Zeus Speaks: Total Solar Eclipse Edition

Mighty Zeus is an Ancient, a Sage, and a Magic Man, a Djinn who dwells in a cubbyhole ‘neath the stairwell of Preservation Pub. When called upon, he channels the wisdom of the ages for all who would hear it, from the vantage of his cubby or here in the digital pages of Scruffington Post.
This month, Preservation Pub will hold a rooftop Solar Eclipse Party beginning around noon on Monday, Aug. 21. And we’ve asked Zeus to hold forth on the celestial wonders beheld on that auspicious and blessed afternoon.

SP: According to the Internet, oh Zeus, a given location will see a total solar eclipse only once every 375 years. How, then, should we interpret the fact of this rarefied event occurring in our own lifetimes?
Z: The eclipse forecasts change and transformation. It also serves a warning to get our lives in order. The Universe is watching, and we need an awakening within ourselves.
The eclipse represents the Trinity — Mother Earth, the Sun and the Moon. The commingling of black and white, which the eclipse creates, is a symbol for peace and harmony between the races. It’s the Universe’s way of saying we need to come together in unity and peace.
SP: Are there any malign spirits that might be associated with the eclipse?
Z: Well, it does symbolize the arrival of Something, or Somebody. What? Or Who? We can’t know. But when there is alignment, there is a Gateway. It’s a Gateway for something to come through to us. And it’s a Gateway that some of those who are with us now may leave through.
The thing is that the energy of the eclipse can be positive or negative. If your own energy is positive, then it will react positively with you. But if your energy is negative, it will amplify that negative energy you already have.
SP: We’re going through a period of exceptional strife and violence. Is it a coincidence that the eclipse is happening now?
Z: It’s a sign of the times. This unrest, it’s been foretold in all the sacred books. If you have focused on God, then it should not be a surprise. If you have focused on God, then you will be prepared for all of this.

Please come to the Preservation Pub/Scruffy City Hall Dark Side of the Moon Rooftop Total Solar Eclipse Party on Monday, Aug. 21 at noon. There will be an eclipse, appropriate music, and plenty of beer.

Now Playing: The Orange Constant

Though they hail from the Peach state town that is the namesake of a genre classic, Georgia jam-band the Orange Constant’s own brand of Statesboro  blues owes at least as much to fusion, prog and ’70s-era singer-songwriters as it does to Gregg and Duane Allman.

Founded in Statesboro, Ga. and then imported to Athens, the Orange Constant began life as outlet for fellow Georgia Southern music students Andrew Brantley and Nickalous Benson. “We were both guitar players, and we started writing and covering songs, playing acoustic gigs at a couple of places,” says Brantley, who is also the Constant’s lead singer.

“Then we added bass and drums, started doing full band gigs. Our appeal was that we played a wide variety of and styles — the Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, Umphrey’s McGhee. We got to play a lot of shows because our repertoire was so diverse.”

That diversity also helped mold the Constant’s evolution as an original recording act.  Their recorded output — two albums and one EP — showcases smooth, polished progressive rock that tilts in the direction of jazz fusion, yet remains tempered by strong pop sensibilities. Brantley describes it as “vintage, ’70s-era rock mixed with a new age jam-band feel.

“One thing that separates us from other jam bands is that we’re a little more structured. We like to keep to a fairly tight, structured format. Then from that beginning point, we try to stretch out a little when we play live, and try to make the songs more than they are on record.”

Brantley’s voice is a standout, too — mellifluous, tonally pure, existing in a no-fly zone between alto and tenor, it’s a voice that seems better suited to pop-rock crooning than to inhabiting the same genre as roughneck growlers like Gregg Allman and Warren Haynes. And yet it’s perfectly matched with the Orange Constant’s smooth yet sophisticated compositional approach.

“I actually grew up listening to folk music,” Brantley says. “Listening to ‘The Best of Peter, Paul and Mary’ in the car with my dad — that’s what first gave me the idea that I could sing, and maybe sound as pretty as they did. Then over the years, I started embracing it more. I took a choir class in college, and I started doing vocal exercises. I worked at it, and I became comfortable with who I am as a singer.”

A relatively new addition to the fold, bassist and backing vocalist Tyler Walker is a great singer in his own right, Brantley says, and along with new keyboardist Chris Freiberg, adds another dimension to the band’s well-crafted harmonic tapestries.

“Having Tyler in the band makes for some great harmonies,” Brantley says. “On our next full-length album, you’ll really hear us push the envelope what we can do with our vocals.

