“Tee Vee is the mind and memories of Houston native Teresa Vicinanza. Known for her work as a singer and songwriter, Tee Vee encompasses her work as a producer and artist. She experiments with elements of synth pop, art pop, and dream pop. Tee Vee uses sampling, looping and layering, especially with vocal melodies and harmonies, to create an ethereal sound.”
Houston-based harmonica ace and bandleader Steve Krase moves outside the conventional blues boundaries on this outing, into Americana and Zydeco with guests skilled in those styles. Driving much of these proceedings is noted Houston producer Rock Romano who played bass, background vocals, wrote three of the tunes and used his favorite spot, The Red Shack, for the recording.
Although the album begins with Hank Williams’ “Settin’ the Woods on Fire” there are plenty of vintage blues selections, among them two relatively obscure tunes from Howlin’ Wolf (“Alll in the Mood” and “My Baby Walked Off”) and one from Big Walter Price (“Nobody Loves Me”). Perhaps the most startling tune here is their zydeco version of the Beverly Hillbillies TV theme, “The Ballad of Jed Clampett.” Brian Jack adds accordion, Mike V the rubboard and James Gilmer percussion. So, in one way it might be surprising for Krase to take on this style, but it is one of the core brands of music being played in Houston today, especially since the migration from so many Louisianans after Katrina.
Krase claims that he tried to keep it simple but wanted more of an edge to the music. Perhaps the guest percussionist Gilmer (from Lyle Lovett’s band) said it best, “I love this project! It’s like Magic Dick and Peter Wolf meet Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter.”
As you may know, Krase has been instrumental in sustaining Houston’s Queen of the Blues, Trudy Lynn’s career. Having recently seen Trudy’s show, with Krase and his band, it’s fair to say that Krase is a world-class harmonica player, vastly unheralded. Krase can stand on the same stage with Kim Wilson and others who carry much bigger reputations. Paired with a pro like Romano, this is a nice example of how blues can be expanded into a swinging, fun excursion while retaining every bit of its power. www.makingascene.org
There’s something somewhat frightening, yet utterly liberating when leaving the confines of a successful band to venture solo — especially a band whose latest record was called “effortlessly brilliant” by critics. But, such is the case with Erika Wennerstrom who is taking a break from her Austin-based rock band, Heartless Bastards, to deliver her solo debut Sweet Unknown.
“It was a really freeing experience,” reveals the singer/songwriter/guitarist. “I found my strength in my vulnerability as an artist, and really, just as a person. It kind of forced me to allow myself to be a little more exposed and stand on my own two feet. It’s easy to feel comfortable in a band, but it’s scary to do it as just yourself. I feel like I’ve grown a lot creatively and personally.”
But fans of Heartless Bastards — which has released five critically- acclaimed albums since their 2003 inception, appeared on many late night television shows, and has drawn praise from Rolling Stone, Time, New York Times — need not worry. The band has not broken up. “We’d been going for so long and everyone in the band was just ready for a little break. But I had songs in me that needed to come out. I didn’t think it was fair to push them to keep going and I didn’t want to do it without them under the band name,” explains Wennerstrom, who enlisted the help of HB’s Jesse Ebaugh to play bass on 8 of the 9 tracks on Sweet Unknown.
Fans can also rest assured that what they’ve grown to love about Wennerstrom’s music is still front-and-center. Her trademark vocals that NPR so aptly calls “warm yet gritty, throaty yet sweet, gigantic, yet intimate” are that… times 10. And the bluesy, rock vibes that Relix describes as “smoky, late night [rock] that exists somewhere between Royal Trux and the Rolling Stones” has only gotten smokier and bluesier.
So, what is the difference? “It’s just more of me,” she says. “It’s as simple as that. I was able to get deeper and you get another level of my heart and soul. And, it’s really about my journey of self-awareness and healing and finding acceptance and self-love. It’s very empowering.”
While Wennerstrom has always been honest in the Heartless Bastards songs she’s written, the 9 tracks that make up Sweet Unknown are even more personal and reflective, and for her, quite transformative as well.
“When I started writing this record, I thought about how maybe the struggles I’ve had at times in my life, and with writing, could be changed if I could put my energy and message towards others, but what I got was the most self healing I’ve ever had through the creative process. My positive message to others became my own mantra. It’s like how sometimes we need to start listening to our own advice, and singing these songs repeatedly has given myself a message I need to hear when I sing them over and over again,” she explains.
