A look into 2013 in music

by Ryan Snyder

Music lovers and football fanatics have something distinctly in common: Every year, someone hits the reset button. What is known is no more, and what is unknown might never leave your record player. Your favorite band could disappear in an instant, and your next favorite of the year may not have even materialized yet. It’s a business of the unexpected, and the following is a preview of the ins, outs and whathave-yous of the new year.


On Pop of the World Studios made its fundraising goal with little concern and will ride into 2013 with a potentially outstanding crop of records to show for it. A new Matty Sheets & the Blockheads record is likely the first to come out of Randy Seals’ studio this year, but Israel Darling founder Jacob Darden’s return to Greensboro has birthed a brand new imprint for the studio. He and Harrison Barrow will officially launch Backlot Records early this year, and their beginning roster is more than impressive — junk blues trio the Old One-Two, rapper Daily Planet, rock purists Jack Carter & the Armory, Americana songwriter Julian Sizemore and Darden’s newest project Ameriglow that includes backing from the Armory and is beautifully reminiscent of Ryan Adams & the Cardinals circa Cold Roses.

Elsewhere, the Brand New Life’s second album — and first with their definitive lineup that includes Afromotive trumpeter Sean Smith and resident griot Mamdou Mbengue — is due out in March. Its name is still up in the air at the moment, but expect the first single from it sometime in February. The brand aimed for a record that’s more true to Afrobeat’s dynamic thrust, so the album will arrive laden with auxiliary percussion, overdubs of massive baritone sax and distinct free-jazz and rock elements.

In separations, the great Mantras schism of 2012 was quietly superseded by the departure of House of Fools co-founder and keyboardist David McLaughlin, who cited travel fatigue as the primary circumstance. The talented songwriter will continue to write and record, however, and will take up residence at the new Jamestown venue Turntables on Jan. 25.


For all the noise it made in 2012, the Greensboro Performing Arts Center has all the makings of 2013’s damnedest boondoggle. Never mind that the decision to land it on North Davie is still an open wound for some, but a hard split in support among almost all of its concerned publics should make for some rigorous debate up until the day its fate comes to voter referendum. Spend any amount of time looking through the minutes of the task force’s various committees and sub-committees, and the question arises as to whether those leading the charge can get unmired from trivialities long enough to focus on the big picture of winning majority voter support. Should it happen, then there’s the question of whether or not the GPAC can possibly become as viable for its community as the Durham Performing Arts Center is for the Triangle (because, let’s face it, the DPAC is exactly what this project’s shepherds are conceiving it as), across multiple demographics, or just another place to book KC & the Sunshine Band.


A solid, but unheralded debut from Ramps and the Bayonets’ best and probably final (at least for the foreseeable future) record were among the handful of memorable Winston-Salem releases in 2012, but 2013 could be a standout year given what’s on deck. The usually guarded Black Lodge enclave will make things a little more official with a slew of albums put out on its co-op label, most immediately of which is the debut by Wilde Blood, an illuminative synth-rock quintet descended from Marty Rogers and Scott Brandenburg’s previous band Love Craft. They traded Love Craft’s industrial elements for a sound that’s akin to the deepest of Chicago house, drenched in reverb and propelled forward by Haydee Thompson’s stratospheric tenor. Recording of the band’s first twelve tracks is slated for this winter amidst Rogers’ other projects, including the mostly improv rock outfit Drugs and a new darkwave band called Spirit System which made its debut on New Year’s Eve.

In other active corners, the tacit dissolution of the Bayonets has opened the door for not only Caleb Caudle’s solo career, but that of his brother Kyle Caudle. Currently recording dusty folk rock under the name Volunteer, Kyle Caudle’s first track “Secondhand Sapphire” appeared on Krankies Summer 2012 Compilation, with gorgeous contributions by former Bayonets guitarist/current Estrangers front man Philip Pledger and Estrangers keyboardist David-Todd Murray. Pledger and Murray themselves have put their electronic side project aside to focus on Caudle’s debut EP, out sometime this summer, as well as Estrangers second full-length album, due out in April.


