The Naptown Jug Busters
Past Mousetrap Concerts:
Past Mousetrap Concerts:
“I like the idea of saying something very complicated in a very simple way,” Ben Miller states. “That’s what we strive for musically, and what I strive for lyrically—to get directly to the point.”
Getting to the point is something that the Ben Miller Band does consistently on Choke Cherry Tree, the Joplin, Missouri-bred combo’s third album and second New West release. The consistently compelling set offers 11 new examples of Miller’s deceptively unpretentious songcraft, beneath whose ramshackle exterior lurks sturdy, infectious melodies and resonant, emotionally insightful lyrics.
Miller’s band delivers such memorable new tunes as “Nothing Gets Me Down,” “Akira Kurosawa,” “Trapeze,” “Lighthouse” and “Mississippi Cure” with the sort of unpretentious enthusiasm that’s already won the group a devoted fan base that stretches from the band’s midwestern home turf to the U.K. and Europe, where they’ve toured to rave reviews.
Choke Cherry Tree introduces a retooled Ben Miller Band lineup, with Miller and fellow founding member Scott Leeper joined by new additions Rachel Ammons and Smilin’ Bob Lewis. The pair’s multi-instrumental skills bring added authority to Miller’s rootsy new compositions, while maintaining the high energy level (complete with homemade instruments constructed from broken and discarded axes) that originally endeared the band to its fans. Elsewhere, Rachel Ammons’ expressive vocals lend depth to the haunting “Redwing Blackbird.”
Miller and company recorded Choke Cherry Tree with producer Chris Funk, a member of the Decemberists whose multi-instrumental abilities helped to expand the band’s sonic options, as did his interest in using such guest players as Jenny Conlee and Nate Query (also of The Decemberists), renowned saxophonist Ralph Carney (Tom Waits, Tin Huey, and uncle to Patrick Carney of the Black Keys), Dan Hunt of Neko Case’s band, Ural Thomas, Rev Shines of Lifesavas, and more. “Chris has a lot of musician friends,” Miller notes, “so if we needed an accordion player, he’d just call one.”
According to Miller, “Early in the process of making this album, I thought that we either had to really nail our live approach in the recording studio, or we needed to forget about that and just work on capturing the songs in an inventive way that presents them in their best light. We decided on the latter approach, and we never looked back.”
Indeed, while Choke Cherry Tree maintains the rough-and-ready vibe of the band’s prior releases, the new material also features some of the most carefully-crafted arrangements that Miller and company have ever had. “This time around,” Miller explains, “I did more demos than usual, and really hashed out the songs at home, which gave me and Chris a really good starting point to work the songs. It was the opposite of just jumping in and playing and trying to capture it on the mics. Even though there was more collaboration with other people on this album, it’s probably the least compromised album I’ve ever made.”
Since its formation in 2004, the Ben Miller Band has staked out an iconoclastic niche that’s established them as both a one-of-a-kind creative unit and a grass-roots fan favorite. Channeling a century’s worth of far-flung American musical influences into rousing songcraft that radiates with smarts and soul, Miller’s tunes achieve a musical and emotional depth that belies the material’s (and the musicians’) rough exterior.
The hard-working unit first won a regional fan base through old-fashioned ingenuity and an unstinting work ethic, generating a national buzz and a high-profile 2013 tour of Europe with ZZ Top, thanks to the patronage of avowed BMB fan Billy Gibbons.
The Ben Miller Band’s early D.I.Y. approach extended to the lo-tech, largely self-built, instruments that the members still play on stage, including Miller’s thrift-shop guitars and banjos and Scott Leeper’s one-string washtub bass. The band’s use of offbeat instrumentation, however, shouldn’t be misunderstood as a gimmick.
“What I really care about is songs, and the rest of it is just a vehicle to get you to that destination,” Miller asserts, adding, “We have no interest in being some kind of wacky novelty act, and just because we use junk to make music doesn’t mean we aren’t serious about it.”
Growing up in rural Curlew, Washington, Ben Miller began playing guitar at 16, turning his back on a promising career as a visual artist to focus on music. He gained experience busking and performing in open-mike nights while road-tripping around America, and during an extended stint in Eastern Europe. He eventually found kindred spirits in Scott Leeper and original BMB drummer Doug Dicharry.
