It was a seriously eclectic year for new local music, with nearly all of this year's independent releases standing uniquely on their own.
A few were stronger than others, but, as I predicted, listeners were given a fruitful pick of standout offerings, beginning with Bakersfield alt-rock quartet Cidona, which kicked off the year in style with a thoroughly well-produced, five-song EP, titled "Credulity."
Accompanied by a striking music video for their single "Falling," a song about the struggles of addiction, vocalist Melissa Lucas proved her range of abilities on record as a passionate rock vocalist. As with many early releases, "Credulity" could have gone overlooked by the masses, but thanks to the group's idea to treat fans to a new acoustic digital download-only release in October, Cidona reminded us of their youthful energy.
This was also the year I was introduced to the music of Funeral Club, featuring the remarkable husband-and-wife team of Joseph and Jenny Andreotti. Haunting, dark and romantic, their music defied category on the local scene with a cool mix of Ennio Morricone spaghetti western sounds and vintage Euro-jazz elegance. The unconventional blend of Joseph's parlor and baritone guitar, synthesizer and percussion, with Jenny's ethereal vocals, also drew me to their live show, which featured vintage film clips taken from the public domain archive of avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren projected behind them during performances.
Speaking of jazz, I'd be remiss if I didn't make mention of keyboardist Jay Smith's bizarre freeform jazz trip into the unknown with his debut CD, "Unashamed Portrayal." Previously reviewed by this writer as "raw, loose and at times exhausting," in hindsight I feel that maybe I was a bit rough on Smith. I gave it a few more listens -- this time, with jazz ears.
As I told Smith myself, though I stand by the original review, after four full-length listens I have to commend him on his unflinching commitment to his concepts of jazz, which could be debated until we all turn "kind of blue." Smith really grew on me this year, and if you haven't heard this guy play yet, make a point to find him.
Taking a creative risk was local singer/songwriter Joel Jacob, who blessed us with a quietly released new praise and worship digital EP, titled "Here Comes the Light." Joel never ceases to amaze me when he jumps into action, and if you enjoyed his last CD, "Makeshift Motive," as much as I did, you'll be right at home here. Highly recommended for those in need of a spiritual boost, whether you're the churchgoing kind or not.
There were also strong new debuts and releases from Choirs, Catastrophist, Crooked Folk and The Volume, all of whom kept the flame burning on the indie rock scene. Not to be outdone was the lone local country release, titled "Get Lucky" from Lucky Ned Pepper, featuring Smokin' Armadillos alumni Josh Graham (guitar) and singer Rick Russell. A clever collage of country imagery from the opening track of "I Remember the Music," on through "Dirt Road," to the fun-loving spirit of "I Oughta Own this Bar" and "Cowboy Thing," the duo received a hearty welcome back from fans during the Kern County Fair.
Names to watch
Following a life-changing trip to Nashville's Music Row this year, the wild-eyed good ol' boys of Good Question changed their name to Truxton Mile and continued making their mark, filling up venues and restoring the country music faith with legions of Bakersfield and Taft fans. Forging ahead with their new identity, the group is now focused on putting the finishing touches on their long-awaited debut CD.
Youthful reggae newcomers Amity Flow have also been a solid hit since their introduction this year, gaining exposure as the opening act on numerous local shows. They've got style and a vibe to match their easy-flowing, conscious grooves. After pushing their free demo at every show, they plan to give fans a full-length release by the early spring.
Among the many interviews I conducted this year, one of my favorites was with singer Cassadee Pope, whom the nation now knows as the season three winner of "The Voice" on NBC. Back in February, a few months before auditioning for the show, Pope was just another independent artist looking for a break, headed to, of all places, the Jerry's Pizza basement.
At the time of our conversation, Pope was sharing an apartment in Los Angeles with a number of other aspiring musicians -- little money, but rich with ideas for a self-funded solo acoustic tour she hoped would keep her on the road for a year after her kickoff show at Jerry's.
"I'm starting from the ground up," she told me during that interview, including a plan to shed the tomboy image she had as the lead singer of pop punk band Hey Monday. The Jerry's show was sparsely attended, mostly by those who were fans of Pope's former band.
Fast forward to September, when Pope was introduced to the nation as a contestant on "The Voice," along with singer Rudy Parris from Visalia, whom I also profiled a number of times.
Together they made beautiful music on coach Blake Shelton's team, but after weeks of competition, Pope would be crowned the winner, the youngest and the first female contestant to win on the show.
Maybe Parris should have tried getting some of that lucky Jerry's Pizza mojo before the competition.
Another big highlight to help this year end on a promising note was the arrival this month of local independent terrestrial radio station 89.7 FM KSVG "Savage Radio." Since the launch two weeks ago, the founders have shown positive strides, keeping the flow of their "anti-format" format consistently entertaining.
One moment I'm hearing Iggy Pop, and then Bakersfield band The Architecture, then it's on to Jimmy Cliff and Let's Go Bowling. As of now, their signal is heard best in the downtown area, but according to co-founder Jake Chavez, they should be expanding their broadcasting reach within a few months.
Well, folks, that's all for now as we put the lid on another great year of local music and art. It was a pleasure meeting all the new talent and hearing from those vets keeping the heartbeat of our scene pumping. Please keep sending me those demos and show announcements.
Cheers to another great new year!