Friday, July 25, 2014

SC raised Trevor Hall talks about his new album that almost wasn't

In June Hilton Head-raised singer-songwriter Trevor Hall unexpectedly released his new album “Chapter of the Forest.” Although his team had dropped hints to fans online, he’d never revealed a release date which ended up coinciding with the launch of the Soulshine yoga and music tour. Hall teams with Soulshine creator Michael Franti and Spearhead, singer-songwriter Brett Dennen, reggae band Soja, and singer Sonna Rele (who guests with Franti following her own set). The tour stops at Uptown Amphitheatre Sunday.
Hall, who has aunts, uncles and a sister that's attending college in Charlotte, found success early on seamlessly blending reggae and world music with his soulful vocals, acoustic guitar, and knack for pop arrangements. But he almost didn’t make “Chapter of the Forest.” He recently shared the story behind the very personal, beautiful new album while on a tour stop in his current home of Connecticut.

How was this album sparked by your time in India and the retreat that followed?
Hall: I’ve been traveling to India every year for the past 7 or 8 years. It’s the place I go to clear my head. Obviously it’s a huge part of my music and inspirations behind my song. I took a year and a half long sabbatical because I was really burned out. I’d never taken a break from music. I was in such a low place I didn’t know if I’d come back. I was tired and exhausted. Music had become such a job for me and that part was overshadowing my love for it.
I decided I’m going to take a break and go back to India and see what happens. I didn’t have a return flight home. I stayed there for three months. It was the longest I ever stayed. I started to get my strength back and clear my head and slowly I began to pick up the guitar again - not out of the place of I need to write a new album, but helping me navigate my internal world and because I loved it.
I came back and wasn’t ready to jump into the scene again. I decided I’d take the whole year off. My wife and I went on a retreat up here in the forest in Maine and Vermont. I was just writing here and there not to make a new album, but to write songs I guess.

But it turned out you were actually writing an album?
Hall: I was like, you know what? These songs have been so healing for me. It’s been such a good experience. I need to share these songs. Or else the circle wouldn’t come around fully.

So did you use those demos for the basic tracks that we hear on the album?
Hall: Over that year and a half I’d just recorded the songs on my computer, really basic. So when the time came to do a new album. I’d taken all those demos and went into a studio in LA and refined them. It’s a much different record in that respect too. (Before) I’d have a few songs here and there and I’d have ideas that weren’t finished and I’d work with a producer and make a record. Whereas with this I’d already recorded all the songs on my computer. I’m not that good at recording so I needed someone to refine them and make it clean. That’s when I met Warren Huart through the label. A lot of the songs are in the same framework as my demos and we used a lot of instrumentation from my demos. We redid all the guitars and the vocals to give it that clean sound. That’s also why this record is so special, because it really came from me. I felt I was being honest and true to myself. I wasn’t going after a hit song. I wasn’t like I need to make a bunch of popular songs to get on the radio. These songs were really coming from my heart to help me heal. That was my intention. I’m not trying to go for that hit thing and massive record. It’s a much different experience than any of my previous albums.

It seems like a lot of times those are the albums that really resonate with fans. Even if they don’t know firsthand what you’re going through, they can just pick up on it and pin their own stories to it.
Hall: I was obviously a little nervous. It is a little different. The feedback that I’ve been getting from fans and people at the shows has been over and beyond any album that I’ve done. They’ve been so grateful that I was honest and opened my heart. And I think that says something. As long as we’re true to ourselves and true to our hearts, you can’t go wrong. People are going to see that and respect that. Again, the album is not going to be a No. 1 album or blow up to radio. To me it’s my most successful album because I stuck with my guns and went with my heart.

I was reading a quote somewhere recently that said we as a society focus on how we’re different, instead of how people are alike but the likenesses outweigh the differences.
Hall: In our deepest being, our deepest self we are all one thing. Everybody goes through sadness and happiness and joy and sorrow and pain and pleasure. The subject material may be a little different, but in a deeper sense they’re the same emotions and I feel that’s what ties everything together. What’s in your heart and what you’re doing. Even though content may be different. It still resonates.

How did this idea to do an unannounced release come up?
Hall: We obviously wanted the album to be available on tour. It’s a great way to get the word out there. The way things were going we were losing time as far as promo and all that stuff goes, but we wanted the album to come out. The label suggested a surprise release. I was (apprehensive) at first. As time went on I liked the idea. It was actually super fun to put out teasers and we released it two days before tour started. We just woke up one morning and (posted) on Facebook and did a live feed that night up to the actual time it was released. I really enjoyed it. (Fans) thought it was fun as well.

