ARTISTS TO WATCH: Gayle Skidmore

Gayle Skidmore (credit: Dennis Andersen Photography)

It’s so rare to stumble upon a singer-songwriter with such a rich textured voice as Gayle Skidmore. Such voice is a warm layering of the folk of Anais Mitchell coupled with the stinging depth of Amanda Shires, one perfectly worthy of two songs as varied as those she just released: “Rag Doll” and “Barrel, Trigger, Gun.” As a direct follow-up to her latest, a full-length LP and coloring book combo called Sleeping Bear, Skidmore — a six-time San Diego Music Award nominee — chose to record two fan favorites from her popular live sets.

“Rag Doll” is the sparest of the two, a guitar-based melody structured to lend full support to Skidmore’s vocals as she sings of the casual abuses we all endure as we fight against our baser instincts, striving to live sin-free even as we are the product of our own maker. The lyrics are staggeringly evocative:

I wear a covering
Chosen for me by a higher being
But he made me all full of dreams
That I may never find and never be

I am a rag doll sewn by a blind man
To keep him company and make him happy
But he sewed me all full of flaws
And now I’m breaking you just because

“Barrel, Trigger, Gun,” meanwhile choses to showcase Skidmore’s hidden Tori Amos, a song built on a simple series of piano arpeggios upon which a steady backbeat of bass drum and hammering effects provides a stage for a positively cinematic piece of performance art. “I was so easily persuaded to do wrong; a little kick was all it took to come undone,” she sings powerfully. “I was just trying to have a little fun but I’m the trigger, you’re the gun.” As the song fades into a wavering final echoed bass note, a return to the song’s opening seconds is immediately mandated.

Based on these first two tantalizing tastes, I assure you I’ll be digging deeper into Gayle Skidmore’s catalog while hoping she chooses to make Indianapolis one of her next tour stops. When she does, buy a ticket. I am sure you won’t leave disappointed.

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INTERVIEW: The Kickback

The Kickback (Credit: Jim Vondruska)

Billy Yost has spent the last few years really priming fans of the Kickback with information about what it’s like to really be on the road these days. And he’s a fountain of information. Hell, after we got done talking last week, he had to call me back just to clarify that he had indeed listened to Alanis Morisette’s “Ironic” at least fourteen times that day. Because that’s just who he is.

Never a band to merely sleep through the interminable road trips, Yost and company record a great deal of what goes on in the van during those early morning drives. Just last week the band celebrated the release of the 100th episode of their “DISASTOUR” podcast, and as they work toward the eventual release of that long-awaited full-length debut, they continue to play Geography defying series of live shows that bounce them throughout the country. Judging by live videos like this oneor this one … the result is something fans really should be celebrating this night before Thanksgiving.

Yost sat down to talk to “Hear! Hear!” about the band’s songwriting process, what fuels the band’s live performances, and just how big an impact being from a small town plays in how they relate to fans.  You can listen to the full interview at the link above.

The band will be at Indianapolis’s Melody Inn tonight, so get your tickets if you haven’t!

CONCERT REVIEW: Alien Ant Farm (The Vogue, Indianapolis, 11/21/14)

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Dryden Mitchell lets it all hang out at the Vogue in Indy. (Photo: Jonathan Sanders)

Though the opening acts on the bill more then exceeded expectations, Dryden Mitchell and Alien Ant Farm hit the stage at the Vogue in Indianapolis to play for a crowd well versed in their blend of early ’00s alternative rock, and wound up bringing the roof down.

The setlist heavily favored the band’s breakthrough album ANThology, but for good reason — the platinum album featured hits “Movies,” “Courage,” “Wish,” “Sticks and Stones” and the showstopping Michael Jackson cover “Smooth Criminal,” all of which were played for fans who knew the songs in and out. Mitchell still has the stamina and showmanship to give these songs life in a way which is more than just nostalgia. By the time he tore into a three-minute showstopper version of “Smooth Criminal,” which blended in the vocals to “Finally” by CeCe Peniston, it was clear nothing had been left on the table.

