The New Mastersounds' Recent 'Payback' Show Gave 100% of Proceeds to Homeless Youth

By: Will Baumgartner

Last Friday night at the Ogden Theatre in Denver was a joyful experience on multiple levels as The New Mastersounds, joined by Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe guitarist DJ Williams and his band Shots Fired, brought their considerable talents and notoriety to the aid of Urban Peak to benefit Denver homeless youth. The New Mastersounds, led by guitarist Eddie Roberts, who is known for his love of and commitment to community, funneled 100% of the night’s proceeds back to Urban Peak. Everything sold for the night, including merchandise from Roberts’ new record label Color Red, went to the organization. So even if you didn’t participate in the silent auction or couldn’t afford to pick up an album or t-shirt, you knew that just by being there, you were helping make life better for others. Add that good feeling to the absolutely stellar performances and rock-solid grooves emanating from everyone on that stage, and it’s no wonder that all of us were smiling all night.

The event, aptly named The Payback, is not a new thing. This show marked the completion of its third year, with past shows in Denver, San Francisco, and New Orleans, which have featured special guests like the New Orleans Suspects and Neon Brown. Urban Peak have been doing their good work since 1988, and through The Payback shows, The New Mastersounds have helped them raise several thousand dollars and public awareness for homeless youth.

The crowd at  Payback .

The crowd at Payback.

As excited as I was to see the Mastersounds again, it was an extra special treat to be introduced to Shots Fired, as this was my first time catching them live. Mr. Williams is not only a masterful guitarist with a precise attack reminiscent of Roberts’ playing, but a coolly charismatic bandleader and compelling composer as well. Based in Denver, he featured several musicians in this set, including Analog Son keyboardist Eric Luba and trumpeter AnDre Mali. If you’ve seen Williams with Tiny Universe, you already know what a great guitarist he is; catch this band and see how much more he can do as a frontman.

When the New Mastersounds took the stage, we were all primed and had our inner groove machines well-oiled by Shots Fired’s dance-friendly set. Those of us who have been fans for years knew that New Mastersounds would not only dazzle us with their musicianship, but keep that dance vibe going while driving us all to new and blissful heights. Augmented by the dynamic duo of trumpeter Mike Olmos and saxophonist Jason Mingledorff, and featuring two mini-sets fronted by the outrageously soulful vocalist Lamar Williams Jr. (known for his work with the Greg Allman Band as well as his own prodigious talents as a songwriter and frontman in his own right), the band continued to show us that we can count on them to continue their traditions while continually growing and reaching higher and higher with each performance.

The New Mastersounds at  Payback .

The New Mastersounds at Payback.

If you happen to be in New York City in a couple of weeks, New Mastersounds will be doing a two-night run at the Gramercy Theater on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Then it’s straight back to Colorado for a run of shows at the Belly Up in Aspen January 3rd, Old Town Pub in Steamboat Springs the two nights following, and the Shakedown Bar in Vail on January 6th.

With all the great happy music we experienced last Friday though, we should not forget what the evening was about. Whether you were there or not, please visit Urban Peak at their website and get involved: donate, volunteer, whatever you can do. With the holidays abound, it’s the perfect season to give and you never know who you might help jump up off their feet to dance.

-Will

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

Verses The Inevitable Are Bringing Their 'Grit & Grace' to Larimer Lounge Tonight!

By: Will Baumgartner

Daniel Hertel’s band Verses The Inevitable are in no hurry. They take their time making records, plan their shows carefully, and perform relatively infrequently. All these things, combined with their surfeit of talent and the excellence of their songs, are great reasons to check out their most recent album Grit & Grace, and then get on over to Denver’s Larimer Lounge tonight for an experience you won’t soon forget.

Verses The Inevitable.

Verses The Inevitable.

Every song on Grit & Grace is a gem, and one of several reminders of how apt the album’s title is: there’s clearly a lot of artistry and polish that went into the crafting of each track but at the same time, nothing is over-polished. These songs, multifaceted and sparkling though they may be, still retain their original natural beauty and rough charm. Like any stone, they were formed from gritty elements, from the hard and dirty places found in any truly beautiful location. There’s a sense of struggle in nearly every song on the album, but also an appreciation of the beauty of life, an acknowledgement that light can often only be appreciated by trekking through the darkness.

The album begins with “Tuscaloosa,” a wistful yet gently-driving song, like a letter to a lover the narrator is determined to return to. Its folk rock feel sets the tone for a lot of the tracks to come- while the band regularly dives into other genres, the overall feel of Verses The Inevitable is that of a folk rock band.

Next up is “Horizon,” a ballad that manages to combine a resigned sadness with more determination. “Hard Times” is a bluesy slow-burner enumerating the problems and challenges of the down-and-out, and the first song on the album where singer Madalynn Rose really steps out and shows her stuff. This young woman can really sing, and is a talent worth watching in her own right. Her harmonies with Hertel also reminded me of another way in which the album’s title feels so appropriate, because while they’re both powerful vocalists, Daniel brings the grit while Madalynn carries the grace.

The album artwork for  Grit & Grace .

The album artwork for Grit & Grace.

Next up is “Morgan City Blues,” which Hertel says is one of two songs on the album that were written ten years ago, this one because of its “sad personal nature.” That much is obvious from the lyrics, which tell the tale of watching an addict go all the way down, but through rewriting the song with his partner, keyboardist Wil Snyder, they were able to leaven its heavy subject matter into a shuffling blues with classic piano/organ grooves and a killer harmonica solo from great local stalwart Mad Dog Friedman. “Saint Gertrude” is a somewhat pastoral folk song that sounds like a grateful, quiet tribute to some very personal female saint-like presence in the songwriter’s life. “Unclaimed Ground” is, according to Hertel, about acceptance of the end of a relationship, and yet has a bouncy Americana rock feel with some wry humor in the lyrics. For this listener anyway, it ultimately has a hopeful feel- while accepting what is, the singer still seems to be looking forward to what could be.

“Avarice” is a simple little song that sounds like it was written on a sleepless night by a guy who longs to be a better person. As such, it expresses both doubt and faith in a quietly powerful way. The penultimate song, “Nayasa” is a dirty blues-rock piece with hints of the music of Sub-Saharan Africa. It is apropos since Hertel told me it was inspired by a trip he took there, and expresses the helpless anger he felt seeing the pervasive corruption in each country he visited, and that corruption’s very real consequences of death and starvation. The album’s final song, “Presence” is by far its happiest and silliest, a jazzy swing tune with a New Orleans feel complete with barrelhouse piano and horns. The verses lay out all the either/or dilemmas we could focus on in life, but the chorus just tells us, “Get outta your head!”

In short, Grit & Grace takes the listener through some dark places, all the while reminding us that it’s all part of a journey full of surprising beauty and even some good laughs along the way. We’re all in this life and it ain’t the easiest ride, Hertel seems to be telling us (and himself), but we’ve got to keep going- going and watching our surroundings for whatever stones we might find to contain hidden gems.

Verses The Inevitable contains some of the best musicians on Colorado’s Front Range, including aforementioned Wil Snyder and MD Friedman, with drummer Michael McKee, bassist Matt Certosimo, guitarist Zach Adler, and cellist Zack Reaves. They’re all stellar on record and, as your reviewer can attest, they totally bring it live. There’s nothing quite like a concert by Verses The Inevitable, so get yourself on over to the Larimer Lounge tonight! 

Keep up with Verses The Inevitable here.

-Will

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

The SIR Band Brought Power and Passion to Their Globe Hall Set Last Saturday

By: Will Baumgartner

Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect when attending Saturday’s concert by The SIR Band at Globe Hall in Denver last Saturday. I knew they were a local band getting some buzz, playing at a venue I’d also heard enough about to want to check it out, and that was enough reason to go. In this sense, being a music journalist is the same as being a dedicated music fan, because if you only listen to and go to shows by bands and artists you already love, you’re limiting yourself and not helping the scene to grow. Of course there’s always a chance of being underwhelmed, but without exploration there would be no discovery, and I happened to discover a local treasure Saturday night. An unassuming little trio with a rather innocuous name, The SIR Band will surprise you with the amount of power, passion, and artistry that can be packed into such a small frame.

Speaking of small packages, the band’s frontwoman Sarah Angela doesn’t come bounding onstage looking larger than life. A rather petite woman dressed simply in cutoff jeans and a white blouse, SA (as she is also known to fans) let her voice and songs do the business of winning us over, which she most emphatically did, without resorting to any flashy theatrics or excessive costuming. She didn’t just stand there, of course, but her onstage energy was something that seemed to come up organically through the depth and richness of her singing with the simple beauty and layered architecture of the songs themselves, and with her interaction with the formidable talents of her bandmates Kim O’Hara (guitar/backing vocals) and Luke Mehrens (drums/percussion).

The SIR Band. Photo Credit: Joel Rekiel of   BLDGBLKS Music Company .

The SIR Band. Photo Credit: Joel Rekiel of BLDGBLKS Music Company.

