Tag: Chicago IL

New Audio: Neal Francis Releases the Breezy Yet Self-Aware “Problems”

Born Neal Francis O’Hara, the Livingston, NJ-born, Chicago-based singer/songwriter and pianist best known known as Neal Francis can trace the origins of his sound and approach to his childhood: he was obsessed with boogie woogie piano — and as a result, his father gifted him a dusty Dr. John album. O’Hara quickly became a piano prodigy, touring Europe with Muddy Waters‘ son and with other prominent bluesmen across the States when he was just 18. 

In 2012, Neal Francis joined the popular instrumental funk band The Heard. With Francis at the creative helm, The Heard quickly became a national touring act, sharing stages with The New Mastersounds and The Revivalists, and making stops at New Orleans Jazz Fest and Bear Creek among others. As The Heard’s profile rose, Francis sunk deeply into addiction. By 2015, he had been fired from his band, evicted from his apartment and was inching perilously close to his own destruction. “When you get close to death like that you can feel it,” Francis recalls. An alcohol-induced seizure that year led to a broken femur, dislocated arm, and, finally, the realization that he needed to get clean.

Although he identifies as not being religious, Francis took a music-ministry job at St. Peter’s UCC in 2017 at the suggestion of a friend. 

Francis’ solo debut, 2019’s Changes was released to critical acclaim with the album landing on Best-of-the-Year lists of KCRWKEXP and The Current while BBC Radio 6hailed him as “the reincarnation of Allen Toussaint.” Adding to a breakthrough year, Francis toured with Lee Fields and The Expressions and JOVM mainstays The Black Pumas. He shared a stage with members of the legendary The Meters at New Orleans Jazz Fest. And he did a live session on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic.

Despite having breakthrough success with his career, Francis broke up with his longtime girlfriend while on tour to support Changes. When the tour ended, he returned home to Chicago and found himself with no place to stay. So, he headed off to St. Peter’s and asked if he could move into the parsonage. “I thought I’d only stay a few months but it turned into over a year, and I knew I had to do something to take advantage of this miraculous gift of a situation,” he says. 

Francis began writing new material, a series of songs that’s both strangely enchanted and painfully self-aware, inspired by Greek myths, frenzied dreams, late night drives — and a possibly haunted church. (More on that in a bit.) The end result is the Chicago-based artist’s highly-anticipated sophomore album In Plain Sight, an album that derives its title from the title of a song that wound up getting cut from the album. “It’s a song about my breakup and the circumstances that led to me living in the church, where I’m owning up to all my problems within my relationships and my sobriety,” says Francis, whose first full-length chronicles his struggles with addiction. “It felt like the right title for this record, since so much of it is about coming to the understanding that I continue to suffer because of those problems. It’s about acknowledging that and putting it out in the open in order to mitigate the suffering and try to work on it, instead of trying to hide everything.”

Continuing his ongoing collaboration with Changes producer Sergio Rios, a guitarist and engineer, who has worked with CeeLo Green and Alicia Keys, the album spotlights Francis’ restrained yet free-spirited piano playing. “From a very early age, I was playing late into the night in a very stream-of-consciousness kind of way,” he says, naming everything from ragtime to gospel soul to The Who among his formative influences. 

Recorded entirely on tape with his backing band, Kellen Boersma (guitar), Mike Starr (bass) and Collin O’Brien (drums), In Plain Sight is also fueled by Francis’ restless experimentation with a stash of analog synths lent by his friends during his early days living at the church “My sleep schedule flipped and I’d stay up all night working on songs in this very feverish way,” he says. “I just needed so badly to get completely lost in something.” 

By the end of his surreal and sometimes eerie experience of living at the church—“I’m convinced that the stairway leading to the choir loft where I used to practice is haunted,” he says—Francis had found his musicality undeniably elevated. “Because I was forced into this almost monastic existence and was alone so much of the time, I could play as often and as long as I wanted,” he says. “I ended up becoming such a better pianist, a better writer, a better reader of music.” Dedicated to a woman named Lil (the de facto leader of the St. Peter’s congregation), In Plain Sight ultimately reveals the possibility of redemption and transformation even as your world falls apart.