The three like-minded players joined forces, and before long their diligent touring regimen allowed them to conquer an ever-widening fan base. In 2012, the Ben Miller Band took its first tentative steps in the recording studio, resulting in the self-released CD Heavy Load, which attracted a good deal of fan praise and critical acclaim.
Word of the BMB’s charismatic live shows and regional popularity eventually began to generate a national buzz, winning them a spot on New West Records’ roster. The band made its New West debut with 2014’s Any Way, Shape or Form, recorded in Nashville with renowned producer Vance Powell.
Now, with Choke Cherry Tree ready for unveiling, Ben Miller is enjoying his band’s new four-person lineup. “The audiences seem to like it as much as ever,” he observes, adding, “Our two new members are great and exude personality from the stage, so I feel like we’re an all-star band now. I love having a female presence on stage, which creates a different energy that you can’t get with just dudes. I think it adds a tension that’s different, but we’re still high-energy on stage, and we still play crazy instruments and move around a lot.”
Miller is careful, though, not to allow the novelty of the band’s homemade instruments to overshadow the more substantial aspects of the band’s output.
“If our only selling point was ‘Come and check out the weird instruments,’ it would get old real fast,” Miller states. “It got us in the door, but once we got in the door, the songs became our focus. Where I put most of my energy is trying to serve the songs, and trying to make them as good as they can be.”
Past Mousetrap Concerts:
Formed in the summer of 2014, Still Shine is a group of like-minded, seasoned musicians blending acoustic roots and progressive bluegrass.
Mixing mandolin, harmonica, banjo, acoustic guitar, upright bass, and tight harmonies they quickly gained a following around Central Illinois area and the local Midwest. They have shared the stage with artists such as The Leadfoot Band, Cornmeal, Split Lip Rayfield, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, Larry Keel, Chicago Farmer and the Waydown Wanderers just to name a few. Along with some well received original music, the band performs an upbeat, energetic show you won’t want to miss!
These river town pluckers are sure to get your toes tappin’, your boogie movin’ and your Shine on!!
Rob Bailey – Guitar/ Vocals
Andy Passie – Harmonica/ Vocals
Dave Frye – Upright bass/ Vocals
Wes Duffy – Mandolin/ Tenor Banjo/Percussion/Vocals.
Steve Hatfield – Banjo
Past Mousetrap Concerts:
Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad (GPGDS) is known for folding the aesthetics of the jamband scene into the structures of reggae. In the live setting, the band performs extended jams, while their previous studio albums have blended roots reggae with psychedelia (In These Times, 2012) or diverged from the genre completely, journeying into straight Americana (Country, 2012). On STEADY, the band’s fourth studio album (and first on Easy Star Records), GPGDS has synthesized their approach by weaving traditional folk instrumentation into a foundation of reggae, with arrangements that let the reggae breathe in a non-traditional way. While STEADY may not be the first record to find inspiration in both old time Appalachia and ‘70s Jamaica, it may be the best.
Much of STEADY’s power comes from the attention put into the recording process. Craig Welsch (one of the key players in 10 Ft. Ganja Plant) invited the band to his Boston studio, with the intention of “capturing an aspect of Panda that no one had ever heard yet, something totally different.” This rings true on tracks like “Wolf At The Door” and “.45.” Bassist-singer James Searl jokes that the band “has always followed John Brown’s Body (JBB) into studios,” as each studio they’ve recorded in was previously used by the legendary Ithaca, New York-based band. This trend continues unabated here, as Welsch was formerly JBB’s dub engineer and producer on some of their finest sessions, while another song on STEADY – the herb-smoking gem “Mr. Cop” – was produced by Matt Saccuccimorano, who helmed the controls on the last JBB release. The only other track on the record not coming from Welsch – the title track – was co-produced by Danny Kalb, who has worked with The Green, Ben Harper, and Jack Johnson.
Giant Panda formed in 2001 in Rochester, New York. A mysteriously fertile area for developing the U.S. reggae scene, the city has ties going back to 1981 when Lee “Scratch” Perry recruited his entire backing band from Rochester. The Upstate NY region became early supporters of GPGDS, while its members were in high school and beginning college, playing weekly gigs to cut their teeth. In these formative years, Giant Panda began to explore their songs with an experimental approach that is stylistically akin to the Grateful Dead, while keeping their roots firmly planted in reggae rhythms and lyrical content. Around 2005 tapers began to notice and soon after one of the band’s first Colorado shows received homepage placement on the popular taper website Archive.org. Almost overnight GPGDS became a mainstay on the jamband festival circuit.
