Tom Petty Albums: The Essential 7

tom petty1 As Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers hit the road for a summer tour, their Indianapolis stop on Saturday night (June 15) is the first after multi-night stands at small theaters in both New York and LA.  The band heads to Bonnaroo the day after  Indy, so this will be the first outdoor/shed/large venue show of the trek – not that it should matter.  Petty always rocks.  This time, however, they have decided to scatter a few hits while hitting  a lot of great forgotten album tracks.  Hell, they are playing “Tweeter and the Monkey  Man”, one of the great, largely buried cuts from the first Traveling Willbury’s album.

tompetty2If there’s one band that best represents American Rock music in the past 30 years, I’d give the title to Petty & the Heartbreakers. Sounding not from one place (belying the band’s strong Florida roots), but from everywhere. It enables them to connect with rednecks and hippies, east coast attitude and west coast shine. They can rock loud. Tom can be acoustic quiet. Lyrics resonate. Petty can sweat and smile at the same time. It is a band that has been making music for almost 40 years, the most recent album, Mojo, released in 2010. That record is both a departure for the band, and a rejuvenating set of music. I’m a big E Street Band and Pearl Jam fan, but still give the nod to the quintessential American rock and roll to Petty and his boys when it comes to the package of  accessibility, passion and sweet-ass rock and roll hooks.

Here for you, my friends, is the Rockforward list of Petty’s 7 Essential Albums (and a couple that were too good to leave off).

Continue reading “Tom Petty Albums: The Essential 7”

Back Road Radio Show keeps Americana alive

A story I wrote that originally appeared in NUVO Newsweekly in March, 2012

While the reputation of radio as a place where cool lives (recalled in the days and nights chronicled in the recent Naptown Radio Wars film), has mostly evaporated, there are a select few remaining radio stations – or in many cases, just individual shows – that still give the thrill of discovering new music and hearing stuff others stations won’t play.

In a series on the best of commercial, community and non-commercial radio stations worth a repeated listen, The Back Roads Radio Show, brought to life by the team of Andrew Funke and “Deacon” Tim Plunkett, is one of the regularly thoughtful and rocking programs heard locally.  The pair, who started the show in 2009, focuses on an alt-country/roots-rock/Americana mix, on the eclectic-to-a-faultIndianapolisstation WITT (91.9FM).

Funke hosts the shows.  Plunkett twists the dials to make it sound good.  They started with interview and music from local and regional musicians, and have branched out to grab a few national artists.  

The show recently added a second radio station, and has garnered a healthy fan base via the web for the archived shows. It’s a keenly produced, sonically crisp program – a trait not always found on shows that air on small, community-based stations in the middle of anywhere.  

NUVO: What did you envision for the show when you were starting out?  Long term or just a thing that would be fun to try?
TIM PLUNKETT: The latter. The show was actually the brainchild of Scott “Cootie” Crabtree, a great localAmericanamusician and good friend of ours. In the beginning we helped him build and record the show, but he had to back out after the first month due to personal reasons. We enjoyed doing the show so much we decided to keep it going. We just did what felt right and waited to see what happened. Our goals were pretty altruistic: have fun, make the show as kick ass as possible both sonically and content-wise, help out artists whose music we enjoy, and let the show take us where it leads us. 

NUVO: You air a couple radio stations, but also have built a web audience.

TP: We did put some thought into whether we wanted to be on radio only or Web only, and decided on both. There’s something indefinably cool about hearing your show over the airwaves while driving down the highway, but the Web presence let’s us reach an audience globally, which is amazing in its own way.

NUVO: How has the show been received by artists? Any challenges in interviewing a wide range of musicians – some who may be new to being interviewed

ANDREW FUNKE- I think we agree that everyone we’ve interviewed has done a great job. Some have more experience at it than others, but if you’re a performing artist on our show, you’ve likely spent countless hours of your life baring your soul on stage in front of complete strangers, so talking one-on-one is usually easy. An interview can make someone nervous, so we try really hard to make it a casual, comfortable conversation, to the point the artist forgets it’s actually an interview. Once we get it into that mode, the guests open up and the whole discussion takes on a life of its own.

NUVO: Are there artists that you think are ready to get more well-known, even if it is regionally instead of locally?

TP: Absolutely.  Pokey LaFarge, DeeAnn Dominy, The Tillers, Cari Ray, Linda Lee, Will Scott, our friends Riely O’Connor and Molly B Moon from South Bend.  

NUVO: Who have been some other favorites?

TP:Stockwell Road, Cootie Crabtree, Jethro Easyfields, Uncle John Potthast, Venetia Sekema, Gamblin’ Christmas, The Shelby County Sinners. Hell, we love all the artists we have on the show and we aren’t being diplomatic when we say that. It’s one of the criteria for being a guest – we have to dig your music.

