How would you define a sound that’s a cross between Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, REM, and Glenn Frey?
It’s a trick question. A sound like that defies genre.
That’s exactly the goal of Houston’s hottest new band, Londale. Veterans of the Houston music scene, they’ve connected to create unique music that’s heartfelt, edgy, and laid back. The result – an eclectic sound reminiscent of the aforementioned legends. It’s an unexpected combination, but once you hear it, it just feels right.
For group co-founder and lead vocalist Willy Collins, Londale’s creation was a fast metamorphosis. An attorney by day, Collins formed his first group, the Willy Collins Band, in 2012. Known for its indie-Americana sound that incorporated country-inspired twang, the Willy Collins Band released three albums before briefly evolving into the Black Top Junkies. But when BTJ went into the studio to record its first album in 2016, they had a revelation: the name of their group didn’t fit their sound. Something special was happening in that studio. The music they were creating was taking them into new territory. Collins and group co-founder/lead guitarist Joshua Lee Hammond were blown away by this unexpected evolution. They realized their music was a throwback to the scratchy, low-fi sound of the transistor radios popular in the 1960’s, with a rock edge reminiscent of the 1990’s.
“When transistors first appeared, music wasn’t so pigeonholed. You could hear Led Zeppelin and Sinatra on the same station. Our songs are a mix of genres like early radio, and my first transistor, a ‘Londale,’ came to my mind,” Collins says.
Collins and Hammond renamed the band Londale as an homage to the old-school portable radio. Many of their songs even have a transistor-type quality, as if they’re playing on a Londale radio. The result — a sophisticated listening experience that captures our society’s demand for the modern and simultaneous nostalgia for simpler times.
For the guys in Londale, this retro-fresh album isn’t about the past – it’s a nod toward the future. And just like that first day in the studio, the band will let their songs dictate their sound and see where it takes them.
“Sure, there will be the distinctive ‘Londale’ guitar-centric sound,” Collins says. “But we’re excited to try new things and let the magic of being in the studio dictate what is and what can be.”
Hamell on Trial is the musical alias of New York-based folk-punk hero Ed Hamell. A one-man explosion, he is loud-as-war one minute, stepping off the microphone to whisper to an enthralled audience the next. This is a dynamic performance informed by politics, passion, intelligence and the all-important sense of humor. His caustic wit and devil-may-care attitude has long been a favorite of anti-establishment icons Aesop Rock, Kimya Dawson, Ani DiFranco and the critical elite inciting Rolling Stone magazine to call him “Bald, bold and superbad!” Henry Rollins says “Hamell is a one-man rock show!” He has been described as “Bill Hicks, Hunter S. Thompson, and Joe Strummer all rolled into one” by Philadelphia Weekly and a “one man Tarantino flick: loud, vicious, luridly hilarious, gleefully and deeply offensive” by the Village Voice.
His tenth album, Tackle Box, is his second for New West Records and features all instruments and sounds played by Hamell himself, with the exception of one. Hamell states, “The first voice you hear on the album is Donald Trump. It’s from a campaign rally where he was saying he’d like to punch a protester in the face. His supporters cheer. I thought I’d kickstart the album making people aware that, should they disagree with that attitude, should they find his actions deplorable, his lies, his vanity, his lack of grace and intellect, his pandering to the lowest common denominator, his inciting violence towards minorities and the disenfranchised, they could find safety here at a Hamell show, from a Hamell song. Let us remember that he did not win the popular vote, his supporters are in the minority and I will treat them with all the respect THEY show minorities. The first voice you hear on the album is Donald Trump. ALL other voices you hear on the album, in firm and resolute opposition, are mine.”
