Tell Tale Heart- Album by Avey Grouws Band

Released 9/24/21

Review by Joslyn Danielson – 10/08/21

The Avey Grouws Band is an up-and-coming 5 person group that is rocking the modern blues/americana scene. Their debut album, “Devil May Care” hit the #10 spot on the Billboard Blues Chart in 2020, and their second full-length album, “Tell Tale Heart” was released Sep 24th 2021, and it lives up to every bit of the hype.

As I write this, staring out at a foggy autumn day, the track titled “Mariana” lulls me into a sense of melancholic introspection. Chris Avey’s electric guitar playing is exceptional and gives the vibe of classic rock stadium solos. His ability to build up energy and funnel it all into a single moment of the song sends chills up your spine. He will then plunge headfirst back into the catchy blues riffs and masterfully keep the original groove driving.

Formed along the Iowa side of the Mississippi, the band has some obvious elements of country/americana, soul, roots rock, funk, and more… but they lay their foundation upon the blues. Jeni Grouws’ vocal stylings (alto belt with a tinge of twang) are distinctly melancholic and even a bit angry at times, reminiscent of the Joplin era. It’s during songs like “Love Raining Down” and “Heart’s Playing Tricks” that the blues is injected with so much rock and roll from Bryan West’s drumming, it takes on a new genre of hardcore blues-rock that you’ll likely be unable to sit still through.

Clearly drawing on influences of every kind to create this conglomeration of American music, the album is an exceptional soundtrack to the experience of the past few years.

In “Bad, Bad Year” (the stand-out track on the album for me), they use such classic and timeless stylings to comment on the current social climate, alluding to the Covid-19 pandemic. Chris’s guitar comes in on this track with a dirty blues solo, masterfully using a psychedelic effect to break up the long notes like a glitchy whammy bar. Jeni gives some crystal clear blues belts, hanging on the minor dissonant notes, with a bit of strategic rasp and vibrato at the exact right times, while Randy Leasman gives some classic blues bass licks.

Not to be forgotten, however, is the album title track, “Tell Tale Heart”. The song starts out as a slow, sultry, blues ballad with subtle keyboard by Nick Vasquez, but still gets grungy and raw like traditional blues. The lead up to the guitar solo made my eyes smart, there is so much emotion poured into this track.

The band is clearly polished and ready to tour after what seems like an eternity, and they hit all the sentiments the audience is likely feeling as well after the past few years. They obviously took advantage of that time and created a killer album, something to be proud of. All I can say for sure is that we’re in for a mind-blowing live performance at KJ’s Hideaway in November 2021.

Porky’s Groove Machine – Sticklers For Specificity

Sticklers For Specificity, released in February of 2021, is the latest extended play from Porky’s Groove Machine, a septet based in Appleton, Wisconsin. The cover artwork is adorned with a visual homage to Rene Magritte’s 1929 surrealist painting “The Treachery of Images”—with an illustrated hog in place of the famous tobacco pipe—immediately signaling the irreverent, Dada-esque approach to dance music that has become a trademark of this group.

More experimental than previous releases, and a stylistic departure from the primarily Afrobeat-influenced sound of their early work, Sticklers For Specificity was recorded at the famed Hideaway Studios in Northeast Minneapolis, with production handled by Jason McGlone. The EP begins with the title song, a humorous duet that lyrically riffs on conversational pedantry, backed by horns and a tight rhythm section.

The second track, “Spice Girls”, opens with a classic funk vamp, hearkening back to the late 60s/early 70s work of James Brown, before shifting into a melodic ode to its subject—which is not, as one might expect, the turn-of-the-millennium British girl group, but rather actual spices, as in culinary seasoning. The middle-eight features a sultry saxophone solo, before segueing into a retro-rap interlude underpinned by an old-school Roland beat machine, then picking up the chorus and closing out the song with a capella coda.

“Traffic Jam” features a comedic spoken-word introduction with “chipmunk-ed” vocals, which recalls the wackier moments of vintage Parliament-Funkadelic albums, while “Swamp Ass Shimmy” narrates an unpleasant journey through bayou country. The final song (“S.A.D.”) is an upbeat, disco-inspired dance tune about seasonal affective disorder, creating an unexpected juxtaposition between the feel-good rhythm and the lyrics.

There is no shortage of musical ideas on this five-track EP, and with Sticklers For Specificity it would seem that Porky’s Groove Machine has achieved a decidedly rare feat: thoughtful party music.

