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Photo by Jason Ashcraft

You wanna know what Forecastle Festival is like? Ok. It’s a little something like this: Music. Art(ists). Ecology. Louisville-lovers. Dirty hippie dudes. Dirty hippie dames. Beardos. Rollie Fingers’ staches. Dreadlocks. Tye-dye. Bassheads. Potheads. River-bathers. Burlesque performances. Tree-huggers. Socialists. Liberals. Journalists. Hacky-sack circles. Sweaty people drinking PBR. Sweaty people making out. Sweaty people drinking PBRs and making out. Teenage make-shift obstacle hurdlers. Pervasive Mary Jane aromas. Muhammad Ali portraits in the head. The Mayor in VIP.

Yep, this is how it went down on the banks of the Ohio River when more than 35,000 people jumbled together to celebrate Louisville, right below its own skyline in Waterfront Park. And, yes, this was a city government-endorsed event as Mayor Fischer was present to once again welcome My Morning Jacket with Forecastle Festival founder JK McKnight. Whereas some city governments shun music festivals like these, Louisville’s embraces it.

Things have really evolved culturally in this town over the last couple decades, and Forecastle just may be one, if not the main, instigator of said evolution. It’s living, breathing, naked proof that people from many different backgrounds, beliefs and races can coexist together in a way that promotes unity, cultural awareness, activism and freedom with music as the unifying stimulus.

With music being one of the biggest aspects of the festival, here is the rundown of the artists ranked from best to worst in my own opinion.

My Morning Jacket

Jim James – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

I don’t have a clue where to freaking begin here. Why? Because last May 2011, when the band released Circuital at Louisville’s Palace Theatre I said that MMJ gave the greatest performance they could ever give. Now here I am, again, both eating my words and again saying, “MMJ gave the greatest performance they could ever give at Forecastle.” Not to mention the best performance – by far – of the entire damn festival. Exactly as they planned to.

In a recent interview with MMJ bassist Two-Tone Tommy, he promised that “surprises” were in store, and the first came only two songs in when the big brass backing of Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined them for a crowd-pleasing version of “Holdin’ Onto Black Metal.”

Keeping the set eclectic, they played songs from virtually their entire discography, opening with “The Dark” and busting out mesmerizing versions of “The Bear,” “Anytime,” “Smoking From Shooting,” “Steam Engine,” and crowd favorites, including“Wordless Chorus” and an Andrew Bird-accompanied version of “Gideon.”

They also logged killer covers of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity,” The Band’s “It Makes No Difference,” and an encore performance of George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” in which Jim delivered a message from George Michael himself, while tossing bananas to the audience and hilariously adjusting the lyrics to suit the occasion.

I wouldn’t be surprised if that cover perpetuated the sale of a few more George Michaels’ albums on iTunes post-show from all those youngins, who were wondering what the hell they just heard. Hey kids, just like Jim mentioned during a mid-song instrumental break, “George Michaels gets a lot of shit, but he is a fucking genius.” Truer words never spoken.

Once the banana tossing concluded, and with Forecastle’s First-mate saluting the audience from side-stage, former MMJ guitarist Johnny Quaid (of Ravenna Colt) emerged from backstage to play a rambunctious version of “One Big Holiday.” With that, the stage came alive as human-propelled animal and fish props became part of the stage show and provided the last of many “holy shit” moments for the evening.

Sleeper Agent

Now here is a band with a lot of charisma and a seemingly bright future ahead of them — that is — if they keep giving performances like they did at Forecastle. Make no mistake folks, lead singer Alex Kandel is the star in this band as she danced, headbanged and pushed her way around stage with fellow bandmates, flipping her hair from one side to the next every five steps.

Sleeper Agent – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

I guess Guitarist Tony Smith figured he, too, needed to get a little wicked, electing to jump offstage and crowd-surf till he was dropped. He quickly jumped back to his feet and climbed back onstage to carry on.

The Bowling Green, Kentuckians logged rowdy live performances of “Get Burned,” “Get It Daddy” and “Proper Taste,” all from their debut album Celebrasion. If these little young Kentucky lads are to have some more big shows in their future, then all they gotta do is keep doing what they did at Forecastle. Their crowd was one of the biggest of the smaller two stages. Next time, they should get a bigger stage because I’m betting they will hold their own on a stage of any size.  

