Thursday, December 29, 2022

Long Mama's Poor Pretender Delivers On All Levels

photo courtesy of Gigshotz by Stephen Bloch

“I love it when a plan comes together.” This line, famously attributed to fictional character Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith (played by actor George Peppad) on the iconic ‘80’s television action/drama The A-Team, in many ways embodies the spirit of Milwaukee’s folk/country/rock band “Long Mama.” Comprised of a true “A-Team” of some of the midwest’s finest Americana musicians: Andrew Koening (electric guitar), Nick Lang (drums), Samuel Oden (upright bass) and  Kat Wodtke (guitar and vocals), “Long Mama” is a band whose collective sound creates a beautiful tapestry of sonic storytelling. 

Poor Pretender, Long Mama’s debut record is an album that sticks to the ribs and grows in the soul with each and every listen. Composed of 10 aurally unique tracks, Poor Pretender gives its listeners an adventure-laden narrative drawing on singer/songwriter Kat Wodtke’s travels and worldly experiences. With beautifully whimsical wordplay that would make a high school English teacher radiate with etymological joy, Wodtke draws her listeners into her emotions through her lyrics and gorgeously earnest vocal delivery. “This phoenix is drinking fire, holding court in the ashes,” a stand-out line from the band’s title track “Poor Pretender” exemplifies this sentiment.

Guitarist Andrew Koening’s work on Poor Pretender stands out and serves as a perfect compliment to Wodtke’s storytelling. Koening has honed his craft a lot in recent years. He seamlessly can go from a fast picking western swing style of playing on “Badlands Honeymoon,” to a full-out jam groove on “The Narrows,” (my personal favorite track on Poor Pretender), where his guitar work evokes the spirit of the late Jerry Garcia. Likewise, Nick Lang’s well nuanced percussion and Samuel Oden’s deep grooves on upright bass serve as a backbone for a band who have all the makings of a stellar midwestern Americana group for years to come. Seeing Long Mama perform live is something even more special as these four great musicians and people clearly love playing together and exude joy and energy from the stage.

Photo courtesy of Gigshotz by Stephen Bloch

Friday, February 25, 2022

Rucksack Revolution, Linneman's Riverwest Inn 2/20/22

A palpable sense of passion and warmth emanated from the stage of a jam-packed Lindemann's Riverwest Inn on a windy winter's eve.  The capacity crowd, which included an all-star cast of some of the midwest's finest Americana artists, was treated to a performance by Rucksack Revolution, that not only stuck to the ribs, but nestled in the soul.

Rucksack Revolution is the dynamic folk duo featuring two longtime friends, Sarah Vos (Dead Horses) and Adam Gruel (Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, High Hawks).  Vos and Gruel are two master songwriters and storytellers who are emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic on the top of their game.  Gruel emits an aura of childlike joy on stage every time he performs with any of his musical projects. Vos is one of the most honest and reflective songwriters around, and has the voice of an angel. Together they delivered a gorgeous evening of songs that were filled with themes of nature, travel, longing and hope, all performed with a pure sense of earnestness, warmth, and compassion.

Vos and Gruel seemed effortlessly in synch with one another on stage, allowing their voices and guitars to weave together a rich tapestry of musical goodness. The duo performed most of their debut record, 2022's Rucksack Revolution, along with a few well-placed covers, Dead Horses songs, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades tunes, and some of Gruel's solo work.  The evening started with a gorgeously harmonized version of "On and On," a standout track from Dead Horses's 2018 release, My Mother the Moon. Horseshoes and Hand Grenades's "Breathing," a deep cut from their 2015 Middle Western record, had a sincere tenderness especially with the singers' vocals meshing together on the refrain.   Other highlights included the classic traveling song, "Across the Great Divide," by Kate Wolf, a striking take on Neil Young's "Harvest Moon," and a gently rousing "Knocking on Heaven's Door," a nice nod to Bob Dylan in a venue known for its Bob Dylan tribute night shows over Thanksgiving weekend.  

