Thanks for the Music 

Highlights from the year in local music, from jazz to punk and everything in between

Highlights from the year in local music, from jazz to punk and everything in between

If there’s any doubt about whether anything interesting happened this year in local music, the more than 25 entries below should erase them. We know we live in a great city when there’s room here for everything from pop to jazz to punk to improvised music to hip-hop—and that’s not even taking into account the many country and bluegrass acts making great music in town, Music Row be damned. (To read about those, turn to p. 29.) Even more significant is the fact that this music wasn’t just happening in clubs or on CDs, but on the radio and in the city at large as well. Sure, we’d like to see still more and better things happen here, but that’s only because our expectations have already been raised by all the excellence that surrounds us.

The Scene’s year-end local music picks were written by Todd Anderson, Chris Davis, Bill Friskics-Warren, Noel Murray, William Tyler and Ron Wynn.

Asschapel, Total Worship 2001 was a banner year for this local heavy rock band, who released Total Worship on keyboardist Tom George’s Twitch imprint. While it isn’t uncommon for fledgling bands to issue their own recordings, they rarely do it this well. Available on heavy vinyl and CD, Total Worship was recorded at Progressive Studios (adjacent to Indienet Records), and was beautifully mastered by jazz recordist George Horn at the famed Fantasy Studios in Berkeley. In a genre of sound-alike bands with uniform political slogans worn on their sleeves, Asschapel’s music is a welcome relief, distinguished by a sense of fun. They paint seriocomic portraits of death and pestilence against a taut, well-rehearsed panoramic sweep of hard rock styles. Their aggressive speed metal and spastic thrash are tempered by anthemic, slower open choruses; and in a genre that traditionally regards keyboards as instant emasculation, George’s thoughtful chord voicings fill out the group’s sound without diminishing the forceful guitars.

—C.D.

The Barber Brothers, Twinnovation It’s always tricky to predict success for anyone, especially in the jazz world. Eyebrows are still raised in the Northeast and Midwest whenever anyone talks about Southern jazz artists—particularly those from Nashville. But Rahsaan and Roland Barber may join the handful of performers able to break through that geographical barrier. The saxophone/trombone duo can certainly play the established canon, from “Green Dolphin Street” to “Ornithology,” but they’re far more enjoyable and expressive on their own selections. Their debut album is a delight.

—R.W.

Bare Jr., Brainwasher With all the hype surrounding “neo-garage” bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes, and all the sales action and airplay of “nü metal” and “rage rock” bands, it’s a crime that Virgin Records couldn’t stir more interest in Bare Jr.’s raucous second LP, which was released at the beginning of 2001 to little mainstream notice. Even more ferocious than the band’s acclaimed debut, Brainwasher offers noisy Southern rock stompers with energy to spare. As yet, that energy has gone largely untapped.

—N.M.

Feable Weiner The guys may worship at the altar of Weezer, but they’re more than the sum of their influences. Their two CD singles this year—“Catalyst”/“Lameface” and “Strawberry Debutante”/ “Claire Forlani”—pack more creativity than every other Weezer worshipper in the city. Each single is packaged inside an old 5-inch floppy disc, and the “Strawberry Debutante” CD is hand-painted like a strawberry! As for the tunes, they’re straight-up, catchy pop-rock. Yes, like Weezer, but with some Ben Folds in there—and with their own sly lyrical twists. “That girl, she’s more than a moron to me,” goes the refrain of “Claire Forlani,” while in the amusing bridge of “Strawberry Debutante,” they sing, “How do I get an extensive vocabulary just like you? ...you gotta read read read read read read read.” Maybe you’ve heard FW’s melodic dynamics elsewhere, but when they’re done this well, there’s no reason not to hear them again...and again and again.

—T.A.

The Features, The Beginning EP A lot of hyperbole gets thrown at The Features, but generally with good reason: There is simply no one else who makes the kind of smart, heartfelt, new wavey pop-rock music that The Features do. This year, after breaking with the now defunct Spongebath Records, they self-released a teaser of sorts, the five-track EP The Beginning. The songs are more personal than on their previous releases but still as crafty as ever. Hopefully, it’s an indication of what’s to come in the next year.

—T.A.

Doug Hoekstra, “Break My Fall” and “The Life We Love” Between his canonical Around the Margins and his apocryphal leftovers collection The Past Is Never Past, Hoekstra gave us 28 new tracks this year, and even though both records are full of challenging, thoughtful folk-rock story-songs, the hard stuff wouldn’t be as potent were it not for Hoekstra’s ability to pop out a sweet song from time to time. Both of these winners are helped by the author’s collaborators: George Marinelli, co-writer of “Break My Fall,” and Colleen Burke Kave, lead vocalist on “The Life We Love.”

