Notes From The Underground Bluegrass Scene

Pianos

Deceptively huge venue inside.

This past Monday TRS went to Pianos on the Lower East Side to hear Alex Mallett and Dylan Sneed do their singer/songwriter thing. There will be a post on that later after intrepid photog, Andreea, sends me her pics of the event that as usual capture the inner rock star of her subjects, and lends this blog far more integrity than it has earned.

This story begins after the show. Dylan and Andreea, sleepy-bear photog, called it a night. Alex wanted to go to this bluegrass jam session. I was game. He, his wife Sammie, and I walked the small LES streets where rock and roll youngsters bustled and smoked cigarettes. Little hipster fashionistas sipped insanely priced drinks in the gastropubs. They’re probably all good people, just dressed like dumb kids.

This area is also old stomping grounds for me. I was living in Bushwick still, but worked at a Starbucks on Delancey & Allen. Yeah, Starbucks. Believe it or not, it wasn’t the worst job I’ve had in this city. That honor goes to Buffalo Wild Wings at Atlantic Center where patrons would jump managers over fifty cent wings taking fifteen minutes too long, where customers would brandish pistols causing a riot—where one night detectives showed up to ask me if I recalled a particular person dining the night before. I did. Just before sitting at my table he had beat a man to death with a baseball bat and immediately went to B-dubs for a meal with the dead man’s credit card. My reaction to the news was indignant because that murderous mother fucker didn’t even tip with the stolen credit card.

Be ye warned: If you come to NYC with less than a professional transplant and/or trust fund, you will be humiliated. You will be humbled. You will be broken way, way down before you are able to build yourself up. So, past the age of 30 I was mopping a bathroom in a Manhattan Starbucks when I finally snapped. Well, I had just finished cleaning the bathroom. This nice guy, I mean it, he was totally nice and respectful, came to me and asked to use the restroom, and that he would be quick and clean and apologized for the trouble. I wasn’t even in a bad mood that day. Up until that moment I was fine. I’M a nice guy, I’M friendly and respectful, but for no reason, I told him, no. I told him to go to a bar around the corner that is friendly to most interlopers in need of bladder emptying. He apologized again and stressed that it was an emergency. This actually infuriated me, and despite the fact that I believed him. He had been in the joint all night pounding shitty, watery Starbucks coffee while studying. I flat out said, no. Meanly. I squared up. He, baffled and feeding off my energy, became equally pissed. It became a shouting match. I don’t remember what all was said, but I remember seeing his eyes flash in hate and his body language indicating he was about to shove me or throw a punch. I remember thinking, yes, hell yes! I remember thinking it is important that I either beat this man’s ass, or get my ass beaten by him. That is a badass line, but it is a profoundly stupid and shameful way to behave. He wound up leaving in a huff. I assume a strong need to urinate and good reasoning that this was dumb and I am an asshole led him out the door.

Sometimes they get my name right.

Sometimes they get my name right.

A friendly regular came up to me and asked if I was alright, as what he had just witnessed was out of character for me. He said, nicely, that in NYC it’s a law that if you’re open and have a public restroom you can’t refuse anyone its service. Which I knew. His tone had told me that basic human curtesy should have been the rule. Which I knew. I felt terrible. I kept hoping I’d see Mr. Full-bladder in the days that followed so I could apologize, get him some shitty, watery coffee on the house. I never saw him again.

jamboreeAlex Mallett and his wife led me to Rockwood Music Hall. We were all here a few weeks back for the Songs of the South show with Trisha Ivy, B&B, and Dylan Sneed. The probably-good-people-that-are-dressed-like-dumb-kids peopled the main floor. The Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love” welcomed us over the sound system. I’ve actually been having a Cure renaissance in my listening life, and was singing along upon entry. We went downstairs, below street level. Robert Smith could not reach, and just before I could lament not having closure with the favorable song, the doors to Stage 3 swung open and we were swallowed whole by the lively sounds of mandolins, violins, guitars, and banjos. It was a packed room, and everyone had a stringed instrument in their hand. On stage and off everyone in the room was playing along to old bluegrass standards. The scene was old, young, all colors, all creeds gathered up in a room. No one was left out. Everyone got a chance to pick a song, lead a song, and/or solo. Alex told me this isn’t even an nth of the country/bluegrass scene in NYC. There aren’t just scenes here, there are worlds. Comfort is not the reward of those early hard and humiliating days. Discovery is.