NUVO: What is your music background? Why is it a good team? How do you guys work together? 

AF: I grew up on a steady diet of classic rock from the 60’s and 70’s. As a kid, my parents listened to country and I hated it with a passion – I couldn’t be in the same room when Hee Haw was on. Oddly, as I got older, country andAmericanastarted to become the only real, viable direction for me, and I found myself loving the very songs I detested years before. I still like rock and all other sorts of music from metal to a little hip-hop, but Americana is where it’s at for me these days. And yes, I now love watching Hee Haw, especially the early years.

TP:  I grew up listening to The Beatles and pretty much everything else but country. When I was in high school I asked my parents for an 8-track digital recorder so I could record music with my friends. I started listening to all types of music after that, with special interest in the ways that older music was recorded. Back in the 40’s and 50’s, they didn’t have special recording equipment purchased atGuitarCenter. It was all made using microphones, analog tape, and cutting lathes. Without knowing it, after researching old recording technology, I’d grown to love the music that was recorded with it and that started my love ofAmericanaand Roots music.

NUVO: The show sounds so good. Where is the studio?

TP: This is one of my favorite questions. I notice that nearly everyone assumes the show is recorded in some extravagant studio with thousands of dollars of recording equipment. The show has always been recorded in my home studio – a small, sound-proofed spare bedroom we call our “Studio Bunker”. The key to getting a great recording is to have great equipment and a controllable recording environment. Some of the best recordings ever done were recorded in spaces smaller than ours. When artists come in to the studio they’re usually surprised at the comfort of the small room and I think the fact that it’s a bedroom and not a large fancy studio adds to the comfort level of the artist. It makes the interview feel that much more laid back.

AF: I think Tim and I are a good team because we each have our primary roles – I’m the host and he’s the producer. There’s also no ego involved with what we do. If Tim has an idea for me as host, I’ll listen to it and often times go with it. Vice-versa for the production work he oversees. It doesn’t hurt that he and I have been playing as a rhythm section  – Tim on drums, me on bass –  for almost a decade now. We’ve worked with each other so much at this point, we just know what the other guy’s gonna do.

NUVO: Who has been a great supporter of the show, helping it stay alive?  Or has it been you two alone?

TP: In terms of creating the show itself, it’s been just us since almost the very beginning. However, we couldn’t be on the air if not for some very kind underwriters, especially Locals Only. They’ve been with us from the start, and we’d have folded long ago without their support. Our stations, WITT and WRGF, have also been great to work with. They’ve been instrumental in helping us navigate the rules and regulations of community radio, yet have been flexible enough to let us create the show exactly the way we want to. 

NUVO: What’s your take on Indiana and Indianapolis Americana music?  

TP: Overall, the original music scene both in the state and in Indy is relatively small when compared to some other places, and theAmericanascene is only a fraction of that. That being said, there’s some incredible music being made from South Bend to Indy toMadison- you just have to dig for it. It’s really no different than the nature of Indiana itself. Most outsiders see it as boring, and it certainly can be if you don’t try, but snoop around a little bit and you’ll be amazed by what you find.

It could be better, though, and what it needs is for more folks to support artists making original music and the venues that feature them. In a city that’s trying so hard to become more cosmopolitan and international, it’s a shame to see great artists playing to empty rooms all the time. We’ve seen bands with albums in the top 20 of the Americana chart play to two people on a Saturday night in Broad Ripple. That needs to change. We like to think we’re making a small impact with our show, but it’s only one outlet and we need a lot more help if things are going to improve.

NUVO: Where would you like to see the show go? How might it evolve.
TP: More regional and national acts live on the show, though keeping a local focus is still critically important, too. We’d also like to see the show get picked up by stations all around the country, like some kind of community radioAmericanaempire. We’ve also discussed promotingAmericanashows around town, bringing in a regional or national act with a local act or two to open. The one thing that won’t change is we’ll stay true to what we’ve been doing since we started – playing great music by great artists for great fans.

Indiana Music: Whoa!Tiger – “Rollout”

Whoa!Tiger
Rollout

On Whoa!Tiger’s new album, Rollout, the four-piece rock band from Indianapolis succeeds when they embrace their inner ’70s rock band tendencies, and write lyrics more cinematic than universal. The record wins with flashes of detailed lyrics and gutsy rock and roll, and slips only when jam band tendencies weigh down the later half of the record.

The opener, “The Rollout,” blends Memphis soul with The Allman Brothers or early Seger.

