Aug 5

The Malpass Brothers: Hank Williams Tribute Night

by Edward, Filed under: Culture

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.

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Jul 16

The Heathen Apostles – Misery and Gin

by Edward, Filed under: Reviews

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:


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Jan 7

Red Sun Revival – Identities

by Edward, Filed under: Reviews

Identities is the third release  from Red Sun Revival, following the excellent Running From the Dawn and Embers (EP). Red Sun Revival consists of  Rob Leydon, Panos Theodoropoulous, Christina Emery and Matt Helm.    Live drums are provided by Simon Rippin, with Sam Morrison on  keyboards for ‘The Condemned Part I’   Without further fanfare, I’ll get to the music:

Premonition has a piano intro and then launches into  a magnificent bass line, energetic percussion, and  Rob’s trademark powerful vocals.  There is an anthem like quality to the song that rises with each chorus.  Angelic backing vocals add to the intensity.  Guitar, percussion, bass weave layers of sound around the main vocals, and supporting arrangements fill in the tapestry.   

Echoes begins with a classic sort of Gothic choral flourish.   An utterly  fantastic baseline and steady percussion are coupled with keyboards and Rob’s trademark dark vocals.   The pace quickens,  followed with female backing vocals.    Layered choral vocals drift from the depths of the song, the percussion ceases, and then the song fades.   Imagine equal parts 69 Eyes and Mission UK,  with vigorous post-punk percussion and a slight touch of ethereal. 

After a sweeping intro, the bass continues its relentless assault in Four Walls. Keyboards and percussion are dynamic without being overpowering, with a very cool rock guitar solo at about 2:45. Backing arrangements are dark and sweeping.   Vocals are gripping and poignant. I hear a bit of early Clan of Xymox here, and a hint of Garden of Delight.

The Reckoning is a brilliant musical epic, featuring orchestral arrangements with an inexorable,  measured  cadence. Vocals are a touch higher than usual, which lends strength to the sense of impending fate.  There are wonderful bell effects, and strings are gorgeously layered underneath, which resonate profoundly at the end.  

Fade in Time
begins with a choral flourish, then launches into a rousing cavalcade of sound.   The thundering  bass accentuates the sheer crispness of the percussion and backing instrumentation.  This song really reminds me of 69 Eyes, only a tighter and with a fuller sound.  Vocals are a bit more strident than some of the other songs, which heightens the sense of a fervent requiem.    

In Your Name rolls on, with pounding bass and cleaver-sharp keyboards.  Electronic backing effects weave around the vocals and race in counterpoint to the bass.  Keyboards rise between the verses like a wave of sound, then subside briefly as the vocals peal onwards.   There is a strong orchestral effect, then at about 3:50 the guitar sweeps all before it. 

Mistakes begins ominously, then rises with a juxtaposition of poignant vocals and sweeping  electronics and guitar.  Percussion is steady and strong.  “Sometimes when I see your face in dreams, everything becomes just like a memory”. Rock guitar rises to anthem proportions at about 4:20.    This is a fine song for driving down a darkened highway. Play it loud. 

The Condemned part I clocks in at over seven minutes of pure musical doom,  as irresistible as a storm at sea.  The song opens with Heavy, pounding synth and percussion, as irresistible as a storm at sea in the distance.   Keyboards and guitar come to the forefront, with some excellent, eerie backing effects.  I am reminded of Love Like Blood.   The bass becomes stronger,  resonating with rising synth, and then a gripping guitar segment sweeps all before it, in the vein of Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder days.      The song rises to a majestic, thralling peak, as percussion steps in, sharp and inexorable.    Then Rob’s vocals emerge and assume center stage.  Powerful, compelling, yet poignant at the same time, the vocals have Rob’s trademark sense of deep, turbulent  emotions without seeming theatrical or contrived.   As the great Lawrence Welk would say, “Wonderful! Wonderful!” 

