- Casey Abrams – Tales from the Gingerbread House
- Medicine Hat – Whiskey and Waves
- Crooked Eye Tommy – Butterflys and Snakes
- The NaVaNaX
- Honey Owl – Early Bird
- The Barrelhouse Wailers – Last Call
- Nathan McEuen – Side by Side
- Mother of Dissension – Mother of Dissension
- Bloody Mary Morning – That Girl
- Donna Deussen & The Paul Weitz Trio – On the Street Where You Live
- Dan Grimm – Average Savage
- The Calamity – A Ghost of These Moments
- Hans Ottsen – Music for Mind Movies
- Shaky Feelin’ – Live at Green Art People
- 50 Sticks of Dynamite – Love Dream Truth Love
- Shawn Jones – Struggle Makes You Stronger
- Spencer the Gardener – Breaking my own Heart
- Chi McClean – A Thing or Three
- Winchester Rebels – 3 Sheets to the Wind
Full disclosure: I love Casey Abrams, but then millions of Americans fell in love with him as he made it to the top six of season ten on American Idol a couple of years ago.
Full disclosure: I’ve only tuned in once and only saw the last ten minutes of the last episode of the first season of American Idol.
So how did I come to know Casey? It was when the owners of Squashed Grapes told me a year and a half ago that they had booked him and that I should search Google and YouTube for The Gingerbread Band. I saw just one, and I got it. I understood what the fuss was all about.
Casey played the Grape that summer night to a sold out house via word of mouth and it quickly made my Top Ten shows of all time. He’s just too freakin’ cool!! Fast forward to the present time and Casey is now offering his second release, an EP entitled, “Tales from the Gingerbread House.” It’s a mix of five eclectic tunes including one featuring fellow American Idol alumni, Haley Reinhart.
Casey had a hand in writing all songs and I was delighted to see the uber talented Jacob Scesney, who you can find sitting in with local bands around town when he’s not out on the road, covered the sax work on four out of five songs even getting a shout out on “Cougar Town”.
The EP opens with “Cougartown” and an interesting introduction from actor, Eric Avari; it’s a song about Casey’s love for the older woman. Casey makes himself vulnerable with “Just One More Time (These Eyes)” confessing his love while throwing in some funky scat moves. “Caught” is more energetic, upbeat, even danceable, and as sexy as all the previous songs may be, they don’t compare to the duet between Abrams and Haley Reinhart on “Never Knew What Love Can Do” as the two break it out and get right down and dirty.
But I have to say my favorite is the final cut called “Shining a Light” which is a contrast to the jazzier and funkier previous tunes on the EP. Typically I spend a lot of time with the music I plan to write about, and I know I’m ready to write when I start humming a song, or singing along, but with “Shining a Light” I literally could not get it out of my head. I can totally hear this on popular radio, in movies, TV shows…it’s just so catchy and contagious and if there were no other songs, it’s totally worth the price of the CD.
Knowing that Casey was self-taught on over 11 musical instruments, and by ear, I came to the realization at Squashed Grapes that Casey not only writes and plays music really well, but that he actually is music. I’m looking to great things to come from Mr. Abrams, the world is wide open to him.
1. Cougartown – (Casey Abrams/Rune Westberg)
2. Just One More Time (These Eyes) – (Casey Abrams)
3. Caught – (Casey Abrams/Victoria Horn “Lady V”/Rob Kleiner)
4. Never Knew What Love Can Do – (Casey Abrams/Bobby Hamrick)
5. Shining A Light – (Casey Abrams/Andrew Rose)
It’s always an honor being asked to review music. I don’t take it lightly. So when I was approached by Robert Ramirez who has been ingrained in Ventura’s music scene for years I’ll admit, I was nervous. But after a few spins my fears subsided and I relaxed knowing this was going to be an easy task. The music runs from a fun funky Americana sort of vibe as with the opening track, “The Only Thing” and “107 Songs” to a more serious overtone as with “Kind of Girl.”
I dig the harmonies and interesting texture to tunes such as “Falling Graces” and “More Than I Wanted” both of which would fit like a glove in one of those quirky Quentin Tarantino movies. But most songs are rooted in Country, where I can envision people two-steppin’ to such tunes as “Whiskey and Waves,” “Another Sad Song,” as well of “Scared of You” which has additional electric guitar courtesy of Neal Casal.
