Singer/songwriter Andrew Portz summons ghost of old Tom Petty

Written by Carson James

While many Americana artists openly cop vocal signatures and guitar riffs from Johnny Cash or Hank Williams, Sr., singer/songwriter Andrew Portz jumps further into the timeline of alt-country ancestry. There’s no denying the influence of vintage Tom Petty on Portz’s rejected snarl and speaker-busting jangle. When Petty first appeared in the late ’70s, his roots-rock angst was an anomaly in a rock & roll scene ruled by disco on top of the charts and punk overthrowing the underground. Perhaps it’s fitting that one of his spiritual kin is breaking away from predictable Americana staples and embracing the unfashionable Petty.

Carson James: Would you describe your lyrics as personal? If so, are you writing about your own experiences here or that of others?

Andrew Portz: When I write songs, I like to weave together personal experiences, fiction, and history in an abstract way. “Three o’clock in the mornin’/Staring at these records on my wall” is what I was actually doing when I wrote “Rollercoaster Ride.” The rest of the song is just lyrics that I thought sounded cool, and I really do dig rollercoasters.
 
James: Do you write the words down first or do you come up with riffs initially and then add lyrics on top of it?

Portz: I just write songs the way they come to me. I usually hear a melody and a lyrical hook in my head, and I start to work with that. I wrote “I Can Hear You” in about 20 minutes starting with the opening guitar riff. When I wrote the song “Blue Lake California,” I came up with the melody along with lyrics that I dropped because they didn’t fit the sound of the song. The story of “Blue Lake” came to me much later during some time I spent there recording the early demos for the CD.

James: Some artists I’ve spoken to in the past believe that the environment they’re in can have an influence on their words. Has this ever happened to you? If so, can you provide examples from your record?

Portz: I think your environment can influence the words as well as a song’s feel. I wrote “Road Trip” sitting around a campfire, and it has that sound to it. We went into the studio and tried to recapture that vibe with the banjo and harmonica.
 
James: What song on Blue Lake California has the most meaning to you and why?

Portz: “You and I” has a lot of meaning for me. It was the first song I ever wrote that made me feel like, “Hey, I can do this.” I wrote it years ago for my wife. It’s a song about everyday people and what they go through in their relationships.
 
James: Is it harder to write sad tunes than happy songs? Or is it the other way around?

Portz: Some people drink, some people get stoned. I write songs. That’s my way of dealing with the down and outs. When life kind of gets good it’s a lot harder for me to write.

http://www.andrewportz.com

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Canada’s the Cat House Dogs ironically embody best of Americana

Reviewed by Carson James

Cat House Dogs/That Was Now

The Cat House Dogs bite as much as they bark. These Canadian alt-country rockers have more balls than a kennel of Wilco disciples. The band makes no secret of its yen for vintage Tom Petty. The opening track, “Fine Line,” could’ve fit onto any of Petty’s earliest LPs. Vocalist Todd Sharman has Petty’s nasal whine but somehow makes it sound better. I especially like it when it seems like he is singing through gritted teeth. The Southern-fried folksy singalong of “Sadie’s Theme” reveals another inspiration: the Black Crowes. But how then do you explain the skacore backbeat of “Crook” and the reggae pulse of “Lost Again”? Experiments, man. Even the Rolling Stones didn’t just shuffle to the same grooves.

Ironically enough, it takes a Canadian group to deliver one of Americana’s most commercially accessible releases. “Beautiful Rays” and “Far Away” are car-ready melodic pop/rock with a rootsy undertow; think of a less depressing Gin Blossoms. Perhaps what surprised me about “That Was Now” is how fast it moves. Like its blurry album cover, the record truly zips by. But not after entertaining the hell out of you first.

http://www.cathousedogs.com

Diverse tastes like the Clash and Dierks Bentley shaped singer/songwriter Tony Cutino

Written by Carson James

Tony Cutino offers a different flavor to roots rock. Instead of merely displaying his country influences, both Cutino’s voice and sometimes his ’70s-leaning pop/rock is reminiscent of glam-era David Bowie. Considering the glut of underground Americana acts today, delivering a slight twist on the genre is always a plus.

Carson James: Every singer/songwriter has their own method of inspiration in crafting their music. What is yours? Does it begin with a specific line popping in your head or a riff?

Tony Cutino: When writing songs, sometimes it’s an experience or event that happens which spark a catchy phrase or an idea for a story line or a hook. Then again, there are times I can be playing my guitar and come up with a musical riff that strikes a nerve and gets things going. But its always those personal moments which happen in our lives that create the best songs.

