Spaghetti del Alma

So, you guys digging The Road Southern’s renewal? I know, I know. We’re only, like, two posts in, but they’re good ones, no? I’ve decided in its new incarnation I’ll be doing some journal blogging (j’ogging?), because this site is my wall & I got all this spaghetti to throw at it. Spaghetti that’s inside me. Soul-sketti.

Wow, I had this idea of doing an epic stream of consciousness post, but it turns out I just wanted to justify the term soul-sketti. Shit, what else?

My after thoughts of the last installment, that being about Mary-Elaine Jenkins, are these. I didn’t recognize anybody at Rockwood save for MEJ & her mama. I thought I’d feel uncomfortable, but I  enjoyed it. Perhaps because most, maybe all, of the South Slope, Brooklyn singers & pickers I used to write about are gone. In my mind the community, as it were-as it was, had come to an end. This isn’t true, though. Roots Cafe‘s new operators are wonderful people: artists, photographers, & poets. The packed house at MEJ’s showed me the Americana scene is plenty strong & enduring. Good things.

It does not do to bemoan loss & vacancy in this city for too long. If I haven’t written before that this town is like a river, well, let me do so now. All that rushes out is replaced by all that rushes in.  All the good people I seen go are duly missed, but here come some good people around the bend. That’s comforting. Know what I mean?

Jeepers, I got a little deep there. What else?

I got a new bicycle!

Love, love, love,

J

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One of the first pics I snapped when I moved here. These bikes & the one I’ve had for all ten years in Brooklyn are gone now. It’s cool tho, I got a new one. It’s better. Because rivers.

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The Monster & Mary-Elaine

I’ve always been afraid this blog might be taken for a fansite, since (early on, at least) my reporting has largely been of praise for some of the same people.  Having said that, I’m writing this piece the morning after the Mary-Elaine Jenkins record release show at Rockwood Music Hall while listening to her debut album Hold Still, &, muh dudes, I am sporting a Mary-Elaine Jenkins t-shirt (I really wasn’t planning on writing anything today & laundry is overdue). I’ve only my pleas to you all to not take me as a fanboy though I’ve currently no evidence to the contrary—which might make Mary-Elaine wary of me had we never met. The point is I don’t critique art & culture here. My aim is to support it.

So, let us breathe deep & take for granted that what I’m about to say I would have said anyway, regardless of current playlist & band tee. Mary-Elaine’s show was pretty fucking great!

I’ve seen MEJ play quite a few times since this blog’s early days. The more I’ve watched her, the more I’ve seen something grow in her. Not from an unblossomed bud or tiny spark. It doesn’t feel like it originated in her at all. Whatever it is it wandered in & not as some pretty, wispy unhurt thing. I can hear it in her smokey voice. You can see it in her steely eyes. Whatever it is it’s older than she.

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ME4Her music has evolved since I first spotted the singer/songwriter four years ago. It’s not just her & an acoustic guitar anymore. This gives that ineffable monster inside her room to bang around as it does in the album’s opening track “Rooster.” Mary-Elaine’s patience & diligence in finding the right producer has paid off. The songs on her album are robust without bloat. She’s picked up an electric guitar, as well, turning her song “Iggy” into a juke joint classic. The title track “Hold Still” would be just a sweet & pretty song as it’s slowed down with pining strings & tinkling mandolin, but there’s too much of an ache, & it’s here I feel that the monster has found solid shelter in Mary-Elaine Jenkins. The muse is not a beautiful pixie that comes to bless us with divine inspiration, that’s your stupid ego. The muse is the unquelled beast inside, tired, broke down, & fightin’ mad. But neither monster or gal linger in anger or ache as they pick themselves up to clown around a bit with “Six Skinny Toes,” an ode to her guitar.

Mary retouchedIt is due to this symbiotic relationship of beast & singer that I recommend MEJ’s record. The first thing I wrote about MEJ was in part an apology for near dismissing her. I could have written about her during different iterations of her musical life, as she’s acquired more experience & upped the number of members in her band as required by a growing monster. But I was worried about being mistaken for a fansite. Hold Still is a fantastic & rewarding reason for you to get up, check out some new music, & for me to begin again this blog that aims to support the impressive southern talents in this most yankiest of cities.

