Now Playing: Ned and the Dirt

As wistful children of the ’90s, Los Angeles-based outfit Ned and the Dirt vend a tasty, tuneful, unabashedly pop-friendly brand of post-grunge rock ‘n’ roll in the vein of erstwhile FM radio stalwarts like Live and the Goo Goo Dolls. It’s the kind of rock that everyone likes but no one likes to admit to, for fear of losing cred.

With the band’s new single “Toothache,” however — due out July 21 — Ned and the Dirt are, well, dirtying things up just a little, in a way that’s in keeping with the ’90s revivalist playbook.

“To me, ‘Toothache’ sounds a lot like a Ned and the Dirt version of a Nirvana song,” says NATD frontman Ned Durrett. “It has that kind of grit and crunch to it, like Nirvana or maybe an old Weezer tune. And to a great extent, that was a conscious decision.

“For me, the ’90s were my formative years in terms of listening to music; all of those sounds are very inspiring to me. I still listen to ‘Nevermind’ all the time. So Chris (Clark, NATD bassist) and I were sitting for a coffee not too long ago, bouncing ideas off one another. Asking, who are we as a band at this point in the game, and what do we want to sound like? And we decided to move toward a grittier, crunchier sound.”

Durrett actually founded NATD back home in his native South Carolina, but he says the band truly took off when he moved to Los Angeles some nine years ago. Durrett’s wife, an aspiring comedienne, quickly made new friends on the L.A. comedy circuit, and it was through her network that Durrett met Clark, now his longtime partner in crime.

“We took to each other so much; it just felt right,” Durrett says. “He went out on the road with me two weeks after we met. We were fast friends. Or really, more like fast family.”

They eventually met another kindred spirit in Atlanta ex-pat/music school graduate/drummer Joseph Freeman. The threesome bonded over the notion of “make really interesting music that’s kind of a throwback to the music we grew up listening to.”

NATD have released two full-length albums to date: 2014’s “Giants,” and the 2015 follow-up “Wild Pack: Haunt These Woods.” Both records are full-to-bursting with the hallmarks of ’90s alternative pop-rock — sharp dynamic contrasts; soaring, Vedder-esqe vocal melodies; jangly rhythm guitars that give way to potent power-chord crunch.

True to Durrett’s promise, the new single “Toothache” ups the ante on all of that. Like a musical version of Jolt Cola, its punchy chorus brings all of the tuneful sugar with twice the caffeinated crunch. Durrett says the song should serve as an announcement of sorts, the herald of a new record, and of NATD’s newer and more formidable sound.

“We’ve got a batch of new songs already locked and loaded, probably for release around the end of the year,” Durrett says. “I think we’ve gotten even more back to our roots, to stuff like the Lemonheads and the Pixies. This is going to be an even more in-your-face ’90s alt-rock-sounding record.”

Ned and the Dirt will play Preservation Pub Thursday, July 27 at 10 p.m.

 

Now Playing: The Cody Blackbird Band

Native American flutist Cody Blackbird’s mesmerizing instrumental flights of fancy are wondrous to behold — soothing, majestic, and dazzling all at a stroke — but they’re only part of the magic that makes the Cody Blackbird band sizzle. No mere novelty act, the three-piece outfit fuses traditional Native-American flute music with blues, heartland rock, and a multi-culti jam-band sensibility, creating a wholly original and wholly American rock form that Blackbird himself refers to as “AlterNative.”

But originality is a tough sell, and Blackbird admits that club owners are often skeptical. “At the promotional level, it can be hard to get over,” says Blackbird in a recent phone interview. “But once we get to play, at the audience level, we’ve gotten nothing but love and acceptance.

“And at that point, once the club owners see what we’re able to do, they’re usually ready to invite us back either during the first set break or by the end of the show.”