The album kicks off with the feel-good roadtrip vibes of “Twisted Highway,” which Wennerstrom says sums up her musical journey on Sweet Unknown. She explains, “‘Twisted Highway’ is the process of learning more self-awareness and self-acceptance. Writing songs over the years has forced me to do a lot of self reflection, and I haven’t always liked what I see. I really needed to change my way of thinking though. I chose to focus on the negatives within myself. I really needed to stop and take a look at what’s good in my life.”
On the somber psych-rocker “Staring Out the Window,” the artist digs even deeper into the inner workings of her mind. “It’s about discovering a pattern I established when I was young where when I’m around someone dark, unkind, or full of anger, I tend to internalize it and blame myself. I learned that sometimes we feel comfortable around people that aren’t good for us because they feel familiar, but that can be the unhealthy pattern. I had to learn how to love myself more and break this pattern,” she says.
Wennerstrom attributes her deep emotional journey, in part, to two pivotal trips in the past year, which resulted in 400 voice notes on her phone with various lyric and melody ideas. “I went down to the Amazon jungle in 2015 right before the last Heartless Bastards record, Restless Ones, was released. I was at a point where I was deeply unhappy, and on a whim, I decided to do an Ayahuasca [pronounced eye-uh-wah-ska] retreat. Despite the idea frightening me, I felt I needed something to change with in me so bad that I had nothing to lose. It really opened the door and started me on a path to many self realizations,” she says.
Ayahuasca (an Amazonian hallucinagenic plant used in Shamanic healing ceremonies) is often used to help people break through emotional and creative barriers. For Wennerstrom, the experience helped her let go of the push-and-pull of ego and self-doubt. “It helped me be free to be honest with myself and put out what I think is my most honest record ever. It used to take me a while to get to that vulnerable place in my writing, but I got there faster this time. It just felt easier, more natural, and not as much second-guessing,” she says.
The upbeat and optimistic “Letting Go” epitomizes that experience. “It’s about letting go of what doesn’t serve me anymore. I came to the realization that we all as human beings have an inner struggle. Sometimes even people that have so much are hard on themselves with a sense of guilt. We’re all just doing the best we can in each moment. Some maybe more consciously than others. Perhaps it’s my limited perspective, but I feel it’s the human condition — an ancient feeling,” she says.
Soon after the band decided to take a hiatus the following year, she also spent quite a bit of time hiking and reflecting in the mountains of West Texas in Big Bend National Park. Explaining the impact of that trip, she says, “That’s where a lot of the ideas for the album came to me, and I spent the next year working on it. The song “Extraordinary Love” is the realization I do everything in my life for love. We all want to be liked and to give and receive love. If I can’t be kind and loving to myself how can I expect anybody else to. It’s starts with me. I find the most extraordinary thing is to be truly compassionate to yourself.”
“Good To Be Alone” is just one sonic outcome of her Big Bend trip. “I wrote this one right after a long tour, and with it being one of the last ones the band did before our hiatus, I had quite a lot to think about. I did a big hike that day in Big Bend and the seeds for the idea were planted. I was so thankful for that time alone to recharge and ponder. This song expresses how deeply introverted I can be at times and how sometimes I just need to step away and take some time for myself,” she says.
Clearly, that time alone was time well-spent. With Sweet Unknown, Erika Wennerstrom bravely invites the listener in to experience her trials and tribulations of life amidst a lush soundscape of deeply emotive vocals and melodies to what is ultimately the soundtrack to her soul.
Pre-buy The Suffers “Everything Here” from Cactus Music on CD or LP and receive a wristband for their CActus Music performance on Saturday, 7/14/18 @ 1:00pm. One wristband per CD or LP purchase. CD is $15.98 and LP is $23.98. The vinyl version comes with a download card.
*BONUS* Every person that pre-buys the album will be automatically entered to win an autographed LP test press.
SMiiLE is an experimental pop band based in Austin, TX and born out of a shooting star.
The band is fronted by singer, guitarist and producer Jake Miles. Annie Long and Mary Bryce fortify the outfit with stunning vocal harmonies, and provide a spectacle at live shows with matching alien-esque attire and singular dance moves. Other members include Harrison Anderson on the bass and Greg Clifford on the drums.
As a co-founder (w/ brother Bill Clifton) of Fresno’s The MoFo Party Band, John Clifton has solidified himself as one of Central California’s most in demand Blues frontmen since he started in the late ’80’s. His from the gut vocal and harmonica presence and high energy performances have captivated audiences worldwide.
Hitting the road hard since the early days and performing over 150 dates a year, John regularly tours in the U.S. and has headlined some of the most well known venues and festivals throughout Europe such as the Beersel Blues Festival in Belgium, and the Blues Express and Polish Boogie Festivals, both in Poland. He has also electrified audiences on festivals and in venues throughout the islands of New Zealand and Fiji!
