Wisconsin Sound #8

DEAD HORSES ON THE ROAD

At the end of September the Oshkosh-born/Milwaukee-based acoustic folk band Dead Horses released their new album Cartoon Moon. The beautiful and thoughtful 10-track project was recorded at Cartoon Moon Studios in Nashville with former Wilco and Uncle Tupelo drummer Ken Coomer. Last month they hit the road on a 10-state, 14-date tour in support of Mandolin Orange. I spoke with lead singer Sarah Vos during the band’s day off in Charleston, South Carolina.

Dead Horses
Dead Horses

VOS
We are going to go to the beach and see the ocean today. I haven’t seen the Atlantic for quite some time so I’m pretty excited.

WiG
How has the road been?

VOS
It’s awesome because we’re playing all these new cities and they’re pretty nice rooms, and really, really receptive crowds. So it’s been a blast.

WiG
How was it returning to Nashville where the new album was recorded?

VOS
There was a cool coming around with that it being almost exactly a year later. It was really fun. Our producer Ken Coomer came out to the show with his wife and his son and we got to hang out with him backstage. It felt very special. I’m a big fan of Nashville. It’s going to be a main stop for us for touring in the future. We’ve started to make friends down there.

WiG
It was a good show?

VOS
It was a great show, one of our best in Nashville. We’ve done the Americana Music Festival in Nashville, so that was pretty cool. We got to play at The Station Inn,  which is kind of a historic bluegrass venue.  To do that as part of the festival was really neat. You have all these dreams and goals, as soon as you reach one goal you kind of got your eye on the next one and you never quite make it to the horizon. But I always try to remind the guys in the band that we should be celebrating because we are very blessed.

WiG
I read that Cartoon Moon is the record that you really want people to hear. What sets it apart and what makes it so special for you?

VOS
I think it’s a patient record. It shows how we have matured through the years. I feel that it’s crafted a lot more, it’s more deliberate than other things we’ve done. That’s something that I want to continue to do as we keep making records. Because you know in the industry they talk about how bands don’t make as much money from records anymore.

But when I look at the way music has affected me and the reasons that I even wanted to be a musician, it was growing up and listening to records. To this day I’m always searching for new things to listen to and I love that. Recording it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. I love having this very focused project that was collaboration between the members of the band and the producer and the sound engineer.  

WiG
Have you been writing new songs while you’ve been on tour or performing any new material?

Dead Horses live at Anodyne Coffee. [PHOTO - DeWook Photography]
Dead Horses live at Anodyne Coffee. [PHOTO – DeWook Photography]
VOS
Usually when I write it’s pretty private, at least when I start the songs. But at the Nashville show I was very inspired by all the things that we’ve seen touring and the people we’ve met. Traveling right now across the country during such a crazy time in politics and things that are happening in the country, I’ve been telling the audiences at every show that I think regardless of where you stand, a lot of people feel pretty disheartened by the state of things. But we’ve been meeting such compassionate and wonderful people everywhere. So I’ve been trying to remind people at all the shows that it’s going to be ok. Don’t lose hope because things are going to work out.

But yeah, I always write a lot, I journal a lot, and a lot of times I just write down little snippets of things. Or even just word combinations that strike my fancy. As far as actual songs I’m not sure exactly how the new record that we’re beginning to dream up is going to go, but I just feel very confident that everything that we need is already there. I can’t wait to make another one.

Click here to listen to Dead Horses on WUWM.

B-FREE’S NEW ALBUM & POWERFUL PERFORMANCES

In the fall of 2004 I saw Jill Scott in concert at the Chicago Theatre. That performance remains the most emotionally resonant live music experience of my life. The songstress regaled us with poignant stories in between beautiful songs performed with a full band and mini orchestra. My friend and I were brought to tears and compelled to call our loved ones immediately after the show.

'Ode 2 a Luv Affair' artwork
‘Ode 2 a Luv Affair’ artwork

Listening to the latest record by Milwaukee R&B singer B~Free (Britney Farr-Freeman) reminds me of that autumn night in Chicago. Ode 2 A Luv Affair is B-Free’s second studio album. It takes listeners on a journey through the trials and tribulations of love. The recording process was challenging for a couple of reasons. Freeman, who also works as an educator, contracted a throat illness from one of her students that required surgery.

“It was difficult for me to allow myself to be as comfortable in that space as I once was. There were a lot of moments of rawness and vulnerability that I wasn’t quite ready to deal with. For example, when I was recording ‘The Vow’ I was pretty much crying the whole time,” Freeman tells me.

I first saw B~Free at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn last year when she shared a bill with Klassik, who was being backed by Foreign Goods. Freeman is now a member of Foreign Goods, which she credits with allowing her to be more comfortable collaborating and playing in front of larger audiences. Last week she was joined by her bandmates at Turner Hall to see Esperanza Spalding, an experience as affecting for her as the Jill Scott concert was for me in 2004.

B-Free [PHOTO - Mahdi Gransberry]
B-Free [PHOTO – Mahdi Gransberry]
“It was absolutely phenomenal,” says Freeman. “I was so inspired and moved emotionally and musically. It made me sincerely question my own existence. It was so deep without even trying to be. She conveys such a strong message about finding your own path and putting everything that you’ve been taught or forced to believe to the wayside. That’s always something that I’ve been aiming towards in my own life and artistry. I want to be able to wield that same power with whatever I put out into the world.”

The response to Ode 2 A Luv Affair has been positive, albeit a few detailed critiques on the album’s iTunes page. She is in the early stages of developing her next record, but before that she will go into the studio with Foreign Goods to record their first album this winter.

“It’s our goal to have it be a project that highlights everyone’s talents. There will definitely be some rap on there, some jazz, some harmonies, vocals, R&B, just a mixture of everything that we do. So we’re excited and we’re gearing up for the process,” says Freeman.

Tonight you can see B~Free with Foreign Goods for free at Club Garibaldi for a live broadcast of 91.7 WMSE’s Local/Live. Erin Wolf and Cal Roach will talk to B~Free and take audience questions in between a live performance. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the segment runs from 6 to 7 p.m. If you can’t make the show you can tune in at 91.7FM or go online wmse.org.

THE JAZZ ESTATE REOPENS BETTER THAN EVER

Unbeknownst to many Wisconsin music fans, Milwaukee has a storied jazz history. The scene has gone through its ups and downs and is currently experiencing a resurgence. One of those reasons was the temporary closing of the Jazz Estate.

Jazz Estate exterior
Jazz Estate exterior

The historic East Side haunt became the focal point of the Milwaukee jazz scene in the 2000s. When it closed its doors last year a few venues began hosting live jazz. After much anticipation and a few delays, the Estate officially reopens tonight.

In November 2015 the Jazz Estate was sold to John Dye, owner and operator of Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge since 2008. I spoke with Dye at his acclaimed South Side lounge while they were hosting a Jazz Estate cocktail preview.

“It’s always been one of the places in Milwaukee that I’ve been interested in, but they approached me,” says Dye of his new business venture.

“We’re going to do some really nice versions of classic cocktails from the ‘70s and ‘80s, ones that nobody really touches. They’re good drinks, but they’re just a little uninspired,” says Dye. You might say he’s done the same thing with the Estate.

Opened in 1977, the building fell into disrepair over the years. The Estate’s reopening was originally slated for July, but more renovations were required than anticipated. Given his dedication to preserving history, Dye took his time to do it right. Last week I attended the club’s soft opening and I’m happy to report he’s done just that.

Jazz Estate interior
Jazz Estate interior

As soon as I walked into the Estate there was a “new club smell.” It’s as if Dye’s team polished every inch of the club and then added a few of their own flourishes, like the tin ceiling in the front room and the house drum kit. The vintage looking lights and register give the bar a Bryant’s vibe. The seating and sightlines in the back area are improved as well. And the acoustics are excellent.

The Jazz Estate will feature live music on Thursdays and Saturdays from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., with cover ranging from $5 to $12 in the first month. There is no cover for the grand opening Thursday night. DJs and pre-recorded old school soul and jazz will play the other nights at the Estate, which is better than ever.Click here for more information and to view their calendar.

SOUL LOW COVERS FEMMES, NEW RIO TURBO & UPCOMING DANCE PARTY

Soul Low at Cactus Club
Soul Low at Cactus Club

In my second feature for WiG I wrote about the young Milwaukee pop rockers of Soul Low. The success of their debut record (Uneasy) and acclaim for their latest effort (Nosebleeds) has put them in an exclusive category of Wisconsin music, alongside only a few other bands. One of those is The Violent Femmes. With lead singer Jake Balistreri’s quivering falsetto so similar to the Femme’s Gordon Gano, it was just a matter of time before the Soul Low boys paid homage to their Milwaukee music ancestors by covering “Blister in the Sun,” the Femmes’ biggest hit. I had heard the song was in Soul Low’s repertoire, but hadn’t experienced it live until last Friday night at Cactus Club. It was Night One of Gloss Records’ Halloween Spooktacular. Soul Low — half of whom were dressed as Power Rangers — closed their set with the rollicking, fine-tuned cover.

161027_vddp_posterPerforming right before Soul Low at Cactus Club  was Rio Turbo, Milwaukee’s premier trash pop dance party. Joey Turbo  dressed in neon orange hunter regalia — and his Turbette dancers debuted three new songs to kick off their set. “No He Can’t” is an instant hit, with a driving beat that my feet couldn’t deny. “Ballad” is a trippy, airy track that made me think of The Flaming Lips, with Turbo sounding a bit like Wayne Coyne. Rio Turbo also debuted their sick new neon sign, which sat on the table in front of DJ SPACE BAR, the latest edition to the Turbo lineup.

Also on Friday I announced the Beyonce + Jay Z vs. Rihanna + Drake dance party at Company Brewing on Saturday, November 26. I’m producing this event with my girlfriend and visual artist Kristina Rolander, which Rio Turbo will be making a special appearance at. The event also includes an all-star lineup of DJs (Bizzon, Annalog, Optimist, Turtle Sooup), host Lex Allen, cocktail specials and an original photo backdrop by Kristina.  Click here for more information and to RSVP.

NEW MUSIC FROM WEBSTERX, BO TRIPLEX & HIS BEAUTIFUL BAND, AUTOMATIC

Artwork by Janice Vogt
Artwork by Janice Vogt

Experimental hip-hop artist WebsterX has released his first song of the year, “Blue Streak.” Since putting out his debut project Desperate Youth in 2013, the most high profile member of the New Age Narcissism collective released some major “loosies” (singles not attached to a larger project) with 2014’s “doomsday (feat. siren),” 2015’s “Lately” and “Kinfolk (feat. Allan Kingdom).” Not to mention, last fall’s excellent 3-track, Radiohead-inspired collaboration with Q the Sun entitled KidX.

Thankfully for fans, the Four Giants produced “Blue Streak” does not continue the “loosie” trend. It is the first single from what will be WebsterX’s debut studio album. Upon the song’s release WebsterX also announced that he agreed to a distribution deal with Chicago-based label Closed Sessions. The outfit was responsible for helping the early career development of Chicago rappers like Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper. WebsterX will maintain 100% ownership of his masters and will benefit from the label’s influence and reach. Click here to listen to “Blue Streak.”

"Hold Me Down" artwork by Jessica Yimenez
“Hold Me Down” artwork by Jessica Yimenez

Milwaukee bassist, New Age Narcissism member and music scene all-star Bo Triplex released a new single as part of the Nightmare on Center Street II playlist. “Hold Me Down” is from Bo Triplex and His Beautiful Band’s forthcoming EP deux, which has an early February release date. Bo says of the track, “‘Hold Me Down’ is a clash of worlds. Bo has been captured by those he came to defeat and though they taunt him so he refuses to give up. For he knows y’all are holding him down. Special thanks to Beathouse Music Inc. and Yessica Jimenez for the art.” Click here to listen to “Hold Me Down.”

“For the 3rd single from their upcoming full length, Marathon (11.11.16), smooth hip-hop group AUTOMatic brings the classic early 90’s R&B vibes with their certified slow jam, “You Don’t Love Me.” Emcee APRIME explores what it’s like to be caught in the trap of a love/hate relationship – something all of us have been in at least once in our life. Producer Trellmatic’s production is top notch and he adds updated drums to the retro groove. This one is for everybody that grew up with the Quiet Storm radio show playing in the background, late at night.” Click here to listen to “You Don’t Love Me.”

NEW VIDEOS FROM ISHDARR, HOT COFFIN, THE RECORD COMPANY, NO NO YEAH OKAY

Last WiG issue’s featured artist IshDARR released the first video (“Locals” directed by Damien Blue) from his latest project Broken Hearts & Bankrolls, which has received over 4 million streams in its first 3 weeks. Metal band Hot Coffin spent a late night making a freaky video in The Oriental Theatre for their song “Whistle, Hawk & Spit,” which was directed and edited by Jed Schlegelmilch. Burlington-native Chris Vos’ wildly successful LA-based blues rock band The Record Company released a lighthearted, hula hoop-centric video for their hit “Rita Mae Young.” Also, local chill wave rockers No No Yeah Okay put out an eerie Ryan Bilinski directed video for “Great Scott” from their debut EP Dual.