Most of the material performed during this show came from the band’s stellar debut album So Cold (released January 2018 and available through iTunes and other digital platforms), but I was also impressed by their choice of covers and unique takes on those songs, including a rousing version of The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face,” enhanced by two more exceptional female talents who’d already graced the stage that night, R&B/Pop powerhouse Chloe Tang and Vicoda’s firecracker of a frontwoman Shivani Bhatt. There’s something about getting that much female energy and talent onstage that’s just overwhelmingly beautiful and inspiring. These women clearly enjoyed it at least as much as the audience did, and that was an awful lot.

Overall, it’s difficult to say what I was most impressed with during The SIR Band’s performance. Between SA’s bits on synthesizer and acoustic guitar and her dynamic and varied use of her vocal skills, O’Hara’s switching between different guitars and settings, and Mehrens’ precise and expansive drumming, there was so much going on. But I’d have to say that the moment I was most affected emotionally was definitely the quietest part of  an otherwise pretty rocking evening, and that was the performance of “Abby’s Song.” It was an achingly beautiful piece that I knew nothing of except that it got to me, to the point of creating a lump in my throat and a bit of mist over my eyes. As is so often the case with live performances, I wasn’t devoting a lot of my attention span to the lyrics either, but when I mentioned the song afterward to Kim O’Hara, she told me the bittersweet story behind the song, and all I could say was, “Well done.” Without any intellectual knowledge of its subject matter, I was still able to feel the love, beauty and heartache that went into its creation.

Sarah Angela. Photo Credit: Joel Rekiel of   BLDGBLKS Music Company .

Sarah Angela. Photo Credit: Joel Rekiel of BLDGBLKS Music Company.

Another reason I wanted to see this show was because I saw Chloe Tang’s name on the bill, along with the note that it was her last Denver show before moving to Los Angeles. I had the pleasure of being introduced to Chloe’s music about a year and a half ago when I wrote Millennial Wise: Chloe Tang’s ‘Passion//Aggression’ for BolderBeat, but in the time since, I’d regrettably not gotten around to seeing her live. I can now say unequivocally that it was worth the wait, and I’ll be continuing to follow her closely. Talk about little bombs: this young woman packs an incredible punch into her small stature, and her material has continued to grow into something even more powerful than the great stuff I’d already been exposed to, as evidenced by her recent EP Stranger. Wherever you are, listen to her and go see her when you get any opportunity to do so; you will not be disappointed. This bill was truly a satisfying evening of sounds, and wouldn’t have been so complete without Vicoda and Shivani Bhatt who are hurricane of a band with a lightning rod of a singer at its center. They blew me away not only with the joyful fury of their performance, but also with the precision and skill of their attack.

Denver is one of the most happening places in the whole wide world of music right now, so I cannot encourage you enough to take your chances more often than not. You may be fearful of the possibility of wasting an evening, but as The SIR Band and their wonderful guests showed me again this weekend, it’s much more likely that you’ll end up grateful, happy, enriched and the exact opposite of “underwhelmed.”

-Will

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

Joachim Cooder Brings 'Fuchsia Machu Picchu' to the Paramount Theater, Opening for Legendary Father Ry Cooder

By: Will Baumgartner

What is it about an album or a few songs from an artist that makes you want to see them live? Maybe it’s an artist you’re hearing for the first time, or have heard only a little, and you find yourself listening and wondering, “What exactly would it look, feel and sound like to see them perform this music in person? “

Jaochim Cooder.

Jaochim Cooder.

Of course, you’d have to love what you’re hearing to even have this question to begin with. And with Joachim Cooder’s recent debut as a solo artist, the wonderful 7-song EP Fuchsia Machu Picchu, this listener can say wholeheartedly that from the opening title track all the way through to the final notes of the closing song “Country Blues,” I felt a visceral desire for more. I want more of Joachim’s music, and I’m thrilled by the mental image of being at his upcoming show at Denver’s Paramount Theater on Tuesday, August 14th. He will not only be opening for his legendary and iconic father Ry Cooder, but pulling double duty: after his set with his own band, Joachim will be right back onstage as Ry’s percussionist.

I’ve been a fan of Ry Cooder since I was a kid in the early 70s and stumbled across his album Boomer’s Story and found myself hooked for life, but you don’t need to be nearly as steeped in this family’s legacy to know about Joachim. If you’re one of the many who were enthralled and inspired by the movie and soundtrack of Buena Vista Social Club, the 1999 Wim Wenders film that followed Ry through the inception and subsequent performances of a huge ensemble of some of the greatest Cuban musicians of all time, you remember Joachim as an integral part of that group and his father’s vision, as he worked with Ry as percussionist and cohort all through the film. A very young man still in his teens then, Joachim went on to work with many other artists including The Haden Triplets, Matt Costa, Inara George, his brother-in-law Robert Francis and his wife Juliette Commagere. With the combination of his pedigree and two decades of such illustrious collaborations, it’s no surprise that when he finally stepped out as a leader with the release of Fuchsia Machu Picchu in March of this year, it was a formidable debut.

According to press releases, this collection of songs was largely inspired by the birth of Joachim’s daughter, so it’s also not surprising that there is a feeling of freshness, tenderness and a bit of wide-eyed innocence to most of the material. The themes of family, love, solace and hope are running threads throughout. The music is also wildly evocative of colors, light (especially moonlight, which pops out repeatedly through many of the songs), and places. I can’t tell you where I felt I was at different points throughout my listening, but clearly I was somewhere, and more often than not it was somewhere beautiful and warm, under skies that offered not only glowing and glittering illumination, but also most often a sense of the cool darkness of evening. While there’s no lack of pulse throughout this record (of course, coming from a percussionist!), it’s also imbued with a sense of peaceful reflection like a gorgeous evening in some South American country surrounded by nature, and alive with its nocturnal sounds. And while most of us know of Machu Picchu as a historic place of great beauty and Inca legend in Peru, it is also the name of a plant, so it makes sense that another of the themes running through this recording is plant life.

But okay, you may wonder after all these words about peace and quiet and so on, is this music gonna put me to sleep? No, and most emphatically no! Ask me if you can groove to it and I’ll tell you I’ve been grooving to it all week. Joachim Cooder grew up with World music, but he also grew up with his dad’s love of a crunchy bluesy sound, and rhythms that definitely give the butt plenty of wiggle room. One might be swaying gently or even seated, but the movement is always there. Joachim’s music is an appropriately family-centric affair, with Ry’s gritty guitar playing prominently throughout, along with the aforementioned close family members Francis and Commagere and others. If you’ve been to the Paramount before, you know that it’s a beautiful concert venue and also a seated venue. But nobody’s gonna get arrested for doing a little dancing in the aisles.

-Will

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

A-Mac & The Height Reach New Peaks With New Record 'Part of It All'

By: Will Baumgartner

The ridiculously talented Denver band known as A-Mac & The Height have made a lot of noise over the past year, with a sold-out album release show at the Bluebird Theater, performances at their own Spread the Word Music Festival as direct support for the Kyle Hollingsworth Band, and a two-month fall tour which took them from the Midwest all the way to Florida. Behind all this activity is the group’s frontman and songwriter Alex MacKenzie-Low, a musically driven young man whose contagious energy not only drives the band, but has been an important part of the Denver area music scene for several years. I first met Alex when he booked my band at Moe’s Original BBQ in Englewood and the relationship has continued through a few years of the Spread The Word Festival, an annual event which is MacKenzie-Low’s personal labor of love and has been a vital and energizing part of the local live music landscape for the past five years.

A-Mac & The Height. 

A-Mac & The Height. 

Having seen the band (formerly known as A-Mac DZ) a number of times, I was not at all surprised to find that their current album Part of It All is filled with the same great songs and stellar musicianship I’ve come to expect from this band. The genre description on their Facebook page- “upbeat folk rock, reggae/world, hip-hop, jam” prepares the listener for a rather common combination of sounds in today’s music landscape, but the album itself is much more than the sum of these parts.  

Listen to Part of It All:

“Sun Comes Up” kicks off the musical journey of the record appropriately enough with a driving mashup of reggae and hip-hop, and a story of finding oneself and one’s family of friends through persistence and music. It begins with hopping on a train, facing loneliness and pain with the line, “‘Til I find my friends, my motivation/Music, yes, my inspiration.” These are lyrics that anyone who has chosen the challenging life of a musician can understand: we feel so much, and life can be so frightening and difficult, but music and the people we play it with makes it all worthwhile. From the drum and bass intro through the masterful rapping in the middle, all the way to the end, this is a great song performed by a super-tight band.

The second song, “Ends I’ll Never Know,” takes us into distinctly brighter territory. If “Sun Comes Up” is about climbing out of the darkness, this one is about dancing in the sunlight. It’s a happily grooving song with a bouncy guitar line that sounds like it could have come from Paul Simon’s Graceland or The Rhythm of the Saints albums, at least to my ears, it definitely has that happy South African/Latin-inspired feel. It’s also a markedly pop-sounding song, with its catchy chorus and hook-driven arrangement. You can practically hear the smile on MacKenzie-Low’s face as he sings “Oh I, oh I, ready for whatever comes my way today/Yes I, yes I, ready to grow to ends I’ll never know.”