That Blackbird became a well-traveled musician isn’t surprising. His father, Thomas Blackbird, was a singer-songwriter as well as a longtime mainstay on the Cowboy Poetry circuit. Both parents were serious music buffs, boasting an expansive vinyl record collection which young Cody plundered from an early age, absorbing many of the rock and blues influences that would later inform his own music — B.B. King and Fleetwood Mac and Jackson Browne and Bob Dylan and (of course) Jethro Tull …

His introduction to Native American flute music, however, was more therapeutic than recreational. “I was an extremely hyperactive kid,” Blackbird says. “And at some point early on, my parents discovered that if they put on a record of really relaxing Native American flute music, I would drift off to sleep. The sound of that music was the only thing that slowed my brain down.”

Around age 8, Blackbird was exposed to the music of Native American outfit Medicine Dream, which inspired him to take up the Native American flute himself — “I knew at that point that I had to play that instrument,” he says. His development as a player rapidly took off, as did his career; within a couple of years, he had performed as an opening act for Medicine Dream.

Throughout his youth, Blackbird toured the Native American festival circuit as a solo act, and recorded a handful of critically lauded albums of traditional flute music. Then, in 2013, a promoter asked him to pull together a full band for a one-off gig. The result was the Cody Blackbird Band, a three- and sometimes four-member outfit that has become Blackbird’s main musical outlet, and with whom he has issued three full-length releases.

Having consumed a wealth of diverse rock, blues, and folk influences from his parents’ vast record collection, Blackbird says he had little trouble finding a niche for his flute forays in the medium of modern rock ‘n’ roll. He says he views the instrument in much the same way as a lead guitarist or harmonica player, and indeed, many of his flute solos sound like an electric guitar hopped up on a wall of effects — think Jack White on “Icky Thump,” or Jimi Hendrix at the end of “Third Stone from the Sun.”

A couple of critics have even noted similarities between CBB’s music and that of Blues Traveler, going so far as to dub Blackbird the John Popper of Native American flute.

But most successful rock ‘n’ roll hinges on vocal performance, and Blackbird admits he was at first uncomfortable with exercising the full force of his gruff but powerful baritone. “I’ve always loved singing, but haven’t necessarily been comfortable coming out as a lead vocalist,” he says. “So we started out as sort of a progressive instrumental group. But once I started writing lyrics and singing, people seemed to like it.

“One promoter told me, ‘You know, this flute thing is great, but your voice is this band’s best asset.'”

And so it is that, in many ways, the band is still finding its path. As he gains confidence and momentum as a bandleader, Blackbird says he’d like to take CBB to some much bigger stages. “I’d like to play Glastonbury in five years or so,” he says. “That’s the direction i’d like to go with this band. I think the sky’s the limit for us.

“The music business is a tough industry, and there’s lots of façade. But I think we can stand out because we’re into keeping it real. What we have is a message of humanity, love and unity through music. That’s what we’re about. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll are great. But love, unity and rock ‘n’ roll are even better.”

Cody Blackbird Band will play Preservation Pub Friday, July 28 at 10 p.m.

 

Now Playing: The Pine Box Boys

Maybe Pine Box Boys frontman Lester T. Raww never really had a chance, growing up in rural Arkansas with a mother who sang him to sleep every night with surreptitiously sinister lullabies, “Knoxville Girl” and “Fair Eleanor” and “Pretty Polly,” softly-intoned yet dark traditional tales of blood and murder and love-gone-wrong.

If Ma Raww’s lethal lullabies weren’t corrupting enough, Little Lester’s fate was surely sealed during his teenage years, when his fancy turned to horror movies and slasher flicks. A creative sort — an artist and a musician — his fondest wish was be the next Tom Savini, the makeup auteur behind George Romero’s landmark zombie creature features.

All which is by way of saying that it was no small wonder when, living in San Francisco in the early aughts, Raww and a few fellow neighborhood musicians started up an acoustic side project that took a gruesome left turn into the insidious realm of murder balladry.

“The way I grew up, I thought it was perfectly normal,” Lester says with an easy chuckle. “Doesn’t everybody sing songs about killing people? So I started pulling out these old songs where someone was always getting killed, and teaching them to the other guys.”