And the songs the band did focus on from upcoming album Always and Forever, due out in January, built on the reputation they’ve earned for earnest appreciation for the music that’s come before, while remaining willing to experiment with their sound. “Homage” seems a hit in the making, putting the band’s influences on display while pushing their music to a new generation of fans who will surely devour ANThology, TruANT and Up in the Attic just as readily.

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ALIEN ANT FARM – “Smooth Criminal”

ALIEN ANT FARM – “Wish” + “Forgive and Forget”

FRESHMEN NO MORE: After 13-year hiatus, The Verve Pipe returns with Overboard June 17th

I’ll admit that Brian Vander Ark’s vocals on the entirety of Villians soundtracked my early high school years, giving me plenty of reason to play the album and dozens like it on repeat as I navigated teenage awkwardness. Unfortunately the ’90s alternative rock scene wasn’t built on longevity, at least where myopic, aurally insensitive radio execs were concerned, and bands like the Verve Pipe, Harvey Danger and Semisonic never got the long-term traction they so richly deserved. It wasn’t that they couldn’t write another hit, but rather that radio and label honchos wouldn’t have known said hit if it broadsided them.

Thirteen years after their last full-length rock album, however, The Verve Pipe returns June 17th with Overboard, an album which relights the fire under their blend of well-crafted pop and catch-you-off-kilter rock. With “Crash Landing,” the album’s first promotional single, they show you really can’t go back again — this is no “Villians” or “Photograph” — but you can put a new spin on something and reinvent yourself in a way which is refreshing and well worth the listen. “I’m hearing words no one’s spoken,” he sings.  “And I can feel my heart beat though I know it’s broken. Nothing is the way it seems, like being awake in a dream.” The chorus then crash-lands with an impact that launches this song instantly into the memory banks.

If you’re looking for the band to tread water through nostalgic carbons of what you heard while walking those sophomore hallways, you may be disappointed. But it’s refreshing to hear a band return after all these years, arriving with the verve to sound as fresh in the current musical climate as their alt-grunge did when we first heard it in the early ’90s. That the band’s songs feature hooks as brilliantly singable even after a decade and a half in limbo is the icing on the cake. Overboard is the most pleasant surprise of the summer so far, and it’s an album you shouldn’t miss.

06 – Interview: Midnite on Pearl Beach

This week on the “Hear! Hear!” and Now podcast I sat down to talk with Justin Jahnke, the brains behind Midnite on Pearl Beach, to discuss the band’s album Lamplighter, which officially came out this week. Stay tuned after the interview to hear “Name of the Game,” Justin’s favorite track off the album, in its entirety.

To suggest artists for potential inclusion in a future feature or interview segment on the “Hear! Hear!” and Now Podcast, please email kroessman@gmail.com.

MELLOW GOLD: Slippertails’ There’s A Disturbing Trend sludge-rocks its way into your soul

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Si, soy un perdedor, but I’m loving how much fun Slippertails are making out of my eternal nostalgia for early-90s alt-sludge.

These New Jersey-ites have soaked in everything that made Beck’s Mellow Gold and Nirvana’s Bleach so mind-bendingly addictive and they’ve put it through a punk-rock blender, creating a photocopy of their own “Garden State of Mind.” However you look at it, songs like “Hip New Jerk” require one to immediately forego the headphone treatment, instead blasting these sludgy, instantly deep-grooving tracks to the masses, demanding they pay attention.

You can stream the entire album now on the band’s Bandcamp page, and you should do so quickly, for There’s A Disturbing Trend serves to showcase just how good modern alternative music can be when you forget about trends altogether and simply rock. Now that’s a novel idea!

Don’t be afraid to Crash and Burn this Christmas, thanks to Four Nights Gone album giveaway on Bandcamp

I featured their single, “Crash and Burn,” on this site last September, writing that “everything about the song would have been a smash hit if it’d been released in 1998, but there’s nothing here which sounds out of place in 2011 either.” But if you missed all the fun that is Four Nights Gone, they’re still looking to win you over. For two days only, you can stream and then download their full five-track EP Crash and Burn for free at Bandcamp, though only 200 copies will be given away for free December 24th and 25th. Here’s your chance to hear solid alternative rockers on their way up — if “The Scars Remain,” their latest single, is any indication, they’re definitely ready to jump to that next level.