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 “Indica From Heaven” is, not surprisingly, a feel-good party track. If weed is your party, blaze up and groove on down. The deeply funky reggae feel, horn lines, keyboard solo, and the lyrics all encourage the listener to just have a good time and not think too much. It’s also one of the most danceable tracks on the album, so don’t get too stoned to get up! The syncopation and breaks in the arrangement make it perfect for busting some moves.

The fourth track, “It Would Be Easy,” starts off in a sadder place. It’s a breakup song with lyrics like, “All our friends know you crushed my soul,” so the musical feel is appropriately wistful, at least at first. But the song is also about letting go, so there’s a break in the middle that suddenly feels like a Calypso/Salsa dance party, with a rolling Latin-sounding piano line and horns bouncing merrily over the top. You never know what to expect with these guys!

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“Streets of Colorado” is a homecoming anthem from a traveler who has gone away, but come back to where he’s from and feels most at home there. It’s the most rock-sounding track on the album, and the band ably supports the singer’s story with another tight arrangement and more excellent playing.

The album’s penultimate track, “Back On My Own,” revisits the theme of lost love while still emphasizing the singer’s drive to pick himself up and keep moving, which seems to be almost the theme of the whole disc: persistence, as Calvin Coolidge said, is omnipotent. As with all the songs on this album, the arrangement is a big part of what makes this song work: the individual instruments and the way they play off of each other, the musical dynamics, and the juxtaposition of different musical styles stacked together to create a balanced structure. The casual listener doesn’t need to “get” what’s going on behind the music to enjoy it, but musicians, songwriters and arrangers will find much to appreciate and admire. 

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And so we come to the final song on the album, “Here’s to the Love.” It’s a testament to the strength of MacKenzie-Low’s spirit that while he’s writing a song as a requiem to a dear friend, he still insists on not wallowing in the pain of his friend’s passing: “I will remember the good times always/No one can take away your memory, so here’s to the love.” You can hear the pain in his voice and in the music, and still, there’s that insistence on finding the good in everything, even death. So, ultimately, it’s not a sad song, but a celebration of life and love.

Again, I can’t overemphasize the strength of the musicianship on this record, and its importance in making it a successful recording. Drummer Matt McElwain, bassist Stephen Edwards, keyboardist Karl Rivers, saxophonist Joey Bean, and lead guitarist Ted Kleist are all great musicians, period. Colorado is lucky to have such talent in our midst, and A-Mac & The Height are blessed by the way they work together.

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Part of It All is available on Bandcamp. A-Mac & The Height are just returning from their fall tour, and will perform next in Colorado on Saturday November 25th at Mother Muff’s in Colorado Springs. Keep up with the band on their Facebook page and website.

-Will

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.   

Mlima Goes Interstellar: Fiske Planetarium Concert To Become New Album

By: Will Baumgartner

Denver’s Mlima have covered a lot of ground in the five years since their formation, but their journey, in a lot of ways, is only beginning. The group, who have coined the term “mountain groove music” in an attempt to encapsulate their sprawling sounds, first played together in 2012. Since then, they’ve played Red Rocks and were discovered and nurtured by the late legendary concert promoter Barry Fey; they’ve been with Fey’s management company, Feyline Presents, ever since. The band has also seen multiple personnel changes since their inception, with the one constant being percussionist Jack Breitenbach, the group’s founder. But as saxophonist/vocalist Zach Simms told me in a recent interview, it’s really been in the past year and a half that Mlima has found itself coalescing into the type of band that can look into the sky and say, “We could go there. And fill it with music.”

Mlima at Fiske Planetarium.

Mlima at Fiske Planetarium.

 In a very tangible way, that’s exactly what they did in their recent concert at CU Boulder’s Fiske Planetarium. Following a set of powerful, funky space-jazz by opening trio Dandu (definitely another Denver band to watch, by the way), Mlima populated the stage in their current incarnation featuring the locally ubiquitous vocalist Jessica Jones (who has sung with dozens of bands from the Glitta Kings to Galactic), masterful guitarist Jeph Kennedy, keyboardist Nate Todd (of Whiskey Tango and Jaden Carlson Band), bassist Ryan Thrush, drummer Lance Croucher, and the aforementioned Zach Simms on sax and vocals (also of Zobomaze and Like A Kenny G6). Together, these musicians proceeded to take the audience on a sonic journey that perfectly complemented the planetarium’s projected backdrop of intergalactic scenery.  

Watch Mlima’s live set at Fiske Planetarium: 

 

Aside from rallying all the talent onstage into an impressive and affecting musical whole, the concert marked another rather stunning achievement: virtually the entire set had been recently written by the band specifically for the planetarium concert, and the show was a debut performance of that material. This ambitious undertaking harkens back to another recent Mlima project, the transformation of their 2016 New Year’s show at The Bluebird Theater in Denver into the band’s soon-to-be-released next album, which drops August 17th, 2017. Much like this show, the Fiske Planetarium set will now be taken into the studio and made into the group’s next album, which they plan to release just a couple of months after the upcoming Bluebird record. These are not going to be live albums, but rather present an interesting twist on the live album formula: write a set for a specific show, go perform that show, and then take the material into the studio. If another band has taken that approach in the past, I haven’t heard about it! 

The tradition among local bands playing Fiske Planetarium has been to gear their sets toward the starry, trippy background of projections against Fiske’s domed ceiling, and for both Mlima and openers Dandu, this concert was no exception. But make no mistake that both bands, while playing sets that definitely leaned toward a reflection of the psychedelic/spacey feel of the visuals, did not skimp on the funk and hard grooves. Fiske has a largely seated arrangement, but that didn’t stop people from getting out of those seats and dancing in the aisles during portions of the show. Since most of the music in Mlima’s set was new, I of course didn’t recognize most of the songs, but for being brand-new material, there was no sense of the band “rehearsing” the songs onstage. In fact, many of these songs came across as anthems one might remember from dreams, or from life in another galaxy. With titles like “Planet Borscht” and “Hallucination Rain,” there was a sense of not only the type of tripping-through-the-universe groove which might remind one of Pink Floyd at their “Astronomy Domine”/”Set The Controls For The Heart of the Sun” starry best, but also of the kind of mad fun one might find at a concert by Gogol Bordello, especially in the crazed performance of the Klezmer-party Mlima original “Kosher Dumpling,” which came near the end of the show and had Simms wandering among the audience honking on his baritone sax while audience members danced gleefully around him. 

The one song I definitely did recognize was their cover of the psyche-pop classic “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” which was Kenny Rogers’ first hit in 1968. Mlima did the song proud, ably abetted by Jessica Jones’ always soulful and hugely powerful voice. For as much as that girl gigs, I must admit rather shame-facedly that this was my first time catching a performance by her, and I was far from disappointed. Her vocals are indeed a local treasure, but then again, everyone in Mlima brought so much to the stage: Simms is an insanely watchable frontman and an excellent saxophonist, and all the other musicians displayed dazzling virtuosity while making it all look easy and ridiculously fun. They definitely made a fan of me, and I can’t wait to hear their two upcoming albums when they’re released nearly back-to-back later this year.  

I don’t know what Mlima were like when they started, but Barry Fey must have seen their potential when he arranged to have them open for The Disco Biscuits at Red Rocks during their first year as a band. It seems from that highly auspicious beginning, the band has truly grown into a full realization of that potential, and will go amazingly onward and upward from here: even the sky may not be the limit for this band.

Mlima play The Fox Theatre July 7th opening for Jaden Carlson and Broccoli Samurai. Tickets here. Keep up with Mlima on their Facebook.

-Will

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.  

Forward Funk: The Runnikine Release Debut Single + Hit Cervantes' with Joey Porter’s Shady Business

By: Will Baumgartner

Denver pop/funk/hip-hop fusion trio The Runnikine are something of a local “supergroup.” Keyboardist/vocalist Eric Luba plays with local funk/soul stars Analog Son, drummer Will Trask is in Great American Taxi, and bassist Jon McCartan is with rising Americana rock stars The Drunken Hearts. All of these bands are making a name for themselves nationally, and if there’s any justice in the music world, The Runnikine will soon follow in their footsteps.

The Runnikine. 

The Runnikine. 

For now though, the group is focusing on building a strong local following- and they’re doing that quite nicely, thank you. It doesn’t hurt that the members are gregarious fellows who, beyond their main gigs, play with anyone and everyone they can on the side: most music fans in the Denver/Boulder area know of these guys having seen them play at some of the area’s biggest all-star jam nights. The word is spreading among the musical and fan community that The Runnikine are a group to watch, and for good reason: Their music is powerful, innovative, and driven by solid grooves.

Laying the foundation for a move beyond local popularity requires coming out with a great recording, and The Runnikine are doing just that. “They Walk Among Us,” the first single from their upcoming debut EP (which is slated for a May release) is a gem. The song starts with block chords on the keyboard and kicks in with a solid hip-hop feeling backbeat; then Luba’s laid-back, pensive vocals reel out a picture of fearful mistrust and jingoism that, while it’s not overtly political, certainly speaks to the current political climate in Trump’s America. When I spoke with Luba about the song, he said it was actually written before the election and the anti-Muslim travel ban, making it an eerily prescient bit of songwriting.  

