Monday, December 11, 2017

10 Favorite Cover Songs of 2017

A Giant Dog

Year-End Coverage

New Jersey. Jersey Shore. Asbury Park. Covers, baby!

10. Yawn Mower, "Margaritaville" (Jimmy Buffett)

The first time I heard the guys do this one, I think, was at Trenton's Millhill Basement. It had to be a nod to Jimmy Buffett superfan, Chris Dickman, who was there because Little Dickman Records and I were co-presenting the show. The song was barely recognizable then. Now, it's recognizable as both Buffett and Yawn Mower. It has that Yawn Mower drone that's, weirdly, doomy and fun at the same time.

9. SLEEPiES, "I Wanna Holler" (Gary U.S. Bonds)

I love SLEEPiES. Jersey loves Gary U.S. Bonds. This one is from about 20 years before he started collaborating with The Boss, and SLEEPiES give it a western-y vibe for 2017.

8. Jonathan Rado, "Thunder Road" (Bruce Springsteen)

C'mon. This had to be here. It's a pretty faithful rendition of a song for which I have every little vocal inflection from the original committed to memory. It comes from Rado's full-album cover of Born to Run.

7. Low Cut Connie, "Controversy" (Prince)

This one falls into that category of a cover that's a perfect match for the artist (See below). Prince is a clear influence on Low Cut Connie's Adam Weiner, and this is a fitting tribute.

6. Well Wisher, "Teenage Dirtbag" (Wheatus)

Well Wisher, the project of former dollys drummer Natalie Newbold, has been covering this one since they began. The song is like an O. Henry story with that cool twist ending. You can find the studio version featuring Newbold (vocals / guitar), Erik Kase Romero (bass), and Mike Lindardi (drums) over at Well Wisher's website. This is a video shot by YouTube user Nathen Hutchison.

5. Sharif Mekawy of Looms, "Hummingbird" (Wilco)

"Hummingbird" is, by far, my favorite post-Jay Bennett Wilco song. Mekawy did this as part of the I'll Be Around Wilco tribute album (on which, amazingly, nobody covered "Jesus Etc.," the song from which the comp takes its title) to benefit The Project Matters. I could listen to this version 1000 times, and I probably have.

4. dollys, "The Way You Make Me Feel" (Michael Jackson)

I first heard dollys do this one at the Indie Pop Winter Formal I threw at The Saint to start 2016. To kick off 2017, they released this on the Covers tape they put out with Little Game Records to benefit Planned Parenthood. dollys do an amazing job here of translating this very 80s pop classic into their own three-piece format.

3. Charly Bliss, "Steal My Sunshine" (Len)

I went to the release show for Charly Bliss's Guppy back in May, and they busted out this cover of Len's "Steal My Sunshine." I remember thinking back then that the combination of bubblegum pop and 90s nostalgia was a perfect match for Charly Bliss. I guess it was an easy choice for them when they went in to do an A.V. Undercover session.

2. Daddy Issues, "Boys of Summer" (Don Henley)

This is a great, great song. I went to the second or third ever concert of my life (Don Henley / Katrina and The Waves) on the strength of this song alone. Daddy Issues dirty up the pristine, 80s cool of the original.

1. A Giant Dog, "Angst in My Pants" (Sparks)

Confession: I didn't know this was a cover until after I'd been listening to Toy for a while. That's kind of inexcusable considering that I think it's on the Valley Girl soundtrack. Anyway. I loved this one even before I knew it was a cover. It's done kind of double-time when compared to the original, and the building tension and release are cathartic.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Premiere: New Single from Rick Barry. He's Releasing a Digital 7" on 12/15.

"The Ardor of Bloom"

The early stages of relationships are exhilarating. The euphoria that defines the initial honeymoon period can make us gloss over or ignore some problems or incompatibilities that become obvious with time. As things cool off and we begin to settle into a routine, things can begin to fray. We see that, maybe, what's broken can't really be fixed. But those first few weeks or months are beautiful, even if they don't last.

On "The Ardor of Bloom," Asbury Park's Rick Barry -- singer, songwriter, gardener -- gives his own, unique take on all of this. He understands the cycle. He knows the bloom is temporary; and, while watching something die, he longs to feel that early fire again.

