The Prizefighters are a Midwest rocksteady force to be reckoned with, and I have no problem saying they are leaders in their genre right now as a still fairly young band. I first heard them in the infancy of this blog when I reviewed their record Follow My Sound back in 2012. Not long after that, this blog went on a hiatus for a couple years while this band continued to build their mastery of the ska and rocksteady sound. This is no exaggeration.
The Prizefighters have been a backing band for respected legends like Derrick Morgan, Stranger Cole and Patsy Todd, Roy Panton and Yvonne Harrison, just to name a few. They have teamed up with legendary harmonica player and vocalist Charlie Organaire on a trio of 45rpm singles (released on Jump Up! Records) and a European tour. When it comes to an American band injecting real authenticity into a Jamaican sound, the Prizefighters have done more than their share of homework. They present this respectfully and as authentically as possible. This is clearly evident when you hear their new album, Firewalk.
The love and deep respect for the ska and rocksteady sounds is loud and clear through this record. In fact, the album was recorded in a 100% analog environment to preserve that sound and energy and it truly has the feel of something straight out of the 1960’s. I was immediately impressed by this. In a modern recording world with so many artists relying on technology to polish their sound, I respect deeply how much care went into the preservation of that vibe that we all know and love. It was perfectly captured. The groove of the record itself from start to finish is purely classic while still highlighting the modern chops of this band.
Right out of the gate, the record is a hitter. The opening track, Just Let The Music Play, has a steady bass groove, great smooth horns, and a gentle but hitting vocal. The next track, You’ll Never Know, kicks the energy right up with a sound that sends you straight back to the 60’s with the beat and the vocal energy. This is a fun song, and the horn and drum work is great, capturing that energy and sending it upwards and outwards. I would look forward to seeing this one done live, it’s a LOT of fun.
As much as I dig the Prizefighters’ vocals, they do a fantastic job with the traditional rocksteady sound as an instrumental as well. The third track on the album, The Accolade, is a great example of what they can do without vocal. Spectacular brass work and that steady chugging groove keeps feet tapping through to the end. Bebop Rocksteady is another one. It kicks right in with those horns to grab you and then holds on tight with a steady drum and bass groove. The thing about these folks is the way they make the music sing without having to say a word. They bring all the energy of an enormous crowd and funnel it through horns and bass to come out steady and smooth.
Skip on over to Burnt Toast and Black Coffee next and feel the energy immediately. That cool sound, great backup vocals, a great modern yet traditional sound. The vocals on this one are probably my favorite on the whole record. The title track, Firewalk, is another one worth mentioning. It’s got a sexy, creeping groove and these quick and shadowy vocals woven in that get right to the heart of the matter, “If the ground gets too hot, you must do the fire walk…” The sax work is really catchy and this track is the kind that will stick with you while keeping you moving. This is not a record to stand still listening to at all.
All in all, this record is a must have. There is a lot of big talk out there about capturing a traditional sound and vibe in a recording. Usually instead, you get something concocted and over produced. The Prizefighters took their love for that sound and brought it way back. It rings bells in the soul to listen to their work on this record. It’s really, really well done.
Firewalk will be available on CD, cassette (yes!), and digital on February 15th. There will also be a vinyl release on Jump Up! Records later on in 2019, if you want to add some Prizefighters goodness to your library. The band’s record release show will be happening at the Turf Club in St. Paul, MN on February 15th, presented by Ska Brewing. For those of us on the East Coast, we can expect the band for a tour later on this year as well so we can get our own booty’s shaking.
When I was 16 years old, I was introduced to the wonderful world of ska music. It was the mid-90’s and ska was in its third wave height so it was easy to fall in love with the sound and the energy. We were buying comps, heading to The Wetlands in NYC, covering ourselves in checkers, and enjoying this craze for everything it was worth. It was easy back then as it was on MTV and in the malls where we found ourselves creeping most weekends. I have memories of traversing the mountain roads of northern New Jersey with the sounds of the Toasters blaring from crackling speakers in an old Mazda, trying like hell to sing along with the chat version of The Toasters’ “Dub 56” and failing miserably. The man behind that fast chat was Coolie Ranx and in our minds, he was the master of that sound.
Since his work with The Toasters, Coolie went on to found The Pilfers which brought ska and punk rock energies into a rugged but danceable sound he called “raggacore”. Meanwhile, he continued to add his particular style and power to the mixes of dozens of releases and has remained a fixture in New York City’s ska and reggae scene. Coolie Ranx is honestly one of the hardest working members of the scene since 1990 and continues to bring that signature sound he nurtured and perfected to the masses.
Fast forward to now, and I have a message from Coolie asking me to check out his soon to be released single, “Oh Girl” for the blog. Suddenly I was 16 years old again. I have been devouring this song since I got the link and I honestly cannot get enough.
This track is everything you would expect from Coolie Ranx and more. His vocal is that soaring and brilliantly melodic sound that he has cultivated throughout his career. It carries you through the song with a comforting presence while telling a story of struggle, self-doubt, and a pure but heavy yearning. It’s a gorgeous combination, rounded out with a pulsing, heavy vibe and his signature “raggacore” sound in breakdown. The flow rises and falls in a multifaceted grind and infectious groove while pulling at your soul in the way he uses his voice. The drums, guitar, and those vocals culminate in aggressive tone at the build-up, creating a feel of pure ache, climaxing while still being groove heavy and danceable as the song comes to a close. Absolutely brilliant.
The accompanying credits go to Phil Wartel on steady hitting drums, Steve Capecci on groove-heavy bass, Jonathan Uda bringing the sky-high guitar riffs, and programmed drums, overdubs, and those flowing keys to Computer Paul. Honestly, if you can get through this song without moving with the beat and the energy of it, you might want to check your pulse. This is pure groove.
