A Road Trip Revisited

By Brian L. Knight

A few months back, the Vermont Review took a Rock and Roll Road Trip across the United States. No, we did not fill up the thermos and pack the RV. Instead, the Vermont Review covered the many bands that comprise the Homegrown Music Network. The HMN, as the name may imply, is resource for up and coming bands to utilize through merchandising sales and mutual promotion. During our first trip, the Vermont Review came across great bands such as Calobo, Schleigho, Ekoostik Hookah, Jiggle the Handle, Refried Confusion, Blue Yard Garden, and Foxtrot Zulu. In addition Network members such as the Disco Biscuits, Smokin’ Grass, Strangefolk, Gordon Stone, the Slip, Moon Boot Lover and Day By The River have been feature articles in the Vermont Review.

The best aspect of the Homegrown Music Network is that it brings together a wide diversity musicians and bands. There are bluegrass bands, progressive bands, funk bands – you name it. The one unifying aspect of all these outfits is their capacity to put on an amazing live performance. In order to get there high energy shows out to the public, these bands encourage taping of their concerts. Sometimes these bands take it a step further and put together a live CD. These are high caliber productions as they bring together the best of the band’s performances. To celebrate the live shows and the subsequent live releases, the Vermont Review is taking another road trip and visiting some of these band’s live CDs.


Boud Deun/A General Observation

During the heyday of Progressive music, when Yes, Genesis and King Crimson ruled the airways, America’s contribution to the genre was somewhat minimal. Bands from England and the European continent seemed to be the primary contributors to progressive music. This was a fact that was true during the 1970s, but today, America provides one of finest progressive bands – Virginia based Boud Deun.

Boud Deun is an interesting quartet consisting of Shawn Persinger (guitar), Matt Eiland (bass), Greg Hiser (violin)and Rock Cancelose (drums). There are no vocals in Boud Deun – just massive amounts of instrumentation. Unlike most of the other bands that dominate the sounds of the Homegrown Music Network, Boud Deun is less apt to seek out the funky groove or the carefree jam. The guys in Boud Deun prefer the complex rhythms. To quote a name given to another great progressive band, King Crimson, the Boud Deun sound can be described by the words "organized anarchy". The sounds of Boud Deun are complex and they are not bound by any conventional music standards. In order to achieve this talented dissonance, the band utilizes amazing musical ability.

A General Observation is Boud Deun’s fourth album and their first live effort. Boud Deun is one of those bands that sound great on a studio album but they kick ass when they play live. With this in mind, A General Observation is not only the result of a widespread demand from the fans but also inevitable occurrence. The CD contains seven original tunes recorded is September of 1996 and April of 1997 and they all feature intense jamming. One of the album’s highlights is the short and relatively smooth Ranileigh Gardens which is one of the Boud Deun’s older tunes. After the serenity of Ranileigh Gardens, the band turns it on with the epic Sleeping Again/Hespheria and Phelan which is the quintessential Boud Deun song. Persinger and Hiser share hypnotizing, enigmatic leads on the guitar and violin while Cancelose and Eiland steadily drive away at the beat. Boud Deun isn’t for everyone. Unfortunately, if I was playing Boud Deun with my mother in the car, she would make me turn it off. Then again, my mother often makes me turn the good stuff off. After hearing this CD, you will want to make sure to catch one of 178 concerts that Boud Deun will play in a given year. For more information, http://www.clark.net/pub/nicklin/bouddeun.html.


Agents of Good Roots/Straight Around

Boud Deun’s A General Observation is accompanied by the live release of another Virginian outfit- Agents of Good Roots. Straight Around was recorded in September of 1996 in Charlottesville and Richmond. Over the last couple of years, Agents of Good Roots had established the two southern nightspots as their homebase. They would play in Richmond every Wednesday and Charlottesville every Tuesday. It is through these weekly stands that Agents of Good Roots have been able to develop an extremely large and dedicated fan base.

