Now Playing: Husky Burnette

Some voices are born and not made, and the voice of former Chattanoogan Brian “Husky” Burnette is one such untameable beast. Coming off a bit like Howlin’ Wolf, if the Wolf had been a drunken white man with a serious Tide pod jones, Burnette has the kind of manically unhinged vocal instrument that no serious teacher would ever encourage in one of his students, lest he be run out of the business on the wrong end of a very sharp stick. And thank the gods for all of that, because Burnette’s voice is the perfect implement for his particular brand of atavistic stomp, a deviant hybrid of hill-country blues, garage-y punk and heavy, swampy rock ‘n’ roll.

“Before I started my own band, I had written songs just a little, but I had never sung before,” says Burnette. “And I still don’t call myself a singer. But there was no one else around to do it, and there were plenty of other bands with not-so-great vocalists. So I figured that if they can do it, I can do it.”

Burnette began his musical life as a guitar player, and he’s blessed with an appealingly distinctive six-string voice, rooted in a rhythmically facile approach that sees him integrate standard comping with bottleneck slide. Thus his earliest gigs were as a sideman, like his stint with regional country music artist Roger Alan Wade in the early 2000s.

But even as he earned a living off trad country, Burnette was cultivating his longtime love affair with the blues. He says his initial exposure to the idiom came through his uncles, who had introduced him early on to blues-based classic rock, Jimi Hendrix, Cream and the like. Over the years, he worked his way backwards, first discovering transitional electric blues artists like the aforementioned Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and then digging into the delta and hill country blues — the latter being a North Mississippi offshoot characterized by simple riffs and powerful, relentless grooves — that heavily inform his playing and songwriting today.

But while that hill country rhythmic underpinning has remained a constant in each of his LP releases, Burnette has increasingly embraced his rock instincts, upping the tempo on his trademark barnstorming grooves, and adding ever thicker layers of crunch to his already-pungent six-string tone.

Burnette says he knew he could no longer ignore his emergent rock instincts when he collaborated recently with Pittsburgh outfit Six Speed Kill — who he describes as being “a band on the Motorhead side of things” — on a split 12-inch release. “One song I had was just straight-up hard rock,” he says. “It was my chance to bring out all these rock riffs that had been bouncing around in my head. It was a lot heavier than anything I’d done before.

“My music has definitely gotten more ‘rock’ over time. I’ve always been a fan of any kind of hard rock, or raw rock music. I need that stuff. I mean, I love the blues; I love hill country blues. But after playing in that vein for a while, I guess it was just time for more rock ‘n’ roll in my life.”

Husky Burnette will play Funny Ears Fringe Festival Thursday, March 22 at 7:20 p.m. at Preservation Pub.

Now Playing: Andrew Scotchie and the River Rats

Like so many music-obsessed teenagers, Asheville’s Andrew Scotchie suffered no shortage of rock ‘n’ roll heroes growing up — he admits to having a near-fanatic appreciation for the Who at one point in his life, in addition to lesser infatuations with the first Rolling Stones album, the work of Guided By Voices frontman  Robert Pollard, and also that of Americana singer-songwriter/ex-Drive-by Trucker Jason Isbell. Nonetheless, Scotchie’s musical life was influenced most by two events that had nothing to do with any artist or album.

The first was the death of his father, a prominent area businessman who was murdered when Scotchie was in his early teens. “Music is ultimately what saved me,” Scotchie says of the tragedy. “It got me to embrace other people again. I started telling my story in song, honoring my dad, encouraging other people to push forward in their own lives. I guess I had a lot to say.”

The second sea-change event came in the form of a decision — Scotchie’s choise, in 2011 at the age of 17, to take his musical endeavors to the streets, as a busker in downtown Asheville, a move that is reflected now in both Scotchie’s considerable performance chops, and in the polished, populist mix of blues, funk, classic rock and Americana that characterizes his set list today, with the five-piece Andrew Scotchie and the River Rats.

“Being on the streets, writing on the streets, engaging people on the streets — I learned a lot through all that,” Scotchie says. “It really made me work on my performance, and on my stage presence. When you’re on the streets, you have to hook people; you have about one second to get their attention, and then they’re gone.”

The result of it all is that the band has built a rep for epic live performances, such as the one preserved on last year’s full-length in-concert release “Live at Highland Brewing,” an album that showcases not only Scotchie’s smooth vocals and bluesy guitar chops, but also his very personal, and personable way with an audience.

“We’re really focused on the live shows,” Scotchie says. “I grew up loving bands that put on great shows, and it’s important for me that fans leave the shows feeling better than when they came in.

