Threes Brewing Births New Star To Be In Brooklyn Country

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In my prior post talking about the visit I spent not too long ago listening to more underground music at Brooklyn’s Threes Brewing, I mentioned how much I owed the NYC area for the talent pipeline it’s provided me. Not just in the form of great musicians and potential networking possibilities, but also in some really amazing friends.

And I can think of no better friend to both my music journalism as well as personal life than the other person who was on the bill at the brewery that night, Amanda Neill. Amanda has provided myself as well as this little blog with openings and opportunities beyond which I could have ever potentially imagined on my own. She is one of this world’s great pure spirits, and if you are ever granted the opportunity to get to know her you will find your life made better for having done so.

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But her being one of the nicest people I’ve ever met aside, Amanda is also a musician with an absolutely ridiculous level of pure talent. I first watched her sing alongside Jamey Hamm in a Rockwood Music Hall performance with Barefoot & Bankside, then later did extensive work (including an interview that is a must-read on my blog) with Amanda, Mike Beck and Trisha Ivy regarding their sweet as apple wine country-folk trio Ivy, Beck & Neill. I’ve done pieces for both bands actually, all of which I highly suggest you take a peek at.

But I digress. That night at Threes was an especially momentous occasion, because it represented the first time Neill was going to be playing entirely new songs in a solo setting. Not TECHNICALLY solo as she was backed by Mike Beck and Dylan Sneed on guitars & piano, Rob Ritchie on bass and Jeff Rogers on drums, but solo in the sense that Neill was going to be front and center debuting her own songs under just her name for the very first time. The wheel of the ship was going to be entirely in her hands.

The anticipation buzzing around the room waiting for this moment was palpable, stretching all the way from the BK to Neill’s former home in Nashville. Quite literally thanks to the benefits of modern technology and Facetime.

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And once the set got rolling, that excitement immediately hit crackling electricity level as it took Neill no time at all to absolutely dominate the room like it was her second home. Seeing her onstage has always been a matter of pride watching her confidence and strength of musicality build up with each performance, but with a band at her back and solely her willpower as frontwoman to lead them…. seemed to take things to a whole new astral plane, imparting the group with a personality nearly as big as Neill’s own. Their sense of chemistry and flow was instantaneous, and that vibe made every member on the stage at Threes look like they were all playing the most locked in show of their musical lives.

With Sneed playing ferocious bottleneck blues leads, Beck laying down gorgeous piano lines and Neill dictating exact tempo to Rogers that vibe didn’t seem to be too far from the truth as the band danced like a finely tuned machine through tendrils of blues, folk, gospel and Tennessee roots country that was as much sultry as salt of the earth. Early versions of Neill’s “It Ain’t Easy” and “Good To See You” that I’d heard during our interview session last year emerged with a fresh new magic in their full band form, and meshed seamlessly into songs that were still just emerging fresh from the oven.

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Meanwhile Neill’s vocals were also eager to join the party, matching the band’s energetic intensity with a voice containing all the ragged edge and electricity of a Janis Joplin or Joe Cocker. And while those may seem like very broad strokes of comparison, the more you hear Neill sing the more you’ll hear that same world-weary, raspy husk that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It’s the type of vocal gift that’s always ready to rip up substandard, auto-tuned musical convention and smoke out the metaphorical innards at a moment’s notice.

But that’s just my opinion.

And while that may seem like a bit of grisly-minded comparison, to see Amanda take center stage for the first time was way more about much-deserved glory than guts. More beauty than blood, though when it comes to her songwriting you can sense the blood sweat and tears that get written into every single word.

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It takes pure passion to be that honest. Strength to be so vulnerable. And sheer ability to not just get up on stage, but to hit it like a storm that’s been waiting to strike with the strength of a cobra’s bite.

Neill’s set that night was Joni Mitchell after a lot of nights at the Tom Waits school of late night blues bars. It was the spiritual binding threads of the church of humanity, the equal purity of folk, the essence of country roots, and the joy of Neill’s own performing and songwriting heart (a joy that leapt easily into her band member’s many smiles). In a world of modulating machine beats, perfectly enhanced pitch and dumbed down Top 40 crayon formulas sketched clumsily from A to B, Neill’s solo set was dandelion seedlings amidst a perfect summer breeze. Equally as unafraid to love as to hurt as to bleed as to feel in all their untainted innocence.

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It felt like witnessing a spring bloom turn into the radiant flower it was always meant to be. And if anything, watching Amanda Neill the solo artist finally out on her lonesome put me in mind of two things.

