Rewind: It’s 1998 and I am in Amsterdam for the second time. As I sit in one of the cities famed “coffee houses”, high on hash and space cake, music comes on over the speakers and I pause amid the smoky conversations around me and listen closely. Something about what I am hearing affects me deeply. It began with these deep beats that set a hypnotic groove then segued into mind-blowing wah-wah guitar riffs. And then this chocolate-syrup voice starts in, all silky smooth and warm, and it carries me on a river of sound. The album I was hearing for the first time in my stoned-out state of mind was Big Calm by the British trip-hop band Morcheeba, and from that moment on I was obsessed with their music.
Morcheeba, in my mind, is Old School. Founded by guitarist Ross Godfrey, his brother producer/DJ Paul Godfrey, and singer Skye Edwards, the longevity of their sound has been blazing the pathway for mixed-genre electronic music since the mid-1990s. Over the last 25 years, the tumultuous history of Morcheeba included Edwards leaving in 2003, which led to the Godfrey brothers to utilize other singers. Eventually, everything fell apart in 2014 when Paul Godfrey left, leaving Ross Godfrey to reboot their music as Morcheeba with Edwards joining on as singer once more. With nine studio albums under their belt, including the 2018 release Blaze Away, the band continues to create incredible down-tempo grooves that ease your mind and energize your body. The current lineup of the band also includes Edwards’ husband and son, bassist Steve Gordon, and drummer Jaega Mckenna-Gordon, with Dominic Pipkin taking on keyboards and electronic gadgets.
The band’s 2019 American tour included a stop at one of the Bay Area’s newest venues, The Midway, a massive art and music complex housed in a sprawling old warehouse in an industrial area of San Francisco. Morcheeba fans waited with excited energy, as it had been awhile since the band last toured. The lights dimmed, atmospheric smoke created an air of mystery as the band took the stage and started in on many songs from Big Calm, including the ska-vibe of “Friction”, and the soaring grooves of “The Sea. Edwards played with the audience during “Part Of The Process” by getting us to sing along with her with she beamed her magnetic smile while she aimed her mic our way. “Trigger Hippie”, with all its various electronic beats and slide guitar, flowed into the air as Edwards seduced us with her voice. The band showcased “Blaze Away” from their newest album of the same name and put forth an amazing, trip-hop version of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” that sent the audience into an intense state of ecstasy. Morcheeba closed out their incredible set with the slow-groove of “Crimson", then dug in one more from their past with the high-energy, disco-pop romp of “Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day”.
Often when I witness shows with major international acts, I feel that the band doesn’t do much to actually try connect with the crowd, that they play their music by rote and forget that we are there watching them. With Morcheeba, this was not the case. There were stories, explanations of songs, sing-alongs, banter and laughter as the band played into the night. Even amid the decades of turmoil and the various fracturings of the band, Morcheeba still has a grasp on what’s important to us and to them; the songs, the music and the words they sing.
Chemistry is an interesting thing. There are those moments in time, like when you are watching some musical act on the stage, where you discover that you can’t take your eyes off the music makers before you. You are mesmerized by their presence as you can literally see the energy flowing through those before you as they produce sounds that positively affect your brain. In the case of Bay Area musicians Danny Uzilevsky and Essence Goldman, the energy you may witness between them is sizzling, palpable and truly magical. With the duo’s newest venture, Johnny & June Forever, Uzilevsky and Goldman embody the music created by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, but they do it in a way that is not about “doing covers” or even “paying tribute”, but about fully making the music their own by channeling the forces that Cash and Carter used themselves in performing songs.
Goldman and Uzilevsky came together when Goldman recorded her latest album in 2018 at Uzilevsky’s studio, Allegiant Records in San Anslemo, CA. A sparking fire was ignited around shared lyrics and chords, a magnetic energy acknowledged, and the two began a magical musical journey with the first notes sung in harmony. Both Goldman and Uzilevsky are incredible songwriters in their own right, but when a few Cash/Carter songs were sung, the pair knew they hit on something great and decided to embark on bringing those old school country songs to life with their project Johnny & June Forever: The Greatest Love Story Ever Sung.
