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What We’ve Got Here

Reviewing some of the Capital Region’s recent recorded offerings

 

Bryan Thomas and the Buggy Jive

1369 Lights (self-released)

From the moment the “needle” drops on 1369 Lights, you know you’re listening to a different kind of Bryan Thomas record. Though Thomas has recorded with a band before, most recently on the acoustic Babylon disc, this is the first (its his fifth overall) to include a band name beside his own. Of course it’s all a ruse—the Buggy Jive is really just a multi-tracked Thomas—but it gives him license to rock harder than he has up to now. Opener “Muse,” which (perhaps unwittingly) borrows a verse melody from Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light,” lays out the band mentality from the get-go—it’s one of the most “rock” tracks in Thomas’ great catalog. The sound of the electric guitar, a staple of his live sets over the years, has never been as front-and-center as it is here; wailing Stratocaster solos simply dominate some songs. He is as self-referential and Capital Region-centric as ever—characters, and entire musical phrases, from elsewhere in his career make cameos here—but that’s what makes him such a compelling artist. Few performers could maintain such a thematic through line in their material without actually copying themselves; Bryan Thomas continues to blaze new trails (besides the one that leads to Delmar) while staying true to himself, and to his hometown. On that last note, the entire Capital Region music scene is celebrated in “MotherJudge,” which does a fine job of re-creating the party atmosphere of the Lark Tavern’s weekly open-mic night in song. (Disclosure: I’m in the song, though it’s unlikely that I’ll pick on anyone for their rhymes.)

—John Brodeur

Ike Snopes

Reshaping a Dream (Collar City)

Ike Snopes, a character from a William Faulkner novel, falls in love with a cow. Ike Snopes is also an assumed name for local singer-songwriter D.J. Miller, best known for fronting the lead-heavy rock band Small Axe. There’s no discernable cattle-amore on Reshaping a Dream, Miller’s exceptional first solo release, but there is plenty for lovers of Small Axe to get off on. “In a Vision Hidden” and “A Strange Hibernation” have the momentum of classic Small Axe head-bangers, minus the usual rhythm section but propelled instead by layers of Miller’s effects-laden and crazily intricate guitar work. Mellower tunes like “The Rows of Pine” and “Genevieve” are powered by Miller’s characteristically dystopian lyrics and gruff, yet evocative, vocals. One of several local releases from Round Lake’s Collar City Records this year that is worth seeking out.

—Kirsten Ferguson

The Black Fuel

Hell Is Cold (self-released)

Those who have tracked the progress of Albert “Albie” Von Schaaf these last 15 years or so know the magnitude and depth of the rock renegade’s talent. On guitar, he’s a blazing flamethrower, some unholy concoction of Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Billy Gibbons that leaves even seasoned guitar vets quaking when they happen upon him fiercely jamming at some open mic or barroom gig. What sometimes gets lost in the maelstrom is that Von Schaaf is one hell of a songwriter and lyricist as well. Hell Is Cold, the sophomore release from Albie’s power trio the Black Fuel, is a take-no-prisoners tour de force of hard-rock fury and blues-soaked pizzazz, equal parts sweat, blood, vinegar, and mojo grease. Lyrically, this is the hardscrabble world of the long freeze, rough alleys, warm drink and hot times with your mate. Proving themselves as one of the area’s finest rock rhythm sections, bassist Shawn McCann and drummer Mike Weirich swing like Black Sabbath at a P-Funk convention. From the opening anthem “Blues for God’s Daughter” to the tender, Chris Whitley-esque “High Wild Flower,” all the highs and lows of upstate living are measured and drawn true to life, then sent spinning with blues, wisdom, and not just a little bit of grace. Buy this for that Guitar Hero/Rock Band-addicted kid in your life so he or she can get a taste of the real deal, a guitar maestro and his rock hounds residing right here in the little old Capital Region. Special kudos to the striking album art by local artist and musician Shawn Snow.

