Greetings and Salutations!
2014 marks ELEVEN YEARS OF MIDNIGHT CALLING EZINE!
Everything was put on hold after the sudden death of my sweet, beloved cat Yorick. PLus a few other situations that required an uncommon level of attention. But I have two new reviews up, with more in the works. Stay tuned for long overdue reviews of Exploding Boy, Sweet Soubrette, Jonathan Parker’s fine “Long Gone” and many more.
And don’t forget the usual inflammatory article.
Take at look at some of the bad videos filmed by yours truly at:
It’s all about the music! Screw the ‘scene’.
I usually don’t review singles, but there is a first time for everything. “Leader of the Pack” is the first solo and video by Jeff McCool, AKA Brahma Bull, founder of Moccasin Creek. I first discovered Moccasin Creek as few months ago and was blown away. They have some truly great stuff that is on my permanent playlist. “The South Never Died” is one of the most outstanding songs ever written! I was deeply disappointing to have missed their local shows in my area, but that’s the breaks. They are growing more popular by the day, and I was very pleased to see Brahma Bull’s first single, which was released on may 30th. I’m a little late, but I’ll do what I can to rep it here.
The first time I heard “Leader of the Pack”, the lyrics jumped right out at me. Anyone who has read any of my other reviews knows that I consider lyrics to be just as important as the music in a song. If the lyrics don’t move me, the song doesn’t move me. This ain’t no disco. And Brahma Bull ain’t fooling around. He hits the mark from the very start:
“They said it couldn’t be done man that makes me laugh/ you can’t mix country, metal, southern rock, and rap / they were right, you can’t, I can, I will/you tried, you failed, I win, for real”
This echoed a topic that I had been thinking about for a while. My girlfriend and I had quite a few discussions about this very thing, so it was very cool to hear someone else write a song about it. There seems to be a lot of elitism in music these days, and this has increased exponentially with the fragmenting of music into many niches and enclaves. But it seems to have taken on a tone of meanness, where people are trying to exclude and ridicule others. This has never been what music was about. Sure, there should be some standards and definitions, but this should be in the spirit of community, not snobbery. In the end, all music is subjective. It is all about how it makes you feel. No one can say that their opinions are better than anyone else’s. No one has to justify or explain why they like any particular music.
Anyway, a couple of months ago, C-Hubb of Redneck Souljers made a comment on Facebook that hit the heart of the matter. He said something to the effect that when he grew up listening to Classic Country and Rap too, and he didn’t think anything about it. I know what he means, when I was growing up I listened to all different types of music. The radio was more eclectic that today. I listened to everything from Johnny Cash to Led Zep, and I didn’t think much about it either. People liked what they liked. “Nuff said. Nobody sat around and insulted folks because of the music they listened to.
“Leader of the Pack” features a foundation of hard-hitting metal riffs, while Brahma Bull delivers fervent rhymes commemorating Country, Rap, and metal. References to Ozzy, Motorhead, Slayer, Black Sabbath, Kiss on one hand, and then LeeAnne Rimes, Willie, David Allan Coe, Billy Ray Cyrus ,and all three Hanks on the other hand show that that Brahma Bull is not just whistlin’ Dixie. He has listened to music prolifically and his inspiration comes from many different sources. He celebrates MUSIC. Music is like your hometown. You might not like where you grew up, but it will always be a part of you.
I love the references that shoot through this song like a 30-06 in deer season, so fast that you’ll miss them if you’re not paying attention. “Half drunk and hollow eyed….” And “I go hard you’re soft, you’re limp, you biscuit” . And my favorite: a little Stephen King, with “…Riddle me this….” He gets deadly serious with “This stuff they call country makes me sick/all they sing about are big trucks and chicks/tell a story/write your own damn hits/Merle Waylon Johnny George and Coe would hate that shit.” This is exactly what some of the Country elitists who snubb Hick Hop are saying. They need to realize that folks like Brahma Bull are on the same side as they are. Everybody who loves Country doesn’t have to sound like the Possum or only listen to Classic Country.
Musically “Leader of the Pack” is tight and concise. There is no “fashionable” sloppiness that characterizes a lot of music these days. From the heavy guitar riffs to the piano that evokes a glimmer of Skynyrd, its the perfect platform for Brahma Bull’s vocals. Most important of all, this song is from the heart. Love it or hate it, it is straight up and genuine.
“Welcome to my jungle where the moonshine grows”. Hell yeah! Check out Brahma Bull (and Moccasin Creek, too.)
