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.

BK’s Threes Brewing Offers More of NYC’s Best & Brightest

13336042_1048309841871947_5588201981099957425_nSo stop me if I’m getting too far ahead of myself, but much like the musicians who owe their success to certain defining moments, genres or locations, as a freelance music journalist for hire…. I have to give it up to NYC.

High fives and fist bumps all around you guys. And that is by no means any offense to areas like Ohio or St Louis who have been extremely generous to me as well, but my first real underground music talent pipeline has come up through these city boroughs. Think of an explosion equivalent to some of those opened up Brooklyn fire hydrants on a hot summer day circa twenty years ago, and you’re starting to get close to the experience.

Point is, I owe a lot to these bands and artists, and I continued that due diligence last week during my regular NYC visit with a stop to Brooklyn’s Threes Brewing to see the Roots Music Gang. Call it a chance to… experience even more of the local flavor if you will.

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Take the band Von Kraut for instance. Brooklyn based (as you might have expected) and stripped to essentially the bare acoustics, this trio of Jason on guitar, Keira on cello and Rorie on backing vocals was essentially just… what you see is what you get. There isn’t nearly the layering that appears on their music, replaced instead by a few spare guitar loops, delicate cello plucks, and the interplay of the two vocalists strongly complementing one another on the harmonies.

Jason and Rorie’s vocal styles actually might initially seem like strange bedfellows, as his is more of a whisper thin height while hers resembles more of a low set willowy blues. Jason in fact reminds me a bit of a combo of the falsetto of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, and the gossamer strand spiderweb murmurs of Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous. Nevertheless, the two fell in rise and fall with a vocal chemistry that kept me glued throughout the set.

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And speaking of spiderweb strands, I felt that Jason’s songwriting strongly echoed the feelings deeply embedded into his falsetto. The subjects were both light yet tenderly ethereal, laden with the severed heartstrings of breakups and breakdowns that came across as delicate as the cello sitting just to his right onstage. And even when the tempo would pick up into John Mayer-like acoustic blues hopping plucks, the feeling behind it was still that of so many threads of emotion adrift in the world’s sea.

Just… looking for their way home.

And that restlessness was no better exemplified than in the band’s closing cut, a cover of Prince’s “When Doves Cry”. Accompanied only by himself on guitar, Jason took a no-nonsense, rock riffing 80’s anthem and beautifully translated it into a winter worn Elliott Smith narrative of ache and meanderings just simply wondering…. what if?

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I love a good song cover, but I particularly love when an artist takes it and sees a part of themselves in the song that they identify with. They don’t desire to just play it note for note, they desire to completely REARRANGE the notes and show the listener through telescopic interpretation just what they see. Just what they feel.

That’s truly honest music. And it made for a beautiful way to close the moment.

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But while Von Kraut may have made the most out of beautifying the quiet moments that night, solo artist Dylan Sneed took them by the horns of his amplifier, cranked them up “This Is Spinal Tap”-style to 11, and made them stand up straight with their best posture and pay attention.

Sneed has been a sideman, frontman and jack of all trades around the BK scene much longer than I’ve been traveling these alleyways and backstreets, and rarely will you encounter such a sweet and easily affable personality offstage. However when the chips are down and it’s time for the music to be played, Sneed unleashes a force of sheer iron-willed presence that will make you take a step back (even while sitting down).

Accompanied by a pedal steel player, a drummer and a bassist, Sneed ripped through his set with the frenzy and precise passion of a man possessed. One moment he was BB King sliding along the watermarked glass of a Nashville tearjerker, and in the next he and his band were a mental mind fury of jangling frets combined with the eerie psychedelic disillusionment of Carl Perkins on a prod rock acid trip.

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To me, Sneed is the type of guitarist and songwriter who warrants such tangled descriptions as he easily chameleons in and out of country gold, blues, stomp ‘n’ holler rock and roll, and riffs worthy of the Roadrunner himself Chuck Berry. In fact, his easy virtuosity often reminded me of Blake Mills, who has also played sideman and jack of all trades as well as capable songwriter with a couple of great solo records under his belt over the years. Though in either man’s case, despite these many capable skills it’s still the strength of the instrumentation that speaks the loudest.

Songs like the unreleased track “War Song” and “Oxford Town” rocketed back and forth between the anguish of mental push and pull, and the pure fury of Texas roadhouse barn burning rock driven to the peak of it’s finest.

All in all, it made for a perfect way to jettison the night off into the stars.

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Check out Dylan Sneed and Von Kraut through their Bandcamp albums, on social media, and much more! 

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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