Two Cow Garage, Benchmarks, Heathen Sons

I hit the road again for another fun filled night of great music and fantastic friends this time ending up in Nashville at The High Watt. This wasn’t a normal night at a random show as there were some of my best friends from St Louis and all over TN there for the evening which means i’m sorry for anyone around us be we were singing loudly and enthusiastically.
Starting off the night were the Heathen Sons who’ve been written up here before by our own Wolf and to say they didn’t disappoint would be an understatement. I’d given a few listens to their EP and while I liked it it hadn’t stuck out for me yet. This happens more than I’d like to admit and is one of the many reasons why I try not to miss an opener to any show if possible. You’ll never know the music that grabs you until you hear it live. This band is one of those for me while I enjoyed the record the live performance was just full of very different energy that myself and seemingly the rest of the crowd enjoyed. It’s slightly indie while still definitely southern and past that i’d just call it good. Basically check these guys out if they’re close to your town.IMG_3137

Just over two years ago Lucero played two nights in Nashville and on the first night I elbowed a kid in the head that turned out to be Todd Farrell Jr. which was the beginning of a helluva night. When I sobered up I remembered to check out Todd’s band and was very happy that I did as the then current release of Where Fake Cowboys Go to Drink has some great songs on it. After that background up next was Benchmarks formerly known as Todd Farrell Jr and the Dirty Birds which while not a bad name did not accurately represent what the band is doing today so they changed it. In the best way possible there’s no easy way to categorize this band as they’re at their core a great rock band who also pull in some country and punk sensibility while never committing fully to either of the typical interpretations of those genres. So I’ve seen Todd Farrell and the Dirty Birds before at their last CD release and that gave me high hopes for what i’d see this night. I was not disappointed as the band ripped through the most recent American Nights EP as well as some tracks from the previous two release and requests. By their own admission the band hadn’t played together in some time as Todd had been out on the road with Two Cow Garage and everyone else had other obligations but couldn’t hear that from the audience. The set closed with Pawnshops when even Todd had to acknowledge our awful but very enthusiastic singing. I’m not sure when or where you’ll be able to see this band but if/when Benchmarks or Todd solo comes close to your town it is a show not to miss and in the meantime pickup the EP and the previous releases.

I'm terrible at photos but this feature Micah guesting with Benchmarks on American Night
I’m terrible at photos but this feature Micah guesting with Benchmarks on American Night

Next up is Two Cow Garage who I first discovered when Please Turn the Gas Back On was reviewed on this very site and from then on has been one of if not my favorite band. I’ve seen them countless times over the years at shows that have evolved from me and the band to 20ish diehard fans to today when they’re able to draw sustainable crowds. It’s always hard to talk about  Two Cow and Charles Hale did a better job than I ever could breaking down their style, progression and songwriting here so read that if you want some deeper insight into the band. I will say that I think we’ll need to add a new volume to that talking about what Todd is bringing to the band today. On this night the crowd was mixed with people who were obviously there for the first two bands but still curious about Two Cow and then a section of long term fans myself included who were somewhat vocal. Two Cow ran through highlights from most of their catalog not really leaning to one record or another but including the current single Let the Boys Be the Girls and the upcoming Continental Distance. To the folks that have not see Two Cow recently or at all the band is elevated with the addition of Todd Farrell Jr. who to my seasoned but uneducated ears fills out the songs in general and replaces some of the keyboards from the records. I never write setlists or take notes but on this night I took three notes which consisted of this: the 4 way harmonies are amazing and really add something to multiple songs then the unbelievably quiet crowd during Shoulda California and Swingset Assassin which is worth noting as it demonstrates how much people were enthralled by this performance. I always say that i’ll never see a better Two Cow show than what I see in Little Rock at The White Water Tavern but this show has me starting to think that may not be the case. It’s hard to beat a night with great friends and fantastic music so this was obviously a good one for all involved. It’s hard to come up with a better live band than Two Cow Garage so if you have a chance to see it and miss them i’m sorry for you.

My favorite Two Cow Garage photos are always about interaction. I'm terrible at capturing it but there's this.
My favorite Two Cow Garage photos are always about interaction. I’m terrible at capturing it but there’s this.

Former And Current 9B Editors on the Radio

Our very own Wolf was on the radio with former 9B writer and editor Charles Hale this week and this is what it sounded like:

