Now Playing: The Blackfoot Gypsies

Few out-of-towners have performed more often or more memorably on the stage of Preservation Pub than Nashville four-piece the Blackfoot Gypsies. The seven-year-old outfit has been playing Knoxville’s Pub since their early days as a two-piece, before singer-guitarist Matthew Paige and drummer Zach Murphy decided to expand the lineup to include harp player Ollie Dogg and bass player Dylan Whitlow.

The Gypsies are ostensibly a blues-rock outfit, though that descriptor only hints at the dense grab-bag of retro-rock and traditional influences that inform their music. Their sound is that of a blues-powered locomotive, coal-fired by the rhythmic juggernaut created when Paige’s idiosyncratic hybrid slide guitar style locks in with Murphy’s insistent rattle.

It’s the sound of country blues a la Robert Johnson and Fred McDowell, reshaped by the atavistic propulsion of bluegrass and the mournful spirit of white proto-country, the whole of it filtered through the lens of classic blues-rock assimilationists like the Rolling Stones.

At the heart of it all is Paige, who commands attention on stage with his lank mop of hair, soda-bottle glasses and long, rail-thin physique. Singing in a voice that’s at once shrill and strangely beguiling, he rocks back and forth in a weird sync with Murphy’s beat, his angular frame a marvel of physics-defying elasticity.

Paige traces his musical inspiration back to his father, who was himself a voracious consumer of traditional musics, and who gave his young son the less-than-subtle nudge that started his career. “My dad told me I had to pick an instrument and play it,” Paige remembers. “Little did he know it would dominate the rest of my life. He wasn’t always thrilled with that, but, hey, he got what he asked for.”

That led inevitably to the pre-adolescent Paige plundering dad’s vinyl record collection. “Fortunately, he liked good music,” Paige says. “Lightning Hopkins was a big one that I got from my dad. John Lee Hooker. Robert Johnson. Hank Williams. Then came my first concert,Willie Nelson.”

All that listening gradually gave rise to Paige’s distinctive guitar style. A barreling, percussive amalgamation of various picking techniques working in concert with bottleneck slide, Paige’s playing  owes as much to early country blues artists like McDowell as it does to rock ‘n’ roll slide masters like Duane Allman or Mick Taylor. “It started with me learning to play old Muddy Waters songs with the slide,” he says. “I loved the sounds I got, and I got obsessed with the slide almost immediately.”

The evolution of his uncanny man-alto singing voice, however, was another matter entirely. Paige tells that it was at first a daunting proposition, stepping up to the mic solo with his nasally twang, a keening that has more in common with high ‘n’ lonesome traditional mountain music wailers than with the gruff baritones indigenous to blues and rock ‘n’ roll. “The first time I thought about having to sing myself, it freaked me out,” says Paige. “Then I came to terms with what I had going on, and how I could use it. It was like, okay, this is what you’ve got. Now what are you going to do about it?”

After playing as a duo for the first few years of the band’s existence, Paige and Murphy added bass and harmonica to the mix four years ago; the move was a fruitful one, as the Gypsies foursome recently released their third full-length album “To the Top” on Plowboy Records. Paige says the addition of Gregg and Whitlow has been the most important factor in the band’s evolution, more important than the influence of any single artist or sound. “When you have that much sonic energy going on at once, there’s just no substitute for it,” Paige says. “It increases the chance of spontaneity.

“If I had to draw any parallels to what we’re trying to do, I’d say that what the Stones did in the early days was really cool,” he continues. “That was a great interpretation of the blues, where they really tapped into the human element of it. Their blues cover stuff was pretty sexy. I’ve heard Keith and Mick talk about how you have to conjure that unknown element, and how it’s a very visceral tap. And they did it. That’s the kind of thing we try to do, create that essence of sexy blues and rock ‘n’ roll.

The Blackfoot Gypsies will play Preservation Pub Friday, May 19 at 10 p.m.

