We may be looking ahead now that 2020 is upon us, but I want to spotlight a few (mostly) local releases from last year that might have flown under the radar. All of these can be found on Spotify and the majority of them are for sale on bandcamp.com.
The first, “Serenity,” is the latest single from the power-rock combo Art and the Resistance. The song itself is a straightforward, simmering rocker that fits somewhere in between 1990s grunge and mid-aughts mainstream rock. Once singer Art Machuca hits peak-Chris Cornell and starts belting out his vocals, “Serenity" achieves full liftoff. The song is a solid reminder of the band’s growing potential and dedication.
The album “Your Love, It Lies,” released last July by Hannah DiMo (aka DiMolfetto), incorporates themes of emancipation, resilience and independence inspired by the singer’s move to Oregon.
“I wanted to release an album that was all mine and about my experiences there and finding myself in Portland,” DiMo wrote in an email. “With the help of my amazing band this album was born.”
The album is confident and shimmering, blues-based rock that’ll be a surprise — but not unexpected — for anyone who remembers her for her more wistful, folk-tinged songwriting. The album’s standout track, “Love is All There Is,” is a moving, heartfelt tribute to her late sister, Cara DiMolfetto.
That album’s producer and co-songwriter, Elle Archer, another Bakersfield-to-Portland export, released an album in October with her band Shaylee, “The Life & Misadventures of Shaylee & Tarantula.” Two and a half years in the making, it’s an ambitious, self-assured and undeniably powerful piece of work.
There’s a lot of remarkable sonic ground covered here. At times, it's fiery and aggressive, and at others, contemplative and intimate. It sounds and feels sprawling but is intensely laser-focused. It's a concept album of sorts that Archer describes on her Facebook page as a “thinly veiled metaphor for my gender transition which I began during the making of the album.” (Search the title to find it on Spotify.)
Local music fans of a particular vintage might remember the popular indie-power-pop band Squatcho. Well, after a 14-year hiatus, the group — Don Collins, Johnny Wall and Dylan Geurtsen — has reunited and put out a handful of new songs including its latest, “Out of Place.”
Even though the three of them lived in different places (Collins in — yup — Portland, Wall in Hawaii and Geurtsen in Bakersfield) they accomplished this now-standard 21st-century feat of modern recording by sending musical files back and forth to each other and with Collins doing the bulk of the mixing.
“We started a couple of years ago,” Geurtsen said. “It’s hard with our own bands and families and such. Not being in the same room, we don’t have a way to push each other to do it. We’re slowly getting stuff done.”
The group will be consolidating all the new material into an upcoming EP and hosting a proper reunion/release show at Jerry’s Pizza in March with the also now recently reunited Brian Jones Was Murdered and The Lebecs. Truly, this will be partying like it's 1999.
Squatcho is just one plate out of many that the seemingly ageless 45-year-old Geurtsen is spinning. He's also reunited with another one of his former early-aughts bands, The Binges, while also staying busy with his main gig, Niner Niner.
The Binges’ two latest offerings, “Bunny” and “Be You for Halloween” (the latter has a killer ending), as well as Niner Niner’s latest, “Lay Your Money Down,” are pure blasts of thrilling, sweaty, energetic indie power-pop with shag-thick guitars and punk rock roots.
Niner Niner’s full-length release is set to be out in the spring and with its record release scheduled around the same time as the Squatcho reunion show, Geurtsen is in serious danger of triple-booking himself with his own bands. While we might not know what this next year has in store, expect a whole lot of music from Geurtsen and company.
“A lot of work was put in last year and, all of a sudden, is coming out,” Geurtsen said. “It’s kind of fun.”
Willie Nelson & Family, 8 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Mechanics Bank (formerly Rabobank) Theater, 1001 Truxtun Ave. $52-$132; axs.com.
What can I say? This is Willie Nelson we’re talking about. A man who has accomplished so much in a lifetime of almost nine decades that he’s transcended being a living legend into becoming a full-fledged cultural phenomenon. Musician, actor, activist, you name it: The man’s a monument to humble transcendence.
His spirited latest album (his 69th! Egad!), “Ride Me Back Home,” finds Nelson in fine form, especially on the lovely title track. On the song "Seven Year itch," when he sings with a wink, “I had the seven year itch / scratched it out in three," you know that age hasn’t diminished his wit. On the touching waltz “Immigrant Eyes,” neither has his resolve for honest, determined compassion.
Personally, I hope he plays “Buddy,” and for my wife, I hope he plays, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” As a musician and songwriter, Nelson has very few peers and is the type of artist whose appeal can be passed down the line generationally: deceptively simple yet extraordinarily complex and instantly welcome once engaged.
We don’t know how many more opportunities we’ll have to see the Red-Headed Stranger on the road again. There will never — never — be anyone else like Willie Nelson. At the time of this writing, there were tickets still available. Make it so.