Tackle Box was co-produced by the Grammy award-winning producer Phil “The Butcher” Nicolo (Bob Dylan, Ms. Lauryn Hill) and features the controversial song “Not Aretha’s Respect (COPS),’ an autobiographical tale teaching his child how to not get shot by a police officer. “‘COPS’ is a song about parenting. My son is 15, I’m teaching him how to drive. I’m explaining because he has the ability at home to explain his side of the story to me, that he might not have that chance when he’s in a situation with a police officer. Say ‘Yes sir, no sir’ and come home safe to me. The boss ain’t always right, but he’s always the boss. All four incidents in the song actually happened. I play all kinds of gigs, house concerts, theaters, DIY punk rock rooms, and the kids love this song. It’s even has a chorus they can sing along to and rally behind. Last year I was touring across the country with my son and the day after we played Dallas, some cops got shot. I wish no violence on anyone. I preface my introduction to this song live now by saying I just wish the good cops would call out the bad cops. This “Code of Blue” thing is helping no one. And if we don’t think it’s a race thing, well…”
Once again we see Hamell uncompromising, fearless, obscene, insightful, absurd, angry & poignant and, in a first-time-ever ploy, including four children’s songs…for balance. Hamell says, “I threw the four ‘FROGGY’ songs in there, trying my hand at children’s songs if you will, to maybe make sense of what the American Dream is or maybe was. In the four songs, interspersed throughout the album, we see the character Froggy as a child, courting, running a business with his wife, and finally surrounded by his grandchildren. This is how he interprets success. I think in light of all the volatility in the country, I needed to remind myself of happier times or potential. And of course the listener, after so many confrontational topics, needs a little refuge.”
Hamell tours the world constantly, seemingly enjoying every performance challenge. From larger stages and theaters, winning the coveted Herald Angel Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, to house concerts and DIY underground spaces, this is a man who clearly loves to play. Armed with a battered 1937 Gibson acoustic guitar that he amplifies mightily and strums like a machine gun, a politically astute mind that can’t stop moving, and a mouth that can be profane one minute and profound the next, with Tackle Box, Hamell sets his sights on the new America and issues personal and spiritual. His performances invoke thoughts of the great, rebellious satirists and social commentators of the past: Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and Bill Hicks. Hamell is a great mind with acoustic punk rock mixed with a seeker’s soul. There’s no way around his obscenity but in that is a willingness to fight for the free thinkers of the world. Don’t we need that now more than ever?
Light Wheel is a musical act from Austin, Texas, formed by vocalist Tyagaraja and producer Evan Dunivan. Their music is marked by colorful soundscapes and eclectic rhythms, anchored by powerful, dynamic vocals. It is aesthetic pop music with touches of R&B grooves and Electronic flair. Light Wheel is now a four piece band with drummer Ethan Yeager and bassist Michael Sanders. Their debut full-length LP, “See Through”, was released in January of 2019.
Like the soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t yet exist, Rod Melancon’s Pinkville whips up a world
filled with shellshocked war veterans, gun-wielding rock & rollers, and other down-on-their-luck
characters, mixing cinematic details and electric guitars into its own version of greasy, gothic
Pulling everything together is Melancon himself: a southern songwriter and storyteller rooted in
the oral tradition of Cormac McCarthy and Larry Brown. His songs are dark and detailed, and
his voice — which veers between a spoken-word delivery, a croon, and a rough-edged howl —
is every bit as diverse as the material it delivers. Pinkville, his fourth release, makes plenty of
room for that diversity. There are psychedelic soul songs, Rolling Stones-inspired rockers,
tributes to icons like Freddy Fender and Tom Petty, and a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “57
Channels (And Nothin’ On),” all captured in analog sound by co-producers Adrian Quesada and
More biographical than the three albums before it, Pinkville begins in the swampy backcountry
of Louisiana. It was there, deep inside Vermilion Parrish, that Melancon grew up making trips to
his family’s crayfish pond. During those drives, he’d regularly pass by a dazed, older man
shuffling back and forth in his own front yard, dressed in long johns and combat boots. That
man — an Army vet who’d fought in Vietnam and returned home in a warped state, his mind
permanently haunted by the horrors of the My Lai Massacre — left a mark on Melancon, who
kicks off his new album with a spoken-word title track about the man and his wartime demons.
