (doors 6:30) at The Stache inside The Intersection downtown GR.

Intersection link: http://sectionlive.com/events/alejandro-escovedo/

Friday, May 16, 2014

Donna the Buffalo May 17 at The Intersection

Donna the Buffalo (photo by John D Kurc)
There’s good news and then there’s so-so news for summer music festival lovers. The good news is there are more festivals than ever before. The downside is fewer music festivals cater to just one specific musical form like bluegrass or Cajun. According to Tara Nevins of Donna the Buffalo, festivals are moving towards an all inclusive model with various roots music styles offered. The idea of blending traditional music styles is welcome news for Nevins and Donna’s organically engineered zydeco and old timey fiddle music.

“There are more and more festivals but now they have become more homogenized,” Nevins said during a recent interview.

“It used to be if there was a folk festival it was all folk music. Now they’re all Americana festivals and they have some of everything. It exposes the audience to a wide range of music and makes music more like the universal language, like one voice.”

With the music festival season underway for a couple of months now Grand Rapids audiences can expect Donna the Buffalo to bring the spring vibe indoors May 17 at the Intersection.

“People have just discovered that it’s a positive experience being outdoors for three or four days with a bunch of people who are there for the same reason,” Nevins said of the newer festival attendees. “That includes loving music, community building, and all things positive."

Donna hosts the Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance in Trumansburg, NY every summer. Nevins says featured performers this year are Lake Street Dive and Dickie Betts.

Nevins released the introspective solo effort Wood and Stone in 2011. It was recorded at Levon Helm’s studio in upstate New York (Helm played drums throughout). She also performed at one of Helm’s famed Midnight Ramble shows. She admits the one time she thought about pinching herself to make sure things were real was when she was onstage with the Levon Helm Band singing “The Weight."

“I’m just so grateful that my life intersected with his for a short period,” Nevins said. “And that I got the opportunity to record with him. He was a fabulous person and fabulous musician.”

Of late D the B is performing selections from their most recent release Today, Tomorrow and Yesterday and songs like “I Love My Tribe.” More often than not, however, you never really know just what songs the band has in store or how long they'll play. 

“We always grab from a very large bag of songs," Nevins said. "Sure our show will contain newer songs but it will also cover old favorites and songs that haven’t been recorded yet." 
Even as Donna the Buffalo turns the corner on 25 years in the business, Tara Nevins refuses any thought of resting on success. “I just want to keep on doing what we’ve been doing,” Nevins said. “I’m proud of my band and what we’ve accomplished but we’re going to keep striving.” 

Donna the Buffalo wsg Big Dudee Roo, 8pm (doors 7), Saturday at the Intersection.

The 'section web page for this night: http://sectionlive.com/events/donna-buffalo/

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds Saturday April 12 at Founders Brewery

A working band spends weeks on end driving around in the van. Differences among the inhabitants occasionally pile up with the miles.

Arleigh Kincheloe (aka Sister Sparrow) lead singer of Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds says she was the smallest and youngest in her brood on the Catskill mountainside in Delaware County, New York. There were only 38 students in Kincheloe’s graduating class from Roxbury Central High School. The very same 38 who were there since kindergarten.

“You can’t just hide or go make another friend in a small town like that,” Kincheloe said. “You couldn’t just avoid someone who annoys you. That taught me you have to work out your problems immediately. You can’t become an introvert and go inside yourself.”

Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds bring their own brand of extroverted rhythm & blues dance music to Founders on Saturday.

With such spunky vocal talent at her disposal, Kincheloe could have started any kind of horn-based band she wanted but went with funk in the end.

“I like this type of music because it best fits my voice,” Kincheloe said. “Plus it’s a lot of fun to get out there and do it.”

Kincheloe grew up in a musical family (her brother Jason is a Dirty Bird). She was nine when she started singing in her Dad’s cover band. Having lived the cover band existence already, so to speak, it wasn’t hard for Kincheloe realize she was going to have to do her own thing to make her way.