Well if it worked for Beyonce`.

Hall: People kept saying “You pulled a Beyonce`.” I was like, "I did a what?" I didn’t even know Beyonce` did that. Of course she can do it. She can walk out of the grocery store and she’s going to have millions of hits. 

The Soulshine Tour hits Uptown Amphitheatre Sunday with pre-show yoga instruction scored by an acoustic set from Franti at 3 p.m. followed by the concert at 6:30 p.m. Tickets include the yoga session, but yoga only tickets for those that don't want to stay for the show are also available. Purchase tickets here.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

This week's hot concerts

Eric Roberson
Friday  8 p.m., Amos’, 1423 S. Tryon St., $35-$40,  
The Grammy nominated R&B singer (whose work delves into gospel and smooth jazz) is having a particularly prolific year with his new album “The Box” coming August 12 just months after his B-Sides collection. He’s paired with Atlanta singer Algebra Blessett.

Rascal Flatts & Sheryl Crow
Saturday  7:30 p.m., PNC Music Pavilion, 707 Pavilion Blvd., $40.25-$80.50,  
The award winning country trio returns following the May release of “Rewind” (which boasts its heavily R&B-influenced title track). Grammy winning rock singer Crow needs no introduction to the country crowd. Like Jewel before her, she’s moving into country, but her storytelling writing style was never far off to begin with.

London Souls
Saturday  7:00 p.m., US National Whitewater Center, 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy, Free,
This eclectic New York band - one of a handful of acts sweeping through on its way to and from Floydfest in Virginia this weekend - is a bit different than the Americana roots acts that frequent USNWC’s River Jam series. While the duo has roots in blues, it shifts from ska to funk to soul to rock and does it all well with fired up performances.

Michael Tracy
Saturday  8 p.m., Evening Muse, 3227 N. Davidson St., $10-$12,  
The Charlotte-based rock singer-songwriter, whose sound bridges the classic `70s rock of Peter Frampton (there’s even a reference in his live show) with the grunge era Southern blues-rock of Drivin’ n’ Cryin’, celebrates the release of his new EP with a set that will be recorded live.

Joe Firstman
Saturday  9 p.m., Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 35th St., $14,  
The Charlotte born singer-songwriter made a name for himself early on as an Atlantic Records freshman who opened for Jewel and Willie Nelson and later as Carson Daly’s late night band leader. Since then he’s become one of the least predictable indie artists out there churning out jazz, soul, blues, rock - which is probably why the labels had a tough time categorizing him.

Mates of State
Sunday  8 p.m., Chop Shop, 399 E. 35th St., $12-$15,
There’s no other band that sounds quite like these married parents playing drums and vintage-sounding synthesizer-based indie rock and trading off shout-sung vocals and frequently harmonizing. The duo’s 2011 release “Mountaintops” was one of the best unsung releases that year.

Sara Bareilles
Monday  7 p.m., Uptown Amphitheatre, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd., $40.77-$71.09,
The piano pop singer behind hits “Love Song” and “Bottle It Up” jumps to outdoor amphitheaters with the success of her latest hit single “Brave” and third album “The Blessed Unrest,” which showcases the sweet, romantic pop she’s known for as well as quirkier Fiona Apple-style avant pop.

Andy Vaughan & the Driveline
Tuesday  10 p.m., Snug Harbor, 1228 Gordon St., Free, 
This Richmond quintet make authentic, old school country that rides in on weepy, but not maudlin pedal steel, shuffling tempos, and Vaughan’s traditional storytelling style which stirs memories of vintage honky-tonks and late `70s/early `80s urban cowboys. It’s not exclusively retro with a touch of pop in the writing, but honors the classics.

Umphrey’s McGee
Thursday  8 p.m., The Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd., $31,
On its new album “Similar Skin” the jam stalwarts explore a new path. Inspired by the Oprah-approved, celebrity-endorsed self-help book “The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment,” which focuses on living in the now, the album (which is less hokey than that sounds) is the band’s heaviest mixing rippling dance grooves with classic arena and progressive hard rock.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Multi-venue Recess Fest kicks off fifth year today

A Sunny Day in Glasgow kicks off Plaza-Midwood's four-day, multi-venue Recess Fest Thursday at Snug Harbor with Spirit System, Lentils, and Fat Creeps.