“And one day I said, hey, I’d like to try my hand writing one of these songs. It went over like gangbusters — the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack had just exploded, and everyone was listening to bluegrass and mountain music. Fourteen years later, we’re still doing it.”

They’re a morbidly colorful bunch, these Pine Box Boys, with Raww on lead vocals and guitar backed up by banjo player “Possum” Carvidi, upright bassist Col. Timothy Leather and drummer Steven “Your Uncle” Dodds. Theirs is a lively brand of mayhem-friendly neo-traditionalism, delivered with the appropriate level of cheek, and imbued with the feral energies of early rock ‘n’ roll.

The Boys have been more than tolerably prolific, too, releasing a slew of records as the Pine Box Boys, and a few more under the nom de gruesome of Lester T. Raww and the Gravesite Quartet, all of the releases sharing similarly mordant titles, “Arkansas Killing Time” and “Tales from the Emancipated Head” and “Stab!” And of course, “Lester T. Raww’s Gravesite Quartet Sings Your Children to Sleep,” an album which, contrary to its title promise, is not in any way fit for consumption by normal, healthy tots.

The response to the Pine Box Boys’ sly but musically sophisticated murder-ballad schtick has been largely positive, Lester says, with but a few hiccups of protest along the way. He notes that the editor of a feminist publication back in San Francisco — a long-time PBB fan — politely told him she could no longer come to shows, having paid closer attention to the band’s lyrical content. Lester adds in his own defense that, “If you listen to enough of our songs, you realize that we are equal opportunity misanthropes.

“Most people who hear us get it,” he continues. “Occasionally, I get some politically correct do-gooders who disparage what we’re doing. But that’s when I know we’re probably doing something right. If no one’s offended, it probably means we’re getting a little too soft.”

The Pine Box Boys will play Preservation Pub Tuesday, June 20 at 9:30 p.m.</strong

Now Playing: The Cosmic Shift

Nashville’s Cosmic Shift are well-named, hailing as they do from the psychedelic space-freak end of the jam-band spectrum, the zone whence launched many a galaxy-probing rendition of “Dark Star,” back in the halcyon days when the Dead were alive and steering their infamous improv vehicle into the nether regions of the multiverse.

Shift drummer Taylor Wade says the band members recognize and embrace their otherworldly improvisational ethic. “It comes from the combination of our individual influences, I think,” Wade says. “We all have a common love for a certain vibe at our favorite bands’ concerts, an interest in a certain community vibe. A group-mind type of music.

“There are certain frequencies of sound that can be a catalyst for things like meditation. And you can feel those frequencies, even if you don’t quite know what’s going on, or what you’re doing. It hits each of us when we’re playing, whenever we reach the point where we hit just the right groove.

“I saw an old interview with Jerry (Garcia, late Grateful Dead leader) once where he explained it,” Wade continues. “He said, ‘By not defining that feeling, it becomes everything, anything you want it to be.'”

Wade is a creative soul, given to such colorful diatribes, to waxing philosophic about his band’s music with a contagious mixture of expansiveness and enthusiasm. He describes how he and his fellow band members — singer-guitarist Joel Forlines, lead guitarist Stephen Harris, and bassist Caleb Hendon — met in Nashville about two years ago, and bonded over their love of the Jam.

“We’ve always had an appreciation for improvisational music, in whatever form it takes,” Wade says. “Our backgrounds are a little different — jazz is a huge influence of mine, while some of the others are more into funk, or rock. But our centerpoint is bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish, improvisational rock.

“When we first got together and started jamming, there was some kind of mojo that was there immediately. It was tangible, and we all knew it.”

Wade tells that improvisation is the soul of the band’s songwriting method as well. Most of the band’s new songs derive from group improv, either by way of open-floor jams, or by way of analyzing and revisiting the same. “Whenever we get into a rehearsal space, we like to open the floor to bring in a riff, an idea. Then the rest of us will create a groove around it, and 10, 20, 30 minutes later, we’re still going.”

