Now Playing: The Damn Truth

Montreal’s The Damn Truth offer up powerful echoes of the rock ‘n’ roll of a bygone era, whether it be in the way frontwoman Lee-la Baum yowls and prowls the stage like the delinquent spawn of Plant and Joplin, or in the band’s penchant for cutting and insistent Zeppelin-esque riffing.

It only seems fitting, then, that the Truth gained an early foothold in the music industry in way that would do their old-school Rawk heroes proud, by garnering big airplay on their hometown radio station.

“We were lucky in that the Montreal radio station really liked us and started playing one of our songs,” Baum says. “And people started calling up and saying, ‘What was that song I just heard?’ For a little while, we had people who kept calling and requesting it, over and over again. It was like a throwback, a testament to the magic of radio.”

The Damn Truth formed about seven years ago, when Baum and guitarist Tom Shemer began looking for fellow musicians who shared their love of ’60s and ’70s classic rock and ’90s grunge, at a time when fey indie rock was ascendant in the city they called home.

“Everyone else seemed to be playing this indie pop thing with synthesizers and drum machines, and we couldn’t find a space to operate within that,” Shemer says. “We were trying to pull a band together, find other people that wanted the same things we wanted, and then start writing together.”

Shemer and Baum eventually found a couple of kindred spirits to fill the band’s bassist and drummer slots, and that line-up went on to record 2012’s stellar debut full-length, “Dear in the Headlights.” (FYI: Drummer Dave Traina was one of those original recruits; current bassist PY Letellier joined later on, replacing a previous four-stringer in 2016.)

But though the Truth’s music is redolent of the aforementioned classic rock stalwarts, theirs is no precious by-the-numbers neo-retro act. The old-school echoes are balanced by modern production values, and by intimations of more recent rock influences, be it the Black Keys or Jack White or the Strokes.

“We’re not interested in sounding like a band from the ’60s, even though we love a lot of that music,” Shemer says. “It’s important for us to sound fresh and new. If you go back and look at what Jimi Hendrix did, he used every piece of technology available to him, because he wanted to sound like the future. That’s how we feel as well.”

The band’s 2016 release “Devilish Folk” is arguably even fiercer, more visceral and riff-centric than its potent predecessor; Shemer notes that producer/sound man Tchad Blake, a much-in-demand veteran who has worked with with the likes of the Black Keys and the Arctic Monkeys, helped a good deal in getting the band’s lethal sound across on the record. But for all of the simmering raw energy that infuses “Devilish Folk,” as well as their previous record, Baum warns that the band is best heard in its natural element, live on the stage.

“I’m kind of a beast when I perform,” she says. “That’s my niche. I love getting up and singing my ass off for a group of strangers. That fact, and the fact that we’re all so close as a band really makes us who we are on stage. When we’re on stage together, it’s like there’s love in the room. And when you leave the show, you leave really feeling something.”

The Damn Truth will play Preservation Pub Monday, Feb. 12 at 9 p.m.

Now Playing: The Green Fingers

Green Fingers founder, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Austin Barrett had a musical vision that was simply too expansive — and exacting — to be fully expressed under the auspices of his previous band, the well-traveled Johnson City outfit Rickshaw Roadshow. While Rickshaw had enjoyed an estimable regional popularity, Barrett felt constrained by the necessity of sharing songwriting chores with several authors.

“I had begun to write more and more of my own songs, and I was really coming into my own as a writer,” he says. “But we had three other talented writers in the band. So it was almost a situation of having too many cooks.

“I had reached a point where I kind of wanted to do my own thing, write my own songs. At the same time, I knew some other musicians that shared the particular vision I had.”

The result, beginning in 2016, was Green Fingers, a mature and accomplished roots and Americana outfit, notwithstanding the fact that Barrett says the band is “still very much a work in progress,” perhaps owing to the fact that the current four-man lineup has been together a mere six months.

Barrett characterizes the Green Fingers as “a blend of Americana and folk with hints of blues and nods to the country greats,” and that’s a fairly apt description. Theirs is a laid-back, almost pastoral vibe — shades of the Band, or the Grateful Dead’s more country/folk-influenced material — an essentially folk-rock-driven sound that evinces tasteful hints of blues and country twang and even R&B along the way.

But the band’s indelible trademark is Barrett’s vocal, a smooth and memorable white-soul croon that calls to mind other distinctive frontmen of the genre, without expressly imitating them.

Barrett lists a host of artists who have figured prominently in his creative endeavors, from classic blues artists like B.B. King to trad-country singers like George Jones and Merle Haggard. But he allows that the influence of ex-Drive-by Truckers guitarist-turned-solo-artist Jason Isbell has loomed especially large in more recent years, especially now that he, like Isbell, has departed a more established outfit to pursue his own vision.

