Riffs, Rants & Rumors: Justin Rice Jumps Between Bishop Allen and The Last Names

First you hear the hazy, languid tones of a young woman whose voice falls somewhere in the ethereal zone between Mazzy Star‘s Hope Sandoval and Cat Power. At times, a male vocal partner’s warm pipes waft into the mix. Soon you’re sucked into a mood that’s somewhere between the last, evanescent rays of summer sunshine softly receding from view and an evocative, autumnal flickering of gossamer guitars and diaphanous keyboard lines. You’re listening to Wilderness, the debut album by The Last Names, a married couple who became a band by accident. (more…)

Riffs, Rants & Rumors: Jann Klose Shadowboxes the Ghosts of Tim & Jeff Buckley

There’s Al Pacino on my left and [former Captain Beefheart guitarist] Gary Lucas on my right. I was just like, ˜This is so surreal.’ I’m hearing myself sing and I’m going, ˜How did I get here?'” Such are the strange circumstances in which singer/songwriter Jann Klose has been finding himself lately. It all started when guitar legend Lucas curated an event at New York’s Knitting Factory in tribute to the late Jeff Buckley, with whom the guitarist was a key collaborator. That’s where Lucas and Buckley admirer Klose first met. (more…)

Riffs, Rants & Rumors: Steve Forbert Forges Ahead

How much of this past stuff are we gonna talk about? asks Steve Forbert with a mixture of weariness and wariness after being debriefed about his early days as a singer/songwriter. It’s fun, but it was 30 years ago. Even though his career has 13 albums and three and a half decades of history behind it, Forbert is all about looking forward, especially since album number 14, Over With You, has just been unveiled. Unfortunately for the antsy songsmith, you can’t tell a story by leaving out the first chapter, and Forbert’s entry into the music business makes for a rather fast and furious tale.

Before he made his way to New York in 1976 to establish his troubadour credentials, Forbert had led a different musical life in Meridian, Miss. I played in rock & roll bands for several years and I just began to get more and more interested in songwriting, he says. I realized I was probably not going to be able to remain as part of a band. Where to go and what to do, there weren’t many options in Mississippi. I went on the train by myself to New York, so I was pretty much in that mindset, I wasn’t looking to start another band. (more…)

Riffs, Rants & Rumours: The Strawbs Story – From Prog Rockers to Acoustic Alchemists

There we were with the two most successful producers of the 1970s working together, says Strawbs leader Dave Cousins, recalling the initial sessions for his band’s first proper album. The producers in question are Gus Dudgeon, who helmed all of Elton John‘s biggest albums, and Tony Visconti, whose work helped make stars of David Bowie and T. Rex. Unfortunately, the punchline that finds parallels throughout The Strawbs’ career is that the band’s aforementioned sessions took place in 1968, when both producers were unknown quantities. The original version of what would become 1969’s Strawbs was scrapped by an unhappy record exec, and the band was made to start over again.

It’s part of a phenomenon that’s practically a running joke in Strawbs lore for instance, the bass player on those ill-fated sessions happened to be a young John Paul Jones, but in that pre-Led Zeppelin period, the name impressed no one. At the start of the ˜70s, The Strawbs’ acquisition of hotshot keyboardist Rick Wakeman hastened a move towards prog rock, but Wakeman would soon depart to fulfill his true prog destiny with Yes, leaving Cousins and company in the lurch. (more…)

Riffs, Rants & Rumors: Murder By Death's Dark Dreams

We’ve always been outsiders, it seems, says Adam Turla, frontman for Bloomington, Ind. band Murder By Death. Though he’s talking specifically about the band’s history with record labels, the idea could easily be expanded to encompass Murder By Death’s career as a whole. After all, a band that comes off like a blend of Nick Cave, The Pogues, and the evil siblings of The Decemberists isn’t the sort that’s easily pigeonholed. But judging by the Bloomingtonians’ sixth album, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, that’s a quality that has served them well.

Though MBD’s latest outing finds them on esteemed, alt country-oriented Bloodshot Records, their last two albums found a home on Vagrant Records, a label initially best known as an emo stronghold. We never really fit in, says Turla. Whatever label we sign to, there’s people who are like, ˜Huh, that’s weird.’ Vagrant was excited about working with us, and we’d seen that they’d had some successes with bands like Hold Steady and Lemonheads when we signed with them. We thought, ˜Okay, that could work.’ (more…)

Riffs, Rants, And Rumors: Los Lobos Look Back On 'Kiko'

It was 1991 and Los Lobos were pissed. We had recorded [1990 album] The Neighborhood and toured that record nonstop, remembers saxophonist/keyboardist Steve Berlin. The Neighborhood took us about a year to make, for no good reason. We had a co-producer who had an agenda, and we were dealing with his agenda and not trusting ourselves. We came home from that tour pissed-off, broke, we had sort of bought this idea that we were big rock stars and that we needed to have all this rock-star stuff, like lights, and two buses, and lots of stuff that we really didn’t need, or even want, for that matter. (more…)