The 1970s weren’t so different from what we have today. Sure, technology has changed dramatically and we text like robots instead of communicating like human beings, but girls are still wearing high-heeled Candies and belly shirts (thank god) and vinyl records are more popular than ever. The 1970s were also high times for musical groups such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, Neil Young and The Outlaws. And even though all of us kids lived in New Jersey, we were hybrid “country rock” converts, partying loudly at backwoods bonfires that featured the music of Poco, Pure Prairie League and The Charlie Daniels Band.
The Sunday Blues are a New Jersey group that embodies that golden age of music. With their knowledge and love of tradition, they approach their music like an organic gardener. Their simple four-piece foundation grows bluesy, country-tinged rock in hot house fashion with influences that range from Fleetwood Mac to Neil Young’s Crazy Horse.
The band ran through Sunday Blues standards such as the ballroom metered swing of “Miranda.” Acoustic guitarist and vocalist Lindsey Miller stepped in to take the lead here, blending Christine McVie styled vocals with soft stroked rhythms while Keith McCarthy stalked the stage, darting in for jagged electric guitar shots a la Nils Lofgren.
“The Overthrow” is a Commander Cody-meets-Creedence Clearwater Revival honky tonk hand clapper that bounces under the influence of McCarthy’s Telecaster snapped riffs and Clelland’s two-step hillbilly bass jamborees, putting this tune smack in the middle of any Saturday night barn dance.
The Eagles vibe of “Tinted Windows” is probably my favorite song from the band. Miller’s vocal is very much at home in this register and supports McCarthy’s raspy voice quite nicely. Rolling acoustic and electric guitars mingle and push this mid tempo number into cool water bridges and choruses. Bassist Andrew Clelland and drum king Kevin J. McMahon, Jr. hold down the bottom end well.
Keith McCarthy is a guy who has paid much attention when it comes to copping his idol’s guitar styles, blending the melodic structure of Lindsey Buckingham with the edgy energy of Steve Jones. Whether he’s on or off, it’s always something to watch this good-natured picker thrash about the stage lost in the act of performance.
This is light, good time fair from a group that proves you don’t have to be the biggest name on the bill to make a good impression. The band is working on their untitled debut, and I feel that if they can capture the charm and vitality they possess as a live band on CD, they’ll have a great future ahead of them. Catch The Sunday Blues at The Seaside Music festival on May 21 over at Klee’s Bar.
Double Breasted — Who Will Love You?
The first thing that struck me about this trio was the name. I thought they might be a cover band as they have two girls in the group and an obvious moniker. You know, that old chestnut. Turns out what really got me were the cool combination of drums, cello and harp. Not a harmonica player blowing up behind some guitar player mind you, but a full-blown 6-foot, 46-string harp. Something I’ve never seen used as a lead instrument in a rock band before. No standard stringed instruments were anywhere onstage and as odd as it is, it seems it works perfectly.
Watching Kristy Chmura (harp, vocals) emitting wild guitar and piano styled sounds from that harp along with drummer Josh Bicknell and cellist Ardith Collins immediately puts a smile on your face. The group is a talented bunch of players (all have a Bachelor’s in music) and their compositional skill is savvy enough for any major label smart enough to sign them. I saw them play last month at The Cape May Singer Songwriter Conference and was blown away enough to ask for a copy of their latest CD titled, Who Will Love You?
Up-tempo cuts like “Waiting” demonstrate clever chameleon use of their small ensemble, surfacing under the guise of several instruments and melding it all into great big cascading choruses. Ethereal vocals glide over the triplet madness of cello and drum hits as harp glimmers in looped perfection.
The alt-beat of “You Never Said Goodbye” rings back to musical settings from the land of Renaissance-meets-Blondie. Chmura’s vocals are clear and high-toned, making way for sparse, echo plucked notes. This is a band that chooses wisely when it comes to sounds. It would be easy to do the same sounds to death, but they manage to avoid the pitfalls well, bringing in warm, guitar toned cellos underneath thick drum rolls.
“Can’t Say Why” has many possibilities for commercial exposure while retaining a mysterious Joni Mitchell meets Tori Amos vibe. The ultra stark feel of the drums and harp allows cello to glide through, bending to the vocal harmonies of all three players. I should point out that they do everything live as it’s done on disc.
“Autumn Leaves” spins appetizing in its dusky quality. The chordal voicings of harp and plucked string cello lay well inside the percussion work of Bicknell, who keeps this gem in check before allowing it out of the gate in a music box styled ballad filled with dynamic breaks and imagery.
Double Breasted is one of New Jersey’s most original groups out there today. While they may not be a mainstream hit yet, their fresh presentation and catchy compositions should be the formulas that pushed them quickly into the major label scenario. Highly recommended.
Harpin’ Help @ Bar Anticipation, Live, April 11
Harpin’ Help had a great turn out thanks to the efforts of rock and rollers such as Joe Harvard, Keith Monacchio, Billy Hector, Sonny Kenn, Matt O’Ree, Christine Martucci, Eryn Shewell and several others. The show helped raise funds for the Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation as well as the Lunch Break of Red Bank. Event host Sandy Mack proved that not only could he blow a mean harp; he can also do a top shelf job of event planning, rounding up the wild bunch and laying out talent all day long.
Great food and awesome spring weather had folks that don’t normally stand around in the sunshine all out and congregating merrily. Sunglasses and ice-cold beer went hand in hand as they music kept going. Entertainers pictured in this column such as Billy Hector, Sonny Kenn, Matt O’Ree, and Jeff Cafone, Matt Wade, Eric Safka, Sim Cain & Dan Mulvey squared off against Sandy Mack, Mikey Jr, Stringbean and Ryan Hartt in the great harmonica/guitar Smackdown.
As the day grew to a close, I was sitting up in the crow’s nest with Joe Harvard and Keith Monacchio observing as they watched Sonny Kenn and crew pull out some outrageous rock and roll riffage during the Smackdown. The two spoke nervously of having to follow those guys (I could totally relate) with a couple of acoustic guitars, which led to great comedy if you know those two. Like everyone else, they pulled off a great set and that’s what I expected. It’s all about good fun and support for our fellow musicians and musical causes.