The verse moves through a couple of key modulations and more potent imagery before hitting the stark, simple chorus of the song’s title. I place a lot of stock in well-written lyrics, and have to say that the words to this song are very impressive with lines like, “They can’t see where they’re going/When their eyes are closed,” “It’s too late to run/They’re already here,” and “You tell me where we’re going/Just don’t say the war.” These words are carefully-chosen, chilling, and affecting. Musically, the song also bears the hallmarks of craftsmanship and thoughtful use of harmonics, dynamics, and melody. And the production, which was done by Josh Fairman of the local treasure of a recording studio known as Scanhope Sound in Littleton, is superb.

A song as well-crafted as this has me eagerly anticipating the release of the band’s full three-song EP, and fortunately I won’t have to wait long: May is just around the corner! In the meantime, we all have the opportunity to see The Runnikine live when they open for Joey Porter’s Shady Business this Friday, April 7 at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom in Denver. And speaking of supergroups, Shady Business features Porter, Garrett Sayers, Lyle Divinsky and Drew Sayers of The Motet, Kris Myers of Umphrey’s McGee, Jennifer Hartswick of Trey Anastasio Band, and Adam Smirnoff of Lettuce.

Aside from their hook-driven songs, The Runnikine are also highly adept at exciting live improvisation. That, after all, is how the band started- as a no-pressure side project for Luba and Trask when they were both in the Jaden Carlson Band. That was just a couple of years ago, and look how far they’ve come in such a short time. How far will they go? Hop on board with me, and let’s find out. Tickets to their Cervantes’ show are right here.

-Will

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

Millennial Wise: Chloe Tang’s 'Passion//Aggression'

By: Will Baumgartner

Louis CK, the brilliant comedian and social critic, has a bit in which he explains why a 50-year-old garbage man is more interesting than any 21-year-old with four degrees (or something to that effect). The bit is spot on, though like most philosophies, it does have its exceptions. Sometimes this baby boomer meets a millennial who feels wise beyond their years, and beyond “interesting” to the point of being rather fascinating. Though I haven’t met Chloe Tang in person, listening to her new EP Passion//Aggression is like meeting a young person who exceeds expectations and defies stereotypes.

Chloe Tang.

Chloe Tang.

The five-song disc begins quietly, and overall, the feel of the EP is just a bit more introspective than rocking. Still, each of the songs has a drive and momentum that’s infectious. “No One Will” has a lilting beginning, a building verse, and a breakaway chorus marked by its relatively stark instrumentation. Like several of the songs here, it’s about love gone awry, regret, and acknowledgement of the good in a sad situation. It’s a hallmark of all these songs that shows how a young woman can be wise: looking at herself as well as her lover, asking important questions, and sparing herself nothing in her reflections on the scene described. This girl pulls no punches, even when they’re aimed at herself.

The second song, “Electrified,” is one of my favorites for several reasons: as befits the title, it rocks at least as hard as any of the other tracks, it has a killer chorus, and I love a song that declares independence from a relationship that was more unhealthy than the other way around, or at least that’s what this listener got from the lyrics. Maybe Tang herself would tell me I read it wrong, but that’s another great thing about these songs: for the most part, her lyrics are sparsely imagistic and leave at least something to interpretation and imagination.

Watch Chloe Tang’s music video for “Forgive You Again”:

“Forgive You Again” is the release’s centerpiece, the first single, and there’s a great video you should watch: I defy any sentient person to resist choking up a little seeing it; I certainly did. The song itself is a power ballad with a kind message: “When ghosts return/we always learn to find a way to balance and burn/They will make you confess your worst and your best/but maybe they’ll forgive you again.” It’s an undeniably sweet and powerful song; it also features what’s been dubbed the “Millennial Whoop”: a wordless refrain that uses the fifth and third of a major scale. When I chatted with Chloe on the phone, I mentioned this, and she was genuinely surprised that she’d used this device she’d never even heard about. To me, that’s further proof that she is overall a genuine and sincere soul; there’s no guile in her songwriting, just a lot of heart, and a songwriter doesn’t exist who hasn’t used common devices like this, whether consciously or not.

“Tell Me I’m Wrong” returns to the theme of self-examination and self-confrontation. Like I said, Chloe pulls no punches with lines like, “My excuse is I wasn’t awake” and “I woke up every day with a lie and a bluff.” Again, it’s a song that begins quietly, builds through the verse, and hones in with a powerful chorus, like having a frank conversation with oneself.

The EP’s closer, “Till I Get Up,” is in a lot of ways the strongest song here. It begins with a groovy soul bassline and proceeds to rock righteously through the verse and chorus. The lyrics stress persistence through difficulties leading to a strong resolve, and the overall result is a song that feels like an anthem you want to shout along with. “It’s me against myself and all my ghosts;” “And it keeps pushing waiting for me to make a fuss/but I breathe, I breathe, I breathe till I get up.” Tell it, sister!  

Chloe Tang is indeed 21 years old, and I didn’t ask her much about her education, but I don’t think she has any degrees yet, let alone four: she currently studies songwriting at CU Denver, and went to a charter arts school in her native state of Arizona prior. She began playing piano and singing at the age of five, and started writing songs at about age 15. She grew up on folk (her Dad’s influence), is a fan of James Bay, Kaleo, Of Monsters and Men, and Amber Run, and has been lately getting into classic rock. She also confesses a love of “corny pop from the eighties.” I may not share all her tastes, but I’m sure we could have at least one long and fascinating conversation about music, and yes, about life: she might even teach me a thing or two! I’m definitely going to be at her EP release show at the Hi-Dive this Thursday March 9th because after listening to this young woman’s music, I just have to see what she does with it live. Join me; tickets here.

-Will

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood Are Bringing The Love to Denver This Thursday

By: Will Baumgartner

A consciousness shift is happening around the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. A handful of years ago, the most common response to hearing the band name might have been, “Oh, you mean the guy from The Black Crowes?” But today when I say, “Chris Robinson Brotherhood is coming to The Ogden this Thursday, February 2nd, and of course I’ll be going to the show,” I’ve been met with responses like, “I love that band! Can I go with?” or “I’ve heard their shows are great, I should get tickets to that too.”

Yes you should. CRB, as they’re affectionately known by fans, consistently deliver rousing and inspiring performances rich with not only high-level musicianship and song-craft, but also a sense of family, belonging, and welcome with every show. This spirit of openness and warmth is reflected in the titles of their two nearly back-to-back 2016 releases, 'Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel' and its companion EP from the same recording sessions, 'If You Lived Here, You Would Be Home by Now.' Released on July 29th and November 4th of last year respectively, CRB painted a two-paneled picture of a group of musicians and songwriters who manage to be hard-grooving, thoughtful, and fun all at once using a varied palette of musical styles and influences. Who wouldn't want to be in on one of their concert experiences and feel like they’re a part of that family?

Chris Robinson Brotherhood.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood.

CRB have been around since 2011, but the feel of their most current records, their first self-produced releases recorded on the side of Mount Tamalpais near San Francisco, are of a family that have grown together through extensive touring, collaborative songwriting, and endless conversations around meals cooked by band members. They visit record stores everywhere they go and stack their newly-purchased vinyl on their tour bus turntable every night. The group’s core: Chris Robinson on vocals and guitar, lead guitarist Neal Casal, and keyboardist Adam McDougal (who stepped over from The Black Crowes) have been together since the beginning, and are now all involved in the songwriting process. Drummer Tony Leone (Ollabelle) brings a touch of his jazz background to the grooves, and has also joined in on the songwriting, and bassist Jeff Hill holds it all together with a deeply soulful pocket.

Watch CRB play "Narcissus Soaking Wet" live:

The band’s latest recordings also show a group that has grown beyond its former identification as a Deadhead-type act into something richer and more difficult to pigeonhole into any simple genre classification. The cosmic funk of 'Anyway You Love...'’s opening track, “Narcissus Soaking Wet,” lets us know right away that the vistas have widened for CRB with echoes of Sly and The Family Stone and early Funkadelic wafting through the grooves. The lyrics, too, are far from simplistic, revealing a sociological awareness, an artful use of stream-of-consciousness imagery, and a sly humor that outstrips most jam-band lyrics by miles. Listening all the way through 'Anyway You Love' is a trip that takes you through a mid-60s-Dylan-esque time (think Highway 61 Revisited / Blonde On Blonde) with a stint into The Band-style Americana on “Ain’t It Hard But Fair,” more groovy and variegated scenery on “Give Us Back Our Eleven Days,” “Some Gardens Green,” “Leave My Guitar Alone,” and “Oak Apple Day,” (which is actually a song about CRB). The record then ends with the heartfelt, Gospel-soaked “California Hymn,” and as any good trip should always stop with near-religious feeling of wholeness and peace, this one certainly does.

If 'Anyway You Love' is an extended trek, 'If You Lived Here...' is a day trip into side roads and lesser-known destinations, some of them practically off the map. “New Cannonball Rag” has a swinging, rolling feel again reminiscent of some of The Band’s best stuff, “Roan County Banjo” goes from country-ish to almost discordant craziness at the end, and the jaunt continues through a few more changes in scenery to end on the gentle empathic kindness of “Sweet, Sweet Lullaby.”

Neal Casal. 

Neal Casal. 