In the lead up to In Plain Sight‘s Friday release through ATO Records, I’ve written about “Can’t Stop The Rain,” an uplifting and shuffling boogie woogie featuring a Southern rock influenced arrangement that nods at Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Sweet Home Alabama,” complete with a soaring gospel-tinged chorus and a smoldering slide guitar solo from Derek Trucks. Underlying the whole affair is Francis’ unerring knack for crafting infectious hooks paired with lived-in songwriting. Of course in the case of “Can’t Stop The Rain,” the song expresses a deep, hard-won sense of gratitude, for experiencing the difficult shit and somehow surviving.

In Plain Sight‘s latest single “Problems” is trippy synthesis of 70s piano balladeer pop, AM rock, psych pop and blue-eyed soul featuring twinkling synth arpeggios, a strutting bass line, Francis’ easygoing yet plaintive falsetto, and a big book. But underneath the infectious and easygoing vibes, is a song with a narrator, who begins to realize that he ultimately is the cause and solution to his problems — and that he has the power to change his life.

Initially formed in Chicago back in 2019 and now currently based Portland, OR, the members of rising indie rock outfit Koalra quickly established a sound and songwriting approach indebted to 120 Minutes-era alt rock — in particular, The CureDinosaur Jr., WeenSonic YouthBoyracer, and The Thermals, as well as contemporaries like No Age, and Waaves

In the almost three years since their formation, the Portland-based outfit has been remarkably prolific: They’ve released three albums and a handful of EPs, including 2019’s self-titled debut, last year’s The Wakes and this year’s Into The Everything. Interestingly, Into The Everything, which featured “Water’s Push” found the rising indie rock act pushing their sound into decidedly New Wave territory. 

Koalra’s fourth album Love Songs To Remind Us That We Can’t Stand Each Other continues upon the band’s reputation for being prolific while being a collection of songs inspired by the disenchantment of our current sociopolitical climate, as well as a major lineup change — and their recent relocation to Portland.

Last month, I wrote about the  4AD Records-like “Sight Unseen,” a track centered around atmospheric synths, angular guitars, a driving, motorik-like groove, plaintive vocals and an enormous hook. Thematically, the song focused on some familiar and universal themes — in particular, nostalgia over a youthful yet major love that’s been long lost.

“When We Fall” is a melodic and yearning bit of post punk featuring shimmering and atmospheric synths, plaintive vocals, a driving 80s New Order-like groove, propulsive four-on-the-floor and a swooning hook. Much like its immediate predecessor, “When We Fall” is centered around a familiar nostalgia — of a time and place that you can’t quite get back.

New Video: Rising Indie Act Koalra Releases a Nostalgia Inducing Visual for Shimmering “Sight Unseen”

Formed in Chicago back in 2019 and now currently based Portland, OR, the members of rising indie rock outfit Koalra quickly established a sound and songwriting approach indebted to 120 Minutes-era alt rock — in particular, The CureDinosaur Jr., WeenSonic YouthBoyracer, and The Thermals, as well as contemporaries like No Age, and Waaves

Since their formation, the now Portland-based act have been remarkably prolific. They’ve released three albums and a handful of EPs, including 2019’s self-titled debut, last year’s The Wakes and this year’s Into The Everything, as well as a handful of EPs. Interestingly, Into The Everything, which featured “Water’s Push” found the rising indie rock act pushing their sound into New Wave territory.

Koalra’s fourth album Love Songs To Remind Us That We Can’t Stand Each Other is a collection of love songs inspired by the disenchantment of our current sociopolitical climate. The album is sparked by a lineup change and the change of location. The album’s latest single “Sight Unseen” continues a run of 4AD Records inspired material centered around atmospheric synths, angular guitars, a propulsive rhythm section and plaintive vocals. Thematically, the song focuses on some familiar and universal themes — nostalgia over a youthful yet major love that’s been long lost.

The recently released video features fittingly nostalgic footage by Len Elders that captures young people hanging out and goofing off in seemingly much simpler times.

Live Footage: Neal Francis Performs “Can’t Stop The Rain” at Shirk Studios, Chicago

Born Neal Francis O’Hara, the Livingston, NJ-born, Chicago-based singer/songwriter and pianist known as Neal Francis can trace the origins of his sound and approach to his childhood: he was obsessed with boogie woogie piano and his father gifted him a dusty Dr. John album. O’Hara quickly became a piano prodigy, touring Europe with Muddy Waters‘ son and with other prominent bluesmen across the States when he was just 18. 