A much adored piece of Greensboro nightlife is about to move on into the ether. The Urban Sophisticates will bid farewell as they play their final show at Greene Street Club on Feb. 22. One of the cities great party bands for the past 11 years, the Urban Sophisticates fusion of hip hop, funk and rock has never been a wildly peerless sound, but the head nods are irresistible and the band is savagely dedicated to the good time of each and every person who sees them perform. The band’s leader and emcee Benton James is moving on to focus on his talent management services, Boyd Allen Music Group, along with launching a new record label with a former Universal Music associate. He will be leaving the area for New Jersey in the spring, but not after Urban lays down an epic finale with a cast of special guests that are still taking shape. He says the door is definitely open for a reunion far down the road, but for now, this is it.


If his Friends are to be believed, John Coltrane’s lasting legacy is jazz whose soul is about as authentic as an Elvis impersonator. The John Coltrane International Jazz and Blues Festival has been more of a clinic on how to mismanage a brand than a credit to one of American music’s most important figures, but there’s about to be competition fast on its heels. Abysmal emceeing and way, way too much Smooth have thus far bushwhacked what should be a touchstone event for the area; the name of Coltrane, after all is not something to be taken so lightly. Yet, it has been, and the wheels are in motion in Durham for what could potentially be the marquee jazz event the Piedmont deserves. Al Strong’s Art of Cool project plans to launch its inaugural festival in April 2014 and until then, is hosting a litany of events to raise its profile. That gives the Coltrane organizers one, maybe two more chances to get it right before jazzheads start looking elsewhere. For starters, that could begin with inviting Christian Scott back to play somewhere other than a godforsaken airport hotel lounge, taking a long look at a Mark Turner or a Jason Moran or any other currently relevant figure as headliner, obtaining restraining orders against Busta Brown and Debra Terry, and most importantly, never mentioning Kirk Whalum and Barbara Weathers in the same breath as John Coltrane ever again.


While preservation efforts of the area’s jazz heritage is painfully bungled from the top down, pocket scenes, including some rather unlikely spots, may be forging a new one. For the standards, Nico’s Friday night crew, in four- and five-piece versions led by flautist Julia Price, takes on tastefully arranged post-bop from Mingus to Parker and Dolphy to Donaldson with a manifoldvoiced approach. They recently added renowned trumpet player Joe Robinson as the elder statesman to a formidable entourage of soloists that also recently featured Durhamite Alan Thompson on sax, reimagining tunes that are cool, graceful and, most of all, adventurous. On the other side of the lexicon, the Tate Street New York Pizza’s Sunday night Improv Sessions are open-ended, jam-centric incursions into the avant garde side of groove. A core lineup of Brand New Life saxophonist Casey Cranford, Electric Soul Pandemic guitarist Derek Cobb and Hi-Rollers drummer Jeremy Fountain lead a by-invitation jam that touches on teeth-gnashing melodies straight out of the Dark Magus playbook and Anthony Braxton-inspired formlessness. There’s no brand name attached to what’s happening, but it’s still being done the right way.


Pig jokes aside, big things have been cooking down in Lexington. Chris Phelps, owner of outdoors-supply company High Rock Outfitters, has been a key component in nurturing what could become a thriving music scene down in Barbecue City. Since October, High Rock Outfitters has been playing host to Daniel Justin Smith’s inaugural Songcraft Live series, a singer-songwriter night that was selling out its seating by the time the Larry Keel-Steve McMurry season finale rolled around last week. This past weekend, Phelps executed something on a larger scale as the promoter of the first annual North Carolina Music and Arts Festival. Holding a multi-day music festival on the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s Eve would seem like a fool’s errand, but by all accounts, the event was as successful as could have been hoped for on the trickiest weekend of the year for music.