Greetings and Salutations!
2016 marks THIRTEEN YEARS OF MIDNIGHT CALLING EZINE!
I took a hiatus for a while, but we’re up and running again. My apologies to the bands and readers.
I have stretched ropes from steeple to steeple; garlands from window to window; golden chains from star to star, and I dance. – Arthur Rimbaud
Music before all else, and for that choose the irregular, which is vaguer and melts better into the air. – Paul Verlaine
Dance, dance the macabre dance/keep in step with things unseen
dance to music never heard/by mortal men except in dreams. - Enoch E. Bundy
Take at look at some of the bad videos filmed by yours truly at:
It’s all about the music! Screw the ‘scene’.
This review is long overdue, and my apologies to the band. Though Burning City was released over two years ago, I wanted to give a proper nod to this fine work. The project of Ellia Bisker, New York City’s Sweet Soubrette has been called a “ukulele-powered indie rock band”, but Sweet Soubrette is much more than that.
Rock, Paper, Scissors begins with rather languid piano, balanced with heavy percussion and wistful violin. Vocals are smooth and reflective. Suddenly the song erupts in an explosion of Broadway-style magnificence. Violin and wonderfully discordant, layered vocals dominate the last part of the song before the chorus ends with a final boisterous fling.
Charlatan features infectious vocals, horns, and mesmerizing piano. A very catchy melody and rambunctious percussion contrast with the story of a fortune-teller who “knows who they want to hear from/what they long for her to tell“ A girl who is driven by a compulsion, but “they think she’s a scam/but she’s no charlatan/she cannot stop til she is done“. The vocals are very complex, with layered harmonies that bring the Beatles to mind. The arrangements here are resplendent, and simply pervade the listener’s senses. Each replay will reveal more discoveries.
Live Wire has a fabulously Big Band feel juxtaposed with very contemporary vocals. The song starts evocatively with descending guitar and bass alongside haunting violin. Trumpet and trombone are smooth as ice, melding well with the militaristic percussion and fabulously cadenced vocals. Piano is sharp as diamonds. The overall effect is as deliciously dangerous as “little Miss third rail” can get.
Burning City is an unforgettable song that begins with a sense of whimsy that proves to be far deeper than it seems. I am reminded somewhat of the band Pretty Balanced. The lyrics here are phenomenal. “You knew you shouldn’t look back /but the past it snagged you like barbed wire“ Measured piano and plucked strings that proceed to meander desperately through vast musical gardens, along with mesmerizing vocals and heart wrenching violin.
Sweet Time is a romantic paean that begins simply with slow ukulele, but rises to a plateau of regal horns. The bass is prominent here, with a swinging cadence that has a sort of Victorian air, magnified by the abrupt percussion. The violin interludes are wonderfully evocative and the vocals are sincere and heartfelt.
Next is the rollicking Just Your Heart. Playful and upbeat, there is this song reminds me of such disparate elements as Calypso, Swing, 70′s Rock, and ’50′s Pop very masterfully combined. Bass driven, with fun horns and hand-claps, the vocals are nicely layered on the chorus. The sharp but smooth violin reminds me of certain Cat Steven’s songs, while horns suddenly bring Chicago to mind. Play this at your club and the dance floor will be full in no time.
Be My Man is another song where bass is featured prominently. I love the high hat percussion and and boisterous horns. Vocals are earnest and evoke Anita O’Day, singer for Gene Krupa’s orchestra. Backing vocals are subtle but effective. The song also gives me a slight ’70′s R& B feel.
Opening with ukulele and wistful vocals, Port in a Storm then launches into a wonderfully Beatle-esque rhythm, with heavy percussion and music hall swinging bass. An interlude with a bit of hypnotic, waltzy violin frames the strong, yet introspective vocals.
What’s My Desire? starts with slow and forlorn. Then the song rises to an almost operatic crest, with vocals teemed with resignation and acceptance. Bass, percussion, and horns soar magnificently. The violin weaves a soulful dirge around the vocals, which are sad, yet resolute. “Yes I’ll let you read me I’ll keep nothing secret/
But all my love letters are forged.” This is a very insightful song addressing the contradictions inherent in us all.
Homing Pigeon is the perfect song to close the album. Ellia’s fine, clear vocals are showcased admirable on Homing Pigeon. Poignant, crisp ukulele is accompanied by doleful, yet quite edgy violin. “Are you guided by a vision of what you love the most/ Like a homing pigeon or a restless ghost…”
Sweet Soubrette is one of those rare bands who can transcend genres without sounding contrived or artificial. Ellia Bisker’s voice is one of the best, and her lyrics are second to none. She successfully tackles the frustrations contradictions of everyday life without resorting to the common platitudes. Themes range dark to hopeful, many times in the same song. The arrangements are simply excellent. All elements of the band flow together seamlessly. I am particularly impressed with the way that Sweet Soubrette effectively incorporates their horn section. The various genres mentioned in the review are masterfully amalgamated as a means to a musical end, not the end itself. Like the band itself, Burning City is filled with originality and purpose. I hope we hear more from Sweet Soubrette.
