Friday, September 28, 2007

Dusty Rhodes and the River Band melds distinct influences

Originally published in the Orange County Register on Friday, Sept. 28, 2007

The band, started by Cal State Fullerton students, is about to release its first full-length commercial album.

If members of classic rock icons the Band and progressive rock's Yes had decided to fuse their distinct styles, it might sound a bit like Dusty Rhodes and the River Band.
Blending modern and classic rock with folk, blues, zydeco, country and bluegrass into epic songs that defy simple categorization, the six members of Orange County's Dusty Rhodes and the River Band are set to celebrate the release of their commercial full-length debut "First You Live" when they perform a free show at the Key Club in West Hollywood on Tuesday night.
The group will then embark on a tour of the Midwest and East Coast as the opening act for Blind Melon throughout October, and then open for Mofro at a series of dates in California, Oregon and Washington in early November.
"We've actually been playing these songs for about two and a half years," said Kyle Divine, who plays guitar and harmonica in the group. "A lot of them, we wrote and started performing before we actually recorded the album."
In addition to Divine, Dusty Rhodes and the River Band includes Dustin Apodaca (keyboards, accordion, vocals), Allen Van Orman (bass), Andrea Babinski (violin, mandolin, vocals), Edson Choi (guitar, banjo, vocals, sitar) and Eric Chirco (drums).
The seeds of the group were sewn when Divine (who shares lead vocal duties with Apodaca) moved to Orange County from Kansas in 2002. After meeting Apodaca and being impressed by his demo tapes, the two Cal State Fullerton students decided to try to blend their influences and start a band.
Divine was actually serving as the band's drummer when the troupe played live for the first time in 2003.
"At the time I was busy with school so I could only devote a small amount of time to this band thing so I thought 'I'll just play drums' and he played guitar," Divine said.
"And so we played a show or two like that and then we both started realizing together we had a really good (musical) chemistry and we should actually try to do something serious with it."
After recruiting Van Orman, it only took a few months to find the other members and complete a lineup that has remained the same for four years. Although all six band mates get along well, that doesn't mean being a member of the group is always easy.
"It's ridiculously hard getting all six people off for a show or getting all six people together for practice. And touring – we've done quite a bit of touring just on our own even when we were unsigned – and it's so difficult," Divine admitted.
The recording sessions for "First You Live" began in early 2006, and were produced by Ikie Owens (a member of Mars Volta and the Long Beach Dub Allstars) and ultimately won over execs at SideOneDummy Records.
From the country-western shout along "Keys to the Truck" and the 1970s-styled prog rocker "Street Fighter" to the shimmering alt-country gem "Goodnight, Moonshine" and fiddle-anchored rocking title track, the forthcoming "First You Live" is clearly one of the most exciting debuts of the year.
Divine credits the group's having three primary songwriters and a sextet that collectively bring a wealth of influences into the mix with making Dusty Rhodes and the River Band one of the most original-sounding acts to emerge out of Orange County this decade.
"I think that it (the diversity of the outfit's sound) just happens and I think it's great. And we work really well together … but its never been 'We have to sound different'; its never been forced. It's always like pushing ourselves to write better songs more than about making every song sound different."
Divine is the first to admit the band's single biggest influence is actually "The Last Waltz," Martin Scorsese's seminal documentary about the Band's final performance in 1976, a film that has reached a new audience since its release on DVD in May 2002.
"Well, when Dustin and I first started hanging out he brought over this DVD I had never seen before; I had never heard of the Band before and he brought over 'The Last Waltz' and he said 'Before we play music tonight, we need to watch this'," Divine recalled.
"And so we would drink beers and watch it and get all inspired and have to shut it off before it was over because 'Yeah, yeah!. That's what we want to do. That's the kind of music we want to make!' "
Dusty Rhodes and the River Band's first full-length release, "First You Live," is set for release by Los Angeles-based SideOneDummy Records on Oct. 9. But listeners will be able to pick up the 13-song collection a week early if they catch Dusty Rhodes and the River Band's CD release party at the Key Club, 9039 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday night (Oct. 2). Admission to the concert is free.

Don't get me started; Rock Hall nominations

Even if I ever get to Cleveland, I can't think of many reasons to go to the Rock and Roll Hame of Fame. That rings true after the Associated Press announced today that Madonna is among this year's nominees. I'm sick.

While eligible and deserving artists such as Hall & Oates, Ringo Starr, Bruce Cockburn and the Cure have long been ignored, there is every liklihood that the class of 2008 ("the leading vote-getters will be inducted in the annual ceremony March 10, 2008, at New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel" according to AP) will feature non-rockers like Madonna, Donna Summer and the Beastie Boys. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if in a crowded field of potential inductees that includes the likes of John Mellencamp, Leonard Cohen and surf rock pioneers The Ventures, only one actual rock-styled artist gets inducted into the Hall of Fame. Ain't that a shame...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ubaldini flying into Swallows Inn for 2-nite stint

Like Neil Young, Michael Ubaldini is that rare singer-songwriter willing to explore a range of acoustic and electric styles at a prolific pace that defies the modern tactic of waiting years between new studio releases.

