Episode #13 – Jan. 22, 2014

bakerlondonEpisode thirteen features tracks from La Crosse’s Ska & Reggae veterans T.U.G.G., energetic Twin Cities pop-rock quintet Joey Ryan & The Inks, Rochester/Winona experimental rock trio Grey Matter Black, and MN folk/blues institution Papa John Kolstad, as well as a set of related tunes by nomadic mad-cap rock legends Baker London, avant-jazz act Matty Harris Quartet, and Rochester blues prodigy Trent Romens (featuring Johnny Becker).

I was introduced to the fantastic music of Baker London during my time living in Decorah. Formed in 2005 in Chicago, members live in LA, Minneapolis, and Olympia WA, but have deep roots in Decorah and return to visit or perform somewhat regularly (I caught two live performances during my time there). Baker London blends rock, ska, country, and folk to create a sound that is both familiar and strikingly original. Founding member, songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Trevor Grimm tragically passed away in 2007.

The remaining members have re-worked, re-arranged and re-recorded several of Grimm’s compositions over the course of creating their 9+ album discography. “Mannequin Factory” is one such example; originally appearing on their first album in 2006 with Grimm on vocals (click here for that version). The version featured in this episode is from 2010 and is a much refined and fuller realization of Grimm’s unique vision. 

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Episode #12 – Jan. 15, 2014

a1367988571_10All Lights Off Radio has got the blues! Episode number 12 features music from folk-blues legend Spider John Koerner, Decorah’s prolific performer Joe Price, Chicago’s Bentonia-style bluesman Mississippi Gabe Carter, and roots stompers Steve Kaul & The Brass Kings. For good measure, I also threw in some Winona tracks from looping instrumentalist Bo.Monro, pop-rock jam band The Weathered Heads, and SMUMN math-rockers The Cobbs.

Bo.Monro is the musical project of Mid West Music Fest founder Sam Brown. He released his debut Bo.Monro album (featuring tracks crafted over as many as six years) in the spring of 2013 and sat down with reporter Sarah Squires of the Winona Post to chat about it in this lovely piece: “Brown releases first studio album

from the Winona Post:

Local legend Steve Kukowski is featured on the washboard, shaker, and hand drum, providing a steady beat for the smooth melodies of Brown’s guitar work. The rhythmically-looped tracks build into complex arrangements that pull listeners into a story woven into each of the eight songs.

“I call it progressive, instrumental rock,” said Brown of the style he’s developed since he first picked up the guitar at 16. “Progressive because it builds on itself. It starts with one simple riff, and by the end, it’s a wall of sound.”

Over the years, Brown’s musical style has evolved. These days he improvises on the guitar frequently, playing tunes that he’ll never play the same way again. He doesn’t write down his songs; instead, they become part of him. “As far as the song-writing process goes — I don’t really have one,” he explained. “It kind of happens organically.”

Brown uses a looping pedal when he plays, weaving musical loops together and building a full, intricate sound. When he recorded the new album at Ghost In My House Studio in Onalaska, he had to dissect those looped layers for the first time.

The album cover features an etching that Brown created in a print-making class at Winona State University — the scene at Third and Franklin streets that the album was named for. Brown said the album title and cover pay homage to Ed Hoffman, owner of Ed’s No Name Bar, where Brown has collaborated and become an integral part of the local music scene. “I decided to call it Third and Franklin because it’s been a really important intersection for my development as an artist, kind of coming into my own,” he explained. After living in Oregon for six years, “to come back and participate and play in the scene of my home state meant a lot to me.”

Without lyrics, the songs are steeped in opportunities for reflection, the kind of music that can open a mind, that can pull cars across states as drivers are submerged in meditation to melody. Brown hopes that his music will lift spirits and send listeners running to start their own masterpieces. “Hopefully, they’re inspired to create something of their own, because there’s some kind of energy you get from creating music and art,” he explained. “I think it’s a really positive thing that I hope people are willing to explore.”

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Episode #11 – Jan. 8, 2014

a1216837430_2I kick off 2014 by looking back at the in-studio performances I recorded during my tenure as GM at 89.1 KPVL Community Radio. This episode features original recordings of music by indie-blues maestros General B & The Wiz, inspired Twin Cities shoe-gazers Brilliant Beast, NW Iowa’s premier social justice folk-rock act Andy Juhl & The Bluestem Players, Decorah’s transformational songstress Michelle Lynn, Stillwater retro-rock revivalists Ruben, angelic-voiced heart-on-his-sleeve singer-songwriter Jacob Grippen, and quirky Minneapolis soul and blues singer Clare Lockman.

296574_2447615427064_1707731468_nHaving independent musicians stop by the studio for performances and interviews was one of the more rewarding aspects of my job at KPVL. All of the performances featured here are tied to fond memories. Ms. Lockman’s visit in August of 2010 is the earliest, while General B & The Wiz’s in-studio in April of 2012 is the most recent. Andy Juhl & The Bluestem players made the journey from Spencer, IA twice. Their song featured in this episode is from their 2nd stop to Decorah and, in my opinion, is one of the better sounding / recorded performances I captured.