But as always, you don’t have to take my word for it. Check out the track “Oh Girl” on Spotify, Apple, and other streaming services today and see for yourself…
I admit I am very late to the party in regards to Dopapod.
About four years ago, they played with Mother’s Wine, who my husband played bass for, at the teeny tiny Stanhope House here in New Jersey. It was prior to getting my head out of my ass in regards to music and even then, I was impressed by what I saw. Did you ever see a band and think, “There is something to this and I don’t know what it is.” It was one of those moments. I never really forgot that show. The problem was that I just wasn’t into it yet. I guess I wasn’t ready yet to appreciate it. My mind was still too closed off. All that considered, I was still taken back by the sound and the groove that these gents put forth.
Fast forward to Disc Jam this past June. I was there covering the festival for the blog and was going to again have a chance to whet my whistle with Dopapod goodness. Eric and I were at our campsite, not far from the stage, prepping shrimp tacos for my upcoming Beau Sasser interview and Dopapod’s set was our soundtrack. It was in that moment, sipping beer and grilling shrimp, that my ears finally perked up. Dopapod is their own sound. They are not like other bands. I guess that is what kept drawing me to them. Still, I was not yet familiar enough with their sound to really appreciate them live. That was going to change.
Over the last couple months, as my life got increasingly chaotic, I have been leaning hard on music for stability. It’s been the glue that has held my soul together while I went through some mentally trying moments and drastic realizations resulting in major life changes. One of the bands that has crept deeper and deeper into my soul through all that has been Dopapod. It started where it probably does for a lot of folks, judging by the play numbers on Spotify. I heard Present Ghosts, and I fell hard down a Dopapod rabbit hole. Something about that song just got inside me. It had groove but was still laced with a spacey synth vibe. It had these gorgeous vocals that iced the track creating a magical, delicious chill that got down to my bones. That was it. Sold. Done. Put a fork in me. Hi, my name is Amanda, and I am addicted to Dopapod.
When I got wind of a new album coming out this fall, excited didn’t even begin to explain it. Sometimes I get to write about artists and albums and it feels like the very best Christmas morning ever for me. This is one of those times. I can’t tell you how many times I checked my e-mail waiting for this preview.
Coming October 26th, 2017, the band’s fifth Studio album, MEGAGEM, is going to drop like a bomb and blow a whole lot of minds. Mark my words. I really didn’t know what to expect when the record landed in my inbox, so I sat myself down and got ready. I was not prepared for what I heard. My first full listen through was basically me sitting there with headphones on, staring at the wall with my mouth hanging open. It’s not to say that the albums that came before this were not great, because they are. Dopapod is a band of incredibly creative songwriters and high caliber, insanely talented musicians. It’s why they can do what they do, blending dance, funk, and prog rock into a jam rock vibe that appeals to every corner of the scene. What I am saying is that they raised the bar now. Scratch that. They picked the bar up, spun it around, and fucking launched it. It’s no longer visible. The bar is gone. This record is amazing.
There is so much that is wonderful about MEGAGEM that I don’t know where to start. All those trusted components of Dopapod records are there. The gorgeous vocals that Eli and Rob weave together that are nothing short of magical in their applications. These two guys know how to take their voices and lace them together like LA Gear neon laces in 1988 creating an unmistakable sound that is 100% Dopapod. It’s one of the things that pulled me into their sound so hard. They truly understand the instrument that their voices are. It’s impressive. It’s beautiful.
The band brings that prog rock funk with trailing guitar on tracks like Buster Brown that take you to that quiet moment of sway where you have to just stop and not think. It’s the kind of song that picks you up so politely and carries you somewhere else entirely without ever leaving your seat. It’s a gentle groove with steady drums, flowing bass, and those tasty layering keys. The track Starfish is another one that got deep into my soul as well. It carries a pulsing drum beat with rain-like keys, deep bass, and vocals that pull you. The pulsing stops for a moment to give way to a quick, sharp and really cool bass spot before climaxing in a trippy emotional place. Something about the way the band wrote these songs is so incredibly Dopapod, but so incredibly different.
The song Mucho is an example of the funky groove that the band does so well. It’s an incredibly inventive track while still being that clean body moving jam funk that Dopapod does so well. This is a band that has and will always get your groove going. They take sounds you think you know well and fuse them together in ways you never thought you would love. This song has this enchanting vocal break between grooves that reminds me of Zero 7. It gives that same delicious chill. It’s so good. Confabulation has a real strong Beatles vibe. It’s got that psychedelic, George Harrison thing going on. Think Revolver era with really great guitar solos. That’s not a sound that just anyone can pull off.
But let’s talk about the big one. The first single, Plaese Haalp was a kick to my head. It shook me to the core, and I honestly can’t stop listening to it. This is the song that really made me say this is going to be the record that takes everyone by surprise this year. It kicks off nothing short of straight rocking, stopping only to lay down major funk vibe in the chorus. The vocals in this song are incredible. They hit peaks and valleys as the song progresses. The first time I listened, I didn’t know the band had posted the song as a video on Facebook and I stupidly assumed those strings were synthesized. NO. Those are in studio orchestra musicians lending their talents to the album and it lifts this song to a whole new place. The guitar solo is tasty. The bass lines are funky and strong. The percussion in this song blows my mind.
I put this song on in the car the second time because I needed to give the vibe a real feel and that is where I get it. About two thirds of the way through, the song changes. It slows and creeps but with a marching pace. Eli’s vocals here made the hair on the back of my neck stand up as the song built higher and higher. Then it comes in hard with that synth. Good God, dude. But wait. It stops for a second before kicking back in HARD with strings and drums. This part of the song gives me goose bumps every single time I listen to it. It’s an emotional explosion set to music. The power in how this track delivers is palpable. It’s a perfect combo of aggression and passion just picked up and thrown at you. You will feel this song in your chest like someone knocked your wind out. I don’t air drum in the car to much of anything outside of Rush’s Counterparts album and I was beating the ever living hell out of my steering wheel here. This song is incredible.