In anticipation for this Thursday’s Ogden show, I recently got the chance to ask CRB guitarist Neal Casal some questions about the band, life on the road, and music in general. His answers shed more light on CRB’s latest sounds, and the inspirations behind their newest music:

It’s easy to see why the word “brotherhood” is part of your band name; there’s a clear feeling of love and community in your music. Do you feel that’s been growing the longer you’ve played together? 

The sense of community that The CRB promotes is definitely growing the longer we play together. We’re entering our seventh year as a band, and the seeds we planted back in 2011 are definitely showing flowers now, and it’s a nice thing to see. We have a great group of fan/friends/family across the country and we’re looking forward to another year of touring and visiting everyone. 

How do you feel that the in-studio writing process of 'Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel' affected the way the songs on the album turned out? 

It brought more immediacy to our process and applied some pressure to us, which turned out to be a good thing. Everyone hates deadlines but sometimes they can be good; they can force you to do things that maybe you wouldn’t have otherwise. 

I’d imagine that working with the relatively new rhythm section of Tony and Jeff has brought about some changes in the band’s overall feel. Has that felt like a pretty organic process? What do you think these guys have brought to CRB’s sound and vibe? 

Tony and Jeff have changed the sound of our band dramatically and brought so much musicality, fluidity, and versatility to our sound. I can’t say enough great things about these guys and how important they are to the sound, but also to the vibe of the band. With them, we can explore any kind of music we like, and there’s a sustainability to our future that we had never felt previously. 

I’ve seen some hopeful signs among the music community that people seem to be rediscovering a respect and appreciation for the album as an art form unto itself, and there’s definitely a feeling of intention in the way 'Anyway You Love' and 'If You Lived Here' are put together. Did the band spend a lot of time just looking at these releases as whole documents and shaping them accordingly, or was that more of a quick, intuitive thing? 

We’ve always approached records as complete documents because that’s how we grew up thinking of them, and that’s how we’ve always worked and always will work. There’s no rediscovering anything for us: this is our way of life.

I hear so many different possible influences in your playing that I’m not even going to bother speculating- so who have some of your biggest influences been on guitar? 

Malcolm Young, Magic Sam, Dickey Betts, Blind Owl Wilson, Robert Nighthawk, Mick Taylor, Ry Cooder, Clarence White, Nic Jones, Ollie Halsall, John Renbourn, Doc Watson, Scott Gorham, Julian Bream, Baden Powell, Leo Nocentelli, Randy RhoadsFreddie King, Mississippi John Hurt, Jim Hall, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and of course, the great Gabor Szabo.

On an average afternoon, or an evening off, what might be a handful of albums you’d be listening to? 

Incredible String Band - The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter
Magic Sam - Black Magic 
Charlie Rich- The Essential Charlie Rich
Ronnie Lane - Anymore For Anymore
Cass McCombs - Mangy Love
Bobby Hutchinson - Components
Kacy And Clayton - Strange Country
Eddie Bo - Hook And Sling
Kimono My House - Sparks

CRB. Photo Credit: Stuart Levine

CRB. Photo Credit: Stuart Levine

Your songwriting relationship with Chris has clearly grown over the years. When you first joined, was it more of a thing where he brought in the songs and you just played leads, or have you worked together on songs since the beginning? 

We worked on songs together from day one and have always cultivated our writing partnership. He had some songs he’d written on his own and will always do that, but we really enjoy writing songs together and it’s a big part of our work flow. 

There’s a quote from Chris I read recently, “These are our services when we play our music.” I love that because it evokes a church-like atmosphere, and while I’ve never been “religious,” there’s an undeniable power in church services- a sense of people collectively reaching for some power bigger than themselves, and a joyousness in that collective effort. How does The CRB engage and work with the audience to get that feel?

Human beings are made of music; it’s as ancient and innate in us as anything can be. So we’re just taking part in this time-honored ritual of invoking it, and stirring it in people. We’re just a reminder to let you know that’s it’s there inside, and needs to be related to. The muse is not something to be ignored, in anyone, ever. It needs expression in the form of dancing, singing, or just hanging out and listening and being a greater part of your community. So we’re just here to help that process along. 

Any special treats or surprises planned for this Thursday? Have have you guys ever played The Ogden before? 

We’ve never played The Ogden, so we’re really excited about that. Denver was one of the first cities that really took us in during our earlier years, so it’s always a special place for us. 

After you wrap up your current tour in New Orleans on March 31st, what’s next?

More touring throughout the year, and we’re releasing a new record later this year as well. Looking forward to it all!

CRB tour often and are well into their latest journey, so this Thursday is a great time to catch them live and join the party! They hit The Ogden Theater in Denver this Thursday, February 2nd (I’ll be there!), and continue on to The Center for the Arts in Crested Butte this weekend, The State Room in Salt Lake City next week, Sheridan Opera House in Telluride 2/10-2/11, and The Belly Up in Aspen on 02/12. Their tour will continue through New Mexico, Alabama, California, Nevada, and West Virginia, wrapping up at one of their favorite gatherings, Hogs For The Cause, in New Orleans on March 31st. Stay tuned because CRB are already recording a new album, and I, for one, can’t wait to hear it.  

-Will

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

"Praise The Funk!": The Pamlico Sound's CD Release Party for 'Jive Church'

“Praise the Funk!” The Reverend EverReady (also known as Will Baumgartner) preached in his pre-show sermon last weekend. And The Pamlico Sound will have you doing exactly that. Throughout their CD release party at Boulder’s The Lazy Dog, the band played tight party funk interspersed with “sermons” from members Ghana Queen (LaShá Afarko) and The Reverend EverReady. At one point, The Reverend even pulled out a water spritzer and “baptized the congregation in the funk”. If that doesn’t prove this band’s energy, let me tell you more about why this is an act you should see:

TPS will have your butt shaking with a funk reminiscent of James Brown meets Larry Graham plus a heavily featured and superb brass section. Mark Wilkolak holds the trombone with an energetically engaging and lighthearted presence that will have you smiling from ear to ear. His brother Matt, who jumps onstage from time to time, turns heads with his trumpet shreds. Maus Nomdeguerre tears up the saxophone with the most badass, old school jazz/blues aura you will ever see, while Greg Leistikow dances on the keys elegantly. Jimmy Giachetti rips on guitar with an otherworldly feel, and Mark Dabrowski holds down some funkin’ funky bass lines. And all the while, The Reverend EverReady leads the band with a multi-instrumental show, playing the baritone and soprano saxophones and the flute. He also shares vocals with Ghana Queen, whose silky-smooth voice paired with her magnetic stage presence will have you grooving throughout the band’s entire set. And last, but certainly not least, one of the best drummers in town is Curtis Collazo, who sits on his throne and bangs out supernaturally intricate rhythms.

The Reverend EverReady. Photo Credit:  Miles Photography

The Reverend EverReady. Photo Credit: Miles Photography

The band’s new EP, Jive Church, showcases the band’s skill set from start to finish. The opening track, “Getcha Self”, is aptly placed at the start of the album as a call to action for people to “Getcha Self UP!” Following this track are “I Know Good”, “Let’s Funk”, and "Here Comes the Devil", keeping the mood light. Finally, “Dancin off the Wall” finishes out the album as another high-energy tune.

The Pamlico Sound. Photo Credit:  Miles Photography

The Pamlico Sound. Photo Credit: Miles Photography

This is a band who plays tight, and who is engaging to experience. They’ve got their sound dialed-in and their performance (both musically and in-between songs) is well-practiced. Keep up with The Pamlico Sound on their Facebook. And make sure to check out their next CD Release Show for Jive Church on October 13th at Ophelia's.

-Clinton

All photos per Miles Photography. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat. 

Colorado Duo Niya & Kris Set Out On Tour For New Album Release

By: Will Baumgartner

Niya Nolting grew up singing in church choirs in New Orleans. At 16, she joined her first band, which led to her to being voted one of NOLA’s top “Women in Rock”... until they found out her age and disqualified her. But it was too late: Niya had been bitten by the performance bug, and has remained in love with singing and sharing her music ever since. While attending CU Boulder, Niya enjoyed some local recognition with her jazz band, Niya and the Satellites. She stayed in Colorado, met and married guitarist Kris Nickeson in a ceremony at Red Rocks, and released the album 'Through the Matter' in 2013, with a band calling itself simply “Niya”. The all-too-familiar pressures and difficulties of maintaining a full band led to the current stripped-down sound of the duo Niya & Kris, which is Niya’s most current project.

This Saturday, September 24th, Niya & Kris will perform at Westminster’s Orchard Arts Festival, and from there, they set out on tour. Their new album, 'Beneath the Watermark', will be released song by song starting this Christmas, with videos accompanying each track. The duo’s first single will be “Where the Rain Held Weight”. Niya’s music reflects her entire history, with influences from rock, jazz, and New Orleans swamp soul. I recently had the chance to discuss Niya’s diverse and powerful sound with her in a conversation that really dug into the hardship and beauty that gives rise to her music. Check it out for yourself:

How did growing up in New Orleans and singing in church affect who you are as a singer and songwriter?

