Monday, February 20, 2006

Southern Culture on the Skids (SCOTS) -- MOJO Box

In the mood for some foot stompin' singing and good times? Do you like the B-52's? Southern Culture on the Skids (SCOTS) may just be the ticket. These guys and gals from North Carolina (shouldn't that be SOUTH Carolina?) put on one hell of a southern tongue-in-cheek show. Think white trash meets Einstein and you've got a little idea of what this band's all about. They toured a great deal before band member Rick Miller and his wife Sarah had a bouncing white trash boy this month.

Intelligent southern stereotypical bashing has been their claim to fame and not so much fortune. But I have to tell you, I try to catch them everytime they're in town. Their live shows remind me of Moxy Fruvous and Bare Naked Ladies ... long before their incomes doubled and they forgot how much fun singing memorable songs could be.

You'll have to do your homework before the show to sing along but it will be well worth it with songs like "House of Bamboo", "Camel Walk", "Eight Piece Box" (which features the band tossing KFC chicken into the audience), "Daddy Was a Preacher but Mama was a Go-Go Girl", and "Banana Puddin'" to guide your way. Good bets for their CD's include "Liquored Up and Lacquored Down" and "Plastic Seat Sweat." Self-described swamp pop, garage, R&B, and monkey-paw surf can't be wrong, can it? No ma'am. It's just what the winter blues doctor ordered on a blustery Friday night.

I've seen some mighty battles ensue over the fried chicken bit. They invite real purdy ladies up to join them for this song and hand out KFC chicken that usually gets tossed about or eaten in drunken gulps.

SCOTS shows are good (not so clean) fun and are appropriate for most ages. You'll enjoy the huge hair doo on bassist Mary Huff and the fun drumming of Dave Hartman nestled up in screaming crescendo to Rick Miller's energetic singing. Mary and Rick have been singing together since 1987 so they add subtle barbs to previously released songs that only diehard SCOTS fans can appreciate but hey, you're becoming part of the trailer park with this band.

Can you say "Too Much Pork for Just One Fork?" Thought you could. This band's too much fun for one night. Check out their website at WWW.SCOTS.COM.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Mary Gauthier -- Mercy Now

Her name is pronounced "go-shay" and her "Mercy Now" CD is absolutely stunning in its direct assault into the unknowns of life. She's a "what if" person that likes to play with possibilities and she's lived a harsh life filled with enough dark paths and philosophical fumblings to fill a concert hall.

I connected with her music at once. Maybe it's because I've known darkness and despair long enough to develop my own musings about the randomness of fair and unfair. Mary has a super-talented ability to retain gut-wrenching grittiness while exploring the humor in it all. Her lyrics juxtapose good and bad, light and dark, all the while bathing them inside of her deep throaty interpretations. You get the sense that she's just a bystander watching life go by in some dark alley but her stage banter corrects that assessment quickly. These are lyrics written by a woman who's been there and back again.

Imagine Lucinda Williams touched by Patti Smith and honed by John Prine and Neil Young and you may just begin to sense what a gift Mary Gauthier has for storytelling behind the acoustic guitar. Not only was I blown away by her songs but her road diary is amazing to read. It's a shame she hasn't kept that going -- it really gets inside of road life in a way I've never experienced before.

"Mercy Now" is her fourth effort. She started writing at age 35. That was 10 years ago and all of her albums have created a stir among the Boston crowd where she began and then, Nashville, where she now resides. She tours endlessly so you have a good shot of getting to see her live show which is really something to behold.

She saunters onto the stage in ragged blue jeans with holes in them, an old suede fringed jacket, and silver bangles and says "Hi Y'all ... thanks for coming out," in a deep throaty drawl earned by drinking loads of whiskey and smoking packs of cigarettes that shook me back to my days exploring the Big Easy. You won't hear the romping New Orleans sounds of Buckwheat Zydeco; instead you'll hear the underbelly of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina sung by a simple woman in a simple outfit with simply amazing grace.

Throughout the catcalls of songs the audience wanted to hear and hoots of appreciation, Mary stands calmy; sometimes amused and others downright amazed at how much her fans know about her music. I was certain we'd get an "aw shucks" at some point in the show but that never happened (at least verbally although her facial expressions spoke volumes).

She told tales of a vacation in the Keys of Florida that helped her pen "Christmas in Paradise" and childhood memories living with an alcoholic father that created "I Drink." She's got a story for every song and sometimes she shares that background in her live shows. "Wheel Inside a Wheel," for instance, was written for her dear friend, Dave Carter who passed away in July 2002. The stand out song on the CD is the title song which Mary wrote following the events of September 11 and the ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In "Mercy Now," she sings,

My church and my country could use a little mercy now
As they sink into a poisoned pit
That's going to take forever to climb out
They carry the weight of the faithful
Who follow them down
I love my church and country, and they could use some mercy now

Mary Gauthier is definitely an artist to watch and her incredible sound can be found on her website at

Friday, February 03, 2006

Raul Malo -- The Nashville Acoustic Sessions

Raul Malo hasn't put out a new CD in years but he continues to tour with a solid line up of his Mavericks material and top picks from 2001's "Today" and 2004's "The Nashville Acoustic Sessions." Many fans of his work with the Mavericks were worried when he left the band to pursue his own career; however, the worry didn't last long. He still does his solo shows and collaborates with a slew of other artists so perhaps we get the best of both Malo's. He has also performed on a number of collections such as "Los Super Seven" and "Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster" which features Raul's incredible rendition of the title track.

I got to see Raul perform at Dowe's on Ninth last September as part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trusts "CD Live" series. This was another artist I knew very little about aside from the Mavericks hits "Dance the Night Away" and "What a Cryin' Shame." My girlfriend gushed about Raul and commanded me to see his live show. Anyone that can do justice to Pittsburgher Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer" must be okay, right?

He's extremely personable on stage, even going so far as to accept a shot of tequila a very drunk woman bought for him (he saved it for after the show). The women went nuts as soon as he started singing in a velvety smooth tenor reminiscent of Roy Orbison. His voice, while deeply toned, soars through the microphone in a measured tremble. Raul did not have a backing band on this tour; just an accompanying piano player and his acoustic guitar.

Raul debuted as lead singer for the Mavericks in the early 90's. He was born in Miami, Florida, to Cuban parents and developed a deep affection for classic country artists like Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash. "What a Crying Shame," released in '94 turned platinum a year later and launched the phenomenon known as The Mavericks. The Latin vibe started to seep into the Mavericks songwriting in the late 90's. Raul has joked that he's probably the only Cuban American to stand on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. The Mavericks took home a Grammy in 1995 for "Here Comes the Rain."

Word has it that his new CD "You're Only Lonely" hasn't surfaced yet because he's still shopping around for a label. Incredible! Who wouldn't want this guy on their line up? He's doing some touring now with new songs from the CD so keep your eyes open for a performance near you. He covers Etta James, Willie Nelson, the Bee Gees, and others as well as the title track cover of J.D. Souther's song. I've also heard he'll be releasing "Live in '05" featuring his live performances sometime this year.

You can find his songs on Amazon (I don't know who developed their personal sites but they aren't very user friendly) under the Mavericks or Raul Malo. He's a well-kept secret in a long list of outstanding alt country artists flavored with a healthy dollop of Latin music. You'll want to sing along and dance the night away with the songs "I Want to Know," "What a Crying Shame," "Every Little Thing About You," and "I Said I Love You."