Album Review: Ruba Say and the Cosmic Rays

I wrote some words about the new album from legendary SC rocker Ruba Say; He will be playing Art Bar in Columbia this Saturday night and also appearing live on air with The Columbia Beet show on WUSC-FM 90.5 this afternoon.

via Ruba Say and the Cosmic Rays’ self-titled album | Music |

SceneSC 2017 Sampler Shows Depth, If Not Diversity

scenesc 2017

The yearly compilation of music from South Carolina bands from SceneSC has become an annual tradition, a barometer of sorts for local music. This year’s continues the trend of introducing new and unreleased tracks from many of the artists involved, some of which will be heard here first before inclusion on a full length album of their own later.

If there’s a complaint, it’s a minor caveat that SceneSC tends to the indie rock side of things, with nary a heavy act, country crooner, jazz artist, or hip-hop MC anywhere near this. That’s their right, of course, and SceneSC has never claimed to speak for the entire South Carolina music community….but given the bully pulpit the blog/site has established it’s a missed opportunity for major segments of the scene, especially since there really isn’t an equivalent blog or site doing anything remotely similar to fill in those gaps.

Our favorite tracks: Numbtongue’s gurgly, trance-like “MosesBones”, She Returns From War’s stately, resigned yet hopeful-sounding “Fruit of the Night”, the understated grandeur of Yosef’s “Elise”, and Dylan Dickerson’s raw strummer “Seasoned Veteran.”

Yours? listen at the link below:


Those Lavender Whales Streaming New Album on Goldflakepaint blog

Love to see SC bands getting widespread attention; the April 7th release of the new Those Lavender Whales album is garnering accolades already and you can now hear the whole thing streaming online here:

via Album Stream: Those Lavender Whales – “My Bones Are Singing” – GoldFlakePaint

My Favorite South Carolina Music of 2016

Today’s Columbia Free Times edition included the compiled Top SC Albums list for 2016, for which I contributed my own picks and commentary. You can find the official Free Times list here, but I’m posting my own full Top Ten below.

1. Shovels & Rope, Little Seeds
Carrie Ann Hearst and Michael Trent have become the darlings, if not the flag-bearers, for the Americana scene over the last few years. This year’s edition happened in the midst of births (Their own new baby) and deaths (the tragic loss of fellow Charleston musician Eric Brantley), both extremes of life are represented in these songs that extend the duo’s impressive creative run through folk, rock, and more.

2. Gruzer, Let It Burn
Melodic and accessible without pulling any punches, the veterans in Gruzer make a statement with this EP that solidifies their place in the local heavy music scene. Combining near-thrash intensity with a core tunefulness that can appeal even to the non-metalhead crowd, tracks such as “Accessory” (which the band just augmented with a professionally shot video released this month) blast forth with an authority borne of experience.

3. Cole Connor, SODA
A love letter to his city, his scene, and the struggles of pursuing a hip-hop dream despite the haters and naysayers, SODA finds young rapper Cole Connor humble yet forceful, thoughtful but defiant, and in command of his lyricism like never before. His rapid-fire delivery slows down here and there but the tracks are jam packed with cameos from his New Success Culture crew, Fat Rat Da Czar, strings and more.

4. Barnwell, Motel Art
Tyler Gordon and company took the rootsy Americana rock tendencies apparent on their earlier material and polished them to great effect on this stellar set of shimmering songs that deliver on the promise of hook-laden guitar slinging pop-rock practitioners everywhere.

5. Prettier Than Matt, Better Left Said
Likeable is a mostly meaningless word that doesn’t get thrown around much in critical descriptions of most musical groups, but in the case of Jessica Skinner and Jeff Pitts, the duo known as Prettier Than Matt, it’s the first one that comes to mind because it actually fits them perfectly. Their latest finds the pair taking advantage of the best production and songs they’ve had to date, with results that reflect their sunny folk-pop sensibility in a definitely likeable way.