All of that aside, the real treat of the evening was hearing the majority of the Rucksack Revolution record, peppered across the band's two stellar sets. In one word, Rucksack Revolution is heartwarming. The record works so well performed live.  "Trying to Find a Better Way," is a reflective opus that hints at the struggle that many of us are feeling at this time with anxiety and worry. "Winona," an homage to Winona, Minnesota, is packed with gorgeous imagery of the beauty of the great northern midwest. "Winding Heavens" features fabulous vocal interplay between the singers over a uniquely simple and catchy guitar lick.  The jangly "Make Believer," is a song that makes you grin from ear-to-ear with its fun and bouncy feel.  Top to bottom, Rucksack Revolution is an album that hooks its listeners like latching on to a big billy bass in a northern Wisconsin lake.  It is challenging, joyful, and above all unbelievably satisfying.

thanks to Gigshotz by Stephen Bloch for the photos

Friday, December 31, 2021

Pipes's Picks: Best of 2021

2021 saw a boon of great music from established artists and emerging performers alike

Here are 15 amazing records worth a spin that I really enjoyed this year.

Cheers to a great 2022 which hopefully will bring a year with more live shows and fine tunes!

1. Billy Strings- Reveal
Arguably the hottest roots/Americana act to emerge out of the pandemic, Billy Strings is the real deal in terms of his guitar dexterity, songwriting, and passion.  His live show is exceptional, and his most recent record, Reveal,  may be his best to date.  Great lyrics, songwriting, and blending of bluegrass and Americana styles.

Stand-Out Tracks: "This Old World," "Know it All," "Heartbeat of America"

2. Hiss Golden Messenger- Quietly Blowing It
MC Taylor has emerged as one of the top troubadours of our era.  Seriously, I don't think there is a Hiss album that has not made my best of the year lists in quite some time.  Quietly Blowing It has a sincerity and earnestness about it which makes it stand out in a field of great singer-songwriter records.  In addition, his holiday record Oh, Come All Ye Faithful is superb (best holiday record in a long time). 

Stand-Out Tracks: :"Hardlytown," "Glory Strums (Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner)," "Sanctuary"

3. Them Coulee Boys- Namesake
Soren Staff and company are on the top of their game these days. The Eau Claire natives delivered a stellar follow up to their acclaimed Die Happy record from 2019. With strong, emotive, narrative lyrics, a diversity of styles and sweeping harmonies, Them Coulee Boys are growing into a midwest juggernaut of soulful Americana music.

Stand-Out Tracks: "Namesake," "Given Up," "Knuckleballer," "Phil's Song"

4. The War on Drugs- I Don't Live Here Any More
Adam Granduciel and the boys have come a long way from when I first saw them at the Metro in Chicago in 2014 on the Lost in a Dream tour. The band takes its time in between releases and has become one of indie rock's biggest acts in recent years blending styles of Americana, neo-psychedelia, and even some late 70's/80's album-rock guitar work. It is a masterful combination that works. I Don't Live Here Anymore holds up as another stellar release from start to finish.

Stand-Out Tracks: "Change," "I Don't Live Here Anymore," "Living Proof"

5. Fruit Bats- The Pet Parade
Eric Johnson is a busy man these days. His folk supergroup, Bonny Light Horsemen dropped one of my favorite records last year, and this year Johnson and his lead project, Fruit Bats, dropped not one but two stellar releases. The original recording The Pet Parade and a cover album of Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream, which the band reinterpreted in a really creative and interesting way. While Fruit Bats have been a staple on the folk-indie scene for quite some time now, Johnson and his crew have aged like a fine wine or barrel aged stout, as his recent songwriting is perhaps his best to date.

Stand-Out Tracks: "The Balcony," "The Pet Parade," "Holy Rose," "Cherub Rock," "Hummer"

6. Courtney Barnett- Things Take Time, Take Time
There isn't an artist out there right now who can spin a tale with such description of the ordinary in an extraordinary way like Australia's Courtney Barnett. Her collaborative record with Kurt Vile, 2017's Lotta Sea Lice, has grown into one of my favorite records of all time, and her penchant for quirky storytelling has continued to evolve. Things Take Time, Take Time, is true to form for Barnett whose masterful lens at life is evident across the short but sweet record.