“Jason Isbell has been big, especially the way he blends country and rock and other styles,” Barrett says. “But anything I get from him, or anyone else, I try to make it my own. I take influences from a lot of places, but I try to wake up and look at them with fresh eyes every day.”

Though the Green Fingers aren’t necessarily a jam band, Barrett says he likes to encourage his bandmates to reinterpret the songs come live performance. It makes for a weird dichotomy — Barrett is at once a perfectionist, sometimes taking several months to fine tune a single song, yet also an accomplished instrumentalist with a keen appreciation for improvisation.

“I like for the songs to be changeable; I’ll record a song, and then perform it differently just about every time,” he says. “Sometimes we do a special set of songs that are live-performance-based. When we do that, there’s always a lot of blues, lots of guitar solos, and even some freestyle jam-band-type things going on. It’s a matter of being in the moment, of interpreting the crowd and seeing how they feel.”

The Green Fingers will play Preservation Pub Saturday, Jan. 20 at 10 p.m.

Now Playing: Airshow

It was only a couple of years ago that longtime friends and Airshow co-founders Cody Chelius and Steve Gallagher played their first set together as an acoustic duo, in a Nashville-area bar. The fateful date was so successful, it set the stage for what would become the first Airshow performance, on July 4 of 2016.

“The bartenders were blown away, and they asked us to put a full band together for their Fourth of July party,” says singer-mandolinist Chelius. “They had a large outdoor area with a stage, and we played to 1,000 people in pouring rain. Everybody stayed, and people were dancing in the rain. Then the rain subsided just in time for fireworks. It was an absolutely fabulous first show.”

There was a certain inevitability in Chelius and Gallagher’s collaboration. Chelius was born the son of Dead-head parents, and Gallagher, his best friend, often came along on family excursions to Grateful Dead shows when the two were but small boys. They experienced all of their musical coming-of-age moments together, from picking up their first instruments to discovering the latter-day jam band wonders of Trey Anastasio and Phish.

Given their history, it’s unsurprising that Airshow ply a brand of Grateful Dead-inspired rock that plays well with the jam-band crowd. But unlike so many other jam-circuit children of Jerry, Airshow are more influenced by the Dead’s gift for appealingly rustic pop-rock songwriting, and by the members’ various forays into subgenres like bluegrass and country and folk — think the Jerry Garcia Band, or Old and in the Way.

That focus came as partly result of circumstance, and partly by design. Gallagher tells that he and Chelius split up for college — with Chelius heading to Baltimore and Gallagher heading to Middle Tennessee State University — before reconvening in Murfreesboro to resume their lifelong musical partnership in 2015.

“Cody got heavily involved with playing the mandolin while he was in collge,” Gallagher says. “And I spent a lot of time practicing and playing on acoustic guitar, because I didn’t always have other people to jam with. So when we got back together, it just seemed like a better fit.

“But I do a lot of the songwriting, and as a songwriter, I’ve always written on acoustic, even if it was for an electric band. I don’t want the tone distracting me from the idea in my head. My way of writing has always been to sit down on the couch with an acoustic guitar and a pot of coffee, and start banging out ideas.”

Chelius says the excitement of their first show spurred a quick recording session, resulting in the five-song EP “Lightbulb.” Though it’s the band’s only studio recording to date, a number of Airshow live performances are also available on archive.org. In the meantime, Chelius says the band is preparing a second EP for a planned late springtime release.

“When we did that first EP, we were just a ‘baby band,'” Chelius says. “This time around, we’re feeling more confident; we’re taking some bigger risks and employing some different sounds. And I think the songs now are just better and more mature.”

Airshow will play Preservation Pub Thursday, Jan. 25 at 10 p.m.

 

 

Now Playing: Ultrafaux

It took more than 30 years of playing guitar in a variety of contexts and genres for Baltimore bandleader Michael Harris to find his true calling, as an exponent of the virtuosic gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt.

“I have always been multi-stylistic in my approach, but I always loved the acoustic guitar the most,” Harris says. “I had been playing in a lot of Cuban and Brazilian styles, but I was missing  the swing that’s inherent in jazz. And then I heard Django, and I was captivated. When he played, it was like no one else. It was like, here was this thing that had been right in front of my face for so many years.”

That was 2013. The epiphany led to a sort of sea change in Harris’s musical endeavors, as he began studying guitar anew, networking with a variety of international musicians conversant in Reinhardt’s music, even making a pilgrimage to the town in northern France where the late guitarist spent the last years of his life. In 2014, Harris founded Hot Club of Baltimore, a collective devoted to playing the music of Reinhardt and other like-minded artists, and also the smaller Ultrafaux, a nimble three-piece offshoot of HCOB that plays original music rooted in Reinhardt’s technical and compositional approach. Harris is bringing Ultrafaux to the upstairs Speakeasy bar at Preservation Pub.