6. Alarm Drum, Fragments Of…
The latest from this young Columbia band sounds like it could have been recorded twenty years before they were born, but the gauzy retro feel only adds to the appeal of the tunes–alternately somnabulent shoegaze dreaminess and openly anachronistic guitar pop, sometimes within the same songs.

7. Sandcastles., Die Alone
Kari Lebby’s synth-pop project delivered a glorious mess of an album with more ideas than space to house them, like getting into multiple conversations at a house party and waking up the next day knowing you had fun but with no idea exactly what happened.

8. Carolina Chupacabra, Dying to Live
An intense slab of swamp metal sludge rock from a band that’s been kicking around for a while but never quite hit the right combination of power and precision that’s on display here. Even without knowing some of the back story behind Wade Parrott’s songwriting, the impact is at gut-punch level.

9. Dear Blanca, To Tell a Half-Truth
There’s a depth and diversity to the latest EP from Dear Blanca that belies its brief tenure; Dylan Dickerson’s voice may have to grow on new arrivals to the party, but the post-blues, scratchy indie rock formalism of his melodies is enough to hook all but the most jaded listener.

10. Mel Washington, Black Excellence Vol 2
The second set of Washington’s series of covers by influential black artists includes both new and old classics, from Drake’s “Hotline Bling” to Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” and he puts his own arrangements and singular voice to work on recasting them to great effect. This set leans more to the newer side with Kanye West and Valerie June, making the revamped versions even more stunning.

My Favorite South Carolina Albums of 2015

Just as we’re tasked to do an ‘overall’ list, the local/regional focus of the Columbia Free Times means there’s also a ‘local’ one, which was published in the paper recently here. As before, my own list differed, which only goes to show there is way more good music being made around these parts than will fit in any old list. Here’s mine, with a few extras:

1. ColorBlind, ColorBlind

Justin Smith and Fat Rat Da Czar may not have set out to make a political statement with this collaborative effort, but in the times we’re in, this album qualifies. In a truly colorblind world this would just be a great buddy project with beats, lines, hooks, and unconditional friendship, what more could you ask for?

2. She Returns From War, Oh What A Love

Maybe it is the production from legend Don Dixon that ensconces the proceedings in a sympathetic yet understated acoustic elegance; maybe it is the songs themselves that are singular slices of how to be human. The answer is in both the voice and songwriting talent of Hunter Park, central figure in this shifting “group”.

3. Shovels & Rope, Busted Jukebox Volume 1

More than just a lark or filler between albums, this covers collection from Charleston’s husband and wife duo includes contributions from musical friends such as Shakey Graves, J. Roddy Walston, and Butch Walker. No irony or novelty here, just a series of revelatory romps through songs they obviously love from Neil Young, Elvis Costello, Rodney Crowell, and more.

4. The High Divers, Riverlust

Some albums sneak up on you, others just hit you right from the start; this is one of the latter–a tuneful, hummable joy that’s part Dire Straits, part Avett Brothers and all heart, soul, and rambling, shambling melody.

5. A Fragile Tomorrow, Make Me Over (MPress)

As trashy, over the top and in-your-face decadent as their last album was taut, restrained, and politely melodic, the boys in A Fragile Tomorrow have grown into a rock ‘n’ roll machine of glam-tastic proportions.

6. Atlas Road Crew, Halfway to Hopkins

This debut full-length with major league production values posits the gritty Charleston-based rockers as southern, but not southern rock; classic, but not classic rock; and ready for their star to rise—starting with a two month tour of Europe in 2016, the band seems well on their way.

7. Brian Robert, 1117 Magnolia

The Co. frontman now under his own name; this one revolves around the titular ode to a Charleston neighborhood bar and live music destination and retains a homespun charm throughout.

8. Debbie and the Skanks, Live and Buck Wild

Kicking out the jams has never been more fun than when radiant, rocking frontwoman Deborah Adedokun hooked up with the greasy grunts in The Skanks, and this live set is loud, boisterous, 100 proof.