Stand-Out Tracks: "Rae Street," "Before You Gotta Go," "Write a List of Things to Look Forward To"

7. My Morning Jacket- My Morning Jacket
The Jacket has been one of my favorite bands for decades now, and they continue to evolve and impress with great new music. Their self-titled release from this year is on par with some of their best, and is my favorite Jacket record since Circuital which was released in 2011. You can tell that Jim James and company took their time off in solo projects to reenergize a bit as this record is a real barn burner of rock in only the way My Morning Jacket can deliver.

Stand-Out Tracks: "Penny For Your Thoughts," "Love, Love, Love," "Lucky to Be Alive"

8. Mdou Moctar- Afrique Victime
Mdou Moctar has arrived in a big way on the global stage. The Turaeg guitarist and his bandmates have created a unique sound filled with amazing guitar work and jams. Afrique Victime is Mdou's most ambitious album to date. Often times you can feel the beat of the music sounding like the footsteps of camels through the Sahel region of Africa on the tracks, as pointed out to me by Mdou's virtuoso bass player, Mikey Coltun in a conversation this past year. While I was extremely bummed that Mdou's shows with fellow superb guitarist, Steve Gunn were cancelled last year, I can't wait to see him and his great band again this spring in Milwaukee.

Stand-Out Tracks: "Tala Tannam," "Chrismitin," "Afrique Victime"

9. Sierra Ferrell- Long Time Coming
Upon first listen to Sierra Ferrell, I thought to myself, "am I listening to a younger Dolly Parton?" Ferrell's voice has a huge range like Parton's and her songwriting focuses on relationships and storytelling. Ferrell is one of the top emerging Americana artists, and her live show really showcases the sheer power of her vocals. Her music takes you through the full prism of emotions from jolly jams to more reflective ballads, told in a more traditional country style that she simultaneously pays homage to and makes her own. She is certainly an artist on the rise whose record Long Time Coming continues to grow on me with each listen.

Stand-Out Tracks: "Jeremiah," "Bells on Every Chapel," "Dreams"

10. Strand of Oaks- In Heaven
Timothy Showalter is a man who has found a new lease on life since getting sober. A longtime fan of Strand of Oaks, it is clear to see the progression and expansion of Showalter's sound that started on 2019's Eraserland and continues on his most recent release In Heaven. Showalter is about as emotionally raw of a songwriter as you can find. He is a human who truly wears his heart on his sleeve and is about as committed to his fans as any performer I know. This record further expands Showalter's music into psychedelic rock realms while holding true to the rawness of emotion that has made Strand of Oaks such a stellar act over the past decade plus. You can feel the joy that Showalter experienced making this record come through on each and every listen,.

Stand-Out Tracks: "Somewhere in Chicago," "Galacticana," "Easter."

11. Trapper Schoepp- May Day
Milwaukee's own Trapper Schoepp released his finest record to date this year, May Day. Schoepp is a true observer of the world around him and crafts his songs with precision and great attention to detail. May Day showcases this from the opening title track on. Schoepp happens have a May 1st birthday and released the record with sending fans who ordered it packs of flower seeds (a truly creative touch). As Schoepp continues to hone his craft, this young songwriter proves how his tales of life, loss, love, and laughter can be delivered with great introspection and emotion. May Day serves well as a full piece record to enjoy in one sitting, while simultaneously being a collection of ten stellar tracks. The sky's the limit for Schoepp and his awesome band.

Stand-Out Tracks: "May Day," "Yellow Moon," "Solo Quarantine," "River Called Disaster"

12. Mike and the Moonpies- One to Grow On
Austin's Mike and the Moonpies have continued to grow as one of the premier country honky-tonk acts in the country. Their live show is packed with energy, enthusiasm and terrific tight musicianship. True to honky-tonk form, Mike Harmeier tells stories that hook the listener into the world of juke-joints, bars, and tales from a band on the road. The dexterity of the musicians in the band and their honest and jovial take on our modern times makes One to Grow On a stellar record.

