Indiana Roots-Rockers The Elms Set Album Release; with Henry French and Shameless in Indy Friday; Mellencamp Box Set, More

The Elms hit the Rathskeller Friday with new album ("The Great American Midrange") finished

The Elms’ new studio album, “The Great American Midrange”,  is out on August 25 and will have 12 brand-new songs, recorded in Nashville and Seattle from February – April of this year. Their new single, “Back To Indiana”, will have its official premiere this Sunday on ABC during the national television broadcast of the Indianapolis 500 race

Of the local bands (regional bands?) that flip my Americana switch, they are one.  And they team with an up-and-coming band to hit the Rathskeller in downtown Indy Friday (5.22) night. The Elms just wrapped recording a new album, and are out playing tracks from it. More of their crunchy, literate heartland rock. Henry French and the Shameless open up. Check out their webpage, ’cause you may not be familiar with who they are.  If you are reading this, you will like it.

BONUS TIP: It is the outdoor biergarten with French from 7-8p and Elms rock from 8-11pm. Hands down, it is the best place to see live music in the summer. Stop arguing. Go see.  Good beer.

Patterson Hood (Drive-By-Trucker leader) releases his second solo record in June.
Drive-by-Trucker leader Hood releases second solo album

Summer Roots Rock album releases…and more to come.





John Mellencamp will release a four-disc, 72-track box set titled “On the Rural Route 7609” this fall.  The number 7609 is a reference to the fact that the set spans Mellencamp’s entire recording career from 1976 to 2009. It will include a disc of early demo recordings, two discs of various versions of well-known songs and previously unreleased songs, and a fourth disc that will include different versions of other material. It is estimated that 65-75% of the material on the box set will be previously unreleased recordings, whether they are demos or alternate versions of familiar songs or songs that were never released for one reason or another.

indiana_telecaster_flag150INDIANA AMERICANA: Stella and Jane
Even when comparing artists to other similar-sounding bands, there seems to be a musical flavor that runs through many of the artists who come from Indiana.  A lack of pretension.  A small, almost unnoticable degree of dirty rock in the sound.  And usually a nod (or more) to some kind of 60 or 70’s rock sound, even from today’s younger bands.

Stella and Jane are Stella  Weakly and Bobbie Jane Lancaster, based in Bloomington, and with harmonies Indigo Girl-like. But there is far more twang from these two (and the band that comes along) than to stop with that comparison.  Soulful, folky and even three-chord rockish in places, the album “On With the Show” also features multi-instrumentalist Jeff Foster. 

Video: Social Distortion’s Mike Ness, Springsteen Rock Bruce’s 2nd LA Show

Whether you know it or not, I temper my enthusiasm for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Not everyone likes him, and I’m OK with that. Probably have never been to a show, but whatever.

In honest-to-Telecaster truth, I believe Bruce and the band will, 50 years from now, have gone down in history as the most legendary rock and roll band ever. I have never been disappointed at a live show. Never. I have seen 15. And that ain’t many, I realize, compared to the crazies. He is the gold standard; other artists have to give a killer live show or there’s no love from me.

And it really helps if they write great songs.

Those are the rules, fair or not, when you read the Rockforward blog.

Yet, there is a big, big stack of rock and roll/roots rock/Americana artists and music  I love – all non-Bruce. Great music from hundreds of bands. We have favorites. We have music and bands newly discovered. And there’s lots and lots of music that I hear and turn you on to, because it’s what turns me on. That’s the idea and promise.