James: When did you first pick up the guitar? What compelled you to play it? Was there anybody who encouraged you to do so or was it something you did on your own?

Cutino: The first time I picked up a guitar I was about five years old, a plastic guitar with a crank on it that played the Mickey Mouse song. I used to play for my family at holiday gatherings. But seriously, I was about 12 when I got my first electric guitar and amp. I happened to hear some older kids in a band practicing in their garage and I’ve been playing since.

James: Which of the tracks on your album are the most personal to you and in what way?

Cutino: The songs that are the most personal to me are the songs I wrote about experiences in my life. I wrote “Find Your Angel” after turning on the TV one morning and watching the World Trade Center towers fall. “Cowboy Now” is a song about my dad who was a real John Wayne kind of guy, a cowboy at heart.  He told me once if he could ever come back as someone else he wanted to be a cowboy. “Big Joe’s Dad’s Guitar” is a song about a dear friend who gave me his dad’s guitar because he couldn’t play it and wanted me to have it.  I took the guitar home and this song just poured out.

James: Growing up, what musicians had the biggest impact on you creativity?

Cutino: Musicians and groups that inspired me while I was developing my talent and playing in a band called Toby Redd, were The Who, Zeppelin, The Beatles, U2 and then early English groups like Elvis Costello, The Clash, and The Jam.  More recently Keith Urban, Jeffrey Steele, and Dierks Bentley.

James: Do you “read” music? Or are you mostly a player by feel?

Cutino: I can read music but not fluently. In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve done that. It’s mostly what feels right and sounds good to me and how things flow. Sometimes too much correctness can cause distractions.

http://tonycutino.com

Published in: on June 7, 2008 at 6:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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Joy Adler’s ‘Postcards’ crackles with passion

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Joy Adler/Postcards

There’s certainly no shortage of female singer/songwriters out there, and the number has certainly grown since the mammoth success of Sheryl Crow and Norah Jones. Alas, there are many women who arrive with a catchy guitar riff and a poetic pen but have no voice, either one that is stylistically distinct or technically impressive. Joy Adler is among the few with all of those qualities intact.

Although the songs on Postcards are easily accessible, they seem more personal to me than radio-ready attempts to achieve commercial success. You instantly get the feeling that Adler recorded this CD mainly to express herself and not just to acquire a quick pop hit, which has sadly become harder without a million-dollar record label behind you. Avoiding the bland slickness of Adult Contemporary radio, Adler looks to Americana, blues, and jazz for inspiration. Even the Cult’s Goth-metal landmark “She Sells Sanctuary” is given a bluesy makeover, quite unlike anything you’d hear on alternative-rock stations either during the mid-’80s or today.

Of Adler’s original material, many of them sparkle, some way more than others. I’m partial to the pretty piano compositions like “Our Rapture” and “Your Love Is Everything,” wherein Adler is reminiscent of Tori Amos but with definitely more soul. It’s the passion that Adler equips these tunes with that make them crackle, give them added intimacy.

http://joyadler.com

Harmonies highlight old-school country album from Amy Gallatin and Roger Williams

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Amy Gallatin and Roger Williams/Something ‘Bout You

What is missing from country music these days? Just about everything that is on Amy Gallatin and Roger Williams’ Something ‘Bout You. You can call me a purist even though my introduction to country music was through the film Urban Cowboy more than 20 years ago. But once you hear the greats – Patsy Cline; Hank Williams, Sr.; Johnny Cash; etc – it’s really hard to stomach the designer jeans stitched by Nashville since achy-breaky hearts were broken in the early ’90s. Gallatin and Williams belong to the old-school country crowd, which is oddly finding a devoted audience amongst indie college kids these days.

For authentic, whiskey-drinking, beef-jerky munching Americana, it doesn’t get any more pure than Something ‘Bout You. There are no slick studio add-ons here, just the melodic voices of Gallatin and Williams accompanied by traditional country instruments such as pedal steel, fiddles, and mandolins. The harmonizing of Gallatin and Williams is delicious to to the ears; on the title track and “I Thought I Heard You Calling My Name,” the duo reach emotional highs and lows with eloquence and heartbreaking drama. The singing alone makes this record one that is highly recommended. However, the music rises to the challenge of capturing the wounded sentiments of its vocalists. Listen to Wayne Benson’s radiant mandolin playing on “Forever Has Come to an End” and tell me that you’re not touched.

http://amygallatin.com

Published in: on March 25, 2008 at 7:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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