Which isn’t to say the River Rats aren’t an accomplished studio outfit; they have two fine full-lengths to their name in the debut “Soul and Sarcasm” and 2015’s “We All Stay Hungry.” Now Scotchie says the band is preparing for its third studio release “Family Dynamo,” which he characterizes as the band’s most diverse and colorful platter yet.

“It will definitely be our most eclectic,” he says. “We’ve added horns and keyboards, some backing vocals to the band over the years, and those things will all be displayed on this record. We’re taking more of a psychedelic blues approach on this record, but there’s also some rock ‘n’ roll and soul on there as well. It will show how much, as a band, we’ve been listening and learning.

“The record will be dedicated to my father. The whole album is focused on positive people, people who show their love for other people through music, or just through the way they live their lives. The record’s title, ‘Family Dynamo,’ is also a shout-out to our fans. Because we look at our fan base as part of our family.”

Andrew Scotchie and the River Rats will play Funny Ears Fringe Festival Thursday, March 22 at 11:50 p.m. at Preservation Pub.


Now Playing: CHEW

Members of Atlanta-based psychedelic-progressive outfit CHEW say they were on a mission when they formed the band in 2015. Having played together at different times as part of the local collective Psychedubasaurus Rex — a genre-mashing jam band project featuring a loose-knit, ever-changing roster of players — guitarist Brett Reagan, drummer Sarah Wilson and bassist Brandon Pittman knew they shared the same goals and the same musical outlook, and that they were all three ready to commence the serious business of touring and taking over the world with their kaleidoscopically diverse vision of prog.

“We were all in other bands that were fizzling out at about the same time,” Wilson says. “We were all influenced by Mars Volta and Black Moth Super Rainbow, and we all wanted a band where we could get on the road and go non-stop. We had had great energy when we played together in Psychedubasaurus Rex, and sure enough, when we got just the three of us together and started jamming out, there was instantaneously a great chemistry. So it was a no-brainer.”

In the short time since, and in spite of a heavy touring schedule, CHEW have managed two releases, including their debut “3D EP” as well as last year’s full-length “A Fine Accoutrement.” But while Wilson’s reference to Mars Volta and Super Moth certainly provides some inkling as to where CHEW is coming from, it provides only an inkling; the trio’s genre palette is so diverse and colorful as to stretch the boundaries of imagination for anyone attempting to figure them out. Are they prog? Are they post-rock? Are they psych? Or have they staked out a rarefied space in the musical stratosphere where such distinctions no longer have any meaning, the borders that separate them having long ago dissolved in the creative ether?

“We all have pretty broad tastes,” Wilson says. “Hip hop, jazz, indie rock. I’m a big Queens of the Stone Age fan.”

“We all have a deep appreciation for hip hop,” says Reagan. “That kind of bleeds through a lot. When we’re on the road, we listen to more hip hop than anything else. But it’s filtered through our jazz and progressive influences, the electronic influences, so we don’t really sound like a hip hop band.”

Notably missing from CHEW’s eclectic sonic mix is the presence of a lead vocalist. Wilson says the band never felt pressed to have a singer, and she doesn’t think that’s liable to change much moving forward. “I think from the beginning, we wanted to be an instrumental prog band,” she said.

“Three people in the band is easy to manage, and it works really well for us. I had been in bands like this before, and I was anxious to get back to that set up. We’re open to guest vocalists from time to time. But we each say so much with our instruments, having a vocalist might cloud that up a bit. We like this chemistry we have now.”

All of which — the taxonomically complicated, non-traditional songs, the lack of a front man/woman to manage the all-important delivery of said songs — would seem to make it more difficulty for CHEW to win over club  audiences looking for a drunken singalong or a danceable groove. Not so, says Wilson. The CHEW members have are good with audience rapport, despite the lack of a frontperson, and get good mileage out of their enthusiastic and engaging live performance chops.

“We tend to win over audiences regardless of where we play,” she says. “We have a fairly energetic show. We’re playing some complex music at times, but our energy really gets people on our side. And if it doesn’t happen that way, we don’t care. We’re going to do what we do anyway.”

CHEW will play Funny Ears Fringe Festival Friday, March 23 at 9 p.m. at Preservation Pub.

Now Playing: Revelator Hill

Revelator Hill frontman Bobby Thompson has the kind of voice that only comes of long seasoning. His is an easy, lived-in baritone, possessed of ample finesse tempered with just the right measure of rasp, cured to mellow perfection by years of playing gigs in smoky bars. Thompson’s voice, and his latter-day success with Revelator Hill, is yet more evidence that if rock ‘n’ roll is a young man’s game, then authentic blues is best delivered by the… well, the not-quite-so-young.

A long-time Washington D.C. fixture as a guitar playing sideman, Thompson spent many years honing his guitar chops and cultivating the all-around skills he would eventually deploy in fronting his own band. Thompson played blues, rock and reggae with a variety of outfits in the region, including one project wherein he collaborated with former members of Bob Marley’s Wailers.

