We’re not even at the midway point of 2019, and Bend artists have already delivered a glut of new music to ponder. Here, your friendly neighborhood music reporter turns a critical eye on recent highlights from 2019 (and one holdover from late 2018).
“FireOnyx,” Brother Gabe, self-released
Gabe Johnson has been busy since dropping his debut solo album, continuing to book plenty of shows with Parallel 44 Presents and play with at least four projects, including Watkins Glen, the Maxwell Friedman Group and Echo Still, a new collaboration with Tone Red’s Crystal Pizzola. Brother Gabe is the fourth project (the moniker came into being for Johnson’s Broken Top Bottle Shop concert series last year), but “FireOnyx” is the culmination of close to 20 years of musical evolution spanning two coasts and multiple bands. Vocalist Ze Rox, Johnson’s partner in Elektrapod, features on most of the songs, including that band’s “Cell Fish,” while keyboardist/talk box master Steveland Swatkins co-produced and adds texture throughout. The feel here is closer to Elektrapod’s slinky, sexy R&B and soul grooves, but Johnson finds room for funky abandon (“Face,” the thunderous “Off Your Chest”), rock ’n’ roll improvisation (“Gray”) and emotional ballads (album closer “Wake”). A great journey through Johnson’s musical career so far, “FireOnyx” pushes the energy high and the musicianship even higher.
“Teleport People,” Mark Ransom & The Mostest, Bond Street Records
The first studio set in five years from long-running rock/jam band The Mostest finds vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Mark Ransom delving deep into his psyche. He described the album as “a midlife crisis story in a way,” with songs such as “Rewind” and “Love Song 2019” fitting the theme. Other songs veer into spacier territory (quite literally on the title track, a song written by Brian Deckebach that addresses the album’s other recurring theme: Ransom’s recurring UFO dreams), with the effects-laden production from bassist Patrick Pearsall helping to tie everything together. Overall, though, the message is one of positivity and unity through music, as reflected in the upbeat tempos, joyful jamming and lengthy guest-performer list (a who’s who of Bend’s scene).
“What Comes After,” Mosley Wotta, self-released
Another long-awaited album, “What Comes After” is Bend rapper, poet and visual artist Mosley Wotta’s first full-length since 2012’s “KinKonK.” Wotta (born Jason Graham) crams a lot of ideas into the album’s short running time, from more personal songs such as “Tear Clear (SOB STORY)” or the affecting closer “Never the Same”), to the political (“Put Your Hands Where I Can Reach ’Em” tackles hatred and racism in a far more nuanced way than most musicians singing about these topics, while “Dad Dit It” takes exception to American exceptionalism while turning a “U-S-A” chant on its head). Throughout, Wotta’s wordplay is on point (“Brand Knew You” is a personal favorite), while producer Colten Tyler Williams melds modern hip-hop production with industrial and rock influences to create an often cinematic experience.
A Groovy Kinda Music,” The CJ Neary Band, self-released
Since picking up violin at age 5, CJ Neary has dabbled in classical, funk, jazz, rock and hip-hop, among others; he’s sat in with artists such as Regina Carter, taken home multiple fiddling championships and played the Grand Ole Opry. That all shines through on “A Groovy Kinda Music,” which finds Neary branching out as a confident vocalist and songwriter. Songs such as “Why Do We Have To?,” “Same Old Place” and “Hard Way” synthesize nearly all the genres Neary has ever played into satisfying, hook-filled songs that don’t skimp on the musicianship, whether its the eponymous band’s solid backing tracks or Neary’s soaring violin solos.
“Alovitiman II,” Alovitiman, self-released
The second release from flutist/saxophonist Nate Giersdorf’s Eastern European folk-meets-Western jazz and funk combo takes a massive leap forward from the 2017 debut. Despite going from a quartet to a trio between albums, Alovitiman creates a fuller sound on “Alovitiman II,” with Giersdorf layering flute and saxophone harmonies on most tracks, while bassist Brian Martin does double duty on guitar. The songs themselves remain rooted in the complicated time signatures and melodies of Balkan and Serbian traditional folk, albeit with plenty of added muscle and energy thanks to the arrangements.
“Day Dream,” Jay Tablet featuring DL Down3r, Brian Paul Bennett, single, self-released
And now for something really new. The latest single from local rapper Jay Tablet builds on an appropriately dreamy groove from Bennett, who worked with Tablet on the track “Moonlight” featured in the film “Grace the Possession.” Down3r, another Bend-based musician and frequent collaborator, provides melodic counterpoint to Tablet’s personal and inspirational verses.