Blah Blah Records
Here’s a young woman with a knack for biographical ballads ala John Prine and enigmatic introspection in the style of Suzanne Vega; who has been garnering much local deserved attention for the past year. Having only recently returned from a six-week European tour, Cheralee recently signed on with Seattle’s Glitterhouse label, in a move that should solidify her National career. Judging from Pool, that career could become something substantial.
Cheralee has a homey twang to her voice, somewhat similar to that of Victoria William’s. But Cheralee’s songs deal with darker images– a harsher reality–as if Victoria were singing PJ Harvey songs. Check out the straight forward message of “Ginny”. “Ginny works at the tittie bar down on Main St./ I’ve seen her there in her underwear once or twice/I had front row seats, but I did not have the time of my life.” Contrast that with the demons she conjures on “Overboard. “I’ve got a skeleton that’s tied to my back…/ I’ve got a rifle that’s burning up my hands…/I feel like an empty gourd mutilated by your sword…/ I’ve got an anchor that’s wrapped around my neck…/ And I know I’m going overboard.” Her unabashed frankness with words is highlighted in the S&M segments of “Tattoo You.”
“7 Year Warp” captures the unique qualities in Cheralee’s perspective, as she traces the unwinding of a loosely wrapped individual; huskily intoning the verses, skittering across her upper register in the turn arounds. Jon Lindahl’s ice-pick slide guitar serves as the skewer upon which the tune turns.
A plaintive accordion wails across the rolling little red wagon of “Matthilda,” which may or may not be about rescue of a discarded doll.
As do many of Dillon’s songs, “Candy” confronts sexual topics by issuing a lot of hot words and cold conclusions. Her feelings and preferences are at times made clinically clear. Her ambivalence and doubt hang like smoke above a sink.
Amanda Reisman’s cello adds a mournful moan to the haunting “Awhile”– as it does on several other tracks. Most of the performances feature Cheralee on vocal and simple acoustic guitar with a single instrument in accompaniment, her bell-like voice resonating across the sparse arrangements.
While her talent is undisputable, Cheralee Dillon’s puerile penchant for trashy language seems unnecessary for one as verbally precise as herself– serving, it would seem, merely as naughty shock schlock to offset her diminutive physical stature.
I, for one, prefer her more articulate attempts at giving voice to what is obviously a very complex psyche. Certainly the bold language she chooses to employ in many of her songs will guarantee for Ms. Cheralee Dillon rabid national attention at the lowest common denominator. But, without sacrificing the passion of her statements or the degree of her possible success, she proves at points on Pool that she knows how to say more with less. There is every reason to believe that, with time, Cheralee will eventually mature to that stage.
It seems certain that very few people ever got entirely acquainted with the Shivers, after they blew into town last year. And now it looks like they’re ready and willing to blow right out again– because they’re able. For this was a group with a star over their head, when they first left Austin for Minneapolis, long before the trail led to here.
Guitarist Carey Kemper and bassist Kelly Bell are each unique singers and songwriters. The worn saddle leather of Kemper’s voice instantly recalls the dusty weariness of Jerry Jeff Walker or Townes Van Zandt on the mournful “Silver City Train.” Like a warm, sonorous breeze, Kelly adds a moody vocal to the dry bed of acoustic guitars on “River.” The Shivers present their material simply, with no-frills or fluff. The stripped down sound works well for them on Carey’s “Almost Gone”– released locally as a single last year. Here, Carey sounds like Lee Hazelwood doing a John Stewart number, achieving an understated poignancy.
Kelly smolders like hot sand beneath the rattlesnake slither of “Never Leave Nevada,” a Nancy and Lee song for the 90’s without a doubt. A throbbing beat pulses beneath sinewy Peter Gunnish guitar/bass line. Carey’s gleaming slide-guitar solo melts like a poker chip beneath the hot, white sun.
“When I Fall” captures with impressive results the majestic simplicity of Carey’s presentation. Backed by his singular acoustic and Kelly’s elementary bass, he renders a quirky blues tune–with startlingly authentic results. A tiny gem of a song. “Things Change” alters the mood, with a hopped-up rhythm and jangly disposition to support a chainsaw chord progression. Kelly’s tight harmonies add power and dimension to the desolate monotone of Carey’s lead vocal.