Agents of Good Roots features Andrew Winn (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Brian Jones (drums, percussion, vocals), Stewart Myers (bass, vocals) and J.C. Kuhn (saxophones). Winn and Jones write most of the feel good lyrics and jazz-folk-funk music for the 11 songs on this album. The one exception is Stewart Myer’s Straight which is a longtime favorite of both the band and fans. The song holds a distinction of making it onto their initial; demo tape, their first album and now this live recording. Although this live album is 100% originals, Agents of Good Roots are known to play a good cover tune. Songs such as Paul Simon’s 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Dire Strait’s Romeo And Juliet and Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up In Blue are often part of their live set.

On of the greatest qualities of Agents of Good Roots is their find combination of vocals and instrumentation. They never seem to stray to far in either direction. Most of the band members have training in jazz but their singing is nothing but good old rock and roll. The most amazing aspect of the band is singer Steve Winn who crushed his Larynx skiing when he was fourteen. The fact that he was voiceless at one point is absolutely amazing when you listen to him now.

Through playing over 200 gigs a year and the successful sales of their previous three releases, Agents of Good Roots landed a record deal with RCA. The band has just released their newest album, One By One which is an excellent continuation of the sound they have been developing since 1995. Take a walk down Cyber lane and visit their page at http://www.agentsofgoodroots.com/.


Max Creek / Spring Water

Max Creek is not a member of the Homegrown Music Network, but what the hell. Although the band presently hails from Connecticut, Max Creek also finds its roots in Virginia like Boud Deun and Agents of Good Roots. Max Creek is named after a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia where there bassist John Rider grew up.

In the age of flourishing jam bands, Max Creek holds the distinction as being the godfather of the jam. With the tremendous popularity during the Grateful Dead’s last ten years and the subsequent rise of Phish, there has been a ripple effect of "jam" bands. Thanks to the free form, loose explorations of the Grateful Dead and the jazz improvisation-bluegrass-loose funk of Phish, the floodgates have opened for bands that share similar musical qualities. These bands are not be confused with ‘cover" bands or copycats, for like the Grateful Dead and Phish, these new bands thrive on originality.

Long before the second wave of jam bands, there was Connecticut’s Max Creek. When the Grateful Dead were releasing Workingman’s Dead and the boys of Phish were sucking on their pacifiers, Max Creek had just formed and began their long journey into musical creativity. Max Creek is now approaching its thirty-year mark and they sound as good as ever. Spring Water is the long awaited live album, with their last live release being the extremely ambitious double vinyl Drink The Stars (1983). Spring Water features the Max Creek classic – Just A Rose which has the powerful vocals of Scott Murawski, the steady rhythm of Allshouse, Fried, the pulsating bass of John Rider and the sweeping keyboards of Mark Mercier. The album also features a whole bunch of new, unreleased Creek tunes written by Murawski, Mercier and Rider. Although they may predate the technology, they are not hippie holdouts against the web. Take a swim in the virtual Max Creek at http://www.maxcreek.com/.



Percy Hill/Double Feature

Double Feature marked the New Hampshire’s Percy Hill’s third release and it was recorded completely live with no overdubs or studio mixes. Keeping this in mind while listening to the CD will immediately amaze the listener. Percy Hill obviously takes pride in their musical craftsmanship and their ability to weave an epic, jamming tune. The tunes were taken from their performances during their busy 1996 touring schedule at favorite New England hotspots such as Boston’s Paradise Theater, Burlington’s Club Toast and Ithaca’s The Haunt.

One of the highlights of these perfectly selected live tunes is the Latin influenced 14+ minute Othello whose introduction falls somewhere in between Santana’s Black Magic Woman, Pat Metheny’s Phase Dance and Steely Dan’s Aja. The considerably shorter Jasper is the closest thing to a song that is suitable for radio play as the remaining songs average about ten minutes in length. Even so, Jasper, which features the Al Di Meola meets David Gilmour guitarwork of Joe Farrell, may scare off the mellower DJs.