The band recorded the instrumentals on this album at Mountain Star Studios in Colorado in the middle of the winter. Maybe it was the isolation, maybe it was something spiritual, maybe it was just that Dopapod is that freaking good but the music that was put together on this album sings to you when there are no words. The way these guys put sounds together is something I can’t begin to understand but no one is doing what these guys have put together with MEGAGEM. A lot of artists are trying. No one is pulling it off. Not like this. MEGAGEM in a new level.
There is a big debate on Facebook jam scene groups these days about who is going to get the “torch” passed to them. Everyone wants to know who will be the next big band. Everyone has an opinion about why they think their favorite artist is going to be THAT artists who will carry the jam scene into the next generation. There are tons of theories about it. Every band’s fans thinks they will be it and they can mostly defend their position with examples and spreadsheets and full Power Point presentations if asked. After listening to MEGAGEM, I can honestly say that Dopapod is a contender. Honestly, they get my vote.
After MEGAGEM drops, the band will be embarking on a cross country tour before taking a well planned year long hiatus to focus on themselves. They have kept up a pretty impressive pace over the last seven years and it’s actually a brilliant idea. It gives everyone ample time to sit and chew on MEGAGEM for a while, and chew you should. There is a lot about this record to consider and I honestly can’t say enough about it. Of course, I finally get into Dopapod right before they take an extended break. I am going to have to hit as many of these shows as possible.
Dopapod are a band that truly feel everything that music is. They see it as the art that it can be and they remain loyal to that art. In a world that seems more and more overrun by what can be easily tapped out and sold as music, the artistry of musicians is becoming more and more precious. Far too often, creativity seems to take a backseat to what is easy and profitable lately. I am delighted to be right now sitting and listening to something so obviously crafted by artists who pour themselves into their music from the inside. I don’t know if all the emotion dripping from me as I listen was intended, but it’s damn sure appreciated.
The band will be releasing certain tracks as “Name Your Own Price” on Bandcamp leading up to the actual CD/Digital/Vinyl release as a gift to fans. They obviously don’t have to do that. The fact that they are says a lot about who they are.
You can find the list of tour dates on their website HERE which includes a New Years Eve show in Boston, the band’s origins, at the Paradise Rock Club.
I’m a ska girl who married a jam guy. We are both pig-headed, stubborn idiots who bonded over Bad Religion and Irish coffees long before we ever took off our personal blinders and truly delved into one another’s “home scenes”, so to speak. I have told this story many times on this blog, and it always ended with our strong desires – someday when we win the lottery and have all the money in the world for guarantees and VIP treatment – to have a massive festival to celebrate it all.
That’s our lottery dream. After we buy a farm, pay for college for our kids, have a good night’s sleep for the first time knowing our bills are actually all paid, we want to have a celebration of music that creates that bridge across the line few dare to toe between the jam scene and the ska scene. Now, let me clarify that this line really does not exist between musicians. The line exists in crowds. It exists between promoters. It exists to label heads. The folks to whom a scene and it’s fashions hold more water than it’s music. The folks who won’t listen to something if it’s appearance go against the grain of what they are used to being surrounded by. It exists in every scene. No one is exempt. It’s no one’s fault…but it’s there.
One thing I learned since opening my own eyes to the world outside my own scene is that nothing I thought I knew was true. Nothing I thought was typical was typical. Nothing I thought was universal was actually universal except love. A deep love for music that seeps into our skin and finds its way down into our bones until its truly part of us. No one knows that devotion to something so deep like a Deadhead. I married a Deadhead. Whats more – I married a Deadhead who was raised by a Deadhead so this deep love comes inherited. Our wedding song was Ripple. What I know though is that folks not raised with a love of the Dead don’t always find it on their own. They often carry a misunderstanding of everything that surrounds the Grateful Dead.
Enter Roots of Creation. An incredible fusion of reggae and funk fusion that has been fueling the jam scene with love and groove since 1999. Their smooth reggae feel and strong, sweet mix of vibe and sound has made them a well respected presence and who better to take the songs of one of the most legendary bands in the world and create something magical… and that is exactly what they did. Their album, Grateful Dub, was a crowd-funded effort to bring collaborations with some incredible artists to the songs of the Grateful Dead and see what sort of incredible explosions occurred. What they achieved is nothing short of amazing. Not only that, it’s been a true bridge across the scenes. It’s an example of that thing we lottery-dream about. It’s right here.
With songs like They Love Each Other, the Dead’s 1973 classic, presented on Grateful Dub as a vocal collaboration with the jam scene’s own Hayley Jane of Hayley Jane and the Primates. Hayley is an extremely versatile vocalist and performer, so it’s no surprise that she could nail such a great Dead song. What is amazing though is that she nailed a great Dead song covered in reggae style. Not amazing because I didn’t think she could, just amazing because I never heard her do anything like this and it’s straight FIRE. The horns in this song are sexy as hell, the beat is steady and grooving, and the way Roots vocalist Brett Wilson harmonizes with Hayley is just fantastic.
I mentioned above that Ripple was my wedding song. It’s safe to say that I hold it close to my heart and I am a bit of a snob about covers when it’s songs I have a deep connection to. I won’t lie. I was worried about this one, even being the ska girl I am. I have to say though – they nailed it. Roots teamed up with G Love and longtime Jerry Band member Melvin Seals on this 1970 Grateful Dead classic. It’s gorgeous, it’s got groove, it makes me want to shake my body and cry a little. It sounds like a backyard party with the best people you ever knew. It sounds like the spirit of the Dead in a different package. It’s infused with everything that makes this music great.
