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I take Dive Party personally. For each of our two local music showcases this year, I put in an incredibly large amount of work.I won’t rehash the blood, sweat and tears for you, but, suffice it to say, it hasn’t done me any favors in my classes.Putting that much effort into something, I expect to get the support of my colleagues. And in the fall, my fellow DTHers came out in fairly large numbers.Two weeks ago, that was not the case. I counted 10 members of the paper besides my staff at the party. Three were on a photo assignment. One was my girlfriend.When I realized that was going to be it, I was surprised by my reaction. I didn’t care.It’s not that I didn’t want more of my co-workers there. I did. But even without them, the place was full. I looked around me, and I saw people I’d never seen before at the Local 506. And they were all dancing their asses off.I realized it wasn’t the DTH’s support I’ve been looking for. I’ve been looking for yours. To every student and community member reading this: I’ve been trying to reach you. I’ve been trying to show you what an unbelievably fantastic music and arts scene we have right here in North Carolina.Don’t tell me about Brooklyn. Don’t rant about Austin. I’d take the Triangle over anywhere else.We’ve got one of the best arts scenes in the country sitting right over that Franklin Street border, and I think it’s a damn shame more students don’t take advantage of it.It’s that idea that has pushed me in my three years on Diversions.I was underpaid and overworked, and sometimes I felt downright under-appreciated. But I felt like a kid in a candy store every day I did this job. I got to write about musicians and artists who often don’t get any other notice. And they’ve all amazed me in so many different ways.As I stood at my last Dive Party, it all hit me. I was surrounded by some of my favorite musicians and community members, as well as a good number of newcomers. I was being thanked and played for by four of my favorite bands. It was overwhelming, an experience I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.But in the end the thanks weren’t necessary. I’ve done this job because I’ve never cared about anything more in my entire life. And it’s me who should be thanking all of you for letting me do it.Thank you Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh. I may be stepping down as Diversions Editor, but I’ll always be a fan.Contact Jordan Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org
Somewhere in the evolution of popular music culture, the term “mainstream” became a dirty word. In a realm ruled by rebels and visionaries, a sound with obvious mass appeal is seen as sacrilege.But despite the terrible music that can come from trying to reach large numbers of people, there are artists who genuinely are good at making approachable music.Enter Carrboro’s Graveyard Fields. The band’s debut EP contains nothing objectionable. Mixing polite, tidy chamber pop with singer-songwriter passion, they have five songs that would easily fit on your Top 40 dial.
So, get this! This duo from Winston-Salem plays indie rock with only guitar and upright bass. And the guitar dude also does drum buttons with his feet. Knee jerk reaction: This is probably going to suck.Reality: It’s pretty kick-ass.
It’s fitting that members of Red Collar, Midtown Dickens and other local bands would choose to tribute Nebraska. There is no record in all of Bruce Springsteen’s illustrious catalog so ready-made for homage.The 10 haunting folk treatments on this 1982 essential are nothing but the raw essence of The Boss. It precedes the synth-propelled new wave of his 1984 Born in the USA. It catches him after he’s outgrown the youthful pop impulse to be “Born to Run.”Nebraska takes Springsteen’s bleeding heart populism to its grimmest extremes. His howls echo in the lo-fi background of guitar-and-harmonica tales of the woe-stricken. Once again he’s riding through the heartland of America, but this time he can’t find the pulse.Slated to record the follow-up to the double-album excess of 1980’s The River, Springsteen assembled his songs into 10 home-recorded demos. The whole E Street Band was called in to record, but both Springsteen and his producers thought the rough, emotional first-takes got the point across best.They were right. You don’t need anything more than Springsteen’s tortured wail to make the plight of wronged prisoner “Johnny 99” rip you apart.A fuller arrangement would cover up the guilt-ridden menace of “State Trooper”’s criminal narrative.But there’s always the “What if?” And that’s why crafting your own version of these songs is irresistible. Can you do a better job of tempting your lady to go on a last-ditch trip to “Atlantic City”? Can you care for a brother more than Springsteen’s “Highway Patrolman” does?Taking on these bare-bones tunes will give these local heroes the chance to tackle Springsteen’s epic persona head on. Nobody can be Bruce Springsteen, but you can sure as hell turn the wondrous blueprints of the now-famous demos into something worth while.Nebraska gives any brave artist the chance to create his or her own idea of what it is to be Bruce. And it’s going to be quite a thrill to see what kind of Bosses these local heroes turn out to be.Contact the Diversions Editor at email@example.com.