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Cracked Out

matt 3I have been hoping to see a Matt “Cracked” Frye show since I first saw his short set at Roots Family Reunion. TRS finally caught up to him at Goodbye Blue Monday. GBM is an old stomping ground of mine from my early, miserable days in Brooklyn. I lived a few stops down on the J train from the eclectic venue near the Halsey Station, the east side of Bushwick. Back then all of B-wick was hood. I laid in a tiny room I was renting terrified that I would never find a job. Sometimes I think I heard gun shots. If I left my building after midnight there’d be drug dealers posted on the street corners, and prostitutes displaying themselves along Broadway. One time a thick, busty lady of the night was trickin’ out in the rain in a next-to-nothing tube top and skirt. To would-be johns she called out, “I’m already wet, baby, let’s have a good time!” She politely refused my umbrella.

In winter, at our nation’s brokest time I was standing in job lines next to Harvard grads, and ex-Wall Street employees. We were all waiting in the freezing cold, the snow and slush for some janitorial type job. All of us turned down for some congenial 20-something. Disappointed and crestfallen, I’d return home to that little more than a closet of a bedroom and despair over the possibility of having to return to my home in Georgia and move back in with my mama. Survival in this economically bullying city seemed an impossibility. There were many nights of distress.

Five-six years later, I’m back in Bushwick enjoying the hell out of a Matt Frye show. A good quality beer in my hand, at the joint that used to be my haven for free entertainment and $3 PBR on tap. I arrived a little late because GBM is now out of the way of my new digs where I’ve yet to hear a gunshot in the night. Andreea, intrepid photographer, was already snapping away at Matt. Mr. Frye stuck out like a sore thumb at the Roots Family Reunion show, but there amid GBM’s antique junk, bad art, and random curios he looked more in his element.

I have described his music before, here. So, give that a look over and/or give a listen to the music posted here.


Matt is from North Carolina. Charlotte. I was surprised to learn he started out in electronic music down there, which knowing how the majority of southern folks are, I’m sure it was in some way a “fuck you” to his surroundings, to his culture. My culture. Our culture. Then he moved to NYC, and out came the Americana, the Appalachian folkie with the Woody Guthrie “trick” in his voice. Back home, my home, his home, shoddy lip-serviced tradition and commonality are shoveled upon one in heaps. It is no wonder we slide into our punk states of mind. A lot of who I am is because looking at my trailer park neighbors then, I only had one image of myself in mind for the future. Anyone but them.

Matt Frye 2aThat’s why books and Leonard Cohen instead of football and Garth Brooks. That’s why rap music and dressing gangsta—until that became socially acceptable to the rednecks who wanted nothing to do with black people as individuals, but would steal and appropriate, as ever, their culture. After that that’s why I wore chokers, and long hair. Because, wild aimless expression over agreement, over broken polite-society. I wonder what that proto-Jody would think of me now as I have succeeded in making it out of that town and into NYC only to seek out southern/country culture. I would tell him whether he realizes it or not, (he didn’t) he was seeded by those things he swore himself against. He could let those seeds germinate and take root in that place of lip-serviced tradition and broken polite-society, and become just another. He didn’t. Or, he could hold them close instead, buck the trends and traditions, give himself to the wind and see what new things can come of old seeds in other worlds. He can cull from the old a new purpose, new point of view, unhindered by tradition, un-buffered by commonality.

Matt Frye 1

Of course, Matt “Cracked” Frye chose that old folkie sound. Maybe he heard it as a babe, or a young man, but knew that it was America’s original “fuck you” music. They were bucking against government, and social norms/injustice well before rap, rock and roll, and even country western music. Of course, he imbued it with a modern urban punk sensibility. Of course he stuck out like a sore thumb before that crowd that came to Roots Family Reunion to hear that traditional old-timey music with their friends from church. He’s an intelligent, kind and funny man, but he’s also one cracked motherfucker. What the hell else was he gonna do?