The whole album flows well and is well-produced with the addition of some strings and steel pedal guitar work. All the songs were either written by Robert Ramirez or a collaboration between Ramirez and Michelle Votrian. I love the sound and quality of the instruments cleanly mastered; they’re so simple yet captivating; makes me want to pick up my acoustic and play along late on a hot summer night with a whiskey to hand.
Alternative Country. Southern Rock, Alt Rock.
Guest musicians include:
Ashley Broder – Violin
Neal Casal – Electric Guitar (Whiskey and Waves, Scared of You)
Erik Kristiansen – Pedal Steel
Recorded, Engineered and Mixed by Earle Mankey at Earle Mankey Studio.
Butterflies & Snakes
Crooked Eye Tommy
Review by Pam Baumgardner
Tommy Marsh is one of the most sweetest, generous, hardest working men in town, but he also happens to be one talented blues man who also has the smarts to surround himself with uber-talented musicians on his latest project, Crooked Eye Tommy.
In 2014, the newly-formed band competed in the Memphis International Blues Challenge where bands from 16 countries converged for the top prize. Our active blues community really came together to raise funds to get the band to the competition (See article and photo gallery). Crooked Eye Tommy went; they played hard and advanced a long way reaching the Semi Final round.
It was soon after Memphis that Tommy took the boys into the studio to produce Butterflies & Snakes because when you’re on that sort of high you want to harness the energy. Well mission accomplished. Without a doubt, Tommy writes from the heart, he divulges life experiences, digging down deep, intimate, soul revealing, and totally committed to each song, no holds barred. His singing, his playing, his writing, he just lays it down from the heart.
The CD opens with “Crooked Eye Tommy” with clean guitar work from the brothers setting the tone and a little background on Tommy’s adversities growing up with an eye which doesn’t quite align right, “The world is going to see what a crooked eye can do.”
“I stole the Blues” written and sung by Paddy reveals who molded their musical education from the likes of Muddy Waters, Albert King, Johnny Winter, T Bone Walker and even Jerry Garcia which brings a smile to my face every time I hear that. As with most of Crooked Eye Tommy songs, you get great solos and musical interludes deserving of a packed dance floor; and of course Jimmy Calire’s sax solo is nothing short of brilliant. I love the line, “Well you know I stole the blues, now it’s time to give it back.”
“Mad and Disgusted” is a prime example of the brothers in sync, flawlessly complimenting each others guitar work, along with Jimmy tearing up the keyboards.
I Love the steel guitar work on “Southern Heart” compliments of Jesse Siebenberg, which has a definite southern country feel, in fact, several pieces don’t fit the traditional Blues mold and that’s okay; a little southern flair, rock and roll and blues meshed together makes for an interesting combination. Add to the equation talent and incredible mastering, this one hits it out of the park for Tommy.
The players are Tommy’s brother Paddy Marsh (the talent runs deep in this family), add to the mix highly respected and high in demand drummer, Tony Cicero, Glade Rasmussen, one of the solidest bass players in town and music icon Jimmy Calire (Raven, America).
Tommy Marsh – Guitar
Paddy Marsh – Guitar
Jimmy Calire – Organ and Sax
Tony Cicero – Drums
Glade “BoomBoom” Rasmussen – Bass
Produced by Tommy Marsh, Dan Grimm and Tammy Mosby; recorded at Brotheryn Studios and engineered and mastered by Jason “Gandalf” Mariani.
Review by Pam Baumgardner
Alrighty, they’re a tad bit obnoxious, they’re tenacious, they’re funnier than shit, and I adore them. They are The NaVaNaX. Yeah, capital N, little a, capital V, little a, capital N, little a, capital X (hence a tad bit obnoxious); they’re all about networking, promoting and social media (hence tenacious); and technically speaking, the band’s name means sea slug (so you know, they’re funnier than shit).