That leadoff song introduces one of Pinkville’s central themes: the hard truths that either make
or break a person.
Even so, there’s plenty of uplift here. “Heartbreakers” celebrates the influence of Tom Petty — a
songwriter who, like Melancon, grew up in the Deep South before migrating to Los Angeles —
while “Rehabilitation” makes a cool case for getting clean. Melancon rides a snake-charming
groove during the loud, electrified “Cobra” and turns his own mental struggle into a roadhouse
roots-rocker with “Manic Depression.” For an album that’s often steeped in darkness, Pinkville
isn’t afraid to shine its light on brighter moments, too.
Melancon, a former actor who was raised by a theater teacher, cranks up the album’s cinematic
sweep with help from Will Walden, who pulls double-duty as the album’s lead guitarist and coproducer. The son of Emmy-winning composer Snuffy Walden, Will approaches his instrument
like a director, setting the scene with each signature riff. In “Pinkville,” his tremolo guitar rustles
up images of a platoon on patrol, while the Keith Richards-inspired playing of “Westgate” helps
paint an R-rated picture of a horny, stoned adolescence. “Corpus Christi Carwash,” which tells
the true story of Freddy Fender’s former gig at a car wash, sways and swoons like a 1950s pop
ballad, while “Lord Knows” struts and swaggers with help from a 1970s organ.
Recorded in a series of live takes in Adrian Quesada’s Austin-area studio, Pinkville blurs the
lines between roadhouse country-rock, Texas blues, Louisiana soul, and all points between. It’s
haunted-sounding music for the heartland. And it’s Rod Melancon as you’ve never heard him
before: focused, unconventional, and willing to chase the muse into territory where few have
Good Morning Bedlam has become an innovative force in the folk scene with 13 national tours in over 42 states. Their shows are known for their contagious energy, with members careening about the stage, jumping and dancing with a wild playfulness. With tight soaring three part harmonies, and thumping kick-drum, they captivate their audience night after night with no intention of slowing down. Every song is a unique twist on what is generally dubbed as folk music.
“Walker’s brilliantly nuanced vocals are as natural, clear, sharp, and as effortlessly elegant as his guitar playing in these songs, and it all fits together into a warm, unadorned little album that reveals itself more and more with each listen.” – AllMusic
“It’s a welcome thing that Seth Walker’s chosen to pitch his tent in Americana. On his latest — Time Can Change — Walker has a way with smooth and swinging phrasing and makes classically accessible up-front pleas.” – Nashville Scene
“…Walker clearly illustrates his diverse musical talent and experience by building on what makes a great blues song.” – “Hear and Now” – 88.1 KDHX
“This young man is pure talent, a masterful blues guitarist, a singer with some swing in his voice and a writer whose (songs) sound less composed than unleashed.” – Austin American-Statesman
The Banisters are a super decent rock band from Austin, Texas. Friends and work colleagues have described them as “actually pretty good” and “better than I expected” while promising that despite the recent string of obligatory grandparent birthday celebrations, they’d definitely come to the next show. The songwriting core started in the summer of 2015 as a mix of co-workers and mutual acquaintances. Blending punk, blues, and psych-rock influences, the fledgling band soon found themselves where most bands unfortunately find themselves- on Craigslist, seeking drums and bass. Netting lukewarm and confusing results on Tinder, the band found solace in the words of Nicholas Sparks, “Love is like the wind, you can’t see it, but you can feel it.”
In the winter of 2016, The Banisters felt it. They successfully filled out their rhythm section and began playing shows all around Austin. They’ve since been invited to play with bands in Houston, San Antonio, San Marcos, and the DFW area. Their energetic performances and irresistible rock jams have brought them to various festivals including SXSW and Deep Ellum Arts Fest. The band has been featured on KUTX’s Song of the Day and was recently awarded The Deli Magazine’s Austin Emerging Artist of the Month.
