The Afghan Whigs: In Spades Tour 2017 [Concert Review] 0 452

The Afghan Whigs: In Spades Tour 2017 [Concert Review] 0 453

The Afghan Whigs: Bogarts, Cincinnati, Ohio – Sept. 28, 2017

Any time the Afghan Whigs return to play Cincinnati, it’s going to have the feel of a homecoming, and it certainly did last Thursday night at Bogart’s. For lead singer and primary songwriter, Greg Dulli, born and raised in Hamilton, attended U of C, and even worked for a couple years at Bogart’s doing production and security in the 80’s, this was a return to his roots, and he paused mid-set to make the obligatory shout out to his Mom & Dad, as well as The Curley’s, the family of the Whigs’ other remaining original member, bassist John Curley.

Dulli, who didn’t talk all that much during the band’s 80-minute set, had also acknowledged the passing of guitarist Dave Rosser, who died back in June of colon cancer. Dulli said Rosser had played beside him for years, back in the Twilight Singers, and since the Afghan Whigs reunited in 2014, but he didn’t mention this to bring down the crowd. While he was missed, Dulli assured the packed house, the band wanted to celebrate his life and love of music every time they played. And that it was, but given the dark, heavy music on the band’s latest releases it started out as a “black celebration,” to borrow a phrase from Depeche Mode.

Dulli entered alone to sing “Birdland” over the orchestrated soundtrack from the band’s latest album, In Spades. The band entered as the brief piece reached its conclusion, and launched into “Arabian Heights,” just as it appears on the album, followed by “Matamoros,” “Debonair” and “Light As a Feather,” starting each one before the previous song had ended in silence. From the start the band hit it hard and heavy, with Dulli on guitar, together with lead player John Skibic, and multi-instrumentalist Rick G. Nelson also on guitar for the most part, although he played violin on “Debonair,” and as the night wore on moved skillfully from guitar to violin, cello, electric piano and synthesizer.

Clearly, Dulli feels really strongly about that “no flash” rule for phones and cameras that was displayed around the venue, and came with a warning by a roadie prior to the show not to “be that guy” who ruins the show for everybody. And, of course, “that guy” was not paying attention to or ignored the warning, so Dulli called out someone near the back of the room right in the middle of “Arabian Heights,” and then when they finally paused he explained that the lights hurt his eyes and made it hard to see, and produced lousy photos. Now, he said, “let’s play something sexy,” leading the band into “Oriole,” followed by “Toy Automatic,” both from the new one. After commenting that the next one was a favorite of Rosser’s, “Can Rova,” to which he segued into “Last Goodbye,” a song by Jeff Buckley that served as a fitting tribute to the missing guitarist’s memory.

That was followed by “Royal Cream,” which evolved through a drum break into “I Am Fire.” The band charged on, through “My Enemy” and “Teenage Wristband,” which is a Twilight Singers song, but nobody was complaining, as the audience was singing along more and more as they dipped back in to older, more familiar material.

Moving to the piano, Dulli, once he’d greeted all his family and hometown friends in attendance, shared the story how his original composition for “Going to Town” evolved into the version heard on the 1996 release, Black Love, explaining that he’d been listening to a lot of Prince, and stumbled across a bag of mushrooms. Then he offered up his telling of the story of Bonnie & Clyde as he’d originally envisioned it, a lovely, melodic ballad.

Still on piano, he led the band into “Demon in Profile” from the new one, only he turned over the lead vocal duties to Har Mar Superstar, the opening band who had changed into a black “Har Mar” t-shirt and exotic orange print tights… which strangely enough worked with the song’s threatening and ominous tone. Dulli followed with a cover of The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” one of a variety of covers he’d been doing on this tour (about 6 years back, I caught the Twilight Singers at a club in Minneapolis and he slid into a version of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” right in the middle of one of his songs and it was pure rock show genius.).

As the band shifted gears, and Dulli moved back to center stage and guitar, they closed out the set proper with some hard rocking fan favorites, but while they were as heavy and intense as earlier songs, the funk of “John the Baptist,” with it’s “dance, little sister” command, and “Somethin’ Hot,” both drenching with sexuality from the 1998 release, 1965. Then closing the show proper, with “Into the Floor,” the 7th song from their latest album, which evolved into a slowed down cover of Don Henley’s solo classic, “Boys of Summer,” that emphasized the haunting end of the season tone of the lyrics.

