Mother Vinegar, Mother Vinegar (Monkey Fuzz Records): Three Stars
• Genre(s): Rock, funk, brushes with metal.
• You’ll like it if: You want an album with more twists than a circus contortionist.
• Defining song: “Gypsum Cave” – This gypsy-jazz number swings like a school playground. Haunting tales of mountains of cocaine and dancing girls “that take you out back for a dime” contrast sharply with the bubbly instrumental landscape.
A superficial glance at Mother Vinegar’s background might elicit conjecture: “hmm, another jam band.” With a shimmering endorsement from Umphrey’s McGee—multi-instrumentalist and MV member Karl Engelmann has written several songs for the Midwestern jammers—the quartet certainly has ties to the aforementioned genre. Mother Vinegar formed last April after drummer Kevin Cassels learned that Engelmann had moved to WNC. The two agreed to start a project together, and they rounded out the band with guitarist Tommy Dennison (nicknamed, for better or worse, the “North Carolina Shredder”) and bassist Jeff Hinkle.
Their debut album is rife with personality. One moment the quartet is shadowing Shankar (“Have a Sitar”), next they’re probing dysfunctional relations via honky-tonk (“Family Reunion”). Some of the songs reach the brink of musical wanking, only to pull back thanks to the brief length of each tune. The brevity works well because it makes the ear pine for more, instead of contemptuously closing off. The lyrics can be a bit much (“the light is beaming on my rhythmic regulator/I’m moving around like a sexual generator”), but their instrumentation becomes a life vest when the words threaten to drown the senses. All in all, it’s an impressive debut for a band whose biggest predicament is having too many ideas.
Detroit Cobras with Reigning Sound at the Grey Eagle, Thursday, Feb. 16: Four Stars
• Genre(s): Rock, punk, Motown with a twist
• Be glad you stayed home if: Brash guitars and loose women sounds like a musical purgatory.
• Defining moment: “We Repel Each Other” by the Reigning Sound. Greg Cartwright shredded this maelstrom of a tune with writhing face contortions and a guitar meant for nightmares. The smoldering aftermath prompted one enthralled lad to throw his boxers onstage.
Lesson #1: Never ever let Reigning Sound open a show. It’s sort of like Hendrix opening for the Monkees. No matter how good your band is, Greg Cartwright’s Reigning Sound will destroy your headlining dignity. From the opening chord of “Time Bomb High School” to the bawdy boogie of “You Got Me Humming,” Cartwright and company (Lance Willie on drums, Carol Shumaker on bass) came to play.
Lesson #2: If you do follow Reigning Sound, make sure Cartwright sits in as your guitar player. The Detroit Cobras did just that, and their Motown mojo carried the crowd, making them forget (briefly) about the opening band. Lead singer Rachel Nagy carried an ultra-cool vibe reminiscent of Chrissy Hynde. Full of sass and scowls, the Cobras redid the “Cha Cha Twist,” and made the boys blush with the original “Hot Dog.” The future of soul may reside with these misfits from the Motor City, who seem quite capable of handling the Stax torch.
[When he’s not bending readers to his will, Hunter Pope cooks, gardens, hikes and spends his mortgage money on CDs he’s never heard.]