9. The Prairie Willows, White Lies

Three ladies with brassy, classy voices singing three-part harmonies on original songs in the folk and old-time tradition; so well done you’d swear a tune like “Whiskey” was a remake of a ’20’s speakeasy standard.

10. Burnt Books, Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire

Stretching the boundaries of heavy music, hardcore, progressive metal, or whatever it is you call what Burnt Books does, this set may be the band’s best expression yet of their scorched earth approach to making music.  They’re still awesomer live, here’s a 20 minute set from Texas to prove it:

11. Brave Baby, Electric Friends

Brave Baby drummer Ryan Zimmerman has produced just about every other Charleston band in his practice space studio over the past few years; maybe it’s this eclectic resume that helps his main gig avoid sounding quite like anything else out there while maintaining a pleasant, shimmering perfection. If the Zombies were resurrected as an 00’s indie band, they’d sound like Brave Baby.

12. Mel Washington, Black Excellence

Covers? Sure, but singer and guitarist Mel Washington makes thematic sense with this surprisingly wide-ranging group of tunes from influential African-American artists including Beyonce and Sam Cooke, all sung with his subtle, soulful tonality. Missing a favorite song or artist of yours? There’s a second volume coming in 2016.

13. Heyrocco, Teenage Movie Soundtrack

This Charleston band spent much of its recent history in Nashville and England, but the music they make is still unabashedly 90’s American vintage alt-rock, mashing up lost alt-hit acts like Our Lady Peace and The Toadies with a healthy respect for the lads from the other side of the pond.

14. Angela Easterling, Common Law Wife

This upstate singer-songwriter and alt-country sweetheart is quietly building an impressive catalog of tunes with musical and life partner Brandon Turner, whose tasty lead guitar lifts these songs above the rest of the twangy crowd.

15. Villanova, Thread of Life

Back to their original name after a disappointing major label run as Weaving the Fate, Brian Conner and company got back to the basics of song, melody, and power pop with this crisply produced return to form.

And a bonus, my favorite new local song not on an album this past year:

My Favorite SC Albums of 2014

I contributed my votes to the annual SC roundup in the Columbia Free Times and several of the following made it into that final list; here then are my original thoughts on a pretty strong batch of local albums from 2014:

Top `15 South Carolina Albums of 2014

Kevin Oliver

1. Various Artists, Mostly I Just Want to Watch My Friends Grow

Like a multi-artist version of my favorite tribute album ever, K. McCarty’s Daniel Johnston tribute **Dead Dog’s Eyeball**, this local collection of artists covering the songs of Those Lavender Whales’ main dude Aaron Graves casts new light on his eccentric catalog while serving as a benefit for Graves’ cancer treatment expenses. A sentimental number one? Perhaps, but the consistent quality of these different takes on Graves’ compositions makes it an easy choice even without the emotional pull of the back story.

2. Ali Arant, June July

Now expatriate singer-songwriter Ali Arant got together with Pocket Buddha’s Darren Woodlief before moving north to teach at Wagner College, leaving us with this intimate, endearing acoustic folk document that’s focused on her warm, conversational voice and lyrics.

3. Can’t Kids, Ennui Go

The most consistently interesting band in town the last few years, this go-round finds the Kids more than alright; a less abrasive sound throughout lets details such as Amy Cuthbertson’s cello shine through even the weirdest bits.

4. Ruby Brunettes, Woodshed Sessions, Vol. 1

An accidental EP that shows the potent live act that Chris Compton and company have become; Catherine Allgrim’s voice is tied with the almost funky backbeat of “Lazybone” for most valuable player on this four-song live recording from the Woodshed online music program.

5. Milton Hall, Coat From Japan

for his latest occasional musical missive, Milton Hall enlisted another long under-utilized local musical treasure in guitarist John Furr (Blightobody, the Tantrums) along with drummer Stan Gardner for a retro indie blast that rocks more than Hall’s ‘outsider’ reputation would infer.