I first heard of Stand of Oaks while drifting through SiriusXM one day, when I chanced to linger on The Loft. The music there was not as bad as I feared, it was actually decent stuff. When “Shut In” was played, it was so good that I immediately hit the button for track information. At home I checked out the entire album and purchased it.
Strand of Oaks have released four albums since 2009. Founder Timothy Showalter and his wife Sue were in a severe traffic accident on Christmas Day, 2013. This near death experience was the impetus behind “Heal”.
“Goshen’97″ is an autobiographical song with a strong Indie vibe. Nicely layered vocals are backed with blasting rock guitar and furious percussion.
“Heal” has fast paced vocals, buttressed with edgy synth, orchestral backing effects, and syncopated percussion. The energetic arrangements bring New Order to mind, while the rapid-fire vocals have a gritty sincerity, but flow smoothly at the same time.
“Same Emotions” has a great chorus that invokes shades of ’70′s R&B, brilliantly laid over industrial-paced synth and percussion. There is a great synth interlude about half way through the song, while the guitar creeps surreptitiously in. The song finishes with a fine flourish of galloping percussion.
“Shut In” is simply a great song. Vocals have a sort of ’90s feel, and manages to be introspective and energetic at the same time. Percussion is nice and strong, resonating with an almost postpunk roll. Edgy guitar emerges from the background, buttressed by synth that rises like a tide at the perfect moment. There are also very cool echo effects that add a fine sense of depth. The song ends with feedback and a rumble of percussion that fades into a moving piano and vocal finish.
“Woke Up to the Light” is somewhat reminiscent of The Search. The slow, measured percussion and moody synth remind me of a military dirge. Vocals are introspective, nearly a lament, with great layers of contrasting moods juxtaposed on each other. Synth drops low and heavy, adding a depth to the song that is visceral and dramatic.
“JM” reminds me strongly of Neil Young Crazy Horse on songs like Cortez the Killer Poignant piano joins plaintive vocals, and suddenly a wall of sound falls. Percussion is heavy and sort of syncopated, never wavering behind the epic guitar, which lowers to a sombre roar before rising to a crescendo. The song clocks in at over seven minutes. I am usually no big fan of songs this long, but “JM” fully keeps my interest. There is some excellent sonic layering here. The song slows to a bit of quiet piano before subtly closing.
“Plymouth” changes pace a bit. Vocals are moving and heartfelt, especially the chorus, which has a nice bit of discordant harmony. Sharp, clear percussion sets the pace for the song along side keyboards. Electro background effects provide a wonderfully spacey and dark soundscape and add a perfect sense of balance. Comfort doesn’t mean you’re better off…” This is definitely a song for headphones.
“Mirage Year” continues in the same vein. Profoundly regretful, yet with a sense of lingering nostalgia, this song also evokes shades of Neil Young, particularly the falsetto phrase “Ohhh, love can bring you down“. Halfway through, the listener is deluged in a heavy sonic wave of feedback and cacophony that somehow remains under control. Suddenly it ends, dropping to a slow, echoed piano finale.
“For Me” rocks out. Gripping fuzz laden guitar rolls alongside incisive percussion, with rattling effects in the background. Vocals are pensive yet decisive. “and the sun fell right out of the sky“. Suddenly everything falls together in a towering anthem that ends like a fitful dream.
“Wait for Love” closes out the album in a grand fashion. Evocative, almost prim piano, accompanies fervent vocals that have a hint of otherworldly distortion. Percussion turns frantic, while feedback pervades the senses. A sense of longing turns to madness or joy or just release, and then fades into the ether.
“Heal” is suffused with emotion, but this does not weigh it down like has been the case with too many other bands. This is no mean feat. The compositions are strong, and effectively meld together disparate musical threads. The result is wholly satisfying and memorable. There is not a weak song here. There have been some complaints about the mastering, but I see no issues at all. “Heal” is a masterful album that resonates deeply. Check it out.
Sadly to say, I have not meet Brooke McBride in person, nor heard her perform live. Not for want of trying. Last year I hurried over to a venue in Raleigh after work where she was performing, but a major storm caused the event to be cancelled. I rushed to my second choice that night, an event In Chapel Hill, NC. I REALLY wish that storm had not occurred. But it was a good learning experience. I discovered who was real and who wasn’t.
But I do feel fortunate to have heard Brooke’s music. She has earned my sincere admiration because she is very responsive to her fans. ALL of her fans, not just ones that fit in a certain ‘scene’ or have a certain ‘look’. Too many local bands are like this, and it is truly sad. Brooke is also very dedicated to her music. Not content to be a big fish in a small pond like many other bands, she took the big leap and moved to Nashville in 2013. She tours prolifically across a multi-state area. Within a year of her move she had been in a Brad Paisley CMA Promo commercial, a Darius Rucker GAC special, and a featured extra on ABC’s “Nashville.” This past spring, Spring 2014, Brooke graduated Cum Laude from Belmont University. Here in NC, is a 2013 Carolina Music Award nominee and 4-time Charlotte Music Award nominee. Brooke takes her music seriously and she is taking it places.
