As part of the McMenamin’s Great Northwest Music Tour the Freak Mountain Ramblers returned to Grand Lodge for another stellar show. They have been with the tour from the beginning (at least 10 years) and are invited back every year. They showed us why Friday night as they parading their wide assortment of music ranging from classic pop & rock, modern pop and Rock, and (their specialties) country and swing (which they often combine). This has got to be the most versatile band in the Northwest. These guys know how to fill a dance floor and there are a lot more shows coming up on this tour so I hope you can make one. In the mean time, have a look at some photos from Friday night.
Pretend Sweethearts is a duo of singer/songwriters/multi-instrumentalists based in Atlanta who play a wide range of music from roots to blues to folk to country. Brianna Blackbird and Drew de Man met while studying music therapy here in Portland. In the course of writing songs together, releasing recordings and touring like crazy, they became “real” sweethearts. I have been a fan for a while and was glad to catch up with them for the first time last night at McMenamin’s Rock Creek Tavern. They were joined by their friend Rochelle Muzquiz handling the percussion duties.
Bri was born and raised in Portland, so this summer tour brings her back home. Drew is from Georgia forming his first band No River City in 2001, spending six years recording and touring. He is wildly talented on the guitar, she sings like a bird, and their mix of music will keep you engaged for hours. They’ve got a few more Northwest dates before they fly away, so check them out if you can.
The scene on a memorable Thursday night in April 2016 was intoxicating from start to finish – I was lucky enough to catch Jack Dwyer before he began his mid-week residency show at McMenamin’s Al’s Den. Then, I hopped on a bus down to Portland City Grill for their delicious Happy Hour and saw a rainbow flirting, then fully displayed, then doubled – all within an hour!
Grabbing my umbrella, I flew back to Al’s Den to catch Jack’s show…whew! Just made it! And then came Gordon Keepers and Elisabeth Pixley-Fink with their duo EP release: Heartwood! The rainbow paled in comparison to the natural beauty these two created with their perfectly blended vocals. The room literally vibrated when they gently slid from some chords into unison or vice versa. They sang as two people with one voice, one breathing pattern, one manner of phrasing. Perfectly in tune in every way!
Elisabeth and Gordon opened up with her singing alone over his bass playing. The contrast between her pure high tones and the deep resonance of the bass completely silenced the rest of the room. Then, they quickly moved into more animated pieces, adding drums and mandolin, inviting the audience to stomp, clap and dance along. Staying true to folk roots, Heartwood reflects the spirit and ambience of Portland, Oregon, and the Northwest. Every song on the CD references something we can all relate to: naturally occurring tangibles like water and dust, or natural feelings we’ve all had. The music is in and of the Great Northwest, with songs that reference even specific intersections in Portland. The song “Burnside and 17th” was about a spot within very easy walking distance of where we sat to hear them perform it!
The songs are based upon themes we can all identify with – coming from a variety of emotional birthplaces. Gorgeous vocals blend beautifully with classic instrument choices. The EP was engineered by Evan Mersky at Red Lantern Studio in Portland. Joined by string genius Jack Dwyer on electric guitar and mandolin, and Sam Weiss on fiddle, the combination is absolutely stunning.
What a lovely night – I wasn’t expecting to hear anyone other than Jack and his band. Gordon and Elisabeth’s Heartwood was a treat, and I’m so happy that I was able to hear this fresh project! You can find the band online at Facebook or on Gordon’s homepage. Look for the new Heartwood CD, available for pre-order on Earthwork Music’s website.
Nate Wallace has been writing original music since he started “late in the game” at the ripe old age of twenty-four. He has so far, been the creative force behind the lyrics and melodies of Hearts of Oak, a Portland-based psychedelic country band. However, as the band continues to hone their already unique sound, Wallace is encouraged to realize that other band members are contributing more and more to the writing process. The new album they are currently working on will reflect this collaborative style, and is hopefully to be released late 2016.
