Category Archives: Blake Morneau

Aging punk makes great country songs

Eddie Spaghetti
The Value of Nothing (Bloodshot Records, 2013)
Produced by Jesse Dayton

Reviewed by Blake Morneau

Has modern radio ruined the very idea of country music for you? Are you put off by the stereotypical conservative undertones of modern country music? Do you like a fatalistic punk sensibility but prefer your musicians to deliver it with some laid-back, west coast affability? Do you like the music you listen to to be direct–straight, no chaser?

If you answered, “Yes,” to any or all of the above, then Eddie Spaghetti’s The Value of Nothing is for you!

On his fourth solo offering, Eddie Spaghetti, the front-man from Seattle rockers the Supersuckers, delivers up an unpretentious collection of songs that straddle the line between his punk and country roots. There’s a sort of restless resignation that runs through these songs as Spaghetti sings his world-weary tales of courage, hard-living laziness and, most poignantly, coming to terms with himself as he journeys through the aging process, getting close to the half-century mark.

Growing up in Tucson, Arizona, Spaghetti was surrounded by country music that he tried desperately to avoid, or at the least ignore. Rebelling heavily against the suffocating culture that country music provided, he got heavy into metal and punk music, eventually forming the seminal punk-metal hybrid, the Supersuckers. He couldn’t deny his roots and started stepping back into the waters of his past in 1993 with the Junkyard Dogs, a Supersuckers country side-project. Though they only released one full-length album, it reinvigorated another aspect of Spaghetti’s musical background and luckily for listeners, it’s a path he’s continued on since.

Spaghetti’s growly drawl bring a surprising humanity to slightly misanthropic tracks like “People Are Shit” and “Empty,” a song built around the defeated refrain, “I’m empty, got nothing inside/Totally blank and completely dry / I’m empty, take a look in my eyes / Don’t listen to me ‘cause it’s all lies.” To be able to tow a line of empathy without ever falling into pity with such self-indulgent wallowing is a wonderful trick that requires a certain lyrical honesty. It’s a quality that Spaghetti has in spades.

It’s not all doom and gloom on The Value of Nothing. Spaghetti gets downright happy singing about matrimonial love on “You Get To Be My Age,” going so far as to knowingly wink at the fact when he sings “It might sound kinda cheesy but I’m happy when you are happy too.” The winning slacker-anthem “Waste of Time” wittingly pokes at the lazy life of a disaffected stoner-sort over a raggedy country stomp to charming effect.

Eddie Spaghetti starts the last track of the album, the aching ballad to aging, “When I’m Gone,” with the declaration, “I’m in decline, on the backslide/decadent, degenerate, the worst you might ever find…” It’s a hard statement to believe after a record’s worth of strong, steady songwriting filled with piss and vinegar and it’s a statement I can say I hope isn’t true.

Blake Morneau is a lover of aural pleasure who has been writing about his passion for nearly two years. Follow him on Twitter @MusicRags

White Hot Jet’s (skillfully) bizarre debut

White Hot Jet
Rehab Nightclub, Victoria BC
June 7, 2013

 Reviewed by Blake Morneau

I was filled with an unhealthy dose of skepticism as I walked into Rehab nightclub for the unveiling of new all-girl rock band White Hot Jet–after all, the press release I received stated that the band was put together through auditions by local producer and songwriter James Kasper (who has also written the bulk of the band’s music to this point), where he “cast” Animal Amber (drums), Messica Wild (guitar), Jillian Drayz (bass/lead vocals), Jennie Boomboom (lead vocals) and Courtney LeStrange (guitar). It wasn’t only the idea of a male setting out to build an all-girl band which made me a little uncomfortable, but of a band built by a mastermind. This goes against nearly everything I’ve been taught to believe in regards to honest, pure music. But playing their first show months after the audition process began must be a wholly exciting time for White Hot Jet, so I assured myself over and over I would go in with an open heart and mind, ready to honestly embrace whatever I saw on the stage.

White Hot Jet kicked off after what can only be called “The Great Raffle Disaster of 2013,” which left the band standing awkwardly on the stage, filling with impatience as ticketholder after ticketholder abandoned their door prizes and chose to remain silent. It was an auspicious start to say the least.

The band’s strength is danceable power-pop that lies somewhere between The Donnas and Metric. The first track they played, their first single “Never Comin’ Down,” is a piece of pop-rock clearly written as an introduction to the group that features singer Jennie Boomboom declaring the band’s name as the hook drops. “I’m a white hot jet, I go the speed of the sound!” I didn’t like it when Bad Company did it, and I can’t say I really like it any more now.

All competent players, the women of White Hot Jet can kick out a jam, no doubt. This is tight, lean music, devoid of filler. I would have liked to see more guitar solos (with two guitars playing this kind of music, the solos seem sort of requisite) and maybe a longer appearance of the accordion, briefly played by Messica Wild. This would have prevented it from feeling like some bizarre, out of place gimmick. Really, these are minor things that any new band goes through. There’s always room for growth.