Brooke grew up in rural North Carolina, and this is clearly reflected in her music. Not long ago a local musician (who doubtlessly would prefer to be unnamed) told me “there is more to Country music than just the songs”. He went on to say that the people, culture, and the history are important elements. I agreed wholeheartedly. There are two kinds of Country musicians. First, ones who grew up in the country. Country culture and music have always been part of their lives. Second, musicians who learned Country by listening to Country songs. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with the latter. There are musicians who didn’t grow up Country who write some fine songs. But for me, it’s one thing to sing a song about Country life, it’s another to have LIVED a Country life and sing about it. This is what adds soul to the music. It’s real. Not just a line in a song inspired from a line in another song. For me, lyrics are a critical element in any music. I don’t care if someone sounds like the prefect Honky-Tonk band. If their lyrics could have been written by the Eagles, then they ain’t Country.
Even if someone sounds exactly like George Jones in 1966, the music isn’t enough. The singer has to add something of their own to the music, and they have to make me feel something when I hear it. If they don’t, I’d rather just go and put the Possum on the stereo. The original is always better than an imitation. Country music is alive. It never sItopped growing. The best Country music is relevant to our everyday life.
Brooke isn’t trying to emulate anyone else. Her music is…well….hers. It’s some of the most evocative music I’ve heard in a long time. From the opening lines of her first song, “Open Sunday”, it is clear that Brooke is genuine Country. She’s lived it. She knows it. Even though Brooke is only 21 years old, “Open Sunday” brought back a sheer wave of memories of my own childhood in rural NC. “There’s two empty rocking chairs on the front porch/of the little while house on Lumber Road/every Sunday my whole family used to be be there/ and it was the only day Granddaddy’s store was closed/when those old chairs get to swaying/I can almost see my Grandma/then I blink and it’s just the wind“
Man, I felt like had been talking to Brooke personally about my own family! I pass a pair of empty rocking chairs every time I travel to Davie County. My Grandfather was a Country barber in a little North Carolina town for 50 years, and when the sign came down from his old barbershop I felt a keen sense of incredible loss. Brooke’s fine vocals convey that same sense of loss and reflection. Guitar is evocative and the syncopated percussion is light, but adds weight to the song. The layered vocals and chorus are poignant and gripping. “Open Sundays, ain’t it funny how things change/even even in the sleepiest town/everybody’s awake/how I wish it was still the old way/when church doors and Grandma’s kitchen/were the only things open Sunday.” “Open Sunday” is truly a fine song.
But before we get too far down memory lane, Brooke hits the listener with the “The Dog”. “If you do me wrong you’ll find out/you don’t hurt a girl from the South”. Yes! We’ve heard enough tear-in-my-beer and I’m-gonna-lay-down-and-die-’cause-my-baby’s-gone songs. Real Southern girls don’t lie around and weep. They kick butt when they are wronged. And Brooke sure enough does it in “The Dog”. “I took the jeep hooked up his boat/took all his clothes that I could tote/and I struck a match just to watch them burn.” Now THAT’S a REAL Southern girl. “I took everything everything he every owned/but I left him the dog”. Not one of our canine companions, either! “With her big brown eyes and red lipstick/you can’t miss her tail the way she wags it/just whistle and she’ll jump right in your lap“. Yep, you push a real Southern girl too far, and that courtesy her Mama taught her gets put aside and the ball bat comes out. As a mater of fact, she even mentions her mama. This is a fast-paced song with deft and hard-hitting guitar. Some great fiddle is thrown in there, and the percussion just gallops along. “Be careful what you ask for/you jut might bet your wish/now he’s sleeping in the doghouse/ with a…female dog”. Ha! By the way, this is a great dance song, too.
“Songs About Carolina” is a tribute to Brooke’s home. The song has some awesome fiddle and mandolin for that down-home sound. “Oh Lord, take me home/I didn’t know what I had.until what I had was gone/where strangers wave when they drive by/staring into the night/no city lights to burn my eyes….” This brings back many a memory for me of the years I spent in the cities of South Florida, yearning for the stars in a Carolina country sky. “No matter where I am/I’m there in my mind/When I come back just to leave/it tears my gypsy soul/the only way I can go home/is through the radio“. I was delighted to hear her reference to James Taylor, who my girlfriend and I have loved since out high school days. The chorus on “Songs About Carolina” is simply fabulous. The whole song packs a visceral punch that strikes right at the heart. “..there’s a reason there’s so many songs about Carolina“ Indeed!