The dusky sweetness and rich textures in Kelly’s rendition of the lovely ballad “Gentle,” instantly call to mind Patsy Cline, Gale Garnett and Bobbie Gentry; while the laid-back band displays a Big Head Todd /Monsters-like comprehension of restraint. Carey’s succinctly arcane guitar solo neatly captures the timeless atmosphere of this nifty counterpart to “When I Fall.”
But it’s “Heart of Texas Blues,” with Kelly hissing like a cornered bobcat that’s the likely hit of the set. The pace and execution seem tailormade for video. As if Melissa Manchester had real finesse. Twenty years ago, if Richard and Linda Thompson had lived in Austin instead of London, they would have eventually recorded “Dreamtime With a Wanted Man.” a lazy rocking chair of a song, that lulls dreamily to the very end.
The Shivers exhibit versatility with two divergent vocalists who are each able to cover a lot of stylistic ground. Like wise, as a band, they move effortlessly from duo to rock outfit with supple dexterity. While in the hands of lesser bands, this flexibility would quickly become a liability, Carey Kemper and Kelly Bell somehow manage to meld a cohesively unique band sound that will likely reap for them the success they have worked so long and hard to achieve. And we can all say we saw them when they lived in Portland. Right.
Here Comes Everybody have plugged away over the years. Since their inception, the band have produced synth-laden, tech-rock; shaped by the sublime cynicality and esoteric bad sentiments of vocalist Michael Jarmer’s lyrics. Produced by Dan Reed Networks’ Blake Sakamoto, Hump Day is meant to be a radical departure for HCE, There are no synths.
But otherwise it’s the same HCE you know and love. “Dry Hump” sounds just like the old band– bassist Dave Glide and drummer Rene` Ormae-Jarmer (she used to be the synth player–but hey, she’s got a degree in percussion too) set up a funky rhythm over which Jeff Bryner torches riffage on guitar. Michael Jarmer sings like Adrian Belew stringing together David Byrnian non sequitur. Actually, this cut sounds a little like Cherry Poppin’ Daddies too. But it sounds more like HCE. Only now, where the synths used to be, there is empty space. The level of virtuosity is about 9.7 here, with a high degree of difficulty.
The amelodic “Things We Bury” registers very high pressure on the Trent Reznor spleen barometer. But the instrumentation lacks industriality and is much too funky to be walking NIN turf. “Your Breath” sort of departs from HCE stylistic boundaries to the extent that Bryner contributes a beefy metal riff to the mix. Rene`’s drum work withstands the test, as she marshals forth with smart reports, interspersed with jagged crossfire.
The rowdy stagger of “What’s His Name” serves as a much better format for Michael’s rant. Byrne’s slashing chords skitter across Rene`’s syncopated drum line and Glide’s stuttering bass. Here the venom seems well placed, inducing the tune to convulse involuntarily. The cut works well at creating a new, defining sound that the band might build upon. Despite certain Zep allusions, “Spank Me” reverts to a few bad habits, and seems ingenuously trite, given the subject matter. “Bluebird of Obscenity” piques interest, with a scabrous re-write from The Sound of Music injected into the molten bile that bubbles around it, “I Purge” sounds like the old HCE again.
To be sure, Here Comes Everybody are a band of top-notch players. And Michael Jarmer’s obsessive rage would seem to fit the national mood. But there is a distance created by his words. You learn nothing about Michael, the person, from his lyrics–other than the fact that he seems pretty pissed off about everything. But you get the impression he’s just playing a role( perhaps Ralph Kramden in the 90’s update of The Honeymooners), or that he is unable to get anywhere near to identifying what’s bugging him. And as for melodies for these melodramas: there are none.
For music that is so sophisticated, it’s kind of a pity that someone who is obviously very intelligent and articulate is unable to truly speak his mind and heart.
Here’s another of the swarm of “supergroups” that have burst upon the local scene of late. This one incorporates drummer Scott Mattern and bassist Todd Braden, formerly of Killing Field with Little Women guitarist Steve James. And given that pedigree, the band deliver what you might expect of them, weighted perhaps slightly toward James’ heritage, given that he writes and sings the songs. Laid back feel. Flashes of fire, but rarely of incandescence.
“Swirl” is a jaunty number, reminiscent of the Eagles’ “Take It Easy.” James’ voice sounds familiar, with a smoky weariness that Jerry Joseph perfected. James is no slouch as a singer and songwriter. And his guitarwork is simple, clean and disciplined. Acoustic guitar, electric and lap-steel meld into an intricate country/folk brocade.