Having New Orleans woven into the fabric of my music challenges me as a singer, but at the same time helps me relax into something familiar and true. The challenge is to always remember that spiritual base that brought me to singing by keeping faith and conviction in the words and message I am conveying with my voice. Today, this emotional honesty is a soul-baring process that takes me on a journey through the fear of opening up to the satisfaction of having done it. Having been exposed to so many styles of music growing up has made me eclectic as a singer, and I feel at home singing everything from blues, to rock, to jazz and soul because in a way, New Orleans lives through me.     

You joined your first band at 16. Did you get hooked on performing outside of church right away?

Yes. I remember the moment I fell in love with making music. It felt just like falling in love with a person. It was in my bass player’s garage and we were playing U2's song “Bad”. A feeling washed over me like I was somewhere else; a new place I had never been before. Now, I look for that place: a calm inside the music every time I play, and that’s when I know I’m doing it right. [It’s a feeling that] can be hard to gauge when you’re onstage, but in my experience, the only way to know you've engaged the audience is when that switch has been flipped inside of you.

Niya & Kris.

Niya & Kris.

You had a jazz band, Niya and the Satellites, when you were at CU. How did that group come together? What led you from rock to jazz?

I put a sign up in the CU auditorium looking for players, and my buddy Robbie Stiefel answered. He’s an amazing guitarist with an old-school country blues style of playing, which fit well with my eclectic vocals. My daughter had a friend in school whose dad played piano, Bill Giebler. His piano became the heart of the music we produced together, and the three of us became quite a writing trio. My rock style went to the wayside because the jazz needed room to grow, and my musical style expanded because of it. The songs coming out on my next album were mostly written with this crew.

After Niya and the Satellites, you went back to rock. Did that have anything to do with the sad fact that jazz is so underappreciated in America, the country where the form was born?

The blues/rock/soul album I released in 2013, Through the Matter, was composed of music I had written before the Satellites that I needed to get out. It made sense at the time to go back to what I had been doing on my own before the jazz. Now, I [play all styles] in my shows with my husband Kris Nickeson. His jazz/funk background has brought me back to where I need to be, which is right in the middle of rock and jazz. Being a duo allows the music to be free from style restrictions, because no matter what you play, you sound like two people playing on a porch somewhere.  

Album artwork for  Through the Matter .

Album artwork for Through the Matter.

Do you find musical pleasures in this two-piece, stripped-down approach?  

The songs from Through The Matter are as beautiful and fun to play as a duet as they were with a full band. I can play them alone, as a duet, or with a full band and the story stays the same. I am loving the duet approach because we can hear and play off of each other better while enjoying our companionship as husband and wife, singer and guitarist, music lovers, and friends. There is nothing more exciting than holding down the rhythm while my husband rips out an amazing solo. It has made me a better guitarist, singer, and percussionist since I get to do all three.

You’re releasing your next album, 'Below the Watermark', song by song, with a video to accompany each song. That’s quite a project! What was behind your decision to adopt this ambitious approach?   

The music world has become more visual with YouTube and Facebook the way it used to be with MTV. Personally, I love that. It has pushed me to learn video production, which I find I truly enjoy as much as making music. Both of my grandmothers were painters, and I loved to draw before I was lured into the music world. So now, I feel like I’m going back to my roots in a way, and can convey my ideas with more of my talents. It is ambitious, which is why it takes time, but each song will be like its own little album, a piece of the bigger picture. I can see all the videos and music complete in my mind as I perform them at Red Rocks one day, which is a dream my husband and I both share. He asked me to marry him there; it would be amazing to come full circle and see that dream complete.   

You told me in an earlier conversation that your new tunes have a more “swampy, New Orleans vibe” than the songs on 'Through the Matter'. Was that a direct result of the fact that, on at least some of these songs, you were writing about your family and the hurricane? Did you write any of the songs in New Orleans?

The “new stuff” is really what I wrote with the Satellites, and now it is finally coming to the light. Below the Watermark is a compilation of songs dedicated to my family, and much of it is about living there and what it felt like to go through something life-changing with my family. I was living in Colorado when [the hurricane] happened, but my heart was with them when I wrote this music. “Below the Watermark”, the album’s title track, is a fan favorite, and “Where the Rain Held Weight” is another. This record has been a long time coming because honestly, it took that long for our hearts to heal. I want this music to be a celebration of our family and all the New Orleans families that endured and persevered through tragedy.

I know this can be a tough one for any artist, but can you tell our readers, in a few words, what the essence of your music is, and what you hope listeners will take away from it?

Life is hard and beautiful. My intention is to bring myself and those who choose to journey with me through the hard parts to something beautiful. I’m using the power of my voice and the rhythm of my words to bring listeners with me to that calm place; the one I’m always trying to reach when I perform. It's that same magical place that I found in the church choir, in the garage band, and now in our husband/wife duet. It seems a waste to keep that to myself, so I share it in hopes of making people feel better and less alone.

Tell us a little about The Orchard Arts Festival and what we can expect from your set this Saturday?

Westminster has an amazing arts community in its historic downtown. The Orchard Arts Festival highlights local musicians and artists, and I am excited to be one of them. We play from 11:30AM-12:30PM, but the festival opens at 10AM. We will kick off our set with tunes from Through the Matter, and some old blues by popular artists like Elvis. I'll pepper in some swampy jazz tunes from our upcoming album too. I’m also paying tribute to a female artist that left us too soon, but in order to know who that is, you'll have to come see and hear for yourself!

What’s next for Niya & Kris?

Our master plan is to tour the world together playing music, while expanding our repertoire and performing shows that are studies of past artists. To be diversified is to live in this business, so we are writing shows that will showcase artists from the past like Billie Holiday. We’ll perform some of their songs, tell stories about their lives, and shed some light on the origins of music and why it drives people like us to dedicate our lives to performing. We are starting by expanding in Colorado, with more shows throughout the state, and in neighboring states. Our first mini-tour starts in Moab, Utah and will end at a house party in Logan. More dates and places will be added as we go along. Eventually, all roads lead to Red Rocks; at least that is our underlying prayer: to show our love for one another and the music that we create in the most beautiful music venue on Earth.

Make sure to see Niya & Kris this Saturday at The Westminster Orchard Arts Festival. Details on the event can be found here.

Keep up with Niya & Kris on their website.

-Will

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

The Pamlico Sound Release New EP 'Jive Church' & Announce Two Colorado CD Release Shows

By: Hannah Oreskovich

Boulder’s funk/soul outfit The Pamlico Sound recently announced that they will be releasing a new five-song EP titled Jive Church. After jumping back into the local music scene with a bang (the band went on hiatus in 2014 and returned to the mix in 2015), The Pamlico Sound have had a busy year. With headlining shows at major venues across Colorado, TPS decided it was finally time to head back to the studio for some new tunes.

Jive Church was recorded live with engineer/producer Joshua Fairman (The New Mastersounds, Atomga) and mastering was done by David Glasser. Recorded at Colorado’s Scanhope Sound, TPS promises Jive Church will give fans “what they’re waiting for!” Said member Will Baumgartner, “Jive Church is a distillation of the essence of The Pamlico Sound: infectious high-energy vocals and horns over a solid bedrock of pure funk, and a sense of humor and freedom unmatched by any band you're likely to have ever heard.”

Listen to The Pamlico Sound’s new EP Jive Church:

 

Jive Church showcases main TPS members Ghana Queen (LaShá Afarko) on vocals, and The Reverend EverReady (Will Baumgartner) on vocals, sax, flute, and harmonica. Scott Parker Mast (Los Lobos, Euforquestra) guested percussion on the recording, and will play live with the band at their Ophelia’s CD Release Show on 10/13/16.

The Pamlico Sound.

The Pamlico Sound.

The Pamlico Sound will actually host two CD release shows for Jive Church, the first being this Saturday, September 24th, at The Lazy Dog, and the second being their Ophelia’s gig in October. Said The Reverend EverReady, “At the CD release shows, we promise not only a continuation of the joyful madness experienced in past shows, including the legendary 'Jive Church Experience', complete with soul-stirring shout-alongs and 'Funk Baptisms', but new pleasures as well, including special guests.”

There will even be a Funk Costume Contest at each show, and the winner will receive a TPS t-shirt and their own copy of Jive Church. Make sure to get more details on these release shows by checking out The Pamlico Sound’s Facebook. And give Jive Church a groovy listen for yourself above!

-Hannah

Follow Hannah on Instagram and Twitter.

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

Refueled and Ready For Liftoff: Booster’s Front Range Funk/Fusion Sound Rises to a New Level

By: Will Baumgartner

Boulder-based “funk/fusion/rocket fuel” quartet Booster have been one of my favorite local groups for awhile. I first caught them at The Lazy Dog in early 2015, drawn by curiosity and loyalty to old friends who had also been my musical cohorts (bassist Alex Vouri and drummer Mike Lehman had both played in The Pamlico Sound with me). What I heard at that first show was satisfying and exciting beyond anything I could have expected: the duo, with their first keyboardist Aaron Pettine (now of Envy Alo, who we last covered for BolderBeat here), were simply on fire with funky/jazzy compositions, infectious energy, and top-level musicianship. When trumpeter Les Miller joined a couple of months later, it was like their rocket ship had burst through a whole new level of space, breaking some unknown sound barrier, and I went from ardent supporter to rabid fan of the band. I wanted more; all I could get of Booster’s sounds. Then, toward the end of 2015, Pettine announced that he would be leaving the group to focus on Envy Alo, and I was (as I’m sure other fans were too) greatly disheartened. Alex Vouri told me they were going to get someone new in on keys, but I wondered how anyone could fill Aaron’s shoes. Still, I told myself to just wait and see.

