One of contemporary blues most ferocious road warriors, Atlanta singer/guitarist Tinsley Ellis returns to Beale Street Friday, June 10th, with a gig at B.B. Kings Blues Club. Tinsley brings his Memphis-connected touring band to town for a show in support of his new Alligator Records release, Live Highwayman. Expect fiery blues-rock, echoes of Southern rock, and even some gritty soul-blues slow burns from Tinsley.
Florida singer-songwriter Sam Beam, who performs under the moniker Iron & Wine, presaged the current indie-folk fad by a couple of years with widely acclaimed 2002 debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle, released by stalwart Seattle indie label Sub Pop. Less ostensibly weird than his freak-folk followers, Iron & Wine evoked not hippie-era obscurities so much as an earlier generation of lo-fi indie troubadours such as Sebadoh and the late Elliott Smith or a contemporary such as Cat Power. Iron & Wines more professionally recorded follow-up, Our Endless Numbered Days, wasnt quite as ecstatically received, but Beam still has a considerable cult. The regional contingent will get a chance to see him at Proud Larrys in Oxford on Friday, June 10th, with Band of Horses.
And if you make a trip down to Oxford, why not make a long weekend out of it? Stick around for The Heartless Bastards, wholl be playing Proud Larrys Monday, June 13th. An Ohio-based band that records for the Mississippi-based Fat Possum Records, the Heartless Bastards debut, Elevators & Stairs, is among my favorite records of the year: bare-bones, no-frills garage-/roots-rock with plainspoken lyrics and Everygirl vocals (both courtesy of frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom). Doesnt sound like much, right? Well, theres the way the music strives for so much without ever threatening to careen into Hallmark territory thats inspiring. If popular music is often an art of becoming, then this 40-something-minute slab of guitar-based self-actualization is a prime exhibit. The three-piece band also reminds me a lot of underrated 90s indie-rock minimalists Scrawl, whose best music worked similar charms.
You can read about Bobby Bare Jr. elsewhere in this issue (see Music Feature, page 37). But while I think Bares Visit Me in Music City was one of the smartest, funniest songs of 2004, Im more excited about the band hes touring with: Dallas Old 97s. Given their locale, old-timey moniker, and pedigree as onetime members of the stable on genre specialty label Bloodshot Records, the Old 97s have long been slotted as an alt-country band. (Current label New West is also ostensibly alt-country.) But the genre tag is a little misleading. The band may have been twangy when they started, but they evolved into a whipsmart, endlessly catchy straight-up rock band somewhere between the Replacements and prime Marshall Crenshaw. And in the form of frontman Rhett Miller, the band boasts a songwriter every bit the equal of Crenshaw or Replacements bard Paul Westerberg.
Miller has been in a mini-slump of late, the bands 2004 Drag It Up and his 2002 solo The Instigator merely good, not great. But for a recent three-record stretch 1997s Too Far To Care, 1999s Fight Songs, and 2001s Satellite Rides Miller penned a group of killer songs that ranks among the periods most underrecognized bodies of work. Hey, this is a guy who opens one of his best love songs with the following lines: This is the story of Victoria Lee/She started off on Percodan and ended up with me/She lived in Berkeley til the earthquake shook her loose/She lives in Texas now where nothing ever moves. Catch the Old 97s and Bobby Bare Jr. Tuesday, June 14th, at Newbys.