“If you’re doing covers you’re not going to stand out, period, and I wanted to stand out,” she said. “I play my own material because if you don’t you’re not going to make it.” 

Kincheloe says the Sister Sparrow band defies categorization by traversing vital musical terrain. Genre-free by choice if you will. 

“I think it’s easier to stick to a single genre in the bluegrass or folk realm,” Kincheloe said “But if you’re performing with a touring band you better know a variety of styles.”

Coming from a family where the kids were born in close order Kincheloe learned early how to get along, a helpful tact when on the road with the guys—and some fellow male musicians and club owners.

“It can be tough out here,” Kinchloe said. “We all sacrifice a lot to do this. And occasionally I’m reminded that, yes, I am a girl. But you learn how to get through it and keep going.”

Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds (from NY) wsg Tokyo Morose, 9:30, April 12, Founders Brewing 235 Grandville Ave SW, 49503

Sister Sparrow on the webosphere: Sister Sparrow www

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Jeffery Broussard & the Creole Cowboys Jan 26 at Founders Brewery

Historically sung in French, zydeco music and dance has flourished for generations and remains a lively hallmark of Creole culture in the United States. Jeffery Broussard is the latest in a proud lineage of goodwill ambassadors willing to bring zydeco culture to the world stage

Broussard will play just about any instrument you hand him. In addition to accordion and fiddle he plays bass, drums, and guitar. So it's no surprise there are many musically inclined youth in Broussard’s hometown of Opelousas LA who have approached him for lessons. Like a lot of kids before them their first instinct is to infuse a contemporary feel into otherwise customary music forms like blues and bluegrass. When aspiring musicians arrive at the doorstep of Jeffery Broussard he often has to break it to them that he prefers the more time-honored method of instruction.   

“When they first show up I have to ask them, what is it you want to learn?” Broussard said during a recent interview. “I tell them if they’re looking for the hip-hop style of zydeco you’re in the wrong place. They have to know up front that I teach to keep the traditional style of zydeco going.”

Get an early start on the Mardi Gras carnival season on January 26 when Jeffery Broussard brings his band, the Creole Cowboys, to Founders Brewery in Grand Rapids.

You can say Broussard came by the tradition honestly. He was born into a zydeco family. His father Delton Broussard was a noted zydeco accordion player who fronted his own group, the Lawtell Playboys. Jeffery was eight when he began playing drums with the family band. Back then Delton Broussard & the Lawtell Playboys were known as innovators in Cajun country by how they melded modern R & B and funk with the well-established roots sounds of people like Clifton Chenier. Later on Jeffery’s first band, Zydeco Force, also became part of this nouveau zydeco movement.  

But Broussard ultimately preferred the more standard approach to music. He often plays the single note accordion, frequently used for the time-honored two-step social dance. He’ll also break out the fiddle once or twice during the night if someone calls out a waltz.

Broussard doesn’t read music; he is self taught and plays everything by ear. This can pose a challenge when it comes to teaching.

“I advise my students to bring a camera or cell phone to record their lessons,” Broussard said. “I’ll play the song at normal speed then I’ll break it down slower and slower until I’m playing just one note at a time. Then they can watch the recording at home when they practice.”

Broussard is not the only multi-instrumentalist in the Creole Cowboys. Jeffery says that he and his bass player, who also plays fiddle, will switch axes on certain songs to further the dynamic of the performance.

There must be something about playing zydeco music at this time of year that makes Jeffery Broussard want load up the van again and drive all the way up north in the snow.

“I grew up around it,” he said of the zydeco tradition. “It’s about our culture. After my father passed I felt like I wanted to do something to keep his legacy going. This is one way I can do that.”

Jeffery Broussard and the Creole Cowboys, 8:30 pm, Jan 26 at Founders Brewery. Free.

More info about the band: jefferybroussard.com