You can still see Mary-Elaine Jenkins live AF, & you should, the first Sunday of every month during her Pete’s Candy Store residency!

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The Real Thing

“Keep Me In Your Heart” Warren Zevon

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Internationally he was known as El Tigre. (this is not made up)

I met Mike Windham in the early 2000s, but had heard tales of him for years prior when I lived in Atlanta. His daughter is my best friend. She beamed when she spoke of him, and I must say I liked the man, too.  What struck me first about him was how little fat there was in anything he said. Every word from him was necessary toward his meaning. Yet, he wasn’t dry. He was not a serious man. He was too intelligent for that.

Last week he lost his fight with cancer. My heart goes out to my best friend and her family who are rocked and robbed by this disease. I know a good man’s gone.

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El Tigre held dominion over all cucurbitaea, which enabled him to rally and command pumpkins, gourds, and squash. (also, not made up)

We traded books. I still talk about the first thing he recommended for me to read, Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” I was surprised and thrilled when he read the first thing I recommended to him, Nick Tosches’ “The Devil and Sonny Liston.” He gifted me a subscription to The New Yorker when I moved here, so as to help me acclimate to the city. I returned the favor by signing him up to the Oxford American. He told me he was glad I was doing this blog. He was my first vocal supporter. Kindness and faith in his family and friends, those things he took seriously. He was smart like that.

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Amanda Neill of Barefoot & Bankside, asked me to impart: “While I don’t have the words to heal, I do know, somehow, strangely, music has the power of soothing. My prayers are for you, your family, and my friend Jody.” El Tigre has told me on more than one occasion how he enjoyed her songs.

When I learned he was to start chemotherapy, I knew he’d be spending many hours a day in a chemo chair. I asked the musicians I was just getting to know from doing this blog if they’d donate some music and merch to a care package I was putting together for him as he very much enjoyed their music, and they were gracious enough to do so. I sent it to him with two of my favorite books (“Sometimes a Great Notion” by Ken Kesey, and “Shadow Country” by Peter Matthiessen), and some special mouthwash to counter the cotton mouth I knew to be a side effect of the chemo treatments. I hoped for him, and I hoped for my best friend.

It is unfair.

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El Tigre knew exactly how to set the scene.

He let me know how much he enjoyed the blog, and how much he enjoyed my writing regularly. It was an honor that made me bashful. He was the best kind of reader. It’s a rare thing to feel that kind of support when you know you’re nobody. I don’t say that cynically. I mean to convey what it’s like to be cared about by that man. He makes you feel like somebody.

Every time  I was able  to hangout with him and through our correspondence he made me laugh. In fact, when his daughter told me he had gone, the first thing that went through my head was a time when we were at her place in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and her visiting father spat his chewing gum at her apropos of nothing, but to signify that he was very bored. It was the first time he’d made me laugh so hard from the gut that I couldn’t stop. I think it’d have pleased him that my first reaction to his death was to replay this moment in my mind all day.

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Should you see his daughter, spit your gum at her. She probably won’t get the homage, but it’d make me laugh.

Mike Windham was strange and brilliant. He was a good thing in this world. He saw a good thing in me, and this blog. In those moments that I would seriously reconsider whether or not I have the time and inclination to continue writing here, it was his encouragement, his enjoyment of how I write and what I write about that has helped keep this going. I always knew at least one person was reading my stuff, and that it was the best kind of reader doing so. And to know his daughter, equally strange and brilliant, is to know he was the best kind of father. He is missed.

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B&B’s Lastest Song of Their Lastest Show Ever!

As you know, Barefoot & Bankside had their last show ever, what with Jamey “Brother” Hamm leaving for Alabama and all. I recorded their closing song with my phone and futzed with it in some editing software as a learning project, and decided to show off my rudimentary skillz. So, please enjoy the very last performance of fan favorite “Make Me Stay” by Barefoot & Bankside.