“Not Knockin’ Anymore” is a very soulful number, that showcases Brooke’s vocal range. “You said “I’ll love you til I die/looks like you didn’t live very long/there’s still life left in your lyin’ eyes/but baby I know what’s going on.” Brooke’s vocals reminds me a little bit of Reba McEntire. She is regretful but firm, “I’m not made of ivory piano keys/and you can’t play me/a game that you created/and simply stated: you LOSE“. Damn straight! There is some fantastic country-rock guitar here, that brings to mind a crisper Joe Walsh. The flourish at the end is very Neil Young-ish. Percussion is stronger on this song than the others, but not overpowering.
“This Guitar and Me” is a heartfelt, genuine song with some fine backing vocals. The guitars are mellow, but buttressed by percussion that adds just the right weight. “First one that ever knew that I loved you/and is the only one that knows I still do/and now I do what it means/to be a broken soul mended by strings”. Sung like a true musician, this is a good song to end the EP. But I’d love to have heard another five songs!
“Songs About Carolina” is very well produced. Everything sounds right where it should be. All the musicians here are clearly talented and dedicated. Brooke sings about her life, and she makes it sound like she’s singing about your life too. This is what Country is all about. Her love for Country, the South, and North Carolina shines through her songs like a full moon on a Carolina night. This is about as authentic as it gets.
This is an EP that Brooke and the band can be proud of. We look forward to the next one.
Hailing from Tennessee, Fatt Tarr & C-Hubb are the core of the group, with Bigg John assisting. They formed Redneck Souljers in 2009 to acclaim in the hip hop community, and by late 2012 were working on their first CD, ‘”Tiller Gang”. The album has been an underground success, which is no surprise given the level of dedication that the boes give to their music.
I must admit that I am not very familiar with contemporary Hip Hop. Back in the day, I was a big fan of Afrika Bambaataa, Public Enemy and Run-DMC. PE were true pioneers and delivered a very political, yet cohesive message along with some great sounds. Later I was a fan of Ice Cube, and even appreciated NWA, but Gangsta Rap proceeded to leave me stone cold. Lyrics became more and more stereotypical, disjointed and nonsensical. I’m not from the Hood. When I was growing up, a “drive-by” was hitting a stop sign with a Mountain Dew bottle from a moving vehicle. If we had called our girls a bitch or a ho, it would have been a very short date. Somebody’s daddy would have set us straight. That is, after our faces returned from the next state, where it had been slapped.
My girlfriend’s kids told me about Redneck Souljers, one of their favorite bands. They know I am heavily into music, and that I am intensely proud of my rural roots and Southern culture and history. Recently I had discovered ‘Hick Hop’ and great bands like Moccasin Creek , The Lacs, and The Moonshine Bandits. The guys in Redneck Soldjers have the same fierce pride in Country life as those bands. Redneck Solujers are not strictly ‘Hick Hop’, but are more straight up Rap. Sometimes they even cross over into Trip Hop territory. They are damn GOOD. They have well thought out, melodic, highly crafted lyrics that are also flowing and alliterative, which remind me of Hip Hop bands back in the day.
“I Mow, I Till” was the first Redneck Souljers track I heard, and it blew me away. Catchy and hard-driving, with fast and furious lyrics, there is a touch of auto-tune that accentuates rather than dominates like in a lot of contemporary rap and hip hop. There is some great bass here, and its the perfect song for listening to while rolling to the Back 40 to bust some caps or even just mowing the yard. (Which I do a lot of these day.) “I Mow, I Till” is just sheer joy. It resonates with pride in Country living.
“Down the Road” strikes right at the listener’s soul, with heartfelt, honest lyrics and backing instrumentation that is visceral. Fatt Tarr comes in with the first reflective verse, and then C-Hubb follows up with a strident appeal. The understated banjo gives a traditional flavor, while the slow, staccato percussion and hand clap effects make the listener visualize the slow, hard road the band has had to travel. Sharp guitar and a very evocative chorus round out the song. ‘Down the Road” will run through your head long after the last notes fade away.
The orchestral arrangements on “Get Off My Land” make this outstanding song absolutely epic. Anyone who has ever lived in the Country can relate to this song. Fatt Tarr and C-Hubb’s fine vocals leave no doubt as to their opinions on trespassers. The dogs barking and gunshots in the background lend an excellent touch. Southern rap legend Lil Wyte finishes up with a vengeance.
