Sunday, November 25, 2012

Three 5 Star Records: Des Moines Local Music

King of the Tramps: Good People
(2011 Old School Records)

Vocalist Todd Partridge tells me that King of the Tramps is working on a new CD (presumed to be titled Wicked Mountain) that will be released sometime after the first of the year. He says that it will be much bluesier and rootsy than their previous venture, Good People.

With all respect to Partridge's song writing talents, Good People is gonna be tough to beat. Recorded in 2011 at Old School Records, it is one of those releases that grabs you instantly, and doesn't let go until the final note is played. It's raw and blemished, with not-so-subtle glimpses from the hey-day of the Rolling Stones. (Think of the Jamming with Edward sessions which the Stones recorded with Ry Cooder and Nicky Hopkins.) This album should be labeled with a warning sticker, because it's sonic heroin. It's been in my car's rotation for about 5 months now and I still haven't gotten sick of it.

Good People, despite it's name would make the perfect soundtrack to a bar room brawl, as it has that honky tonk quality to it that one would imagine exists on back alley and side street jukeboxes. If Partridge is indeed correct in that the Tramps' next release will be bluesier and more rootsy, then God bless 'em. I'm certainly looking forward to hearing it. Until then, do yourself a favor and find Good People.

It's unjust that it's one of the least talked about albums from the local scene, because it's definitely one of the best.

Lesson Seven: self-titled
(2012 SonicFactory Studios)

When Bryan York passed me an advanced copy of Lesson Seven's latest release several months ago, I was expecting to hear something completely different than the product I actually received. For reasons that are probably unfair to the band, I was under the impression that Lesson Seven was a metal act. It probably had more to do with the band's name than anything else, but my hunch was way off. The album is a delightful mixture of soul, rap, hard rock and R&B, with carefully inserted elements of jazz. Though I was expecting something different, the album (which remains untitled) instantly struck me as being something special. First of all the sound engineering is incredible, and the music is as unique and complex as anything I have heard in a long time.

I can only surmise that these fellas are institutionally trained musicians because it seems that they have whittled this album down to the finest details, whether it's the vocal tracks, the guitar work, or the drum components. Each segment is carefully engineered to the finest point, and worked out to the most minute details. This album is as much a tutorial in sound engineering as it is a brilliant musical release. While it was mixed by York and Jon Locker, kudos also go out to SonicFactory Studios, Focus Mastering, and also Kyle Sherod Mastering for their collective work in building this excellent recording. The fourth track, "Memory" is especially pleasing to the ears and deserves mention.

"Memory" and the other songs on this album are a good example of what makes the Des Moines scene so vibrant and diverse. If one was to play this album for somebody who was unaware of it's origin, they might be surprised that this wasn't a national touring band with all the pieces in place to be a major player. It's incredible to me that Des Moines is capable of delivering such compounded works of musical art, and I have to admit that based off this record's musical quality, I'm astounded that Lesson Seven is still planted in Iowa. Having a band of this caliber playing for bar-room cover is a huge compliment to the Des Moines scene. I've been told by more than a few people that I need to see this band live. If their performance onstage is as polished and pure as it is in the studio, then it will be something to be reckoned with.

North of Grand: A Farewell to Rockets
(2012 Brolester Records)

One of my favorite albums of the year is North of Grand's latest release, A Farewell to Rockets.

Seriously. I fucking LOVE this record.

It's that perfect mixture of teenage angst, sensible guitar, and warehouse foot stomp that I so shamelessly crave to feed my musical jones. Note for note this recording delivers as much satisfaction as anything I've listened to in the past five years. That's saying something because while I normally shy away from radio-friendly rock and roll, this album begs to be played on the airwaves. It's as good or better than anything I've actually heard on FM dial, but without the hyperbolic, over-produced, repetitive bullshit that usually accompanies the trash that Clear Channel and Cumulus feed us on a daily basis. It's just pure and simple bubblegum flavored post-punk rock and roll.

The opening track, "Hey Man" is as good an introduction to an album that exists in modern music. Catchy and full of punch, it says "Hello" in a way that exceeds anything other than perhaps meeting your long lost uncle Larry in a foreign airport. This album has Andy Shernoff's style of production written all over it, although I'm guessing that it's not intentional. It is however, a testament to the character of this record, musically and production-wise.

North of Grand are veterans on the scene, and are finally getting the mass respect that they deserve. This is their first record on the Brolester label, and it's also their first as a four piece, with Matt Wellendorf  joining along on guitar. He brings a new ingredient to the band's sound, and his contribution is noticed in comparison to North of Grand's earlier releases. There's an cloud of maturity that  settles around this latest recording, that might have been absent in the previous efforts. This band has always been a tight outfit but with the addition of Wellendorf, they are truly locked in.

A Farewell to Rockets is must have for anyone who likes House of Large Sizes, the Dictators, or anything Mike Watt. And while the entire North of Grand catalog deserves respect, this latest release will be the one that catapults them to national prominence. I suggest that you call your local radio station immediately and demand to hear "Hey Man" or "No Way Down." When they tell you that they don't have it, ask them to get it. Then do this every single day until they oblige.

The world will be a much better place with this new standard of radio rock. North of Grand is capable of carrying that torch.


Pertinent Links:

King of the Tamps Official

King of the Tramps on Facebook

Lesson Seven on Facebook

North of Grand Official

North of Grand on Facebook


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