Kim Kix: Singing, guitar.
Anders Pedersen: Guitar, Lap-stell guitar, keys, backing vocal.
Mike Sullivan: Drums
About Anders Pedersen a.k.a. Peasoup a.k.a. AP: Guitar player, songster. Howe Gelb’s wingman for more than a decade in Giant Sand. Proud to have served alongside good folks like Mark Lanegan, M. Ward, John Doe, Jim White, and Scout Nibblett. Avid dancer and addicted listener since the pre-teen years.
About Mike “ZACK” Sullivan: From the basements of the USA, Mike brings a primitive, passionate sound to the drums, having played with his own brother in a variety of bands (garage, rock ‘n roll, country, indie, latin). And due to his Blue Man Group training in NYC, Mike is able to emote onstage using only his teeth. Mike has toured in Europe and North America, traveling with the likes of Young Fresh Fellows, The Hall Monitors, Eddie Angel, and of course, the mighty POWERSOLO since 2012, who have bestowed upon him the most honorable and appropriate moniker in Rock And Roll: ….ZACK!
Kim Kix is Kim Kix of Godless Wicked Creeps, Hank Robot, And POWERSOLO
“I work for me,” Sarah Potenza declares at the beginning of Road to Rome, kicking off her second solo album — a record of self-empowered R&B, swaggering soul, and contemporary blues — with her own declaration of independence.
Filled with messages of self-worth, determination, and drive, Road to Rome shines new light on a songwriter whose career already includes multiple albums as front-woman of Sarah and the Tall Boys, a game-changing appearance on The Voice, and an acclaimed solo debut titled Monster. Released one year after she sang in front of 12 million people during The Voice‘s eighth season, 2016’s Monster prompted Rolling Stone to gush, “Potenza is to the blues what Adele is to pop: a colossal-voiced singer who merges her old-school influences with a modernistic sound.” Three years later, that sound deepens and intensifies with Road to Rome, an album that shows the full scope of Potenza’s aims and ambitions.
And just who is Sarah Potenza? She’s a songwriter. A bold, brassy singer. A businesswoman. A proud, loud-mouthed Italian-American from Providence, Rhode Island, with roots in Nashville and an audience that stretches across the Atlantic. Road to Rome spells it all out. Co-written by Potenza, produced by Jordan Brooke Hamlin (Indigo Girls, Lucy Wainwright Roche), and recorded with a female-heavy cast of collaborators, the album isn’t just her own story. It’s the story of all artists — particularly women, who remain the minority within the male-dominated music industry — who’ve learned to trust their instincts, refusing to let mainstream trends dilute their own artistic statements.
For Potenza, such lessons were learned during the writing sessions for Road to Rome, which took place aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean, as well as at her home in East Nashville. It was during the cruise that she first began writing songs with Justin Wiseman, a piano player from Austin, TX. For years, she and her husband, Ian Crossman, had worked together as a duo, splitting their musical duties more or less equally, writing songs with guitar in hand, and merging their very different influences. This was something different, though — something about the piano that allowed Potenza the chance to rediscover her own voice, making an album whose unique approach to soul music was entirely her own. Although Crossman and Wiseman’s contributions as co-writers can be heard throughout Road to Rome‘s tracks, the album represents a strong shift in dynamic, with Potenza leading the charge.
When it came time to record Road to Rome at MOXE, Jordan Brooke Hamlin’s Nashville-area studio, Potenza looked to a wide range of musicians for influence. She turned to Whitney Houston. To Lauryn Hill. To Pops Staples, the Dirty Projectors, RL Burnside, Bette Midler, and more. Those artists gave her inspiration not only on a musical level, but on an emotional and thematic level, too. They were artists who spoke with conviction, chasing their own muses into unique, personalized territory. Potenza did the same, turning Road to Rome into an album filled with everything from the torch song balladry of “Earthquake” (a love letter to Crossman, thanking him for years of support ) to the funky fire of “Dickerson and Queen” (where Potenza howls, swoons, and croons over bass grooves and swirling organ, reminding everyone that, “I don’t give a fuck about nothing but the music”). She even makes room for a piano-propelled cover of “Worthy,” originally written by Grammy-nominated icon Mary Gauthier, who personally sent the song to Potenza.
