Best of 2011 – The Dead Hearts, Seger, Huey and a Hoosier guitar player

(Originally appeared in NUVO Newsweekly Year-end Wrap Up)

Here’s the question I get more than any other about bands and music: What do they sound like? And when I write about musicians and their music, I relay influences I hear without making it seem like a singer or a band is only that.

It’s also my job to figure out what might make them unique; why we should care about them. For 2011, what resonated was the wide swath of sound encompassed by roots music in Indianapolis, whether we call it Americana, alt-country, folk or simply American rock and roll.

I leaned on some of my favorite moments of the year. New music and concerts that resonated by pushing ahead while respecting what came before. That’s when roots-rock music is, at its best.

Best New Local Band: The Dead Hearts
Brandon Perry and his buddies put together a group of Indiana guys playing crunchy Midwest and Memphis rock and roll. They made the Q95 Next Big Thing contest, and have a look and sound that harkens back to power pop crossed with Fogerty. This is unapologetic, Petty rock.

Best Local Album: Tim Grimm – Wilderness Songs and Bad Man Ballads
Part compilation album, part new material, Grimm’s new album invites you in with his warm, conversational, roughly gorgeous voice. He keeps you listening because the songs richly describe the details of the characters who live there.

Lucky to See Them Here: Civil Wars at the Earth House
Huge. That is what they are. The success they have had this year, both critical and commercial, was on display on a sweaty July night when the duo poured beautiful harmonies into the old church. They played late in the year at a larger venue (the Egyptian Room), but this is the show that the fans will talk about in reverential terms in 10 years. It was a magical and memorable night of music for the soul.

Two Unexpectedly Great Live Shows: REO Speedwagon at Rib America and Huey Lewis at Clowes Hall
The Champaign, Ill., boys of REO turned Rib America into a sing-along that was propelled by a surprising classic rock energy from Kevin Cronin and his band. They pulled out some old stuff (“Son of a Poor Man”) that felt good, and celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Hi Infidelity album with multiple cuts from that smash. Great sound, great energy and one of the nicest surprises from an old rock band this year. Lewis, on the other hand, has partially reinvented his band as a Stax/Memphis soul and rock group. Mixing his hits with the soulful sound of the South, Lewis thrilled a Clowes Hall crowd, looked good and proved how you can maintain your integrity as a performer 20 years after your most recent hit song.

Guitar Player Taking it National: Thom Daugherty
Fresh from the breakup of The Elms, Daugherty has done some production work and caught on as a sideman/guitarist with the uber-hot The Band Perry. As the DVD/album “The Last Band on Earth” shows, the guitarist and his crunchy chords were a large part of the legacy of The Elms. He has taken that start and vaulted himself to a place that takes him on a cross-country trek, meeting some of his heroes and allowing him to play for more people than The Elms ever did.

Last Time Around For Two Legends: George Jones at the Murat, and Glen Campbell at the Palladium
Campbell is wrapping up his career with a tour and battling Alzheimer’s disease, while George is simply an old guy who has lived nine lives. Both revisited their hits for audiences that sensed they were watching history.

Maybe Not The Last Time: Bob Seger at Conseco Fieldhouse
His show in May was a greatest hits extravaganza, but how could it not be, with his ubiquitous radio status? He forgot the words to “Turn the Page” and laughed it off. That’s because the other two and a half hours were filled with the rock and roll soundtrack of the lives of any rock fan between the ages of 35 and 60. Seger tours without a flashy stage set up – no big screens, no lasers, no fire bombs. He just brings the band and rock and rolls like it’s 1980. God bless Bob Seger. He’s back out on the road and putting a new album together.

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Indiana Music: Thom Daugherty slings guitar with The Band Perry as they collect awards

When country music’s The Band Perry earned a trio of awards at the recent  Country Music Association awards, Hoosier guitarist Thom Daugherty was right there with them, on stage and off. The former guitar player for The Elms caught on with the Perry siblings last year and has toured nearly non-stop since.

As the band won trophies for Song of the Year and Single of the Year for the tune “If I Die Young” and for Best New Artist, Daughtery played at the nationally-televised event, and hung backstage with some of the biggest names in country music.

I caught up with the guitarist after the show, and he talked of another tour, working on a new solo album for his former Elms partner Owen Thomas, and sharing a dressing room with Kenny Loggins.

ROB: You were at CMA Awards for your band’s big night. What did that feel like?
Thomas Daugherty: I might be wrong about this, but I think we also played the CMAs last year. We’ve played several award shows in the past 12 months – the CMAs, the ACMs, the ACAs, possibly a few others made up out of a some combination of the letters A, C, and M – I can’t keep them all straight.

They’re always extremely organized; everything runs down to the minute.

And the vibe at the award shows is always fantastic, like a reunion. You get to see all of your friends from other bands that you played shows with all year. We shared a dressing room with Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and Kenny Loggins last night, and since we toured all summer with Luke Bryan’s band on the Tim McGraw tour, the room felt like home.