Ben Sollee

Ben Sollee – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

Kentucky’s cello-rocker Ben Sollee is a one-man orchestra onstage. Offstage, he’s a seemingly passive, small-framed guy, who almost looks like a scientist or a high school math teacher. But don’t be fooled, because he once again shattered that subtle image the moment he took stage and masterfully blended elements of classical and out-right jamming styles of sound from his cello. He adds in some soulful vocals and sometimes plays with vicious intent and a lot of passion.

Not even a 10-minute late start due to a technical glitch slowed him down on his Sunday evening performance, nor did it decrease the size of his audience, which eagerly awaited him to start plucking and strumming that cello with his bow. Once he started, Sollee quickly captured his audience with his passion in both personality and showmanship. His one-hour set flew by, and I found myself having to cut-out about 15 minutes early to see another equally impressive band getting ready to start.

Clutch

“Hat’s off to My Morning Jacket for their great taste in music!” says Clutch lead singer Neil Fallon, who selfishly joked at mid-set about their invitation to play. But he’s right, especially if you’re fan of good ole’ dirty and stripped-down rock ‘n’ roll, which is a music style that’s not the norm at Forecastle.

Clutch – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

Filling the Boom Stage’s lawn with a couple thousand people, Clutch played cuts from their entire catalog. Opening with “Gravel Road” and closing with “One Eye Dollar,” Clutch delivered a set that spanned their 20-year career in music, including high-energy versions of their more popular hits like “50,000 Unstoppable Watts” and “Electric Worry,” yet strangely left out “The Mob Goes Wild.” Damn. Maybe next time.

Ochestre Poly-Rythmo

These Afrobeat and funk pioneers were probably one of the most under-anticipated acts playing in the entire festival. These guys have been playing together for decades but added a hip international flair unlike previous years. Although they’ve been jamming out since the ‘60s, this was only their second trip to the U.S.

Orchestre Poly-Rythmo – Photo by Jason Ashcraft

About an equal amount of time was shared between instrumental play and the soulful French-African vocals of lead singer Amenoudji Joseph Vicky, who spoke to the audience during and in-between songs.

After his performance, I actually had the chance to speak with Vicky on things like the meaning of his music, who some of his musical influences are, and even got a little political, quizzing him on his thoughts on President Obama and our country’s political system.

Speaking in his native French tongue and with a little help from Poly Rythmo’s interpreter and U.S. Manager, Elodie, Vicky was candid and entertaining to listen to. I just wish he had broken out a peace pipe on me. Oh well.

Moon Taxi

This is one band I hadn’t actually planned on seeing, but that I just happened to stumble upon while waiting to see Cabin at the next stage over. I gotta say I’m definitely glad I did, because the guys were totally balls-out rock ‘n’ roll with enough energy radiating off the stage to keep their audience growing through the set.

Now I didn’t recognize any of their original music, but they belted out one mean cover of The Who’s “Teenage Wasteland,” which stopped a few would-be passerbys dead in their tracks as they made their way to the stage.

Cabin

Cabin with Ben Sollee – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

One of several Louisville-based indie rock acts took the stage on a muggy Sunday evening to a rather shy and undersized crowd. Lead singer Noah Hewett-Ball has a calm, cool and collected demeanor onstage that seems to carry over with most of their music as a band.

One of their more catchy tunes they played, “A Lie Worth Believing,” just happened to bring out cello extraordinaire, Ben Sollee, for a little eclectic addition to an already catchy song. Much to the modest crowd’s appeasement, Keyboard and Violinist Sarah Beth Welder wasn’t shy about admitting that “I got to knock something off my bucket list by playing with Ben Sollee.”

Lucero

The country punk rockers make their Forecastle return, this time with less bugs up in their grills. Yep, the last time they played Forecastle in 2010 Lucero was swarmed by big river flies that spoiled their performance a little. Not this time, though, instead they were swarmed with a steady fan base.

Frontman Ben Nichols’ gritty and countryfied vocals charmed the couple thousand fans, who weren’t in short supply of being fond for alt-southern sounds that makes Lucero iconic.

Lucero – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

Promoting their latest album Women & Work, Nichols and band jammed out the title track to an eager audience. And it wouldn’t be a true Lucero show if they didn’t play “Nights Like These” and “Kiss the Bottle,” which Nichols refers to as his “jaw breaking song.”

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

The pride of New Orlean’s zydeco-jazz music culture stormed into Louisville — almost literally. Staying true to Preservation Hall’s reputation of never hosting a performance in the rain, the day’s storms cleared out of Louisville just in time. Some things never change, I guess.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band with Jim James – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

Just as everyone anticipated, Jim James took the stage for a cabaret-like sing-a-long with Bourbon Street’s brass kings. And somehow at the end of that boisterous performance, James was holding a broken mic stand. Figure that one out for me.

Ravenna Colt

Johnny Quaid – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

Who would’ve ever known that frontman Johnny Quaid actually had something more exciting in store than his own band’s performance at Forecastle? Not even me. Just a few hours after a bit of a mundane performance with his band Ravenna Colt, Quaid joined his former bandmates in My Morning Jacket onstage for what had to be the highlight of his night.

Ravenna Colt has some decent songs, thanks to Quaid’s obvious ear for sound, but their presentation needs some work. Many of their songs don’t warrant an energetic performance; the band just didn’t seem to be inspired by the music they were playing.

“South of Ohio” is one song they played that warrants a feather in his hat, but a bleak crowd seemed to detract from the performance.

GirlTalk

From Bruce Springsteen to Outkast to Black Sabbath, etc., etc. All laced with a steady backbeat. Ok, this guy reminded me of this loud-mouth, yet like-able, drunken club DJ that I used to work with in college in Richmond, Ky.
This dude pressed a damn button every so often on his laptop, yelled through his microphone “How y’all doing?” a few times and then staggered around like a boozed up ADHD patient all night — sometimes being away from his “instrument” for extended periods of time. Sure, he was a fun guy who “breaks out the jams” and entertains the chemically induced masses. But let’s be clear; I never considered this drunken bastard “talented.” Know what I mean?

GirlTalk – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

Final thoughts…

It’s safe to say that this year’s Forecastle Festival topped everyone’s expectations, even my own. I admit that one of my first worries with all the amped up hype was that there would be an equally amped up Police force and security team ready to spoil the fun. As it turned out, however, and much to everyone’s appreciation, that wasn’t the case. They were seemingly respectful of the fans.

Photo by Jason Ashcraft

I mean, let’s face it; you can’t have the police dragging away a bunch of teenage and 20-something potheads for passing around doobies. Not when the Mayor just came off stage from amping them up and hanging out in VIP. That wouldn’t look good, now would it?

In all seriousness, well done LMPD and Axis Security! You see? You guys still brought home the same amount of pay, maintained the safety of all festival-goers and didn’t have to break a sweat or someone’s arm while doing it. Hopefully, you guys now realize that all those pot-smoking, music-junkie hippie kids aren’t really interested in bringing harm to anyone or anything. Nah. All they really want to do is get another polish sausage to suffice their munchies, dance in circles to a My Morning Jacket or Dr. Dog song, and maybe learn how to burn a few less fossil fuels in their daily lives. So, thank you for allowing this to happen. Peacefully.

** This review also published at LouisvilleKY.com and PerformerMag.com

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Two-Tone Tommy Blankenship – Photo by Paul Wellman

There’s a lot going on these days in the life of My Morning Jacket bassist Two-Tone Tommy Blankenship. When you’re a member of one of the music industry’s most popular live alternative rock-n-roll bands, you tend to not have too much time for things other than music and your career.

With MMJ’s focus on curating Louisville’s Forecastle Festival, the boys are looking at music with a different focus; through their Louisville-lenses, so to speak, more so than other shows they play.

It’s hard to believe that back in 2002 Forecastle Festival started as a small group of local musicians who gathered in Louisville’s Tyler Park for one day of music and community celebration. Now, 10 years later, founder JK McKnight has morphed that little neighborhood gathering into the Midwest’s largest music, art and activism mecca, and now has tapped the area’s biggest musical export in My Morning Jacket not only headlining, but helping plan the event.

Forecastle Festival now boasts more than three stages with a combination of both national and Louisville-area musicians of all music and genre types. Throw in dozens of vendors, sponsors, artists and keynote activism speakers, and all of the sudden you see what I mean when I say “morph.”

Last summer’s “Halfway to Forecastle” event was a show that McKnight conceived on-the-fly to merely hold over the Forecastle faithful while he formed a partnership with AC Entertainment, the company that just happens to produce a little festival in southern Tennessee called Bonnaroo.

“The partnership has been great. AC Entertainment has brought of wealth of knowledge, experience, enthusiasm, and commitment to programming excellence. Everyday is a new adventure, and I’m really glad to be part of the team,” McKnight said.

So with his big guns a blazin’, and a hell of a lot more production power behind him, McKnight has now recruited Louisville’s biggest musical export, and Bonnaroo-four-hour-marathon-set-festival-favorite, My Morning Jacket, to help select the show’s artist roster and a few other details.


Forecastle Festival 2010 – Photo by Willie McLean

I had the chance to talk with My Morning Jacket bassist Two-Tone Tommy Blankenship on this year’s event and how the band has played a role in the show’s “curation.”

So, I’m here with Two-Tone Tommy Blankenship of My Morning Jacket, who is one of the official curators of the Forecastle Festival. Right, Tommy? 

Correct, correct.

So what does that entail doing? What are you doing to building Forecastle to what it’s going to be?

I think the biggest thing was throwing out names of bands, kinda like our dream list of some of the artists we wanted to see this year. As well helping plan a lot of the charities and who was going to be involved with charities. The food vendors, retail vendors. All of it was just kind of just suggestions as you know with the curation.

So does that mean we will see a lot of local Louisville businesses and local Kentucky and Louisville-based bands on the bill? 

Exactly. Yeah, we wanted to really focus on – since there are so many national acts that are already coming in – was to have a dedicated local stage that would really shine a spotlight on what makes the city so special. Especially just having both – the festival as a 10-year anniversary and it felt like something we’ve always wanted to do at all of our shows. Like have the local village, you know? Like have the spotlight on the city itself, because there are so many people traveling in from out of town. Just trying to put the spotlight on everything we love about the city.

Of course Forecastle has a reputation for already doing that. That being said though, who are some of the artists you guys hand-picked and are really looking forward to seeing? 

Geez, they’re are like so many. Dr. Dog, Washed Out, Andrew Bird, Wilco. I mean literally, everyday, there is somebody…

(And all-of-the-sudden my dogs start barking in the background. Tommy and I laugh it off for about 5 seconds until it quiets down again.) 

Who are some of the artists that you guys hand-picked that are like local and independent who are trying to make their way and this show is going to be a big effort for them to do that? 

A big one for me is Cabin. I don’t know, do you remember Shane Thomas that we went to school with?

Yeah, I think so. And I’ve seen Cabin before, and they were good!

Yeah, yeah, they’re amazing. Yeah Cabin, Lydia Burrell, John that used to play in the band (MMJ) is in Ravenna Colt now and they’re playing.

Yeah, yeah I know The Ravenna Colt, and they’re good. 

Yeah, they’re amazing. Wax Fang. I mean like pretty much everybody that was invited was pretty much on our list. Like, a lot of the local artists that are coming in.

In terms of your guy’s own performance, on that Saturday night is when you’re playing, is that correct? 

Yeah, Saturday night.

So, I’m not going to ask you for details or anything, but is there any surprises coming? A simple yes or no will do. 

Ahh, yes. For sure.

Awesome. And – without giving it away – what can we expect? 

Ummm….

(laughs)

Without giving it away…

Without giving it away? 

(laughs, again, because my dog interrupts one more time with the barking) 

“Oh, yeah! It will be a different experience over any shows that we’ve done this year or last year.”

Good to know. Something to look forward to. Awesome.

What would you say is your favorite thing about Louisville and our whole Kentucky-music stomping ground is or what is your favorite thing about our city?

I think – and this might seem like a limitation in a way – what I always loved about growing up in the area, and what I still love about it, is that is has an identity all on its own. I think that it really pushes young artists to find their own voice and their own sound, and really make things happen. Because it really isn’t a destination scene. It isn’t like you said, Chicago or any of the big cities that are around. Or even Indy in a way. It just doesn’t have that…like people aren’t moving to Louisville to start bands.

Yeah, you’re saying that we’re a very homegrown music scene.

Yeah, for sure. It’s kind of insular. I think they’re aren’t a lot of opportunities to play outside of the city; it’s not like if you make a name for yourself in Louisville that will carry you through a bunch of other cities or, you know, get you on a bunch of other cities and festivals and stuff.

Right, right. So what’s your advice to young musicians here in town who are trying to get where you guys are going with your own career? 

I mean, it’s gonna sound kind of clichéd, but as long you just put the work into it, you know, more than anything else. I mean obviously, it’s just passion. It’s having the passion, putting the work into it and not expecting a whole lot in return. Like work and work and work, and don’t expect a whole lot, and then I think you’ll have the biggest reward that way.

Right.

So, circling back to you guys. Jim (James) just recently announced that he was doing a solo project, which is pretty cool, and of course Carl (Broemel) has done his own thing. Do you think that all the side project work that other members do will contribute to a MMJ hiatus? 

Yeah, man I feel like this is the main gig for all of us. And being able to have the freedom in the band to go and do these other projects – it’s like when you come back to it – for all of us, we have this deeper appreciation for our dynamic, the way we work, how easy it is. And then you’re learning something when you walk away from the band who is been in these other playgrounds, these other sandboxes. You get to experience things with other people; then you can kind of bring that experience back with you into this familiar family setting.

So it’s definitely something that fuels your diversity because from one album to the next you guys are never the same. 

(laughing) Right, right, yeah. Yeah.

That’s good. So it’s turned into a positive and not a negative is what you’re saying? 

Absolutely. Yeah.

Awesome. Do you have any side projects or solo things you’re planning on your own? 

Ummmm, nothing so far. No, no.

Yeah, that’s cool. Just kind of enjoying life and living the American dream? Living the dream…

(laughing) Exactly, right. Life is good.

So, let me ask you this, closing out here; you guys have been nominated for a Grammy on several occasions. How important is it for you personally or as a band to eventually bring one home?

Ah, for me, you know, just being nominated is mind blowing and it’s unbelievable. It’s such a rewarding feeling, that whether we win or lose, to have that recognition to have the nomination is way more than I could have ever dreamed or hoped for.

That’s good. So, what’s next for My Morning Jacket? 

Ummm….

After this tour and after Forecastle Festival, is there a new album in the works? 

Nah, you know, we’re just focusing on touring for the rest of the year and then hopefully come next spring we’ll start getting into song-writing and studio work.

Forecastle Festival
My Morning Jacket / Bassnectar / Wilco / Girltalk / Clutch / Lucero / Neko Case / plus many more…
Friday, July 13 – Sunday, July 15
Louisville’s Waterfront Park
$57.50 – $350
All ages
www.ForecastleFest.com 

Listen to the full unedited audio interview:

** This interview and preview also posted at LouisvilleKY.com

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My Morning Jacket has debuted a new eye-popping, euphoric video for “Holdin On To Black Metal.”  The guys gave an early preview of the video on Monday night when several members posted it on their Google+ accounts, resulting in one of the first music video premieres shared within Google’s new social network.

Staying true to their animated approach to videography, this video is a trippy blend of both animation and clips of live performances, with bassist Two-Tone Tommy being a central focus.

Recorded at Louisville’s ……….Ok, enough already. Here’s the video:

** This preview is also published at Louisville.com

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Two Kentucky musicians, Louisville’s My Morning Jacket and Edmonton’s Black Stone Cherry both debuted their latest albums on May 31. Now, both these Kentucky rockers are realizing some of their highest Billboard 200 chart successes to date.

MMJ’s Circuital checked in at #5, just above two Nashville country puppets (whew!) and just below Eddie Vedder’s Ukulele Songs.

BSC’s Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea clocked in at #29, just above the Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light (at #32), I might add.

MMJ continues to stay in the limelight in virtually every viewable media and every huge music festival. Since they launched Circuital, they’ve also debuted a Vh1 Storytellers episode, and played on the Jimmy Fallon show. Right now they are gearing up for their Bonnaroo performance, and even managing to pitch in and play a benefit concert for the Tuscaloosa tornado victims. Nice Kentucky boys they are, right?

BSC is currently on tour in Europe. They’re headed back to the U.S. in July, and will make a Friday, August 26th Kentucky State Fair gig in Louisville, as part of the Carnival of Madness Tour. I’m anticipating it will be in Cardinal Stadium again, but more to come on exact location in the fair.

So, if you haven’t bought a copy of Circuital or BTD&TDBS yet, then get out there and get your hands on a copy or logon to iTunes. Let’s see how far we can help export these Kentucky boys.

Here are some videos from each of their latest albums:

Videos and album artwork courtesy of Roadrunner Records for BSC, & ATO Records for MMJ.

** This review also published at Louisville.com

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After nearly a decade and a half, a My Morning Jacket concert is rapidly becoming that of legend in the world of music.  Yes, that’s right, legend. Virtually every time they claim the stage, they have something up their sleeve that will soon leave their fans’ heads spinning. Last night’s performance at Louisville’s Palace Theater, the official launching of their new album Circuital, did just that. Multiple times over, I might add, and all of it streamed on the internet live on YouTube and Vevo for anyone willing to logon.

They promised the night would be full of surprises, and the first surprise came with the raising of the stage’s curtain and MMJ, not Erykah Badu, appearing in front of an elaborate giant “Circuital” eye from the album’s cover art as the stage backdrop. The audience erupted into a chaotic frenzy as the first note chimed from Bo Koster’s keyboard, and they went right into the opening track from Circuital, “Victory Dance.” Just like on the album, they followed with a majestic version of the title track “Circuital” and all of a sudden it seemed as though a live run through the entire album was in store. But that quickly dissipated once they followed up with Z’s “Off The Record.”

Certainly more cuts from other albums would follow, and that they did with a heartfelt version of “Gideon” and “Mageetah,” a candid performance of “I’m Amazed,” an aw-inspiring version of “Smokin’ From Shootin,” and both versions of “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream.”

Even Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer couldn’t help but make an appearance, declaring MMJ as “the world’s greatest band” and announcing that through an online poll the song fans most wanted to hear was “Steam Engine.” The performance that followed of the song was mesmerizing to say the least.

A host of other guest musicians joined MMJ onstage throughout the night including Wax Fang’s Kevin Ratterman, who aided in percussion on several songs, Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore who joined in on “Wonderful (The Way I Feel),” and of course, Erykah Badu who added some soul to “Wordless Chorus” and “The Day Is Coming.” MMJ also performed two of Badu’s songs, “Twinkle,” and “Tyrone” which was highlighted by Jim James bowing down before Badu while she stroked his hair, and James simultaneously blistering out one wicked guitar solo. The onstage drama was intense and this proved to be the pinnacle of the night.

Over the years MMJ has given some amazing performances and played some of the world’s most storied venues. From Coachella to Bonaroo, Madison Square Garden to Boston Symphony Hall, and Saturday Night Live to David Letterman, MMJ has done it all. And although I’ve not attended one of those performances I can confidently say that last night’s 3+ hour performance at Louisville’s Palace Theater had to be their most legendary yet. In one night they transformed Louisville’s Palace Theater into their own makeshift commune, played virtually every song off their new album “Circuital” and basically every other hit from their previous discography.

They ignited the crowd to the point where nobody ever really sat in their seats and instead spent the entire night dancing wherever they could muster a move, raising the temperature inside the Palace to something that felt like a sauna. After the concert ended, fans were high-fiving, hugging and cheering all the way out the door and onto 4th Street. At that moment I realized what MMJ had done. They hadn’t just released a new album or just given another legendary performance. Nope. They unified our city of Louisville while the world was watching.

* Photos by Jason Ashcraft & Zach Everson
*Videos courtesy of American Express “Unstaged”


Pre-Show with MMJ.

** This review also posted at Louisville.com

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Circuital

by My Morning Jacket
ATO Records
Produced by: Tucker Martine & Jim James
Engineer: Kevin Ratterman
In Stores: May 31, 2011



One thing you can always expect from a new My Morning Jacket album is a redefining of all their previous work’s styles. On their sixth installment, Circuital, they continue to raise their own bar with more Pink Floyd-like experimentation of their sound, and this time opting to record in a Highlands’ church gymnasium instead of a traditional recording studio.

The opener, “Victory Dance,” starts somewhat creepy with the onset of Bo Koster’s gothic-like working of the keys, dare I say Nine-Inch-Nails’ish instrumentally, perhaps an immediate indication of how the Church’s surroundings influenced this album’s creative direction. James’ mellow vocals greets quickly, Two Tone Tommy lays in a dark and steady rhythm section, and Carl Broemel incorporates some fuzzed out guitars. All of the sudden, your lost in their canticle.

Six minutes later the opener fades right into the beginning of the title track “Circuital,” a 7+ minute epic song which shows their more whimsical and melodic side of song writing. Drummer Patrick Hallahan finally is able to turn loose a little on this song. Logging plenty of instrumental showcases for each member, James’ paramount tenor decrees how they are “ending up in the same place that we started out.”

An emotional roller coaster begins to take shape on “The Day is Coming,” another darker, more mysterious melody that Koster’s keyboards instrumentally take the lead on. Two Tone Tommy is impressive again on setting the rhythm.

Circling back once again to their musical past, “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” is straight out of any album’s past with the slow and subtle sounds of James’ vocals and his acoustic guitar the focus.

“Outta My System” offers candid admissions from James lyrically (“they told me not to smoke drugs, but I wouldn’t listen…”) along with a dominant string section that keeps building on the climatic arc of the album. Your attention still firmly in place.

“Holdin‘ On To Black Metal” offers the album’s wildest climax, with a young female choir joining James during the song’s chorus in a jaunty manner.

The back half of the album carries through, still solid MMJ song-crafting, but not as easy to get lost in like the first half of the album. The album’s closer, “Movin Away,” yet another song that Koster’s keys establishes the melody for, also has some impressive steel guitar work by Broemel, while James’ cardinal aria soothes. Yet again, My Morning Jacket astounds.

Interview with Bo Koster on 5-26-2011

Circuital Track List:

1.    Victory Dance
2.    Circuital
3.    The Day Is Coming
4.    Wonderful (The Way I Feel)
5.    Outta My System
6.    Holdin’ On To Black Metal
7.    First Light
8.    You Wanna Freak Out
9.    Slow Slow Tune
10.    Movin’ Away

** This album review is also published at Louisville.com

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Ratterman in the studio

Wax Fang’s Kevin Ratterman is a busy man in the music business these days. So busy that he never really got around to pursuing his family’s business of operating funeral homes in the Louisville area. Instead, he picked up on another family trait; music.

From the time he was a child he would aspire to his older brother Blaine, an “excellent drummer” as described by Ratterman, and his father’s band, The Epics’ drummer as well. So, growing up he essentially had ready access to full drum kit in his basement. No surprises that he too would learn to play drums. Led Zeppelin and Mötley Crüe were two bands he cited that he learned to play to growing up.

Today, not only is he Wax Fang’s animated drummer, but he’s started to take on a new endeavor in the world of music; album production. Some of his first two projects: My Morning Jacket’s Circuital and The Broken Spurs’ Natural Disaster, both of whose albums he played an integral role in developing the sound for. Not to shabby for a production-newbie, right?

“I essentially put the studio together,” Ratterman explained when talking about the make-shift studio he built in a church gymnasium to record Circuital, the new My Morning Jacket album due out May 31 on ATO Records.

“We were recording everything live, which means you have to automatically – when you’re doing stuff like that – ‘accept’ a lot of things you wouldn’t normally accept,” he explained about the sound output from the live recording process as compared to a studio. I can’t help but to think, at this point, that he must be a perfectionist, because when you listen to Circuital’s title track (released last week by MMJ) you can barely tell it was recorded live, in my opinion. They’re a few subtle hints, but nothing that the average listener will really notice. Just us music junkies.

Currently Ratterman has no future production plans with MMJ, but he described the experience with recording with the band as “one of my crowning achievements in my life.”

As for his own band, Wax Fang, Ratterman announced that they have recorded a new album and EP, and that they would probably be out later in the fall of 2011 once they have wrapped up the label shopping process. Apparently they have options. For more updates on Wax Fang, check the band’s website at WaxFang.com

Here is the raw video from my interview:

** This interview also posted at Louisville.com

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