Recess Fest, which began as a sort of return to the spirit of carefree adolescence through activities and music, hosts over 30 bands at Plaza-Midwood venues Paper Cut Gallery, Twenty-Two, Snug Harbor, Tommy's Pub, Thomas Street Tavern, and Common Market. Acts range from the avant-pop of A Sunny Day in Glasgow to the beat-driven Erasure-esque dance music of Atlanta's Breathers to dream-psych New Yorkers Heaven to New Jersey's fuzzy indie rockers Sink Tapes. There's also the homegrown punk of HU/LK and Couches, quirky synth-pop of Human Pippi Armstrong, and the indie rock of Serfs.

That's just scratching the surface. There are shades of different styles from singer-songwriters to DJs, but aside for heavier, noisier punk, most of it falls in that elastic indie rock bubble.

Clicking through Bandcamp and Spotify samples from the list of bands on Recess Fest's site , there's a lot to like. And you can do so on the cheap. Weekend festival passes that include admission to all events are $20 here. Admission to individual events range from free to $5.

The experimental shoegazers of A Sunny Day in Glasgow are a fitting act to kick off the eclectic, independent-minded, underground music festival - now in its fifth year.

The first two tracks on its new album "Sea When Absent" sound like two disparate songs syncing up. You know how you stumble on a website that automatically starts playing music while you're already streaming another song? But somehow those two tracks that have never met before sound like they may be meant to be? (Does this only happen to me?) It's kind of like that.

Jen Goma and Annie Fredrickson provide lovely, playful female vocals against truly inventive arrangements. It's arty, but not so heady that it perplexes the listener. At times it reminds me of a Haim track playing over a John Hughes soundtrack (thanks to that guitar reverb that pensively hangs in the air) as Rainer Maria's Caithlin De Marrias emotes in the background.

Pitchfork's Lindsay Soladz described it at times as "a psych record made not by the kids smoking up behind the bleachers but the most devoted members of the glee club." That's spot-on.

There's an 8:15 p.m. show with A Sunny Day and Spirit System and an 11 p.m. show featuring Lentils and Fat Creeps that coincides with Thursday night's annual Shiprocked! dance party. Then Friday the festival grows legs with events within walking distance of Central Avenue's retail heart. The same goes for Sunday, which kicks off at 2 p.m. with a day party at Snug. Set times do overlap, but organizers have tried to stagger them so showgoers can take in as much music as possible. The party concludes early Sunday with an after party starting at 6 p.m. at Snug.

Check out for a full schedule, list of acts, and tickets.

(Photo by Zoe Jet Ellis).

Monday, July 21, 2014

After nearly six decades, Charlotte gospel group releases debut

The Charlotte-based vocal ensemble Men Standing for Christ was founded in 1956 after pastor Dr. Leon C. Riddick asked one of his deacons to prepare a men's choir for Sunday service on Father's Day. It would be almost 60 years before the longstanding gospel group would record an album.

"Men Standing for Chris Live from the Joy Performance Center" was recorded over two shows in Kings Mountain in 2013 and 2014 when the group played award nominated, Cherryville-based bluegrass-gospel couple Darin & Brooke Aldridge's annual festival. The recording was made at the behest of longtime fan Rick Dancy, who presents concerts at the Joy.

"I've loved Men Standing For Christ for twenty-plus years and hoped to find a way to expose them to more people," says Dancy via email.

He says the 20-member vocal group was apprehensive about releasing an album, but allowed him to record the April 2013 set. He did so again during their return in April 2014 and combined the best of both recordings for the live release. All 500 copies are almost sold out and the traditional group does not yet have a website where fans can buy copies. For now you can email MSFC director Gary Carter at to purchase one.

"They are regular people using their talent to continue a musical tradition and to profess their faith," says Dancy. "Their type of music has always been one of my favorites and I am so glad that these guys are preserving it for us."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Kiss and Def Leppard rock the rain away Saturday

Always a good draw on their own, the pairing of Kiss' 40th anniversary tour and Def Leppard's hit-filled Heroes Tour (named for the tour's involvement with the Wounded Warrior Project) filled PNC Music Pavilion with generations of rock fans Saturday night despite rain.

Having both played swelling 20-plus song headlining sets before, the co-headlining format kept each band's set to 14-songs each. While this meant dropping a lot of fan favorites, - no "Strutter," "Beth," "Crazy Crazy Nights," or "100,000 Years" in Kiss' case for instance - having shorter, more concise sets seemed to conserve the overall energy especially in the older band's case.