Now let me get to where my mind exploded on this album. Roots included a cover of the 1972 Dead song Deal. It has a kicking, smoking, purely hot groove that would be at home at any ska, reggae, rocksteady show I ever attended. This song was a collaboration with dirty reggae masters The Aggrolites and Jesse Wagner’s vocals lit this song up like dry sticks doused in gasoline. My husband called me up almost in tears when he first heard this song and the moment I heard it, I got it. This was a primary band in the jam scene teamed up with a primary band in the ska scene ripping up an incredible song from the Grateful Dead in their own ways as one. That right there is everything. This whole thing has my mind in a million pieces for the best reasons.
That’s just a sampling. You need to listen to the whole album. What Roots of Creation did here, taking some of the best loved songs by some of the best songwriters and performers and weaving the with reggae-fusion and style, is a treat on it’s own. The fact that they did it with prominent faces from both the jam scene and the ska/reggae scene is something extra special. It bridges a gap between fans of wonderful music who in many cases have no idea how much in common they really have. The love and unity I found in both of these scenes redefined my life at different stages and made me the person I am, and the person I am constantly evolving into. I can only hope there is more of this to come. More incredible scene crossing collaborations and eyes that open all across the board, There is so much more magic to be had.
The album was recorded in the band’s hometown of Brookline, New Hampshire with legendary producer and engineer Errol Brown – known for his work with masters like The Paragons, Alton Ellis, and Bob Marley. They recorded the album over ten sixteen hour days in January of 2017 and what was captured is pure, soul shaking goodness straight up to the heavens. The thing I love the most about the jam scene has always been how I am continuously being shown I know nothing about how much music can surprise me. This brought that love to a much more personal place.
I can’t believe how much this album floored me. I love discovering I can still be floored. You can find out more on the band’s website here: https://www.rootsofcreation.com
Presented by Jibberjazz Productions, this year’s musical camping extravaganza will feature 24 musical acts on 3 stages, along with late night jams, kid’s activities, workshops, vendors, parade, plenty of room for camping and more. Festival artists are hand selected from all corners of the USA, and will showcase a variety of musical styles including: Jam, Funk, Bluegrass, Rock & Roll, Blues, Folk, Fusion, Prog, World, Roots, Jazz etc. Presale tickets are available now! Our Some Kind of Jam 17 lineup features bands drawn from 13 different states. Additionally, 14 out of 24 musical acts have never played a Jibberjazz event before. The true spirit of Jibberjazz is alive and well, as we continue on our quest to find the next great sounds that emerge from the abyss.
Going back almost 20 years, Jibberjazz has produced over 50 music & camping festivals, including the annual Some Kind of Jam and Meeting of the Minds – as well as Madsummer Meltdown and Boogie In The Bungalow and many other music-related events. These gatherings have featured national and regional, original acts ranging in funk, jam, bluegrass, psychedelic, jazz, blues, folk, reggae, rock & roll, singer-songwriter, and many more musical styles too numerous to list. All Jibberjazz events are 100% self-produced, with no corporate ties or sponsorships, as we remain a fiercely independent grassroots organization.
The Jibberjazz focus is finding national and regional bands on the rise and unleashing them on unsuspecting audiences. We are a bridge between vast musical pockets scattered across the country and our main purpose is to find and develop these bands. We take great pride in the quality and diversity of our lineups, and we are always on the lookout for the next great sound to emerge from the abyss. Tomorrow’s Headliners Today: The mantra Jibberjazz has embraced throughout past couple decades.
We were drenched from head to toe, despite our thin plastic ponchos. We were cold, as the temperature had dropped into the mid 40’s with a wind that ebbed and flowed with its own prerogative. We carried nothing but my “zoo bag” purse strung across my body and a cold bag full of beer and alcoholic iced tea. We shivered as we walked through the mud, dodging puddles that swallowed whole feet and filled shoes. Under normal circumstances, we were in a situation that would have had us declaring “fuck this” and heading back to our sketchy but warm motel room in Monticello and ordering some takeout while planning an early voyage back home to our own lake in New Jersey.
But that wasn’t tonight. Tonight was special. Our dear friends in Peak had invited us to Yasgur’s Farm to see them play Yasgur Road Productions’ “May Meltdown” festival. It was not a normal festival. We have shown up for lots of festivals, but this was different. This was a legendary place. The entire area has an infectious energy that seems to come up from out of the dirt. Every single day people arrive just to feel it. But there was so much more to this evening.
Before COVID came and closed all the clubs and all the venues, before it took over our schools, our hospitals, our families and our entire lives, the last show we saw out and about in the world was Peak. We saw them play at The Bowery Electric on February 29th, 2020 and it was a wonderful, pure, and energetic evening. I look at the photos from that night and I can feel the sweat I was shedding as I danced, and I can feel the joy that I felt in that moment as I let myself be enveloped by the kind of magic that only music can conjure. For the entirety of the COVID shutdown, I thought often of that feeling and that show. The insecurity that was brought on by over a year in relative isolation, despite occasional cheat days with friends we knew were clear of COVID due to recent testing, created a haze on the joy that live music had always given me. It’s such a strange thing to think about. But anyway, our last show before the world went crazy and then shut down was Peak.
It surprises me none that our first show back would also be Peak.
I just had no idea it would be in a place I had been trying to get to my whole life.