In 2012, Neal Francis joined the popular instrumental funk band The Heard. With the Livingston-born, Chicago-based singer/songwriter and pianist at the creative helm, The Heard quickly became a national touring act, making stops at New Orleans Jazz Fest and Bear Creek, and touring with The New Mastersounds and The Revivalists. As The Heard’s profile rose, Francis sunk deeply into addiction. By 2015, he had been fired from his band, evicted from his apartment and was inching perilously close to his own destruction. “When you get close to death like that you can feel it,” Francis recalls. An alcohol-induced seizure that year led to a broken femur, dislocated arm, and, finally, the realization that he needed to get clean. Although he identifies as not being religious, Francis took a music-ministry job at St. Peter’s UCC in 2017 at the suggestion of a friend. 

Francis’ solo debut, 2019’s Changes was released to critical acclaim with the album landing on Best-of-the-Year lists of KCRWKEXP and The Current while BBC Radio 6hailed him as “the reincarnation of Allen Toussaint.” Adding to a breakthrough year, Francis toured with Lee Fields and The Expressions and JOVM mainstays The Black Pumas. He shared a stage with members of the legendary The Meters at New Orleans Jazz Fest. And he did a live session on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic.

Despite having breakthrough success with his career, Francis broke up with his longtime girlfriend while on tour to support Changes. When the tour ended, he trend to Chicago and found himself with no place to stay. So, he ended to St. Peter’s and asked if he could move into the parsonage. “I thought I’d only stay a few months but it turned into over a year, and I knew I had to do something to take advantage of this miraculous gift of a situation,” he says. 

Francis began writing new material, a series of songs that’s both strangely enchanted and painfully self-aware, inspired by Greek myths, frenzied dreams and late night drives and a possibly haunted church. (More on that in a bit.) The end result is the Chicago-based artist’s highly-anticipated sophomore album In Plain Sight, an album that derives its title from the title of a song that wound up getting cut from the album. “It’s a song about my breakup and the circumstances that led to me living in the church, where I’m owning up to all my problems within my relationships and my sobriety,” says Francis, whose first full-length chronicles his struggles with addiction. “It felt like the right title for this record, since so much of it is about coming to the understanding that I continue to suffer because of those problems. It’s about acknowledging that and putting it out in the open in order to mitigate the suffering and try to work on it, instead of trying to hide everything.”

Continuing his ongoing collaboration with Changes producer Sergio Rios, a guitarist and engineer, who has worked with CeeLo Green and Alicia Keys, the album spotlights Francis’ reminded yet free-spirited piano playing. “From a very early age, I was playing late into the night in a very stream-of-consciousness kind of way,” he says, naming everything from ragtime to gospel soul to The Who among his formative influences. 

Recorded entirely on tape with his backing band, Kellen Boersma (guitar), Mike Starr (bass) and Collin O’Brien (drums), In Plain Sight is also fueled by Francis’ restless experimentation with a stash of analog synths lent by his friends during his early days living at the church “My sleep schedule flipped and I’d stay up all night working on songs in this very feverish way,” he says. “I just needed so badly to get completely lost in something.” 

By the end of his surreal and sometimes eerie experience of living at the church—“I’m convinced that the stairway leading to the choir loft where I used to practice is haunted,” he says—Francis had found his musicality undeniably elevated. “Because I was forced into this almost monastic existence and was alone so much of the time, I could play as often and as long as I wanted,” he says. “I ended up becoming such a better pianist, a better writer, a better reader of music.” Dedicated to a woman named Lil (the de facto leader of the St. Peter’s congregation), In Plain Sight ultimately reveals the possibility of redemption and transformation even as your world falls apart.

In Plain Sight‘s first single is the uplifting and shuffling boogie woogie “Can’t Stop the Rain.” Centered around a Southern rock arrangement reminiscent of Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Sweet Home Alabama,” complete with a soaring gospel-tinged chorus, Francis’ latest single also prominently features a smoldering slide guitar solo from Derek Trucks.Underlying the whole affair is Francis’ unerring knack for a crafting an infectious hook paired with lived-in, world weary yet hopeful lyrics expressing a profound yet simple sentiment — gratitude. “I wrote that with my buddy David Shaw, who came up with the refrain and this idea that even though life’s going to throw all this shit at you, there’s still so many things to be grateful for,” Francis says.

