Five years and four albums into a career that’s found them drawing circles around the lower 48, building a burgeoning national fan base, Dangermuffin embodies a curious paradox. The themes found within their striking new collection, Olly Oxen Free, sum up that juxtaposition.
This Folly Beach, S.C.-based trio are clearly at peace with themselves and their career, while keeping up a constant pursuit of truth. The seeds they’ve planted at major festivals around the nation grow as fast as the mileage on their odometer, yet they dream and sing of home with a yearning passion. Most strikingly, the band’s musical execution remains refreshingly simple, belying a staggering lyrical and thematic depth behind each individual song.
Dangermuffin can no longer be plainly dubbed an Americana or roots-rock band. Behind the virtuosic rhythms of drummer Steven Sandifer, the group seamlessly segues from calypso to world beat to a down-home shuffle, often within the same song. When guitarist Mikie Sivilli steps in with a powerful slide-driven lead, one might even venture to call it Southern rock. But by the time songwriter Dan Lotti sings the first words of another verse with his unmistakable light rasp, the listener is undeniably back on the beach, pondering both the world’s pleasures and ills through sandy toes.
The follow-up to 2010’s Moonscapes, which produced tracks that received generous airplay on both SiriusXM’s Jam_On and Outlaw Country stations, Olly Oxen Free demonstrates heightened ambitions and a refined, road-polished outfit ready to take on even more. Opener ‘Slumber’ greets us with an enveloping sense of hope. The ska beat of ‘Battle’ gives way to a fierce guitar solo, before ‘200 Degrees’ comes in batting cleanup. The fourth track on the disc, that song’s memorable riff serves as an epic reminder that Dangermuffin has no plans to rest on their laurels.
Olly Oxen Free never turns its back on the audience for a moment. Recorded at Truphonic Studios in Charleston with producer MJ Fick, even the album’s peaceful acoustic interlude, ‘Jaula,’ feels like a breath of fresh ocean air; an unexpected, serene eye of a perfect summer storm.
From ‘Homestead’ to ‘Rattle the Cage,’ Lotti’s songwriting encourages us to be free, revel in the simple beauty of our complicated lives, and always seek out healing answers. Like the cry bellowed during a children’s game of hide-and-seek, Olly Oxen Free signals that it’s safe to come out from our hiding spots, gather together, and celebrate late into the evening. Dangermuffin is more ready than ever to provide the soundtrack.
Since 2007, American Babies has been the mouthpiece for Philadelphia based musician Tom Hamilton. After spending the early 2000s building a national fan base fronting the electro-rock band Brothers Past, releasing two critically acclaimed albums, and averaging 150 shows a year, a change was in order. "Musically, I wanted to get back to the basics" he explains, "Get the song right, first. Then worry about the live show and how the music opens up from there."
Hamilton went back to his roots, rediscovering the Outlaw Country, Motown, and Grateful Dead records he grew up with, and assembled a pool of musicians to pull from for recording sessions and live performances. After two full-length LPs, an EP, and three years of touring, the American Babies are hitting their stride. The live band has been solidified with David Butler (Lee "Scratch" Perry) on drums, Adam Flicker (The Brakes) on keys, and Nick Bockrath (Nico's Gun) on bass. The band has shared the bill with numerous like minded acts such as Derek Trucks, Sheryl Crow, Umphrey's McGee, Railroad Earth, and The National to name a few.
Hamilton entered a Philadelphia studio in January of 2013 to start work on what has become the Babies' third long-player "Knives and Teeth" (via The Royal Potato Family). When asked to describe his new record, his answer is short and compact but, like his lyrics, is loaded with deeper meaning: “It’s a 40-minute existential meltdown.”
“When you're in your 20's,” he says, “you worry or focus on things that don't seem to maintain their importance as you get older. Chicks, partying, finding a place. Shit, all of my albums back then were about girls, in one way or another. Then you grow up and you realize none of it actually matters, so you dig deeper. I spent a lot of time with some activist friends and the Occupy movement. That pushed some buttons but, I kept digging. Then I had a couple of close friends pass away within a few months of each other and that made me really dig in. I started to think about my own mortality. Reconsidering what was really important to me.”
Throughout the course of the album, from the Lou Reed-inspired “This Thing Ain’t Going Nowheres” to the inspired punk energy of “Bullseye Blues” to the head-shaking acceptance of “Goddamn,” Knives & Teeth speaks of fragility, cruelty, frustration, and the search for what makes a life worth living.
Tom and company will be taking American Babies' re-energized live show back to the road this fall, and all through 2014.
Tall Tall Trees
Mike Savino is not your grandaddy's banjo player, and Tall Tall Trees is definitely not your average indie-folk outfit from NYC. Savino has released two records on his own start-up label Good Neighbor Records, Tall Tall Trees (2009), and moment (2012), and has toured extensively, mystifying audiences with his innovative banjo technique. Whether performing with a full band or solo, Savino runs his instrument, dubbed by fans as the "banjotron", through a slab of effects and loopers, bowing, drumming, and strumming out multi-textured arrangements on the fly to support his lyrically driven songs. Most recently, Tall Tall Trees has been touring the US and Canada collaborating with beatboxing violinist, and of Montreal alum, Kishi Bashi. Savino is currently working on a third record which he is expecting to release in 2014.
"Bearded man sings songs, violates banjo" - CMJ