To know me is to know that I have kind of a pervasive fascination with the Woodstock festival. My husband has on more than one occasion called it a weird obsession. He’s not totally wrong. For me, it’s like an itch. It’s an itch that no amount of watching the videos or listening to the record has ever been able to scratch for me. My parents were 19 years old in August of 1969 and in my opinion, the perfect age to understand and appreciate everything that it was, whether or not they actually did. They met in college at what was at that time Glassboro College. They both remember that weekend vividly, even though neither one of them attended the festival. They saw the feature film from Woodstock in the movies on a date. It was a highlighting of so many artists that they knew and loved and it was important to them. As a result, every single time that PBS played the film during a telethon throughout my childhood in the entirety of the 80’s, we watched it. We watched it as a family. I knew all the dialogue from beginning to end.
Much of my teenage years were spent listening to modern music that I loved but split evenly with the music my folkie parents raised me to love. Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, Jefferson Airplane, Etc etc etc. I used to pick at their brains about these artists and why they loved them. What their lives were like when they first heard them. What they thought about the songs. I feel like I could just go on forever. No matter what I heard in my life, no matter what band or artists I fell in love with (and there were many), no music ever resonated with me or felt like it understood me like that. It makes perfect sense to me why I would enjoy watching Woodstock. But why is it so deep? It didn’t matter tonight. Tonight, I was here, and I was here with some of my favorite people. We had made it through all of this, and here we were.
I showed up with my husband on this rainy, cold night. We got our wrist bands from the amazing women set up in ponchos under a canopy in front of the barn proclaiming the Yasgur name. Despite how wet and cold the world was in that moment, these gals were truly an embodiment of polite joy in their duties as gatekeepers to this amazing place. It felt a genuine privilege to meet them. We moved on from that station and parked our car in the muddy field, and prepared ourselves with ponchos and umbrellas for our hike down into the woods. We made our way down through the puddles into the forest and found tents of habitation, tents of retail purpose, and it felt like festival season was just alive despite the conditions. I don’t know what food vendor it was that had the booth closest to the entrance to the woods, but their tents smelled divine. We moved on down towards the performance tent, tucked under the trees among the bravest campers I think I ever saw. The conditions were terrible for camping with temperatures well below what they should be for Memorial Day weekend in the Catskills and rain that continued to fall in buckets. But there were campsites! Tents set up with popup canopies and spots for hangouts within those woods. I couldn’t say enough that night how much I admired those folks. The energy within those trees was incredible.
I first discovered Peak in 2016 when i asked the Facebook masses for some new material to dig into. A friend and colleague, Cat Sisco, referred me to this new release from a band called Peak – a song called Barometric Pressure. I had been driving for Lyft at the time and was constantly adding to a playlist that I played while out spending hours driving. I added this song to my list and after many hours on the road became addicted to it. A couple years later, I was writing occasionally for the Jamwich magazine and I received an email from my editor. She knew I was working in midtown for a publisher and could easily check out a band having an album release show. She asked if I could go and review Peak. Of course I took the assignment and off I went. That was how I met Jeremy Hilliard and Johnny Young.
Jeremy Hilliard, the guitar and voice behind Peak, used to be in a band called Turbine. When I told my husband that evening that I was headed over to cover his show, he was excited his old colleague was off on another adventure. That night I showed up to their venue in the village and met up with Jeremy in the bar. We walked to the pizza spot across the street where Johnny and his wife, audio tech, and superhero Michelle Young were. The four of us sat down and rapped about influences, music venues, and the vibe of it all and in that moment, I knew I had met lifelong friends and amazing musicians. Their energy was infectious and sincere. These were folks who genuinely loved what they were doing. I was bummed that night that I didn’t hear ‘Barometric Pressure’, but I heard so many other songs that were exciting. I left a genuine Peak fan.
Later, Kito Bovenschulte of Particle and Josh Carter of Haley Jane and the Primates were added to the mix and the entire sound started to morph into an entirely new, amazing trip. They were the dance-funk vibe that the songs that Jeremy and Johnny had drafted were missing. Now the band was complete. And along the way, we were following. Fast forward to this past weekend…
Peak was in rare form on this particularly wet night. Not only were they back in front of an audience for the first time in well over a year, they were in truly ceremoniously Woodstock 1969 wet conditions in front of people who were feeding off their contagious energy like a festival game of Hungry Hungry Hippos. Every single member of the band played with the fire of one thousand suns behind their instruments. They played a few tunes, including “Choppy Water” from their upcoming new album by the same name. Then, all of a sudden, there was “Barometric Pressure”! Yay! I might have hurt myself dancing in that moment.
Speaking of dancing, we were all in a tent in the woods with the stage. When we arrived, there were a handful of people under the tent leftover from the previous band’s set. As Peak began to move, these people started to come in from the rain. It was like beings moving towards a light in that moment and all of a sudden, our dancing numbers had doubled. Then they tripled. I am not sure what the numbers were when the set ended, but I know that with the conclusion of every song, there was more applause, whistles, and deliciously positive energy. At one point, the guys busted into the unmistakable intro to Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains The Same”. Lots of bands tease an intro like that, and that’s pretty much what I expected it to be, but it didn’t stop. They played the whole song and they KILLED it. I remember turning to Josh’s wife in the crowd just to remark that he was absolutely knocking the bass parts right out the water. I have been listening to this song my whole life and I never heard someone cover it so flawlessly, but here were these guys destroying the song in the best possible way.
Our favorite song, “Path Paved With Roses”, was the second to last tune the guys did and it was so wonderfully amped up and dancy, I am sure egged on by the energy of the crowd that just darted around that makeshift, muddy dance floor. It was amazing and dream-like the way people circled around amongst one another. The encore was their song “When The Night Comes Calling You”, which after this weekend might very well take the top spot for me. I was dancing like I can’t remember ever doing. It was energy that flowed through bodies on the floor like electricity that had left its channels and was running wild. It didn’t feel possible to be in this magical place, feeling this incredible, despite everything that had happened to us all – everything that had happened to us as a species and a nation. We felt incredibly lucky. Peak brought us back to the wonderful world of live music. They were the bookends for us, to the pandemic, and normality.
