Music News

One man band takes second place at Piedmont Blues Challenge.

Eight is better than one … barely. Local guitarist Patrick Fitzsimons (whose album Hoo Daddy was featured in Earful last week) almost bested the eight-piece band Mighty Lester for top prize at the 19th Annual Piedmont Blues Preservation Society Blues Challenge in High Point. The event brought in an audience of almost 2000 to watch 16 bands and soloists compete for first place. Fitzsimons was the only Asheville resident to perform, and his runner-up award included a plaque and $200. It was his first year at the challenge.

CD Reviews

Dave Desmelik, When Your Eyes Are Closed: Three Stars

Genre(s): Americana

You’ll like it if: Pedal steels and harmonicas are vital components for your aural captivation.

Defining song: “Falling Down” — trickling harmonicas, chugging drumbeats, and a guest vocal by Vickie Burick add up to a tune that epoxies in the listening lobe for days on end.

It’s hard to dislike Dave Desmelik. His brand of music suggests a sunnier Jay Farrar, and his confident voice is reminiscent of a campfire storyteller who knows that each word carries weight. Americana is Desmelik’s niche, and it’s hard to imagine him doing anything else. Although he’s a great musician, Desmelik doesn’t seem like the type who will fall into the throes of creative self-mutilation and begin anew.

While all his albums are strong recordings, When Your Eyes Are Closed is Desmelik’s best offering yet. Despite the slew of guests, Desmelik remains the focal point on all tracks, indicating that he’s a musician who’s beginning to enjoy his own skin. It’s a comforting thing for listeners who don’t need their favorite musician to transform each time out.

Various Artists, Songs from the Underground: NYC Subway (Headset Productions): Three Stars

Genre(s): Melting Pot

You’ll like it if: You’ve always wanted to like subways but could never find a good reason.

Defining song: “Apes,” by Spokinn Movement. Sounding a little like G. Love, this quartet evokes the traits of the NYC subway — dirty, fast-paced and glitz-free.

A massive logistical undertaking, Songs From the Underground features a collection of artists from around the world who honed their sounds amid the rails and commuters of New York’s vast subway system. Taylor Davis and Federico Evangelista, the founding partners of Headset Productions and the creators of this project, spent six months searching for the best in subway sounds. Although the album was produced in New York, Davis is a former resident of Asheville, and played in the local jazz outfit Taken Back Quartet.

Most of the album works — for instance, the a cappella renderings of the Finnish trio Kaiku (Finnish for “Echo”), whose cherubic sounds on “Puhurin Polka” sanctified the squalor of the subways. Scant shortcomings include schmaltzy David Gray-wannabe Austrian Theo Eastwood, but overall, the effort is commendable.

I doubt Songs from the Underground would be a regular resident in my player. It’s more for novelty. The background story is engrossing, but the music is best suited for, well, the subway.

[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.]

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