Since 1999, the Fountain Valley resident has released four full-length albums of new material. In addition, there was an outstanding 2006 collection (“Empty Bottles & Broken Guitar Strings”) that includes remastered early material, unreleased tracks and three new songs recorded at the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis. And earlier this year England-based Raucous Records released an expanded version of “The Mystery Train Sessions,” the essential Lee Rocker-produced 1994 debut that featured Ubaldini joined by guest artists such as guitarist Brian Setzer.

Now the Fountain Valley singer-songwriter is back with “Storybook,” a 12-song collection that bridges the gap between his acoustic-styled works (“Acoustic Rumble,” “American Blood”) and full band outings (“Avenue of 10 Cent Hearts”).

“I have in my head, to do albums like they used to do it – like the Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival. CCR put out two albums a year and put out a single in-between,” Ubaldini said.
“Now, they milk everything and it kills the music.”

Ubaldini’s “Storybook” is not necessarily crafted for the iTUNES generation or for those who want to download the flavor-of-the-month artist.
“The weird thing is the record is something you have to listen to start to finish; it’s kind of like the human condition of life. There is a lot of (imagery about) graveyards, tombstones, riverboats; ‘Apricot Wind’ is a story of the Civil War.”
“Storybook” explores themes such as life, death and war set against a backdrop of timeless American landscapes, with the songs presented courtesy of sparse arrangements featuring Ubaldini’s voice, acoustic guitar and harmonica, as well as Kirk Brown on pedal steel and fiddle and Jerry Adamos on piano and organ.
Ubaldini’s seemingly-endless travels provide him with an inexhaustible resource of experiences to put into songs.

“I like the way they (the songs) all flow together,” said Ubaldini. “There has always been a tradition in American music, a mystery to it all. The mystery coming out of the soil. I feel like I’m getting these songs; whatever I’m tapped into, it’s that American soil.”
The disc’s gentle landscape is positioned somewhere between the beauty of Neil Young’s “Prairie Wind” and John Mellencamp’s solemn “Human Wheels.”
Songs such as the alt country-styled “Side By Side,” blues-tinged “Honeysuckle Dew” and folk ballad “Sweet Autumn Rain” are among the many highlights on “Storybook.”
“I sang the songs live along with my acoustic guitar,” Ubaldini said of the “Storybook” sessions completed at Adamos Recording in January 2007. “There is not an effect on the vocals, everything is natural. I wanted it to be a real sound. Everything is so sterile these days. I think the public wants good honest records.
“It’s a quiet record, but there is still an edge to it.”
Michael Ubaldini will perform at Swallows Inn, 31786 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27 and at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 28.
Admission is free.
Information: 949-493-3188.

Monday, September 17, 2007

K-Earth concert in Irvine showcases 'Golden Oldies'

PHOTO: Patrick Simmons of the Doobie Brothers performed at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2007. Photo credit: Christina House

(Review and photo originally published in the Orange County Register on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2007)

Review: A wide-ranging mix of feel good-styled hits is delivered courtesy of a strong mix of classic artists.

Special to the Register

Based on the festive atmosphere at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater on Saturday night (Sept. 15, 2007), it seems like a good bet that many of the fans who attended the K-Earth 101 35th Anniversary Concert were in a mood to party.
I don't recall any other event in recent memory where the radio station deejays received the rousing welcome that the near-capacity crowd gave the K-Earth hosts early in the evening.
The event began in the late afternoon when it was still hot, but temperatures dropped precipitously as the night went on likely leading to many fans' decision to leave before Chicago finished the event just before 11:30 p.m.

However, that alone couldn't mar a line-up that worked despite the seemingly contradictory styles on the bill.
I've seen headliner Chicago a number of times over the past decade and the eight-member troupe can be uneven depending on the day. During its 90-minute headlining set here, the group was clearly up to the challenge in playing before a large crowd on a bill with other established artists.
Singer-keyboardist Robert Lamm sounded better than anytime in memory, delivering strong versions of signature hits such as the poignant "Colour My World" and "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" During one of the band's best-known songs, "Saturday in the Park," Lamm came out front with a small, portable keyboard and fronted the band to good effect.
The group also closed with a strong seven-minute version of the classic rocker "25 or 6 to 4," allowing lead guitarist Keith Howland and the strong three-man horn section to display plenty of firepower to close out a strong set.