Now Playing: Blond Bones

Blond Bones’ 2016 “Few of Days” was an atypical debut, to say the least — a five-song concept EP centered around the struggles of a star-crossed southern family, a release that came off a bit like Flannery O’Connor as reimagined by circa-1981 R.E.M.

It was a lovely record, marked by stark, reverb-laden guitar lines and by bandleader Christian Barnett’s distinctive vocals — his voice recalling that of Demberist frontman Colin Meloy, a hang-dog mid-range baritone capable of modulating to a pitch-perfect high tenor when the moment is right.

It was lovely, true, but perhaps a bit precious, as evidenced by Barnett’s own feelings about the record. “When I started, I had this grand idea of this alt-country thing, probably because I felt like it’s what I should do, being from the South,” Barnett says.  “So the EP had this dark Southern vibe to it.

“Now don’t get me wrong; I could probably sing every lyric of Johnny Cash’s Fulsom Prison record, but I felt like performing that kind of music wasn’t what I wanted to do.”

Thus Barnett approached his latest release — 2017’s two-song “Sierra” mini-EP — with a different mindset. And while the key elements that made “Few of Days” worth listening to — the ruminative songwriting, the beguiling reverb, and Barnett’s own voice — are still present on the new release, “Sierra” is marked by a subtle but significant tonal shift that makes it altogether more satisfying than its predecessor.

“This time, I didn’t set out saying, I’m going to write a country record,” Barnett says. “I sat down with the rest of the band, and we said, here are some chords, let’s see where they go. It was a much more organic process.”

A talented multi-instrumentalist who studied jazz with guitarist Mark Boling at the University of Tennessee, Barnett founded the Blond Bones as a backing band for local singer-songwriter Joey English, for whom Barnett had been playing drums. But when English took a brief hiatus from music, Blond Bones suddenly took on another life, as a vehicle for Barnett’s own songs.

For a while, Bones were more a musical collective than a proper band, with Barnett serving as the only steady member. Then English returned to the fold as a guitar player, forming a solid core membership along with Barnett, Joe Rebrovick and Daniel Ryan.

“Having a settled lineup has helped us a lot,” Barnett says. “Now everyone gets more involved with the songwriting. I still bring in the basics of the songs, but now the rest of the guys all have their input in shaping where they go.

“‘Sierra’ was more about me doing the music that I actually want to do, the music that has inspired me most as a listener. And I think that goes for the rest of the band, too.”

Though the difference is subtle, ‘Sierra’ is more distinctly a work of urban indie rock than its predecessor, with its Southern and rural shadings. And while both Bones’ releases are emotionally compelling in their own right, the expressiveness of “Sierra” seems more penetrating, unhindered by the artifice of “Few of Days'” unwieldy conceptual overlay.

“From my conversations with the other guys, we’re on the same page now musically,” Barnett says. “We want to make this work artistically and professionally. And artistically, what we want to do is tap into the subconscious and find the music, and let it be what it turns out to be.

“It’s an intense, intentional process, the way we write songs. We all take it seriously.”

Blond Bones will play Preservation Pub Monday, May 1, at 10 p.m.

Now Playing: The Bourgeois Mystics

The Texas-based Bourgeois Mystics are one of those outfits that truly defy categorization, although co-founder and keyboardist Squiggly Finesse is willing to give it a try.

“We have the energy of a punk band with the freakiness of funk, the compositional acumen of classical music and the hipness of jazz, all delivered with the hard edge of hip hop and metal,” says SF, who prefers to go by his stage name.

“I guess we like to call it art-funk.”

It all makes more sense when you understand how the band began, some three years or so ago when theater/dance student Squiggly Finesse met bassist and music composition major Zenith Nadir at New Hampshire’s Keane College.

They hit it off both musically and personally, and somehow, they both ended up in Austin, Tex., rapidly accruing like-minded musical travelers along the way. The end result was the Bourgeois Mystics, an up-to-ten-piece prog-funk ensemble with an elaborately theatrical stage presentation that brings to mind erstwhile heavy metal thespians Gwar.