Released on International Women’s Day 2019, Road to Rome is the sound of a songwriter taking the wheel and driving toward her own destination. This is Sarah Potenza’s strongest album to date: a battlecry from a soul singer and blues belter, shot through with pop melodies and rock & roll attitude.
Come into Cactus Music and purchase your copy of Steve Earle & The Duke’s new album, “Guy” on CD [$11.98] or LP [$22.98] and receive a wristband to Steve’s ONLY Houston performance that evening. One wristband per CD/LP.
Steve Earle, a man who doesn’t mind telling a story, was talking about the first thing Guy Clark ever said to him.
“It was 1974, I was 19 and I had just hitch-hiked from San Antonio to Nashville,” Earle said in mid-Texas-cum-Greenwich Village drawl. “Back then if you wanted to be where the best songwriters were, you had to go to Nashville. There were a couple of places where you could get on stage, play your songs. They let you have two drafts, or pass the hat, but you couldn’t do both.
“If you were from Texas, and serious, Guy Clark was a king. Everyone knew his songs, ‘Desperados Waiting For A Train,’ ‘LA Freeway,’ he’d been singing them before they came out on Old No. 1 in 1975.”
“So I was pretty excited when I went into the club and the bartender, a friend of mine says, ‘Guy’s here.’ I wanted him to hear me play. I was doing some of my earliest songs, ‘Ben McCullough’ and ‘The Mercenary Song.’ But he was in the pool room and when I go in there the first thing he says to me is `I like your hat.’”
While it was a pretty cool hat, Earle remembers, “worn in just right with some beads I fixed up around it,” Clark did eventually hear his songs. A few months later he was playing bass in Guy’s band.
“Now, I am a terrible bass player…but I was the kid, and that was what the kid did. I took over for Rodney Crowell. At that time Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ was a top ten hit, which was amazing, a six and half minute story song on the radio. So Guy said, ‘we’re story song writers, why not us?’ So we went out to cash in on the big wave.”
The success of ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ was not replicated, but Earle reports that being the 19-year-old bass player in Guy Clark’s band was “a gas.” At least until Earle went into a bar and left the bass in the back seat of his VW bug, from which it was promptly stolen. “It was a nice Fender Precision bass that belonged to Guy, the kind of thing that would be worth ten grand now. He wasn’t so happy about that.”
More than forty years later, Steve Earle, just turned 64, no longer wears a cowboy hat. “It was more than all the hat acts,” Steve contended. “My grandmother told me it was impolite to wear a hat indoors.” As for Guy Clark, he’s dead, passed away in 2016 after a decade long stare-down with lymphoma. But Earle wasn’t ready to stop thinking about his friend and mentor.
“No way I could get out of doing this record,” Steve said when we talked over the phone from Charlotte, North Carolina, that night’s stop on Earle’s ever peripatetic road dog itinerary. “When I get to the other side, I didn’t want to run into Guy having made the TOWNES record and not one about him.”
Townes van Zandt (subject of Earle’s 2009 Townes) and Guy Clark were “like Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg to me,” Steve said. The mercurial Van Zandt (1944-1997) who once ordered his teenage disciple to chain him to a tree in hopes that it would keep him from drinking, was the On The Road quicksilver of youth. Clark, 33 at the time Earle met him, was a longer lasting, more mellow burn.