Stand-Out Tracks: "Rainy Day," "Paycheck to Paycheck," "Social Drinkers"

Enjoy my Pipes's Picks Best of 2021 Playlist which features these great artists and many others who produced exceptional music over the past twelve months.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

The Reemergence of Live Music: Getting Back to the Love of Shows

As the great Joni Mitchell once wrote in her hit single “Big Yellow Taxi,”, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?” (Joni Mitchell “Big Yellow Taxi,” Ladies of the Canyon, ©1970).  

The past eighteen or so months living in a general void of live music has taken its toll on musicians, venues, and the hospitality industry for sure.  It also has taken its toll on the fans, and in so many ways, the lack of music has been a punch to the gut of our collective human souls.

There is something purely magical about a live performance and the relationship between the artist and the audience… an energy so palpable that it cannot truly be recreated in any other setting.  Sure, streaming shows served their purpose of keeping people connected with artists and provided a reprieve in Netflix binge watching.  However, without a live audience there isn’t that same communal feeling or energy.  Music is best when it is shared live and with an audience.  Period.  Live music unites us as diverse people in our great city, not unlike how this summer the entirety of Milwaukee seemed to be “Fearing the Deer,”  and supporting our World Champion Milwaukee Bucks. 

It feels amazing to be back out there making music together and in front of an in-person audience!” Sarah Vos, lead singer, guitarist and songwriter of the Milwaukee folk-Americana band Dead Horses exclaimed in a recent interview with MKERocks,  “I believe that the audience and the space literally change what is happening musically, and I really missed that. It's fun to re-approach the performance and the songs after having over a year off from touring as everything feels so fresh.”   

Vos and her band Dead Horses, which features longtime bandmate bassist Daniel Wolff,  went from playing over 100 shows a year to hardly any during the COVID pandemic.  Vos continued, “Not being able to tour provided a space from the go-go-go attitude we've had throughout much of our time together as a band. New and fresh perspective and inspiration is so necessary in art, and these challenging times have presented just that.”

“I feel so refreshed and focused after the time off,” Vos added with a grin, “It's fascinating that the pandemic and the times that have come with it are affecting all of us together- regardless of our beliefs or any divisiveness about it. This is something that the whole world has been going through together. Personally, I took a fair amount of time off from writing much music. The time really refreshed me in a way that has helped me take a turn in my songwriting which is super exciting!” 

Dead Horses have played a few shows this summer with more tour dates being added this fall, as the band begins to emerge from the thralls of the pandemic and get back on the road.  Dead Horses have performed primarily at smaller festivals this summer, including their headlining performance at “SnoFest '' in Two Rivers, Wisconsin this past July alongside Adam Gruel of Horseshoes and Handgrenades, and Ryan Necci and the Buffalo Gospel.  Speaking of Adam Gruel, he and Vos collaborated on a project during the quarantine where both songwriters crafted a series of duet performances.  Vos guested on Gruel’s set, sharing some of these new tunes at the SnoFest gig.  In addition, Dead Horses has a series of theater shows coming up this fall as well as a run opening for virtuoso mandolinist, Sierra Hull.  

Like Vos, Milwaukee’s Joseph Huber went from a robust touring schedule to almost a complete shut-down as well.  Prior to the pandemic, Huber had a long run of shows scheduled in support of his 2019 record Moondog.  Sadly, most of those did not happen.  MKE Rocks caught up with Huber before his recent show at the Cooperage earlier this month opening for country crooner Dale Watson. “Probably the best part of ‘getting back out there’ is remembering that music isn't just content that you create in some hidden behind-scenes-scenario and click out into the world from your computer. I had been working on a record and became so exhausted and jaded with the technical tinkering that the music seemed to no longer be a route to feeling freedom or joy. The first show back was nerve-racking like it hadn't been in years (while also being fun), but then every show following that just felt natural and great. People were ready to dance; ready to smile; ready to let loose--and we were too. It's the little or big surprises that come with every live performance that make you surprise yourself or be taken by surprise by others. We try to keep our live performances pretty informal, loose and fun. It's pretty much every show that someone takes a picture of us and I can look at us and see us smiling or laughing about something that I can't even remember, happened. We were lost in the moment. It wasn't ‘just playing the songs,’ --it's the other surprises and moments that the songs allow to happen both for you and the audience.”