As this was the band’s debut, no one knew the songs they were playing but people seemed to be digging it. The crowd was ecstatic as the Jet broke out a pretty raucous cover of Adele’s all-too-covered hit “Rolling in the Deep,” a song that really needs to not be covered any more, by anyone. It seems a strange choice, if not just an all-too-easy choice, for a band trying to establish their identity to choose such an iconic pop song as their lone cover. The crowd was eager and appreciative to hear a song they knew and it would have been an ideal closing track. Playing such a heavy-hitting and, more importantly, familiar, song in the middle of their set seemed to suck some of the energy out of the remaining songs. After those final few songs the concert ended as abruptly as I have ever seen with simply the proclamation “Thanks. We’re done.” Hold for the audience’s awkward befuddlement. I still haven’t gotten over mine.

Blake Morneau is a lover of aural pleasure who has been writing about his passion for nearly two years. Follow him on Twitter @MusicRags

Get kicked in the ears by Blackberry Wood–in a good way

Blackberry Wood
Logan’s Pub, Victoria
June 6, 2013

Reviewed by Blake Morneau

I remember being 11 or 12 years old and seeing the video for Tom Waits’ “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” and having the image of Waits dressed in his ridiculous devil costume, riding a tricycle and holding a magnifying glass burn itself into my mind. For years that image has represented everything that is good and pure and fun, a treasured frame to remind me of the absurd silliness that enveloped all things. As Blackberry Wood front-man and mustache enthusiast Kris Wood took the stage dressed in an outfit wholly inspired the one worn by Waits in that video, that soul-freeing feeling that image has always brought up was front and center. Really, that’s the best way to see Vancouver alt-country-gypsy-circus outfit Blackberry Wood–with a childlike enthusiasm and boundless imagination.

Blackberry Wood’s energy is unflinchingly infectious, spreading through the room like an amoeba on speed. Drummer Amrit Basi’s rhythms could be considered a sort of aural warfare, forcing people to shake their bodies with reckless abandon. The recently added bass sound really gives the band the bottom-end groove that benefits the danceability aspect of their gypsy swing music. It acts as a sort of musical bouncy-castle for the rest of the group to jump off of. Hearing all these elements come together for an incredible reading of the haunting jazz standard “Saint James Infirmary” is a real wonder. Infecting such a legendarily song with their trademark joy and energy without taking away any of the song’s inherent eeriness is a feat of musical agility and precision.

There were people on the dance floor much quicker than I usually see at shows. At nearly every show I’ve been to, even those in smaller venues, the trickle to the area in front of the stage is slow, with nobody wanting to be first to initiate the festivities. I don’t know if it was the crowd this night or the magically contagious spirit of Blackberry Wood (I’d like to believe it was the latter), but by the end of the opening song more than half the people in the house were shaking their groove-things wildly. Admittedly, I was one of the first people out there, finding myself quickly surrounded by fellow body-shakers.

It was all of a bit of whirlwind–a mass of sweaty, smiling bodies jumping and flailing to the sounds of a band oozing psychotic energy. If you don’t like dancing and prefer your music subdued with space for quiet clapping and reflection, you may want to skip Blackberry Wood. But if you’re like me, and apparently the patrons of Logan’s, and you like to get kicked in the ears, get yourself to a Blackberry Wood show as soon as you can. Your musical soul will thank you.

Blake Morneau is a lover of aural pleasure who has been writing about his passion for nearly two years. Follow him on Twitter @MusicRags

Wild Belle brings reggae into the city

Wild Belle
Isles (Columbia Records, 2013)
Produced by Elliot Bergman and Bill Skibbe

Reviewed by Blake Morneau

Isles, the debut album from New York’s Wild Belle, accomplishes an incredible task: It bridges the gap between the seemingly disparate genres of indie-pop and roots reggae. More impressive is how the familial duo transfuses the two genres without allowing any of the winking irony often associated with the lo-fi indie movement to invade their brand of sunny, love-torn reggae music.

The first moments of the heavy dub of the opening “Keep You,” complete with wailing saxophone solo, make it clear that Wild Belle knows their reggae. It’s not until the saccharine voice of singer Natalie Bergman enters the fray that we know this is anything different from any other reggae release. Though Bergman’s voice sounds overwhelmed by the powerful dub of the opening, by the second track, “It’s Too Late,” her voice is oozing with confident glam-swagger as she bids adieu to the lover who tossed her aside.

Bergman, with her sweetly disconnected voice, is the star of this album. Whether she’s urging a prospective suitor to let down his veneer of cool in “Take Me Away,” or singing from the view of a staunch materialist in “Twisted,” (“What’s the definition of love if it isn’t material things”) Bergman’s smoky sunniness is perfectly suited to the bouncy electro-reggae that permeates the album.

It’s a blessing and a curse that Bergman’s star shines so brightly because it means that her brother, multi-instrumentalist Elliot Bergman (co-founder of Afrobeat outfit Nomo), doesn’t get as much time in front of the mic as he deserves. When he does take lead vocal duties on “When It’s Over,” he brings an earthy, rock-tone to the music reminiscent of Canadian rock hero Sam Roberts. Sitting in the last third of the album, the song offers a welcome curveball from the New York-indie vocals his sister brings.

For all the vocal talent on display, the music the Bergman siblings have crafted to complement their impressive vocals is genuinely awesome. Isles takes its name from the genre-hopping spirit of the album, with each song representing its own little sonic island. This is an album where soul, funk and acid-jazz all fit neatly into the reggae mix, creating a sonic stew equally at home in the pitch black midnight of a Friday night or on a sunny weekend morning. It’s music for the party and the hangover.

Blake Morneau is a lover of aural pleasure who has been writing about his passion for nearly two years. Follow him on Twitter @MusicRags