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Archive for the ‘MusicScenes’ Category

perhaps the folks at the nytimes have decided that if the local paper ain’t going to cover much of the local cultural scene, they’ll pick up the slack. for the second week running, the sunday arts section has an article on cincinnati music — or maybe more accurately, music with cincinnati roots.

this one’s on the heartless bastards, more specifically a piece on frontwoman erika wennerstrom, who’s got “a voice as big and lonesome as the prairie and a mild presence that grows tenfold when she plugs in her guitar.” a couple of years ago, before we moved to cincinnati, i remember hearing this song and really liking it. little did i know i was supporting local music even then. 

the article’s narrative is one of both rebirth and return: wennerstrom, having broken up with  her former bandmate and moved (to austin, tx), is now fronting the original lineup of bastards  — all of this, of course, in time for a new album, the mountain, just released this week.

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courtesy of cincinnatilibrary.org

courtesy of cincinnatilibrary.org

there’s a full-page article in yesterday’s ny times about cincinnati’s own musical legacy, embodied by king records. the author illustrates (unintentionally or not) the patchwork heritage of the city. according to the article, king records’ influence was neglected in part because, as locally based music editor and author larry nager points out, “‘cincinnati was settled by good, solid german folk’ …. ‘to them, honest work was making soap and killing pigs, not making music or cutting records.'” on the other hand, when mentioning a visit to the grave of a king bandleader in a formerly blacks-only cemetery, the author mentions parenthetically that cincinnati is “in many ways a Southern town” (ostensibly to explain a segregated cemetery). to say nothing of the jewish influence that played a big role in king records. the heroes of the article have to be bootsy collins, who takes seriously the mission of keeping king records’ legacy alive, and syd nathan, the contrarian owner of king records, who brought together hillbilly and r&b, and exhibited a color-blindness rare in the day in the running of the record company.

so that’s us, just sittin’ here on the ohio river confounding categories for over two hundred years. king is the perfect musical legacy of a city founded by germans, with a significant but largely separate jewish population, and balanced (or occasionally not) by an influx of african americans and appalachian scots-irish. oh, and even though the point that king records is a “neglected landmark” is made several times throughout the article, i think it’s safe to say that — with bootsy’s hard work and other recent acknowledgments and celebrations (yes, including this article) — that claim just ain’t true any more.

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held to our refrigerator by a faux-retro magnet advertising genuine italian spaghetti is a brochure from cincinnati parks letting us know all the exciting park-fests happening this summer. in the middle of the brochure is the list for the summerlong LPK-sponsored acoustic lunch at piatt park series: tuesday lunchtime music, usually some combination of blues, bluegrass, and americana, in lovely downtown piatt park.

we’re fans of piatt park, not least because it’s user-friendly downtown green space with wifi access. so yesterday, fed up with being inside on a gorgeous summer’s day, we hotfooted it downtown, toting lunchbags and jingling coins for the meters.

parking was easy, and the garfield-end of piatt park was set up with chairs and a few booths to entice passersby to sit and stay awhile. we found some chairs, sat in the shade, munched our ham sandwiches and apples, and were treated to the tunes of ma crow & the motherpluckers.

ma crow herself looked familiar, and i suddenly flashed on seeing her playing in a lively bluegrass duet at roh’s coffeehouse in june 2007. playing lead guitar (well, technically playing the only guitar) and lilting her way through her repertoire, she eventually took us through a sweet rendition of johnny cash’s folsom prison blues. not treacly-yucky sweet, but vocally sweet: ma’s voice slides around the scales as easily and clearly as a well-played harmonica — which, incidentally, the trio added (to become a quartet) for this song, with the harmonica player (the only male of the group) creating the hauntingly echo-like lonesome sound of a fading train whistle.

the keyboardist had plenty of spunk of her own; when we sat down she was belting out a tune that sounded half bluegrass, half r&b, ad-libbing her way through the chorus while the bassist and ma chuckled in the background.

when the motherpluckers took a break to plug their meters we took our cue and headed out of town. my only complaint would be this: c’mon, LPK, can’t you spring for parking for the artists?