Patrick Stickles has an interesting world view. Well-versed in rock ‘n’ roll, pop culture, literature and history, the leader of New Jersey band Titus Andronicus shouts hyper-intelligent barbs over the group’s roaring brand of E Street punk. Diversions Editor Jordan Lawrence talked with Stickles before Titus’ Sunday gig at Local 506 to get an idea of what makes the divisive songwriter tick. Diversions: On the new album, The Monitor, you use the phrase, “The enemy is everywhere.”. What do you mean by that?Patrick Stickles: Let me answer your question with a question. What do you think we mean when we say it?
Many of the best new acts to step out on the local scene recently have started as one or two-man bands. The Love Language and Max are shining examples.Autumn Ehinger’s Cassis Orange might soon join the list. The new EP she’s crafted under that name is promising, if not fully pleasing.Weaving simplistic Postal Service-esque electro-pop around stark emotive lyrics that come off as impeccably insightful journal entries, Ehinger has a formula that works.
It’s easy to forget, but at the end of Alexandre Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers,” the titular members of the king’s guard actually add a fourth member. Coming from different social circumstances but believing in a common cause, the four heroes create a support system. “All for one, one for all,” they’ve always got each other’s backs despite their differences.Local music acts The Light Pines, Max Indian and Ryan Gustafson have forged a similar bond. The four main creators behind these projects are incredibly intertwined. Indian’s Carter Gaj and James Wallace provide live backing for Josh Pope’s Pines. Gustafson plays guitar in Indian’s stage show.
UNC squeaked by the Bulldogs of Mississippi State 76-74 Saturday March 20 in Starkville, Miss.
I can’t tell you if New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus has a truly broad appeal. I just know that it does a doozy on me.
The loyal couriers of the U.S. Postal Service are duty-bound to deliver in times of rain, snow, sleet or hail. I guess the same can be said of jazz musicians.With flights snowed in at New York, the band of famed trumpeter Terence Blanchard hopped a train to Philadelphia, where air troubles continued. Finally boarding a much delayed flight, the band barely got to Memorial Hall in time on Friday.“When they say the show must go on, they didn’t tell the airline companies,” Blanchard joked during his headlining set at UNC’s 33rd Carolina Jazz Festival.Terence BlanchardMemorial HallFridayArts verdict: 4 of 5 starsBut luckily for the crowd in Chapel Hill, the arduous journey didn’t hinder the outfit’s excellent musical delivery. In tune with each other to an absurd degree, Blanchard and his band of piano, upright bass, drums and tenor saxophone constructed a dense, enveloping style of modern jazz heavy on instrumental prowess.A five-time Grammy Award-winning musician as well as a Golden Globe-nominated film-score composer, Blanchard played a set full of material from his 2009 record “Choices.” It was a well-constructed program that balanced thickly structured harmonics with enthralling instrumental solos.Bassist Michael Olatuja began the set with a brooding solo that fleshed out into haunting melody for Blanchard to walk out to.Using pedals at his feet, the band leader called up spoken word snippets from philosopher and civil rights activist Cornel West that frame “Choices” as an album.With West’s gravelly delivery wrapped around political issues in the “Age of Obama,” the recordings lent power and focus to the ensemble’s instrumental chops.From this base, Blanchard displayed his incredible technique. Going from quiet, slinky notes to blaring eruptions with amazing ease, his notes shone with feeling.Sometimes it was too much. Straining his instrument to the limit for a multi-tonal effect, some of the solos became abrasive. But when it worked, it was as impressive as it was engaging.The late start added extra fun to the show. Before Blanchard, a group of UNC jazz students and faculty played with festival artist-in-residence Ivan Renta on tenor sax. It was a great addition, delivering more great music while enforcing the festival’s educational focus.Making the best out of what could have been a frustrating night, Blanchard and the wonderful musicians who played with him rewarded the patient crowd with a lush evening of music.Contact the Arts Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In talking about Horsefly, the finally released 1996 album that was set to make the career of Chapel Hill’s Capsize 7 until the band was dropped from Caroline Records, former front man Joe Taylor told me that parts of the record sound dated to him.
Thirty-eight and 28. It’s a wide age gap — a monumental difference for rockers. It’s these two ages that mark Chapel Hill duo Blag’ard.
Carrboro’s Felix Obelix has a few road blocks on its way to accessibility. Musically, the band relies on such odd instruments as a vibraphone and a glockenspiel. Thematically, it probes such dense topics as death and passing time.