However, it was the Doobie Brothers that performed the most pleasing and compelling set of the night. Playing a dozen songs over the course of an hour, the group played hits while also offering up lesser-known material that showcased the varied influences of the seven-member outfit.
From the gospel-styled "Jesus Is Just Alright" (complete with the group's full harmonies delivered in tandem with frontman Patrick Simmons' blazing guitar licks), swamp rock of "Black Water" and the two-guitar instrumental gem "Five Corners," the Doobies' set never faltered. Other highlights included straightforward versions of "China Grove" and "Listen to the Music" that got many in the audience to their feet.

War played only 30 minutes, but that was enough time for lead singer Lonnie Jordan (the only remaining original member of the group) and company to play singalong hits such as "The Cisco Kid," "Why Can't We Be Friends" and "Low Rider."

With the Stylistics' sound built around ballads delivered courtesy of singer Eban Brown's falsetto, the group's Philly blend of vocal soul might seem a better fit with Hall & Oates then on this bill. But songs such as the contagious "You Are Everything" and sweet love song "You Make Me Feel Brand New" worked remarkably well.

Opening the show were the Four Tops, one of the best purveyors of the classic Motown sound. The four-man vocal group and a strong backing 12-member band blasted through hits such as "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)," "It's the Same Old Song," "Bernadette" and "Baby I Need Your Loving." It was one of the fastest 30-minute spans I can remember.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Geno Delafose: Everybody's gonna be dancin'

Whether performing at a dancehall in their native Louisiana or at a 4th of July festival on the beach in Southern California, Geno Delafose & French Rockin’ Boogie has been championing authentic zydeco music since the early 1990s. The talented troupe will perform two special shows in San Juan Capistrano on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2007.

A native of Eunice, a small town located in the heart of Southwest Louisiana’s bayou country, Delafose has been performing for most of his life. He got his start at the age of seven, playing the rubboard with his father’s ensemble (John Delafose & the Eunice Playboys), later learning how to play drums and then accordion.

So when the then-22-year-old Geno Delafose released his debut solo disc “French Rockin’ Boogie” on Rounder Records in January 1994, he already had 15 years of playing and touring experience. The accordion-playing Creole musician has since cemented his legacy with countless concert appearances and the release of celebrated albums such as 1998’s “La Chanson Perdue” and 2003’s “Everybody’s Dancin’.” His most recent album, “Le Cowboy Creole,” was released Aug. 14 and features 15 wonderful tracks, including a fiery cover of Van Morrison’s “Domino.”
Armed with his strong singing skills (using both Creole French and English) and virtuoso talents playing the accordion, Delafose was awarded Best Zydeco Artist at the 2003 Big Easy Awards in New Orleans. Delafose & French Rockin’ Boogie play Creole standards, two-step dance numbers, blues, soul and traditional waltzes with equal authenticity.

Delafose continues to divide his time between touring and operating his Double D Ranch outside of Eunice; there he breeds cattle and raises quarter horses.
Delafose & French Rockin’ Boogie will perform at the San Juan Capistrano Regional Library, 31495 El Camino Real, San Juan Capistrano, at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 15.
Tickets are $10 ($5 for children under 12).
Information: 949-248-7469.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Old Blind Dogs bring Scotland sounds to O.C.

There are few folk troupes as bold as Scotland’s Old Blind Dogs. Indeed, the celebrated ensemble was named “Folk Band of the Year” at the prestigious Scots Trad Music Awards in 2004.
Old Blind Dogs will perform at the San Juan Capistrano Regional Library on Saturday, celebrating the release of the group’s tenth full-length CD, “Four on the Floor” (released by Compass Records on July 17).

“Four on the Floor” is a 12-track collection that finds the Scottish quartet deftly expanding the reaches of its sonic universe. Tracks range from the rhythm-defying “Harris Dance” and beautiful, fiddle-anchored cover of Davie Robertson’s “Star O’ the Bar” to the aptly titled “Jigs” and haunting “Gaelic Song.”

Old Blind Dogs boasts plenty of musical firepower thanks to the talents of Jonny Hardie (fiddle, mandolin, guitar and vocals), Aaron Jones (bass, Bouzouki, guitar and vocals), Rory Campbell (pipes, whistles and vocals) and Fraser Stone (drums, percussion). And while many folk groups are reluctant to explore new ground 15 years into their careers, the members of Old Blind Dogs challenge themselves with each new recording and at every performance. In April 2007, Old Blind Dogs performed two special shows in the group’s hometown of Aberdeen marking the 15th anniversary of the band that were filmed for a special DVD release that should be available later this year.

In addition to the excellent “Four on the Floor,” recommended recordings from Old Blind Dogs include “Play Live” (recorded during the group’s 2004 tour in the U.S.), “The Gab o Mey” (2003), “The World’s Room” (1999) and “Five” (1997).
Old Blind Dogs will perform at the San Juan Capistrano Regional Library, 31495 El Camino Real, San Juan Capistrano, at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. on Saturday evening, Sept. 8.
Tickets are $10 ($5 for children under 12).
Information: 949-493-3984.