Following up their excellent debut album Boot Hill Hymnal, Heathen Apostles draw their musical six guns, and stalk once more through haunted graveyards, dangerous streets, and debauchery-filled saloons. Fire to the Fuse continues the epic Western Gothic journey, and demonstrates that Heathen Apostles are musical desperadoes to be reckoned with.
Fools Gold is a rousing, tumultuous frontier anthem. Rollicking guitar and galloping percussion accompany Mather’s exquisite vocals. The fiddle adds a magnificent touch.
Drowned in Trouble features very evocative fiddle and powerful guitar. There are a lot of elements here that are blended together seamlessly and add up to very hard hitting song. The rhythmic percussion and lonesome picking makes me want to take a train to Johnston Country, Montana to see if anyone needs another hired gun. The layered vocals are eerily effective.
Yveline changes the pace a bit. Rolling like a rock n’ roll freight train through the dangerous darkness of the musical plains, the song rides on fierce percussion, lethal guitar, and razor sharp fiddle. Mather’s vocals are as smooth as deadly as Bat Masterson’s six gun clearing his holster.
Fist City opens like a dirge, slow and dark. Bleak banjo and grim fiddle stalk along with ominous percussion. Mather’s vocals are like the snick of the hammers being drawn back on a 10 gauge stage gun. “If you don’t want to go to fist city, you better detour around my town”. The finale is fast and furious. Great song!
Evil Spirits combines Rio Grande grit with Celtic fire. Hard acoustic guitar and rampaging fiddle hit the trail at breakneck speed, as percussion rapid fires like an 1873 Winchester. Mather’s vocals are forceful, and the backing male vocals are superb.
Looks are Deceiving is a delightful old-time hoedown with an edge like a straight-razor pulled from a shotgun boot. The fiddle and banjo rambunctiously ride with fast percussion and some fine picking. Vocals are smooth and even a little Bluesy.
Fire to the Fuse is low and baneful, a perfect tapestry of direful sound. Percussion beats a doom-laden tattoo, evoking boot heels stalking down an empty main street. Guitars and discordant fiddle weave a sinister cacophony around Mather’s exquisite vocals. This song demonstrates her versatility quite well.
Death’s Head continues the dangerous journey into a neo-western heart of darkness. Dark and malignant guitars team with cutting fiddle in an unholy union as Mather invokes the terrifying entities that preside over a pitiless destiny. Screams of terror accentuate the driving percussion, as doomy bass lays down a positively Stygian undercurrent. About 2:30 there is a superb and some fine rock guitar.
Bang Bang is perhaps my favorite song on the album. Infectious percussion and guitar vie with edgy fiddle, as Mather’s sultry vocals tell a tell of loss that somehow resonates with an odd feeling of optimism. There is a touch of vaudeville here, and guitar has a brief gypsy flourish. The song is evocative of an old saloon ballad, as the fiddle deftly weaves a haunting melody.
Measure of Time is a bit more contemporary, with mournful vocals and plaintive guitar. The fiddle is mournful, with emphatic, well-timed percussion. Backing harmonies are fabulous, balanced with a powerful guitar solo at about 3:35. This is a very moving and rueful song.
Without a Trace makes me want to get up and dance. The high, lonesome fiddle is perfect, with martial percussion and rollicking guitar. Vocals are dark, but they strike true. This song has a little bit of Celtic, a little bit of down-home, and a whole lot of sheer energy.
Before You Go is in a slower vein with a rather macabre look at a “love that’s run astray”. Smooth and languid, the song has traces of a calypso feel. Romantic, meandering strings vie with suave guitar to accompany velvet vocals that incorporate some great harmonies. “Before you go and wish me dead, dear, choose the plot where I will lay”.
The traditional Lily of the West is the perfect song to close the album. Spirited, boisterous, yet cynical and dark, there is some fine picking here and truly infectious rhythms. The Heathen Apostles turn this classic into a boot hill ballad in their finest tradition.
What more can one say about Fire to the Fuse? The music truly speaks for itself. The production is fantastic. The Heathen Apostles seamlessly weave their aural artistry into a well-crafted album filled poignancy as well as well as corral fisticuffs. The Heathen Apostles are clearly the finest musical guns under the Big Sky. I feel as though if I were to walk through the doors of the Oriental, I’d see them leaning on the bar, steely eyed. with a guitar as close at hand as a Peacemaker. For all comers, Fire to the Fuse will be most pleasing the ear. Give it a listen. You’re a Daisy if you do. And keep one eye on those dusty plains. The Heathen Apostles will be back.