ROB: Run into heroes? How were some of them treating you?
TD: There are so many fantastic guitar players in Country music – it’s mind-blowing. Guys who’ve done it for years and represent the best of our craft. Being a hired gun still feels like a new experience for me, so I’m always inquisitive, and they don’t seem to mind pointing the way and letting me benefit from their experiences. I’m always wondering what I can do to go next level in my playing, so who better to ask than them?

Also, being as interested in sonics and production as I am, I think the coolest thing has been getting access to guys like Justin Niebank and Niko Bolas, to name a few. Hearing them explain how they like to mic guitar cabs, or EQ a snare drum.

ROB: What do you like about performing with The Band Perry and where does it go from here?
TD: The Perry’s have been great to work for, and it’s wild that with as great of a year as they’ve had, they’re still growing. Getting to be a part of that has given me the chance to do some stuff I thought I’d never get to do. My girlfriend jokes that she gets to see me on TV more than she gets to see me in person.

I think the greatest perk about all of this for me though is the people – the Perrys, the other guys in the band (Boone, Fitz, and Andy), and all of the other players that we run into on the road. The people involved are usually my favorite thing about anything.

This year was pretty busy, but I think 2012 looks like it’ll be even busier. In January, we start several months of touring with Brad Paisley.

ROB: How did you get this gig?
TD: I’ve known Kimberly for a few years now. She and Reid used to come see The Elms play anytime we were in Nashville. After The Elms final show last year, they asked if I’d be interested in filling in with them for a few months. Then one night after a show in Florida, their dad called to say, “We’ve auditioned about 15 other guitar players, and we just wanted to know if you’d be interested in sticking around and being our guy?”

ROB: Any other stories from closer to home I need to relay to Indiana
TD: I’m excited, and relieved, that The Elms released “The Last Band On Earth” DVD. I think I was worried that, with everybody else working on it as hard as they were, I was going to be the one guy who screwed things up and held back its release. Not being home that often, I just sorta resolved that the only way I’d get my part of it done would be to work on it from the road. Every spare minute I had out here the past couple of months, I worked on it. And now it’s done, it came out November 25th, and I hope people will check it out. Owen and I poured a lot of heart into it.

I also spent the past year producing a record for my buddy Jason Aaron Coons, and we’re almost finished with that as well. Jason’s got an incredible voice, made a killer record, and it looks like a lot of people are lining up to help him out. Really proud of him and hoping I can do my part to get him heard.

And, I’m really excited that Owen and I will start making his solo record in December. He’s been killing it on the filmmaking front this year, but he’s a tunesmith, and really needs to be making music. If for no other reason, I need something new and good to listen to.

Indiana Music: New album from Eric Baker; new music coming from Otis Gibbs, Bobbie Lancaster

Former Elms guitarist Thom Daugherty’s first record as a producer is available as a free sampler. He helmed the knobs for Indianapolis singer/songwriter Eric Baker’s debut album Hope & Thin Space. You can listen here and download four songs by entering your email and zip code. It is a smart slice of American gospel rock and roll.

Baker writes on his website that “My producer, Thom Daugherty, and I went into the studio to record “Kingdom”, (and) we talked about giving it a Killers-like vibe, full of energy, with a sound that hopefully captured the passion of the lyric. And, while other lyrics on the record express struggle and questions, I wanted to kick it off with an acknowledgement of hope and optimism.”

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Indianapolis (now living in Nashville) folk artist Otis Gibbs announced on Wednesday that he has started recording his next record. He wrote on Facebook that “I guarantee that of all the records that have ever been made, this will be one of them.”

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Bobbie Lancaster next album, a live project, is nearly mixed and will be released in Bloomington in August, along with, she says, a new album from The Millbranch String Theory. Lancaster, by the way, is in the process of moving with her family from Bloomington to Greencastle this month. She also continues her summer tour of central Indiana libraries, performing and working on music with children, and hits the road at the end of the month for a pair of John Prine tribute shows.

Ex-Elms guitarist Thom Daugherty tours with The Band Perry

Thom Daugherty (former guitar player for The Elms) took a gig touring with The Band Perry, a new country music sibling group. The band, including Daugherty, appeared on ABC’s “The View” last week. Signed to Republic Nashville in summer 2009, the group has released a pair of songs to radio, and the second, “If I Die Young”, went to #1 on the country radio chart this summer.

That’s the song they played on the show.

The sister, Kimberly Perry, fronts the band with her two brothers: Reid and Neil. Kimberly has a huskier Jennifer Nettles (Sugarland) voice, and a bit of Miranda Lambert sass. It’s pretty good country radio pop. I like the first single, “Hip to My Heart”, better than the song that went to the top of the chart.

On the show, Daugherty lent backing guitar, and popped out once late in the song (at the 2:49 mark) with a nice seven-second (hey, it’s TV; everything is tightened up) gritty mini-solo. Best little piece of the song. And good for Daugherty, who has also been working on his production chops in addition to taking some of these side gigs.

One more note:
The Band Perry’s self-titled debut album that came out in October 2010 was produced by Paul Worley, who won a couple Grammy’s doing the same thing for the first two Dixie Chicks albums.