IN 2016, The John Clifton Blues Band performed on the Doheny Blues Festival, California’s largest and most prestigious festivals, with Edgar Winter and Lynyrd Skynyrd headlining. He also injected a shot of adrenaline to the acclaimed Edition de Bain de Blues Festival in France.
With style and prowess on the level of Kim Wilson and Rod Piazza, John has always kept it real with his own voice and identity and never set out to be a copy of any of his musical heroes. As a showman he delivers straight from the heart, soul, and gut, staying clear of the typical clichés and novelties.
He also keeps things fresh and exciting by effortlessly infusing styles from West Coast to Chicago Blues, classic R&B and Soul, to some hard driving vintage Rock’n’Roll.
John’s reputation and performances have earned him the respect of many of the greats as he has been invited on stage with the likes of James Cotton, Rod Piazza, Tommy Castro, John Mayall, Huey Lewis, Willie Big Eyes Smith, Luther Tucker, Kim Wilson, Billy Boy Arnold, James Harman, and Rusty Zinn. He was also given the honor of opening for BB King, winning and being a multiple nominee for the Modesto Area Music Awards, and receiving the “Declaration of Appreciation” from the State of California for his contribution to the arts.
John has performed as a featured harmonica player 7 times and the prestigious Mark Hummel’s Blues Harmonica Blow out show and has been ask to join in as a guest on many occasions with Mark Hummel and many other of the top blues harmonica players in the world
In addition, John was asked to tour and record as the featured harmonica player with Big Bill Morganfield, Blues Hall of Fame inductee and son of Muddy Waters, on his 2016 release “Blood Stains On The Wall”.
He has also brought his skills as a producer to the studio with a band from Poland called The Boogie Boys, featuring piano giant Bartek Szopinski, and winning the Polish Blues Award for “Best Blues Album 2013” for their CD “Made In Cali”.
Producer David Z best known for his work with Prince, Etta James, Billy Idol and many others, chose John’s song “Anytime Is Cool” for the 2017 motion picture release “Shattered” John and Band were also asked to appear in the movie and were featured in the first scene.
John captured the attention of Scott Abeyta, owner of Rip Cat Records in Southern California, and was added to a roster that included The Blasters, the 44’s, and Kid Ramos among many other great names. He released his first solo album “Let Yourself Go” in 2015 to worldwide acclaim and airplay, and the single “Let Your Self Go” charted in the Top 10 on the Duke University WXDU Americana Show.
The album boasts guest performances by Kid Ramos, Rusty Zinn, brother Bill Clifton, Bartek Szopinski, Marty Dodson, and Bob Welsh. Scott Abeyta holds down the main guitar duties, and fellow Fresno music icons Roger Perry, Jake Finney, and John Shafer are also featured.
2018 Brings a new CD on Rip Cat Records “Nightlife” .The new CD has been getting great reviews and song “Still A Fool” from Nightlife was the #10 of the top new releases on Top 15 Rack of Blues Radio show on BB Kings Bluesville on Sirus XM Radio. Also an extensive tour in support of “Nightlife” in the Mid West and East Coast for the summer 2018.
John Clifton…one of those rare musicians that has dedicated himself to the Blues and has found continued success and relevance by remaining dedicated, excited, hardworking, and focused.
“The Change” is the debut solo album from singer/songwriter and longtime Uncle Lucius frontman Kevin Galloway. “It’s a love letter, and a promise to my newly formed family”, says Galloway. “My wife and I have two children under the age of 3 now. After touring almost incessantly with a band for over a decade, I’ve decided to take a different approach. This album is a sincere reflection of my mindset while reorganizing priorities.”
As for the sound, Galloway and producer Vorpahl call it “Gulf Coast Country Soul”. Of the band, Kevin comments, “We put together some great players and they really found something special. It’s organic and undeniably in the pocket.”
In the lush tobacco fields of North Carolina where BJ Barham was raised, people work hard. Families stay nearby, toiling and growing together. BJ loves those farms and his tiny Reidsville hometown, but he had to run off and start American Aquarium, a band now beloved by thousands.
BJ couldn’t stay. But he couldn’t really leave, either: he’s still singing about the lessons, stories, and lives that define rural America––and him.
“I moved to the big city to go to college and fell in love with music,” BJ says. “But half the songs on our record are about small towns––little pieces of my childhood. I’ve had moments where it turns out a piece of broken English my father repeated twice a week is the most accurate way to say something. So I put it in a song.”