With fate and luck being on their side, the duo was asked to perform and premier their act at Sweetwater Music Hall in conjunction with the Mill Valley Film Festival’s release of the documentary “The Gift: The Journey Of Johnny Cash”. The sold-out show was alive with the energy and anticipation of a crowd excited to hear many well-loved songs. The set was opened with “I Walk The Line”, just Uzilevsky singing with his strong and deep voice while playing off the amazing (and dapper) band, drummer JT John (Danny Montana & The Bar Association), bassist Joe Kyle Jr. (Koolerator, Howell Devine) and guitarist Phillip Milner (Jenny Kerr Band). Enter the beauty that is Essence Goldman, all five feet of her, with an electric smile and a high and clear voice that sends shivers up your spine. It was then that we became aware of the special vibe between the two as they locked into the songs and the band then took off without a look back into the dust. The band fired up songs such as “Long Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man”, “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town”, the Hank Williams tune “Lovesick Blues”, “Ring Of Fire”, “It Ain’t Me Babe” as well as Loretta Lynn’s “You’re The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly”. Essence's solo numbers the June Carter penned "Ring Of Fire" and Carter Family classics "Keep On The Sunny Side" and "Wildwood Flower" were (insert adjective), and Jenny Kerr joining the band on banjo for "Wildwood Flower" was a unexpected highlight.
Uzilevsky and Goldman do their best to not take on the personas of Carter and Cash, but their dynamic stage presence definitely reminds us of the playfulness and enjoyment the country King & Queen had on stage during their heyday. With Goldman showcasing various vintage dresses and Uzilevsky with his slicked-back pompadour and rockabilly style, the pair invoked the force of Carter and Cash without camp and pretense. The talent that these two have honed with each of their long and expansive musical careers is apparent as they blend their own songs and styles in with their act. The whole experience of Johnny & June Forever is more than just a showplace for Carter/Cash songs; it’s a golden carriage for two incredible and shining musicians to make a mark on the musical scene in the Bay Area with panache and style.
Check out the slideshow of the evening's magic...
Longevity in a band is somewhat of an anomaly. So when a band finds itself in its 25th year of being a band, it’s cause for celebration. Guitarist Murf and vocalist Chris Matthews met over 30 years ago and established a strong musical connection within their friendship, and in 1993 both men created the Novato-based hard rock band Flanelhed. “I had no idea the longevity of this,” says Matthews, “At that time, I wasn’t really thinking about where we were heading. I just thought ‘this looks fun, I’m gonna do this.’ ”
The Flanelhed history in a nutshell: the band gigged, put out many albums and changed various members throughout the years, but they persevered with a lot of hard work, a continued refining of their sound, and a fine-tuning of their chops. Along with drummer Evan Frank, who returned to the band in 2008 after originally joining in 1998, and with the recent addition of bassist Jeff Cox, Flanelhed has a solid lineup that still creates the explosive sound they have become renowned for. Says Murf, “When Chris and I started writing songs together, the creative momentum started to flow and the music scene was really happening. I was motivated to keep going.”
øoI grew up in the era where MTV actually played music videos, yes, its’ true! My generation was at the forefront of experiencing music in a whole new format, visually as well as auditorily. For the first time, songs were interpreted for us via the video story lines and we became familiar with the faces of the musicians that created the music. It was a wondrous time that created a new world of bringing music to your eyes that continues to this very day.
With the current fluctuations of today’s music business, it’s an open playing field for anyone with talent, but that playing field is FILLED will competition, so bands and musicians need to stay on top of their game, often doing things on their own yet in their own way. SF indie-rock band Milk For The Angry (guitarist/vocalist Dana Lindström, drummer Cole Bailey, bassist Kyle Stringer and guitarist Jackson Langford) is just such a band doing things their own way, and you can see the fire under their talented tushie begin to ignite as they reach for the stars.
Milk For The Angry’s premier video release just hit most formats of social media (Die MTV, DIE!) and they are killing it with that video of their newly released song, “Snake Eyes”. The men in Milk For The Angry are a rambunctious group in general, youthful and filled with energy for their psychedelic-punk music. “Snake Eyes” is a great peek into that energy as the band pounces and bounces their way through the song that speaks the story of bad things going wrong like a pit of snakes, if you will.
In the DIY manner that Milk For The Angry usually relishes in, the video is all self-created. Filmed by Will Ruston around San Francisco as well as in Lindström’s studio, the band, Lindström and Ruston all helped make the video of fun romp. “Our workflow is that I come up with the ideas, take care of all the logistics, pick him (Ruston) up in the morning and be done with filming by the night,” says Lindström. “Then we go to his house and edit it together. We work well together and it’s always a lot of fun”
But it’s also a ton of work, continues Lindström, “There was lots of preparation for this video, like painting all the eyes on painters drop cloth, rounding up all the lights, having to get an AC unit to combat the intense heat, ordering toy snakes (which “star” in the video) and hand painting them to cover up the original and ugly chartreuse color, digging a hole for the snake on twin peaks, and putting in (snake eye) contacts for my first time ever!”