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OTR has to be one of the most fascinating neighborhoods in cincinnati. beautifully renovated facades stand next to squatter-ready boarded-up buildings; new businesses nestle in among long-standing neighborhood joints, and the promise of uncertainty beckons from every street corner. all of this can be yours any day of the week, of course, but it’s at its prime on the second sunday of every summer month.

OTR’s SSOM offers the perfect sunday pastime: strolling in the sunshine — sweetie, bff, handsome canine, or your own good mood in tow — while listening to urban grooves, sampling local wares, and taking in the show that is SSOM’s passersby.

shops stay open (our faves this week were urban eden (pictured right) and iris book cafe, opened as an honest-to-goodness coffee shop to replace the coffeeshop-turned-bar that is kaldis) and it’s loads of fun to poke your nose in to see what’s what in urban shopping.

but most of the fun is to be had on the street, where artists, craftsmen, and kids’-face-painting-volunteers are keeping the asphalt humming. if humming is too mellow to suit your sunday groove, stick around for the free citybeat stage, where you might pick up free salsa lessons, or be treated to one of the funkiest representations of global music found this side of the ohio.

when the afternoon starts winding down, catch the glitter of sun off the storefront windows and finish that christian moerlein OTR you’ve been sippin’, as you slowly ease yourself back into reality.

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…with live music.

thursday, march 20th is the spring equinox, that fleeting moment of balance in our seasonal lives when the moments of darkness are equal to the moments of daylight. All the rest of the year, the yin and yang of night and day are characterized by inequality: winter’s night casting the sun low in the southern sky; summer’s burn relegating darkness to a time of loud crickets and brief respite from the swelter. These equinoxes come only twice a year — and only in the spring are we tilting toward daylight, blooming bulbs, open windows, warm breezes, cool drinks, shorts and sandals.

it’s a giddy time, so why not celebrate with a little live music? we’ve mentioned our friend ritt deitz in these pages before, last fall when he came to the southgate house. well, he’s coming back here on the 21st, this time to the north bank of the river (a big scary step for this northern kentucky native) in clifton at the rohs street cafe.

ritt’s a talented singer-songwriter with a solid ear for history and place. he’s been writing and performing music longer than i’ve known him (which is a while: back in the mid-80s i used to go to the metro to see him sport robert smith-style hair and channel ian macculloch in his band the qubes).

more recently the onion placed him in some pretty good company, noting that he “works the same side of the street as greg brown and bruce cockburn, with songs that are concurrently earthy, ethereal, and intelligent.” see more reviews and sample a few songs over at his myspace page; if you like what you hear, come on out. cover is slated for $5, and the show starts at 7:30.

ritt.jpg

the next night things get a little hairier (in a good way) with the natigroove muisic festival at the southgate house. the lineup features multiple acts, including eclipse, the rumpke mountain boys, and the irresistibly named sexual disaster quartet. with a combination of grooves and ‘grass, natigroove looks likely to shake the foundations of that historic structure.

spring is springin’, my people!

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Cowboy Junkies

marquee-wide.jpgWhat happens when five nice Canadians get the Blues? The Cowboy Junkies, of course. With the junior member of the CinyScenes staff snugly asleep and closely guarded by her grandparents, we big kids walked out the door and down the street to the 20th Century Theater in Oakley Square for a musical evening with the Timmins siblings & Co.

First we stopped at The Oakley Pub & Grill, one of the few places in the Square we hadn’t sampled yet. Located in an old savings & loan building, the place is teeny, with just a handful of tables and an average-sized bar. The lighting is brightly functional (I tend to like my dives a little dim – like Zip’s, for instance), lending the place a certain unpretentious atmosphere that goes hand-in-hand with its refusal to stick that annoying “e” on the end of “Grill” in its name. We contemplated the “Blue Plate Special” (a bottle of Dom Perignon and 30 chicken wings for $175) but settled on chicken nachos and two Smithwick’s (on tap! – in my book, ample reason for return visits).