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All Work and All Play

It is not just out of laziness that I keep this post short, but the intrepid photographer, Andreea, kicks so much ass that I want her pics to run this entry. Enjoy!

montage 1

B&B Pre 1

Amanda was seriously fretting that her outfit was too revealing. Bless her heart!

The Road Southern caught another Barefoot & Bankside and Trisha Ivy set at Rockwood Music Hall, and it should be a surprise to no one that both sets were phenomenal. They let us hang around with them before the show. I got to hear Trisha Ivy, Mike Beck, and Amanda Neill practice a song in the green room. In that small room I found myself in a moment I had been hoping for since starting this blog. I got to witness a bit of the “work” that makes a show. Listening to their first play through, I thought it immensely pleasurable to watch them correct each other on notes that my lay ears thought were executed perfectly, then they corrected, and I thought, oh, Jesus, damn!

montage 2

To test out how good the sound quality is on my voice recorder I recorded Amanda Neill and Jamey Hamm rehearsing their cover of Shovel & Rope’s “The Devil is All Around.” The quality is on the low to mid side of decent. The recording doesn’t come close to the actual performance of the song, of course. I really love the feeling I got witnessing them ironing out any kinks before the show. Amanda and Jamey were about two feet apart facing each other. Both were keeping a close eye on the other. Myself and others were in the room, but Amanda and Jamey were in the song. Something about how quickly they correct themselves toward the end was where the bit o’ magic was for me. And, of course, I like the smart ass comments by band mates.

montage 4

What did give me a surprise was opener Dylan Sneed. I’d seen him play at Roots Café where it was just himself a couple times. He’s a great song writer, and exemplary on guitar. At Rockwood he had a full band backing him. They blew me and everyone else away. I knew he could sing and play, but it was something else to see him rock!

montage 3

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Eat, Drink, and Be Married

A gang of Perfect Strangers

A gang of Perfect Strangers

Alex Mallett LThe other night I was at J’eatjets’s bar. I was minding my own. Then I spied a drunken band of merry-makers clad in the same t-shirt that bore the image of either Balki Bartokomous’s cousin Larry or Alex Mallett. I believe I saw Gypsy George in the shuffling gang, and know that I saw Justin Kilburn (of That Moon) because he stopped and saluted me. It turns out they were Alex Mallet’s bachelor party. I thought to myself, huh, I guess things go on in these musicians’ lives without me. Imagine that. It got me thinking that since The Trisha Chronicle I’ve not been commenting on BK Country as diligently as I should.

Firstly, let us congratulate Alex and Sammie on their upcoming wedding!

Alex & Sammie sittin' in a tree, hopefully not interrupted by Chris Murphy

Alex & Sammie sittin’ in a tree, hopefully not interrupted by Chris Murphy

Alex04A few weeks back, myself and intrepid photographer, Andreea, attended the Alex Mallett Band show at Hometown BBQ that was put on to support his crowdfunding effort for his new CD “Eyes Wide Open.” I’m happy to report he made his goal, and the album will be let out into the world. Alex is a swell guy, and he and his band are excellent musicians. This is a fine and fair thing that has come to be in a world notorious for how un-fine and unfair it can be.

JD Patch 2That night, TRS met Hometown’s GM, Mitch Rosen, and on his advice the intrepid photographer and I returned the next night for JD Patch. JD’s show can only be described as a big ol’ time! I heard the old honkytonk sound I missed from younger days when at the juke joint of ill-repute in my hometown, a place called Mudcats that no longer exists except in story. JD’s music is quite a bit more ribald than these other musicians and bands that I have followed on this blog. He sings about drinkin’, weed smokin’, and skirt chasin’. I think I heard references to hard-ons. He even covered degenerate redneck David Allen Coe. I met JD Patch after his show. He told me he grew up an army brat. He also said he came to his good ol’ boy sound by way of being a hip-hop producer. I know, I, too, was like, “the hell you say!” He was flipping through stacks of records one day and came across some country. The twang just lit him up. I would have guessed he’d been rocking country his whole life.