When I saw the original lineup of Kiss at Charlotte Coliseum in October 2000, two days before drummer Peter Criss quit for good, I felt like I was watching them in slow motion - not the high energy showmen I'd been watching on TV since I was three. I felt a similar detachment when they played Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre with Aerosmith on another co-headlining jaunt in September 2003, but Saturday felt like a return to form. Maybe that's due to the outdoor setting or that I have much better seats now, but maybe it's due to a show that fires quickly (and literally) without filler and doesn't completely drain its aging performers.

Following a set by female-fronted Canadian metal band Kobra and the Lotus (who record for Gene Simmons' label), Def Leppard took the stage morphing its own intro music (The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again") into "Let It Go." It was odd to see the usual headliner relegated to the front portion of the stage. Fans are accustomed to seeing them prowl a two and three tiered stage. Kiss' stage didn't use multi-level walkways either, instead both bands relied on multiple screens and lights and, in Kiss' case, pyro and an impressive moving giant spider light rig.

The appearance of guitarist Vivian Campbell - who is undergoing a new form of chemo therapy to treat Hodgkin's lymphoma as part of a clinical trial in Los Angeles -  was the first thing I noticed. Although bald - far from the dark curly mane fans have seen since his Whitesnake days - and wearing sunglasses, the newly married Northern Irishman looked fit and smiled without a hint of illness.

For a band in its fifties, all the members looked incredibly well. Baring his muscular chest through a black vest, guitarist Phil Collen doesn't look a day older than he did in the "Pyromania" videos aside from a few wrinkles. The still babyfaced bassist Rick Savage paid tribute to Tommy Ramone in a cut-up white Ramones' t-shirt. In their bedazzled rock wear he and singer Joe Elliott, who traded a white leather military style jacket for a longer black one (just like Lionel Richie did Thursday), must keep stores like Revolution in business.

Def Leppard plowed through hits "Animal," "Love Bites," "Foolin'," "Let's Get Rocked" and "Hysteria." They pulled out acoustic guitars for "Two Steps Behind" and the massive sing-along "Bringing on the Heartbreak." Its abbreviated set relied heavily on "Hysteria."

"Rocket" was the visual standout with the band performing before screens of tiny televisions (pictured above), but "Armageddon It" held the most thematic weight as statistics about world hunger, HIV, the environment, and cancer, ticked up on a giant screen behind them. The climbing stats pitted the number of overweight people in the world against the number of hungry and the rate at which forests are being pummeled with the time with which the world's oil will run out - all quite interesting stuff. I'm not sure how many in the audience - fists raised, singing along wholeheartedly - were "really getting it," but it was quite a powerful way to present a 25-year-old pop-metal hit.

The only time Elliott's voice faltered was during the encore of "Photograph." The entire band kept the "oohooohs" on the lower end. But after a spot-on show, his struggling with range could be easily forgiven.

After a brisk 30-minute changeover (thank you, crew) which included the introduction of the Wounded Warrior roadies (veterans hired for the tour) and an award presentation to retired Marine Sargent Tim Aldridge (who received a house in Waxhaw), Kiss blew up the stage with deafening fireworks. I was glad the children in the audience, which there were many, wore ear protection. White streamers shot from the sky. At this point while holding my five-year-old, I was clobbered by an adult man who charged three rows from behind to grab for streamers. With my lip stinging, I was left thinking, "Man, it's a streamer."

"Psycho Circus" gave way to "Deuce" and "Shout It Out Loud." Paul Stanley bragged of the band's recent Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame induction and thanked fans for their persistence in securing Kiss' nomination. He preened and posed for pictures on the left of the stage as Gene took lead vocals on the apocalyptic "War Machine" (a photographer/music writer friend recently told me this is why he likes shooting Kiss - he knows he'll get the shot).

With the addition of fire and booming fireworks, the sound wasn't as clear as during Def Leppard's set, but the production is as much a part of the show as the music is with Kiss. The group hit on all the familiar spots. Simmons blew fireballs from the tip of a sword, he spat blood, and flew like a bat into the rafters for "God of Thunder." He looked truly possessed.

Stanley zoomed over the crowd to a rotating platform in the middle of the pavilion for "Love Gun." He must do yoga. He wiggled in his new sequined striped jumpsuit and fringed boots (he and Gene wore revamped versions of their classic costumes), played guitar through his legs, and teetered on one knee.