Then it was time for our first venture to the 20th Century, and we weren’t disappointed. The theater has a cool art-deco exterior that for years had balanced the now-demolished Ambassador Theater across the street. Inside, the lobby was old-school functional, but the bar was well-stocked. Beverages of all sorts were permitted into the show, which gave the evening a small-club kinda feel. It helped that the theater itself was pretty intimate – 300 seats –not bolted down — with several bar-height two-tops anchoring the back row. Even from near the back we felt pretty close to the stage. The place was decked out for a celebration, with globes, disco balls, and a high-tech moving light system.

And the Junkies? From much of their recorded music, I had come to think of them as mellow, interesting rock fronted by the lovely Margo Timmins’s haunting vocals. Live, though, they revealed some welcome sharp edges – bluesy stomps, melodic jams, and some funky instrumentation. I like the few cuts I heard from their newest album, especially the atmospheric number that finished the second set. But this evening was also the 20th anniversary of the recording of their breakout album, The Trinity Sessions. And while they didn’t play “Sweet Jane,” they did celebrate the occasion appropriately and sparked this listener’s interest in Trinity Revisited.

Did I mention that we walked to the show? I dig that, and hope that the 20th Century continues to emerge as an appealing venue for both Cincinnatians and the acts that make their way through here.

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Went back to the Southgate House last week to see Robyn Hitchcock. This show was in the main venue, known as the Ballroom – a functional, sparsely decorated room flanked by a U-shaped balcony and large, glass brick windows. Hung from the balcony are various banners advertising several of the hipper radio stations in the Greater Cincinnati area, and as I sipped my beer and listened to the music, I made a mental note to check them out. The stage is small, the bar’s right there and fully stocked, and it’s just about all you could ask for from an intimate, funky music venue.

As for the show itself, I liked it – a lot. Mr. Hitchcock’s been around a while (as his grey mane attests), and has built up quite a repertoire of songs – quirky, sometimes nonsensical, but always melodious and appealing songs. I like to think of him as a poet of the visceral, someone who can sing about innards and love in the same chorus, and somehow infuse the viscera with a certain beauty and the love with a certain nausea. He did not disappoint, kicking the one-man (eventually two) acoustic (eventually electric) set off with “Chinese Bones” and “Balloon Man,” two songs from his Globe of Frogs album of 1988. The latter features this charming refrain:

And it rained like a slow divorce
And I wish I could ride a horse
And Balloon Man blew up in my hand

It’s weird, but stick it with a Beatles-esque tune and Hitchcock’s lilting nasal British voice, and suddenly you’re tapping your toes and smiling at the dark humor of it all. Later on, he even sang what can only be called an apocalyptic ditty – a bouncy head-bobber about a future when our monuments have forgotten us.

The show wasn’t all blood and guts and breakups, though – it was also a kind of love-letter to his musical influences. He covered Dylan (and had a long, funny aside on the importance of the mouth harp and hands-free holder for all Dylan acolytes), the Beatles (lovely renditions of “Dear Prudence” and “Glass Onion”), and, after breaking out the electric guitar with lots of fuzztone, Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?”

To me, part of the appeal was that he seemed a little nervous, like he felt naked on stage. I was struck by this during the show – here’s an accomplished performer playing songs he knows so well (except for the one he forgot the words to and skipped), and he’s restarting songs to get them right, charmingly fidgety and yet making eye contact with his audience, as if he wanted their approval. I believe he really did want it – and judging by the folks who stuck around afterward for the opportunity to chat with him and get his signature on a t-shirt or CD, he got it.

As we left this show, a bluegrass group was jamming in the front room, with the glow from the Newport Aquarium and Newport on the Levee over their shoulders. I like this place.

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