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This week, Ear Bliss looks at recent albums from Athens, Georgia-based band New Madrid and the California-based trio The Devil Makes Three. Each band appears in Providence this week. Letâ€™s get down to business.
Go back to the 1980s and Athens, Ga., was ground zero for the then college, but now indie rock movement. Since those heady days when that indie rock epicenter yielded the like of bands like REM and Pylon, Athens hasnâ€™t quite lit it up like it once did. Enter Normaltown Records based in, of all places, Athens. It provides a new lift-off point for the scene which is still pretty productive, but on a much smaller scale. New Madrid is one of the latest Athens entries to create a stir of sorts and based on what I heard initially on the bandâ€™s debut for the label and then at a chilly afternoon outdoor show at SXSW in Austin, Texas, itâ€™s a band with some serious stuff in its shorts. Classifying New Madrid is difficult. First off, the last two songs on its debut called â€śSunswimmerâ€ť clock in at 11 and 12 minutes long. To these ears, that leans towards jam band. After taking in the live experience, whereas there are â€śjammyâ€ť qualities to the sounds of New Madrid, it is so much more than that. Produced by David Barbe (Drive-By Truckers), throw in strokes of psych and twang and a front man in guitarist and vocalist Phil McGill who likes to toy with his voice in loops and New Madrid is well beyond a stoner band (though, hereâ€™s thinking a little of the evil weed stuff would no doubt enhance the listening experience). On â€śSunswimmer,â€ť listening to tracks here and there does not work. It is an album meant to be consumed whole. That is its true reward. Visit www.normaltownrecords.com.
New Madrid appears at Fete Music in Providence (103 Dike St.) on Thursday night, April 17. Doors open at 8 p.m.
The Devil Makes Three
â€śIâ€™m a Stranger Hereâ€ť
New West Records
It has been since 2009 for the last release from old-timey leaning trio The Devil Makes Three. Not that the one time Brattleboro, Vt.-based band hasnâ€™t been busy what with touring steadily and in the process building a national following. Appearances at such prestigious events as the Newport Folk Festival, Austin City Limits Music Festival, Bonnaroo, and Lollapolooza only upped the ante for the trio. It brings us to the bandâ€™s debut release for national indie New West Records called â€śIâ€™m a Stranger Here.â€ť A few spins of this album had this scribe thinking it was worth the wait. Produced by Buddy Miller, himself as hot a commodity as there is on the Americana scene for both his production and playing abilities, and recorded at Dan Auerbachâ€™s (of Black Keys fame) Easy Eye Sound Studio, â€śIâ€™m a Stranger Hereâ€ť is a terrific record. Stylistically speaking, it finds The Devil Makes Three once again blending traditional sounds from old time to bluegrass and ragtime to rockabilly with even a gospel number in the mix for good measure. The band does it all just fine from the opening strands of the jaunty Depression-era sounding hot-stepper called â€śStrangerâ€ť to gospel rave-up â€śForty Daysâ€ť recorded with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and which was largely inspired by tropical storm Irene which wreaked havoc in Brattleboro. Guitarist Pete Bernhard, upright bassist Lucia Turino, and guitar and banjo player Cooper McBean demonstrate a innate kind of chemistry that has been with them since the outset of the band back in 2002. Vocally and musically, each knows each otherâ€™s moves inside and out and it makes for music that is tight and free-flowing at the same time. The only shame of â€śIâ€™m a Stranger Hereâ€ť is its briefness, what with containing only 10 tracks. Nonetheless, there is plenty of cream on this highly recommended recording. Visit newwestrecords.com.
The Devil Makes Three appears along with Joe Fletcher & the Wrong Reasons at Fete Music in Providence (103 Dike St.) on Friday night, April 18. Doors are at 8 p.m.
Since it began in 2008, Record Store Day has become an internationally celebrated day observed the third Saturday of April each year with its chief purpose to celebrate the art of music with the focal point brick and mortar independent record stores around the world. Since its beginning on that third Saturday of April in 2008, it has continuously gained steam and grown each year, with hundreds of recording and other artists participating in the day by making special appearances, performances, meet and greets with their fans, the holding of art exhibits, and the issuing of special vinyl and CD releases along with other promotional products to mark the occasion. Record Store Day 2014 is no exception. Here in Rhode Island, a number of establishments will once again be participating with special events and oodles of special Record Store Day releases. Locally in our immediate area, Looney Tunes in Wakefield is the place to head. Other stores in the Ocean State participating in the festivities include In Your Ear in Warren, Newbury Comics in Warwick, Music Box in Newport, Time Capsule in Cranston, Lukeâ€™s Record Exchange in Pawtucket, Blast from the Past Records in West Warwick, and Armageddon Shop, Analog Sound, What Cheer Antiques and Olympic Records all in Providence. Check it out!
Dan Ferguson is a freelance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on WRIU-FM 90.3.