It’s easy to miss. Just a dingy old drumhead staked into the ground on the side of a curvy road in rural Mebane.But the small house that resides at 3907 Mebane Oaks Road is home to one of the Triangle’s longest-standing and most respected producers.Jerry Kee, who operates his self-proclaimed eighth Duck Kee Studio on the site, has been recording bands in the area for more than 20 years.“I named the last one seven since that’s a good number, prime number,” Kee jokes of his last studio in Raleigh. “That just kind of dawned on me one time, that that was the seventh place I’d been recording. But that includes, like, the bedroom of my parents’ house.”Having begun recording in his youth out of a hunger for composing and producing music, Kee moved from his West Virginia home to Raleigh in the mid ’80s. It was about 1988 when he turned his home at the time into a locale that still lives in the annals of local music history.It was there that the name Jerry Kee was tied to records by Superchunk and Polvo, two bands that put indie rock and Chapel Hill on the map in the ’90s. After about eight years in Raleigh, Kee moved to his second live-in studio, transforming the living room area of his Mebane house into a professional recording studio.“It’s what everything centers around,” Kee says of the choice to cram his house with tape machines, booths and computer equipment. “I don’t really think twice about it. This place needs to be bigger as far as that goes. I think about taking the screened-in porch and finishing it up or something like that.”It certainly results in an interesting environment. Part cluttered homestead, part indie rock nostalgia, Kee’s setup is charmingly rustic, his three cats — Sammy, Molly and Zucchini — coexisting with whatever troubadour is recording there at the time. It’s an atmosphere that clients speak of fondly.“Jerry’s studio is like this cluttered place that you can barely move around in,” said John Booker, of Chapel Hill’s I Was Totally Destroying It, who has recorded at Duck Kee with four previous projects. “It’s got cat hair all over everything. But, I mean, it’s got that vibe to it. It’s got that really homey feel to it. I mean, Jerry lives in the studio.”From this comfortable environment Kee produces records with a warm, lived-in feel. Recording to two-inch tape as opposed to the digital methods becoming more prevalent today, he gives his products a roughly hewn but still professional sound.“I try to let them do what they want to do,” Kee said of his studio technique. “I try to help them do what they’ve been trying to do. I’m not really hands-on unless they’re really inexperienced and are aiming for something higher than what they’re going to get.”Many of the artists who come through Duck Kee appreciate this approach.“He knows how to point you in the right direction, but he doesn’t bring his ego into the recording process,” said Reid Johnson of Chapel Hill’s Schooner, whose new Duck Kee Sessions EP was recorded by Kee. “He kind of will let you do your own thing. He will give you a kinda weird look if you suggest something that’s probably not going to work, but he doesn’t try to make you something out of his mold.”With this approach of guiding rather than directing and rates that are affordable for those not working on a record label budget, Kee often becomes a solid first option for up-and-coming talent.“The people I always work with usually are paying for it themselves, as opposed to a record company paying for it,” he said. “They’re enthusiastic about it. It’s just great people to work with because they’re at that stage where they’re really excited about it. They’re working hard.”Booker, who had his first recording experience at Duck Kee with the band Strunken White, said Kee was a great first producer.“We were still so young and figuring everything out,” he said. “Jerry’s kind of the guy to walk you through that. He’s just been doing it for so long for so many local bands.”Eager to dole out his wisdom and open up his doors for whatever band chooses to reach out, Kee provides a service that many in this area’s music scene are eager to keep around.“You’re getting really high-quality records for a reasonable amount of money,” said Paul Finn, head of Chapel Hill’s Odessa Records, speaking to how Kee sells used tape or rents tape to bands who are strapped for cash. “You’d be hard-pressed to be able to afford analog tape without Jerry.“You’d just be getting records that weren’t as good sounding. We’re really lucky to have him.”And if Kee has his way, it’s an opportunity that bands from the Triangle and elsewhere will be able to utilize far into the future.“I just turned 50 last year, so zowy! That sounds old,” he said. “I’m wondering whether I should try something different before I’m too old to change over. My conclusion was, ‘No, I’ll just stick to doing this.’ I probably won’t have much money to retire on, but I have a brother, a little brother in West Virginia who has a farm. Always a place to stay.”Contact the Diversions Editor at email@example.com
Dive Verdict: 2.5 of 5 Stars
Dive Verdict: 3 of 5 Stars
Hard rock and getting fired — it’s an obvious combination.
Take a powerful hook, drench it in some distortion and effects, and you can come up with something that’s as catchy as it is powerful.
Dive verdict: 4 of 5 stars
Jason Kutchma certainly lives up to the definition of “road warrior.” From Durham to St. Louis, Kutchma’s band, Red Collar, has toured tirelessly over the years, with him going so far as to quit his job at UNC’s School of Pharmacy to pursue his musical dreams.