(Something a little strange happened as Dulli tried to exit the stage walking behind the drummer as the band built to the end of the song, he appeared to fall to the floor, raising a question if he was okay physically. When the band finished their end of show jam, Dulli stood us behind drummer Patrick Keeler at the same time that he did, and exited. We noticed a road crew guy came out with towels and appeared to wipe up a spill behind Keeler’s kit, which explains Dulli’s fall. As they returned to encore, Dulli was shaking his right hand, which may have been hurt, but otherwise there was no other mention, of what could have been an embarrassing scene.)

They encored strongly on “Parked Outside,” with plenty of audience support as folk shouted along with Dulli’s full voiced delivery. That was followed by “Summer’s Kiss,” and then a bit of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which segued smoothly into “Faded,” which ended the night, the band again jamming after Dulli left the stage, this time walking out in front of the drums. Afghan Whigs’ reunion a few years ago, returning to recording and the road, is a real triumph for heavy indie rock/alternative bands of a certain age. And they draw a specific audience (I saw 3 other people wearing the same Queens of the Stone Age t-shirt that I had on), but interestingly enough a wide age range from early 20’s to social security recipients. That staying power, and commitment to edgy creativity is a tribute to this music’s viability, even as market forces work against the selling of albums, etc. Thursday night’s show, warm with home town buzz, was indeed a celebration of music’s ability to enliven the human experience and create community, even as it confronts the darker aspects of our character. Same are quick to say “rock is dead,” but they weren’t at Bogart’s on Thursday night.

By Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Quincy Newcomb has found work as rock critic and music journalist since the early 80's, contributing over the years to Billboard Magazine, Paste, The Riverfront Times, and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Brian Q. Newcomb
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Ruby Boots: Don’t Talk About It [Album Review] 0 507

Ruby Boots
Don’t Talk About It
Bloodshot Records [2018]

Fire Note Says: Aussie country rocker with promise debuts States-side for Bloodshot Records.

Album Review: The second album from Ruby Boots roars out of the gate with “It’s So Cruel,” a cow-punk rocker that recalls the energy of Jason & The Scorchers. But before you get your hopes up, producer Beau Bedford (of The Texas Gentlemen), perhaps eager to display the singer/songwriter’s versatility, offers her up in the big doo-wop wall of sound of “Believe In Heaven,” nostalgic for the early days when Phil Spector was producing girl groups as rock & roll was first finding it’s way into the mainstream. “Don’t Talk About It,” the album’s title track, follows. It’s another ballad with orchestration that draws inspiration from that old school retro-sound.

Ruby Boots (real name, Bex Chilcott) comes from Australia via Nashville and had one previous album on an Aussie imprint before this debut on Bloodshot Records, a journey made by Kasey Chambers and others. Following the first three big production numbers, Boots sounds more at home on “Easy Way Out,” with a chord progression borrowed from the Tom Petty songbook, and the country weeper “Don’t Break My Heart Twice.”

The second half of the album sticks closer to country/rock formulas, with “I’ll Make It Through,” co-written and with harmony vocals by Nikki Lane, “Somebody Else” and “Infatuation,” are set up by punchy rhythms, strong vocal hooks, and solid, rocking guitars and minimal twang. Okay Boots has some twang in her voice on “Infatuation.” On these three, and the closing angry, country kick you to the curb slow burner with bluesy guitar and honky-tonk piano/organ that is “Don’t Give a Damn,” Boots sounds a bit like a young Lucinda Williams as the song heats up like a Rolling Stones’ song.

It’s the nearly a capella, almost hymnic “I Am A Woman,” that exhibits Boots’ voice in all it’s unique purity, in a spiritual song that declares her feminine gifts and her internal strength of being, echoing strength alongside vulnerability. On the whole this is a solid, inviting outing, driven by good songs and equally solid performances. Ruby Boots will be one to watch.