From 2005 – 2013 GPGDS’s three original members (drummer Chris O’Brian, guitarist-singer Dylan Savage, and bassist-singer James Searl) began a touring schedule averaging over 100 shows a year and performing throughout the U.S., Canada, and Jamaica. Their third lead singer, multi-instrumentalist Dan Keller, joined the group a few years back, while keyboardist Tony Gallicchio joined in 2013. (Most of the sessions for STEADY feature ex-keys man Aaron Lipp, though Gallicchio can be heard on two of the tracks.) Giant Panda’s continuous time on the road hardened the players into monster instrumentalists. Their attention to the studio in later years, along with a unique blending of reggae and rural American music solidified GPGDS as one of the region’s most beloved bands. Like their hometown, they manage to unify an intellectual and creative culture with a hard-working blue-collar past.
The three main songwriters’ material is different enough to create a flowing and diverse listening experience. Savage’s inspiring anthems tend to be the most “classically” reggae, with songs like “Not The Fool,” “Whatever Cost,” and “Solution” echoing influences like Culture (circa 1979), early Burning Spear, and Jimmy Cliff. Searl is more experimental, both in form (“Wolf At The Door” could almost be an Elvis Costello song, while “.45” utilizes African and blues influences) and in lyrics: his “Hurt Up Your Brother” is almost Dadaist, taking a few lines and constantly rearranging them to achieve new meanings, imbued with a nonsensical-yet-expressive feel, while one of the most dubbed-out riddims on the record chugs along underneath. Keller’s songs stand illusively in between, and manage to go both directions, with a hardcore reggae groove on “Move” giving way to an unexpected chorus, or with the catchy “Home” being one of the only reggae songs in history to use a banjo so creatively and fittingly.
Giant Panda is one of a growing number of bands that work with both Rootfire (their management) and Easy Star Records. STEADY marks the seventeenth release Rootfire and Easy Star have paired up for, making them one of the most storied and successful partnerships in the modern reggae scene. Release number eighteen is just a few months away…. GPGDS has cut a full Americana album as a sequel to 2012’s Country, which will also come out on Easy Star in early 2015. For now though, sit back and enjoy STEADY – a masterpiece that solidifies Giant Panda’s standing as a groundbreaker in the roots reggae scene.
Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, the seven piece “Reggae / Rap / Rock” fusion, Shrub, has been rapidly gaining momentum and building a solid national fan base since being voted by readers as High Times Magazine’s Unsigned Band of the Month in September of 2010.
Recently, Shrub released their first full length album, Highceratops, which debuted in the Top 10 on the iTunes Reggae Charts. The album features guest appearances by C-Money from Slightly Stoopid, Dubmatix, and Kimberly Freeman from One-Eyed Doll. The band garners comparisons to artists like Sublime, The Dirty Heads, Atmosphere, Gym Class Heroes, and G. Love, but Shrub maintains an innately unique and raw sound all their own. With the addition of new guitar player, Kevin Oliver, former member of the hugely popular band, Parliament/Funkadelic (George Clinton), Shrub’s sound has now quickly become full-grown.
Shrub has shared the stage with: The Dirty Heads, Collie Buddz, Rebelution, Yellowman, The Expendables, Kottonmouth Kings, Gov’t Mule, Hed PE, Badfish, Scotty Don’t, Marlon Asher, Yonder Mountain String Band, Ballyhoo!, ekoostik hookah, Zach Deputy, Don Carlos, Mighty Diamonds, Tribal Seeds, The Young Dubliners, Passafire, Seedless, Micah Brown, The Revivalists, Fortunate Youth, Big B, Spiritual Rez, Tomorrow’s Bad Seeds, Echo Movement, Best Coast, Dinosaur Jr, The Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, Tennis, and many more.
“The Midwest has long been a hotbed for successful rap artists, but Shrub’s eclectic fusion of rap, reggae, and rock brings a whole new flavor to the scene.” – High Times Magazine