Y’all have a good’n!

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So Long, Jamey Hamm

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It seems an apt tune as I reboot this little blog o’ mine. And, so, my apologies to the two or three of you that read this. Since the last time I wrote in these pages, Brooklyn has lost some good folks. It began with Matt “Cracked” Frye who’s down North Carolina way now. Then ol’ Alex Mallett wandered west to Kansas City. Trisha Ivy went on back to Tennessee. Now it’s Jamey “Brother” Hamm’s turn. He, his wife, and their brood have pulled up stakes, and as of this writing they are currently ‘Bama bound. Everybody’s going home, it feels like.

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Jamey “Brother” Hamm

While these folks were making their exits, I was working a lot at the shitty day job, keeping up with a nice gal, and trying to write a book. The blog fell to the side. There wasn’t any time for checking out bands, then writing, then editing, then putting together a multimedia post. Then the nice gal fell by the side. We hired new help at the day job, and I’m working less. So, now I’m in danger of having too much time on my hands. In the interim, I was sad to watch these musicians go. And, yeah, sad about the nice gal, too. It felt like the life I had built myself through TRS was dissipating. I suppose in actuality it was. I accept it, though. Not just because I have to, but because I understand it. The people of your life, they are a river. It’s like when ol’ Vonnegut wrote those three little words that sum up the whole of our personal experience in this world. You remember. He wrote, “So it goes.”

 

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Celebratin’ Brother Hamm

I’ll miss the music of those fine singers and players. And the conversation. But Jamey’s going home is a big one. His band Barefoot & Bankside got this blog started. On May 29th, a Sunday, he had himself a farewell show at Littlefield in Gowanus. It was, like most solidifying moments, bittersweet. Brother Hamm had been here for almost a decade, and in that time had made a substantial mark on the Brooklyn Americana music scene. Literally everyone I’ve written about in these pages can be traced back to having met Jamey “Brother” Hamm at his coffee shop, Roots Café, in South Slope, which he made a nexus of southern/Americana culture in Brooklyn.

 

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His farewell show was itself a musical history of Brother Hamm’s Brooklyn tenure. Beginning with a gospel duo he had started upon first moving here, he went on to fill the stage a la Talking Heads concert film “Stop Making Sense” with many of the performers he’d worked with through the years. It was, in short, a kickass night. A good way to see him off, as he’d picked the most appropriate way to see us off. I’ll miss him. I’ll miss all of them. So it goes.

Amanda of Barefoot & Bankside, and soon to be Amanda of just Amanda (She’s playing Threes Brewing June 22nd in a solo capacity.), now owns Roots Café with her husband. It’s where I do most of my writing, and I get to watch her welcome new folks to the neighborhood, to Brooklyn, to NYC. She makes them feel welcome. That’s a thing that doesn’t really happen to most of those fresh off the bus.

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Possessed By Paul James

And wouldn’t you know it, as I was wondering if I should restart this blog, a friend let me know that Possessed By Paul James is in town. I found this musical entity when I first started this blog and fell in love with his album “There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely.” He’s out of Texas. And he don’t get much out of the Texas area, but for one night he was in Brooklyn. And I went to go to see him. And once again I was happy to see and hear an artist representing the absolute best of the South. I found myself back on that road home, that road that is home. It’s like when ol’ Robert Frost said those three little words that sum up the whole of human life. He said, “It goes on.”

Y’all have a good’n!

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Jalopy

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Jalopy Theatre. It’s also a bar. And a music school. I feel like a music school should have a bar.

Back in the first days of NYC I wasn’t aware of any country culture going on. I suppose if someone asked I’d have to have said, sure, there’s country/Americana/Appalachian music happening in NYC, because, well, everything is happening here. It wasn’t real to me. It was just a hypothesis that had an extremely high likelihood of being correct.