Recently Francis and his backing band stopped at Shirk Studios for a loose and jammy version of “Can’t Stop the Rain,” which I think is a good taste of what to expect from Francis and his band, when they start hitting club across the country. Francis is currently on a massive and extensive Stateside tour that included dates opening for The Black Pumas and stops at Americana FestShaky Knees, and Outside Lands, as well as several other stops on the national festival circuit. The tour also includes two NYC area dates: a sold-out Mercury Lounge show on September 20, 2021 and a Brooklyn Bowl show on 9/22/21. You can check out the rest of the tour dates below. Tickets and other information is available at nealfrancis.com

In Plain Sight is slated for a November 5, 2021 release through ATO Records.

New Video: Aussie Post Punk Band S:Bahn Returns After a Lengthy Hiatus

Melbourne-based post-punk/alt rock act S:Bahn currently features the following:

Kristian Brenchley (guitar), a former member of WOMAN and Degrasser and a current member of The Tim Evans Band.
Denis Leadbeater (drums), a founding member of Rootbeer and a member of post-rock, improvisational duo Under The Sea.
Dik (guitar, vocals), a former member of Bastard Kestrel, an act championed by John Peel in the early 90s and the creative mastermind behind the minimal synth punk act mnttaB
Rene Schaefer (bass), a former member of The Bites and currently guitarist in cold wave act Banish

The act formed back in the mid 90s and quickly received attention for specializing in a Chicago and DC-inspired take on post punk. After releasing 1996’s debut effort, Stock Footage EP and 1998’s North Sea Clean, the members of the band went on to their own creative projects and day jobs. But after a long hiatus, the band reunited. Between lockdowns during the early parts of the pandemic, the band recorded their second full-length album, the soon-to-be released Queen of Diamonds.

“Exhaustion,” Queen of Diamonds’ latest single finds the band seemingly coming back to where they left off: Dischord Records meets Signals, Calls and Marches-era Mission of Burma inspired post punk centered around angular attack, thunderous drumming, half sung/half spoken verses and multi-part harmonizing on the song’s anthemic chorus. At its core is a searing yet world wearied indictment of post modern, consumerist life.

The recently released video is a frenetically shot, black and white, visual that captures the energy of the band’s live show.

Polaks Records will be releasing Queen of Diamonds tomorrow.

New Audio: Acclaimed Chicago-based Singer/Songwriter Neal Francis’ Souful and Uplifting “Can’t Stop the Rain”

Born Neal Francis O’Hara, the Livingston, NJ-born, Chicago-based singer/songwriter and pianist known as Neal Francis can trace the origins of his sound and approach to his childhood: he was obsessed with boogie woogie piano and his father gifted him a dusty Dr. John album. O’Hara quickly became a piano prodigy, touring Europe with Muddy Waters’ son and with other prominent bluesmen across the States when he was just 18.

In 2012, Neal Francis joined the popular instrumental funk band The Heard. With the Livingston-born, Chicago-based singer/songwriter and pianist at the creative helm, The Heard quickly became a national touring act, making stops at New Orleans Jazz Fest and Bear Creek, and touring with The New Mastersounds and The Revivalists. As The Heard’s profile rose, Francis sunk deeply into addiction. By 2015, he had been fired from his band, evicted from his apartment and was inching perilously close to his own destruction. “When you get close to death like that you can feel it,” Francis recalls. An alcohol-induced seizure that year led to a broken femur, dislocated arm, and, finally, the realization that he needed to get clean. Although he identifies as not being religious, Francis took a music-ministry job at St. Peter’s UCC in 2017 at the suggestion of a friend.

Francis’ solo debut, 2019’s Changes was released to critical acclaim with the album landing on Best-of-the-Year lists of KCRW, KEXP and The Current while BBC Radio 6 hailed him as “the reincarnation of Allen Toussaint.” Adding to a breakthrough year, Francis toured with Lee Fields and The Expressions and JOVM mainstays The Black Pumas. He shared a stage with members of the legendary The Meters at New Orleans Jazz Fest. And he did a live session on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic.

Despite having breakthrough success with his career, Francis broke up with his longtime girlfriend while on tour to support Changes. When the tour ended, he trend to Chicago and found himself with no place to stay. So, he ended to St. Peter’s and asked if he could move into the parsonage. “I thought I’d only stay a few months but it turned into over a year, and I knew I had to do something to take advantage of this miraculous gift of a situation,” he says.