Huber continued, “Since being back at it a bit, everyone is just ready to have fun and there's been no pulling teeth. In terms of songwriting, I assume everyone thinks ‘Oh, you had so much downtime and inspiration from topsy-turvy world events that you were probably inspired to write so many songs!’ I guess I'd say that I wrote "a few" but really it was a difficult time in the moment as it was happening, and it didn't seem like it was my time or turn to write songs. I wrote poetry instead and worked in my shop to keep my hands busy. But music was zapped out of me for a second. That never lasts. It always comes flowing back into you, but I'll admit 2020 was a less-than-music year for me.”

Huber, alongside longtime bandmate Eston Bennett and Kenny Leiser on fiddle and guitar, blew the roof off of the Cooperage with a high-energy set of songs spanning his career.  From the sound of things, the smiles on the audience’s faces and the pure joy emanating from the band, Joseph Huber sounds as grand as ever.  

When asked about what the future holds for Joseph Huber, the prolific songwriter replied, “One thing I’ve definitely learned over the past year plus is let whatever comes your way speak, and let ideas that pop into your head have a fair shake and experiment with them, because they may make sense later way on down the road even if they don't make sense now.”

With the long absence of live music, I think we all, as fans and artists, realize that without tunes there was a piece of our collective souls that was missing. Let's do whatever we can to make sure that live music doesn't go away again. Music is a blessing, plain and simple.

To The Muse of Live Music by William Piper 
(recited as the introduction for Ryan Necci and the Buffalo Gospel @ Piper Patio, 7/10/21)

There is something extraordinarily palpable about live music.

Something primal, 




Something simultaneously whole ……………….and h o l y…. 

Something so powerful it has the ability to make us pound our feet passionately on the pavement, clap our hands until they are red and raw, 

and  high-five joyful strangers with exuberance and reckless abandon 

rejoicing in offkey unison
belting out a catchy refrain.

You see, there is something unique about live music,
Something that forces you to live in the moment…. 

To rejoice in the PRESENT…..that is the present……

and to put aside worries, anxieties, petty-problems, misunderstandings and the tick tock clock of everyday life, if even for just a second…..
for maybe a moment….
perhaps if you are truly blessed and lucky 





for a while………….

perhaps tonight on this hill outside our home….

perhaps by sending your love on an 18 wheeler….
perhaps in a letter to Georgia…

 just  perhaps……

We can rejoice and celebrate together as one people clapping to one universal beat and in doing so we can escape the monotony and rigor of everyday life.

You see, live music is powerful… it’s big… it’s bold… it’s unabashed and raw and honest and RIGHT THERE.  

And that, that, my friends is the blessing and gift of it all… to be here, right here and right now, together, enjoying the beautiful muse that we call music.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Pipes's Picks: Best Music of 2020

While musicians were unable to tour much due to the COVID19 pandemic, a big blessing that came out of 2020 was the plethora of outstanding records.  Here are my favorites of the past twelve months.

1.    Phish Sigma Oasis One can certainly make an argument that Trey Anastasio, the lead guitarist and songwriter of Phish has experienced a resurgence and rejuvenation in his songwriting in recent years.  Ghosts of the Forest, 2019’s complex tribute to his long-time friend Chris Cottrell who passed away from cancer, was an exceptional release worth checking out.  Joining up with the Phish crew of Jon Fishman, Mike Gordon, and Page McConnell, Anastasio and company, dropped Sigma Oasis as a surprise record in early April. Sigma Oasis ranks as one of Phish's finest studio releases, if not their very best record in their over thirty year career, and served as a constant soundtrack to 2020 in so many ways for me. Simply put, Sigma Oasis often tackles the theme of uncertainty with an underlying notion of hope and positivity... a message most needed in this year of years.

There are many stand-out tracks on this nine song record, which clocks in at a little over an hour (a robust release by modern standards).  “Sigma Oasis,” and “Mercury” are both stellar numbers.  The slower ballads, “Shade,” and “A Life Beyond The Dream,” are stripped down, touching and earnest.  However, the highlight of the record is the 12:22 “Everything’s Right,” a song that lyrically encapsulates 2020, as well as providing listeners with the closest Phish has ever gotten to capturing the magic of their live improvisational performance on record.  