One evening recently over margaritas at Casa de Soria, I sat down with Shayne, Mike, Jerry and Scott to talk about the band. Each comes to the table with a family of their own, they’re productive members of society, but each with an itch to scratch, that itch being music and performing and the adrenaline that comes with creating the music they love, punk. I’ve caught several of their lives shows and these guys deliver the goods. Raw energy, an unabridged drive, intensity, commitment to the moment, attitude. The guys know how to burn off steam and they reproduce that ambition in their first self-titled release, The NaVaNaX.
The CD is full of tunes about their observations of people in their lives, which it turns out, are people pretty much in all our lives; case in point, the opening track, “Let it Go”, is a tribute to those assholes in your life, you know the ones who are always trying to one-up you; always pointing out your failures. “Deranged” is about Paris Hilton and people’s fascination with the celebrities. “Can’t See” reflects on Shayne’s uncle who committed suicide and how it’s hard for him to understand how he could not see another day. “Divisions” is about two sides of politics and humanity.
The band’s inspiration comes from all facets of life, and I have to admit my favorite is called “Dishes” where the song is about Shayne’s wife who is yelling at him about doing…well, the dishes! He refers to it as the age old battle and is stoked he got his musically talented wife, Laura to sing on it.
If you get punk, you’ll get The NaVaNaX, a band that proves growing up doesn’t mean you have to get boring, mundane or monotonous, they are everything but.
To book: band@TheNaVaNaX.com
The guys are getting the CD placed in stores around town, but you can pick one up at their CD release party on Friday, June 19th at Bombay’s.
Surf Rodeo promo (notice Shayne’s t-shirt):
Early Bird – Live @ the Captain’s Quarters
Review by Pam Baumgardner
It’s always great to get fresh new original music from local musicians especially musicians who are well-known in our close-knit community here in Ventura. Getting together, collaborating, and then recording has yielded “Early Bird” by the newly formed Honey Owl which features Spivey Spi, Nels Rosegren, Jaymes Quirino and Megan Morris. I asked Jaymes about the way they went about producing their first effort as a band and what recorded “live” in studio means, and he explained “We played everything top to bottom with everyone in the tracking room, the only “overdubs” are the vocals including harmonies and one of spivys’ solos.” The result is raw and engaging. The songs are no-nonsense with no bells and whistles, just musicians playing from the heart, singing about real life; simply put, an honest effort. Spivey’s style is reminiscent of Dylan and Petty laying it out without apologies, though none are needed. I love the imagery in the lyrics and the complimenting harmonies and musicianship. My only complaint? There are only four songs.
Alternative Rock with a Country/Americana Flair.
Self described on their Facebook page: “Too blessed to be stressed. Life’s about making that Honey.” Amen!
Local artists, You know them, you love them:
Michael “Spivey Spi” LaValle – vocals guitar
Nels Rosegren – guitars, vocal harmonies
Megan Morris – drums, vocal
Jaymes Quirino – bass
“The Barrelhouse Wailers play a collection of fun, upbeat New Orleans classics, with a swagger that is unique to the french quarter. Just like the street performers of Bourbon street, this acoustic group has you tapping your toes and snapping your fingers. And it can’t be authentic ‘New Orleans’ without a Tuba, Clarinet, and a homemade drum kit.” – Adam Randall, Squashed Grapes
I remember walking in and hearing the Barrelhouse Wailers for the first time and thinking, “Damn, these guys are good!” They take you back to a simpler time, maybe to a speakeasy during Prohibition on their softer numbers, or to the French Quarter in New Orleans during one of their many upbeat tunes; and I can’t help but reminisce about those fabulous black and white movies featuring some amazing dance numbers. The band has style, there’s no doubt about it and they capture it completely with their debut release, “Last Call.”
Straight out of the gate the music will get you tappin’ your toes and boppin’ your head wishing you had a dance partner to hand with “When I Get Low, I get High.” Thinking back to dance class in middle school my jitterbug moves come back naturally and I’m good to go working my way about the house listening to “Last Call.” Karen Parkhouse fronts the band with her distinctive vocals nailing the genre never breaking form. She softens a bit for “Freight Train” which I found endearing and delightful. The band compliments each other and is tight as tight can be with three of the songs recorded live at The Saloon BBQ and at Squashed Grapes here in Ventura. The songs selected are all standards so they should be super familiar and trust me, catchy. Production is top-notch.