Alex and kid at Hometown

I’ve seen a few shows at Hometown BBQ now, and expect to see more. It has a most excellent country vibe by design. I’m not an advocate of slapping one’s own mama, but the food is such that, well, you might just slap yo’ mama on account of it’s so goddamn good! The joint doesn’t just get listed in top-tens of the city, but in the whole country, too. I’m also pleased by how diverse the patrons are. Everybody sits down to Hometown’s share tables. I like what good food does. I like what good music does. And whatever hard-edged concerns I have leftover, well, I like  what good booze does.

The Intrepid Photog marveling at Google Cardboard

The Intrepid Photog marveling at Google Cardboard at Hometown BBQ

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From Here, Where?

I’ve been trying to write something, anything but this for the past week. The Trisha interview threw me for a loop, and sent me reeling. She did so inadvertently, of course. She said “started back at zero.” She said she was cynical and biting to the point that she hurt people. She said that after her brother’s death, humor became the default operating system for all her social interactions, and that she stayed away from any other emotions.

It was the starting back at zero comment. I hadn’t heard that exact phrasing before, not outside of my own head. Then she listed a shared symptom, humor as both sword and shield to fend off and defend from real emotions, and people, and how people can grow into you, and how people can suddenly go. Then she said how she was sad for ten-plus years, and didn’t even really know it.

I came to Brooklyn at zero.

There was a girl, and she was the one I loved the most. Many years I loved her. Many years she loved me. Then a freak bout of lung cancer claimed her. I left my home in Georgia, because the heart I loved best had left me. My world was made beaconless. It is a profound feeling to become untethered. Value-wise there is suddenly no difference between the raindrops on your face and a parking lot; between the others dying in the hospital and these very live ones going about their day before you. No difference between your best friends and shuffling strangers. So, what do you do? Shuffle on now that you’re the stranger, for the way is forward, is it not?

Funny thing that. Forward is omni-directional. Any which way I face from here is forward.

I used humor in my early days to stave off bullying in my trailer park. Then to win friends. Then to make her laugh. I was an atheist heathen then, and she a faithful Christian. The God-loving, life-loving girl would laugh at my darkest jokes. I don’t know how we got along so well being so fundamentally different. She could get me out of my head. It’s been hell not having someone who can do that.

In NY the humor has been to beguile workmates and others into believing there is a friendship, but what have I ever revealed of myself? Not a thing. Trust me, make people laugh consistently and they won’t want you to do anything else. It’s nice. Yet, an interesting thing has occurred. I do not joke or act funny around these southern souls I’ve met and am coming to know. The notion of keeping up an act suddenly becomes exhausting to me around them. So, I smile and nod my head struggling to fathom what else is there to say other than a joke. “How’s it going?” That sounds like something regular people say, right?

I made jokes about meeting Amanda (of Barefoot & Bankside) in an earlier post. I joked about not knowing if I liked her or not due to her unending saccharine hyperbole. The truth is I glimpsed a spark inside Amanda that I came to recognize because of that girl. I know Amanda will read this. She’ll probably give me a big hug, which is a less irksome thing to me nowadays. In a dark little room in a basement, I think Amanda was the first person I told about her. Believe it or not, Amanda was actually quiet. In a good way.

That spark is in Jamey Hamm, and Trisha Ivy, too. It is in Amanda’s husband, Christian (he read my novel, he said he liked it). It is there in Andreea, the intrepid photographer. It’s just about damn near everywhere if you can find the right eyes to see it. Their music, their stories, their photographs have become my right eyes through which I can glimpse a world still full of kindness, and joviality. It’s still somehow a decent place to live despite her absence. The road southern is not the way back. It is not the road home. It only leads forward from here.

The Trisha Debacle

Trish Interview

Oh, were it that Trisha showed up to the interview drunk and make-up smeared, hitting me up for cash for her cab fare, and that was the debacle of which I lament. And lament I do, damn it! I have been woe begotten, I have been beset upon and off…putted (I think that’s a thing.) since Trisha Ivy sat across from me smiling, shining, a happy and eager girl. The interview went very well. In Freddy’s dark ill lit backroom where this took place she was as sunlight pouring through an open door. I, however, friends… I, sitting opposite her, was the very opposite of her. I had literally just come off a sick spell. I had no sleep the night before. It felt as though a cannon ball had lodged itself in my sinus cavity. And my voice was made just as low as I was feeling.

