Monthly Archives: March 2018

Willodean – LA Band Makes Good… And Good, And Good, And Good!

Special thanks to Heather West for the heads up on these guys!

2017 seemed to be the year for bands to be truly prolific. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard released FIVE albums… and local LA Band Willodean released FOUR EPs. Come on, guys… you couldn’t do five? Lazy!!!

I jest of course, as you will immediately hear the work that went into making each of these four lush and stunning records.

Awesome Life Decisions came out in February of 2017, followed by Fires, Cars & Autumn Stars in May, Life & Limbo in August and then Awesome Life Decisions: Side Two in November.

The band lays claim to Sufjan Stevens and Wilco as influences (two of my favorites), and I would also add in Beach Boys, The Wondermints and a bit of Del Amitri and Toy Matinee to the mix… basically that Indie Rock/Power Pop I love so much!

I also hear one of my all time faves pop up in a few songs, the somewhat unknown and sadly missed band The Gear Daddies.

This trio is made up of front man and lead singer Abbie Huxley, songwriter Randy Wooten and producer/bass player Eric Holden. Holden and Wooten have been working together for over a decade, when they formed Cheap Lullaby Records and their band The Bloody Lovelies. That label released over thirty records for artists such as The BellRays, Joan As Police Woman, Ivan & Alyosha, Teitur, and David Mead. Impressive list!

The songwriting is smart, the musicianship is tight and Abbie brings a nice Tennessee waltz to his warm vocals. His voice is instantly familiar and reminds me of someone specific, though of course my mind is blanking on exactly who… but at the same time, it is new to my ears.

My buddies and I love to find and share bands with each other, and there are four of us in particular that have similar tastes. It always starts out with a text or message saying… “These guys are SO in our wheelhouse!”

Well, welcome to my “musical wheelhouse,” Willodean!Awesome Life Decisions is pure jangly pop joy and easily something I could have heard coming out of my ‘80s radio. There is a brightness to the record that lends itself to being put on repeat, as the six fantastic songs seem to come and go way too fast. My stand out tracks are “Shy” and “Don’t Give Up,” which also reminds me of The Explorers Club.

The pace slows down a bit on Fires, Cars & Autumn Stars, a slow-simmering, ballad heavy output that has a more folksy feel. It is definitely a great, late night affair. The opening “Afraid I’ll Start Remembering You” moves into “Carmen,” both songs about the loss of love and reminiscing, and clear proof that heartbreak so often leads to some great music. “Sweet Autumn Music” is a nice country affair that opens with a lovely, yearning mandolin. At least I think it’s a mandolin. My favorite track is the bright “Firelight,” which casts a nice country/power pop glow.Life & Limbo has been called “this summer’s breakup album for the modern introvert…” but for me, the pain is blunted by some gorgeous tunes and melodies. I guess that’s what makes a great breakup album… shared pain and revelations and then enough beauty and hope to move us forward! The closing track “Old Friends, with its sweeping strings, is a gorgeous lullaby of a song, that may not only lull you to sleep, but give you the chance to dream yet again.

Awesome Life Decisions – Side Two acts as both the rocking rebound record and year’s finale, and is the perfect bookend to this four-release affair. Though ironically, this was the album I started with, and what served as my introduction to Willodean. “Want” is another favorite tune.

This is the kind of band and these are the kinds of records that would make for a great night home, party music, or a long ass road trip. There is a comfort and familiarity at play, but Willodean offers it’s very own take on the music my buddies and I like so much. And as I said earlier, welcome to the wheelhouse! Most definitely hope to see you boys live!

 

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Filed under Album Review, Marc's Mixed Bag - A Little Of Everything, Marc's Playlist - Music That Moves Me

Guitar Jack Wargo’s Keepin’ It Real Keeps It Kool

There is just something soothing about the Blues. Whenever it comes on or I put it on, I go to a different place. My love started back in Chicago when I was a young student at Northwestern. My limited, classic rock sensibilities opened up dramatically thanks to some friends and Frat brothers at Sigma Nu. We’d hit places like Kingston Mines, Rosa’s Lounge, Blue Chicago, B.L.U.E.S., and The Checkerboard Lounge and my personal favorite Biddy Mulligan’s (both may they RIP.) Then I started playing Blues harp (harmonica) and forget it… I was so hooked on the Blues and would follow the legends around town and go see them whenever I could.

Back in 2014, an article in Time Out Chicago said this: “Biddy Mulligan’s was a seedy rock club on the northern reaches of Sheridan Road, just south of the cemetery that keeps leafy Evanston at bay. The club opened and closed a comical number of times, at one point re-opening for a whopping four months before shuttering again. Much like the oft-promised renaissance of Howard Street, a new, revitalized Biddy’s was always just around the corner. But Biddy’s did have an admirable history in the’70s/’80s—Koko Taylor played there many times, and Smashing Pumpkins rocked it in 1989.”

When I first moved to LA, I feel in deep with 88.1 KLON (now KJazz) and their “Nothin’ But The Blues” radio show. 

In recent years I have had the pleasure of seeing Guitar Jack Wargo play live all over LA. In fact, I have even gotten the chance to jam with him… always laughing when I accidentally step on his lead and have him look over at me and say “I got this.”

To put Jack in full perspective, let’s just say he has played with a few minor artists you MAY have heard of… Solomon Burke, Thelma Houston, Billy Preston, Ray Charles and Michael Jackson to name a few!

And then there’s this:

“There is huge talent in this man that is yet to be fully expressed. With his credentials and his chops, this is a guitar player on the verge of international acclaim.” – Gary ‘The Wagman’ Wagner, award-winning DJ at KKJZ 88.1 FM Nothin’ But The Blues

“Guitar Jack is silky smooth and Clapton-esque.” – Music Connection

His latest album, Keepin’ It Real is 12 tracks of pure funky, rockin’ blues joy.

It opens with “You Don’t Feel The Same,” which has such a true classic blues feel… and that guitar… Man! This may be my favorite song on the record! I could so easily see kids playing some of these licks over and over to try to learn to play!

“Keep On Keepin’ On” makes me want to jump in the car, roll down the windows… don’t have a top to put down… and just drive. Lots of Stevie Wonder funk going on, on this one!

“Inventory Blues” is a track we should all take stock of. We all have good and bad in our lives… but to make sure we appreciate what we do have is so important and way too easy to forget. Let the music remind us!

“Nobody But You” sounds pretty autobiographical… the pros and cons of being a musician in the public spotlight… and it’s always fun when you know EXACTLY who someone is singing about!

 “She’s Got Soul” is the perfect late night tune for a night of bluesy romance.

For me, the test of a great blues record is how quickly I want to run and grab my harps and play along. I’m ready, Jack!

Jack Wargo is a master craftsman and knows exactly how to build a true house of blues! And if you ever get the chance to see him live, that’s a must. Plus, he’s a really decent human being and a good guy. That goes a long way in this crazy world. Music soothes our weary souls, but sometimes those same souls need to be rocked a bit, too. This record does it all.

 

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Filed under Album Review, Life... Plain and Not So Simple, Marc's Mixed Bag - A Little Of Everything