Rehearsing and recording at The Deer Lodge under the label of the same name, Wallace and his bandmates build personal relationships as they work together. Wallace used to focus more on typical country and folk instrumentals, but together, the band have now created a new, evolved style that translates well to me as “intentional wandering.” The band crosses genres in each song from country to psychedelic rock to folk easily with ease, relying on their skill and musical connection to blend it all together. In live performance, this flexible and adaptive instrumental style allows the band to adjust to every audience, extending solos, adding additional bridges – responding to the room and allowing them to follow the path the music itself is directing.
Wallace walked me through his musical mentors – his dad introduced him to some great music, which he returned to after his teenaged hair metal years. He found inspiration with Traveling Wilburys, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young. A favorite songwriter who means a lot to him, and has been a great influence recently is Jason Molina from Magnolia Electric Company. The band give each other credit for inspiration – this is a group of people who truly respect and value each other as musicians and friends, as you will hear in the interview.
With Nate Wallace (vocals/guitar), Ezra Meredith (electric guitar/vocals), Aron Christensen (bass) Barry Walker (pedal steel), and J. Leaver (drums/harp), Hearts of Oak has many options to vary their sound from song to song. There is a consistent Americana sound throughout, with raw, honest vocals presenting heartfelt lyrics and melodies. The addition of fuzzy toned electric guitar and eerie bends create a psychedelic atmosphere that brings the listener back several decades in time. It’s a great experience, even without the mushrooms! This is a group of people who truly respect and value each other as musicians and friends, as you will hear in the interview.
Check out the audio interview with Wallace, recorded at Hearts of Oak’s label house/recording studio – The Deer Lodge. Please enjoy the link to their YouTube video “Used to it Now” Special thanks to Alex Steininger of In Music We Trust, for bringing this inspiring group of musicians to our attention.
“Get that filly over here with her gee-tar, and let’s hear some sad stories of broken hearts and bad hair days…” These are the kinds of comments that Teresa Topaz hears when the ignorant are being ignorant of their volume as well as their ignorance. Being an ambitious woman in this country is challenge enough. Playing hard-hitting Southern Rock as a “female solo artist” in a male-dominated industry is an ongoing series of obstacles, but Teresa sees those obstacles as opportunities for growth, memorable stories, learning experiences, and inspiration for the passion that drives her to keep making her aggressive and powerful music. Teresa Topaz is truly charming, but she can’t help it…she’s a girl, right?
Growing and evolving are essentials for any successful musician. Teresa has taken the time to learn about her audience. When she writes a song, it’s an expression of herself – but she is considerate of who is listening. She also has invested the effort to learn how to advocate for herself, creating a very inviting press kit, and making her music very accessible online. Teresa is active in social media, and keeps her fans updated on all upcoming shows. These actions may seem like obvious necessities, but she is an outstanding professional representative of her genre and her profession. Teresa never stops looking for new ideas to get her music out there. She is invested long-term. Music is her life, and she wants to have a long, happy, successful life!
The stories Teresa has collected are fantastic content for stage banter, If she writes an autobiography, I will be purchasing it. A beautiful and approachable woman, Teresa could probably also write a book of fantastic pick up line fails…I’ll buy that one too. Having a conversation with this quick-witted woman is like reminiscing with an old friend – and she carries that through in her performance. Teresa Topaz has played every instrument (with the exception of bass) on her backing tracks, produced with sound engineer Tim Biedron. Working with the tracks allows her to produce a full sound, while being free to improvise and add personalized touches to each performance.
Right now, Teresa is making a name for herself in Portland, Oregon – not an easy task, considering the unbelievable number of working bands that form, play, and break up every day. She’s not content to be local only, however. She has stories to tell and music to share – music that makes people happy and excited. Teresa hopes to inspire and encourage fans all over the world for decades to come. Her album “Reset Me” is available now on her homepage, Amazon music, SoundCloud, ReverbNation, CDBaby, Spotify, and ITunes.
She plays Thursday night 4/28 at Music Millennium, 6PM, Free Show! Portland Notes will be there!