6. MyBrotherMySister, Go Back Home

Yes, they’re in high school; no, they don’t sound like it. MyBrotherMySister have a talent for updated 90’s rock sounds mixed with the warm guitar swirls of J Mascis and the us-against-them attitude of Sonic Youth—definitely not your average teenage garage band.

7. Jordan Igoe, How to Love

You may have seen her singing with Rachel Kate’s band, but until you hear the songs on her solo debut you might not realize the depth and sincerity inherent in Jordan Igoe’s own music, which encompasses classic country twang, pop cabaret balladry, and sorrowful, soulful blues. A Patsy Cline for the Lana Del Rey generation, Igoe oozes sex, southern charm, and supple, smooth style.

8. Muscle Memory, Yes! Always!

David Adedokun is a maddening example of an incredible talent whose output is too infrequent to gain him the notoriety he deserves; his last project Daylight Hours was released in 2008. This new EP is more polished and pop-sounding, taking a bit of the focus away from Adedokun’s intricate wordplay but framing the songs within appropriately majestic context.

9. The Post-Timey String Band, My God My God EP

Sometimes you can over-think things and lose the original inspiration; this EP takes the opposite approach. Recorded in a night, mixed and mastered in another day or so, pressed and released the same week prior to a camp conference, it captures the old-time gospel feel of the Post-Timey String Band’s sound nearly perfectly by mixing Kelley McLachlan’s aching spirituality with Sean Thomson’s multi-instrumental flair; including Timshel’s cellist Alderman Douglas fills out the tunes nicely.

10. American Gun, Promised Youth

It’s been a couple albums now since the original version of American Gun developed into the current Todd Mathis-led outfit; their alt-country leanings have likewise matured into a more mainstream rock approach not unlike Boxing Day/Capital, Mathis’ pre-American Gun band that briefly achieved major label status. His vocal twang is the connective tissue between the various incarnations, but Mathis has learned enough from each phase of his artistic growth to employ all of those lessons here.

11. Grace Joyner, Young Fools

She may be young, but Grace Joyner’s no fool; her mellow indie-pop draws from the grandeur of Nicole Atkins and imbues it with a retro Kirsty McColl vibe. She’s not a great singer but her near-monotone fits the synth-laden tracks such as “Holy” like Debbie Harry fronting Blondie—it’s more about the overall vibe and feel than any kind of overt musical showboating.

12. Dear Blanca, Pobrecito

Recorded with the band he’s been playing live shows with since soon after 2013’s excellent **Talker**, this outing finds Dear Blanca frontman Dylan Dickerson even more confidently ensconced in a wall of garage-punk-blues skronk that’s not unlike Jello Biafra fronting an alt-country act. There’s plenty of swagger and swing to these tunes, overcoming Dickerson’s acquired-taste vocals with energy and enthusiasm to spare and marking a band growing into a sound and style all its own.

13. Analog, Arrow of God

“Get your speakers wet, baptized in sound,” goes a line in “Baptized”, the opening track on this local hip-hop mainstay’s latest. It’s an apt image for the immersive experience that follows, tracing beats and rhymes in a self-referential manner that takes fellow emcees to task as much as their fellow man.

14. The Mobros, Walking With a Different Stride

Modern blues is a mostly stale format that repeats itself ad nauseum like a stuffy museum; Twenty-something singer Kelly Morris and little brother Patrick on drums kick open the doors and let some air out of the room. Kelly’s voice is rightfully lauded for its resemblance to an old black blues singer; what the formal studio experience reveals is the serious grooves the guitar-drums pairing can lay down.

15. The Fishing Journal, Feathers & Twine

Chris Powell’s post-Sonic Youth abrasiveness has emerged from the flat-out extremes of previous releases to a place where it pushes and pulls against itself as often as it blows up into full-frontal audio assault.