“The Barrelhouse Wailers play vintage acoustic Americana roots music with New Orleans style. Their jazz, blues, folk mixture is played by talented musicians that leave you with a smile and a Mardi Gras feeling during and after each performance.” – Rich Barth, Publisher of venturacountyjazz.com
According to the band’s bio, “The band formed in the spring of 2012 by guitarist, Wayne Philipp, and singer, Karen Parkhouse, who wanted to perform the Pre-WWII Jazz and Blues they both loved. The duo soon found like minded musicians over the next few months and after a few personnel shifts, cemented the current lineup by the end of the year. Featuring a line up of 6-8 musicians.”
Oh! And I love the sound effect of a stylus left on the record at the end of the CD. Nice touch!
1. When I Get Low, I Get High (Marion Sunshine)
2. Crow Jane (Trad.)
3. Yes Sir That’s My Baby (Walter Donaldson, Bus Kahn)
4. Freight Train (Elizabeth Cotten)
5. After You’ve Gone (Turner Layton, Henry Creamer)
6. St. Louis Blues (WC Handy)
7. I Can’t Give You Anything But Love (Jimmy McHugh, Dorothy Fields)
8. Do Your Duty (Wesley A Wilson)
9. Some of These Days (Shelton Brooks)
10. I Need a Little Sugar in my Bowl (Clarence Williams, Dally Small, Tim Brymn)
11. Joseph, Joseph (Saul Chaplin, Sammy Cahn, Nellie Casman, Samuel Steinberg)
12. St. James Infirmary (Trad.)
Karen Parkhouse – Vocals
Wayne Phillipp – Guitar, Banjo
Curt Ingram – Cornet
David White – Harmonica, Mandolin
Alethea Lamb – Clarinet
Jim Wade – Tuba
David Leoneavallo – Bass
Diamono Andreo – Drums
Nathan McEuen recently wrapped up production on his sixth solo album called, “Side by Side.” I’d been hearing about a pending upcoming release for the past year after he started a Tuesday evening residency at Amigos in early 2014. I made it a point to stop in on a dozen or so occasions to check it out; Nathan has this sort of shy, witty charm about him that is quite endearing. I quickly came to know by heart the inspiration behind the banjo he played. In a nutshell, it’s a gift from Russi Taylor, the voice of Mini Mouse. The banjo belonged to her late husband Wayne Allwine, the voice of Mickey Mouse. It’s a lovely story with a delightful song written in thanks for the honor of being the recipient of this gift. But as quaint as that is, you really need to read the liner notes behind Taylor’s inspiration and the song, “Pictures of You in My Heart”. There’s no doubt about it, Nathan has heart and it certainly comes through in his writing and music.
Of course some of the basics on Nathan are good to know. He comes from a very talented family of musicians; I’m sure you’ve seen his brother Jonathan McEuen play around town either with his own shows, contributing to other artists or joining Nathan for a tune or two from time to time. And of course, there’s pops, John McEuen from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. I was lucky to be at Amigos the evening both Jonathan and John joined Nathan for a couple of songs. When I mentioned to Nathan you could see the genuine affection his family has for one another, he just looked down with one of those shy smiles and said, “Yes, it runs deep in our family.”
Nathan’s record, “Side by Side” features six tracks out of ten on the banjo, an instrument he said he just picked up a few years ago (I did mention he has talent, right?). The remaining four songs are Folk – Americana and not only feature his guitar work, but he brings to the table the amazing Jesse Siebenberg, who helped co-produce this one in part at Brotheryn Studios.
Other musician credits to note: Randy Tico on upright bass; Jesse Olema on fiddle; Ashley Broder on mandolin; Samantha Harvey on accordian; Craig Eastman onfiddle, Chris Caswell strings and piano; Marcy Vaj on violin and viola; Jeness Johnson on cello and as mentioned previously Jesse Siebenberg B-3, bass, drums, slide guitar and BG vox.