This event review is long overdue, but I think it is still pretty relevant. My girlfriend Crystal and I were in Stephenson’s BBQ one afternoon, and we happened to see a handwritten notice for a Hank Williams Tribute Night at the Stewart Theater in Dunn, NC on Friday, August 9th, 2013. She is a Harnett County native, and I always enjoy visiting the area. It reminds me a great deal of how Davie County, NC where I grew up, used to be We both grew up listening to classic country, so this sounded like a good event. We found a bit more information on the Malpass Brother’s website, so we decided to drive down to Dunn and attend. The theater is right beside Sherrie’s Bakery, one of our long-time, down-home favorites in the area. We were very glad we did. This was the finest music event I had attended in the five years since I moved back to North Carolina. We had never seen the Malpass Brothers perform, and it was marvelous.
She adds: Everybody going into the concert (except for us) was dressed in their everyday clothes common to the Harnett County retired set–the men wore pressed jeans and short-sleeve button down shirts, some plain, some flashy (like Herbert Norris’ bold striped multicolored number); the women wore their floral-print blouses and pullovers, and their pull-on pants. Everyone looked neat and clean. The smattering of younger folks were wearing the standard shorts and t-shirt uniform, but even they looked like they had bathed recently. No one was wearing Patagonia, or REI gear. No hippie garb, no retro rockabilly stuff, not even many cowboy boots to be seen. This was a strictly sneaker and orthopedic shoe crowd (usual small-town footwear for people of a certain age). The big fellow seated behind us was an exception; he was dressed in a gut-straining t-shirt and baggy jeans, with a gimme cap that read “Bynum” (his employer, I guess).
This guy turned out to be a trove of local country music knowledge…he mentioned Jim Thornthon, a name I haven’t heard in 25 years. (The last time I heard it was from William Shires, my boss at the News Bureau at ECU in Greenville…he waxed nostalgic about Jim Thorton.) Jim Thornton was from Broadslab, a township near the Meadow community of Johnston County. (My mother is from Broadslab.) Thornton had a minor rockabilly hit in 1957, “I Want Everything My Baby’s Got”—he also had a local Saturday night TV show on Raleigh’s WRAL Channel 5…he was reputed to be drunk on the show and regularly ate out of what looked like a can of Yellow Rose dog food (one of the sponsors), but was actually a can of corned beef hash (something that most locals grew up eating, myself included). Below is a comment from the You Tube post of Jim Thornton’s single: “I remember when Jim had a late Saturday night tv show from WRAL channel 5 from raleigh, nc. jim was always about 2 sheets in the wind.”
The folks in that crowd KNEW the music that the Malprass Brothers and guests played; they didn’t just read about it in a bunch of articles written by blowhard artsy-fartsy music critics, and they sure didn’t hear about it in college… and a lot of them were probably current attendees of the “Benson Dance”…a regular Saturday-night event at the American Legion hall on Hwy 301 in Benson. This is where my daddy and his crowd went weekly to dance to local (very local) country pickers and a deejay until his death. The music at the Benson dance was classic country (Porter Wagoner–a huge local favorite, Hank, Cash, Charlie Rich, Charley Pride, etc.–what my daddy listened to in the 1950s – 1970s).
I dare say that some of the younger folks in the crowd also probably frequented The Junction in Benson, which grew out of a “closed door” country venue in someone’s field in the early 90s. This “private” club (you had to know someone to get in), was pure country grit. But it was the home of some good classic country and hardcore Southern rock, and toward the end of the night everyone from the barely legal to the age 70 + set two-stepped and waltzed together. It was also a good place to get your head busted open if you didn’t behave yourself.
I’m pretty sure most of the audience at the Hank Tribute Show was also familiar with the local AM radio station WCKB, Dunn. Its trasmitter tower located not far from the Stewart Theater. WCKB is now a Christian station, but in the 1970s it was the place for classic country, current country hits (I first heard Ronnie Milsap on that station), bluegrass, and the morning swap-shop call in show that my mama and I used to listen to when I was home during the summer.
As for the show itself, the Malpass Brothers were as unpretentious as they get. They delivered what that crowd came to hear…country in its cleanest, tightest, and most unself-conscious. No one on that stage or in that audience felt any need to to apologize for or denigrate what they liked by exaggerating it or mocking it. That band and their guests just plain brought it. And that crowd understood. They knew the gospel songs…they had heard them before…if not in church, then from their parents or grandparents. They knew the Marty Robbins songs, the Lefty Frizzell songs, and of course, the Hank songs. And they loved it when the elderly couple came up to sing (the wife left an impression on me…she was frail, and her voice was eerie…kind of keening, and reminiscent of Loretta Lynn when Loretta sounds a little rough in some of her more unpolished efforts. Harold Norris was a revelation…that old man was gittin’ it, and you could tell he was happy as hell to be on that stage. He had that rockabilly thing down a lot better than a bunch of these bored poseurs that try to do it with an ironic edge. He was the real thing, dressed in khaki pants and a colorblocked short sleeved button-down shirt.