1: That no matter the bands that come and go in New York City, Brooklyn country will always be safe as long as she’s around.

And 2: This was a night of an everlasting pandemonium of musical honesty that not only reverberated on that night, but has continued to for many nights ever since.

I still considered myself rocked.

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Ivy, Beck & Neill’s “Rockwood” Burns Bright as Powerhouse of Brooklyn Country

Live At Rockwood Music Hall

Brooklyn country music. It’s a genre phrase I was entirely unaware of up until a couple of years ago when I first started visiting this vast borough of New York City. The term began with some of my first musical learning experiences down there (as oh so many things have for me), and only grew in it’s shape and scope as I peeled down through the layers.

It’s been a fascinating study ever since, and one of the sweetest fruits to come out of this gradual enlightenment has been none other than the band Ivy, Beck & Neill. In fact since I first saw them perform down at Rockwood Music Hall back in August, the days and weeks since have simply been a (less than patient) exercise in waiting for their debut release Live at Rockwood Music Hall. 

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Thankfully that waiting came to an end on August 29th, and was well worth each second. The record finds the power trio of Trisha Ivy, Mike Beck and Amanda Simpson Neill tuned up and in top form for this release; filling out their largely low key lineup with bassist Zach Lober, drummer Mason Ingram and outstanding pedal steel work from Gerald Menke. This gives IB&N even more room to stretch their wings musically, and as a result these nine tracks pop off the speakers with an even deeper and more well-honed significance.

Whether it’s Lober’s bass work giving “5-Foot Chain” an extra drag from a slinky jazz hall cigarette, Menke’s pedal steel shedding unbreakable tears on an unhealthy love gone cold on “Blame It On The Whiskey”, or Ingram’s percussion skillfully leading the band across the triumphant tapestry of  “All The Way Across Texas”, it’s a joy just to listen to every line of the journey that makes these songs whole. Every tire and emotion tread is a chemistry…. an energy… a force that will fill you with nothing more than belief. Belief in sadness, belief in joy, belief in your soul, belief that there is good and bad and that there may be darkness in every light.

There’s a Warren Zevon song called “Desperados Under The Eaves” that says but except in dreams, you’re never really free. Yet when I listen to a song like “Texas”…. I believe I’ve already made it there.

And that’s the magic of a release like Rockwood. While every ounce of Mike Beck’s superb production places you next to the bar lights, the hardwood floors and the intimacy of one small room in one big bustling city, it’s the songs that take you out of it.

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“Buckshot” is bullet-riddled murder balladry at it’s classic country finest, while “One Day at a Time” is a yearning Kris Kristofferson-esque phone call hoping for a shot at redemption. Both tracks are buoyed by the sheer vocal presence of Trisha Ivy, whose versatile croon is somewhere between the beauty of a Skeeter Davis and the snark of a Natalie Maines. And just like those classic voices, Ivy’s power resides in how she can make your heart feel every note of her musical emotion. Whether it’s in the whisper of a wry smile or a voice made heavy by a sobriety of sadness, she paints a palette that holds your hand down every road she’s taken and all the feelings experienced on the way back again.

And the same proves true for Amanda Simpson Neill, who plays the bluesy soul-assassin murmuring regrets and confessions into the darkness of “Whiskey” in one moment, and the girl with her arm out the car window triumphantly blasting Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” in the next on “Texas”. And while Mike Beck may not jump on lead vocals very much, his Johnny Cash-ish saloon ball swagger on closer “Strong Place Brawl” with Ivy and Neill acting as his June Carters may be one of my favorite moments of the whole record.

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But ultimately, whether apart or together on moments like “If You Ever Leave Me” or the insanely infectious “Play Me a Record”, listening to IB&N and Rockwood is just simply about listening to the stories. Listening to the heart. I’ve heard major rock bands play sports arenas who could never pray or dream to have as much soul in the tips of their guitar fretting fingers as this band has altogether.

So listen, and behold. Because this is the essence of Brooklyn country music, and it’s not going away anytime soon.

You can buy Ivy, Beck & Neill’s album Live at Rockwood at their Bandcamp link below:

http://ivybeckandneill.bandcamp.com/

Ivy Beck & Neill Prepared To Wow; Break Hearts at Weekend Release Show

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As some of you who’ve read this blog in the past may know, I have a great deal of affection for the sights, sounds, and beautiful experiences that have been my adventures into the land of Brooklyn underground music.

There’ve been the eye-opening discoveries, the intimate venues, the music that’s stirred my soul, and the wonderful friends that have come out of having all three. This weekend’s event is certainly no exception to those rules, and happens to feature my latest loves Ivy Beck & Neill.

Earlier this month I first had the pleasure of seeing the country/folk power trio play a brief set in support of their upcoming release Live at Rockwood Music Hall. Now you’ve likely already read my lavish praise on the musical talents of one of IB&N’s lead vocalists Amanda Simpson Neill. Neill also plays in an edgier folk/rock band called Barefoot & Bankside, and her gravelly, Janis J meets Melissa Ethridge croon played a prominent part in my review piece a couple of months ago raving about their respective set at Rockwood.

However when I saw IB&N in August, those edges were softened a bit as Neill instead paired up on three part folk harmonies with Trisha Ivy and Mike Beck. And while Neill still brings that bluesy growl, Ivy complements it with something that I can only begin to describe as…. blissfully angelic. A voice that can soothe you to daydream then tear apart your emotions with it’s power by the next line in the verse.

The two together (with Beck being the glue that holds it all in place) are like fire and ice. Thunder and lightning. Elements that begin and end each other like that’s what they were meant to do since time began. Voices so strong and so filled with purpose that even the noisiest room would sound like a pin was dropping just to clear the way for it.

And when all three get to harmonizing (as with the unbearably gorgeous “When The Willow Stops Weeping”), the windows and walls of your emotional center will be blown open with a rocket launcher. Apart the three are talented, but together…. they make me glad that music is a thing that’s still as alive and well in this world as it’s ever been.

Go and check out Ivy Beck & Neill at their Live at Rockwood Music Hall joint record release show with the Alex Mallett Band in Brooklyn this weekend. They’ll be playing at 7:30 PM Saturday at the Jalopy Theatre. You’ll be sad if you miss out!

 

 

 

Brooklyn Band Has “Nothing Left To Lose” On Brilliant “Rockwood Live” Debut

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It seems like almost every time I travel to Brooklyn, I discover something new to add to the realm of my musical depth. And more often than not, it seems to be the borough’s knack for so-called “Brooklyn country music”.

First it was The Lone Bellow back in 2013 (as I wrote about on this blog), then back in March of this year it was the discovery of up and coming talent Lindsey Luff during a night at Rockwood Music Hall. And while I spoke quite fondly of Luff and her EP Real Gone for a video on Youtube, that wasn’t the only group I witnessed that night that happened to leave one hell of an impression behind.

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Enter Barefoot & Bankside. Led by the heavenly serpentine twine of vocalists Amanda Simpson Neill and Jamey Hamm as well as the laser sharp orchestration of guitarist Dylan Sneed, the BK-based sextet rattled Rockwood down to the stones and plaster with a beautifully wearied blend of alt-rock, country, gospel and folk-based jams. Every note seemed to electrify the confines of that little room, and the effect was only buoyed by the intensity of both Neill’s blissful croon and Hamm’s jagged growl.

Luckily B&B happened to be recording that night’s standout set for the purpose of releasing a live EP, and as a result here we now have their debut recording. AKA, Rockwood Live.  

Now I’ve already mentioned the band’s blending of influences, but it takes sitting down and carefully listening to these performances to truly understand just how deftly crafted they are. Where at one moment you might expect a folk/bluegrass band with banjo in hand comes the roughshod rock of opening track “Fall In Line”, a toe-tapping shot of lovingly bitter “Kerosene”, and the smoldering burn of the passionate “War For Your Soul”.10928204_431622000335157_7404922844955774366_nLyrically the band embraces their country notes with Gram Parsons-esque odes to lost love (“Nothin’ Left To Lose”), gospel overtones as buried in the blues as Robert Johnson running from the hellhound (“Pocket Change”), and the pure essence of love buried in human nature (“Hold On Love”). Add songs that are as captivating as they are earwormingly catchy to Neill’s musical chemistry with Hamm and Sneed, and you have a dance worthy of Gram and Emmylou themselves. Or at the very least somewhere at the crossroads of Melissa Ethridge and American Aquarium’s BJ Barham.

Either way, Rockwood Live ranks quite easily as one of the best pieces of music from an up and coming band that I’ve heard in quite some time. “Brooklyn country music” or otherwise. And while it is a debut only promising a hint of what Barefoot & Bankside has to offer, you need to go immediately and see them live if you happen to be in the same neck of the woods.

Just to say, “I saw them when”. This recording will be sure to convince you of that fact.

(Rockwood Live is available on bandcamp.com. Just search Barefoot & Bankside and download the fun that awaits!)

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