The best cuts include ” I Can Live With It,” with Shelby Jones on guest vocals, lending a soulful female sexiness to the recording. “Touch of Bad” incorporates ZZ Top Texas blues with country talk-singing. “Moment of Silence” fades in like Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” and the song hits the an album-wide theme of overcoming doubts with resiliency. And I’m a sucker for any song that talks of “Grandma singing a favorite hymn” and “seeing rainbows in the bubbles the kids blow.” This is one of the best songs on the album.

Grateful Dead guitar lines are interspersed throughout the record, with welcome touches of piano and crunchy guitars. Rollout is crisply recorded, cut mostly at with Ryan Adkins at Azmyth Studios in Indianapolis. Adkins has shown an ability to make no-frills rock records with local bands for years, and this release has his engineering touch of distinct instrument separation and a loose but produced feel. Jack Barkley and Jon Knight’s guitars blend smartly, turned up in the mix.

Other good stuff includes “The Window,” a piano rock tune; it’s a melancholy piece of Marc Cohn-sounding blues, with fitful stops and starts.

The back end of the record isn’t as strong, with “What Do You Say” falling flat as a poor man’s Duke Tumatoe rehash. “Kick Me Down” is rescued by a nifty guitar solo and lyrics that paint pictures in your head of girls in pony tails and borrowed cigarettes. “Pawn on the Run” is jazz rock with smoky guitar solos.

“Long Road to Reason”, however, brings back the piano and anthemic Elton John chords. It’s nicely done by the band..

The album will prove itself a winner with Why Store/pre-Hi Infidelity REO/early Journey/Grateful Dead audience. Rollout has a distinctly old soul, embracing a ’70s sound updated with more modern influences.

Whoa!Tiger feels like a band that could take a dark club and a beer-lubricated live crowd someplace higher. The album harnesses the potential of that live vibe and provides a set of songs to take on stage and turn up.

Best of Indiana: Roots-Rock in 2010

At Rockforward, we live right in the middle of Indiana,  and fan our reach outward from Indianapolis.  Here’s the best of what we heard this year from (mostly) Hoosier roots-rock artists.

2010 Local Roots Rock/Americana Album of the Year
Cara Jean Wahlers/”Goodnight Charlotte”How did this quiet, intelligent, duet-like release from an acoustic guitar player and cello player get to the top of my roots-rock/Americana list full of worthy candidates?  Especially coming from a guy (me) who unabashedly enjoys the gritty side of loud guitars, drums and a sweet Hammond B-3?  It happened because this is a deserving place for “Goodnight Charlotte”, as Wahlers’ and Grover Parido’s cello quietly cuts into your heart with hauntingly beautiful music and lyrics that evoke black and white movies. Continue reading “Best of Indiana: Roots-Rock in 2010”

Indiana Music: Cara Jean Wahlers new album “Goodnight Charlotte”

After Indianapolis singer/songwriter Cara Jean Wahlers saw cellist Grover Parido perform with Blueprint Music a few years ago, she talked to him about working together. It led to the duo’s collaboration on Goodnight Charlotte, Wahler’s new 12-song collection, featuring her vocals and guitar, and Parido’s cello, piano and bass.

A stunningly beautiful set of quiet-yet-engaging songs, it is anchored by Wahler’s in-you-ear vocals, and Parido’s achingly gorgeous sound. Whether his contribution is part of the atmosphere, or is a solo that creeps from the background and engulfs the listener, his playing is pointed and pretty, soulful and satisfying.

The album is music for your head and your heart. Think “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” for the 2010’s

The opening song, “Chinatown” reveals the gifts both players bring. Wahlers is a cinematic writer, building scenes in songs that a listener’s mind can see. Rain on a face. Trinkets in a pocket. Throughout, Parido adds weight to chord changes, and slides forward when warranted.

Wahlers best moments come when she drops details on the listener.

On “Orange Blossom”, she sings how “pine needles sting my bare feet.”

In “California”, she compares a love to AM radio, both “barely able to stay in tune”.

With “Mark’s On The Earth”, she sings: “I am tired of trying to prove that I am beautiful, burning for you. I am tired of trying to prove that I am good enough – broken hearts can burn too”

Wahlers works inside a pleasing Joni Mitchell/Ricki Lee Jones/Emmylou Harris template – more West coast than rural – and a hint of Indiana in her voice helps anchor a sound more organic than shiny. Parido’s piano visits regularly and then backs off. There’s space in the album’s soundscape for instruments to appear and then recede – a sympathetic mix providing room for voice, piano, cello and Wahler’s anchoring guitar work.

“Black Dog” may be the best song on the album, about falling in love with Steven and his dog. And yes, Wahlers references the Led Zeppelin song near the end of her tune, supported by Parido’s Zep-like lines.

Not sure if anyone will make a smarter, lovelier record in 2010. Wahlers and Parido have created an intelligent and gentle album, hearfelt and soulful in it’s quiet beauty.

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