And right now, I am loving the video posted today (Friday (4.17) of Springsteen and Social Distortion’s Mike Ness at Bruce’s second night in LA Thursday. They are rocking Social Distortion’s “Bad Luck”. The guitar playing is incredibly rockin’ and just when you think it’s all done…

Candy’s Room
Outlaw Pete
No Surrender
Adam Raised a Cain
Working on a Dream
Johnny 99
Raise Your Hand
Proud Mary
Growin’ Up
Hungry Heart
The Promised Land
The Wrestler
Bad Luck (w/ Mike Ness)
Lonesome Day (w/ Jay Weinberg)
The Rising (w/ Mike Ness and Jay Weinberg
Born to Run (w/ Jay Weinberg)
* * *
Hard Times
Thunder Road
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Land of Hope and Dreams
American Land
Glory Days

Concert Review: Jason Wilber & His Fabulous Band w/Tim Grimm/The Royal Theatre/Danville, IN

jasonwilber250It’s rare to take the three variables of every concert – venue, sound and performer – and get all three right. Saturday night, the three came together in a better-than-should-be expected way, and gave the Jason Wilber show at the Royal Theatre in Danville a magical quality.

Wilber, the fulltime guitar player for folk legend John Prine, hushed a crowd of nearly 300 at the historic theatre with his folk-inflected songs. It was a wise move to bring along a full band, featuring a sax and trumpet, drums and bass, and John Mellencamp’s keyboard player Troye Kinnett all finding the spots to sneakily shine.

It was a listening audience, less concerned with chatting up friends than they were to hang on the notes and the words of the performance. A nice change from the cacophony that can be a club show.

The musicians took advantage of the focused audience to hit their spots and serve the music. Tim Grimm and wife Jan opened the show, with 40 minutes of exquisite vocal interplay, understated and funny stories, and Tim’s great folk finger-picking. He adds a bit of percussion to his strumming and pushes the songs along, while Jan’s high harmonies would make Emmylou Harris smile. I’d drop him into a Lyle Lovett/Robert Earle Keen/James McMurtry for this night. Midway through their set, Jan pulled out an instrument she called a “spring drum” to an evocative, rumbling success, perfectly providing a unique duet to Tim’s words and guitar. A thoroughly enjoyable set.

Clean, nearly pristine sound is an element of the great little theatre. So many times at a show, I can’t hear certain instruments, or the volume is too loud or not loud enough. I am picky about the mix at a show, and am relatively unsympathetic to a room (and live sound man) that could do better, especially if it is a music venue that hosts shows regularly. Whether you have had 5 or 50 years to solve any problems with the venue sound mix, if a room sounds good, I like to think it’s an owner who cares enough to make it right. They have it right at Royal.

Wilber put together the evening with Grimm (he and Grimm and Wilber work together on many occasions, including recording a unique “soundtrack” to James Still’s play “Amber Waves” which is the story of immigrants who settle on a farm in Indiana.) and his decision to bring a band (Jason Wilber and His Fabulous Band) elevated Wilber’s music. The five other musicians were effective in pushing the energy level higher on many of Jason’s tunes. Laying down a Stax-like sound on the upbeat songs, and fitting and filling in beautifully on the slow songs, Kinnett especially shined, not just on solos, but coloring the night’s music with pretty piano and a gospel B3 sound.

Jason was generous with the providing spots for musicians to step forward, making eye contact with each in most songs, nodding for solos to start, and smiling to himself when the band put him in the musical pocket so he could close his eyes and feel the music around him.

He told stories throughout the evening, many short and simply told recollections of where he wrote a song (whether it was in St. John’s, Newfoundland, or London) and then letting the audience hear the rest of the story as he played it.

Mixing older songs off his solo records with what he revealed as new music, Wilber was comfortable, seasoned and engaged all night. His story about sitting in Russell Square in London, on his way to, but never arriving at, a famous art museum, was typical of the evening. Good stories told in a movie house. He remembered how he enjoyed the park in London and its surroundings far too much to leave, even for a museum he was informed he must see.

Emitting a nice 1970s vibe, the theatre, built in 1927 and smartly refurbished, has the letter “R” in multiple monogram-style spots on each side of a blueish/green room color. Or that’s the color to me ,with the lights low and after a visit to the hidden jewel of the night: a tiny theatre taproom. (They have area-brewed beers and wine).

Can you tell it was a good evening? A terrific night of heartland-infused music, in a cool theatre, from two Indiana singer/songwriters who represent a folk tradition that, based on this night, seems pretty healthy in Central Indiana.