—Mike Hotter

Strange Faces

Strange Faces (self-released)

Strange Faces, though not technically a local act (the band’s three members all live in North Carolina), have deep roots in the Capital Region rock scene: Ryan Barnum, Art Pierce, and Mark Connor were three-fifths of well-loved local outfit the Wait for many years. This new band finds Barnum moving out of the sideman role he played in his former band, and his debut as a singer-songwriter is damn near a revelation. Dude can sing his ass off, it turns out, and the trio play together like they’ve been doing so for years and years (because they have). Emotional, keyboard-driven tracks like “Stare at the Sun” and “Aren’t You Proud” might have felt right at home on a Wait disc, but this is without question a guitar record. That point is driven home by “Back of Your Mind” and “Panic,” which mine the same straight-ahead hard-rock vibe that made superstars of the Foo Fighters (with whom the track “Learn to Fly” shares only its title). Produced and mixed by industry vet Eric Sarafin, Strange Faces is a national-level rock record.

—John Brodeur

John Scarpulla

Blue Ruin (self-released)

Local singer-songwriter John Scarpulla makes acoustic music rooted in a deep burnished groove, with intonations of blues, pop, and soul. And even in the music’s darker moments—when staring down the past through a once-full beer glass in “Something in a Brown,” for example—there’s a cautious optimism that lifts his muse upward. The Cobleskill resident has a big soulful voice and some dazzling poetical chops to bolster his fine melodic sensibilities. Scarpulla’s deft songwriting touch particularly shows through on the potently soulful “Wednesday” and the breezy, comfortable “No Reason.” From Woodstock to Ballston Spa to Schoharie County, Scarpulla’s been making his live presence known in the area this year, and Blue Ruin shows him to be a singer-songwriter and performer (in the greater John Hiatt neighborhood) who is well worth your time.

 

—Erik Hage

The Foy Brothers

Time (self-released)

Plying the deeper waters of blues-tinged soul and R&B, Kevin and Mark Foy (on vocals and drums, respectively) have surrounded themselves with some of the cream of the local blues-player crop for their latest release, a satisfying collection of well-written original songs about keeping a steady pace and a clear head while on the path to love. The tasteful blues guitar solos of Joe Pennisi and Mark Giammattei, along with Kevin Foy’s burnished, relaxed singing, are reasons enough to keep this one in repeat mode, but the true diamond here is Charee Hendricks, whose soulful harmonies help the music stand out from what can be a homogenous pack. Highlights include the opener “Go With Me,” a dead ringer for classic Isley Brothers, the finger-snapping groove of “Old Faithful” (fortified by a very tasty wah-guitar solo), and “Oh Yes,” where guest percussionist Brian Melick (of the McKrells) reminds us why he’s considered one of the best and most versatile musicians in the region.

—Mike Hotter

The Erotics

Rubbish (Trashpit)

Hang around the music industry long enough and your style is bound to roll back around. Mike Trash and the Erotics have been playing Sunset Strip-inspired hard rock since shortly after it went out of fashion the first time; the pendulum having recently swung back in that direction, the band could be poised for long-overdue breakout. (Hell, if Buckcherry can do it . . .) The band’s new eight-song EP Rubbish, released on U.K. label Trashpit, trades away some of the Mötley Crüe-inspired glam overtones of past releases for a more sinister snarl, a la Alice Cooper, with Trash’s lyrics taking on a cheeky self-loathing tone that, believe it or not, shows actual growth as a songwriter. Granted, songs like “Push Comes to Death” and “Get Away From Me (Motherfucker)” may be little more than conduits to bring their titles to life, but what’s wrong with writing songs around titles? Guided by Voices made an entire career of it. A raucous cover of AC/DC’s “Walk All Over You” closes the record, with Trash doing a convincing Bon Scott impression as the band pound away with even less subtlety than the Aussies themselves.

—John Brodeur


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