Francis began writing new material, a series of songs that’s both strangely enchanted and painfully self-aware, inspired by Greek myths, frenzied dreams and late night drives and a possibly haunted church. (More on that in a bit.) The end result is the Chicago-based artist’s highly-anticipated sophomore album In Plain Sight, an album that derives its title from the title of a song that wound up getting cut from the album. “It’s a song about my breakup and the circumstances that led to me living in the church, where I’m owning up to all my problems within my relationships and my sobriety,” says Francis, whose first full-length chronicles his struggles with addiction. “It felt like the right title for this record, since so much of it is about coming to the understanding that I continue to suffer because of those problems. It’s about acknowledging that and putting it out in the open in order to mitigate the suffering and try to work on it, instead of trying to hide everything.”

Continuing his ongoing collaboration with Changes producer Sergio Rios, a guitarist and engineer, who has worked with CeeLo Green and Alicia Keys, the album spotlights Francis’ reminded yet free-spirited piano playing. “From a very early age, I was playing late into the night in a very stream-of-consciousness kind of way,” he says, naming everything from ragtime to gospel soul to The Who among his formative influences.

Recorded entirely on tape with his backing band, Kellen Boersma (guitar), Mike Starr (bass) and Collin O’Brien (drums), In Plain Sight is also fueled by Francis’ restless experimentation with a stash of analog synths lent by his friends during his early days living at the church “My sleep schedule flipped and I’d stay up all night working on songs in this very feverish way,” he says. “I just needed so badly to get completely lost in something.”

By the end of his surreal and sometimes eerie experience of living at the church—“I’m convinced that the stairway leading to the choir loft where I used to practice is haunted,” he says—Francis had found his musicality undeniably elevated. “Because I was forced into this almost monastic existence and was alone so much of the time, I could play as often and as long as I wanted,” he says. “I ended up becoming such a better pianist, a better writer, a better reader of music.” Dedicated to a woman named Lil (the de facto leader of the St. Peter’s congregation), In Plain Sight ultimately reveals the possibility of redemption and transformation even as your world falls apart.

In Plain Sight’s first single is the uplifting and shuffling boogie woogie “Can’t Stop the Rain.” Centered around a Southern rock arrangement reminiscent of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” complete with a soaring gospel-tinged chorus, Francis’ latest single also prominently features a smoldering slide guitar solo from Derek Trucks. Underlying the whole affair is Francis’ unerring knack for a crafting an infectious hook paired with lived-in, world weary yet hopeful lyrics expressing a profound yet simple sentiment — gratitude. “I wrote that with my buddy David Shaw, who came up with the refrain and this idea that even though life’s going to throw all this shit at you, there’s still so many things to be grateful for,” Francis says.

Directed by Alec Basse, the recently released video for “Can’t Stop the Rain” is split between the Francis and his backing band performing in a sparse studio space and Francis playing on his childhood piano in a suburban styled home — in the rain. Towards the end of the video, we see Francis destroying his childhood piano, the same one he used for the song’s recording.

Francis is currently on a massive and extensive Stateside tour that included dates opening for The Black Pumas and stops at Bonnaroo, Americana Fest, Shaky Knees, and Outside Lands, as well as several other stops on the national festival circuit. The tour also includes two NYC area dates: a sold-out Mercury Lounge show on September 20, 2021 and a Brooklyn Bowl show on 9/22/21. You can check out the rest of the tour dates below. Tickets and other information is available at nealfrancis.com.

In Plain Sight is slated for a November 5, 2021 release through ATO Records.

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In 2004, Chicago-based producer David Vandenberg brought the Leeds-based funk act The New Mastersounds to the States as an opener for Greyboy All-Stars for what would be the acclaimed British act’s first Stateside tour. And as the story goes, Vandenberg took The New Mastersounds’ guitarist, bandleader and producer Eddie Roberts out to Rosa’s, a legendary blues club on Chicago’s West Side on Roberts’ first night in town to catch local blues legend Omar Coleman, who had been playing Rosa’s for decades. Interestingly, almost two decades later, Roberts would wind up producing Coleman’s forthcoming album Eddie Roberts Presents Omar Coleman: Strange Times.

Slated for release this summer through Roberts’ own Color Red Music, the album’s title is an ode to The New Mastersounds 2001 debut, Keb Darge Presents: The New Mastersounds — and in many ways Coleman’s album finds Roberts, an acclaimed musician, bandleader and producer taking on the role of curator and influencer, championing and supporting artists he believes should be heard and love, essentially paying Keb Darge’s support forward to a worthy act.