Stand out tracks: “Everything’s Right,” “Sigma Oasis,” “Mercury,” “Shade.”

2.    Bonny Light Horsemen- Bonny Light Horsemen

Bonny Light Horsemen was a project that originated at the 2018 Eaux Claires music festival where three folk-aficionados, Eric Johnson (of the Fruit Bats), multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaufman and singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell first connected.  Their aim was to reimagine tunes that are centuries old with a modern realism and relevance.  In their 2020 self-titled release they more than accomplished their mission, adding soaring harmonies and lush arrangements to create a progressive folk masterpiece.  In addition to the record, Bonny Light Horsemen released a series of singles throughout the year, which were also excellent.

Stand out tracks: “Deep in Love,” “Jane, Jane,” “Magpie’s Nest”

3.    Waxahatchee- Saint Cloud

Katie Crutchfield certainly came into her own with Saint Cloud, her fifth record performing as “Waxahatchee.”  Saint Cloud is a record that showcases the singer-songwriter’s beautiful vocal range, intimate lyrics and vivid storytelling.  Simply put, it plays like a gentle summer’s evening, with lots of wonderful allusions to nature and finding joy in the mundanity of everyday life.  Listening to Saint Cloud feels like Cruitchfield is right there with you in the living room, in the car, or wherever the record is played.  There is nothing overly fancy here, and there doesn’t need to be, as sometimes the simplicity of songs is what makes them the most beautiful.

Stand out tracks: “Oxbow,” “Can’t Do Much,” “Lilacs”

4. Field Report- Brake Lights, Red Tide

Field Report songwriter Christopher Porterfield has long been known for creating beautiful, thought-provoking, reflective tunes that are relatable to listeners on so many different levels.  Through similes and imagery that sticks to your soul, Brake Lights, Red Tide is up there with Porterfield’s finest work to date.  Caley Conway’s guitar and backing vocals along with Devin Drobka’s drumming shine throughout the record as well. 

Stand out tracks: “Begin to Begin,” “Breathe,” “Peoria”

5. Fleet Foxes- Shore
On their fourth LP, Fleet Foxes’s principal songwriter, Robin Pecknold, delivers perhaps the band’s most consistent records of their career, ranking up there with their self-titled debut LP release from over a decade ago.  This is a beautiful record, front-to-back, which deserves being listened to as a whole piece with the headphones on and a tasty beverage in hand.  Excellent production and sound layering make this record an instant classic which delivers new surprises with each listen.

Stand out tracks: “Sunblind,” “Can I Believe You,” “Jara,”

6. Jeff Tweedy- Love Is King
Jeff Tweedy is perhaps the Godfather of "Dad Rock" these days. The Wilco frontman has been busy with his solo work, and on his fourth solo effort, was joined by his sons Spencer and Sammy to craft a defining "shut in at home" record. There is a beauty and simplicity to Tweedy's songwriting, and his message on this record is all about the need and importance of human connection. I would love nothing more than to see Wilco extend some of these tunes live when shows hopefully return. Stand out tracks: "Gwendolyn," "Love Is King," "Guess Again"

7. Khruangbin- Mordechai
The term Khruangbin translates to "flying engine" in Thai, and is as apt a descriptor as anything for the Houston-based funk-soul-psychadelic trio. Khruanbin has been quite prolific in recent years, releasing a steady stream of records which continue to push the trio's sound in a variety of directions. The trippy, funky, and feel-good vibes of their latest release, Mordechai were a welcome groove and distraction to this crazy year. In many ways Khruangbin is to 2020 as Jamiroquai was to the mid 1990's... feel-good, heavy groove driven music that seems to be in its own eternal time warp. This is a band that will soar to new heights on the national and festival scene once live shows return.

Stand out tracks: "Time (You and I)," "So We Won't Forget," "Pelota"

8.    Sylvan Esso- Free Love

Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn have certainly become a power couple of sorts in the indie music scene.  The eclectic duo continue to innovate and reimagine their sound mixing Sanborn’s beats with Meath’s ethereal voice and lyrics.  There is something refreshingly tangible about the ten songs on Free Love that make the record both incredibly intimate and accessible.  Once again, upbeat tunes win on this record, which is impossible to sit still while enjoying.