The Royal Theatre has upcoming shows on the schedule; the booking of Alejandro Escovedo in April is brilliant. He’s touring behind a fantastic album and Springsteen-certified after the two dueted on Escovedo’s “Always a Friend” at a Bruce show in 2008.

Put me down for two.

Concert Review: Old Crow Medicine Show – The Vogue/Indianapolis

oldcrowvogue250The crowd at the sold out Vogue Theatre was ready for the Old Crow Medicine Show to bring the old country instrumentation and killer harmonies to town on Saturday night, and the Nashville band didn’t disappoint those packed into the club.

By the time the band hit their third song, “Humdinger” from their
recent Tennessee Pusher album, both the group and the crowd were
into high-energy mode.

Performing most of the songs off the new record, OCMS’ guitarist and singer
Willie Watson introduced “Next Go Round” as a “genuine country song,” and then singer/fiddle player Ketch Secor dedicated “I HearThem All” to Pete Seeger, who they had met the night before at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival.

Old Crow dipped generously into two of their older albums, 2006’s “Big Iron World” and 2004’s “O.C.M.S.” for “James River Blues”, a rousing “Union Made”, crowd favorite “Cocaine Habit” and
their most well-known song, “Wagon Wheel”, which got the fans of the band into full singalong gear midway through the second of two sets they played.

Their bluesy version of “C.C.Rider” was dedicated to the women in the house, and Secor spent much of the between-song moments reciting landmarks in Indianapolis, and making it known the band had studied up on Broad Ripple
and the Hoosier State. He ripped off a list of cities and towns as the encores ran down, mentioning Goshen, Richmond, Vincennes, Fort Wayne and Evansville.

Their reputation for live show preceded them, and OCMS connected Saturday night. For a rock and roll/bluegrass band that doesn’t make it onto the radio too often, and relies on word-of-mouth, the web and their reputation to build
their audience up, they did nothing to disappoint the Indy folks, most of whom obviously have the albums and/or have seen them play before, judging from the reaction to both the new and old material.

Good to see the knowledge Indianapolis has for a roots band like Old Crow Medicine
Show. A nice mix of men and women (a little more than half of the crowd was male) did their homework, knew their stuff and supported a band that, despite their lack of true mainstream success, have carved a meaningful niche
in the Americana music world, and put it into the spotlight Saturday night.

Review: Bruce Springsteen – “Working on Dream”

springsteenwoad_cover140The Bruce Springsteen album Working on A Dream is getting roundly ripped for being rushed and lyrically vapid, and also earning some glowing reviews that focus on the well-executed pop/rock sonic departure and commend him for not using his platform to perform a soundtrack to the Obama juggernaut.

Here’s what it really is: Working on a Dream actually allows us a new way to listen to a Springsteen album. Is rocks and pops like nothing he has made. Clear and undone of the muddy Brendan O’Brien production on Magic, it positively gleams. The band shines, even if much of it was overdubbed after a core group of Bruce, pianist Roy Bitten, drummer Max Weinberg and bassist Gary Tallent cut the basic tracks. But it moves me. And I wasn’t trying to like it, anymore than I was trying to hate it. I was just listening.

There are hooks and shining chord changes and plenty to make it as interesting — in a spiritually musical sense — as any music coming from any artist.

Lyrically, I’ll agree with those who say the gut-wreching, subtle universal truths revealed by Bruce are fewer than on, say, Darkness on the Edge of Town. Yet it feels like a record (and I will periodically still use the term “record” to refer to albums. I won’t however, say eight-track) that will grow, peeling back to reveal more good tracks than bad with repeated listens. As I write about the latest Old Crow Medicine Show album, Tennessee Pusher, the best albums are never just a sugar buzz, though need enough instant gratification out of the case to warrant a deeper dive.

Bruce has something good here. So I will continue to dive in. More listens will tell me if this one is a masterpiece hidden by those who bemoan because of what it is (different), or if it is really just a 2009 version of Human Touch (shiny and empty). I’ve been wrong before. But my gut is saying interesting and worth the time to get to know it

I’ve been right before too.