Come age 40, Thompson says he knew it was time to step out on his own, first as leader of The Bobby Thompson Project, then under the more blues-appropriate moniker of Revelator Hill. “This is the culmination of all the work I’ve done,” Thompson says of RH. “It took me a while, to get to the point where I felt like I had all the skills — singing, songwriting, band leading.

Thompson has been a sought-after guitar player since his 20s, possessed of a versatility that sees him at ease playing stinging blues licks or turbo-charged rock ‘n’ roll, at weaving sensitive acoustic lattice works or picking terse electric lines with impeccable an milk-fed tone from his trusty Gibson SG.

Thompson credits Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix along with blues’ “Three Kings” — B.B., Albert, and Freddy — as his six-string guiding lights, with some cross-pollinating influence from more recent blues rockers like ex-Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford and Gov’t Mule frontman Warren Haynes.

His vocal influences include old-school warhorses the likes of Gregg Allman and Leon Russell, but also any number of singers whom he absorbed and studied throughout the D.C. area, during his years as a working musician. “Learning to sing the way I wanted took me a while,” he says. “Like most guitar players, I’ve always watched other players to steal their licks.

“But then there came a time when I watched guys to see how they sing, and absorb that part of what they do. I’ve never been good at directly emulating people, which has always been frustrating for me. So what I’ve had to do is take little pieces from everywhere, and try to put those different pieces together. Which I think is actually a better way to go. You make it your own that way.”

Touring now on the strength of his recent in-performance release “Live by the Creek,” Thompson says his solo career has begun to gather a head of steam. “I’m really happy with this band,” he says. “I really have a good group of guys now, guys who can really carry their own weight. On the live album, we were able to extend the songs a bit, carry them out in such a way that’s comparable to what a jam band would do.

“We’re writing songs now, but we really don’t have a firm idea of where that’s going to go. I’ve been listening to Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson, and it’s starting to have an effect. We may dabble in a more folk and country sound. We’re not sure what direction it will take, but that stuff is definitely rubbing off.”

Revelator Hill will play Funny Ears Fringe Festival Friday, March 23 at 12:20 a.m. at Preservation Pub.



Now Playing: Skunk Ruckus

Other bands before him had undertaken the curious project of cross-breeding rural and traditional musics with the raucous energies of punk rock; but frontman Jim McCarthy knew he wanted something that went beyond standard cow-punk fare when he founded Skunk Ruckus with bassist Max Steel some five years ago.

“What I wanted to do was take these traditional methods and traditional themes, and graft that on to a sonic landscape out of rock ‘n’ roll,” McCarthy says of his North Carolina-based outfit. “So instead of ‘crossing,’ we’re trying to create this world that’s both new and old at the same time.”

McCarthy’s own story is a little backwards, in that he grew up a rock ‘n’ roll kid in love with Led Zeppelin, but found himself led astray by the corrupting influences of bluegrass and mountain music somewhere along the way. He even took up clawhammer-style banjo — a method of playing the instrument that’s popular in old-time music, and with roots that trace back to Africa — rather than guitar as his axe of choice.

After playing washboard, of all things, in another roots-based outfit called Shotgun Rooster through his college years, McCarthy joined with bassist Steel — a veteran of the infamous Washington, D.C. punk rock scene — in creating Skunk Ruckus as a simple two-piece, with McCarthy stomping on a bass-drum-and-hi-hat set-up even as he sang and played banjo.

Logging triple duty got old after a while — probably sooner rather than later — and at some point, McCarthy and Steel placed a Craigslist ad: “Do you think Charles Poole and The Cramps should be in a band together?” That simple, though clever query led to the addition of band members Dr. Dave (guitar) and Claude Coleman (drums).

That the band’s distinctive mix of rock and mountain musics comes off so well is in part a testament to the chemistry of that unit. “The only arguments we ever have are over tempos,” McCarthy says. “I like to go fast and hard. And sometimes, the other guys are like, dude, step back, breathe, let the audience catch up.’ We’re also all friends outside the band, the four of us, so it’s a good group.”

But perhaps even more crucial to SR’s successful rock ‘n’ rural hybrid is McCarthy’s own vision of traditional music, a vision that doesn’t gloss over the seamier side of the music and its attendant culture in favor of maiden-on-the-mountain clichés.

“When people think of bluegrass or old time music, they tend to think about this very mellow, antiquated sound,” McCarthy says. “But a lot of that music was batshit crazy. You go back and you see there were all of these murder ballads. And then you learn that those were things that actually happened, so they decided to write a song about it!”

Skunk Ruckus will play Funny Ears Fringe Festival Friday, March 23 at 9:30 p.m. at Scruffy City Hall.