Hard work and a lot of time and energy aside, Milk For The Angry came out with a super fun video, so you better check it out for yourself!
This interview with Chris Robinson first appeared as a short Q & A in the February 2019 edition of Marin Magazine. Here it is in its entirety, chocked-filled with more of the fun conversation I had with him in December of 2018.
Chris Robinson, rocker, songwriter, and front man for his bands Green Leaf Rustlers and Chris Robinson’s Brotherhood, (and formally of the Black Crowes), has finally found a home amid the soft, rolling hills of Marin County. His move here 5 years ago was prompted by a need to have change of pace and find a place better to raise his child that wasn’t amid the chaos of Los Angeles or New York. His time here has been idyllic as well as musically prosperous, and when his tour schedule allows, he nestles into his West Marin home to find the peace he deserves.
Carolyn: In my opinion, Marin is something special; Mount Tam, the open space, and the musical history all somehow seep into our souls to create a deep love for this place. What was your reason for deciding to move to this amazing place and has living in Marin changed you in any way?
Chris: When I moved here a few years ago it just seemed like a good change from Los Angeles. I wanted to have the wealth of a community that I never had. I'm from Atlanta and I didn't have it there. I lived in New York, I lived in Los Angeles and I had great friends but never a community. I love having that in my life. Marin is also nicer too. Just the land itself and the vibration of the North Bay is something that I've been searching for my whole life. I’ve been lucky enough to travel around the world, but to finally be in Marin is like, “Oh wow!” I've been looking for this spot for a long time.
Carolyn: What are some of your favorite Marin places to hang out in or activities you do when you're not on tour?
Chris: I really like being in West Marin. I love going to the Italian restaurant in Point Reyes Station, Stellina. I like going all the way out to the lighthouse. Nick’s Cove is cool, too. I like being outdoors and hiking, and having access to all this beautiful nature is something that I really, really, really like. Fairfax is like “going to town” and if anyone needs to find me I’ll probably be at the Good Earth, like everyone else. I do love the chicken wings at the Iron Springs and if we're gonna be having a fancy night, we'll go to Sushi Ran or something in Sausalito.
Bay Area band Midnight North, who blend Americana, rock and a hint of soulful blues have a harmony base that is both beautiful and comforting, a wall of vocals that can envelop you in ways that just feels right. Their recent 420 show at Petaluma’s Mystic Theater was an exceptional showcase of why they are fast becoming one of the hottest, up and coming bands in the Bay Area and the US.
Midnight North has worked very hard to get to the level they are now at, and you can tell that in their solid performances. Fronting the band is the duo-team of Elliott Peck and Grahame Lesh, who share responsibilities as songwriters, vocalists and guitarists (rhythm for Peck, lead for Lesh). Keys player Alex Jordan jumps back and forth between his electronic keyboard and his Hammond B3, adding a passionate energy to the depth and beauty of the songs, all while lending his voice to the superb harmonies. Sean Nelson, who’s elegant but powerful drumming blends beautifully with dexterous bass player Connor O’Sullivan, and together they hold down tight rhythms.
The band’s set included a version of the Rolling Stone’s “Tumblin’”, the troubadour vibe of “Long View”, the rollicking “Little Black Dog” and Peck’s gorgeous and heartbreaking “Green Country”, an incredible soul-tinged cover of Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic” and an encore of “All Remains The Same”. Special guests Ben Morrison (The Brothers Comatose) & Erika Tietjen (T Sisters), (who opened the night with their own duo), sang “Tennessee Whiskey” with bravado and amazing force. Guest sax player Michael Bello punctuated the songs with great feeling and guest guitarist Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi All Stars) jammed and shredded in conjunction to Lesh’s guitar. A special moment of the night was when Phil Lesh himself hopped on stage to share “Wind & Roses” with his amazing son.
Let’s have a short lesson on the fingerstyle guitar method, shall we? Fingerstyle is the technique of playing the guitar by plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails, or picks attached to fingers. There is a tremendous freedom in fingerstyle, as pretty much the whole guitar can be used. The musician can create harmonics by simultaneously picking or pulling the strings on both the body and the fret board, while using the body of the guitar percussively. Because of all the sounds being emitted from one guitar, there is a sense of depth and fullness with the music created.
Being witness to this technique is an amazing thing, as watching a musician create such sounds is a somewhat magical as well as breathtaking experience. Being privy to Bay Area string-masters Mark Vickness and Michael Manring, as well as Canadian guitarist Don Ross, sharing the stage for a superb and intimate night of fingerstyle playing at Berkeley’s historic Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, was truly wonderful.