Recorded at The Farm Studios in West Chester, PA, "The Ardor of Bloom" is, at times, both intimate and expansive with rolling drums coming in to make everything sound bigger at the right moments. Joining Barry (vocals / acoustic guitar) are Justin Bornemann (guitars), Santo Rizzolo (drums), Mark Masefield (piano / organ), Zach Westfall (upright bass), and Maggie Rose (vocals).

"The Ardor of Bloom" is the A-side to a digital 7" (b/w "How to Get Lost in a Crowd") which is due next Friday, 12/15. Pre-orders are up now and come with a download of "The Ardor of Bloom."

Rick Barry and Maggie Rose play Wonder Bar in Asbury Park next Thursday, 12/14, with special guest Christina LaRocca.

Deal Casino, Calidus, 2017

EP Review

By Henry Lipput

It's been less than six months since Deal Casino released their excellent, self-titled debut album; but, already, they've been revisiting some of those songs and working on new ones.

Calidus, the 4-song EP released today, includes a radio edit of "Blueberry Pop" and a gorgeous, acoustic take on "Red Balloon" with singer Joe P performing the song in a quiet, old warehouse space.

But the main reason for the EP is the eight-plus minute live performance of the title song. The band brought their instruments and a recording studio with them to a junkyard on a hot summer morning earlier this year (Calidus is a Latin word meaning hot or fiery). After setting things up throughout the day, in just one take, Deal Casino were able to capture the feeling of their live club performances in this medley of three songs.

Erik Kase Romero set up and engineered everything in the hot, dusty conditions. Anthony Yebra shot the accompanying video on film.

And then, there's a never-before-heard 4-track demo recording of a new, untitled song from their forthcoming second LP. It's a lovely song very much in the mode of "La La Land" from the album: "I'm upstairs in my room / You're downstairs dancing." It's a melancholy number, the Nick Drake to the Led Zeppelin of "Calidus."

Calidus is out now. Deal Casino will be playing Asbury Park's Convention Hall on December 9th in support of the EP release at the Second Annual Pop Break Locals Christmas Party.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Latest Additions to the Photo Galleries with Shows from The Ergs! and Charly Bliss, 12/3 & 12/5, 2017

The Ergs!

Prime Directives

Warning: There's going be a lot of photo geekery in this post as I tell you about the two most recent shows I got myself to this week. CoolMom politely pretends to listen to me as I tell her about this stuff, but I know she's thinking about other things. Since I run things at this space, I can just put it here.


On Sunday night, beloved New Jersey punks, The Ergs!, played Asbury Park's House of Independents. They were just coming off of a triumphant opening slot for Descendents at Starland the previous night, and Asbury was a family affair. The Ergs!, Exmaid, Nervous Triggers, and Weird Fantasy Band. A four-band bill, but shuffle the personnel a bit; and you can make at LEAST seven bands out of that (All of the members of Hunchback, Black Wine, and -- of course -- The Hamiltons were on hand, playing in other bands.).

The show was one, big, sold-out party. There was a mini Hunchback reunion before Weird Fantasy Band's set. Weird Fantasy Band played a wild set that ended with Mike Hunchback in the crowd and drummer, Josh Jurk, playing while he stood on one of his floor toms at the front of the stage. Nervous Triggers managed to get a few of their trademark political jabs in between their politically-charged songs while sticking to their allotted set time. The songs from Exmaid's excellent Neurotic Fantasies sounded great coming through the big sound system. The Ergs! screened the Norm Macdonald classic, Dirty Work, throughout their entire set. The crowd went bananas from beginning to end, and the whole night ended on a punk super-jam that included members of all of the evening's bands.

I knew the show was going to be packed, and I've really grown to hate lugging my camera bag around, especially in huge crowds. It's almost winter. My coat has big pockets. I decided to go to the show with just one camera body and two prime lenses:

1. Sony a6000 mirrorless, crop-sensor camera (a6300 was in the shop.)
2. Sigma 30mm f1.4 (normal lens)
3. Rokinon 12mm f2.0 (manual-focus, wide-angle lens)

Everything fit in my jacket pockets.