American Aquarium’s seventh studio album Things Change offers the band’s finest collection of folk-infused Southern rock-and-roll to date. Stacked with BJ’s signature storytelling––always deeply personal but also instantly relatable––the record questions and curses current events, shares one man’s intimate evolution, and leaves listeners with a priceless gift: hope.
“In my early 20s, I was not as hopeful,” BJ says. “Now, as I’m getting ready to become a father, I think I have to be hopeful––especially with the situation our country is in now. For her sake, I have to be positive.” He pauses. “Her” is his daughter, due in the spring of 2018. BJ adds, “Being self-aware has always been a blessing and a curse. But that’s what’s always made my songwriting relatable to people. I don’t hold back. I’m almost too honest.”
BJ’s candor has fueled American Aquarium’s runaway appeal, visible most clearly in consistently sold-out shows across the country and throughout Europe – between 200 and 250 dates a year. Much has changed for the band and BJ since their acclaimed last effort, Wolves. In 2017, every American Aquarium member save BJ quit the group. American Aquarium has featured about 30 players since BJ founded the outfit in 2006, and while each member has left indelible marks, the band has always been anchored by the literary songs and sometimes roaring, sometimes whispering, drawl of BJ Barham. BJ’s personal life also underwent seismic shifts: He got sober. He got married. Soon, he’ll be a dad.
Featuring a new band lineup that includes Shane Boeker on lead guitar, drummer Joey Bybee, bassist Ben Hussey, and Adam Kurtz on pedal steel and electric guitar, as well as a reinvigorated frontman in BJ, Things Change is American Aquarium’s first release on a label after selling thousands of records on their own. “As an artist, your goal is for the newest thing you do to be better than the last. You’re slowly whittling away the bullshit to try and get to the truth,” BJ says. “With this album, I learned how to cut some of that fat so that it’s just truth. It’s our best record.”
Recorded at 3CG Records in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Things Change was produced by Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter John Fulbright and features cameos from Americana standouts including John Moreland and Jamie Lin Wilson. Brazen album opener “The World is on Fire” is a richly layered rock-and-roll anthem that documents BJ and his wife’s stunned reaction to the last presidential election. Emotional and conversational, the song taps into widespread feelings of confusion and fear: “She said, ‘What are we going to do? What’s this world coming to?’ / For the first time in my whole life, I stood there speechless.” But what begins as despair builds into defiant faith, as BJ growls a call to action to cap off one of his favorite songs he’s ever written. “I’m complaining about the state of things, and then the third verse almost serves as a challenge to myself: hey, you’re in charge of another human being. You can create change,” he says.
Driving rock-and-roller “Crooked + Straight” explores the small-town consequences of questioning religion and the tightness of family in the face of one member’s rejection. His father’s advice anchors the song. “I come from a blue-collar family. I’m the only one who didn’t go into farming. I learned if you want something, you have to go out and take it. You can’t expect anything from anybody,” BJ says. “You can only go out there and work harder. My dad always said you can outwork anybody else.” Love for hard work and the people who carry it out appears repeatedly throughout Things Change. Guitar-heavy “Tough Folks” is a snarling ode to those with dirt under their fingernails, while bass- and pedal-steel-infused “Work Conquers All” spins a tale in praise and pursuit of Oklahoma’s state motto.
The album’s love songs are the kind of achingly beautiful that only comes with maturity and a willingness to expose one’s own flaws. Haunting “Shadows of You” recalls a lover’s flight as the protagonist longs for what he let get away. Gorgeous “Till the Final Curtain Falls” celebrates loyalty and pledges endless devotion. The moving title track takes an often doleful topic––people’s tendency to change––and turns it on its head, tracing BJ’s personal growth and recognizing his now-wife’s steadfast love.
BJ’s other two favorite tracks are album standouts. Moving “When We Were Younger Men” addresses the break-up of American Aquarium head on. As BJ professes love for his former bandmates over stripped down acoustic guitar, his voice is honeyed and deep. “It’s an open letter to five guys who I spent eight years of my life with seeing the entire world,” BJ says. “I think anyone who has ever had to walk away from a friendship or has had somebody walk away from them will relate to the song.” Stunner “One Day at a Time” is self-perceptive and vulnerable, detailing BJ’s battles with himself. Even within his career full of well-written gems, the song is a towering accomplishment.
“At the end of the day, if you’re not writing songs to affect other people’s lives, you’re in it for the wrong reasons,” BJ says, reflecting on the new album, where he’s been, and where American Aquarium is headed. “Money may come and go. You may never get fame. But if you sit down and write songs to affect people, you can do it your whole life and be happy.”