The moody “Stranded” better reflects the bands’ Killing Field roots. Braden’s heavily chorused bass moves in unison with James’ electric and acoustic 12-string guitars across a moaning filigree pattern. The song itself is pretty straight forward, though precise ensemble work elevates it above the mundane, as is true for a similar band, the Gin Blossoms.
“11:11” rocks smartly, spiraling like a sidewinder across a jangled expanse of guitars. Braden’s sinewy basslines are given rubbery punch from Mattern’s clever kitwork. Solid. The harder, bluesier tone of “Outside” is augmented by a very hip piece of bent-noted droning guitar. A strong chorus earmarks this cut as the winner of the lot. James cuts loose with several inspired solos through the course of the piece.
Skinhorse are another band with the chops and mettle to make a go of this music thing. They lack a couple of over-the-top hit songs to go with the very well written, very well executed material on this Demonstration. Suggestions anyone?
Here’s a young three-piece, plus vocalist– who while bowing obsequiously at the PearlGardeninChains altar erected to the North, still manage to evoke a sound of their own, though derivative it may be.
“Hush” and “Small” fall into that category. The double time cadence is instantly familiar; the sinus resonation of the vocals as perpetual as Vedder cheese. The playing is a little loose around the edges; the sound a little thin through the middle. But Inchwater display moments of tiny grandeur and simple invention.
“Away” dips into a darker pool of deeper water. Out of tune vocals are a distraction, but no more so than upon the average Candlebox cut. The mood is withdrawn, slightly faceted into psychedelic fragments. A well chosen departure. “Carry Me” carries on from where the first two cuts let off. The vocalist sounds like he can’t hear himself sing. Either that or his pitch differential needs realignment.
“Way Of The Monkey” turns on an invitingly ominous guitar figure and benefits from a rousing chorus that is more bravado than substance–but effective, all the same. The band probably find the most success with the dynamically rich and melodically memorable “Drained.” Powerful guitar interjections punctuate a song that fulfills a portion of what this band might accomplish–were they to play a hundred gigs.
One hundred gigs is the arbitrary approximation I have assigned to the number of live performances a band must endure in order to find for itself a path through the world of music. Some bands find the path after ten or twenty gigs, Others after a couple hundred. It probably averages out to about one hundred. With this in mind, I would say that Inchwater are about 78 gigs short of emerging from the musical woods. But when and if they do, look out.
These guys oughta be approaching the one hundred gig mark by now. And the work is paying off. Check out the seamless funk which they muster with regal ease. Mike Collins and Matt Polelle lay the foundation on bass and drums, over which Derek Jensen skates, jagged guitar shards glistening in his hands. While he will never be confused for Pavarotti, vocalist JC Maribona has improved to the point where he sort of sounds like a funked out Jagger.
In fact, “Buttprints” sounds like a funked out Stones tune in some ways– the harmonies in the clever chorus add to that effect. Jensen gets the chance to step forward with a fine, jazz-tinged solo after a thematic segue. JC then returns on vocals to indulge his passion for social statement. Here it’s well wrought.
Conversely, “P.O.M.P.” combines good harmonies, a crunchy lead guitar motif and an immensely effective reggae beat, to outline the dissolution of a relationship: another of JC’s favored topics. The band delivers concise, hard-hitting musicianship, never cluttered or excessive.
In an impressive exhibition of versatility, the Jones boys tackle the nimble, salsa flavored arrangement of “Abandonado,” with terrific results. The infusion of metal in the chorus lends an unique quality, as does JC’s lyrical choice of Spanish. Jensen contributes an appropriately Santana-like solo in the break. This track cuts new ground…and with gusto!
“Brother” is tightly wound rap with a message. JC’s ghostly vocal lends an air of gloom to the atmosphere. Jensen counters at the solo with a spectacularly cosmic, interstellar excursion through sonic space. A brief, but exhilarating voyage, to be sure.
Silicone Jones have honed their strengths to flinty acuity. They have made the most of their liabilities, improving some things and softening the impact of others. By doing so, they have freed the true creative energy they share, thus producing work of impact, variety and some originality. It may have taken them nearly one hundred gigs to get to that point; but clearly, they have arrived.