“When it comes to mentors, I’m glad I had both,” Earle said. “If you asked Townes what’s it all about, he’d hand you a copy of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. If you asked Guy the same question, he’d take out a piece of paper and teach you how to diagram a song, what goes where. Townes was one of the all-time great writers, but he only finished three songs during the last fifteen years of his life. Guy had cancer and wrote songs until the day he died…He painted, he built instruments, he owned a guitar shop in the Bay Area where the young Bobby Weir hung out. He was older and wiser. You hung around with him and knew why they call what artists do disciplines. Because he was disciplined.”
“GUY wasn’t really a hard record to make,” Earle said. “We did it fast, five or six days with almost no overdubbing. I wanted it to sound live…When you’ve got a catalog like Guy’s and you’re only doing sixteen tracks, you know each one is going to be strong.”
When he was making TOWNES, Earle recorded “Pancho and Lefty” first; it was a big record, covered over by no less than Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Bob Dylan. “You had to go into the bar and right away knock out the biggest guy in the room,” Earle recalled.
With GUY it was a different process. Clark didn’t have that one career-defining hit, but he wasn’t exactly unknown. “Desperados,” “LA Freeway” were pre-“Americana” style hits. “New Cut Road” charted for Bobby Bare and was recorded by Johnny Cash. “Heartbroke” was a # 1 country record for Ricky Skaggs in 1982. But when you added it up, Clark’s songs wove together into variegated life tapestry, far more than the sum of the parts.
Earle and his current, perhaps best ever, bunch of Dukes take on these songs with a spirit of reverent glee and invention. The tunes are all over the place and so is the band, offering max energy on such disparate entries as the bluegrass rave-up “Sis Draper” and talking blues memoir of “Texas 1947.” Earle’s raw vocal on the sweet, sad “That Old Time Feeling” is heartbreaking, sounding close enough to the grave as to be doing a duet with his dead friend.
You can hear little hints of where Earle came from. The stark “Randall Knife” has the line “a better blade that was ever made was probably forged in Hell,” which wouldn’t be out of place in a Steve Earle song. Also hard to beat is “The Last Gunfighter,” a sardonic western saga to which Earle offers a bravura reading of the chorus: “the smell of the black powder smoke and the stand in the street at the turn of joke.”
But in the end GUY leads the listener back to its beginning, namely Guy Clark, which is what any good “tribute” should do.
Indeed, it was a revelation to dial up a video of Guy Clark singing “Desperados Waiting For A Train” on Austin City Limits sometime in the 1980’s. Looking as handsome as any man ever was in his bluegrass suit and still brown, flowing hair, Clark sings of a relationship between a young man and an older friend. Saying how the elder man “taught me how to drive his car when he was too drunk to,” the young narrator describes a halcyon fantasy in which he and friend were always “desperados waiting for a train.” As time passes, however, the young man despairs. To him, his friend is “one on the heroes of this country.” So why is he “dressed up like some old man?”
Steve Earle delivers these lines well, as he always does. But the author of “Guitar Town,” “Copperhead Road,” “Transcendental Blues” and a hundred more masterpiece songs, would be the first to tell you it is one thing to perform “Desperados Waiting For Train” and another to be its creator. There are plenty of covers better than the original. But “Desperados…” will forever reside with Guy Clark, the songwriter singing his song, just him and his guitar. That is the main thing GUY has to tell you: to remember the cornerstone, never forget where you came from.
There was another reason, Earle said, he couldn’t “get out of” making GUY. “You know,” he said, “as you live your life, you pile up these regrets. I’ve done a lot of things that might be regrettable, but most of them I don’t regret because I realize I couldn’t have done anything else at the time.”
“With GUY, however, there was this thing. When he was sick—he was dying really for the last ten years of his life—he asked me if we could write a song together. We should do it ‘for the grandkids,’ he said. Well, I don’t know…at the time, I still didn’t co-write much, then I got busy. Then Guy died and it was too late. That, I regret.”
Earle didn’t think making GUY paid off some debt, as if it really could. Like the Townes record, Guy is a saga of friendship, its ups and downs, what endures. It is lucky for us that Earle remembers and honors these things, because like old friends, GUY is a diamond.