Earlier this year, I wrote about album title track “Strange Times,” a strutting and gritty synthesis of The Payback-era James Brown funk and Chicago blues featuring a looping bluesy guitar line, bursts of shimmering strings and a funky bass line that would Bootsy Collins‘ proud paired with Coleman’s powerhouse, soulful vocals. Lyrically, the song’s origins can be traced to a series of conversations Coleman had with Roberts during the album’s recording sessions about the bizarre, infuriating and tragic state of America during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unsurprisingly, the exchange between the two kept turning back to the fact that we were all living in very strange times. Coleman took that and ran with it, immediately scribbling out incisive and fiery lyrics that accurately describe life in our very moment with the song talking about the abject poverty, desperation and uncertainty that hardworking and decent folks everywhere face. As the old saying the rich get richer while the poor get sicker.

“Chicago,” Strange Times‘ latest single is a fiery song that hews to Chicago’s beloved blues tradition while brashly refusing to be pigeonholed. Much like its predecessor, it’s a bit of synthesis of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf-like blues and James Brown-era soul featuring an enormous horn line, a blazing harmonica solo and a strutting grove paired with Coleman’s soulful wailing. Starting with Coleman proudly announcing that he’s from Chicago’s West Side, the song talks about the things I love about that city: its a town inhabited by tough, hardworking people, who like countless people across the world are struggling to survive to keep their dignity intact, despite the despair, shittiness and inequity and inequality thrown in their path.

For the album, Roberts recruited an accomplished backing band that features himself, Ghost Light’Dan Africano (bass), Matador! Soul Sounds‘ Chris Spies (keys and organ), Dragondeer’s Carl Sorenson (drums), Lettuce‘s Eric “Benny” Bloom (trumpet), Michal Menert‘s Nick Gerlach (sax), Adrienne Short (viola) and Kari Clifton (violin) to help him with a sonic approach that would combine classic blues with funkier blues. And to capture the rawness and immediacy of the material, they recorded it straight to tape on Color Red Studios’ Tascam 388. “I hear Omar’s voice as a cross between Muddy Waters and Charles Bradley,” Roberts says. “I tried to reflect those qualities in music approach and songwriting as well as the way we recorded the album and built the instrumentation of the tracks.

Live Footage: The Black Angels Perform “Young Men Dead” at LEVITATION Festival

Levitation Festival (formerly known as Austin Psych Fest) can trace its beginnings to a simple idea devised by the members of  The Black Angels in the back of a tour van in 2007 — let’s invite all of our favorite bands and all of our friends for our version of a music festival. 

The inaugural Austin Psych Fest was in March 2008 and by popular demand, the festival expanded to a three day event the following year. Austin Psych Fest quickly became an international destination for psych rock fans with lineups featuring up-and-comers, cult favorites, legendary and influential acts and a headlining set from The Black Angels. Renamed Levitation in honor of Austin psych rock pioneers The 13th Floor Elevators, the festival has sparked an new, international psych rock movement while inspiring the creation of several similar events across the globe, including Levitation Festival events in Chicago, Vancouver, France and a SXSW showcase, as well as other special events in Europe and Latin America.

Late last year, Levitation Festival’s record label, The Reverberation Appreciation Society announced the launch of a new live album series, Live at LEVITATION. Comprised of material played and recorded throughout the festival’s decade-plus history, the live album series specifically captures and documents key artists in the contemporary psych rock scene. Of course, many of these moments were also important moments of Austin’s live music scene. 

The live series’ first album Kikagaku Moyo — Live at LEVITATION featured two different Kikagaku Moyo sets — their 2014 Levitation Festival set, which was one of the Japanese psych rock act’s first Stateside shows and their return to Levitation back in 2019, during a sold-out Stateside tour, which included a stop at Warsaw that year with Japanese krautrockers Minami Deutsch.

Live at LEVITATION‘s second album The Black Angels — Live at LEVITATION features the festival’s founders The Black Angels. The Black Angels live album is comprised of material recorded at Austin Psych Fest 2010, 2011 and 2012, and captures a rare glimpse of the festival’s earlier, more humble days. And of course, for Black Angels fans, like myself, the album features live version of six songs from their first two albums — Passover and Directions to See a Ghost. “Since the beginning The Black Angels were meant to be heard live,” the band’s Christian Bland explains in press notes. “This record captures the rumble of the drums and amps, and the very essence of the way it should sound. Now future generations and new listeners can now hear how these songs were meant to be heard.”

