Three years ago, Mountain Xpress decided to take a chance on a new column about local music. I was lucky enough to be the guy they chose to write it.
Ever since the first Random Acts back in September 2001, I’ve done what I could to be a critical observer of the fickle Asheville music world. It’s been a mixed bag — and one stuffed with equal portions of thank-you letters and hate mail. But for the most part, it’s been a great ride.
And now I’m taking off to parts unknown (namely, Nicaragua, possibly semi-permanently). That means it’s time to pass the torch. Stuart Gaines, a longtime Xpress contributor and serious music junkie, will be taking over the column, at least for now.
Which just leaves me to say goodbye.
I thought the best way of making my exit would be to compile a “wish list” of my favorite local songs.
• “The Lighter Side of Solitary Confinement,” Todd Lemiesz, Asheville Homegrown (Onion Music, 2001): I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve put this cut on mix CDs. It very well might be the best instrumental rock song to ever come out of Asheville.
• “Recognize,” Jr. James & The Late Guitar, Soundproof Room (A-Tone Music, 2002): A song about how people change from what you thought they were, and from what you want them to be. Good for those of us who like to rock out when we’re feeling nostalgic for those we’ve lost.
• “All Along the Way,” Scrappy Hamilton, The 2003 Asheville All-Local Music Sampler (Collapseable Studios, 2003): It took me the better part of three years to acquire a taste for Scrappy, and were it not for this excellent, upbeat revisitation of a rather downcast song from their Stay On Target, I probably never would have bothered to rethink my opinion of the band.
• “I Hope Everybody Dies,” Brian Flik, Brian Flik (Brian Flik, 2003): Flik has since moved on to playing more aggressive music with his Misfits-ish band, the unfortunately named Cannibal Unicorn. But when he first came to town, he was an aspiring solo country musician. Still, no matter how much electricity he runs through his guitar these days, I prefer this grittier acoustic phase.
• “Winchester Cathedral,” Paperboy, Only on the Outside (You Do the Math, 2004): Anyone who wants to know the direction of Asheville’s musical future should listen to this track, which brings in hokum-folkies Ami Worthen and Jason Krekel to counterbalance Paperboy’s rampant radio-ready pop.
• “Starting to Lean,” DrugMoney, DrugMoney (Onion Music, 2002): A brief, shiny glow fell on the Vincent’s Ear music scene in 2002, when soon-to-be headliners like DrugMoney, Piedmont Charisma, The Makeout Room, Gavra Lynn, The Ether Bunnies and The Unholy Trio were finally becoming the bands we all knew that they could be. It didn’t last long, but those few summer months were the highlight for me of writing Random Acts. This song has always felt like the soundtrack to that time.
• “Paradise Lost,” Descolada, Paradise Lost (Descolada, 2004): Just as the established downtown scene seemed to be winding down in early 2003, a whole new local-rock movement was starting up, with strange new acts like Descolada, Dig Shovel Dig, and Kerouac or the Radio. Theirs was just the first conglomeration of this crashing wave that I heard, and their combined melodic rage has continued to define the new downtown sound for me.
• “Hoop Dee Doop,” Mad Tea Party, Be In Life (Whose That Records, 2002): OK, so I’m a sucker for goofy, silly music — particularly when it’s so well played. Since this first recording, the duo of Krekel and Worthen have really come into their own. But I’ve never been able to shake the charm of this silly little Alice in Wonderland song.
• “Everyone Swallows,” George Glass (Good Luck Cricket, 2004): I’ve written a lot about Glass’ music, calling it both brilliant and soul-drainingly beautiful, as well as unfairly flawed. For just a few moments at a time, Glass’ songs can fill an empty, painful place in the soul. And to my eyes, anyway, that looks like undeniable talent.
Honorable Mentions: “Jesus,” Wayne Robbins & The Hellsayers, The Lonesome Sea; “Thicker Skin,” Black Eyed Dog, Demos, June 2003; “Dark Moon,” Stephanie’s Id, Stephanie’s Id; “Don’t Ever Surrender,” Piedmont Charisma, Piedmont Charisma; “Electricity,” Dig Shovel Dig, DIMN; “Broken Arrow,” Holiday Rd., Holiday Rd.; “Chicory Assent,” The Ether Bunnies, Nectar; “Nick Drake,” Gavra Lynn & The Unholy Trio, Asheville Homegrown; “Graduation Day,” Red Penny Arsenal; “Poetic Gin,” Lone Gunman, Inept.
In closing, I’d like to wish the local music scene nothing but great good luck.