And Wade says the band records all of their practice sessions — they have literally hundreds of hours of jamming available in the cloud, on Google Drive. In their spare time, members listen back to every rehearsal, mining old musical veins, for new gems of inspiration.

“Over half of our songs come from listening back to the rehearsals,” Wade says. “That way, we can pick out a particular idea, and come back with a more focused vision of where that idea needs to go. It’s important to allow the music to tell you where to go, to navigate for you. Because if you’re listening carefully, the music will always steer you in the right direction.”

Despite their prolific jamming, and despite having built a considerable following around Nashville, the Cosmic Shift have yet to record a proper album. They’re looking to change that soon, having entered Nashville’s Welcome to 1979 recording studio and recorded their debut EP “Archetype,” due out July 8 under the band’s own imprint.

True to their throwback ethos, the Shift recorded the EP live on analog tape, and will release it on vinyl as well as on CD. “Our producer is an old Deadhead, and he definitely wanted to help us capture that live energy,” Wade says. “Each song was recorded in one take, and we were really happy with the way it sounded.

“We were really feeling the vibe of the studio that day. We learned that the vibe we have in live shows is really important to our sound, and we want that vibe to shine through in our studio recordings as well.”

The Cosmic Shift will play Preservation Pub Friday, June 23 at 10 p.m. along with Positive Mental Attitude.

 

 

Now Playing: The Mason District

Ohio-based three-piece the Mason District can’t seem to shake the “Americana” label that follows them all over the internet, and maybe it’s the band’s own fault. The genre tag is featured in each of the band’s music pages, ReverbNation and Facebook and Bandcamp, et al. And the very name “Mason District” seems freighted with a certain rural imagery, conjuring visions of rustic backwaters and dilapidated pickup trucks and jars of misty moonshine garnished with sprigs of browning foliage.

But the label is a little reductive, if not downright inaccurate, as the District’s music has more in common with post-millennial southern and indie rock than it does with most of what passes for Americana nowadays. Their closest musical cousins are probably Nashville’s Kings of Leon, due in no small part to vocalist/guitarist Tom Tobias’ voice, a smoky, lived-in yawp that bears some sonic resemblance to that of KOL frontman Caleb Followill.

“We definitely don’t take the typical American band’s approach,” says drummer Collin Nutter. “I see our music as being more along the lines of back-to-basics rock ‘n roll, with a little southern influence in there somewhere.”

Nutter, Tobias, and singer/bassist Maria Petti first met one another at a weekly jam night at a bar in Cleveland. They bonded over a love of the Black Keys, and spent some months jamming on Keys songs together at the open mic. Cover songs eventually gave way to collaboration, wherein members of the trio brought their own songs to the table.

But things didn’t “get serious”, Tobias says, until 2016, when the band members set noses to the grindstone and churned out their debut EP, “Shotgun Soul.”

“Initially, we were drawn to each other because we were all infatuated with the Black Keys,” Nutter says. “With their music, and with the way their career developed as they went along. And then we all went through a period where we were obsessed with Kings of Leon, and then with Alabama Shakes, and Portugal the Man.

“So once we started making music together, it was obvious to all of us what direction we wanted to go in.”

One thing that sets the District apart from most of their neo-southern counterparts is Petti, who sings backup and sometimes lead on several of the band’s songs. “In the beginning, the first that drew me to Maria was her voice. And when we got together playing, it really clicked. One of my goals for the band as we move forward is to get Maria involved singing more songs.”

That should happen soon, as the band is actively working toward releasing their first full-length, maybe by early 2018. While they already have plenty of new songs at the ready, Tobias says he has a vision to expand the band’s sound, adding keyboards, and maybe a second guitar. “When I first started writing, I wanted to keep it really simple,” Tobias says. “That’s what the Black Keys did. That’s what Kings of Leon did.

“I want to get everyone more involved in writing. And I want to add more sound, develop a fuller sound. We all want to progress, and get to the point where we can say, ‘This is the best work we’ve ever done.'”

The Mason District will play Preservation Pub Wednesday, June 28 at 10 p.m.