“Zenith and I have different writing styles,” SF says, by way of explaining the band’s profoundly weird dynamics. “He has a deep understanding of theory. He’s a classical music pedant. I have more of an intuitive feel for soul, jazz, hip hop. I have an intuitive funk groove in my soul.

“What we share is a sense of humor. We both like writing strange stories and witty lyrics.”

That Squiggly and Zenith were truly kindred spirits is perhaps evidenced by the fact that they had both already adopted their stage pseudonyms by the time they met at Keane. Theirs was a shared sense of the outrageous, and it led, organically, to the evolution of the Mystics’ unhinged stage show.

“Performance is my background,” says SF. “My theater background gave me a strong foundation for creating characters and connecting with audiences. Zenith actually has a very theatrical flair, too. He’s kind of a silly, whackadoodle dude.

“I’m a live music fan, and I’ve probably been to 400 to 500 live shows in my life. And my favorite ones were the shows where you could dance and party, where people could get silly and let their guard down a little big. That’s the kind of atmosphere I want to create at a Bourgeois Mystics show.”

On April 14, the Mystics released their first record, “Eureka!”, which they announced via the single release “Eureka! Cigarettes.” A truly bent little number, the single comes off as a smooth slice of horn-driven ’70s funk. That is to say, if ’70s funk had been typically spliced with snippets of dancehall and rap, Latin-flavored bridges, and virtuosic fusion guitar solos.

The lyrics are just as harrowingly nutty, written as a commercial for an imaginary brand of cigarettes, featuring the shifting perspectives of a morally conflicted product spokesman, a shady physician, a 19th century gold prospector, and an abominable snowman.

“Like most of what we do, it’s a fusion of the old world and the new world,” SF says of the song. “And like most of what we do, I think there’s an appeal across generations. It’s danceable and modern, with some hip-hop things thrown in. But there are some traditional elements in there, too.”

The Bourgeois Mystics will play Preservation Pub Wednesday, May 3 at 10 p.m.

Now Playing: The Voodoo Fix

Nashville’s The Voodoo Fix have an unusual provenance, having begun life a decade ago as the de facto house band for the former college of a failed U.S. President. “We were all at Whittier College in California — a school whose claim to fame is that it’s the alma mater of Richard Nixon,” VF bassist Will Halsey says with a laugh. “We got school credit for starting a blues band; we were the Whittier College Blues Band, and that’s how we first got together.”

Ten years and three full-length albums later, it’s hard to think of the Fix as “just a blues band.” Now based out of Nashville, the band members have the look of old-school So-Cal rockers, all greasy locks and strange piercings, gaudy costume jewelry and profligate tattoos. And their music is rooted in a solid foundation of bluesy, sleazy, straight-with-no-chaser Rawk, of the kind that used to rattle the rafters at various clubs along L.A.’s Sunset Strip. But there’s more to the story of the band’s sound — elements of funk and world beat and even jazz that seem to set the Fix’s mix just out of reach of ordinary powers of description.

“We like to have a question mark there,” says Halsey. “Is it blues? Is it rock? Or is it something else entirely? We like to think we’re all of those things, and none of those things all at once.”

The Fix’s curious musical melange owes in part to influence of their Whittier College mentor, teacher and Afro-Cuban flautist Danilo Lozano. What’s more, The Voodoo Fix hit the touring and festival circuits pretty early in their career, and Halsey says the road has been the single biggest influence on the band’s sonic evolution.

“Those first couple years on the road are a huge part of what we are today,” Halsey says. “We learned to tread on water, follow what we love and do what we wanted.

“We used to do a lot of these jam-band festivals. We were sort of the rock and roll fixtures at all of these big jam-fests. A lot of those bands have an appreciation for blues and soul, which is a big part of our sound, so they welcomed us. It was a lifestyle as well as a way of approaching the music. We’d tour around the country in an old school bus. Then we’d get on stage and start songs without knowing where they were going. Many of our songs were born and shaped that way, on the road.”