And it was here, in Bethel, where positive energy emerges from the dirt.
I don’t know what will come of the world in the wake of COVID. I can say though that bands like Peak are there to help us navigate whatever it is. They are here to bring us slowly out of despair and isolation and back into the magic that is the energy of live music. To have been in such a magical place with a band that understands how to not only capture that vibe but encapsulate and hand it to their audience felt like a delicious privilege that I don’t really yet know how to file in my heart the right way. All I know is that I feel so lucky to have been there, dancing my ass off, and feeling it all in that moment in that wonderful place. That night my body more or less gave out from it all, and I didn’t even care. I was somewhere magical with some of the most wonderful people.
The guys have a bunch of shows coming up this year, concluding with their album release show on October 22 in Brooklyn. If you are headed to that one, it’s my birthday so come find me and buy me a drink. Maybe some pizza. Either way, I look forward to dancing with you all as soon as possible. See you out there, friends…
I was brought up with a deep, possessive love for folk music. It was often flanked with a love of punk rock, dark industrial, and new wave – but it always came back to folk. The sounds of Bob Dylan are most prevalent in my ears as my father is truly one of the biggest Dylan fans I have ever known. I was raised on it. He gave me a deep love for his work which included understanding where his work came from. It meant knowing a variety of books. It meant a strong love of good wit. It meant knowing Woody Guthrie.
It helps that I am from Northern New Jersey, right on the other side of the county line from the hauntingly impressive stone behemoth, Greystone Psychiatric Hospital (RIP). Greystone was a gorgeous old Kirkbride hospital where Woody Guthrie was committed in 1956 after being picked up for vagrancy in nearby Morristown. At that time, he was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia when in reality he had inherited Huntington’s Disease. It would take him from this world 11 years later, but he spent five years in Greystone. As much of a legend as Woody already was for having been a prolific folk singer and writer, he was a local one for us having spent time nearby. One of my most prized possessions is a hardcover book of musings and photographs about his time there, “Woody Guthrie’s Wardy Forty”.
Woody was a legendary man who yearned to understand what he wrote and write what he understood. He wrote about the struggles of ordinary Americans. From his true tales of dust bowl struggles to his very real letters about a terrible, racist landlord by the name of Trump, Guthrie’s words live on in an almost legendary level of parallel to things we are battling with today. He was a champion for the working class and famously wrote in favor of unions and against fascism. His very famous guitar emblazoned with the words “This Machine Kills Fascists” conjures feelings of true solidarity in words that inspire as they tell the stories of families just trying to live as best they can all over this country. It should be no surprise that when a band was given the opportunity to put music to words of his that had never been sung before, it would be the Dropkick Murphys that took it on.
Few bands represent unions and blue collar the way Dropkick have always tried to. Proudly Boston and proudly working class, they have given us spirited live shows and songs with the best kind of sing-a-long, shoving comradery. Irish-infused punk rock that gives love to unions and military, telling great stories through song that conjure memories of younger days when we could be a bit stupid, drunk, and proud – and taking no shit whatsoever. During the COVID shutdowns, we enjoyed that we still got to experience their St Patrick’s Day shows via live stream. It was a bright spot in a dark time. Even for this Cornish/Scottish folk punk hippie girl who has never been to Massachusetts.
A few years ago, I got a job working in midtown Manhattan for the publishing company that protects the works of several folk legends, most notably Woody Guthrie. At the time, they were in a battle to protect the rights to This Land is Your Land and I was so inspired that anyone would put so much into the preservation of important music. I absolutely HAD to work there. I was just doing royalty processing which was blindingly boring data entry, but the names and songs I was entering all day were legendary and as such, gave me a weird sense of pride and joy. It rejuvenated a slumbering desire in me to delve deeper into the music that had fueled so much of me up to that point. I was already mildly obsessed with the work of Woody Guthrie. Now I was full blown invested in knowing and feeling as much as I could.
I was only at that job a few months as I struggled with my health and the long commute into the city from rural NJ every day (sometimes I miss sunrises on the bus – I do not miss being stuck on it for 7 hours in the snow), but I will forever see it as an honor that I got to work there and I am thankful for the spark it gave back to the folkie in me.
I have often been fascinated by the fact that one of the most well known songs from Dropkick Murphys, Shipping Up To Boston, was in fact the words of Woody Guthrie. It’s tidbit of information that I (annoyingly, I’m sure) like to whip out in conversation. It’s no mystery to anyone who knows me that I love Woody Guthrie. Recently, I saw video of Ken Casey ripping into a crowd about “stolen” elections and telling folks to stop believing the nonsense. The people fueling this are the wealthy who don’t care about you. There was much warmth in my heart seeing him going off on that tangent but it was also a knowing nod from me – you cannot devour the words and works of Woody Guthrie and be a part of the MAGA cultism. It’s two completely different planets. There was something very validating seeing him say those words with the frustration that he did.
When I heard they were putting out “This Machine Still Kills Fascists” with the original words of Woody Guthrie, I was so excited to hear what they would do with those words. I can only imagine the treasure trove of words that must exist and how many ideas are waiting for the right ear and heart. There was an early release of the track “Ten Times More” and it did not disappoint. With its stomping beats and rhythmic, chanting lyrics, it almost sounds like a call to action the way they put it together. Something to sing as you march to gather. That march that seems almost constant – for our rights, for our freedoms, for our lives moving forward. “Not once, not twice, but ten times more.” It’s incredibly relevant right now.
The track was an inspiring taste into what they did with the full project.