“Chris plays a Moog synthesizer, and the trademark sound of that Moog has been very present in our sound; it adds a lot of color. The additions have made us more electric, and more electrifying. Our stage presence has gotten more powerful. We take a lot more risks now when we’re up there playing live.”

Next up for the Orange Constant, though is an all-instrumental EP, which Brantley says will serve as a sort of homage to the band’s collective appreciation for jazz-rock. “We all love instrumental music, and we have some really good compositions we want to show off,” Brantley says. “It will be a fusion record, with a little dance-electronic stuff thrown in. We all love jazz fusion, and that’s how I perceive our instrumental stuff.”

The Orange Constant will play Preservation Pub Friday, Aug. 25 with special guest Hank and Cupcakes beginning at 10 p.m.

Now Playing: The Jangling Sparrows

“Careerist” used to be something of a slur in the music industry, but Asheville singer-songwriter Paul Edelman doesn’t shy from the label, nor from the hard work required of anyone who is so inclined. But then labels don’t matter a jot where Edelman is concerned, inasmuch as the Philadelphia native’s artistic credentials are beyond approach.
A songwriting savant also blessed with a strong voice and stellar guitar chops, Edelman rates as a top-notch performer, whether he’s playing a solo acoustic gig or fronting his Americana power trio the Jangling Sparrows.
“I come out of the whole No Depression al-country tradition,” Edelman explains. “That always made the most sense to me, that tradition of American roots rock. I grew up loving songwriters, like Neil Young and Bob Dylan. As a teenager, I was a big fan of Jim Croce. So I took that, and approached the whole alt-country thing with that kind of singer-songwriter mindset.”
Edelman says he moved to Asheville from Pennsylvania some years back, in part due to the city’s robust roots music scene, but also because of its proximity to other like-minded towns. “It’s a good central location, where you’re two to five hours away from several other workable cities,” he says.
Though he’s been performing for well more than a decade now, Edelman still considers himself a work in progress — he’s mastered the fugitive art of assessing without obsessing, taking the measure of his craft, his musicianship, even his relationship with his audience in such a way as to balance principle with pragmatism.
“I ask myself, how do I define myself in the industry, and still have integrity?” he says. “That’s something I’m still learning.
“I had to learn to perform without being a phony. As a pure songwriter, my instinct is to just get on stage and sing the song. Things like stage energy and playing to the crowd weren’t even on my radar. I had to learn the importance of those things, and learn what they looked like for me. I had to learn to go beyond just playing the songs, because you have to make it special for the people watching you. Making that performance special for them, that’s what you’re aiming for.”
Though he currently only has three releases to his name — two with the Jangling Sparrows, and one, “Stranger Things and Truer Words,” as a solo performer — Edelman says he has another Sparrows platter already in the can, plus 50 unreleased songs that will likely be the core of his next four releases or so.
“I’m going to get a publicist to help with this next one,” Edelman says. “I want to keep expanding in a rational, business-savvy type of way.
“I’ve learned that to make a living in this business, you’ve got to be good, but you also have to be out there hustling. The successful ones are the ones who live it. The moment I realized I didn’t have a backup plan, that’s the moment I really started taking this seriously.”
The Jangling Sparrows will play Preservation Pub Thursday, Aug. 31 at 10 p.m.

Now Playing: Community Center

Few rock ‘n’ roll origin stories are as strange and beguiling as that of the Baltimore-based six-piece outfit Community Center. Founded in 2015 by a group of area theater veterans, the band rapidly graduated from playing one-offs in local bars to living on the road.

“There was a gang of us who wrote music for the theater in Baltimore, and we decided to play out with some of our songs,” says singer-guitarist Brian Loeper. “We put out an ad that said, ‘We’re going to do this year round. There’s no money in it but we’re going to do it every day and travel all over the country.’ We got lucky and got two more people who wanted the same things we did.

“Then we bought a van off Craigslist and started doing shows. Our first tour was supposed to last three months and it went six. And now we’re doing 250 shows a year.”

But that’s not the only singular aspect of the Community Center story. Loeper and his colorful crew have released two albums — 2016’s “Horns and Thorns” and 2017’s “Those Animals” — that play like soundtracks to the best movie musicals you’ve never seen. Theirs is a crazy-quilt patchwork of genres, from trad rock to old-time jazz and cabaret and gypsy and blues, steered by the dizzying vocal interplay of co-leads Loeper and singer-trumpet player Amanda Rife, which is in turn spiced, spliced, and sometimes undercut by various vocal interludes courtesy of the remaining four band members.

It’s a truly theatrical approach to making music, an approach marked by comic sketches, onstage choreography, loads of audience engagement, and an exploration of character within the context of a rock song. “It isn’t quite like seeing ‘Music Man,’ but it is much more than us pushing buttons on our instruments,” Loeper says.