It was weird not having my Sigma 18mm-35mm f1.8 zoom. I've used that lens about 85-90% of the time this year. It is beautifully sharp, and it can take the place of three prime lenses. But it weighs about two pounds by itself. Plus, it requires an adapter to use on my camera, which adds a few more ounces. Include the camera body, and we're up to about three pounds or more. My coat-pocket rig, with the lithium-ion battery, didn't weigh two pounds in total. I can't even imagine how I would have fared with the big lens when the crowd crush came during The Ergs! set. I got wedged up against the stage, and a camera bag and heavy lens would have been tough to maneuver.

Initially, I found the 30mm to be a bit too long, but I got used to it. It ended up being the perfect length for crowd shots from the balcony. I think I got some pretty good shots with just two lenses. Maybe noisier than I'd like, but ok.

Josh Jurk on drums
Nervous Triggers
Mikey Erg

A couple of months ago, I saw that Charly Bliss would be headlining the second annual Stereogum Christmas show at Brooklyn's Baby's All Right on December 5th. Joining them on the bill would be Philly bands Mannequin Pussy and Remember Sports (née just Sports). Charly Bilss's Guppy is one of my favorite albums of 2017, so I bought a pair of tickets deciding that I'd figure out the logistics of the Tuesday night show when the time came.

As it turned out, there was nothing really to figure out. I didn't have any carpool responsibilities on Tuesday, and I was able to leave for Brooklyn in plenty of time. The only issue was, again, what camera gear to bring to a sold-out show in a small venue. I decided to go with:

1. a6300 mirrorless, crop-sensor camera (back from the shop)
2. Sony Zeiss 24mm f1.8 (slightly wider normal lens)
3. Sony 50mm f1.8 (short telephoto for drummers)
3. Trusty Rokinon 12mm f2.0 (This wide-angle ended up being important for the tight quarters.)

That Zeiss 24mm was my favorite lens for a long time, and it's probably the sharpest (and most expensive) one I own. It kind of got pushed aside when I started using the Sigma zoom. I've even been thinking about selling it, but I decided to break it out for the evening. I brought the 50mm in case I wanted to get a little closer.

There was an open bar for the first hour of the party, so the crowd arrived early. I got a spot right up front like the nerdy photographer dude I am and ended up being stuck there for most of the night. It was a great spot for watching and shooting the show, but photos can get kind of same-y after a while.

Remember Sports opened, and I really enjoyed them. Their sound reminded me of Swearin' (who I was thinking of because their song "Kenosha" came over the PA just before Remember Sports took the stage) or Waxahatchee at their most rocking. I later learned that Remember Sports (when they were still Sports) have worked with producer Kyle Gilbride (Swearin', Waxahatchee, All Dogs, more), so that all made sense. My friend Dean told me that I would love Mannequin Pussy, and damn if he wasn't right. Their set was wild, and lead-singer Marisa Dabice is a forceful personality up front. Charly Bliss are just a damn fine band both recorded and live. The way they combine pop accessibility with indie / DIY street cred and serious chops should take them even farther than it already has.

The lighting at Baby's All Right is always a challenge. There's quite a bit of backlighting from the wall behind the drummer, and the rest of the stage can be kind of dark. As is usually the case, the shots I got were pretty noisy; but that's life with a crop-sensor camera in dark venues.

Remember Sports
Mannequin Pussy
Charly Bliss
One more Charly Bliss with the Zeiss

I go back and forth between peferring primes and zooms. Even though I take so many pictures, I really go to shows to enjoy the shows; so, sometimes, lugging the bag and the big lenses can be a drag. I had better experiences at both of these shows than I've had in a while because I took the small rig.

There are definitely limitations to what I can do in the dark with a small, mirrorless, crop-sensor camera, and I still have a lot to learn. Like I said (repeatedly), photos are noisier than I'd like. I'm shooting wide-open all the time, so I miss focus often with the manual lens, even at 12mm. But I just can't see myself dragging around a big DSLR. Maybe if someone ever starts paying me for this, I'll think differently; but, for now, I'll just stick with doing whatever allows me to better enjoy the music.

Note: You're probably saying, "Hey. Just don't bring a camera and watch the show." And, yeah. I say that a lot, too. But I really do have fun taking pictures. I like producing content for the site. And, for better or for worse, shooting has kind of become a big part of the way I experience music now.

Sorry for all the jargon about "mirrorless" and "crop-sensor" and "f1.8" and "wide-open" and whatever. You can Google that stuff if you care.


You can see the pictures from the last couple of shows in the Flickr galleries or on the Facebook page.