When I lived in Flatbush I’d have to change trains at Atlantic station. And one day while hustling from the B/Q line to the 4 train there they were. A moonshine-jug and shoestring band. They were busking below the platforms. All in overalls and beards. Actual jug being played. Actual washboard being raked across. Actual makeshift git-fiddle. Them boys in that outfit were singing songs from the blue hills. Their cardboard plaque requesting donations read that they were from Georgia. I listened for a minute, then dropped a couple bucks in their bucket. The damnedest thing, they were. I wish I had taken a picture.

Jalopy Bar 1I like what makes it up here to NYC from my sordid digs of home. The music. That one good thing. The racism left behind, the classism cast aside, that insipid conservatism slaked off to fester. (Conservatism. To conserve. To set in amber the status quo. Not even the present status quo, but revert to the old status quo. They are not conservationists, but reversionists. They want to go back. Back to what? Any time before now was pretty shitty for women, minorities, gays, children, and times aren’t really the greatest for them now. So, fuck the conservatives and the fundamentalists for their literally backwards aspirations. Fuck ‘em where they breathe. I thank you kindly for indulging this aside.).

Jalopy Bar 2So, yeah, Jalopy. If the moonshine-jug and shoe string band I caught busking in the subway was a sign, then Jalopy is the destination of my pilgrimage. I didn’t come to NYC looking for home, nor have I been so homesick as to wish something from the South would come to claim me. I’ve never been one to long for the days of yore. In fact, it has been my motto that “fuck the days of yore.” Go ahead and quote me on that. Jalopy with its dive-bar-chic barroom replete with an upright piano reminds me of secondhand music shops that are kept like junk stores in the south and my favorite bar, Freddy’s.

You can find it in Red Hook at the corner of Columbia and Hamilton. The music featured is primarily folk, bluegrass, and country. So, if you’re like me and embarrassed of the news that makes its way from your country home, and frustrated because you know those stubborn and curmudgeonly states are capable of so much more, so much better, then come to Jalopy and sit among the church pews of her theater and hear that new song from the old country.Jalopy Pews_edited

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Ivy, Beck & Neill and The Alex Mallett Band To Release Live Albums–This Freakin’ Saturday!

As I’ve written before Andreea and I have been privy to the process of Ivy, Beck & Neill’s putting together a live concert recording. Early in the year Trisha Ivy idly asked me if I thought a live recording was possible. To which I said, “Probably, or maybe not. I don’t know, but, yeah, sure, I guess.” Because I’m dumb, folks! I don’t know how such a thing works and anyways she wasn’t asking for my wisdom, nor cared. She was just thinking out loud. A couple months later, she, Mike Beck, and Amanda Neill recorded a live album at Rockwood Music Hall—that’s in New York City, y’all! And now we’re super pleased to announce:

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Alex6In conjunction The Alex Mallett Band will be releasing their own album, and you know TRS loves those guys! If you’re in Brooklyn, come out to Red Hook, and get rocked in the face by these country/americana singers and pickers.Eyes Wide Open

The album release show is this Saturday at Jalopy Theatre! Doors open at 7:30. Get advanced tickets as every performer is beloved, and as such their show is likely to sell out.

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The Kentucky Girl

Hit play on this song. Turn it up. All the way.

I have said that my first living experience in Brooklyn was a lonely little room on the east side of Bushwick among the prostitutes and the drug dealers. It was just me making a solitary go at existing in NYC. When I left my home in Georgia, I was broken, emptied, and too numb to be desperate. That girl that I loved best had recently died. That’s how I came to Brooklyn.

Alex6The hard, early times were, indeed, hard. But the numbness helped to mediate how shitty being a newcomer to NY can be. It’s like trying to bully a kid who already couldn’t give a fuck. People here resent the grind. Yet, it was the grind that got me through those early years. The grind is a river. You have to not fight it. You have let go of the bank, get in the flow. I lost a lot of weight in those days. It’s a lot of exercise to be in this city with no car, daily hustling to find work, to keep work. There were times when I couldn’t afford to put any money on my MTA card. I had to eat less. I had to choose wisely what I did eat. Trying not to subsist on just Ramen noodles, I went through a lot of beans and rice.