“Our songs are usually based around characters. We use lots of different voices, lots of different key and tempo changes. We like to play off characters that have pretty obvious shortcomings — who have problems with honesty or fidelity, or who have lots of bad habits. We employ lots of dark humor and self-deprecation.”

A key to the band’s theatrical give-and-take, says Loeper, is the sonic contrast between his own indie-rock-approved bellowing and Rife’s more polished tonalities. “I kind of have a barky, scratchy voice,” he says. “I have a lot of energy, but less accuracy. Amanda’s voice is more precise. She has an excellent instinct for melody and harmony. She tends to take the parts that are pretty or soaring or poignant. I take the parts that are more grumpy or aggressive.”

Adding to the gleefully experimental atmosphere at Community Center shows is the fact that the band allots a portion of each night’s performance to working out new material. Loeper explains that, given the band’s heavy touring schedule, their writing and recording chores have to be accomplished on the road, during the limited down time from traveling and playing gigs.

“We’ve got a mobile setup that allows us to work on songs when we have a little free time,” Loeper says. “Then we’ll take a few of those songs and work them into a certain part of the set every night. We like to have a part of the show where there’s uncertainty. It’s fun for us, and I think the audience recognizes it. The spontaneity usually translates to more fun for the audience.”

Nonetheless, Loeper acknowledges there are drawbacks to being a two-year-old, two-album outfit adhering to the touring schedule of 20-year arena rock veterans. “Instead of networking for a decade, we just jumped in a bus,” Loeper chuckles. “So there are nights we do really well, and the next night we may play to an empty bar. We’ve gotten used to the swings.

“But our goal is to just keep building it the way we are, to keep playing bigger and bigger shows. We don’t have any radio or specific monetary goals. We just want to play good shows to good crowds, and to keep honing our skills as a live band.”

Community Center will play Preservation Pub Tuesday, August 15 at 10 p.m.

Now Playing: Universal Sigh

Though the Georgia-based outfit Universal Sigh has certainly found a comfortable home on the jam-band circuit  — the quatet’s four live Bandcamp releases provide powerful testimony to their estimable long-form improvisational chops — don’t mistake them for just another band of burnouts. The Sigh’s approach to composition has more in common with ’70s prog and fusion and with neo jazz-rock outfits like Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe than it does with Trey and Jerry.
What’s more, singer-bassist Austin Parker’s hip-hop- and modern R&B-inflected vocals stand apart from the desultory wheezing of most jam-band frontmen, grounding Universal firmly in the realm of song-oriented rock ‘n’ roll. “It’s true that a lot of jam bands really don’t have good stand-alone singers,” says Universal Sigh drummer Pace Maynard. “Austin is pretty exceptional, especially for that scene.
“He has a naturally emotive way of singing that stirs something inside the listener. The first time we heard him, it was like, oh, wow, you should come and do that for us all of the time.”
Universal Sigh comprises four Georgia boys who coalesced around Athens and the University of Georgia about five years ago. Maynard says they all shared a love of classic rock in the vein of Zeppelin and Floyd, and classic prog in the vein of Yes and Crimson. Their tastes grew collectively to encompass Phish and the festival scene, and neo-jazz rockers like Snarky Puppy.
But even as the scope of their influences expanded to include more technically inclined musicians, Maynard says the band never lost sight of elements like groove and song. “I like prog, but I prefer the groovier prog,” he says. “I like to couch groovy, head-bobbing music inside more complicated structures.
“A lot of prog seems technical for the sake of being technical. It’s music for musicians. I like some of that music, but ultimately I’m more inclined to put on something that gets my head nodding. We try to achieve that balance between musicianship and groove in our songs. For that reason, we get a lot of fans who come up and say, ‘I don’t like jam bands, but I like you guys.'”
Though Universal Sigh has the four lengthy live releases on Bandcamp, and a slew more available at Archive.org, Maynard says they released their first “proper” studio record, “Atoms & Void,” in 2016 in order to “be legitimate in the eyes of the industry, and make our agent’s job a little easier.
“Our songs are constantly evolving, and you need ‘finished’ songs when you record,” Maynard says. “That made it difficult for us. Next time, we’ll concentrate on having a collection of songs, rather than whatever we have that’s ‘done.’ We’re happy with how ‘Atoms’ turned out, but next time we want to put out something that’s a better snapshot of the most pristine version of who we are.”
Universal Sigh will play Preservation Pub Saturday, Aug. 19 at 10 p.m.