After a gripping intro, The Condemned part II continues the grand epic.  The pace picks up, showcasing  some fine guitar work that has some definite bite.   Driving, hypnotic percussion rolls on, pursued by thundering bass.    Vocals are strident, nearly Homeric, but not overreaching, as dark backing synth adds a hint of a chorale and  keyboards add a fine, discernible edge.     

The Awakening begins with clear, evocative keyboards, before the rush of sharp guitar and bass hits.    Upbeat and fast paced, yet oddly reflective, this is the perfect song to end the album. While clearly bass driven,  there is fine support from percussion.   The backing atmospherics are marvelously bleak, but they fill the musical spaces perfectly.  Shadows of Strange Boutique are interwoven  in there somewhere,  and very evocative strings.  Vocals are fast, but with the usual sense of longing.    The song contains a hint of despair, yet is also vibrant with rising hopefulness.

Identities is the best Goth/Postpunk inspired album of 2015.     Very well crafted, both musically and lyrically, Identities displays a superb consistency across the entire album.   There are no “weak” tracks here.  Another reviewer said that this album puts Red Sun Revival on the map, but I think they were already well established on the map with their last two albums.   One of the great things about Red Sun Revival is that they are not rehashing the same old ’80s or  ’90s era Gothic sound like many other  bands.  Intensely original, they eschew the usual leaden, doomy, swirly morass that characterizes much “dark” music.   (If I want to hear that sort of thing, I’ll just dig through my collection.)     Red Sun Revival is firmly here in the 21st century, while clearly building upon their Gothic and Postpunk roots.  We look forward to their fourth album! 








Premonition 4:35
2 Echoes 5:44
3 Four Walls 4:58
4 The Reckoning 5:42
5 Fade In Time 6:08
6 In Your Name 4:37
7 Mistakes 6:37
8 The Condemned Part I 6:37
9 The Condemned Part II 3:21
10 The Awakening
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Sep 26

Isolation Division – 7th Magpie

by Edward, Filed under: Reviews

This review is long overdue, and I owe the band my sincere apologies.    Isolation Division was originally a sole project of  Matt Thorpe , formerly of The March Violets and Distorted Pictures.  In 2011 he released the excellent debut album  “Sotto Voce”. In 2013 the band had a full line up,  with  Natasha Donald, Warren Pasquill, and Steve Drawbridge.  “7th Magpie” was released in December, 2014.  Matt was kind enough to provide me with a review copy, and to my chagrin I am very late with this review.

Isolation Division is one of my favorite bands.  Their music is quite unique, but also hearkens back to the glory days of Post-Punk and New Wave without sounding derivative at all.   This is perfectly illustrated by the first song,  “Shadows“, with a very full, complex sound with wonderful layering.    Exquisite harmonies merge with staccato percussion and thick guitar that evokes The Church’s later works.   I also detect a bit of the short lived early ’90s group Birdland here.

Star of the Sea“  is simply amazing.  The guitars hit with a visceral edge, introspectively sharp but not quite melancholic.  The discordant harmony is lends a disquieting touch, buttressed by insistent percussion.

The guitars on “Hold“  bring to mind early Cure, only deeper and fuller.  Vocals bring to mind Asylum Party.  Arrangements are complex, but very gripping, evoking a deep sense of poignancy.  Towards the last part of the song, the refrain has whispered backing vocals that are quite haunting.

“Xmyheart” has eerie, layered vocals that are simply fabulous.   The guitar is sharp and somewhat jangly, with wonderfully dissonant arrangements.  This is a fine song.

“Secret Sister” opens with dark, moody synth, and low, brooding vocals that bring Screams for Tina to mind.   Understated guitar emerges along with distant percussion.   The guitar rises in volume, with angelic backing vocals giving the song a sense of great resonance and emotional  depth.

“7th Minor“  begins with very subtle guitar and synth.  Think of a harder Abecendarians, tempered with Red Lorry Yellow Lorry.   Then the tempo changes, with strident, militaristic percussion and frantic-paced, rhythmic  guitar.   Soon, everything is submerged in a swirling kaleidoscope of sound, that once again brings early Cure to mind.     Tandem male and female vocals are very evocative and compelling.