Since this live recording, the band has experienced a few changes. Original members Nate Wilson (keyboards, vocals, flute) and Joe Farrell (guitar, vocals) recruited drummer Aaron Katz and bassist John Lecesse. Both Lecesse and Katz add additional singing and songwriting to the existing framework. To mark a new era in the band, Percy Hill is releasing their new CD this Halloween. Since it appears that the album is going to remain a mystery right up till October 31, Percy Hill is going to keep fans awash in mystery. However, there is little doubt that they will maintain their high energy that is displayed on Double Feature. For more information, surf on over to http://www.percyhill.com/.



Wise Monkey Orchestra/ It’s Alive

San Diego’s Wise Monkey Orchestra need to come to the East Coast! After listening to this live album, all will agree. It’s Alive was recorded during the fall of 1996 and it is a phenomenal follow up to their studio album, 1995’s Robot Reality. The album features the amazing rhythm guitar work of guest musician Mark Huls and the powerful vocals of Alley Stewart who places her vocal emphasis on the sexy side of things. The brass section, which consists of Andy Geib (trombone) and Jason Whitmore(saxophone), keeps the band’s sound soulful. Bassist Chad Stewart succeeds in the difficult task of maintaining a beat with the tandem of Ed Fletcher and Sean Hart who both play keyboards, drums and percussion.

Along with the Greyboy All-stars, Wise Monkey Orchestra is San Diego’s answer to the hip-hop/acid jazz movement. The band loves to play a highly danceable tune that not only gets the audience into an intense groove but also shows off every musician’s adept music skills. The band likes to call this type of music "kinetic soul". When listening to the audience reactions on this CD, there is little doubt that a Wise Monkey Orchestra performance is chock full of dancing and enthusiasm. In addition to guitarist Mark Huls, Wise Monkey is joined on stage by various guest musicians throughout the live album. Wise Monkey Orchestra seems to be extremely receptive to their friends joining in on the groove. In the tradition of Chicago’s Liquid Soul and New York City’s Groove Collective, Wise Monkey Orchestra treat their music has a continuously evolving experience in which every new and old musician has something significant to add to the sound.

Since this live album, saxophonist Jason Whitmore has left the band. In addition, guitarist Scott Hollman and vocalist, trumpeter, percussionist Tim Pacheco were not present during the live sessions. Although It’s Alive is an amazing live album, it still was not a completely accurate reflection of the band. During the summer of 1998, Wise Monkey Orchestra has spent quite a bit of time touring and in the studio with the main lineup. To date, they have written and recorded two CDs worth of new music which will hopefully be released this fall.

Credit has to be given to a band that has Graffix and Hempfest 98 banners on their web site (http://www.wisemonkey.com/). One can probably ascertain the band’s non musical influences. Even better than these two web site banners, the folks in Wise Monkey Orchestra have a link directly to the traditional version of the arcade game Asteroids. Ahhhhhh …………..Graffix and Asteroids – its like being in college again.


Native/Live From Marmfington Farm –Vol. 1

There is nothing native about the band Native. For a New York City band, the sextet features representatives from all over the Unites States but not a single native of the Big Apple. Perhaps it is the conglomeration of different backgrounds that make this band so great. With each member of the band being a native of a different region, the band is able to create a truly diverse style of music. The band touches on a little bit of everything – good old countrified rock, New Orleans’ funk and jam oriented folk.