—N.M.

Will Hoge, Carousel One of the few Nashville rockers whose 2001 narrative doesn’t end with “and then my label screwed me over,” Hoge began the year by self-releasing this tight shot of frenzied, old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll, and ended the year with a successful set of national tours under his belt and a contract with Atlantic Records (which promptly reissued the warm, wonderful Carousel).

—N.M.

Jazz@Bellevue Center Specialty record shops devoted to jazz and blues are old news in big cities like Chicago and Philadelphia, but they’re far from common here. Ed Smith started his Jazz store a little over a year ago and has quickly built it into a prime source for rare and imported treasures. He carries Japanese-only titles and a hefty sampling of local releases, along with posters, portraits, calendars and magazines—making it a true one-stop in the classic retailing tradition. Beyond that, he’s emerged as a force on the promotional front, starting a weekly live concert series that has seen almost every top local jazz or blues vocalist, instrumentalist and group make the trek to Bellevue at some point.

—R.W.

Jazz Workshop Out of the ashes of the Nashville Jazz Institute arose this new nonprofit, which continues founders Lori Mechem and Roger Spencer’s mission of training and preparing the next jazz generation. Besides finding time to play gigs and do session recordings this year, pianist Mechem and bassist Spencer also conducted regular clinics and band rehearsals, and even co-produced and co-promoted some concerts that brought such national names as drummer Jeff Hamilton and saxophonist Jamey Aebersold to town. So why the Jazz Workshop, located at 1312 Adams St., keeps getting left out of the national press’s yearly educational catalogs is a mystery; it’s certainly not because their efforts don’t deserve widespread recognition outside the city’s borders. To find out more, call 242-5299.

—R.W.

Chris Knight, “A Pretty Good Guy” The title cut from Knight’s solid, independently released collection of earthy country-rock character sketches may be the best of the lot, and one of the subtlest songs of the year. Over a syrupy, martial instrumental track, Knight sings about a nondescript fellow who suddenly takes umbrage at his dismissal by an ex-lover; there’s no action in the lyric, just a simple taking stock, which makes the song all the more dramatic. Credit is due also to Fred Eaglesmith, who co-wrote the track.

—N.M.

Lifeboy, In the Reverb of the Sounds We Made Together Battered and bruised by a rough affair with a major label, this magnificent power trio rebounded this year with a self-released record that made good on the promise that got them courted in the first place. Linking light-headed power pop with noisy guitar rock and the occasional excursion into dreamland, Lifeboy did what great rock bands are supposed to do—make music that sounds at once timeless and new. All the sadder, then, that their fine LP may be a farewell to music-making, at least in this configuration.

—N.M.

Lotushalo/Mercator split 12-inch Two of Murfreesboro’s finest instrumental bands put out one hell of a collaborative release this year. Each took one side of a 140-gram vinyl record and put four tracks on it. The music is superb—sharp, clean post-rock instrumentals. But even if the music weren’t great, the packaging alone would merit inclusion here. A simple screen-printed jacket covers the record, which is labeled with a lamb on one side and a bird on the other. Included with the 12-inch is a CD-R of the songs (for the analog-impaired), which has a similarly handcrafted jacket. If only all local bands assembled their releases with this much imagination.

—T.A.

No Parade, Nightsticks & Justice EP Nightsticks & Justice was a remarkable debut for a hardcore punk band that was too good to be a side project—or, for that matter, to last. Three of the four members also played in From Ashes Rise, a more prominent band formerly based in Nashville. But the lack of ambition or focus sometimes associated with side projects didn’t mar No Parade’s auspicious debut. The group received fan letters from South Asia, Europe and America—and they didn’t even tour or get significant radio support. Due to internal conflicts, No Parade have essentially broken up, leaving behind an unreleased LP, a cassette tape demo and this phenomenal record. Pick up a copy at a concerned local store.

—C.D.

Josh Rouse, Bedroom Classics The third LP from Josh Rouse, Under Cold Blue Stars, is due next year on Slow River Records, and though it’s a fine addition to the engaging folk-popster’s discography, even better is this limited-edition EP that Rouse sold on tour and at home this fall. In the middle of the six-song affair is one throwaway acoustic number and a couple of Rouse’s swinging, kickily arranged ditties, but the jaw-droppers come at the beginning and end: “Miserable South,” a slow soul stirrer that builds up the tension and breaks it exquisitely; “A Night In,” a delicate samba, co-written with Curt Perkins; and the stunning “Michigan,” a stark, tonally perfect letter home. Is it too late for Slow River to throw in Bedroom Classics with next year’s album?