Stand out tracks: “Ring,” “Ferris Wheel,” “Rooftop Dancing”

Sturgill Simpson- Cutting Grass Vol. 1 and 2

What do you do when you’ve become a national headlining outlaw country star?  If your name is Sturgill Simpson, why not reimagine your work in bluegrass form. As a fan of the bluegrass genre and Simpson as a songwriter, listeners are in for a real smile and treat hearing the re-workings of many of these tunes.  What is especially compelling about these two records is both the arrangements as well as the focus on Simpson’s lyrics and storytelling. This music makes you feel like Simpson and his all-star crew are sitting on your back porch picking away.

Stand out tracks: “I Don’t Mind,” “Old King Coal,” “Brace for the Impact (Live A Little),”

10. Phoebe Bridgers- Punisher
For a twenty-five year old songwriter, Phoebe Bridgers has made quite a splash.  Coming off of last year’s phenomenal Better Oblivion Community Center record, my favorite of the year, with fellow songsmith Connor Oberst, Bridgers returned with a career defining effort.  Punisher sees Bridgers emerging as a songwriter well-beyond her years.  Her songs have a raw and inviting feel to them and her storytelling is clever, introspective, and insightful. "I Know the End," might be one of the most perfect anthems of 2020.

Stand out tracks: “Garden Song,” “Kyoto,” “I Know The End”

11. Dehd- Flower of Devotion
The Chicago trio "Dehd," may be one of the best finds of 2020.  The group's palpable energy comes through on their third LP release, Flower of Devotion, with wonderful pop-rock sensibilities, wonder and joy.  This is a band that you can envision having a great time on stage together as you listen to the interplay of Emily Kempf, Jason Balla and drummer Eric McGrady.  Dehd's ear-worming melodies burrow deep and get stuck in your head quickly.

Stand out tracks: "Haha," "Loner," "Nobody"

12. My Morning Jacket- The Waterfall II
Listening to The Waterfall II is a surefire recipe for any music lover to groan and lament how we miss seeing live tunes this year. "Wasted," with guitarist Carl Brommel's expert shredding is a prime example of what we all love about the Jacket. Jim James and company returned with an album on par with any of their more recent work, the well-produced and diverse Waterfall II. Like many records on this list, there is a certain amount of poignant reflection that comes through on this record and across the range of tunes on it.

Stand out tracks: "Spinning My Wheels," "Run It," "Wasted."

Notable EP Releases:
  • Dead Horses- Birds Few artists can tell a story with more earnestness and warmth than Dead Horses's Sarah Vos. Vos and her collaborator, Daniel Wolfe, continue to hone their craft with their latest EP "Birds." Be sure to check out the tunes "Family Tapes," and "Birds Can Write the Chorus," both of which are stellar recent tracks.

  • Kurt Vile- Speed, Sound, Lonely KV (ep) Philadelphia's Americana troubadour, Kurt Vile, released a beautifully and apt titled EP Speed, Sound, Lonely KV, which clearly channeled quarantine feelings. In many ways, Vile's muse, the late, great John Prine's spirit is alive and well on this collection of tunes. The highlight, "How Lucky," a duet with Prine himself, emerges as a timeless and loving tale of two amazingly prolific songwriters. Vile's own "Speed of the Sound of Loneliness" is one of his finer compositions as well.
For a sample of all of the music featured on this list, along with a lot of other notable music from 2020, please check out my "Pipes's Picks Best of 2020" playlist on Spotify:

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

COVID19 MKE House Show Round-Up: Staying Connected and Creative During Crazy Times

The COVID19 Pandemic has had a tremendous impact on society and culture here in Milwaukee, across the country, and around the world. With live in-person concerts on hold, for now, artists who make a living by touring are coming up with innovative and creative ways to host shows and connect with their fan bases while being hunkered down inside of their own homes. The art of the virtual house show has quickly emerged as a popular format for artists to share their music with fans, and also a great way for some of our top independent musicians to hopefully earn tips, as many of their tours have been canceled or postponed. Call it virtual busking, COVID Couch Tour, or what you will, we want to applaud some of our finest Milwaukee performers for their efforts to keep spirits up and music flowing during these difficult times.