B&B Pre 1When I finally found a decent job at a fancy-ish patisserie in Cobble Hill, where I first met Amanda Neill, I didn’t feel fit, or “in shape.” I felt wind sheared. I’m not a particularly prideful person, but I know I earned my place in NYC. With the comfort of the new decent job, and the constant worry about money, rent, and food abating, the loneliness set in. Not that I didn’t have friends. It was that I didn’t have her, I didn’t have that. I finally began to grieve. Depression set in. I felt that I had drifted too far out from people. I felt like I was perceiving every friendly soul as though there was a partition of glass between us. I didn’t know how to connect anymore.

Mary Elaine Jenkins

This is the talented Mary Elaine Jenkins. NOT the Kentucky girl.

Enter the Kentucky girl for her part in the story. A tall, young girl who came to work at the patisserie with me and Amanda. She was nice, smart, with an appropriate amount of weirdness, but naïve. I happened to overhear her giving life advice to another young employee. I listened in to be amused by some homespun platitudes and/or Facebook inspirational quotes. The girl from Kentucky told her friend matter-of-factly, “Get out, and go do.” She said just leave the apartment, and pick a direction. The Kentucky girl said, “this is New York City.”

You're My FriendA couple years from then, the comfort and ease of the solitary life had outlasted its usefulness. I had heard Amanda sing, and had been following that voice, and encouraging others to join me. Intrepid photog Andreea was one. She heard what I heard in Amanda’s voice, and in time she and I heard the songs of other voices singing from their southern souls. With the words of the Kentucky girl ringing in my head, and knowing of no way to be a part of this Brooklyn Country community, I started The Road Southern as my way back to the world. That first post was one year ago today.

The Road Southern's Intrepid Photo

The Road Southern’s Intrepid Photo

It has awarded me the friendship of Andreea whose encouragement and contributions to the blog are immeasurable, and I am indebted to her. Through the blog and Amanda, I have made many new friends, I have eaten insanely good food, and heard music the likes of which brings me back to when I was a teenager; ecstatic, giddy, and touched to the core by the newness and the wonder.

This happened because I went out and I did. I left my apartment and picked a heading. And a year later, I am happy. I’m not just surviving or getting by. I’m living in this city. I walk out of my apartment now, and I have many places to go. I owe Andreea. I owe Amanda. I owe every brilliant, talented artist in these pages. That debt is what keeps me on that road, and smiling.

We even shot a music video for some folks!

We even shot a music video for some folks! Click to watch AND listen!

There’s even a girl now. She’s from Memphis. I met her on that first night I heard Amanda sing. Amanda and the Memphis girl were sitting on a stoop after the very first Barefoot & Bankside show. Amanda said to me, “Jody, you have to meet the most wonderful and amazing person ever in the world!” I nodded to the Memphis girl, she nodded back. I moved on. Amanda says that shit about everybody.

But, goddamn it if she don’t turn out to be right every time.

My deepest thanks to all of you Road Southern readers.

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Bursting The Banks

Christ, I think it was almost two years ago! Two years since I first heard Amanda Neill let loose that voice on a hot as all hell night in July. Two years since it thundered but did not rain. That makes this blog o’ mine almost a year old. Christ.

Anyway.

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CD release party at Threes Brewing

Barefoot & Bankside has released a live record. When I first heard them they were doing an open mic at Bar 4. It’s gone now, long gone. B&B, however, has been marching on. They’re getting better, louder, and, Jeebus help us, wilder. I am glad. Having seen Jamey “Brother” Hamm and Amanda stomp and holler in humble beginnings at open mics and then a couple months ago record a live album to a sold-out crowd at Rockwood Music Hall has been a pleasure. It tells me I’m right for hitching my wagon to these folk. You’d be doing yourself a favor, too, for giving them a listen. If’n it’s a review you want, you can go here. But, really, just listen.

I have two codes to download the album. Whoever the first two are to hit me up at theroadsouthern@gmail.com, will get to have ’em as I’m not picky at all about who the two of you might be.

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