—N.M.

Matthew Ryan, “Autopilot” Ryan’s stark, gripping album Concussion is best taken as a whole, as the amazing, mood-altering piece that it is. But if you want a quick shot, drop the laser on track six, a muted explication of spiritual exhaustion that uses repeated phrases and a minimal melody, like a hymn. “Autopilot” is lovely and scary—Ryan’s record in a nutshell.

—N.M.

Sacred Steel For two weeks each June, the House of God, a 70-year-old African American Pentecostal denomination, holds its annual General Assembly at its headquarters here near TSU. A great deal of business is conducted during the sessions, but the church’s members graciously welcome visitors, some of whom come just for the music—specifically, for a chance to witness the likes of Robert Randolph and other practitioners of the singularly inspired art of sacred steel guitar playing. During worship, you can literally see the spirit of God inhabiting the praises of those gathered, as the house band, led by different sacred steel players each night, launches into its fevered riffing. Most people shout, clap and stomp their feet, while others speak in tongues, but no voices are more stirring than those that emanate from the steel guitars. When the congregational call-and-response subsides, the steel players keep these flurries of whoops and hollers coming as the house band simmers in the background, laying down gutbucket grooves that recall everything from “Turn on Your Love Light” to “Mystery Train.” By the time the opening portion of the service gives way to testimonials and prayer—often a good 60 minutes into what can be a five-hour service—the spirit has heated up even the remotest corners of the sweaty worship hall. General Assembly only takes place in June, but those wanting to catch the spirit now can hear house steel guitarist Aubrey Ghent, an amazing player in his own right, weekly at the House of God on Heiman Street.

—B.F.W.

Saddlesong, “Downtown” and “Camelot” It’s just a coincidence that the two best songs on this brother act’s self-released EP were written and are sung by Courtney Little. His sibling Carter contributes more than his share of charming, swaying rural rock, but Courtney’s trembly twang and haunted Southern cityscapes give Saddlesong a necessary yang. Look for their debut LP next year.

—N.M.

Schfvilkus, Genrealization The early days of jazz-rock were a wonderfully inventive period, with great players like Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman infusing improvisational settings with electric instrumentation. The outstanding local ensemble Schfvilkus draw on jazz-rock’s ’70s heyday, before the genre degenerated into tepid, washed-out fusion. They juggle, mix and sometimes invert styles, retaining the integrity and flamboyance of jazz while bolstering it with the energy of funk and rock. Now that they’ve signed with Paras Records, maybe their album will make some waves nationally. But even if it doesn’t, their genuinely individualistic approach and their sense of humor should make Nashvillians proud to claim Schfvilkus as their own.

—R.W.

Serpico My vote for the local band to watch out for in the year to come. The ironically naughty freestyle rhymes of local music promoter/New Faggot Cunts drummer/Scene writer Chris Davis have always been a source of amusement to his friends, but now he’s taking them public. Backed by cheesy Casiotone beats courtesy of Matt Bach, and aided by a growing number of co-conspirators including Chuck Hatcher and fellow NFCs Derek Schartung and Angela Messina, Davis and company elevate lo-fi subversive white boy rap to new extremes. Truly, this is some of the most hilarious stuff I’ve seen or heard in quite a while, and God only knows where the Soul Train will take these cats in the near future.

—W.T.

The Slow Bar Within a few short months, Mike Grimes and David Gerkhe’s East Nashville hole-in-the-wall went from a chill place for locals to get a beer to a trendy place to catch bands. Some of the best shows of the year were held here, and both guys deserve a huge round of applause. My personal favorites included The Glands/Japancakes, Need New Body/The Shins and four appearances by the uncanny Neil Diamond impersonator Denny Diamond. The atmosphere is friendly, and Gerkhe and Grimes are, unlike most club owners, enthusiastic. Although the crowds can be suffocating—even after the club’s expansion earlier this year—it’s nice to see touring bands appreciated in Nashville, ensuring that we’ll see more stellar shows in the year to come.

—W.T.

