Crackerjack Highway & Sudden Anthem

These days, I’m so swamped with my own Biz, I rarely go out to see live music. The only bands I see are the bands I share the bill with. (It’s a shame, ’cause I risk alienating myself from my own field of endeavor.) But last night, my old drummer Dyson was here in Eugene at Luckey’s with his S. F. band Crackerjack Highway

It was worth staying out past 2:00 a.m. to watch Dyson killin’ it with this group of amazing jammers. Back when he joined my band at the turn of the century, he was raw, just out of music school, with a fondness for fancy Carter Beauford-like chops, which he couldn’t quite pull off. We had band a meeting to ask him to calm down and smooth it out for my more song-oriented material. It’s quite common with young drummers, many of whom complain about controlling singer-songwriters always putting them in straitjackets. But Dyson had a rare work ethic–the results of which became obvious on our 2002 album, Pollyanna Loves Cassandra

Nowadays, Dyson has chops in abundance–and an apt band in which to use them. Crackerjack Highway is one of those bands for whom songwriting is mostly a series of canvases on which to apply spectacular instrumentalism. A funky-ish jam band, less with the endless hippy-noodling of Phish spawn, and more with the purposeful trajectories of blues-rock, Allman, and maybe fusion. Suitable for a bill with Derek Trucks or Umphrey’s McGee.

And love those Allman-esque twin leads! Crackerjack constructs plenty of their own, but of course, with that ability, you just have to throw in “Liz Reed” and “Jessica.” And furthermore, why not segue into “Boys are Back in Town” and “Frankenstein.” I don’t care if you’re one of those anti-lead-guitar hipster short-songs-only kind of critic. When it comes to guitary indulgences, someone has got to it. (You know it’s true.) The elite few who can pull it off have a duty to do so with this much conviction and gusto. If you were at Luckey’s 1:45 a.m to hear the Pat Travers version “Black Betty,” you would know what I mean. (After-hours folks were wandering in from the streets like they were heeding a distant call.)

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Renegade Saints & Crazy 8’s

This just appeared outta nowhere: a satisfying indulgence by my other band–The Renegade Saints–in a great Rolling Stones number. Live at the Portland Bite Festival (2008). We were joined by none other than the Crazy 8’s horn section. Love the twin trombone attack, and love Al Toribio’s excitable arrangement.

Shipe with Holly Brook @ Cozmic Pizza

In some ways, Cozmic Pizza is not Eugene’s hippest, most desirable venue. It’s a big, vaulted echo chamber, so you don’t want to bring your rhythm section, unless you’re certain to fill the place with bodies to absorb the excess sonic boominess. However, it’s a right nice place for a Holly Brook / Shipe pair of intimate solo performances. Other venues in town have more built-in attendance, but it’s good to play for an audience that came to listen.

It was a decent crowd, between Holly’s considerable Facebook following, and my local cronies.

As for my set, it was a solid short one, with two highlights. First, I tried a new song: “No Use Crying Over a Spilt Life.” It’s a sad piece about dreams slipping away, musically influenced by the Irish musicians I chummed around with in North San Diego County.

For my second trick, I forced my wife Amy Wray to join me on the debut our country duet, “Hard to Believe.” This brought the house down. Video for this is forthcoming, and you’ll see why.

About Holly:she is a special artist. Looks good, sounds good. A consummate professional–on piano mostly, but adds guitar and lap dulcimer. Her voice is impeccable, haunting. With a theatre background, so she knows how to make the stage her home.

I met Holly’s mother, Candy, back in November while doing a two-night stand at Bandon Bill’s in Bandon, Oregon. She too is a professional musician–an acoustic diva in the style of Joni Mitchell. (She joined her daughter on stage for an amazing version of “Both Sides, Now.” It was one of those cover-tune moments when you say to yourself, “Wow, I forgot how good this song really was.”) Candy warned me about Holly, that she would be coming through the Northwest, and would probably impress the hell out of me. Parents are predictably proud, but in this case, they come off like colleagues just as much as family.

At one point, Holly introduced a song as being inspired by the “Twilight” series. That movie has the potential to make me vomit in my mouth a bit, but her song was outstanding–the best of her set, with Radiohead-like cadences in a soprano voice. Chills. (She is forgiven for the lapse in pop culture taste.)

Before the show, Holly was not very talkative, sitting quietly with her mother. Everybody is different in the way they deal with pre-show tension. I tend to be excitable and gregarious–if in a distracted way. (Let’s go ahead and call it manic.)

What impresses me is when artists take seriously their presentation, taking care of their performance to the utmost, even in the humblest of venues. Coffee Houses, taverns, restaurants… It always matters, especially when people pay to see and hear you.

After the show, she was more chatty, as if released and relieved. I was glad to hear more of her story.

Holly Brook was a signed Warner artist, frustrated in that major record labels typical frustrate their artists. Now she is on her own, managing her own career, which she seems ready to relish–particular the ability to release her own music any time she wants. She records on her own, at her home studio, which intrigues me, because, guess what, so do I.