Vickness, who is a phenomenal multi-instrumentalist, opened the night with his duo Glass House with singer and beatboxer Dave Worm (Bobby McFerrin), creating the feeling of a large band with only 2 men. Vickness plucked, banged, and strummed his guitar, wrapping the stunning vocals of Worm in a melodic blanket that soothed and inspired. With original compositions as well as a cover of Pink’s “Try”, the duo was mesmerizing.
MGMT are five talented men who create some unique music with roots in electronica, pop, and psychedelic rock. The band started their 2019 tour at Oakland’s incredible Fox Theater with all-female L.A. indie-rockers Warpaint, who blasted it hard with their powerful opening set. The sold out show boasted hits and relatively new material from their 2018 album Little Dark Ages as well as their 3 prior albums. Not basing a national tour on a immediate new album release only points to the fact that this band has a solid fan base that will show up regardless. Founding members Andrew VanWyngarden and Benjamin Goldwasser started MGMT in 2002 under the name The Management (the name was changed due to another band using it) and they have been growing with leaps and bounds as MGMT ever since.
Both VanWingarden (guitar/bass/keyboards and percussion) and Goldwasser (keyboards/electronic samples/guitar and percussion) are incredible musicians and singers as well as great songwriters. Their music is dense and alive; it pulses and vibrates like a living being. The electronic edge from samples and keyboards is sent into warp speed by thick, syncopated rhythm and harmonies. The current lineup of supporting members, keys player and guitarists James Richardson, bassist Simon O’Connor and drummer Will Berman wrap the songs with a heavy depth and make the music explode into being.
Rock and roll, it’s good for the soul, as they say and I wholeheartedly support that statement as the truth. There is a fabulous feeling of having shredding guitars and thumping bass lines push all the crazy out of your head, like therapy but cheaper and way more efficient than Prozac, that’s for sure. So with that in mind, I enter into Mill Valley’s famed Sweetwater Music Hall so I could subject myself and my internal demons to the ultimate therapeutic process of a double bill of killer rock in roll with the ladies of Zepparella and the opening act of Gretchen Menn Trio, the Zepparella guitarist’s newest personal music venture.
Gretchen Menn is a mad woman on guitar. Her beauty is remarkable, like a porcelain doll that kills it with a six string electric and a cello bow. Her new trio, with bassist Anna Pfeiffer and drummer Tom Perry, is all instrumental, walking the line between heavy metal and classical guitar styles; it’s a dirty and elegant mix as only Menn can make it. There is such a charge with her music, pulsing, raging and completely hard-driving. Menn showcased original songs from her many solo-venture albums, including the aggressive, heavy metal vibe of “Scrap Metal” and “Oleo Strut” to the slow and gentle songs “Bures-sur-Yvette” and a cover of “Irish Eyes”.
Then there is Zepparella, those beautiful ladies in white, busting out all the Led Zeppelin you could ever want and need. The band pays tribute to Led Zeppelin without trying to be like them, as there is no need. They do things their own way as they uphold the Led Zeppelin songbook with dignity, poise and pure female power. This band has been around for a long time, rocking hard with a pure magnetism not unlike the original Led Zeppelin. Lead singer and harmonica player Anna Kristina, who once again adds her voice to the music, struts, dances and seduces you with her prowess just like Robert Plant. Gretchen Menn comes back to her guitar and does Jimmy Page justice with pure, melodic shred while bassist Holly West and drummer Clementine bust out the backbeat like a heartbeat. Zepparella creates a mood and dynamic that plays out like wildfire. The band covered such Zep favorites as “Lemon Song”, “Bring It On Home”, “Daze & Confused” as well as “The Ocean” and “Night Flight”.
As I have stated, like, a million times before, music is medicine, and a great night of hard-driving rock and roll was just the dose of “happy’ many of us needed
Rewind: 1984. I was a teenaged metalhead living in Seattle when the heavy, progressive, hard rockers Queensrÿche first entered into my listening sphere. The releases of their epic and hard-driving “Queen Of The Reich” and “Take Hold Of The Flame” were part of a perfect soundtrack to my teen angst, with shredding guitars, ass-whooping baselines and tons of screaming vocals. I was a fan of the band up until the 90’s, but then life and other musical adventures took me to places unknown and Queensrÿch disappeared from my radar.
Fast forward: 2019. “What? Queensrÿche still tours? They have been pumping out album after album after album since my initial induction into their musical world? WOW! No Way!” I think. And yet here they are, on tour with a sold-out pit stop at Slim’s in San Francisco with most of the founding members alive and kicking, and they are still making seriously awesome metal.