Two years (and a few weeks) of Random Acts
It’s been just over two years since Random Acts first appeared here, and my CD collection now overflows with music you simply can’t find outside Asheville. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Still, it’s high time this reviewer took a few weeks’ break from the local-music scene. My clever contemporary Nicholas Holt will write the column in my absence. Be back around Halloween …
The state of local music
In the spirit of High Fidelity author Nick Hornby’s tried-and-true device, this week’s Random Acts is devoted to my own personal Top Five. While it’s hardly a complete list, the following songs are some of my favorites from the past two years of following the tides and trends of the local-music beat. These tunes find their way onto the mix CDs I send out to friends and colleagues — an aural explanation of our local scene’s unique complexity.
• “Oregon Song” — DrugMoney, DrugMoney demo (Onion Music, 2002)
With its droning, one-note intro and supremely catchy garage-grunge melody, “Oregon Song” was the tune credited by Hybrid Records CEO Al Cafaro for getting DrugMoney (then just front man Fisher Meehan and drummer Paul Conrad) signed. Though Conrad would be dropped from the duo shortly thereafter, the new lineup — Bill Reynolds (Robot, Blue Rags), Jamie Stirling (The Merle) and Tyler Ramsey (Tyler Ramsey Trio) — has proven even more popular.
But the original, garage-powered, noisy, two-piece version of the song is still, to my tastes, the best. You can listen to pieces of DrugMoney’s upcoming album, MTN CTY JNK, at drugmoney.org.
• “Hoop Dee Doop” — Ami Worthen’s Mad Tea Party, Be in Life (Whose That Records, 2002)
This relentlessly happy, ukulele-powered outfit once achieved the impossible — persuading a roomful of jaded Vincent’s Ear scenesters into a surreal, yet surprisingly heartfelt and moving sing-along of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.”
With its rollicking intro, dizzy vocals and jazzy bass lines, “Hoop Dee Doop” is vintage Worthen. Get happy at whosethatrecords.com.
• “Isn’t It Fun” — George Glass, I’m Okay (George Glass, 2002)
For a long time, I didn’t know what to make of George Glass. His reckless mixture of downtrodden lyrics, spiteful guitar and drunken self-loathing didn’t exactly make for easy listening.
The quality of his live shows was highly erratic, the quality of his recordings just plain terrible.
Yet I kept coming back for more. Now I can’t think of Asheville’s singer/songwriter scene without hearing its perhaps most genuine voice — the sharp, fragile George Glass. His sarcastically titled “Isn’t It Fun” is one of his most accessible songs, available in a live version (as backed by Wayne Robbins) at goodluckcricket.com.
• “Dark Moon” — Stephanie’s Id, Stephanie’s Id (Stephanie’s Id, 2003)
Great waves of vocals crash against granite rocks of piano — and the spaces left behind form whirlpools and eddies of silence.
Inside Stephanie’s Id, Stephanie Morgan’s soul-stabbing vocals are tempered by Chuck Lichtenberger’s alternately sparse and cascading piano. The haunting “Dark Moon,” which builds to a crescendo of astonishing force, is a prime example of their chemistry.
Hear “Dark Moon” at stephaniesid.com.
• “Oklahoma Just Doesn’t Feel Right” — Red Penny Arsenal, Play Me Some Mountain Music compilation (AshevilleRock.com & Red Penny Arsenal, 2003)
To their credit, Red Penny Arsenal tends to have a polarizing effect. People seem to either love or loathe their meticulously arranged mix of violent hard-core rock, volatile pop-punk and melodic pop-rock. It’s mercurial yet overtly (some might say overly) dramatic — but it’s also undeniably original. The addition of drummer Hunter Thurston to the band’s previously all-acoustic setup gives Red Penny freedom to explore an even harder edge.
“Oklahoma Just Doesn’t Feel Right” is an unflinching song of good riddance wherein bassist Jared Rutledge’s vocals are expertly countered by Lauren Habenicht’s jazzy whispers and Matt Anderson’s signature, visceral refrains and heavy guitar. Hear more at redpennyarsenal.com.
Top Five Honorable Mentions:
• “Jesus” — Wayne Robbins & The Hellsayers, demo (Wayne Robbins & the Hellsayers, 2003)
• “Thicker Skin” — Black Eyed Dog, demo (Black Eyed Dog, 2003)
• “Bring the Noise” — The Unholy Trio, The Unholy Trio (The Unholy Trio, 2002)
• “Chicory Assent” — Ether Bunnies, Nectar (Ether Bunnies, 2002)
• “Salty Dog” — Sons of Ralph, Grab a Root and Growl (Root Records, 2001)