I let the happy and eager girl tell all she had to tell. My thinking was to post a short printed version of the interview, then embed the thing in its entirety so you all could hear the musician speak for herself. But the mic had a hard time with my unnaturally deepened voice, and when I eliminated interview ruining background noise it subtracted from my voice, as well, and to the degree that I sounded like a drunken murmuring hobo. So, I’ve had to transcribe the 45 minutes of our enlightening conversation for print. It’s taken over a week!

Overall, it’s a good interview. It was our first conversation. Over the year of being at her shows I had begun making guesses as to who she might be off stage. I was tickled to learn my guessing was wrong and the truth is far more interesting, as it tends to be.

So, you can either click here for the interview, or click up there next to “Roots” where I’ve given Trisha her own page.

Enjoy, with love,

Jody and The Road Southern

 

The Alex Mallett Band and YOU

Tonight Help Crowd Fund The Alex Mallett Band’s New LP Eyes Wide Open!

7:30 @ Hometown BBQ in Red Hook

Eyes Wide Open

This man, this Alex Mallett man, is amazing at the instrument that produces my favorite sound, the banjo! I’ve seen him get whole Brooklyn crowds jumping up down to his pickin’ and a strummin’. He is a constant in the BK Country and Roots Family music communities, often playing with every other band in a line-up as well as his own sets. The man, the Alex Mallett man, is tireless. When I first started seeking out the be all of BK Country his name was dropped by everyone I spoke to as the man I need to see play. I have since seen his shows and they are stellar. Help this man, this Alex Mallett man and his band, The Alex Mallett Band. The deets are these. You can even have a listen to their first album right here! Hell, you can even check out a video below! I know I’ve just been clever (very) and cute (always), but, really, I’ve seen this band a few times, and I’ve heard songs from Eyes Wide Open. It deserves to be made and put out into the world.

This video was recorded at Jalopy, and is where, by all accounts, the hub of BK Country is said to be. Just FYI.

A Little Closer To Home

Inside it reads, "Helluva show! It was right dumb of you not to be here. Love, TRS"

Inside it reads, “Helluva show! It was right dumb of you not to be here. Love, TRS”

I enjoyed very much the Roots Family Reunion, and soon will be posting a pictorial w/ links and all the trimmings so you can have a sit down, sip your whiskey, and fall to pieces when you realize what a great show you missed.

Matt Frye 2While that’s in the works, I want to write about a very excellent find in the musical stylings of Matt Frye. He came on stage in sneakers, shorts, t-shirt and a raccoon hat. He looked like a dork, and the audience at large seemed to deem him off-putting, and it appeared as though they deemed him so throughout. I loved him. His music is better suited to venues like Goodbye Blue Monday (a refuge in my early, miserable Brooklyn days) than ones filled with more earnest country singers, bluegrass pickers, and southern rockers. Not to say that musically he had no place. I hear Hank in him, and Woody, and more personal to me, David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker. There’s a seeming jackass on stage. Like early Ween, he gives the appearance that he doesn’t take any of this seriously when in fact his music is quite skillful, and his lyrics are more carefully worded and meted out than their humor and cheekiness let on.

He also achieves something that I hope these others in BK Country will see to follow suit. He allows Brooklyn to influence his roots music directly. There was nothing wrong with the rest of the lineup, but in this BK Country scene it is as though these musicians mean to steadfastly preserve the sound and conventions of their roots music. They give a spirited exhibition of proficiency and exactitude when some recklessness and  a sense of fuck-all could get the crowd closer to the stage. And I get it. It’s the sound and music of their home. It’s who they were growing up, and is engrained in their identity as well as who they see themselves to be. If this wannabe writer who cannot play any instrument or carry a tune in a bucket could impart some advice, it would be this. Brooklyn happened on your way to country greatness. Your lives here are made unique in regards to your stay-at-home counterparts. You have trains, taxis, and every walk of life at your door step. You gave up pick-up trucks and porch sittin’, and all those easy “simple times” to grind and hustle, to be met with every form of rejection both personal and professional in order to earn some hard won breath catching moments. Open up them big ol’ hearts to Brooklyn, she’ll only love you for it.

matt frye LIVE _ livin’ at joann’s from Hilo Media on Vimeo.