As it turned out, all I needed was a little patience and faith: Booster are about to do their first show with new keyboardist Evan Morris, and as Alex said to me in a conversation a little while back, “this guy is straight fire”. There’s nothing like taking an already great band and bringing in some new blood and creativity. And so, on the eve of a new dawn for the exploratory vehicle known as Booster, I was more than excited to have a conversation with Alex Vouri and Les Miller about what the group’s been up to and what to expect from the band next:

I’ve been a Booster fan since the beginning, which wasn’t all that long ago, and have seen you grow and change a lot in a short time. What were the circumstances of the group’s formation, and how have things changed since then?

Alex: Well, it started as most groups do- I wanted to form a group to perform instrumental music that would be equally fun to listen or dance to; good for the brain and the booty, ya know? So I called up our drummer Mike Lehman, we jammed a few times just the two of us, and then we started bringing in players we knew and already had chemistry with. Mike brought Aaron in on keys and after a few shows, we felt we could really use some solid top end melodic focus, so we brought Les Miller in on trumpet.

Alex Vouri of Booster. 

Alex Vouri of Booster. 

For your first year or so, your keyboardist was Aaron Pettine, and I know y’all loved working with him. Now that your lineup has changed, you seem super excited about new keys player Evan Morris. How has bringing him into the band affected your overall scenario?

Alex: Evan is a monster player, and a perfect fit for Booster. His phrasing and voicings really open up the tonal pallet when we improvise, which allows us to be more harmonically complex, and at the same time, a little looser in feel since there are so many paths to choose from. He really dropped right in chemistry-wise, and it feels as if he’s always been here! He’s a good guy too, which is always nice.

One of the most interesting and impressive things about this band is the way each instrument- bass, drums, trumpet, and keys- feels like a lead instrument, yet fits into an organic sound. Do you all take active roles in composing?

Alex: Being a quartet without vocals or a familiar focal point is deliberate; we’re very much a traditional jazz quartet lineup of horn, keys, bass, and drums. We want to spread the focus evenly across the band, allowing each player to feel fulfilled and invested. In a band of such great players, it’s pretty easy to do! In terms of working up material, it’s definitely a group effort. Sometimes someone will have a pretty specific arrangement for a tune and sometimes not, but everyone is typically in charge of their part or contribution: we don’t micro-manage each other’s playing.

Les Miller of Booster.

Les Miller of Booster.

I hear echoes of a lot of familiar sounds and styles within the Booster sound: Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis come to mind, but I’m sure there must be many influences at work here. Who have some of your main influences been, both compositionally and in your individual styles as players?

Alex: Herbie and Miles are right on for sure, I also really love Jaco Pastorius, Grant Green, Christian McBride; all the greats. Weather Report is a big influence for me in terms of instrumental quartets, and Critters Buggin too. They’re one of my all-time faves in terms of chops and pure originality.

Les: My main influences improvisationally are Lee Morgan, Maceo Parker, Jerry Garcia, & as you mentioned, Miles Davis. I really enjoy the 1968-69 output of Miles, and I think albums such as Miles in the Sky, Filles de Kilimanjaro, and of course Bitches Brew have influenced Booster’s sonic direction. It’s interesting to note that the keyboard player on those albums is the other player mentioned in your question, Herbie Hancock.

Mike Lehman of Booster. 

Mike Lehman of Booster. 

Your music is richly rewarding on both an intellectual level and a visceral one: musicians get plenty to appreciate in terms of skill and complexity, while your average concertgoer gets a solid dose of dance music. Has this been a conscious thing? How do you approach creating music like this?

Alex: Yeah, that’s always a goal for me personally. It’s good for everyone at a show. It’s important as a player to be interested and invested in what you’re doing, while at the same time not becoming totally self-gratifying, and alienating your listeners, which can happen in a chops-heavy improvisational band.

Les: I’ve wanted a band like this for a long time, one that combines in-the-pocket groove playing of funk music (making it eminently danceable), the harmonic complexity of jazz & Western romantic traditions, and the rich, constantly expanding sonic palette available to musicians today.

You’re an entirely instrumental band, but since you’re also clearly a band that keeps expanding its concepts moving restlessly forward, I’m curious: Have you considered adding vocals at any point in the future?

Les: No plans for a permanent vocalist, but we have some guest vocalist ideas brewing.  And I’ve been known to drop a mean 16 on very rare occasions.

You began as a trio, with drums bass and keys, then added trumpet. Any chance of the group expanding beyond its current quartet form? And if so, what other instruments might you bring in?

Alex: I think we’ve struck an ideal balance for ourselves instrumentally. We all have just enough room, but we do love having folks sit in with us, that’s always a good time.

Les: I’m very happy with our current lineup. That being said, I have a long history of playing in horn sections with a sax player, so if Skerik wanted to join the band, I think we’d become a quintet pretty quickly.

Ha! Who wouldn’t say yes to Skerik (legendary saxophonist of Garage a Trois etc.) joining their funk fusion group? So… If Skerik came asking what y’all were like, what would you say? What’s your vision? Can you give our readers a capsule version of the “Booster Manifesto”?

Alex: We’re a band in which each player is free to do whatever they want. No limits, no preconceptions, no particular concrete goal or genre is in mind. We’re not trying to corner a market, we all just really love to make music we’re proud of, and want to grow as players and artists together, while putting on a good show of course! But in terms of a description? Funky, high energy, jazzy, adventurous… it’s always changing.

I’m very excited for your performances this week, starting tonight at Boulder’s Southern Sun followed by this Saturday’s Vine Street show in Denver. Can we expect any special treats at these gigs?

Alex: Yeah! The unveiling of Booster 2.0! Our sound has really changed, and we’re excited to share that with people. We’re very invigorated right now. We’ll have a lot of new tunes, and probably some special guests!

What’s on the horizon for Booster? Anything our readers should know about in advance, or would you rather milk the mystery?

Les: After this week, we have a show lined up at The Fox this fall, and are planning dates in Denver, Fort Collins, and all around the Front Range. We are excited to share the new tunes being forged in our rehearsal space, “The Launchpad”, and we can guarantee song breakouts at every show over the next few months! We play mostly original music, but will continue the tradition of surprising the crowd with a cover medley occasionally. In fact, I’m arranging two new ones right now. I won’t reveal both, but I will say that it is a nearly impossible task to choose just two or three favorite Steely Dan tunes, and we will probably invite our fans to choose an artist they’d like to hear us perform in the near future.

Make sure to check out the re-formed and re-charged Booster tonight at Southern Sun, and this Saturday at Vine Street Pub in Denver. Get the details on both events on Booster’s Facebook; keep up with the band on their website here.

-Will

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured, No Coast, and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

It Goes Beyond: An Imaginary “Interview” and "Concert" Review with The Itchy-O Marching Band

By: Will Baumgartner

Denver's Itchy-O are one crazy awesome crew. 

PART ONE: THE “INTERVIEW”

I’m in my apartment waiting for The Itchy-O Marching Band to arrive for our interview. I don’t really know what to expect. I’ve heard a lot about them, seen a few photos, and heard their music. I know they can be kinda weird interview subjects because I heard them live on KGNU recently, and when the DJ asked them questions, she was answered by electronically distorted voices delivering cryptic messages which seemed to come from another dimension. What I don’t expect is… what happens.

First, drums. A whole LOT of drums. I hear them before I see them. In fact, I can’t see much at all at first, because my apartment goes dark. Then, BOOM! From somewhere outside the walls, somewhere in the hall, the pounding of drums- a whole lot of them: pounding polyrhythms coming for me. It’s a little spooky, maybe, this invasion of the unknown, but really, it’s a lot more exciting than any kind of scary. There’s something absolutely irresistible in this mystery.

The Itchy-O Marching Band. Photo Credit: Patrick Anderson

The Itchy-O Marching Band. Photo Credit: Patrick Anderson

Then, simultaneously, two things happen: electronics and lights. It’s still pretty dark in my apartment, but as my eyes begin to adjust, I see dark figures (they’re all dressed in black from head to toe, with face-covering masks, black suits, and, on some of them, giant black mariachi hats). I hear, from some other place or universe, sounds coming from what I can only describe as… I don’t know, “intergalactic radios”? All of these sounds, as disparate as they may seem if they were listened to separately or picked apart mentally, are actually working together to create something which is, undeniably, music.

And then there are the lights. Rings of tiny red lights glowing on the brims of the mariachi hats, and other, bigger lights shining from various corners of my apartment. The drumming becomes more insistent and even more polyrhythmic and… WHOA! Suddenly there are lights all over the dang place: pulsing strobes here, sweeping searchlights there, lights worn by the members of the band on their costumes, and, on one end of my apartment, a tower which emits a Tesla-like, crackling, twisting band of electricity. It is now when it becomes more and more clear to me that Itchy-O, while knowing that I had wanted to talk with them, have come to do anything but talk. No, what they want to do is… DANCE!