The album itself is short, coming in at 30 minutes and 23 seconds while still boasting 10 strumming, marching, gorgeously inspired tracks. “All You Fonies” is a favorite of mine. A wonderful chant of “All You Fonies Bound To Lose” will be a fantastic audience participation when Dropkick brings this around for us to enjoy live. The song is a fantastic rallying cry for those standing on the line fighting for fair wages and conditions, even as we sit in 2022 when this should have already been settled so long ago. It’s a truly amazing thing for Woody (I think) to have his words being used for the same purposes he wrote them. To educate, to excite, to help bring change. This song is so well done – see if you can sing along and not feel inspired.
“Dig A Hole” is a true and genuine treasure. It’s the recorded vocals of Woody Guthrie, brought forth from the archives where it was held carefully and with love, put to music by the gents in Dropkick, and matched with the vocals from Ken and the boys. Woody’s part had originally been recorded for Smithsonian Folkways but had never been released. The song was written about the realities of World War 2 and digging a hole to bury your deceased enemies – specifically, the fascists. The Nazis. It’s a powerful song. I am reminded of the footage I have seen of Ukraine soldiers. I have often wondered what Woody would think about what’s happening over there.
Another notably powerful song is the opening track, “Two 6’s Upside Down”. It tells a story of gambling, of living hard, shooting the man who stole and then left his girl, and going to jail. The main character was given “99 years” – two 6’s upside down. It’s got a fantastic chugging feel to the song as they tell the story and you can feel the sorrow and the frustration. It’s really well done.
The whole album is a breath of fresh air these days. I have made mention in previous blogs, especially during the pandemic and the last administration, that modern folkies and punk rock artists were missing the mark on releasing relevant music. The protest songs of days gone by that inspired emotion in those fighting against so much have all gone quiet. Their singers and writers having long retired or passed from this world. Modern songs remain mired in lost loves and whiskey bottles while the world burns. Thank fucking goodness for the words of Woody Guthrie and the music of the Dropkick Murphys for bringing it all back to the surface. We are all fighting against so much these days. We fighting for fair wages, fair housing, medical care that won’t bankrupt us, having enough to eat and clean water to drink. We fight for equality. We fight for our very rights and the rights of our children. There is much to be said for having a fresh batch of songs to inspire us on the picket lines, the protest parades, and in the clubs when we get together for a little stress relieving music fellowship.
This Machine Still Kills Fascists was recording with care at The Church Studio in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It’s very near the Woody Guthrie center, an archive and cultural center run by Nora Guthrie, Woody’s daughter. Her son Cole played guitar and Dobro on the record, bringing things all the more full circle. It was Cole’s love of Dropkick that first brought them to Nora’s attention many years ago (or so I read) which makes me smile – as a Woody fan and as a mom who often trades songs with my son who is also a punk fan, a budding folkie, and a musician. The best news of all is that there are another ten tracks in addition to these that will be released on a Volume 2 some time next year. I am here for it. I can’t wait.
I apologize if we have had to be down for a few weeks. The unthinkable happened and had to be dealt with.
By that, I mean that our former hosting service, GoDaddy, royally screwed me. We had everything through them for years. I am NOT tech savvy so I didn’t realize how much I was being nickel and dimed for my services. I just knew what I needed and I paid for it. When I was in the hospital dealing with my MS a couple months back, I had hit a billing snag as I had not realized there was a connection issue all of a sudden between my bank and PayPal. Instead of reaching out to me, Go Daddy just let the situation sit and eventually pulled my site down and all of the stuff I had not yet archived. (don’t lecture me…it’s been a rough couple years with this strange disease)
They assured me, as I cried, that none of my work could be found and I was SOL. I freaked out on social media and thankfully some folks who are way smarter than me pointed me to the Wayback Machine who had (thankfully) archived a lot of my pages. Much of what I thought I lost was saved.
AND Thanks to the fantastic guy who operates DP Hosting here in New Jersey, we are back up and running. (www.dphosting.com) <—- highly recommended.
Now the hard part has begun as I have to pull twelve years of archives and put them all back on the website and attempt to configure them in the right orders. I am doing my best to indicate original posting dates but forgive me if I goof up a few. It’s been a long few weeks with this! We are just SO thankful that this blog was saved. I didn’t realize just how much work would have been lost. We have been doing this for a long time. I wrote a lot in twelve years…
So anyways… what’s new with YOU?! Did you have a nice summer?!
Well over a decade ago, I was doing a radio show at the Pocono Internet Broadcasting Company in Stroudsburg, PA. Driving across the Delaware once a week was not enough for me to devour this music I loved. More than that, I wanted to connect the music to people who might not have heard it yet, so I decided to start a blog as a sidecar to my show. When our studios closed and I moved to podcasting from home, the blog became even more of a focus. One of the first artists I ever reviewed and wrote about was New Jersey’s own Don Ryan. I loved his indie folk style and the way his music dragged you into his thoughts and through the brush with him. It’s still one of my most favorite pieces that I ever wrote across all the platforms I had the privilege of writing for.
Imagine my enthusiasm when he announced a new album! Unfortunately, COVID happened, my life flew into craziness, and here I am two years late on telling you all about this amazing collection of songs by one of my favorite home grown musicians. I’m sorry I was tardy, folks. Let me tell you about Don Ryan.
