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May 12, 2005

The Hum


Photo and headline -- Casey NeillWHEN I TRACKED DOWN CASEY NEILL [photo at right] HE WAS IN THE desert town of Joshua Tree getting ready for a long drive to Arizona with his bandmates. "It's a four-piece band, myself, a woman named Nancy Hess on bass, Ezra Holbrook on drums and Lewi Longmire on guitars; everybody sings," he reported via cell. "We play some country, some Celtic, some folk, even some kind of punky stuff, but it's basically a rock band. I do a few solo tunes each night, but it's mostly twanged-out rock -- very danceable."

You may remember Neill from his solo career singing folk/punk tunes with a political edge, or from his time exploring Celtic music working with stellar Irish musicians, including the late great fiddler Johnny Cunningham.

The current tour brings the Casey Neill Band to Beginning's Octagon in Briceland Saturday evening for a benefit for the Salmonid Restoration Federation and a celebration of the resolution of the pepper spray trial.

"I write songs about all kinds of stuff, but I started out with political songs," said Neill. "The first time I got on stage it was in front of the activist community -- I was an activist myself, so I was writing about all the stuff I was seeing go down. Then life took one of those turns where I wrote 20 really sappy love songs, and at the same time I was exploring a lot of traditional music, doing a lot of Irish songs and some bluegrass and American tunes, too. A lot of the [political] things I was singing about is intertwined in a lot of that stuff, too."

Lately he has been looking back at the past. "A CD came out in February called Memory Against Forgetting, released by AK Press, the activist publishers out of Oakland, and a label called Daemon Records out of Georgia that's run by Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls. AK and Daemon have done some Utah Phillips stuff in a series of political folk releases; I did one for them with some older songs from a CD called Riff Raff that's been out of print for a while. We took some of the punkier songs [from that time] and re-cut the vocals, keeping the original [settings]. Then there's some solo acoustic stuff, some things that were recorded for various compilations, and a couple of traditional tunes."

The title track is a song written after the WTO protests in Seattle. "It's not so much about that as it is about the thread of this sort of thing, people's movements happening over hundreds and thousands of years, seeing what happened in Seattle as parallel to things that happened in the union movement in the early 1900s and even before that. It's about recognizing yourself as part of something bigger, but in some ways it's also a love song."

Saturday's show is a great opportunity to catch Neill and company in an intimate setting. Come early and you can get a gourmet meal and support a good cause.

Soul man Earl Thomas is coming back from Europe this week, returning to his new home in Trinidad and performing three very different shows: Friday night he has a duo show at the Beachcomber in Trinidad. Saturday night he's backed by a full electric blues band at the Riverwood Inn, Sunday at Muddy Waters he sings with the acoustic blues combo Kin People.

An advance copy of Thomas' soon-to-be-released CD, Intersection, showed up in my mailbox last week. (The official street date in May 31.) Over the course of 10 tunes Earl explores the intersection of blues and soul (his usual territory) with rock, funk and even Euro-pop. I have to admit I prefer the soulful numbers, especially a gospel-tinged tune, "The Bright Side of You (Let Me See)," which Thomas describes as "bluerosofunk" (blues/rock/soul/funk) remarking, "How's that for an intersection?"

It's one of two songs on the disc by Emil Soegaard and Assi Roar, a pair of Danes he met while working the blues circuit in Europe. Said Thomas, "I'm able to interpret their vibe through music even though I don't speak their language because music is a more direct form of communication -- more human."

Another Dane, guitarist Heine Andersen, plays with Thomas on Friday and Saturday before flying back to Denmark Sunday. From what I hear Andersen is good enough to warrant the drive north or south.

Saturday, May 14, is commencement day at Humboldt State and you'll find hard-partying grads and done-with-school-for-now students filling the clubs in Arcata.

Nucleus is back from a multi-state tour playing their maniacal rock at Humboldt Brews that night with that new jam-funk outfit Moo-Got-2 opening the show. In case you were wondering, the band's name is a variation on Mugatu, the evil fashion genius played by Will Ferrell in Zoolander.

Mazzotti's has a grad night party that night with DJ Red on the wheels of steel. House DJs ADP and The Bumrush spin hip-hop at Sidelines.

Elsewhere Saturday, Papa Bear jams at the Ocean Grove up in Trinidad, while in Eureka, it's blues time at Rumours with Mojo Daddy, and Dr. Squid rocks Sal's Myrtlewood Lounge.

Moving further south you have Cuckoo's Nest at the Fortuna Monday Club. The Gypsy jazz quintet has been expanding its repertoire far beyond its Hot Club roots -- this show, titled "Hard-Bop and Beyond: Jazz Circa 1950-1960," includes tunes by Benny Golson, Duke Pearson, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy and Wayne Shorter.

Finished with finals early? Catch The Devil Makes Three, an alt. country/ragtime trio from Santa Cruz with a bit of a punk edge playing Thursday, May 12, at Muddy Waters. The local old timey band Wrangletown is there Friday, May 13.

Vinyl is back in town Friday the 13th playing instrumental Latin/ska/funk/jazz at Six Rivers Brewery. Bump Foundation gets funky at Humboldt Brews. Alma Melodiosa mixes Latin-tinged jams with bellydancing at Mazzotti's. And earlier in the evening Goodshield and El Fuego play an indigenous roots rock instore at the Metro.

Sunday, May 15, at the Alibi catch BlöödHag, an "educore" band that plays "short heavy metal songs about science fiction and fantasy authors." Honest. Opening, the inimitable Eno-Devo karaoke rockers The Buffy Swayze.

Coming to the Metro on Wednesday, May 18, alt. accordionist Jason Webley, a wild kind of guy with a voice reminiscent of Tom Waits.

Also on Wednesday at the Blue Lake Casino, Aphrodesia, an 11-piece Afrobeat orchestra from San Francisco who typically tour in a biodiesel bus.

And Wednesday at Rumours it's Scream Club! a two-girl electro-punk-rap duo from Olympia, Wash., plus special guest Joey Casio, who plays "electro-disco-punk," whatever that might be.

Thursday, May 19, is the first night in a two-day run by the David Nelson Band at the Blue Lake Casino's Sapphire Palace. By now you should know that DNB is a country-tinged psychedelic rock band from Marin with roots in Americana -- mostly guys associated with the Dead in one way or another.

A few people have asked me what happened to Gary Franklin. The long time local radio DJ who, among other things, hosted a Dead show called Franklin's Tower on KHUM, dropped out of sight without much explanation. Well, his new job is working as the publicist for the David Nelson Band, a job that includes creating a radio show of sorts, Radio-DNB, with "interviews, music and a whole lot of fun and also some weirdness" Tune in on the Web at


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