Benchmarks – “American Night” – American Night
Two Cow Garage – “Continental Distance” – Continental Distance
Benjamin Booker – “Have You Seen My Son?” – Benjamin Booker
Adam Faucett – “Rock Ain’t Gold” – Blind Water Finds Blind Water
Gaslight Anthem – “Lonesome Sound” – The ’59 Sound
Kill County – “Straight Six Ford” – The Year Of Getting By
Michael Dean Damron – “Dancing In The Moonlight” – Father’s Day
Shane Sweeney – “Motel Blues” – The Finding Time
Robert Chaney – “The Morning After” – Cracked Picture Frames
Tim Barry – “No News From the North” – Lost & Rootless
Jason Isbell – “Something More Than Free” – Something More Than Free
Doc Dailey & Magnolia Devil – “Waiting On You” – Catch the Presidents
Tyler Childers – “Charleston Girl” – Live At The Red Barn Vol. 1
Aaron Lee Tasjan – “Santa Monica & Vine” – The Thinking Man’s Filth
Arliss Nancy – “Front Seat” – Simple Machines
Langhorne Slim & The Law – “Past lives” – The Way We Move
Lilly Hiatt – “Jesus Would’ve Let Me Pick the Restaurant” – Royal Blue
The Killers – “Leave The Bourbon On The Shelf” – Sawdust
Against Me! – “F*** My Life 666” – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Austin Lucas – “Alone in Memphis” – Stay Reckless
John Moreland – “Sad Baptist Rain” – High On Tulsa Heat
Barton Carroll – “Every Little Bit Hurts” – Avery County, I’m Bound To You
Jamestown Revival – “revival” – Utah
Matt Woods – “Beating Down My Door” – Matt Woods Manifesto
Cory Branan – “No Hit Wonder” – No Hit Wonder
Glossary – “At midnight” – How We Handle Our Midnights
Lucero – “Hearts On Fire” – Live DVD
Drive By Truckers – “Daddy’s Cup” – The Dirty South
Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires – “Dirt Track” – A Live Show

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit this was an excuse to post Charles’ podcast because it completely rocks and he’s pretty damn awesome. I know I miss his voice in the background of things around here. I’ve added his podcast to “Sites We Read” and hopefully you’ll all subscribe to it. There’s a lot worse things you could do with your time.

Benchmarks – American Night – 2015

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It starts out with distortion, guitar, and a voice. The voice is one you’ve heard before, been hearing for years. The always-ethereal vocal tones of Kelly Smith (nee Kneiser) of Glossary. Then a new voice, one you may have heard before but certainly not like this. The Dirty Birds have come home to roost, or maybe they’ve flown the coop. The members are the same, but the name and dedication are both newly minted. In Todd Farrell’s words: ” …[W]e are a BAND and not just me and some guys.” This EP, the first under the name Benchmarks, is their attempt to do things the right way.

Part of the genesis of the band (though they’ve been playing together long enough for it to perhaps be the Deuteronomy of the band) is undoubtedly Farrell’s semi-official status as Two Cow Garage’s lead guitar. There must be an undeniable hunger for life on the road once you’ve put in two tours with the greatest rock and roll band in America.

Farrell has drawn on the connections he’s made over the years, and the heft they bring to the EP is considerable. Smith’s harmonies bring the same heartbreaking sweetness to “April Fire” as they did to “Your Heart To Haunt”; the song explores a past that seems somehow more distant and closer with each passing day, and does so with impressive depth and driving instrumentation. The drummer, Jack Whitis, provides keys that give a melodic counterpoint to the complex guitar work. This band is too good to be named The Dirty Birds.

Micah Schnabel, of Two Cow Garage if the name isn’t familiar to you already, contributes a verse to the title track, “American Night”, and his almost-manic vulnerability brings clarity to Farrell’s songwriting, their duet more Butch and Sundance than Frankie and Dino. It wouldn’t be a Farrell record without another shot at a previously-released song. The melancholy “Liner Notes” of All Our Heroes Live In Vans is supplanted by a new version, chock full of crashing symbols and heavy metal guitar riffs. Whereas the acoustic arrangement of the song seemed to be asking a question, the full-band version makes a definite statement.

“Just Fine” seems to be wrapping up loose ends from older albums, and feels like the true end of the record. The book is being closed on old flames and old grudges and it’s time for new beginnings. Of course, it wouldn’t be Farrell without a sobering look at what the future could bring…or the desire to stride towards that future, regardless. The coda is “Paper Napkins”, a somber reflection on non-traditional adulthood and how taxing constant motion can be.

Though I seem to be paying special attention to Farrell’s songwriting, both musically and technically this is the band’s most impressive work to date. You can tell that the pieces were arranged, were collaborations, and not just several musicians trying to follow the instructions of a peer. Each of these men are skilled musicians and, at this point, Nashville old hands. Eli Rhodes (an impressive songsmith in his own right) mastered the album, Farrell and Whitis produced and engineered it. ‘Goose’ Rewinski, in addition to energetic bass playing, undoubtedly provided apt sports metaphors throughout the recording process (you can find some of his talented sportswriting here).

When four guys sit down and talk about starting a band, it’s guys like this who have the best odds. They’ve been around the block, played for pay and played for love, and they are certainly no longer any spring chickens. But that’s alright; summer’s just around the corner. This truly is a debut effort, and it’s Essential Listening.

Pick up a physical or digital copy of “American Night” by Benchmarks over at Bandcamp, but if you insist on using iTunes or Amazon that’s your right as a citizen of rock and roll.

Benchmarks – Band Name Change and Pre Order!

BenchmarksOur loyal readers are no doubt familiar with Todd Farrell Jr: in addition to writing and recording the opening theme to Ninebullets Radio on WMNF, Farrell has released music under his own name and with the band Todd Farrell Jr. & the Dirty Birds. The band has evidently decided to buckle down and put their nose to the eternal grindstone of touring and sleeping in vans as well as several other cliches.

The newly dubbed Benchmarks have put up a pre-order for their new EP American Night on Bandcamp, and given us the title track to listen to. With lyrics penned by Farrell, a more professional sound than the band has had before, and guest vocals by Micah Schnabel of Two Cow Garage, you can’t really go wrong. Check it out!