I especially enjoyed, along with the rest of the crowd, watching Clyde Mattocks on the pedal steel. He was smooth, confident, and had a serious ladies’-man vibe going–at his age! (And I don’t think I was alone in that opinion.) His steel guitar was a centerpiece for that show. Curtis Wright (I think he may have been with Pure Prarie League, too–they were one of my favorites) added some rock to the mix…his performance showed more 1980s country rock stylings, as opposed to the straight-up 1950s country sound of the Malpass Brothers. Curtis Wright rocked “Kaw-Liga”–his yodeling was good stuff and got a big crowd response.
The audience also appreciated the stage banter, all the way from the offhand comments about who was the women’s favorite in the band (according to the emcee, the drummer), to Taylor Malpass’ nickname, to what I thought of as the “barbershop jokes”, to the list of local sponsors read off twice at the end of the show. At the end of the show, you could tell that this was a comfortable crowd, familiar with each other and the band. The whole night was like old home week for the audience…they knew the old Stewart Theatre from their youth, they knew the music, they knew each other, and a lot of them knew the band themselves.
This was real Country: the music, the people, and the venue. There were no “roots” snobs (they would have died before being seen with this crowd), no self-proclaimed music “scholars”, and no Country hipster sycophants. Unlike a lot of venues in the Triangle, no one snobbed off anyone because of how they sounded, dressed, or who wasn’t “pre-approved” on the band’s social media. Which is all pretty stupid, anyway. We didn’t know anyone there, and we were dressed very differently from the rest of the audience. But no one paid uas any mind, and everyone was nice. We chatted a bit with some of the people around his. If anyone here had acted the way they acted during our visit to Saxapawhaws a couple of years previously, they would probably have gotten their ass beaten in short order. After the show, the Malpass Brothers talked to everyone who approached them. Some of these songs brought tears to your eyes, or gave you goosebumps because it was as if you stepped back in 1956. But it was natural, and not contrived. There was no “irony”. Some of the performers were elderly, which you never see at the Country Hipster shows, and they brought a lifetime of musical skills to the stage. It was all strictly about the music. This is how an event is supposed to be.
JoCo Country, hell yeah.
“Misery and Gin” is the new Merle Haggard tribute EP be released on July 22 by the fabulous Heathen Apostles! The Heathen Apostles are Mather Louth (Radio Noir), Chopper Franklin (The Cramps, Nick Curran & the Lowlifes) Thomas Lorioux (The Kings of Nuthin’) on bass, Stevyn Grey (Christian Death, 45 Grave) on drums, and Luis Mascaro on violin.
“I’m Gonna Break Every Heart I Can” is a new take on Merle’s classic song of romantic retribution, which begins with a burst of Bluesy cacophony that levels off into a boisterous honky-tonk rhythm. The fiddle has a fine Charlie Daniel’s style edge to it, while the fast-paced percussion and galloping guitar give a fine saloon blues backing. Mather’s vocals are energetic and alluring, reminiscent of a young Reba, and like Jeanne C. Riley, Mather socks it to ‘em and closes on a seductive, yet dangerous note.
“Misery and Gin” is a bit slower, with a full, lush sound that brings to mind the superbly produced Country songs of the ’60s and ’70s. Orchestral fiddle, tight guitar, and steady percussion provide the perfect backing for Mather’s reflective vocals. The instrumental interludes are particularly evocative of the age of classic Country. “Misery and Gin“ is a fine interpretation!
“I‘m Gonna Break Every Heart I can“ (Amighty Watching Remix”) is a modern twist on this Merle haggard standard, with a bit of punk and electro. From the highlight buzzsaw guitar to the electro backings to Mather’s bewitching vocals, which evoke a bit of of Debbie Harry and Terri Nunn, this is a rousing song.
The Heathen Apostles is one of the best bands out there today, with their imminently successful Southern Gothic meets The Old West sounds and imagery. You can almost hear the wind blowing tumbleweeds on Boot Hill. Most people who have tried this end up sounding like they are trying to giving the listener a music lesson. But not The Heathen Apostles. They sound genuine and spontaneous, inspired by the past, but firmly here in the present. They understand completely that it isn’t what the listener knows about music that is important, but how the music makes the listener feel. The Heathen Apostles put their own soul into the tracks here, but also keep true to the original spirit of the music. “Misery and Gin” is a worthy tribute to Merle Haggard. I think he would approve.
If you like great music with an Old West flair, you can’t go wrong with The Heathen Apostles. (NOTE: I have it on impeccable authority that Chopper is working on some soundtrack material! Stay tuned….)
Check out the brand new video for Misery and Gin!
And don’t forget: