The husband-and-wife duo of Val and Mike Joyner, also known as Bella Sun, have been a local fixture for a few years now, performing at Midtown bars and coffee shops such as Java Cabana and Sip. With Val's scratchy, earthy, idiosyncratic vocals matched up with Mike's active, soulful acoustic-guitar accompaniment, the duo has a distinctive sound. But that successful sonic strategy gets a boost on No Crystal Stair, a debut album the couple will celebrate this week with a record-release party at the Hi-Tone Café. Recorded with a fuller band sound, No Crystal Stair embellishes the duo's vocal-and-guitar foundation with punchy horns, Latin drums, wistful cello, bluesy electric leads, and sighing organ.
The result is a mix of funk and folk and rock and soul that never sounds less than natural. The music evokes contemporary acts from Erykah Badu to Tracy Chapman, but it also has some of the organic spirit of early Seventies post-hippie acts such as Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell.
Bella Sun will celebrate No Crystal Stair Friday, November 12th, at the Hi-Tone Café. Another local original, Ron Franklin, will open the show.
Another interesting duo, punk-blues tag-team Mr. Airplane Man, whose locally recorded C'Mon DJ is one of the year's best Memphis albums, will play the Buccaneer Lounge Friday, November 12th.
-- Chris Herrington
Somebody needs to hang a special medal around the necks of those rowdy boys in Chapel Hill's Two Dollar Pistols, a band that fuses the rocking spirit of Faron Young with the lean honky-tonk sounds of Earnest Tubb. For the past eight years, they have clung to tradition, ignoring all progressive trends in alt-country without ever seeming like they were living in retro-world. But most important, the Pistols, whose critical acclaim exceeds their record sales, introduced America to Tift Merritt, one of the purest, most precise voices to roll down the Hillbilly Highway since Emmylou Harris joined the Flying Burrito Brothers. The 1999 release Two Dollar Pistols and Tift Merritt is a seven-song EP filled with beautifully executed tearjerkers and an absolute must-have for fans of classic country music. It showcased Merritt's natural twang and her ability to shift gears from gutsy to gorgeous, and it earned her a lot more attention than the Pistols have ever gotten on their own. Since then, Merritt has gone mainstream, and with every new release, she moves further and further away from the high-and-lonesome, mixing elements of Memphis soul and classic rock with beautiful melodies that can only be described as lullabies.
Merritt plays the Hi-Tone Café on Sunday, November 14th, with Split Lip Rayfield, a hit-and-miss bluegrass band that's been described as, "equal parts Carter Family and American Chopper." Their four-part harmonies are wonderful, and their arrangements for banjo, mandolin, and guitar should appeal equally to metal heads and bluegrassaholics. Unfortunately, their self-consciously clever lyrics tend to be of the "outside the trailer park looking in" variety and that's too bad, because these guys have too much talent to be relegated to the ghetto of novelty acts. -- Chris Davis