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Episode #10 – Dec. 18, 2013

kendlAll Lights Off Radio’s last episode of 2013 kicks off with brand new music from Winona’s favorite traveling banjo-pluckin’ songstress Kendl Winter, before moving onto cuts from jazzy folk-rock teen phenoms Bomba de Luz, Winona punk rockers Rogue the Wolf, MPLS ska & early reggae champions The Prizefighters, Winona pianist & songwriter Amanda Grace, bluegrass-without-boundaries collective The May North, and veteran Twin Cities songsmiths The Twilight Hours.

All Lights Off will not be produced over the holidays. The show will debut in 2014 on January 8th.

While Ms. Winter is not based within a 300 mile radius of Winona, her frequent & regular tour stops in Winona & the region make her alternative Americana music a welcome addition to the program. Her new album, It Can Be Done! (K Records), shows much growth from a songwriting and arrangement standpoint. “Rocking Chair” is a sparse, yet infectious song that exemplifies this evolution perfectly. Other standouts on the record for me we’re: “Black Hole”, with its full-band and Nashville-like studio sound, and a remix of “Rocking Chair” (a hidden track), that almost eclipses the original’s infectiousness — simultaneously sounding both modern and rootsy.

K describes the album’s title on its website as:

“…convey[ing] the spirit Kendl has been working from this past year, the very idea that she can choose to live her life outside of cultural expectations and guidelines, even when it’s difficult, even when it’s terrifying. That it is, in fact, possible to manifest the life of your dreams.  It can be done!

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Episode #9 – Dec. 11, 2013

4fc66972c7876.preview-620A pair of anti-frac sand tunes — one earnest and one clever — from Winona acts Coconut & The Duke and Corey Koehler start off the ninth episode with a delightful conservationist kick. Music is also featured from cajun country crooner Kevin Anthony & The Twin City Playboys, earnest two-step indie folkers Very Small Animal, MPLS quirk-pop duo Bella Ruse, Mankato’s atmospheric folk rockers Good Night, Gold Dust, Winona’s roots music institution Beet Root Stew, and the rhyme spitting conscience of La Crosse Hyphon.

The frac sand songs were written and recorded as part of a “sand song contest” for the documentary film “The Price of Sand” by Jim Tittle. The filmmaker’s stated goal is to “find the real price of frac sand.  Not just in dollars, but in friendships, communities and the future of our region.” More on film and frac sand mining in SE MN and SW WI here: http://thepriceofsand.com.

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Episode #8 – Dec. 4, 2013

Episode 8 showcases music from the brand new John Paulson Big Band Project recording, in addition to cuts from 70’s Chicago Old Town folk scene luminary (& current Decorah resident) Bonnie Koloc, prolific odd-ball Winonan Mista Clue, Rochester’s mad-cap genius Hound (Eric VanKirk), Red House Records artists The Pines, Winona’s own crooner extraordinaire Jacob Grippen, and Twin Cities songsmith Jeremy Messersmith.

The John Paulson Big Band Project
Liner Notes by John C. Paulson  December 2013

The goal of this project was to perform and record a set of big band jazz charts I began writing nearly 30 years ago. In 2011, I was successful in acquiring a McKnight Individual Artist grant thru the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council to help make this happen. First of all I had to do extensive rewriting and finishing work on each existing chart since many of the necessary details had not been completed.  In the process I came up with some new charts along the way.

While I was completing all of the writing tasks, I started work on lining up the best area musicians I could find for each spot in the band as well as investigating some of the top soloists in the Midwest.  This led me to utilizing the talents of Twin Cities artists Adam Meckler, (trumpet and flugelhorn); Scott Agster, (trombone) and guitarist Scott Gerry (a former student of mine).  The grant provided for an extensive afternoon rehearsal followed by a public concert at the Winona Art Center November 17, 2012.  Plans were also to include recording the event. Although the venue was rather small for the project, it ended up working very well and the artwork in place made a great setting.  Unfortunately, we had to turn people away but those who got a seat were very enthusiastic about the music and the soloists that evening.

What was to be only a single concert ended up to be three concerts in the next few months and what wasn’t recorded “live” was completed in a single session at Saint Mary’s U. in May of 2013. I hope you’ll enjoy the energy and spirit we’ve captured on these recordings.  For more information on this and other projects, please visit my website at paulsonjazz.com. Thanks for listening!

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Episode #7 – Nov. 27, 2013

Episode 7 features brand new music from Winona blues-rockers Shoe Shop and Stillwater’s retro rock revivalists Ruben, in addition to top-notch tunes from Winona-based female-fronted indie-pop act Riflebird, Winona’s country-folk traditionalists The Beef Slough Boys, Duluth slow-core giants Low, Red Wing’s extremely promising young indie-rockers Seb’s Medicine, and former Rearview Mirror members’ odd-ball experimental studio collaboration Objective Subject.