On record, though, the Fix are an entirely different beast — focused, pop-savvy, fierce and flamboyant in the way that any truly top-notch band of tattooed rock ‘n’ roll extroverts should be. Halsey says years of alternately touring and recording have taught the band the important differences between a good record and a successful live show.

“We’ve learned to be structured about being unstructured,” Halsey says. “We have an ending point in mind when we do something, as opposed to starting without knowing what’s going to happen. Our current producer really showed us the difference between studio and live performance. You have to acknowledge that those are two different things. On our latest record (2017’s “Back for More”), we really explored our studio side a lot more.

“We still like to jam a lot. There’s something to be said about being out on a limb, the excitement of improvisation. It’s exciting in a different way from the way well-produced music is. Live, you’re bringing your heartache, your breakfast, your shitty week, everything you feel, you’re bringing into the performance. But you can’t bring all of that stuff into the studio. We’ve learned to bring out our songwriting more, while alluding to the live show.”

The Voodoo Fix will play Preservation Pub Saturday, May 13 at 10 p.m.

Now Playing: The Big Takeover

It would be easy to label New York six-piece The Big Takeover a reggae band — and a damned good one, mind you — and leave it at that. After all, they’re led by powerful Jamaican-born singer NeeNee Rushie, their music is suffused with authentic island rhythms, and they’ve opened shows for what Rushie describes as a “who’s who” of reggae legends, from the Wailers to the Skatalites to Inner Circle to the Slackers, and so many more.

It would be easy to do that, but it would be lazy. Derelict, even. Because TBTs music also encompasses reggae’s close cousins, ska and rocksteady, along with a slew of soul and R&B influences from several eras, the whole of it spiced with the occasional deft flurry of blues-rock guitar.

“We like the idea that we can’t quite be pinned down,” says Rushie, during a recent phone interview. “We like the idea of falling into a not-quite-defined area, because we have so many different influences, reggae and ska and ’60s pop, soul.”

The band took off about 10 years ago, in the small college town of New Paltz, New York. Having come to the Hudson Valley area from Jamaica for college, Rushie hit it off with longtime friends and reggae enthusiasts Rob Kissner (bass) and Sam Tritto (drums). The three of them recruited three more members and haven’t stopped since.

They’re a solid six-piece outfit, with a chemistry that comes across in their unshakeable grooves. It’s hard not to single out Rushie, though, with her dynamic stage presence and versatile vox, as the beating heart of the Big Takeover. In person, she comes off with a winning mix of confidence and child-like glee, as if fronting a six-piece touring act were a brand-new gig, and not a ten-year-old endeavor.

That charming effervescence comes off in her singing, too. Her vocals are very much steeped in reggae tradition, and yet infused with something more — Rushie is a joyful, unfettered performer; she alternately coos, croons, banters and brays, calling forth a dozen stylists from as many different eras, sometimes in the space of a single verse.

Rushie says singing came naturally to her, growing up in Jamaica, listening to the ska and reggae records so beloved of her mother. She began singing in church, and later, in high school — “We had a really competitive choir,” she says. “I sang a lot of lead parts.” — but she considers her catching on with The Big Takeover as her serious singing debut.

“I never had what I would call formal training,” Rushie says. “I grew up surrounded by older reggae sounds. And I would try to sing like the singers I heard on those recordings. When I finally found a real outlet  to sing for people, with this band, I jumped at the opportunity.”

The Big Takeover have now released four full-length albums in 10 years, with a fifth one now in the works. “The next record will be a collection of acoustic versions of songs we’ve already released before. We’re giving the songs a more organic feel, and what’s coming out is pretty interesting. But our most recent record (“Silly Girl”) just came out in January. Maybe we’ll release this next one this year. But it’s still a work in progress.

“”We’d like to take this wherever it’s going to go. We’d love to go to Europe; I understand there’s a strong scene for what we do over there. We’ve been growing this project from a really tiny seed, and it’s starting to flourish. We love to see where it goes.”

The Big Takeover will play Preservation Pub Tuesday, April 11 at 11 p.m. with special guest Jonny Monster.