Although some hits were obviously missing, the Stanley-led 1990 pop anthem "Hide Your Heart" was a surprise that won over the crowd. It didn't get the mass sing-along of "I Love It Loud," but fans definitely remembered all the words.

The show ended with the expected "Detroit Rock City" and "Rock n' Roll All Night." Die-hards  - many with faces painted and fully costumed - were undoubtedly left wanting more. I have no doubt they'll get it - next year. Although Kiss has threatened to quit before, neither band shows signs of stopping.

Check out The Observer's slide show here.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

CLT's Late Bloomer drawing national ears with sophomore album

Charlotte indie-rock trio Late Bloomer celebrates the release of its second album "Things Change" tonight at Snug Harbor. The album has enjoyed a nice national roll out with Stereogrum and Noisey premiering tracks before the July 1 release, Brooklyn Vegan exclusively streaming the record, and Pitchfork giving it a seven star review.

The AV club debuted the video for "Dr. Abernathy" earlier this week. You may even recognize faces from other Charlotte bands, the Milestone Club, and Lunchbox Records (You can watch it in this week's hot concerts, scroll down).

The first time I saw Late Bloomer I was drawn to the stage from across the room by a style of music I hadn't heard in a while. The moody dynamics, angry sung/shouted male vocals, layer of fuzz, and methodical, yet expressive rhythm section pointed to the late `80s and `90s indie rock I grew up on. It was as if we shared history.

There's obvious comparisons to Husker Du and Dinosaur Jr. on "Things Change." When wailing, but not overlong guitar solos and disaffected vocals (which were always a preferred counterpoint to grunge era emoting in my book) kick in, I can't help but think of J. Mascis. There's an equal fondness for noise and catchy pop hooks that echo a lot of Bob Mould's work, especially on songs like "Black Patches." If you can hold still as that song escalates through the urgent bridge, then you may have unnaturally strong self control. It's as urgent as Japandroid's last few incredibly catchy singles.

Moodier tracks like "Dr. Abernathy" and, at times, "Mirrors" remind me of dreamy, bordering-on-psychedelic Thurston Moore-led, mid-period Sonic Youth. Watery shoegazing verses give way to Jade Tree Records-style post hardcore choruses. Snappier, more upbeat melodies emerge through the playful bass and strumming guitar interplay on "Anesthesia" and "No Mistakes." The album closes, as it began, with a chunky distorted slice of punk that nicely bookend the record.

Through all the `90s musical references, one thing that stands out is Kris Hilbert of Legitimate Business' clean production. Sure, there's distortion, but the vocals are high enough in the mix to remain audible. The abum sounds good on my laptop speakers and in the car while similar records that were actually recorded in the `90s are often harsh and nearly unlistenable via MP3 (some of the original Superchunk albums are painful to listen to on my iPod. Yeah, I know some of these were reissued. Maybe I'll get around to getting them someday).

'Things Change" is charmingly lo-fi, but not in quality. It may wear its influences on its sleeve, but manages to sound new in this era.

The record is available digitally as well as on candy colored, two-color vinyl (see below). Also of note is that the release is a collaborative release between Tor Johnson Records, Lunchbox, and Self Aware Records.

Tonight's show starts at 10 p.m. and includes sets from Totally Slow, Del Rio, and Black Market. Admission is $5. You can also pick up a copy

Free panel on album release strategies Sunday

Sunday I'll sit down with four music industry professionals at Old House Studio to discuss the business of releasing an album from mastering and distribution to marketing and promotion. The panel, which is free for local musicians, agents, managers, and other interested parties, is hosted by Chris Garges of Old House Studio.

Panelists include myself, Dave Harris of Studio B Mastering in Charlotte, producer Jeff Powell,, and Kari Estrin, who has worked in artist management, radio promotion, concert and event production, booking, and music writing. The idea is between the four of us we'll have some insight on different aspects of releasing an album from what format to release it in to building a release party and reaching out to press.

Powell worked at Ardent Records for many years and has worked with Bob Dylan, Afghan Whigs, and Big Star and is now an expert at cutting vinyl masters on an old school lathe. He's in town working with local rock band Alternative Champs.

Estrin is also offering hour-long consultations on Monday at Studio B (821 Louise Ave.). You can read more about both the free panel and Estrin's consulting sessions here.

The two-hour panel starts at 6 p.m. and Old House is located at 6128 Brookshire Blvd., Unit A. Refreshments will be served.