– K. McKee

Roll The Dice, released in 2017, is the third album by Héctor Anchondo, a blues singer/guitarist from Omaha, Nebraska, who also happens to be the winner of the 2020 International Blues Challenge for solo/duo performance. In contrast to 2014’s Young Guns, Anchondo’s previous album from 2014, Roll The Dice has a bigger sound and fuller arrangements, with a result that is more ambitious—and perhaps more accessible—than its predecessor.

The album opens with “Dig You Baby”, a brassy, rollicking duet with a female guest vocalist, followed by “Masquerade”, a vintage-sounding rock & roll tune. The title track (“Roll the Dice”) is more soulful and pop-inclined, while “Face it Down” is a hard-driving roadhouse boogie, a la ZZ Top.

Included among the originals is a seven-minute cover of the pre-Buckingham/Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac composition “Black Magic Woman”. Anchondo’s version features an extended introduction, with a flurry of sweep-picked guitar notes that build to a crescendo, before breaking into a four-to-the-floor bass drum rhythm. For a song that has produced so many iconic recordings—especially Santana’s 1970 version from Abraxas—the Héctor Anchondo Band provides a fresh take on a classic song.

The overall production of Roll The Dice is top-notch, and avoids the creeping sonic sterility that would otherwise leave the album sounding dated to the current era of digital recording technology. As for the musicianship, Anchondo can seriously shred, effortlessly switching from virtuosic Van Halen-esque arpeggios to sparse, crying blue-note leads. Moreover, though guitar may be his primary instrument, the guy can definitely sing, most notably on the album’s penultimate track “On Your Mic, Get Set, Sing”, where Anchondo’s vocals approach a Jeff Buckley-level of honeyed melodiousness. The harmonica playing also deserves a special mention, especially for the intricate harp-work on the first couple of tracks.

With Roll The Dice, Héctor Anchondo may not be trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to classic guitar-driven rock and roll, but he is clearly willing to take chances with songwriting and musical arrangements. While remaining firmly rooted in blues-rock territory, the album covers a lot of ground, both stylistically—from the Doors-y minor key jam of “That’s How It All Goes” to an almost 1980’s New Wave sound in “Jump in the Water” —and thematically, featuring lyrically humorous songs as well as heavier material throughout the ten tracks.

The combination of musical variety and skilled execution on Roll The Dice provides a satisfying experience that stands up to repeat listening.

K. McKee

It has been over a month since we launched out on social media and our web page. That day was crazy for me. I have never been so nervous for something in my life. All the uncertainty, excitement, fear, all rolled up together. We were very thankful Joyann was there to help us get started. We are super excited that her and the band will be here in September to kick everything off.

The pace of things is starting to ramp up. We are working on content creation for social media, thinking of ideas and ways we can promote artists and their work. Finalizing our stage set up and getting things on order for our room and décor. One thing is constant, when you think something should be easy, it probably is not, then you start working it and frustration ensues. A good example is social media and website work. It seems so easy to say ‘but I want that to look like this’ and then when I start figuring out how to do that, I look up and an hour has passed. It is all very humbling. I just keep plugging away at it until it at least is close to what we want it to be.

Through it all we keep our mission in mind, that we are here to promote artists and music. This has been crucial in making decision in many areas. It is so easy to get stuck heading down a rabbit hole. The challenge is hopefully stopping soon enough, and asking ourselves ‘does this fit our mission?’ Several times this has stopped us from getting too deep into something, stop us from spending too much somewhere else, and guiding how we choose to spend our time.

We are thankful for the support. Social Media launch day I was soooooo nervous. Seeing people’s positive reactions and encouragement has been so uplifting.

It has been fun the past months bringing life back to the space. When we first walked through, it had that feeling of abandonment, of years and stories gone by. Now, little by little, there is life again. Hearing the musicians play (albeit online) and those of us working inside, the warmth is coming back. We are excited for that big day in September, when the stage is alive and the space is full of people.

Still lots to do! Blink, and September will be here. Until next time!

-j

Minneapolis-based singer/songwriter Sarah Morris burst back into our hearts with her first full album since 2017. Twangy and romantic, “All Mine” is a classic americana album combining excellent lyric writing with tight instrumentation.

Even though it was released pre-COVID, (Feb 2020) the melancholy sentiments of ache and longing are prominent throughout the album. Her powerful songwriting makes for a relatable piece of work that touches on the difficulties of life, but also the beauty within the struggle.

The instrumentation is mostly acoustic guitar-driven, with added elements of romantic violin, bluesy stand-up bass lines, and some rockin’ electric guitar solos. Sarah’s whimsical soprano lead vocals display exceptional range and control.

The genre, while americana at its core, brings in strong elements of blues, country, and even dips its toe in the doo-wop style of the 60’s in the crooning lullaby, ‘There, There’. The subtle country twang stands strong throughout most of the songs, giving that American romance vibe.