But, anyway.

Matt Frye’s music made me remember sitting in front of our tv as a kid, that big ol’ glass tube encased in finished wood. Cable finally became affordable to us trailer park dwellers. On MTV a man named Dr. Demento had a music video program that showcased all the smart asses and goofballs of the music world. Some novelties, like the Fish Heads song. Others were musical geniuses that the world was not then ready for and so relegated to the weirdo bin. I discovered Weird Al Yankovic, They Might Be Giants, The Dead Milkmen, Camper Van Beethoven, and mother fucking DEVO. I discovered that I was a weirdo, too. It was good to know we had anthems. It’s like Leonard Cohen sang, “Clenching your fist for the ones like us, who are oppressed by the figures of beauty. You fixed yourself, you said ‘Well, never mind. We are ugly, but we have the music.’” So, I’m glad Matt Frye is out there reminding us to fuck the norm.

And here’s a little bonus music.

Lightning Unbottled

Roots Family

The Road Southern's Intrepid Photographer

The Road Southern’s Intrepid Photographer

In an attempt to prime you for tonight’s Roots Family Reunion show, permit me to tell you about the last time I saw Barefoot & Bankside. It stormed and it thundered. These Brooklyn streets were rivers. I was pinned under a storefront awning waiting on an unceasing downpour, and so was everybody else. I braved the waters and met up with Andreea, official Road Southern photographer. She had forgotten her camera. We ate ramen noodles. That part’s a little lackluster, I know. Also, the rain let up and it was an easy walk to Union Hall, but the storm that had just passed was as nothing compared to the storm to come.

Sorry, just trying to set a tone.

We got to Union Hall a little late. We missed the first couple of bands. We did get there in time for Chris Q Murphy. He’s a song writer from Brooklyn. He’s definitely a student of Americana. At times he sounded country, at other times like those old bar bands in New Orleans I used to go see, a straight up rock and roll vibe as it was when electric guitar was just moving away from its R&B genesis. A supreme lyricist, his storytelling is complex and deep, yet easily accessible and understood.

B&B had been on hiatus performance-wise. Jamey Hamm had a newborn to see to. However, he and Amanda Neill had acquired an official backing band and sequestered themselves to a rehearsal space over the past few months. It paid off in spades.

Jamey normally did triple duty at a B&B show: lead singer, guitarist, and percussions. A veritable one-man band, this guy. He was impressive and great at simultaneous performance duties, and I am a huge fan of talented one-man bands such as Quintron, Owen Pallet, and Possessed By Paul James. Now he’s delegated those duties to exceedingly capable musicians. All of this has led to the blowing away of myself and the audience by Jamey’s full attention on vocals, and hollerin’, and stompin’. No one in the band was worried about timing, or remembering notes to songs they just learned. It was all muscle memory, which allowed them to open up, pour out their hearts and souls, and leave it all on the stage. Hearing Jamey’s vocals push up to and past what I’ve grown used to from Amanda was amazing, AND it caused Amanda to go even harder, which I thought could not be possible. B&B is a band busted out of its cocoon. It is no longer in its infancy and has become a thunderous force of nature.

Trisha Ivy followed. I was a bit anxious to see how this would go. B&B’s set was high energy and had everyone up and moving and cheering. At the first couple of songs the crowd had dissipated. This is not due to her actual performance. Those first songs were slower ones, the amped crowd was using the down pace as a moment to break. Trisha, a consummate performer, remedied this. She picked up the pace, she let loose her own voice. That there exists a monster in Trisha’s voice has always been hinted at in her shows despite how in control of it she can be. I was happy it was out that night, as I was happy Jamey’s own monster voice was out, and Amanda’s.

Roots Family 1In my notes that night I wrote down the best thing I’d written in a while, maybe ever. And near perfect, I think I’ve only touched it once or twice, so that its original form is 98% intact. Full of gratitude, wonder, and bourbon I wrote, “Tonight I am misty eyed at the quality of music put forth to me, and that by it I am filled with the ever elusive holiest of grails that is the present moment. I came to join and am enjoined by these talent filled, hope filled friends and strangers who connect me to my old world, and to this both fierce and gracious new one.” BK Country, y’all.