Some new local and local-ish music releases have arrived to help alleviate the anxiety and uncertainty all around us. Music has been a saving grace for many of us and that rings especially true now.
Marlon Mackey managed to make a pretty big splash here in a relatively short time as the frontman for his group The Lift, the vocalist for The Jay Smith Group (disclosure: I am a member of The Jay Smith Group), his collaborations with Los Angeles-based musician Louis Cole and local saxophonist Isaiah Morfin and as a solo artist.
His impressive use of live-looping his own vocals as well as his skill as a singer earned him a spot on the main stage at the 2018 Bakersfield Jazz Festival. Whether it was on stage turning shows into his own kind of midnight revival or busking around town with his guitar, he definitely grabbed people's attention with his energy and magnetism.
After he and his family moved to Virginia in 2018, he's stayed relatively quiet, performing once with his local group, District Champion.
That is, until he was inspired by recent events and the civil unrest around him to record his song "Young People in the Streets," a haunting call for awareness proclaiming that the energy to save ourselves has to come from our noble spirits within. It took him a day to write and record it and as of now is only available on soundcloud.com.
Closer to home but with eyes fixed outward, the top-shelf blues group Orphan Jon and The Abandoned has released its live album, "Reckless Abandon (Live)."
Recorded at the end of last year at O'Hennings Bar, the album showcases "Orphan" Jon English's powerful voice, guitar wunderkind Brett Cox's slinky, propulsive playing and the rock-solid consistency of their sterling rhythm section: drummer Jason Blakely and bassist Ray Sadolsky.
Based on songs like "Blood Moon," with its Led Zeppelin-esque bombast and "Dance for Me Girl," it's apparent that these four really enjoy performing together. It's a live album, so you're getting what you're getting, but it really highlights the playful interplay between them as well as some truly fantastic solos by Cox. Until these guys get the "all clear" to start their planned tour, this is the closest the rest of the world will get to hearing them live.
The Swingin Nixons, a new quartet led by Jon Goodell, going as "Johnny 99" here, has released its debut EP, "Way of the Bottle." I've been a fan of Goodell's songwriting for years and this release is some of his strongest material. It's a three-song blast of punk-infused, grungy Americana hard rock with a bold melodic sense, best exemplified on "Tired Nation." Props as well to the band's lead guitarist, Ricardo "Cardo" Pacheco, and the rhythm section of bassist Tommy Sosebee and drummer Chris Wulfekuehler, who performed with assured effectiveness.
On the track "Madly Sadly," Goodell sings about a prospective musician's path towards greatness fraught with misunderstanding, missed opportunity, self-doubt and a penchant for self-destruction. It ends not with defeat but with a defiant resourcefulness and a call to power. I have no idea how autobiographical this song is, but I know exactly what it feels like to live it. It and the EP are killer. If you're a fan of Paul Westerberg or even Tom Petty, check them out; just make sure to spell it "Swingin."
Wait, is this right? Niner Niner is finally releasing its debut album? After years of gigging and establishing itself as one of the top indie-rock acts in town, the quartet of self-described “blue-collar idiots" will release "Destructo" to stream on June 20. You can preorder the really sweet multicolored vinyl release on ninerniner.bandcamp.com/album/destructo with orders shipping out June 6.
Sonically, the album is solid and catchy. The track "Shock Better" has a bounce that's reminiscent of "No One Knows" by Queens of the Stone Age and has some pretty interesting ear candy throughout its instrumental section. The rest of the release is some fun guitar-driven power pop, like on the album's opener, "Lay Your Money Down" which was released last year as a single and could easily be at home on one of Cheap Trick's first four albums.
Plus, I can't think of a song and title more tuned into right now than "World on Fire." Even if it might seem like it's about a wild night out fraught with the promise of debauchery, it hints at a bigger metaphor. "When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose / Keep coming back with a bad attitude / (Expletive) let's set the world on fire." It's incredibly prescient.
Thematically, ablaze worlds run throughout the release, even if they're happening internally like on its title track. The band has released a video for it that's available on YouTube where the guys ride around in a nice vintage car, perform in a dirt field and lay waste to random objects; indulging in their own individual worlds of fire.