“Fuck a popstar. Fuck pandering. Fuck fakeness. Fuck fear.” Fantastic Negrito is the incarnation of a musician who is reborn after going through a lot of awful shit. In fact, the name Fantastic Negrito represents his third rebirth, literally coming back from death this time. The narrative on this man is as important as the sound, because the narrative is the sound. Songs born from a long hard life channeled through black roots music. Slide guitar, drums, piano. Urgent, desperate, edgy. Fantastic Negrito is the story of a man who struggled to “make it”, who “got it”, and who lost it all. For anyone who ever felt like it was over yet hoped it wasn’t, this is your music; blues harnessed, forged in realness. For anyone who ever considered getting their old high-school band back together, this is your inspiration. These are singular songs by a true musician who writes and produces. They are his fuel as he embarks on the third comeback of his life.
The first life (‘who am I and where am I going?’). Fantastic Negrito was raised in an orthodox Muslim household. His father was a Somali-Caribbean immigrant who mostly played traditional African music. When, at the age of 12, Negrito’s family moved from Massachusetts to Oakland, he was hit with an intense culture shock. Oakland in 1970s was a million miles from Negrito’s conservative childhood. He went from Arab chants to Funkadelic in one day, living in the heart of one of the wildest, most infamous, most vibrant black communities in the nation. Shit was extra real in Oakland.
By the time he was 20, Negrito had taught himself to play every instrument he could get his hands on. He was recording music, but he was also caught up in street shit. This went on for several years until a near death encounter with masked gunmen. After that Negrito packed his bags and headed to LA, armed with a demo on cassette.
The second life (‘I want to be a star…I think’). It didn’t take long for Negrito to find himself entrenched in the ‘Hollywood’ lifestyle; “clubs and bitches and bullshit politics that have nothing to do with great music.” Negrito signed with a big time manager and soon after that, a million dollar deal at Interscope …and soon after that, creative death.
The record deal was a disaster. Gangsta rap was ruling the airwaves and Negrito was in the wrong place at the wrong era. Negrito came out of the deal with a failed album and his confidence gutted. He was infected by the constant emphasis on ‘what would sell’; which looks, hooks and gimmicks would attract an audience. He lost all sense of himself. The songs stopped coming to him, so he quit. He sold all of his shit and he quit.
In 2000, Negrito was in a near fatal car accident that put him in a coma. For four weeks it was touch and go. Because his muscles atrophied while bedridden, he had to go through months of frustrating physical therapy to regain use of his legs. Rods were placed throughout his body. And worst of all, his playing hand was mutilated. Though he rehabbed intensely for several years, the damage was permanent. In 2008, he returned home to Oakland.
The third life (the birth of Negrito). Back in Oakland, Negrito forgot about life as a musician. He got married, he planted vegetables, raised his own chickens, and made money growing weed. He also settled into being a man, on his own, clear of the distractions of wanting to be a star. This is when his specific POV of the world came into focus. His conservative Muslim values melded with the liberal, multi-cultural world of Oakland. The cynicism that comes from struggle made room for the hope that comes from cheating death. He truly knew who he was. He was confident about his place in the world because he understood it as much as any man can. And then his son Kyu was born.
With Kyu’s entrance into the world, all the creative energy Negrito bottled for years came rushing. His musical choices were sharp and without doubt. He began recording without the hindrances that come with chasing trends. “Fuck what’s hot now, what moves me?” Negrito turned to the original DNA of all American music, the Blues. The beating life had given him primed him to channel his literal and musical forefathers: the Blues musicians of the Delta.
For Fantastic Negrito, “derivative” is the devil so to ensure his sound is his own, every chord comes from a place of immediacy. Immediacy opens the door for instinct. Instinct is God’s tool that makes an artist into an individual. Negrito leaves the original sounds of Lead Belly and Skip Woods intact and builds bridges to modernity by looping and sampling his own live instruments.
When you listen to Negrito, you’re invited to hear the story of life after destruction. Your dream can die. You probably will give up. But from there, you can start everything over.
Get a sneak peek into Houston’s favorite Independent Music Festival with two of the billed artists: Yvonne Goodwyne and Kyle Hubbard. 5th Annual Madness on Main Street is a multi-stage, multi-genre music fest. Presented by 8th Wonder Brewery.
Yvonne Goodwyne: Vonne is a multi-instrumentalist producer who creates enticing sounds.
Kyle Hubbard: Kyle Hubbard is a hip-hop artist from Houston, TX with a style that stresses strength in lyrics through an accessible presentation. His debut album, “You’re Not That Special”, won several awards in 2012 and was ranked third on Houston Chronicle’s “Top 10 Albums of 2012” list. His 2015 project, “Majestic Hotel” was on Houston Press’ “Top 15 Rap Tapes of 2015” list.