Key Tracks: “It’s So Cruel” / “Easy Way Out” / “Infatution”

Artists With Similar Fire: Nikki Lane / Lone Justice / Lydia Loveless

Ruby Boots Website
Ruby Boots Facebook
Bloodshot Records

– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Quincy Newcomb has found work as rock critic and music journalist since the early 80's, contributing over the years to Billboard Magazine, Paste, The Riverfront Times, and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Brian Q. Newcomb

Bill Mallonee & The Big Sky Ramblers: Forest Full Of Wolves [Album Review] 1 892

Bill Mallonee & The Big Sky Ramblers
Forest Full of Wolves
Self-Released [2018]

Fire Note Says: Bill Mallonee is one of those best-kept secrets you really want to share with the rest of the music loving world.

Album Review: No one is ever going to call singer/songwriter Bill Mallonee an under-achiever. His latest release, a 10 song full-length effort, Forest Full of Wolves is his 78th album by his own count. Mallonee spent the 1990s fronting the Athens, GA-band Vigilantes of Love, shuffling from one label to the next, driving a van from coast-to-coast playing every alternative rock/Americana friendly venue who would let them. Hometown friend, Peter Buck (R.E.M.) co-produced one of the band’s early more-acoustic albums, the Killing Floor. The band’s 1999 album, released on three different labels of the course of 18 months, Audible Sigh was produced by Nashville’s favorite side-man Buddy Miller, and includes a guest vocal by Emmylou Harris, as well as some of Mallonee’s best loved songs. Paste Magazine has named him one of the 100 greatest living songwriters.

A rough count, say there were 10 songs per release (usually there were more), puts Mallonee’s songwriting output at nearly 8000, and those are the one’s he’s recorded. Now basic logic would suggest that they can’t all be good, and surely not all of them are memorable, but Mallonee’s work, his actual raison d’’etre, has proven especially consistent over the decades, and in the 2010’s he’s delivered a solid album’s worth of tunes each year, with a noticeable uptick in production values starting with 2011’s The Power & The Glory. Last year’s excellent The Rags of Absence was a case in point, with Mallonee especially attentive to his lead guitar parts.

Forest Full of Wolves continues to chronicle the challenges to working class people and even songwriters, as if Mallonee is creating his own musical version of John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” for what he calls this “new dark age.” “Greed and fear (have) gained the upper hand,” he sings in “Changing of the Guard,” so he’s “grabbed a guitar & a notebook or two… became a phantom with some conjuring ‘neath the moon.”

Musically, Wolves takes the energy of Rags to the next level, with bigger, noiser guitar tones. Mallonee captures a Neil Young jamming with Crazy Horse in the garage vibe throughout, which is likely a lot harder to pull off since Mallonee’s playing all the instruments. Mid-tempo alternative country rock at it’s most earnest and relevant, and against all odds, Mallonee manages to offer a word of hope. “In the New Dark Age” he sings, borrowing the title from a different song that he recording on 2014’s The Winnowing, “the best thing you can do is fall in love.” Of course, “Love Is Always Risky Currency,” but it’s the best chance any of us have of surviving in this “Forest Full of Wolves.”

Like many artists scrambling to make art in the challenging digital marketplace and survive financially Mallonee has struggled to reach out and connect with Americana fans, break ground with new audiences, even though he’s stayed off the road in recent years. As a fan who first heard the singer songwriter live in the early 90’s, and many times over the years, Bill Mallonee is one of those best-kept secrets you really want to share with the rest of the music loving world. It’s artists who wear their passion on their sleeves, who keep pouring out their hearts in songs, that make the music that matters. (One reason to order the hard CD copy of this one, is the cover art produced by another singer songwriter, Chris Taylor, from San Antonio, TX.).

Key Tracks: “In the New Dark Age” / “Voodoo Ink” / “Trimmed & Burning”

Artists With Similar Fire: Neil Young / Bob Dylan / John Prine

Bill Mallonee Website
Bill Mallonee Facebook

– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Quincy Newcomb has found work as rock critic and music journalist since the early 80's, contributing over the years to Billboard Magazine, Paste, The Riverfront Times, and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Brian Q. Newcomb

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