‘Things That You Can’t Tell By Looking At A Picture’ is an outlier when it comes to genre. This track is almost ambient (save the melancholy vocals), and gives the feeling of a motion-picture score. It’s weirder, spookier, and very much more outside-the-box.

The last two tracks, (‘Mendocino’, ‘I’m A Wreck’) are more heavy blues, with electric guitar solos and staccato strumming. The final track should be mentioned as it incorporates 70’s wailing keys and wraps up the record perfectly with a strong blues finish and a jammy fade-out.

The record feels like a glimpse into the diary of a young woman from the Midwest, adding nostalgia to visuals such as “the Minnesota sky, rows of corn in late July” (‘How I Want To Love You’). It’s the perfect album for watching the leaves fall, and remembering what once was.

– Joslyn Danielson

6/7/21
The past months have been scary, exciting, and a strong test in patience. The pandemic rolled on and we continued to wait and wait. There are many hurdles still ahead of us, however the extra time has been good. It has allowed us to refine our business plan, start planning meetings with our management team, and brainstorm/refine how we want the space to look and feel. The emotion rollercoaster has continued. There have been days of straight up fear. Wondering if this is the right thing, wondering if we will fail, wondering about all the things that could go wrong. Then there have been the strong days, the support of the people who are excited to help us. Excited to bring music back to a great space. We would not be this far without their experience and support. We are very thankful for the people that are helping us, offering their expertise, sharing their creative ideas, and their positivity. Thinking of them really helps through the times of fear and questioning.
We are very thankful to the artists and those in the music community. Their encouragement and excitement to bring music back to the space has been invigorating to say the least.
Tomorrow is a HUGE day. We officially announce our opening, and release for sale our September and October shows. The fear is there; however, we are excited to launch, and start executing the plans we have been formulating for this past year.

Here we go!!!

-J

Even with such a difficult year for the music industry, artists such as Tommy Bentz clearly haven’t been held down by the pandemic. In his newest album, ‘1000 Reasons’ (May 2021), Tommy brings together a group of extremely talented musicians and spans across genres to bring us this bluesy, jazzy, heavy-hitting record of 2021.

The group has clearly spent a lot of time playing together, and it shows. Tight instrumentals, complex time-signature changes, and well executed solos. One of the more impressive examples of this is in the second track on the album, ‘Humble’. The band throws the spotlight back and forth between them, taking turns ripping out some impressive lead melodies. Dirty blues guitar, to a groovy bass line, into the best drum solo of the album…triplets, rolls, and all that jazz.

Another stand-out track is the last song on the album. The twang comes in strong off the bat, right into a head-bobbing groove. Each break between phrases showcases a different instrument’s riff. The track is totally instrumental and all about the band. Tommy’s lead guitar takes the place of lead vocals, carrying the melody.

Tommy really shines in his lead guitar playing. With whammy bar action, and dirty slides, He clearly draws influence from the 60’s-70’s rock era of Hendrix, Van Morrison, and Clapton. He incorporates a subtle twang in both his vocals and guitar, creating head-bobbing jams with just the right amount of funk.

It’s obvious that the Tommy Bentz Band puts on a killer live show, and the Twin Cities will be eagerly awaiting the time when we can see ‘1000 Reasons’ live. In the meantime keep an eye out for upcoming gigs, and get down and dirty in your living room to this new, killer record.

Joslyn Danielson

Joyann Parker, Out of the Dark

(Released Feb. 2021)Joyann Parker and her band have followed up their debut album, Hard to Love (released in 2018) with Out of the Dark, and it’s a work that surpasses its predecessor in almost every way.

Now, don’t get me wrong: Hard to Love remains a solid record—the energy, the songwriting, the musicianship was all there. But something about Out of the Dark just feels more ambitious, everything from the arrangements to the variety of genres that the band explores, along with the sense that the band is pushing itself in new creative directions. There’s no sign of a sophomore slump here.

For those unfamiliar with the Joyann Parker Band, the group consists of frontwoman Parker (lead vocals, guitar, piano), Mark Lamoine (guitar), Brad Schaeffer (bass), and Bill Golden (drums). On this record, they are supplemented by a bevy of horns, strings, keyboards, and backup singers.

The production was helmed by industry veteran Kevin Bowe, whose songwriting and production credits run the gamut from Etta James to the Replacements. Overall, the drums have a solid 1960s vibe, the guitars are crisp without sounding thin, and when Joyann belts it out, you can really hear the vintage saturation on the vocals. And, ultimately, there’s really no getting around Joyann’s voice: it’s surely the centerpiece of the band’s signature sound, which is why it’s great to clearly hear all of the fine-grained dynamics that can get lost when the same song is performed in a live setting (it’s not that studio recordings are necessarily “better” than a live performance, they just have their own unique advantages).