My own personal protocol when it comes to reviewing an album is that I spend some time with it. A lot of time. I’ll listen while driving around, I’ll listen while working at my computer, and I’ll sit there doing nothing else but paying attention to detail. The great thing about Nathan’s “Side by Side” is that I was already familiar with most of his songs and now I had the chance to learn the lyrics and hear what his songs sound like with a full band behind him. But I know an artist has passed my own personal acid test when I find myself whistling or singing a line from one of their songs. “Side by Side” has passed with flying colors.
Nathan has a way of writing clever lyrics:
“They say I’m always up to no good
I’m the best at bad decisions
But am I always up to no good?
Well if you stand where I’ve stood
Your high horse might be broken
What’s so bad about feelin’ so good?”
“Up to No Good” is my favorite track but I’ve found myself humming to all his lyrics and I have a new found love for “Pictures of You in My Heart” after learning the true life back story on it. Nathan does justice to their love story.
I recommend picking this one up the next time you see him or on his website. The CD will get a broader distribution in a few months.
Ventura Rocks: How long have you been working on material for this one?
Nathan: Probably about a good year and a half.
VR: What inspires you to start writing?
Nathan: I started writing as a child when I was about eight years old simply because I was surrounded by a bunch of people who wrote songs and it was such a cool thing to create something out of nothing.
VR: Are you always writing material?
Nathan: Absolutely. Today before the show, I had a songwriting session in Thousand Oaks even though I just released an album, I’m already working on my next one, actually two of them.
VR: I recall when we spoke last year you had different types of material, some harder than others, like the Foo Fighters?
Nathan: Well, in the stylings of…I didn’t want to release an album with five different genres on it; that would be too difficult to explain to people, so the first one I ended up putting out an album with banjo and guitar. Half of it’s banjo instrumentals and joined with a bunch of other musicians that range from an upright bass, mandolin, fiddles and a little bit of percussion that go around the banjo. The other half is singer songwriter fully produced full band material. so this album is a cool complete contrast. half of it’s instrumental and the other half singer songwriter. That was a lot of fun and it seems to be going over really great at live shows playing the banjo then singer songwriter thing. It’s a fun blend.
VR: I don’t know that I was a fan of the banjo before, but watching you play the past year it’s in my realm of reality now and I’ve really begun to appreciate it, even dig it.
Nathan: It’s definitely an acquired taste.
VR: I sit there and watch you picking, it’s amazing. Let me see your fingers!.
VR: (Inspecting Nathan’s fingers) Oh my god (impressed).
Nathan: Yeah they’re calloused a little bit.
VR: Yeah they are!
Nathan: I’m constantly playing.
VR: How long have you been playing the banjo?
Nathan: A solid four years. I grew up with a banjo playing father which a lot of people know, and some people don’t. People might assume I started playing it at a young age, but no, we kind of out of respect for my father, my brothers and I, and even my sister, we kind of decided to not play the banjo for a long time for various reasons. But four years ago I started finding my own voice on the banjo and I started writing a bunch of songs.
VR: What does your dad think about that?
Nathan: When we talk about it, he’s told me things like, “I don’t know Nathan, you’re finding a bunch of notes that I never had.” Or, “I can’t play that like you.”
Nathan: And it’s nice because I can’t play like he does. It’s fun thing because it’s not like I’m copying him.
VR: Right, it’s your own style.
Nathan: And there are some things that I think he’s very proud of just to say the least.
VR: Well I was here (at Amigo’s) that night when your brother Jonathan and your dad joined you for a couple of songs.
Nathan: That was so much fun, and that was a very rare moment. He just happened to be passing through town.
VR: I was just sitting there watching the three of you and it was clear, you could see the genuine affection that you all have for one another.
Nathan: Yep. (pauses) It definitely, runs deep in our family.
VR: So where did you record this one?
Nathan: Mainly I recorded it in Southern California between the Valley and LA; it’s simply a guy who has a studio in his back yard. And I recorded the majority of the banjo instrumentals there. The majority of the singer songwriter part was in Ojai at Brotheryn Studios, and a couple of studios in between. Once tracked needed a string quartet so I recorded that in Venice. The first song that I ever tracked for this album actually was tracked in Atlanta, Georgia called Tree Sounds Studios. So I started in the East Coast actually and then brought it to the West Coast.