SparkleDrive, “Baby Hold On” and “Let Go” Another in a string of Nashville rock acts with a sad industry story to tell, SparkleDrive can take comfort in knowing that even though their eponymous debut never got a proper release, those who did hear it will testify to the quality of the group’s swinging, radio-ready pop-rock. Take the one-two punch that opens the record—“Baby Hold On,” an insistent, uplifting number with a rollicking guitar sound, and “Let Go,” a stop-and-go driver with an impressive cascading chorus. They announce the band’s presence with authority, and make it clear that no setback will be severe enough to stop SparkleDrive from rocking.

—N.M.

Swan Dive, Words You Whisper and June Nothing has been released domestically this year by these sophisticated pop wonders, but their local fan base can usually find ways to get their hands on product like the Spanish release Words You Whisper and the making-its-way-from-Japan-to-the-UK June. Swan Dive’s lustrous, breathy expressions of melodic vapor have a way of sticking to the skin. I can’t imagine a day when I won’t want to hear “Katydids,” “One Sided” or “Safe and Sound” (in English or French).

—N.M.

Utopia State, Foallyall After an absence of more than three years, Nashville’s most vibrant hip-hop ensemble came out with the fiery, unrelenting and impressive Foallyall. Juan Garrett, Reavis Mitchell, Mike Dement, Corey McKissack and Sean Myers weren’t interested in doing “bling-bling” pap or trying to impress anyone with their gangsta credentials. Instead, they addressed such subjects as police corruption and brutality, drug addiction and American foreign policy. They’ve been together for more than a decade, and based on their latest release, they’ve only gotten better as they’ve aged.

—R.W.

Voight-Kampff Music Local promoters Voight-Kampff got a nod in the Scene’s local music roundup last December, but their work this year earns them another mention. In the second half of 2001, they promoted an excellent series of improvised music performances at ruby green contemporary arts center. “Improvised music” is a fairly broad term, and V-K’s thoughtful bookings gave the Nashville community a wide cross-section of the genre. From the scratchy, textural electronics of Berlin trio Perlonex to Mark Cunningham’s Latin-tinged ambient vehicle Convolution to the jazz-informed yet distinctly European improvisations of Konk Pack, their selections embraced the possibilities of sound above all else. And, best of all, Voight-Kampff have been successful in generating interest with local music fans. Their next booking will feature vocal improviser Joseph Zitt, Jan. 13 at ruby green. Visit www.vkmusic.org for more information.

—C.D.

WFSK’s world music programming Of late, Fisk University’s college station, WFSK-88.1 FM, has broken fresh ground in a largely unexplored area: international music. Over the past year, WFSK has greatly expanded its offerings to include outstanding salsa and Latin music shows, along with African, reggae and Asian programs. They’ve done this without sacrificing their public affairs coverage or trimming the staples—jazz, blues, gospel and both old and new R&B. Station manager Washington DoBins encourages vital, eclectic and unconventional programs, and there aren’t many college stations anywhere doing locally originated programming this intriguing and informative.

—R.W.

WMOT-FM’s Jazz on the Side Jazz’s innovators, principal composers and bandleaders have been anthologized, chronicled and analyzed ad infinitum, but far less attention has been paid to session players like saxophonist Hank Mobley and trombonists Jimmy Cleveland and Frank Rosolino, to name only a few. Now local drummer and Tennessee Jazz & Blues Society honcho Austin Bealmear is helping to remedy that oversight with his new radio show, Jazz on the Side, airing noon-1 p.m. Sundays on WMOT-89.5 FM. The program has all the best attributes of National Public Radio’s syndicated shows: It’s extensively researched, it’s presented in a manner that doesn’t assume either complete knowledge or ignorance on the part of the listener, and it puts the spotlight on unheralded or unknown performers. Even better, Bealmear actually plays full selections, rather than excerpts or refrains. He’s much more interested in exposing the music than in spotlighting his personality, and for this reason he’s a first-rate host.

—R.W.

WUBT-The Beat The relatively free ride that WQQK-92.1 FM has recently enjoyed as Nashville’s main source for urban music ended abruptly on Oct. 13. That’s the day that WUBT-101.1 FM, “The Beat,” began airing a heavy diet of hip-hop and R&B in direct competition with 92Q. The new station appears to be concentrating on a young demographic; such artists as Ludacris, Petey Pablo, Ja Rule, DMX and plenty of others with street appeal are getting extensive airplay, and the Beat isn’t shy about playing hard-hitting rap during the daytime hours. Perhaps 101’s biggest gamble involves presenting The Doug Banks Show directly opposite 92Q’s syndicated giant The Tom Joyner Morning Show. It will be interesting to see how far The Beat is willing to push the envelope when it comes to programming its playlist.

—R.W.

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