Out of the Dark starts with “Gone So Long”, a slide-guitar slow-burner—which serves as a good segue from their previous record—before jumping into the gospel-flavored funk of “Carry On”, complete with wah-wah guitar and electric clavichord. “Predator”, one of the album’s standout pieces, features a sinuous salsa rhythm to accompany its lyrical subject, and “Come On Baby (Take Me Dancing)” sounds so classic that you’d swear it was a Sam Cooke song.

And that’s really the greatest strength of the band. They—or more specifically, songwriting duo Parker and Lamoine—have the remarkable ability to write original material that sounds totally familiar, as if it came from an altogether different era, a time when songwriting was held to a different standard. Every chord change is perfect, and the lyrics brim with wit throughout the eleven tracks.

Part of the charm of the Joyann Parker Band is indeed their retro feel, the sense that you could walk into a juke-joint in the middle of the 20th Century and see a band knocking out tunes in a similar style. But Parker & Co. are not mere conservators of the past. Rather, they are calling back to those older musical styles, while at the same time creating a new energy, one that is both vibrant and fun, and which is just as apparent on the record as it is during a live performance.

K. C. McKee

The past few weeks have been the some of the most eventful in my life. Unfortunately, none of it was related to this endeavor of ours! The week of unrest here in the Twin Cities certainly was historic and nerve wracking. Most of the issues were in Minneapolis, and the one night in St. Paul was far away from our location. At this point most of it seems behind us.

Yesterday we did our final walk through of the space. We cleared a couple bigger hurdles this past week. Our final real hurdle remaining is the lease. We are working with the landlords and will get further information on Monday. Then we will be able to make our official GO/NO GO for launch. The past months have been such a back and forth. It’s been a lot of thinking and research. There has been a lot to learn (which I have enjoyed) and listening to great people. It feels good to get to this last point. We have about all the information (that we can think of) put together so we can make the big decision.

Everything seems to be lining up positively so far. I made a bunch of estimates regarding financials and most everything seems to be coming in line with my guesses. There have been a couple cases where my estimates were too high and things have broken in our favor. That gives us a little more room for those items we know that we probably missed. We were able to work a deal for most of the remaining equipment in the room. This is awesome since it covers the majority of the furniture and devices we will need. There are some additional things we still have to purchase, however, not starting from scratch is a big advantage we are thankful for.

How we are feeling through the past weeks has been crazy. I even had a few dreams involving this adventure. I didn’t think they were nightmares. There are moments where we feel confident and excited. Then there are moments of fear and uncertainty. It has been a roller coaster and we haven’t really done anything yet!

Here’s to hoping my next post will be with news that this Saturn V rocket is ready for liftoff. Until next time…

— J

Finished the business plan! 8 pages of objectives, marketing, and a pile of financials. I was amazed how good it felt to get that completed. I may or may not have imbibed in adult beverages upon it’s completion this past Saturday. We did some more tweaking of the financial numbers. The scary part with those is that it’s not a no-brainer to go ahead, but also there are no big red flags saying we should stop. Our goal is to be a very artist friendly venue. A big part of this objective is that a large portion of the ticketing/cover charges will be going back to the artist. The remainder will cover our sound tech. What it means for us, is we have to make our money from the bar and our food.

I sent a copy of our plan into the city. We found out there are some programs the city has to help promote the arts here in St. Paul. I called them up and they indicated interest in trying to help us. That was very encouraging! As we sit on the fence, if we were able to get some sort of sizeable help from the city, that would most likely push us over the edge to get this thing going.

A sizeable chunk of our plan was marketing. Thinking of ideas and things to promote the business. What do we want the website to look like? What social media platforms will we use? What physical marketing can we do here in St. Paul? It really is just our first pass of ideas. We will have to be quick on our feet and creative in getting the word out. I have spent time looking at other music venues around the country for examples.

We are working with the management team for the space. We have not signed anything yet. That will be the true decision day. The previous tenant left a whole pile of equipment including an awesome piano. We are negotiating a price for all existing equipment. This would help us tremendously in both good price, and not having to haul it all in. We still will need to purchase some items, but around 60% of what we need is already there. We are hoping to see an asking price for the equipment in a few days. This will be a fun hurdle!

This coming week will be work on internal processes and paperwork. I am going to try to visualize what a typical week could look like, then document our thoughts. We both agree that it will important to have strong business processes to aid us (and future staff) in getting stuff done. It’s going to be interesting for sure! Until next time…

–J