“Spinnin’ Knots” is a short storytelling interlude in the best Redneck tradition, which makes the listener feel as if they know Fatt Tarr, Bigg John, and C-Hubb. The soft acoustic guitar, fiddle, and languid percussion give a genuine, down-home feel. This is a candid snapshot of the group, sort of a like a reality show on radio.
“Fish in a Barrel” is next, featuring none other than D. Thrash from the Jawga Boyz. There are some awesome rock guitar hooks, and an excellent progressive bass line that adds weight to the track. Percussion is subtle but just the right touch. The chorus is where it all comes together, with superb layering and a feel that is reminiscent of cool Jazz. C-Hubb, Fatt Tarr, D. Thrash do a superb job on the vocals, as usual. “….I’ll blow your ass away/Toss your body in the creek/talk about it over this beat/while your body’s sinking down to where the catfish eat” Ha!
“Long Way Down” is another track with pure visceral punch. “I am so far away from normal…“ I’m right there with you! The acoustic guitar is smooth, but has a cool chop to it that makes it pretty edgy. Percussion is firm and emphatic. The vocals are melodic, sort of trip-hopish, but gripping at the same time. There is a very effective touch of layering here. The female backing vocals on the chorus are wistful, but alluring. One of my favorite lines is “I like country misc, hip-hop, and a little heavy metal”. “Long way Down” is a fine song.
“Mimosa Lullaby” was written as a message for an unborn child. Starting out with very vibrant and full acoustic guitar, the vocals are very sincere and contemplative. Soft, orchestral backing arrangements fade in, adding a sense of unbridled poignancy. This is the shortest song, and without a doubt the most emotional song on the album, but powerful.
“Popcorn’s Song” is classic rap. I was a big fan of Popcorn Sutton, who was an embodiment of Country culture and freedom. (One of my girlfriend’s sons is named Sutton, too.) The operatic arrangements give this track a feeling of sheer grandeur as the percussion beats a high military tattoo. Fatt Tarr’s vocals are furious and aggressive, as a cadence sounds in the background. Then C-Hubb comes in fervently. Bridging the verses are snippets of Popcorn Sutton himself. Tarr and Hubb take the song to the ultimate peak on the third verse. This is a fine tribute to Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, and great rap at the same time.
“Rednecks in the Club” is a biographical chronicle of a wild and crazy night. The arrangements are pure Rap, complex and well constructed. The vocals kick off with C-Hubb, who gives a brisk narrative with a you-had-to-be-there twist (and I’ve been there enough to visualize it!) Then Fatt Tarr takes the helm, driving hard with a hard stop for emphasis. The bass lines are just killer. “Rednecks in the Club” is a fitting finale to a great, solid CD.
A couple of things really stand out on “Tiller Gang”. The production is outstanding. Ed Pryor and The Jokerr have done a phenomenon job. There is some wonderful layering and mixing. Arrangements are tight and right. I’ve already mentioned the quality of the lyrics, but it bears repeating. There is some good word-crafting here, and no sloppiness whatsoever. Sloppiness is one of my pet peeves with music, but Redneck Souljers are STRAC as we used to say in the military.
One of the things which drew me to Hick Hop and then to Redneck Souljers is their raw celebration of rural and Southern culture. Bashing rural Southerners is one of the few acceptable prejudices left. Many affluent, educated people like to look down on anyone who shows any sort of connection or appreciation for rural living, especially in the South. This is no less than Class prejudice.
These Country music elitists look down their noses at bands like The Charlie Daniels Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Hank, Jr., as being music for ignorant white trash. Anyone who does not repudiate and despise Southern history is called a racist. I’m not a Redneck, but I grew up in the country and I know and understand Rednecks. They are more “decent” than any of the aforementioned Cultural snobs. If snooty “progressives” want to put me in the same category because of my appreciation for my Southern roots, then I’ll stand beside Rednecks with PRIDE. While those elitists use terms like Redneck as an insult, Redneck Souljers and others have embraced it. Good for them!
Redneck Souljers sing about things that are part their lives. They sing about things that I did when I was young, some of which I still do. The relevancy is truly refreshing. These guys are clearly fans of classic Country, but they grew up with Hip Hop, too. This is who they are, and this is where their music comes from. You can’t get any more “authentic” than that. Redneck Souljers and bands like them are forging their own cultural identity through their music, and doing all on their own. They are here to stay. Redneck Souljers a voice to young folks in the real country, and some of us old ones, too. But even more, they will appeal to anyone looking to go beyond the same old music conventions. Hell, yeah!
But don’t just take my word for anything. Give the boes a listen! It’s all about the music.