VR: When mixing the album did it sound like it was recorded in different places?
Nathan: Well the whole point is to have contrast. I didn’t want the banjo to sound exactly like the produced singer songwriting stuff. So there’s a continuity between the songs, but there is a drastic change halfway through the album people will notice, but it seems to flow.
VR: Who produced it?
Nathan: I produced most of it. The last half I co-produced with a friend of mine, Jesse Siebenberg. I had other executive producers, but they took care of financing. But Jesse was producer with me the last four tracks, and I produced the rest of it.
VR: He plays on it as well?
Nathan: Yes. Jesse is an animal in the studio; a lot of people who work with him know him to play everything it seems. But on this album in particular he is playing – between the four tracks – some slide, the bass the drum, keyboards, and singing background vocals even! We had a great time, we just got a lot of work done. A majority of those songs we got done very quickly and once we got to the point where we needed to add strings, it was just very easy because we worked so well. He’s easy to work with.
VR: He’s a pro. Very talented.
Nathan: For sure.
VR: And you have your own label?
Nathan: Yes, my own label with six solo albums out now. I’ve been acting as my own label for the whole thing; some days it’s answering the phones, and some days it’s emptying the trash and other days playing songs on the stage. It’s been fun keeping it going, but I am looking to partner up with people who see the vision and the grand picture but I can still act as my own label and pay for all the recording, but partnering up with a distribution company will be very beneficial for me.
Mother of Dissension
Review by Pam Baumgardner
1. My parents would hate this.
2. My daughter would think I’m crazy.
3. And though I’m not one to mosh, this one certainly helps to work out pent up frustrations.
There is no doubt about it, the genre is PUNK, so if you don’t like punk, you ain’t gonna like much about this, but if punk is your proverbial cup of tea, then this will fit you like a freakin’ glove.
Old friends from former cool bands getting together to have fun and work on new music, the guys click both live and recorded which is no easy feat. Both Tony Cortez and Carl Valdez were original members of Ill Repute, Randy Miller comes from Mayors of Garratt & Global Warning and Michael Jones from Jackass. All the guys have played in and out of several bands the past few decades and are solid members of Ventura’s music scene which pretty much guarantees an instant fan base.
The songs are fast, tight and reminiscent of early Clash or the Dickies. I’m digging on Room to Improve, Downed and Mr. Mogul. You can get your copy via Bandcamp or at any of their live shows.
Room to Improve
I Want Out
All songs recorded, engineered and mastered by Mike D. at Oak Street Studios, Ventura, CA.
Review by Pam Baumgardner
This band has been around for many years packing in the joints they played, but then in the late 90’s tragedy struck when drummer Ephraim Ashton died in a car accident. Soon after, members tried out different versions of BMM, they started up or joined different bands (Big Dictator, Dave Rea, Dr. M, Loudmouth Soup, The Pits…) and of course they’ve worked on their day jobs and raising their perspective families. Three years ago BMM reunited for a show at Bombay’s, they were writing music again, and this time they were just in it for the fun and again, they’re finding Ventura supporting them.
The thing about Bloody Mary Morning is that they write solid songs that engage you right off the get-go. They’re fun, catchy, energetic and memorable…pretty much like their live shows. I love that the band didn’t overproduce their songs making them sound sterile or lifeless. There’s an edge, it’s a tad rough with the vocals push it making the LP sound just a tad punk for the rock genre that is Bloody Mary Morning.
The guys in the band are about as nice and talented as you’ll find here in Ventura. They are what is right about Ventura’s music scene. These guys rock and the new CD does as well. Pick it up, you won’t be disappointed.
Here now a sample of some of my favorite tracks:
And just a side note: I’ll admit the cover artwork reminded of something I couldn’t quite but my finger on. But then it hit me like a ton of bricks. HA! Ingenious!!
Kelly Turner – Bass
Chad Turner – Vocals
Ryan Denger – Guitar
Ray Stoynoff – Drums
All songs were written by Bloody Mary Morning and recorded at Brotheryn Studios by Jason Mariani. Jessie Siebenberg, Dave Rea and John Young contributed as well.