Objective Subject is a musical collaboration between multi-instrumentalist Matt Olson and vocalist Adam Ptacek. Both men came of age together in a band called Rearview Mirror that, in the early years of this past decade, recorded an album with Grammy-award winning producer Steve Lillywhite and toured the nation with the likes of Days of the New and Live.

Olson and Ptacek were the creative core of RVM and the Objective Subject is a sonic experiment that builds upon the sound and chemistry they both spent years establishing. The Objective Subject’s unique style ties together synths, loops, recording tricks, and a diverse palette of guitar sounds with contemplative lyrics and songwriting skills that only come from experience.

Ptacek composes melodies & harmonies fit for an orchestra. Of course it is his vocal precision & execution–which is on-par with the professionals that play in orchestras–that bring his ideas life and allow the duo’s songs to flourish like some sort of intensely aware audio-ecstasy.

Their special chemistry is even more profound with one realizes that, for many of their songs, Olson writes, performs, and records the accompaniment–in its entirety–before Ptacek has a chance to hear it. His technical expertise sets up Ptacek’s melodic prowess by balancing engaging guitar work and sonic-filler with harmonic space and open-ended, non-linear song structures. Objective or subjective perception aside, the result is indeed magic.

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Episode #6 – Nov. 21, 2013

a1721952170_10An epic 6-minute jam from Jake Ilika’s alt-country four-piece The Heavy Set leads off this week’s show (recorded a day late, because of the River North Dance Chicago performance in Winona), followed by another four-piece with Winona roots: teenage alt-pop act Driftwood Bones. Music from electro-rock favorites Apollo Cobra (a band “bigger than the Beatles” in Winona) is also squeezed in before a 3 song set of psychedelic music from the Twin Cities, featuring tracks from First Communion Afterparty, Fire in the Northern Firs, and Is/Is.

The Heavy Set track is from an EP currently used for promotional purposes, but which is in the post-production process with plans for a formal release as a split record with Jake’s solo material very soon. It’s been a joy to discover Jake and watch the development of the Heavy Set happen over the course of the past year through his weekly Wednesday night residency at Ed’s no name Bar. Look for more on The Heavy Set and a reflection on Jake’s musical residency in the near future.

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Episode #5 – Nov. 13, 2013

Lie Until You Prove ItMusic from Winona-raised, Twin Cities-based accordionista & chanteuse Simone Perrin gets episode #5 rolling before transitioning to a three-song set of chamber pop from musical prodigy John Mark Nelson, orchestral indie-rockers We Are the Willows, and crooner extraordinaire Chris Koza. The show concludes with some heavier riffage from indie-blues adventurers General B & the Wiz,  Winona’s mostly-female alt-rockers The Ultrasounds, and legendary Wino PunX resisters Straight to Your Brain.

The track from General B and The Wiz is off their brand new EP “Lie Until You Prove It” which was recorded and produced by Ben Durrant at Crazy Beast Studios in NE Minneapolis. Durrant has also worked on records by Andrew Bird, Martin Dosh, and Roma di Luna. The formal studio setting & process really paid off, as this is their best recorded work so far. Their stellar songwriting and performance abilities are only amplified by the high-quality recording. The title track  in particular (an epic 8-minute prog-rock opus) is exceptional and will certainly be featured in a future episode of the show.

In my opinion, the band has been writing great songs and performing mind-bending live shows since their incarnation. Their previous self-recorded releases simply did not do their considerable talents and strengths justice. Bottom line: General B and the Wiz is a really good band and their accomplishment with “Lie Until You Prove It” is that they now have a polished audio document to…well…prove it.

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Episode #4 – Nov. 6, 2013

beardeyeI lead off this episode by taking advantage of the chance to play the show’s theme music by Mike Munson from start to finish. Mike has finally released his debut full-length album and this show features two cuts from it, in addition to music from Duluth legend Charlie Parr, recent Decorah transplant Namoli Brennet, La Crosse singer-songwriter Joshua Franke, and La Crosse/Winona power-trio Click Track.

Mike Munson is a blues institution in Winona. Being such a staple for independent music in the area, I couldn’t resist the desire to make his song “Over Now” the intro and outro music for this radio show. He holds down a regular Sunday evening residency at Ed’s (no name) Bar, in addition to a steady diet of regular performances in Winona, the Twin Cities, and the greater Driftless Region. For all his accomplishments, The Munce had yet to release a proper studio album — until now. His patience certainly payed off as both the songwriting and recording quality are top-notch all the way through the album. The photo above is from his CD release show 11-9-13 at Ed’s (no name) Bar featuring guest musician Mikel Beckman (who also performed that night with Corpse Reviver). Congrats Mike!

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