Pictures and words by Duane Clawson
Sometimes in life, things happen that are totally unexpected and just when I think no one sees what I write, I am reminded how far these words travel. After a small mention of the St. Louis band Pretty Little Empire in my Ume article, I was contacted through Facebook by Ryan Albritton. Ryan has recorded Pretty Little Empire at his studio, R&R Music Labs in St. Louis. He asked about the background of Music Taster’s Choice (MTC) and the conversation worked it’s self into the possibility of MTC covering an upcoming show. The upcoming show was Last to Show First to Go’s (LTSFTG) upcoming EP release party at the Sheldon Concert Hall Ballroom. So when all was said and done, what started out as a simple concert review turned into interviews, an album review, and concert coverage. With all of this going on, I will attempt to put it all into some sort of chronological order. I’ll get it all started with a little bit of the history surrounding the formation of LTSFTG.
The band was formed out of two groups of musicians; the first group consisting of Jay Lewis (Upright Bass/Cello), Phil Valko (Percussion/Vocals), and Miriam Keller (Trumpet/Vocals) who all played in jazz combos and different bands while attending college. Bredon Jones (Rhythm Guitar/Lead Vocals) and Mikey Naucas (Lead Guitar/Vocals/Harmonica/Trumpet/Keyboards) are long time collaborators and complete the second group of musicians. The band was officially formed in 2007 and in 2010, Jay and Phil were reunited by fate around the same time LTSFTG was in the market for a bass player. Jay relayed that after his audition for the bass player spot he left his bass amp at the audition so the band had no choice but to invite him back. Jay told me via email that Bredon and Mikey come up with the bones of the band’s songs. The rest of the band builds it out and workshops it from there. Miriam writes the band’s horn arrangements while Mikey is also considered a co-writer of the horn parts. Jay goes on to explain some of the bands influences include Tom Petty, Beck, and Wilco.
LTSFTG’s The Farmer John EP is a follow up to Short Cuts, which was released in 2010. I asked the band about how they settled on a name for this EP. Bredon Jones stated that the song “Farmer John” originally titled “Farmer John the Alchemist” was the ideological core of the album and knew it was going to be the first song on the EP. Bredon goes on to explain the title in more detail, “as someone who builds my moral belief structure from the ground up - literally, from the land, the earth, up - it makes the most sense to start with the one that addresses our culture's treatment of the land and our earthly resources”. The EP leads off with “Cracks”, a song which begins with the trumpet stylings of Miriam Keller and after a small lead break we are introduced to the somewhat plain but somehow enchanting vocals of Bredon Jones. The smooth flow of “Cracks” is the perfect introduction to LTSFTG’s sound and Bredon’s thinking-man lyrics. The second track, “Far Be It”, demonstrates the band’s diversity from the beginning with a muted horn, Spanish guitar, finger-plucked bass, and Pink Floyd-inspired percussion produced with circular saw blades. Somewhere around the 3 minute and 30-second mark, Jay Lewis demonstrates his talents with a finger plucked breakdown on the stand up bass. Cut number three, “Dirt”, is a man’s quest to find some dirt in the city but to no avail. Mikey shows a flash of his guitar playing ability with some great slide work near the end of this tune. Track four, the title track, “Farmer John”, leads off with Miriam and Mikey on twin trumpets. The tone is reminiscent of the horns heard on Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”, but Mikey and Miriam produce a sound that is clearly LTSFTG. The fifth track, ”Worked Like a Charm”, begins with the earthiness of a vintage of Neil Young song. With its slow moving acoustic guitar and harmonica one’s mind could be transported to a summer evening spent on an old friend’s front porch in Middle America. The EP closes with “Short Cuts”, where Jay Lewis shows off his chops on the cello at the onset of this song. As “Short Cuts” builds from Jay’s cello and Bredon’s soft vocals, each band member has a chance to shine. Phil Valko finally gets a chance to show his prowess behind the drum kit by providing a solid marching beat around the midway point of this number. The Farmer John EP is top notch listening music. Throughout this review I listened to each track repeatedly. Each time I found a little musical nugget I had missed; and that to me this is what listening to music is all about. Bands put it out there, it’s your job to find it. Before I close this portion of the review I have to mention the work of Ryan Albritton and Ryan Lewis, co-owners of R&R Music Labs. The Ryans do a great job capturing and bringing life to each member of this band. Their tireless effort to promote St. Louis area musicians through the STL Loud project is just what this city needs. Thanks for all you do.
Onward to December 9th, I finally got the chance to meet Ryan and some the band at The Farmer John EP release party held the Sheldon Concert Hall Ballroom in St. Louis. As most everyone knows, I have only been writing and photographing for MTC since April. Every now and then, as a lover of music in general, I step back and tell myself ‘I get to do some cool shit’. This EP release party fell into the cool shit category. To see the show of support for local musicians and to see how proud the band was to show off their recently completed works was almost enough to put a lump in ones throat. When I first entered the ballroom I almost immediately found Ryan A. by a table which displayed all three of the STL Loud albums and releases by all three bands on the evening’s bill. The rolling sounds of Treehouse started off the evening’s festivities but, unfortunately, as with most opening bands the sound wasn’t quite as dialed in as it should have been which in turn detracted a bit from their sound. I would really like to catch this band under different circumstances and hopefully I’ll get the chance review one of their shows in the future. The second band to take the stage at the Sheldon was Jump Starts. Almost instantly I recognized a familiar face, Justin Johnson of Pretty Little Empire. Justin has teamed up with Sarah Ross on drums to provide St. Louis with less abrasive version of the White Stripes. Justin’s Roy Orbisonesqe voice pairs nicely with Sarah’s backing vocal talents. Jump Starts did a great job of putting an air of anticipation in the room and prepping the audience for LTSFTG.
Around tenish, LTSFTG took the stage for their moment in the sun. With a near-capacity audience giving support with a warm reception, the band launched into “Cracks” which also happens to be the first song on the EP. Second on the band’s extensive setlist was one of my personal faves from Farmer John, “Far Be It”. Songs three and four “Fears of All” and “Running in the Rain” are tracks from the 2010 release Short Cuts. The band’s fifth choice was a brand new song, “Subtle Blend”, which should be featured on LTSFTG’s next recording. The sixth song was a cover of Andrew Bird’s “A Nervous Tic of the Head to the Left”. I was not familiar with any of Andrew Bird’s music, so a thank you to LTSFTG for introducing me to his music. Song seven in the set, “Dirt” from the EP, started off with Bredon entertaining the concert attendees with the story of how the song came to be. Another new tune “Everything’s Fine, America” found its way into the eighth spot on the setlist. Bredon said this song will also find its way onto the band’s next project. It should also be noted this was the first time this song was played live. Number nine, my favorite song from the EP “Worked Like a Charm”, had some members of the audience slow dancing in far off corners of the Sheldon Ballroom. Song ten, a cover of Cake’s “Sheep Go to Heaven” brought life back to room with its rousing sing-a-long chorus. The band wound down the night with “Now We Are Drowning”, the third new song of night, followed by “Farmer John” and “Short Cuts”. LTSFTG left the stage to a great round of applause for their solid efforts. LTSFTG did a very good job of reproducing all of the songs on the EP. Both cover songs chosen for the evening were excellent choices. The band took these songs and really made them their own. Finished, finally, this article was truly a labor of love, a love of the music, and a love of what I do. Thanks a bunch to Ryan Albritton for making all of this possible and to the members of LTSFTG for their input, emails, and making darn fine music. Photos of the show are below:
Last to Show First to Go
Contributed by Duane Clawson