Reinhardt’s music was shaped in strange and unexpected ways by a near-tragedy, a fire that nearly killed him and his new bride when he was an aspiring young guitar player in the 1920s, traveling and working from a gypsy caravan in France. Reinhardt escaped, pulling his wife from the flames, but suffered severe burns over large portions of his body; two fingers on his left fretting hand were left all but paralyzed. But rather than quitting the instrument, Reindhardt evolved a whole new technical approach, one that made allowances for his handicap, yet ended up adding a distinctive texture and nuance to the music in the process.

“I had to relearn a lot of things when I came to the music,” Harris says. “He did a lot of what he did out of necessity, but it created a very distinctive sound. The melodic stuff he came up with was brilliant. But sometime I wonder whether he would have come up with all of that if he had working fingers. He created all kinds of cool stuff.”

Though the concept of a gypsy jazz band might seem a little esoteric — the kind of stuff better suited to international music festivals and hipster cafes than to noisy bars where rock ‘n’ roll bands play — Harris says both his outfits are generally well-received, regardless of the venue.

“People usually love the music,” he says. “It’s familiar in a way that’s not obvious, but it’s in their consciousness, sort of new and familiar at the same time. And it’s very danceable. If we’re in a family-friendly venue, children love to get up and dance.

“It’s a truly world music, because the gypsies were traveling all across Europe. So you had lots of different styles deriving from all these nomadic musicians, mixing Latin, Spanish, classical, and then the swing of jazz and all the way into blues. As an acoustic trio, we’re one of the few bands of this kind in the world playing original music in that style. So far, every audience we’re ever played has given us a good response.”

Ultrafaux will play Preservation Pub Wednesday, Jan. 24 at 10 p.m.

Now Playing: Ordinary Madmen

Having been together for less than two full years, Nashville’s Ordinary Madmen have only one three-song EP to show for their efforts, but that sole release is a helluva thing. “The Russell Street Sessions” sounds like an undiscovered gem from some arcane-but-hella-cool ’70s rock outfit, a record redolent of black lights and psychedelic velvet posters and wafting hints of cannabis and red-eyed rock gods in bell bottoms and shaggy ‘dos.

Frontman Tyler Webb comes on a bit like late Lynyrd Skynyrd vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, only with a white-soul edge in lieu of a Southern drawl. Singing over the airtight rhythm section of  Phil Simpson and Kody Muhic, he’s ably complemented by guitarist Kyle McAllister, chief architect of the band’s throwback heavy-rock vibe via a rhythmic approach that mixes burly riffage with droning psychedelia. When it all comes together as it does on the powerful “Russell Street” epic “Love for a While,” the result recalls the best of slow-burn ’70s rock anthems — think Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do” or Nugent’s “Stranglehold” or Zeppelin’s “No Quarter.”

The band gestated in 2015 when Webb, recently relocated to Nashville from Indiana, met Simpson, Muhic, and McAllister through mutual friends, the four of them pulling together a jam session/party at the house that Simpson and Muhic shared. Simpson says their project started slow, but it took off quick, and soon the foursome graduated from playing cover songs to creating their own original material.

“We’ve all been influenced by Led Zeppelin, psychedelia, and heavy blues rock,” Simpson says. “We’ve all been playing in that style for years. It’s all rooted in the blues, so I guess you could say that at the end of the day, our biggest influences are Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson.”

Simpson says the Madmen have been helped along by a burgeoning underground heavy rock scene in Nashville, a scene populated by like-minded retro rock and psychedelic artists, making for more and better opportunities to play out live.

“When Kody and I first got here years ago, it was more underground than it is now,” says Simpson, who has known — and played music with — Muhic since childhood. “But now it’s all over town, and I don’t just mean classic rock cover bands. There’s a real scene here for heavy psychedelic and garage rock.

“A lot of the bands are super raw, with some punk influence. We’ve found a place in the scene without going too far into that territory. Tyler’s voice gives us a little more finesse and soul, instead of just, ‘We’re loud and we’re going to blow your eardrums away.'”

By most any measure, the Madmen are just getting started — they recently embarked on their first significant tour, and they’re looking to release their first full-length album in spring. “We’re still trying figure out how to write with each other,” Muhric says. “I think we’re good, because we don’t have a lot of big egos in this band. We all just want to write something meaningful, and hope that somebody gets something out of it. That, and we wnat to drink beer and have some fun.”

Ordinary Madmen will play Preservation Pub Sunday, Jan. 7 at 10 p.m.