The album’s first single was a hypnotic and equally menacing version of Passover single “Manipulation” that featured a mesmerizing guest spot from Elephant Stone‘s bassist, sitarist and frontman Rishi Dihr. And building up more buzz for the album’s release day — which is tomorrow — the band released the live album’s second and latest single, a muscular and menacing version of Passover single “Young Men Dead.” The accompanying live footage captures the band and their live sound with an uncanny fidelity.

This weekend is a big weekend for the band: As I mentioned their live album, Black Angels — Live at LEVITATION is slated for a digital and vinyl release tomorrow. And if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past year, you’d recall that The Black Angels and MIEN frontman Alex Mass released his solo debut, a meditative and gentler take on the psych rock sound he’s developed throughout his nearly two decade career, inspired by the birth of his son Luca.

Much like countless other artists across the globe, the pandemic has put touring on hold indefinitely. So, Maas and his backing band — Bryan Richie, Jake Garcia and Rob Kidd — decamped to nearby Bastrop, TX to bring the live show that they had developed around the album’s material to the world through a live performance film, shot in the Texan city’s historic downtown.  “We shot this down in an old opera house built in 1889 and a 100 year old German tailor mercantile building in historic downtown, which is now Astro Records,” Maas says in press notes. “This session is a glimpse of what a tour on Luca would look like had we not been in a pandemic. It was a joy to get out and get back with the friends and collaborators I created this album with, and bring these songs to life. For now this is the world tour, and a look at what we’re looking forward to being able to do on stage when we are back up and rolling! Thank you to Jonas Wilson of Mr. Pink Records who asked me originally to film this in the beautiful city of Bastrop.” 

Featuring sections from Luca and three new songs, the live session shot in Bastrop, TX will stream as a Levitation Session on March 27, 2021 at 7:00PM Central.

Back in 2004, Chicago-based producer David Vandenberg brought the Leeds-based funk act The New Mastersounds to the States as an opener for Greyboy All-Stars for what would be the acclaimed British act’s first Stateside tour. As the story goes, Vandenberg took The New Mastersounds’ guitarist, bandleader and producer Eddie Roberts out to Rosa’s, a legendary blues club on Chicago’s West Side on Roberts’ first night in town to catch local bluesman Omar Coleman, a local blues legend, who had been playing Rosa’s for decades. 17 years later, Roberts wound up producing Coleman’s forthcoming album Eddie Roberts Presents Omar Coleman: Strange Times.

Slated for release this summer through Roberts’ own Color Red Music, the album’s title is an ode to The New Mastersounds 2001 debut, Keb Darge Presents: The New Mastersounds — and in many ways Coleman’s album finds Roberts, an acclaimed musician, bandleader and producer taking on the role of curator and influencer, championing and supporting artists he believes should be heard and loved.

Eddie Roberts Presents Omar Coleman: Strange Times‘ latest single, album title track is a strutting and gritty synthesis of The Payback-era James Brown funk and Chicago blues within a classic 12 bar blues structure featuring a looping bluesy guitar line reminiscent of B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, an enormous horn line, bursts of shimmering strings and a funky bass line that would make Bootsy Collins‘ proud paired with Coleman’s powerhouse, soulful vocals. Lyrically, the song’s origins can be traced to a series of conversations Coleman had with Roberts during the album’s recording sessions about bizarre, infuriating and tragic state of America during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unsurprisingly, the exchange between the two kept turning back to the fact that we were all living in very strange times. Coleman took that and ran with it, immediately scribbling out incisive and fiery lyrics that accurately describe life in our very moment with the song talking about the abject poverty, desperation and uncertainty that hardworking and decent folks everywhere face. As the old saying the rich get richer while the poor get sicker.

Roberts’ recruited an accomplished backing band that features himself, Ghost Light’s Dan Africano (bass), Matador! Soul SoundsChris Spies (keys and organ), Dragondeer’s Carl Sorenson (drums), Lettuce‘s Eric “Benny” Bloom (trumpet), Michal Menert‘s Nick Gerlach (sax), Adrienne Short (viola) and Kari Clifton (violin) to help him with a sonic approach that would combine classic blues with funkier blues. And to capture the rawness and immediacy of the material, they recorded it straight to tape on Color Red Studios’ Tascam 388. “I hear Omar’s voice as a cross between Muddy Waters and Charles Bradley,” Roberts says. “I tried to reflect those qualities in music approach and songwriting as well as the way we recorded the album and built the instrumentation of the tracks.”