Joseph Huber: Joseph Huber has long been touted as a Milwaukee treasure with his earnest storytelling and grippingly sincere songwriting. While busting on the scene as a young person in the mid-2000's as a founding member of .357 String Band, Huber has made a great go of it as a solo artist and has been touring around the midwest and beyond steadily for the past decade.  Huber was slated to be touring across the country this spring in support of his most recent record, 2019's, Moondog. However, due to COVID19, he's been off the open road and holed up in his Riverwest abode.  Does that stop Huber from sharing his tunes, giving passionate performances and working on a new record? Of course not!  One of Milwaukee's first artists to jump on the Facebook Live platform for performing during the "safer at home" movement, Huber pulled off an epic and seemingly insane four-hour live set on March 23rd. Let's remember this is Joe performing solo as a singer-guitarist-harmonica player, without any sort of band accompaniment either.  Huber's set spanned his career of tunes from vintage .357 String Band cuts to brand new numbers, to old tunes reimagined, and recent solo works as well.  Pepper in a few covers from the likes of Van Morrison and Jackson Browne, and you have yourself the mother of all quarantine house shows. If it wasn't for Facebook Live cutting him off at four hours, one might reckon that Joe would have gone even longer. This show was amazing to experience live and worth a revisit on Joe's Facebook page.

Virtual Tip Jar: Venmo @Joseph-Huber-12 or PayPal at 

While Joseph Huber's solo work is always noteworthy and worth recognition, Huber recently joined forces with Jayke Orvis who also was a staple in the .357 String Band for an hour plus "street grass" revival show. The smiles on the artists' faces while trying to physically distance themselves were priceless.  This impromptu performance had over 600 viewers tuning in for their live set which started at 5:00 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon...  a great testament to fans still hungry for vintage .357 jams.
Virtual Tip Jar: PayPal at

Trapper Schoepp:
Trapper Schoepp has emerged in recent years as one of Milwaukee's most prolific songwriters and infectiously energetic performers.  Schoepp's passion for his home city and state is evident in everything from "On, Wisconsin" (a song he penned with recovered lyrics from the great Bob Dylan) to his homage to fun with his 2017 "Bay Beach Amusement Park" release.  Schoepp is proud of his Wisconsin roots and often references his home state and experiences, traveling through it and away from it, as regular fodder for his tunes.  Trapper Schoepp along with his brother Tanner recently took their show to the interwebs and performed a classic take of their song "Tracks" from their 2012 debut record.

To support Trapper Schoepp and his band, please consider checking out his Kickstarter Page: or
Virtual tip jar: Venmo @trapperschoepp; PayPal-

Ryan Necci of Buffalo Gospel:
Ryan Necci might have the best voice of any singer-songwriter to come out of Milwaukee recently. Folks that have had the pleasure of seeing Necci perform with his band, Buffalo Gospel, know how Ryan can belt out introspective vocals like none other.  Necci and his wife have recently relocated to Nashville, but still, make it a regular practice of performing concerts in Wisconsin with new and old friends in attendance. Few can howl better than Necci and even fewer can connect lyrically on so many different levels. In a recent virtual living room show, Necci performed a two-hour set showcasing the breadth and evolution of his songwriting over the past decade.

Virtual Tip Jar: Paypal - Venmo -

Ernest Brusabardis IV and Jordan Kroger of Chickenwire Empire:
Milwaukee's bluegrass juggernauts, Chicken Wire Empire, continue to stay busy and connected during these challenging times, with Sunday shows performed by Ernie and Jordan. What's fun about this particular performance is that you have Ernie (who normally plays fiddle) on mandolin and Jordan (who normally plays upright bass) on guitar. The duo does a splendid job of covering veteran bluesman Taj Mahal's "Loving in my Baby's Arms,"  and keep their upbeat nature and joy for performing for others palpable amid the social distancing.

Virtual Tip Jar: PayPal: