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Something Old Something New 

Music from Datura Blues and The Penner Sisters

click to enlarge Penner of the Penner Sisters

Courtesy of the artist

Penner of the Penner Sisters

It's the darkest month in what will likely be remembered as an extremely dark year, and most of us are cloistered away from our friends, music and culture. So in the spirit of finding some communal joy in our secluded cells, here are a couple of local new releases you can enjoy with even limited broadband access.

Datura Blues recorded a long-form improvised jam together in August of 2019 called Silence for the Apple to commemorate its 20th anniversary as an outré folk rock collective. Then with the help of local DJ Pandemonium Jones, they stitched the whole thing together into a coherent concept album revolving around a fictitious radio presentation. Jones' script is mostly composed of various reviews which the group has garnered in its two decade run, with a bit of sassy ad hoc banter tossed in the mix. The music is, as always with this group, meandering and fun, an occasionally discordant batter of oozing psych test patterns with acoustic/electric flourishes. Think about a roomful of common-to-less-common instruments played in the cut-up spirit of a collective mind palace by a group of sympathetic practitioners. I like to imagine that scene in David Cronenberg's Scanners, where all of the benign characters with the movie's titular affliction sit around in a circle wearing turtlenecks and practicing ecstatic ESP on one another. Just add some flutes and mandolins to the rock track and let the process figure itself out. I don't want to write too much more for fear my words might show up in a future release that I have inadvertently influenced because of that brilliant trick the artists are playing on us all by demanding our active involvement with their process. Suffice it to say, I had a good time listening and if you want to check it out you can do so on Bandcamp.

The Penner Sisters have released their first E.P. on local label Mercury Sky Records called Wandered Too Far, featuring three songs written and/or performed by siblings Brianna, Devin and Elisa Penner. One of the songs, "Criminal Daydreams," serves as a sort of launchpad for Elisa's solo work, which she is releasing under the name Penner. There's a video shot by Evan Wrye of Lost Frames featuring the singer in a variety of backdrops from a stark nightclub stage to rusty hallways of urban and rural decay. The song itself gets better as it progresses, with an instrumental acoustic guitar passage in the middle full of building tension which releases with a piano phrase into another verse. The vocals are forward in the mix and the singer has a remarkable amount of control and finesse with her range. The lyrics are somewhat vague but inoffensive and radio-worthy. I'd like to hear more from Penner. My favorite song here is "Star Thistle Honey," which has a softer appeal and a melodic hook from a very tasteful background piano, giving the broader mix a lot of room to breathe. This E.P. is the third release for Mercury Sky Records and the talented guitarist/instrumentalist/songwriter Michael Dayvid, whose record Solveig's Shadow was released on the label last year, performed on this work as well. Top down, the entire thing is a local release, with the recording done at McKinleyville's Bongo Boy Studio by Dominic Romano. I suspect that these songs would sound pretty lovely when performed live, in a small club or coffee shop. I certainly hope to find out for myself one day. The E.P. is on Spotify, YouTube and available on Mercury Sky Records. You can watch the video for "Criminal Daydreams" on YouTube.

While neither of these releases can substitute for live music (we can't have that right now and there's nothing to do about it), I feel that they should be heard and enjoyed and cataloged into our rather vast and impressive library of local musical talent. There's something inherently optimistic about anyone making music and art at a time like this, and these releases both suggest that there might be a budding springtime ahead of us somewhere, somehow. And that the road we are currently on is perhaps not Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but more of a temporary rough patch. And finally, that there are still good things for us to make and to discover and to love.

Have a great week.

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Collin Yeo

Collin Yeo

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