7th Magpie is an excellent album that successfully combines Post Punk,  Gothic, and more with thoroughly up-to-date sensibilities.   Production values are excellent.   Arrangements are superb and lyrics are very well crafted. This is truly what new music should sound like.

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Mar 6

Red Sun Revival – Embers

by Edward, Filed under: Reviews

Red Sun Revival was formed in London in 2011, and consists of vocalist/guitarist Rob Leydon, guitarist Matt Helm, bassist Panos Theodoropoulos, and violinist Christina Emery.   “Embers” is an outstanding follow up to “Running from the Dawn“.   “Embers” superbly complements their earlier work, and confidently drives forward.   On Embers you will find  many of the hallmarks of “Running….“, but even more refined and solid, if that is possible.

Mistakes” begins with a  slightly ethereal tone with a bit of edgy violin that quickly launches into an awesome, full sonic epic.  Rob’s deep, forceful vocals are backed by great orchestral arrangements, energetic rock guitar (vaguely reminiscent of Pink Floyd), and strident percussion.   The song evokes  a spellbinding sense of longing and regret.  I particularly love the guitar juxtaposed  with the orchestral effects  at about three and half minutes, and the way the song fades away eerily in the last half minute or so.

Broken“  starts with a full-bodies sense of sheer power that is almost tribal.  This is able balanced with guitar with a sharp, fine tone that brings ’80′s post punk to mind.  Percussion is inexorable and strong.  The bass is just magnificent, in many ways driving  the song.   Deep choral backing and dark atmospherics combine to buttress Rob’s strong, yet edgy vocals.

The opening keyboards on “Surrender” are poignant and moving.  The bass emerges early in the song, but expertly gives rein to very Gothic atmospherics that swell forth and resonate grandly with militaristic percussion and full-bodied backing accompaniments.  Violin is expertly understated, and rises along with the vocals.  Vocals are low and rough, bringing Fields of the Nephilim to mind.  Jangly guitar gives a post-punk vibe, as the bass hovers underneath, nearly, but not quite imperceptible as in a dream   Layered vocals lend an unearthly air, followed by a short piano interlude.  The song ends with  a wonderful orchestral flourish

Embers“  is slower and more dramatic, with excellent Cure-esque guitar and languid vocals that remind me a bit of  early Ikon.  Bass is prominent and staccato, but not overpowering.  Synth adds a nice forlorn touch, heightened by poignant violin as the vocals turn regretful and pensive.  The music rises to a gripping crescendo, then lingers languidly and melodically, sounding  introspective  and stoic.    The music draws to a close, leaving a reflective sense that lingers long after the last note has faded.  This is the perfect song to end a great EP.

The “Embers“  EP has the same outstanding production values as “Running...” with  an amazing fullness of sound that engulfs the listener without sounding pretentious or overblown.  All the elements of the music are superbly constructed and mesh together well.     Both music and lyrics are complex and utterly compelling.    As my other reviews indicate, I am stickler for lyrics. I consider them to be just as crucial as the music, and Red Sun Revival delivers  some truly fine lyrical content.  But more important than even the technical excellence, “Embers” is a marvelously  captivating work that is vibrant and evocative.  I love the way that the brash rock guitar balances the dark vocals and atmospherics,  admirably avoiding the monotonous  layers of fuzzy-doomyness that seem to characterize so many Gothic related bands.

Red Sun Revival  skirts the tricky musical precipices with ease,  close enough to send echoes of traditional Gothic  resounding back across the  void to the listener,  but  navigating the terrain with great dexterity while incorporating a wide range of influences.   Once again, Red Sun Revival  charts  a course that is quite refreshing and relevant. “Embers“  will not only appeal to fans of Gothic music,  but to anyone who enjoys satisfying music with an  edge.  Red Sun Revival is truly a band for  the 21st century.  I greatly look forward to Red Sun Revival’s full length album coming out later this year!

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