EAR BLISS REVIEWS by DAN FERGUSON
Ear Bliss this week takes a look at the latest two releases from the Nashville-based Easy Eye Sound record label. Begun by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, his approach is a return to the old school days where recording studios had a “house band” that provided accompaniment when an artist came through its doors to make a record. Legendary locales like Stax Records and American Studios in Memphis and FAME in Muscle Shoals, Alabama sure made it work. With a collection of top-shelf veteran Nashville players and writers at the ready, Auerbach has been following a similar blueprint with his Easy Eye Sound Studio venture. Just give a listen to the highly recommended album Walk Through Fire released earlier this year by the label from breakout artist Yola for a taste of the Easy Eye Sound aesthetic. Auerbach and company work the same magic on the new album from ace Music City songwriter Kendell Marvel called Solid Gold Sounds. Also just out and with a bit of a different Easy Eye Sound spin is an album from long-time Mississippi bluesman Jimmy “Duck” Holmes called Cypress Grove. Each is in the Ear Bliss spotlight this week. Let’s get to business.
Solid Gold Sounds
Easy Eye Sound Records
By its lonesome, the name Kendell Marvel is unlikely to ring familiar to music fans out there. Yet Marvel is no newbie. His credentials are impressive having written country hits for everyone from George Strait to Jake Owen and Gary Allan to Chris Stapleton (the Grammy-winning “Either Way”). The recently released Solid Gold Sounds is Marvel’s second solo longplayer and first for Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound concern. On it, Marvel steps out from behind the songwriter curtain delivering a solid collection of songs with an autobiographical thread. Save for a terrific reworking of The Bee Gees’ “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You,” all other songs are co-written with Auerbach and a mix of mostly Music City songwriting heavyweights (Paul Overstreet, Pat McLaughlin, Al Anderson). Much like other Easy Eye albums, Solid Gold Sounds was produced by the team of Auerbach and the Grammy-winning David Ferguson. The formula is simple: Write a bunch of songs and gather the roster of “A” team musicians comprising the Easy Eye Sound “house band” in a studio, that being Auerbach’s, and make a record. Made in a matter of days, the result is an album in the modern Southern country vein with old school flourishes that sounds flat-out great with Marvel in the king seat as singer. Possessing a strong and resonating baritone voice, Marvel’s backstory is a classic one of sorts. Playing guitar and singing since he was only 5, he was weaned on honky tonks from an early age thanks to a dad who would take him to joints in his native Southern Illinois to perform. He made the move to Nashville a couple of decades ago to try to make it as a songwriter, which he has. With Solid Gold Sounds, Marvel takes the next step in the artistic process with solid results. Visit www.easyeyesound.com.
Jimmy “Duck” Holmes
Easy Eye Sound Records
If you know much about Dan Auerbach and The Black Keys, you’re probably aware that the band’s early sounds were rooted in the South and namely, the rough and hard-edged blues sounds originating out of the juke joints of Mississippi. One such purveyor of those sounds is bluesman Jimmy “Duck” Holmes who owns and operates one of Mississippi’s longest operating juke joints, the Blue Front Café in Bentonia. Holmes is one of the last of the old guard bluesman playing in a rural style referred to as Bentonia blues. Now in his early seventies, the “Duck” is no spring chicken. His new album called Cypress Grove, which doubles as his debut for Easy Eye Sound Records and was produced by Auerbach, shows there is still plenty of spring in the ol’ Duck. Auerbach’s goal for the recording? To capture the raw authenticity of a Mississippi juke joint Saturday night at the Blues Front Café’, with Holmes at the helm. To that end, Cypress Grove achieves its target with flying colors. The album is a blast of the gritty and the down-home mixing acoustic and electrified blues with Holmes as its centerpiece plying his trade, Bentonia-style.
The coolest space in Providence to see a band? My vote goes to the Emporium of Popular Culture (a.k.a. POP) located at 219 West Park Avenue. Between the attached vintage store and gallery space, it is complete stimulation for the eyes and brain. They also occasionally put on music shows with the next one happening on Friday night featuring the ambient country sounds of New York City-based quintet SUSS at 7 pm.
At Chan’s Restaurant in Woonsocket (267 Main Street) this weekend, Johnny Hoy & the Bluefish get the party started on Friday with their dance-inducing blues starting at 8 pm. Diane Blue is in the house of eggrolls & blues the following evening with her all-star band, also at 8 pm.
A whole lot of Colorado happens at The Met Café in Pawtucket (1005 Main Street) on Friday night where progressive bluegrassers Yonder Mountain String Band will perform with up-and-coming Colorado-based Americana rockers The Drunken Hearts in the opening slot. Doors are 8 pm.
The Other Favorites is the longtime duo project of Carson McKee and Josh Turner best known for their performances on YouTube. Based out Brooklyn, the duo brings its mix of folk, bluegrass and classic rock and tight two-part harmonies to the Knickerbocker Music Center in Westerly (39 Railroad Avenue) on Friday night for an 8 pm show.
The Grammy-award winning and Riverdance star Eileen Ivers is continuously pushing the fiddling tradition boundaries. She and her band will no doubt do so once again at The Blackstone River Theatre in Cumberland (549 Broad Street) where they perform on Saturday evening at 8 pm.
In Providence on Saturday night, the always entertaining popster Robyn Hitchcock is at the Columbus Theatre in Providence (270 Broadway) at 8 pm while over at the intimate Askew (150 Chestnut Street), the wonderful and highly recommended female folk trio Lula Wiles holds court at 9 pm. Elsewhere in Providence that same evening, the Dark Star Orchestra makes one of its regular visits to The Strand (79 Washington Street) while over at the Stone Soup Coffeehouse (88 Meeting Street), long-time area favorites The Atwater Donnelly Trio perform at 7 pm.
Back down South County way, the Adam Ezra Group is at the Greenwich Odeum in East Greenwich (59 Main Street) on Saturday night at 8 pm while down in Matunuck, The Ocean Mist (895A Matunuck Beach Road) gets the party going with the disco, funk, hip-hop, soul, and r&b sounds of Sugar at 10 pm.
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3.)