Don Ryan is gravelly, pulverant New Jersey set to music. He writes music that feels like the underbelly. The romanticly sabulous side of us all. I think when some people who don’t live here think of us, they think of the “us” that tv and movies portray. They think of the shore or some sort of Italian-American culture. They think of Bon Jovi or Bruce Springsteen. They see smoke stacks and boardwalks. The truth is though that New Jersey music is a deep pool written by mountains, lakes, abrasive reality and a lot of coffee. It’s traffic and wildlife. It’s the outskirts of the city and the backyard of suburbia. It’s rural America. It’s produce. It’s a drive on Clinton Road, trying desperately to experience something that may or may not be there. It’s stone homes that stood since Washington marched through. It’s marshes and ports. It’s late night diners and early morning convenience stores. We have a culture that people have tried for a long time to define and never made it beyond taylor ham/pork roll arguments and The Sopranos. That just doesn’t cut it.
Since I first heard his early release of Tangle Town so many, many years ago, I feel like listening to Don Ryan’s music is a visceral experience in what New Jersey is, strained through your soul and wrung out of your jeans at the end of the long night. It’s like night time drives down sparsely lit roads when the weather is warm enough for the windows down. When you know if you stop the car and get out, you might get scared but as long as you stay in the car you can enjoy how that sense of fear delicious. His songs are thoughtful and almost spiritual in their delivery. His vocals go between throaty and deep and lightly laid down. It’s music I never get bored of. It’s music you close your eyes and enjoy while your mind wanders.
And this new music is so much of that.
These new songs comprise a gorgeous two part record called Warwalking, Pt. 1 and Warwalking Pt. 2. They feel like a hardback collection of memories and musings you found in an abandoned hotel. It’s dripping with experiences that permeate everything you are. Relatable and soothing in their trip between melancholy and exasperation. The music is an indie-folk trip into chaos. Take for example the track King of the Clowns on Pt 2. It twists and turns as it pulls you along behind, as if dragged by hand through a carnival funhouse with lights flashing and music blaring. You are so entranced, out of control and hyper-stimulated while having no idea what is around the next corner – but you are guided, never alone, your hand held. It’s exquisite and engrossing and everything I love about this songwriting.
Murder Industry, my favorite track on either record, carried a similar vibe but with a stomping and melodic groove that seems to carry you around the grounds. On Pt 1., the song Color In, Color Out is equal parts haunting and entrancing but at the same time all consuming in its beauty. The vibe rises and moves toward climax, building anticipation with it’s tone before reaching that peak and dropping off. Quite like life. Lady Codone on Pt. 2 is another gritty and captivating melodic journey. It’s got an almost ballroom dance affection while it spins, rises and falls. The groove holds you in that way and makes you want to move with it in dance.
Don informed me there us an upcoming Warwalking Pt. 3 and I honestly can’t wait. I would love to see this project performed live and as soon as we can chase this COVID cloud away from us long enough, I hope to get that opportunity. In the meantime, I strongly suggest you get over to Don’s website at https://www.donryanmusic.com/ and keep updated. Check out his two beautiful records, Warwalking Pt 1 and Warwalking Pt 2 and experience this marvelous audible journey.
It’s a cold day in New Jersey. Despite a little sunshine, it’s 11 degrees. The trees have no leaves. Everything carries a thin chalky gray coating of salt that smears on your coat if you get too close. It’s midwinter and I have the blues. Then I got an email.
There is new Dopapod coming.
I repeat, THERE IS NEW DOPAPOD COMING.
The band put out the track “Think” recently and I have had that in fairly heavy rotation. It’s rocking (killer guitar, heavy hitting drums) while still being a bit plucky. It has really had me in a mode for full on devouring of every hang up and struggle from the last year to just dance. A truly welcome respite from reality but it was just one song…
This month on the palindrome date (obviously) of 2-20-22, the world shall be blessed with the official release of the band’s new single “Grow”. Someone somewhere must still value my opinion and that of you wonderful readers because I got a taste of this new goodness in my in-box and let me tell you something: the Jersey winter just got a whole lot warmer with this in my ears.
The track busts in with the funky groove we all love from Dopapod. Clean, funky tapping synth and sexy bass with steady drum beats and scratchy guitar. That wonderful blending of sounds and feels that are every reason we follow these gentlemen is front and center in this track from the moment it opens. It has you shaking what you got out back for a good minute and a quarter before the vocals come in with good swirling vibes and those amazing harmonies. The lyrics are powerful – legit and hopeful. The whole track has a strong feel of summer with bare feet on matted grass, hands on cold beverages, and a momentary release of worries that we enjoy in that moment as an audience member to powerful music. It rises and falls, ebbs and flows, but the energy never for even a moment lets up. That beat holds you nice and tight and you will be moving with it. I love this song and I am so freaking excited by it!
“Big things have small beginnings.”
They sure do, guys. And I think we all really needed to hear that from you right now.
After two plus years of hopelessness and isolation, this is exactly what I was hoping for from the jam community in terms of new music. I feel like I have been sitting here, tapping my foot and looking at my watch going, “ok fam…any time now” waiting on new music to bring our energy back the heck up and maybe even put us back in a dancing crowd together safely so we can remember how it feels to FEEL. Everything has been so bleak and add to that the fact that it’s just the dirty snow and bitter cold part of winter, and you really start to wonder where the hope went.
Where the light is.
We are desperately in need of fire and strength, set to something we can dance to, and leave it to Dopapod to truly understand the assignment. They are here to hand us that fire with “Grow”.
Grow is a fantastic track and truly everything that is great about this band. It’s four stellar and smart music writer and expert players creating a tapestry of sound that transforms and transports the listener. I cannot wait to catch this song live just to see all the weird and wonderful places the guys will take the jams encased within it. They are just sitting there, patiently waiting to be released. I want to be there when they are set free.
Speaking of releases, I will be posting the links on the blog and social media as soon as “Grow” is up and live on 2/20/22! I encourage you to keep your eyes peeled and be ready to shake the dust off. This song is everything we have been waiting for.
Follow the band on https://www.dopapod.com/ for more and to see where the band will be when they hit the road – tour dates are already posted!