Native shares quite a bit of similarities with fellow musicians God Street Wine and Ominous Seapods. All three bands play extremely original improvisational music. They all look to musicians of the past, especially veteran styles of the 1970s as a source of influence. They all hail from New York State and they all are artists for Ripe & Ready Records. Despite the basket full of similarities, Native is typified by originality. Native consists of Mathew Hutt (vocals, guitar), Mike Jaimes (guitar, vocals), Matt Lyons (bass guitar), Dave Thomas (drums), Dave Wood (percussion, vocals) and Chris Wycoff( keyboards, vocals). Since 1993, these guys have been keeping New York City bars and clubs alive and well with the frenetic groove that has become both the band’s primary identifier and mission in life. Marmfington Farm may sound like some great hoe-down deep in the Maine woods or a good name for a local bar. Actually Marmfington Farm exists entirely in the minds of Native. The location may be fictional but the music is very real.

In addition to a ripping collection of originals, there is also a great renditions of Taj Mahal’s Gonna Move Up To The Country (Paint My Mailbox Blue) The album ends with a 17+ minute tune that consists of their original Something Worth Remembering (which features great three part of harmonies), then the Neville Brother’s Fiyo on the Bayou, a drums session and then a return to Something Worth Remembering. Throughout this epic session, the bands shows off all their skills and it is immediately evident why Native has developed a large support base and have become synonymous with rousing live shows. Native should be releasing a new album this December so keep a lookout. For a cyber contact, go to http://www.nativenyc.com.


Yep/Live: Bosco’s Magic Shop

The self-imposed indefinate sabbatical that Massachusetts’ yeP! has maintained is keeping music fans throughout New England holding their breath. Due to many undisclosed reasons, the band temporarily put everything on hold. To keep the hordes satiated, yep! released Bosco’s Magic Shop. Just like their first studio album, yePonomous, Bosco’s Magic Shop is an indicator of the band’s large range of styles and influences.

In the liner notes, yeP! pays their respects to all the people that have helped the band out. This list ranges from family members to club owners to fellow musicians. In addition, the band pays direct tribute to other bands and the their songs that have had an impact on the band. This list consists of Brecht’s Alabama Song , Led Zeppelin’s The Ocean and Joan Jett’s I Love Rock & Roll. These tunes and other snippets by Henry Mancini, Moxy Fruvous and Phish, all make their way into a yeP! performance. By simply looking at this wide variety of tunes, it is easy to see the diversity of yeP’s sound. Vermont banjo and pedal steel guru, Gordon Stone, sits in on a very enjoyable 20 minute jam consisting of Haunted House and Northbound Girl. The album’s unofficial title track, Bosco, also runs 20+ minutes in length and it is conveniently one of the best tracks on the CD. Beginning off as some kind of 1990s version of a Doors tune, Bosco soon turns into an endless jam that segues in and out of complex rhythms, mellow breakdowns, improvisational dialogues, and intensified chaotic jamming. Bosco is named after a computer science teacher at Umass. Like some Donald Sutherland-ish character in Animal House, the teacher obviously had a lasting impact on the band.

Hopefully, this live album is a little tease for what lies ahead. While not playing music, the members of yeP! have been keeping busy with multiple side projects – some musically related, some not. As is stands right now, the future of yep! remains uncertain. In my opinion, I think the public should demand the re-instatement of this band as their lack of playing is presently a sad loss for music fans throughout the Northeast. While these guys continue to keep us at bay, we can show our support by purchasing the new album and bombarding their homepage with "Get Back Together" demands. For more information on the yeP! resurrection and this album, go to http://www.cs.umass.edu/~jg/yep.html.

These are just a few bands that are part of the Homegrown Music Network and have released live albums. Considering the fact that the participating members are known for their live performances, it seems that their live CDs are the way to go. After listening to this selection, these previous thoughts were immediately confirmed. Although these bands have released some excellent studio albums, it is these live recordings that really shine. There are two groups of people that benefit from the Homegrown Music Network: the bands and their fans. The bands receive an outlet for promotion while the fans receive a clearinghouse for quality, like-minded music. If you like a band that is a member of the Homegrown Music Network, chances are that you are going to find somebody else to listen to. Check out the Homegrown Music Network at http://www.versanet.com/homegrown/.