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May
21
Tue
CRACKER Taylor Phelan
May 21 @ 8:00 pm
CRACKER

CRACKER

Cracker’s tenth and most recent studio effort, the double-album, Berkeley To Bakersfield, finds this uniquely American band traversing two different sides of the California landscape — the northern Bay area and further down-state in Bakersfield.

Despite being less than a five-hour drive from city to city, musically, these two regions couldn’t be further apart from one another. In the late ’70s and ’80s a harder-edged style of rock music emerged from the Bay area, while Bakersfield is renowned for its own iconic twangy country music popularized, most famously, by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard in the ’60s and ’70s. Yet despite these differences, they are both elements that Cracker’s two cofounders, David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, have embraced to some degree on nearly every one of their studio albums over the last two decades. On Berkeley To Bakersfield, however, instead of integrating these two genres together within one disc, they’ve neatly compartmentalized them onto their own respective regionally-titled LPs.

As Lowery explains, ‘On the Berkeley disc the band is the original Cracker lineup — Davey Faragher, Michael Urbano, Johnny and myself. This is the first time this lineup has recorded together in almost 20 years. We began recording this album at East Bay Recorders in Berkeley, CA. For this reason we chose to stylistically focus this disc on the music we most associate with the East Bay: Punk and Garage with some funky undertones. To further match our sense of place we often took an overtly political tone in the lyrics.’

‘This Bakersfield disc represents the ‘California country’ side of the band. Throughout the band’s 24-year history we’ve dabbled in Country and Americana but this time we wanted to pay homage to the particular strain of Country and Country-Rock music that emerges from the inland valleys of California.’

Cracker has been described as a lot of things over the years: alt-rock, Americana, insurgent-country, and have even had the terms punk and classic-rock thrown at them. But more than anything Cracker are survivors. Cofounders Lowery and Hickman have been at it for a quarter of a century — amassing ten studio albums, multiple gold records, thousands of live performances, hit songs that are still in current radio rotation around the globe (‘Low,’ ‘Euro-Trash Girl,’ ‘Get Off This’ and ‘Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me’ to name just a few), and a worldwide fan base — that despite the major sea-changes within the music industry — continues to grow each year.

Taylor Phelan

Taylor Phelan

Taylor Phelan is a songwriter, singer and alt-rock artist. Phelan was raised within a tight-knit musical family in his home state of Texas and began to play guitar and write his own songs at 16, cutting his teeth at coffee shops. He started his professional career as the founder and frontman for the Chicago-based alternative band, The Canes. In 2014, Phelan was a favorite contestant on the seventh season of NBC’s hit reality series, The Voice, an experience that revealed his tremendous talent as a solo artist. In 2015, shortly after signing with the indie label, Native Nine Records, Phelan gravitated back to his southern roots and teamed up with Nashville-based producer Joshua D Niles to work on his first collection of solo material. Now touring the country with a powerhouse backing band, and new music on the way!
May
30
Thu
PAUL THORN BAND Steve Poltz
May 30 @ 8:00 pm
PAUL THORN BAND

PAUL THORN BAND

“This is the culmination of my whole life in music, coming back to my gospel roots,” says Paul Thorn about his newest album, Don’t Let the Devil Ride. “My message on this record is ‘let’s get together’—I want to help lighten your load and make you smile.”

The son of a preacher man, Mississippi-raised Thorn spent much of his childhood in church, participating in multiple weekly services with his father as well as at neighboring African American congregations, where he became entranced with the music whose infectious spirit is captured on the new album.

Don’t Let the Devil Ride collects soulful songs originally cut by black southern gospel groups, and features guests Blind Boys of Alabama, the McCrary Sisters, the Preservation Hall Jazz Horns, and Bonnie Bishop.

The album was recorded at three temples of sound: the Sam C. Phillips Recording studio, whose namesake gave another son of Tupelo his start; at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, where Thorn worked as a songwriter for legendary producer Rick Hall early in his career; and at Preservation Hall, where horn players from the celebrated jazz venue lent songs a New Orleans vibe.

The new release marks Thorn’s first time recording gospel music, after a dozen albums in roots-rock mode, though his upbringing has previously been reflected in his creation of a body of strikingly original songs. In his own songwriting, Thorn often addresses the foibles of human relationships, although he doesn’t favor the sacred over the profane. 

As an accomplished painter, former professional boxer, and seasoned skydiver, Thorn has never shied away from new challenges, but cutting a gospel record was just like going home.

Thorn’s father Wayne was a bishop in the Church of God of Prophecy, a Pentecostal denomination, and Thorn was just three when he began singing and playing tambourine at services. Congregational participation was valued more than skilled soloists, and Thorn also found a showcase for his talents at Saturday night “singings.”

But his most memorable musical experiences were at an African American branch of his father’s church, the Okolona Sunrise Church of Prophecy. “There might be ten people playing the tambourine, but the rhythm was locked in, and they’d let me play bass. I loved the Appalachian gospel of my parents’ church, but it was a treat to play with those musicians. They worshiped in a different way and the music was different, and I feel blessed to have been in that church setting.”

The sermons in Church of God of Prophecy churches warned sinners of fire and brimstone, and it wasn’t uncommon for congregants for congregants to speak in tongues. But the lasting legacy for Thorn wasn’t a strong sense of guilt, as it was for many others who grew up in Pentecostal churches. “I think that they use guilt to intimidate you, but I don’t buy into that anymore. There ain’t no love in that.”

Instead he continues to be inspired by the strong sense of communion that was fostered by musical fellowship. “One of things that I take a lot of pride in is that I love everybody, and what I learned in church paid dividends. When I’m up there entertaining it’s also a glimpse of what my life has been, and how gospel music has molded me into who I am.”

Thorn’s parents wouldn’t allow him listen to secular music at home (in his teens, he had to hide his only two LPs – Elton John and Huey Lewis – from his father), so he listened at friends’ houses to Kiss, Peter Frampton and the bawdy “chitlin’ circuit” comedy albums that he credits with inspiring the dark sense of humor that pervades his lyrics. But gospel music remains Thorn’s most abiding musical touchstone, the sounds that first stirred his soul.

He was just 14 when sometime gospel artist Elvis Presley died – “the world stood still in Tupelo,” he recalls – and while the King’s records weren’t a major influence, Thorn emphasizes the similarity of their early experiences.

“Elvis literally went to a lot of the same churches I did. It’s almost identical how we started. When they filmed him from the waist up, it wasn’t vulgar, it was the moves he learned in church, dancing in the spirit.”

At 18 Thorn was caught sneaking out his bedroom window to romance a young neighbor, and his father presented the ultimatum of publicly repenting or “disfellowship” – losing his church membership. He chose the latter, and immediately took out a loan to buy a trailer (where he lived ‘in sin’ with that girlfriend), landed a full-time job at a furniture factory, and joined the National Guard.

Tupelo presented few avenues for professional musicians, but Thorn soon met his longtime songwriting partner Billy Maddox, who had strong ties to the musical hub of Muscle Shoals. The duo began writing under contract for Rick Hall, owner of the legendary Fame Recording Studios, where Thorn cut demos of their songs.

As a performer, Thorn was playing solo gigs in Tupelo for $50 a night, and further supplemented his factory income with boxing. He learned to box from his paternal uncle Merle, a one-time pimp celebrated in “Pimps and Preachers,” Thorn’s autobiographical song about his two mentors: “One drug me through the darkness/One led me to the light/One showed me how to love/One taught me how to fight.”

Thorn would box fourteen professional fights (10-3-1) as a middleweight between 1985 and 1988, with his most prominent match against four-time World Champion Roberto Duran. He lasted a respectable six rounds before a doctor stopped the fight due to multiple cuts.

Although proud of his boxing career, Thorn says that he’s not surprised he’s achieved more success as a performer. “I went a long way in boxing, and got to fight one of the greatest, but the reason Duran beat me and everyone else was that he had the ability to relax under extreme pressure. When I was in the ring I was nervous and afraid, but when I’m on stage I’m comfortable. I’ve been singing in front of people all my life, and I know what I’ve got to do.”

The songs on “Don’t Let the Devil Ride,” co-produced by Billy Maddox and Colin Linden, likewise fall into that same comfort zone.

“We’re bringing Paul’s fans under the tent at a revival,” says Maddox, who likewise grew up listening to black gospel. “A lot of emotion goes on in those places, with people being saved while the band’s playing behind them.”

The exuberance of the music, says Thorn, evokes the warm-hearted nature of these social gatherings. “The first track, ‘Come On Let’s Go,’ it’s talking about going to church—that I can’t wait to see you, and see you how you’ve you been doing,” says Thorn.

Few of the songs here are well known. Maddox found most of them while digging through releases from small gospel labels in Mississippi and Alabama. “We just picked things that had a great pocket,” he says. “One person described the feel as ‘gospel lyrics set to stripper music’ and that’s pretty close. The songs are slinky and greasy and right in Paul’s wheelhouse.”

The most familiar track here is no doubt Thorn’s relaxed tempo version of the O’Jays “Love Train,” a song whose feel-good qualities readily adapt to a gospel setting. The Mighty Clouds of Joy, whose records Thorn listened to as a teen, made it a staple of their live performances.

The other songs stretch back much farther, but their themes – of redemption, taking stock of one’s life, and resilience in the face of troubles – are universal, making them readily adaptable to the fresh takes here. Nashville’s McCrary Sisters, for instance, lend a buoyant feel to “You Got to Move,” a northeast Mississippi standard, best known through a solemn, slide guitar take by Mississippi Fred McDowell.

The sisters’ father was a founder of the Fairfield Four, a capella gospel singers whose live radio broadcasts on CBS in the ‘40s and ‘50s were extremely influential. Fellow guest artists the Blind Boys of Alabama, founded in 1944, were founders of the “hard gospel” quartet style that dominated the era from which many of the songs on this record where drawn. Also joining Thorn on vocals is Texas-born Bonnie Bishop, who attributes her soulful singing style to spending her formative years in Mississippi.

Both Maddox and Thorn were longtime friends with Hall and the Phillips family, and Maddox says that recording in Memphis and Muscle Shoals was a natural extension of the whole process, and the only proper way to honor this particular body of work. “We were returning to the Motherland.”

Rick Hall died in January of 2018, making the whole experience that much more poignant for Thorn and co-producer Maddox.

“The last time I saw Rick he came into the FAME studio to say hello,” Maddox recalls. “We invited him to sit down and listen to the playback of a track we’d just finished. He closed his eyes and leaned over the console as the music played.

“About halfway through the tune he turned the monitors down, looked me right in the eye and said, ‘What have you done?’ I asked him what he meant. Then he got this big grin on his face and said, ‘Well, that sounds just like me.’ That moment validated everything about this record for me and Paul.”

Steve Poltz

Steve Poltz

Steve Poltz is not normal.

He was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada) but has lived most of his life in Southern California and those geographic poles are quite likely responsible for his unhinged genius. He is a dual citizen – Canada/USA – but has often said that, ‘should a hostage situation arise, I become conveniently Canadian.’

Over the course of his life he’s met Elvis Presley (who hugged his sister for far too long), trick or treated at Liberace’s house (each finger had a diamond ring), was Bob Hope’s favourite altar boy (according to him), bravely traveled the world busking before he knew how to do it, famously co-wrote “You Were Meant For Me” with Jewel, pissed off David Cassidy and can count some of the world’s coolest people as fans.

He’s also an ex high school wrestler (98 pound class), an obsessed baseball fan, a yoga practitioner, a hopeless romantic, a smart-ass philosopher and a child-like adventurer/observer with an absurdist’s view of this crazy world and the various life-forms that inhabit it. He’s interested in it all – the big and the small, the sublime and the ridiculous, the terrestrial and the cosmic. He doesn’t just love life, he rides it bareback, naked, at a full gallop with one hand clenched deep in its mane and the other waving to anyone watching as he flies by. Time is ticking and he has work to do…

As a recording artist, he’s fronted the semi-legendary Rugburns and is responsible for a critically lauded body of work on his own: One Left Shoe, Chinese
Vacation, Answering Machine, The Barn (a children’s album), Tales From The Tavern (a performance DVD), Traveling, Unraveling, Dreamhouse, Noineen Noiny Noin and most recently the soundtrack for the acclaimed Sundance-screened documentary film, Running Wild – The Life of Dayton O. Hyde.

As good as his albums are (and they’re very, very good), Steve positively owns a crowd when he’s on stage, where the proverbial rubber hits the road. His shows are the stuff of legend – no two are alike – and can take an unsuspecting audience from laughter to tears and back again in the space of a single song. He is a master of improvisational songwriting and works without a set list to be free to react instantly to the mood of a room. It’s also worth mentioning that he is an astonishing guitar player on top of everything else. He is quite possibly the most talented, and engaging, solo performer on this planet. That’s what 250+ shows a year on three continents will do for you.

Whether he’s Canadian, or American, or simply from space there’s no denying there’s only one Steven Joseph Joshua Poltz and to know him is to love him.

May
31
Fri
ANTHONY GOMES
May 31 @ 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm

The Toronto singer/songwriter/guitarist, Anthony Gomes, is propelling blues rock into the contemporary music culture with his unapologetic approach to reinventing the genre in relevant and fresh ways. “The blues is old, but not tired” said Anthony, adding: “It speaks as truthfully today, and for this generation, as it ever has.” Blues Music Magazine writes that, “the formidable guitar chops and authentic singing place him in the forefront of modern blues.” This, along with his high-energy shows and dynamic stage presence, make him one of the top draws on the Rock/Blues circuit today. And the facts speak for themselves. Gomes has performed in 17 countries and has shared the stage with B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Robert Plant, Joe Bonamassa, Heart, Jonny Lang, Sammy Hagar, 38 Special, Robert Cray and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.

EVENT DETAILS:

  • When: Friday, May 31
  • Time: 7:00pm – 10:00pm
  • Location: River Jam Stage
  • Cost: Free and open to the public
  • Weather: Events are scheduled to proceed rain or shine.  In the event of severe weather, the USNWC reserves the right to reschedule/cancel live music performances.
Jun
20
Thu
Thursdays Live music series
Jun 20 @ 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

You’re invited to Thursdays Live – free live music, cold beer, food from Hawthorne’s NY Pizza and refreshments from 6 until 8pm. It’s happening all summer, the 3rd Thursday of each month. Come hang out with your MoRA neighbors! At the new Embrace sculpture, located at the intersection of Monroe Rd and Conference Dr.  Here’s a short video from last year:  https://youtu.be/n_kkmLDi2zc

Jul
4
Thu
NORTH MISSISSIPPI ALLSTARS – FOURTH OF JULY CELEBRATION
Jul 4 @ 8:00 pm – 10:00 pm

North Mississippi Allstars are back with PRAYER FOR PEACE and couldn’t we all use one of those right about now? Founded in 1996 by brothers Luther (guitar and vocals) and Cody Dickinson (drums, piano, synth bass, programming and vocals), the now venerable band are entering their third decade with perhaps the most vital album of their career. Recorded in studios across America during North Mississippi Allstars’ 2016 tour, PRAYER FOR PEACE sees the Dickinsons weaving their bred-to-the-bone musical sensibility with unstoppable energy, rhythmic reinvention, and a potent message of positivity, family, and hope. As ever, songs like R.L. Burnside’s “Long Haired Doney” and the impassioned title track pay homage to the country blues legacy while simultaneously pushing it into contemporary relevance with fatback funk, electronic innovation, slippery soul, and pure unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll.

Enjoy North Mississippi Allstars during the Fourth of July Celebration.

EVENT DETAILS:

  • When: Fourth of July Celebration (July 4)
  • Time: 8:00pm – 10:00pm
  • Location: River Jam Stage
  • Cost: Free and open to the public
  • Weather: Events are scheduled to proceed rain or shine.  In the event of severe weather, the USNWC reserves the right to reschedule/cancel live music performances.
Jul
18
Thu
Thursdays Live music series
Jul 18 @ 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

You’re invited to Thursdays Live – free live music, cold beer, food from Hawthorne’s NY Pizza and refreshments from 6 until 8pm. It’s happening all summer, the 3rd Thursday of each month. Come hang out with your MoRA neighbors! At the new Embrace sculpture, located at the intersection of Monroe Rd and Conference Dr.  Here’s a short video from last year:  https://youtu.be/n_kkmLDi2zc

Aug
15
Thu
Thursdays Live music series
Aug 15 @ 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

You’re invited to Thursdays Live – free live music, cold beer, food from Hawthorne’s NY Pizza and refreshments from 6 until 8pm. It’s happening all summer, the 3rd Thursday of each month. Come hang out with your MoRA neighbors! At the new Embrace sculpture, located at the intersection of Monroe Rd and Conference Dr.  Here’s a short video from last year:  https://youtu.be/n_kkmLDi2zc

Sep
19
Thu
Thursdays Live music series
Sep 19 @ 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

You’re invited to Thursdays Live – free live music, cold beer, food from Hawthorne’s NY Pizza and refreshments from 6 until 8pm. It’s happening all summer, the 3rd Thursday of each month. Come hang out with your MoRA neighbors! At the new Embrace sculpture, located at the intersection of Monroe Rd and Conference Dr.  Here’s a short video from last year:  https://youtu.be/n_kkmLDi2zc