Sombreros.

Sombreros.

And their want travels to me just like that: This sudden, unavoidable demand and need to dance. I can’t resist it; who could? I’m dancing! How very delightful!! And better yet, I’m dancing with the band!!! They wear giant megaphone-like speakers on their backs, they play drums banded on their torsos which they carry around the room with them while they play various electronic setups also attached to their bodies like food vendors wandering the crowd at a baseball game (or something like that), One member even has a portable Theremin that he carries in front of him; another rides a freakin’ BIKE around my apartment with a computerized music-making setup on the front and a giant megaphone speaker on the back. Some of these lovable freaks are just dancers with no drums or electronic gear or speakers and, wait, look over there! Here comes a big shaggy, sparkly dog-dragon-like-creature, which puts my befuddled and bedazzled mind into some Chinese/Mexican carnival setting. And all the while, the music just keeps playing and swirling while the drums keep pounding and layering, and…

Well, you get the idea. (Or do you?)

Despite the volume of the music, and the fact that all of the Itchy-O members mouths are covered by their masks (all I can see are their eyes), I attempt to begin some semblance of an interview.

WB: This is quite an experience, and it makes me wonder where it all started. What can you tell me about the origins of Itchy-O?

I-O: ____________________

WB: Umm… Okay. Well can you give me some idea of your influences and inspirations?

I-O: _______________________________________ (accompanied by what looks like a smirk of the eyes).

WB: Well, sheesh. We’re not getting very far with this, are we?

I-O: (Gives me the grinning eyes) (Shoves me gently, playfully)

WB: Ah, why do I bother trying to talk to you?

I-O: (shrugs!)

WB: (slightly frustrated, while undeniably still amused; charmed even) Are you intentionally messing with me? Just to get on my nerves, or… or make me feel foolish??

I-O: (shakes head “No!” emphatically) (Grabs me and hugs me- hard!!!)

And so what do I do? Well, what can I do? I surrender, give up on my insistent and rather silly idea of an “interview”, and helpless to resist the pull of the music and Itchy-O’s exhortations to resume the dance, I resume the dance. And it’s wonderful, isn’t it? Oh yes. Yes it is.

*********

PART TWO: THE "CONCERT" REVIEW

The experience described above, while it obviously didn’t “really happen” to me (OR DID IT?), does (I hope) give you, Dear Reader, some idea of what an Itchy-O “concert” is like. At least, the one I went to recently at Denver’s own Home of the Weird (Oddball Haven? Misfits Paradise?), the 3 Kings Tavern. I’d been wanting to catch an Itchy-O’s “show” for awhile, and when it was all over, I was… how shall I put this? I was DELIRIOUSLY HAPPY that I’d gone.

Yes. That’s what I meant to say. Capitals intentional.

Drums. Photo Credit: Patrick Anderson

Drums. Photo Credit: Patrick Anderson

You probably noticed that I put the words “concert” and “show” in quotes. Why? Well, because it’s hard to know what earthly terminology can accurately encapsulate what I was so deliriously, happily engulfed in that night. Itchy-O’s aggregation of 20 to 30 musicians and dancers doesn’t so much “perform” for an “audience” as they do invite everyone who’s there with them to become part of something bigger- much bigger- than the sum of its parts. Itchy-O goes beyond “audience participation” to the point that it’s really difficult to tell who’s putting on the “show”. And that, I think, is the whole point. Itchy-O simply goes beyond. And they insist that we come with them.

Of all these drummers, electronics players and dancers, only four or five of them were onstage: the rest of the group wandered incessantly through the crowd, engaging us all in dancing, playful interaction, etc. A few times, Itchy People (my own term) would come up behind me and play with my pork pie hat, bobbing it around on my head or taking it off of my head and putting it on someone else- and I didn’t mind, not a bit! You can feel the love and the sense of delightful mischief in everything they do; it just makes the experience that much more fun.

3 Kings Crowd.

3 Kings Crowd.

The Itchy People had no qualms whatsoever about coming up and dancing with us. At one point, I was dancing really hard (with my wool pea coat still on), and felt cool air up inside of my coat. I opened my eyes (they’d been closed; I was so into it) and saw that one of the Itchy People was doing this, using some hairdryer-type thing to cool me off. Yikes. How cool is that?

So for heaven's sake, let’s get Itchy-O up here to B-Town SOON because really, until you’ve gone where they go (into another universe?), you truly don’t know what you’re missing. You’d swear you were in some kind of heaven- one way beyond your wildest imaginings. And if you have any dancing bones in your body, well.. Oh boy. You’ll definitely be dancing.

Watch a live Itchy-O performance:

-Will

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

The Pamlico Sound: Get Baptized in Funk This Saturday at The Lazy Dog

By: Hannah Oreskovich

Boulder's TPS are back in the game. 

Funk, soul, and psychedelia. That’s what Boulder’s The Pamlico Sound is all about. Formed in 2010, TPS has shared the stage with acts like Orgone, Kung Fu, Rowdy Shadehouse, The Magic Beans, and Technicolor Tone Factory. The eight-piece outfit have played The Fox, The Boulder Theater, The Bluebird, The Oriental, and many other local favorite spots. In 2014, the band took a hiatus as members worked on other projects, but they want you to know something Boulder: They’re Back! The Pamlico Sound will be throwing one crazy dance party at The Lazy Dog this Saturday, complete with a new killer rhythm section, an explosion of energy, and their “Jive Church” experience (just keep reading and it will all make sense soon young ones). In anticipation for the show, we sat down with the driving force behind the band, Will Baumgartner (vocals/baritone and soprano sax/flute/harmonica) to chat more about TPS and their plans for a 2016 takeover! Keep reading:

So Will, talk to us more about the “Jive Church” concept that TPS and their fans have been raving about since the band’s reformation. We’ve heard good things.

Glad you asked! The Jive Church basically turns our shows into an interaction between Pastor Will B (aka me, The Reverend Ever Ready), the Deacons (band members), Ghana Queen (our female vocalist), and the Congregation (audience) like so: As the pastor/reverend, I ask emphatically, “Can I get a ‘Hell Yeah’ from the Deacons?!”, to which the people onstage reply even more vigorously, “HELL YEAH!” Then, I turn to the audience: “Can I get a ‘Hell Yeah’ from the CONGREGATION?!” This often escalates to urgent calls of “Can I get a ‘F*CK YEAH?!’” And so on… Then, at least once during the show (usually toward the middle and the end), we offer a Funk Baptism, which consists of encouraging members of the Congregation to come to the edge of the stage (or up onto the stage itself), to be sprayed with Funky Holy Water (it’s a lot more sanitary than it sounds) while they writhe and contort in the Holy Spirit of the Funk. Our shows are also spiced up by brief “sermons” from me, Pastor Will/Reverend Ever Ready.

Wow. You literally spray people with Funky Holy Water and they love it?! I’m intrigued and impressed. Are you planning a lot of Funk Baptisms for Saturday’s show at The Lazy Dog? What else are you guys excited about?

Dang, that’s a GOOD QUESTION! In no particular order: Returning to our favorite small club in the homietown; our first show with new member (on trombone and vocals) Thom Holum; our second show with new drummer Curtis Collazo; the great likelihood of having some old friends/local luminaries sit in with the band; periodic stage diving into the arms of our beloved homiefans…

The Pamlico Sound bringing a funkadelic party to any show almost feels like an understatement for the picture my mind is making from all of this…

Yeah- we started out playing rager parties on the Hill to delirious hordes of sweaty wild-eyed lunatics, and that’s still how we approach every show: if you’re not sweaty, wild-eyed and delirious, you’ve mistakenly wandered into another show by a band of impostors. We are here to make you (and ourselves) feel ridiculously happy and free. And aside from the Jive Church shenanigans mentioned above, we always do things like sending the horn players out to wander amidst the crowd and play directly to them, “walk the bar” and so on; we also are known to frequently leap offstage and dance with crowd, and invite audience members to come onstage to sing and  dance with us.

The Pamlico Sound. Photo Credit:   Miles Photography

The Pamlico Sound. Photo Credit: Miles Photography

It sounds like to get the full TPS experience, we’ve got to come to a live show. We can’t wait! Beyond the insanity planned to rock the LD, what’s on deck for The Pamlico Sound in 2016?

We plan to give up sugar and coffee, participate in beauty pageants, and save kittens from trees. After we’ve done all that, we are planning to record all our new songs with Josh Fairman at Scanhope Sound (Josh has recently recorded/produced/mixed/mastered albums by The New Mastersounds, Atomga, and Analog Son, among others.) We’re also in the planning stages for our next Funkstravaganza, which is where we choose our favorite local funk bands and throw a big fat dance party with them at Cervantes’ in Denver. That will probably be happening in March or April. We’re also looking at festivals and regional tours.

Awesome! Anything else you want to tell us before Saturday, Pastor Will B?

Bring us your wired, your floored, your hugging bastards longing to be Flea.

Funk yeah. See you there Beaters.

Join the FB event here.

Watch The Pamlico Sound perform in the Radio1190 Studio here:

-Hannah

Follow Hannah on Instagram and Twitter.

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.