Arts DEVO: Local music for your pandemic blues

Scout - Transitioning

Arts DEVO loves to hear himself talk about music, so a prompt is hardly necessary to get me going. But if you ask …

Friend and co-worker CN&R writer Ashiah Scharaga posted a query to social media last week: “What ART/MUSIC has helped you get through this pandemic? My soul needs nurturing today.” Plus, an addendum: “Bonus points for references to locals. We gotta get through this together. [heart emoji]”

I held off answering until I had some room to write, and all I have to say is that I’m totally going to win those bonus points, because, not surprisingly, there are some brand-new local jams now available for soul-nurturing, my friend:

Transitioning, Scout
It is no secret to regular readers of this column that I am a huge fan of the recordings put out by the local artist known as Scout over the last five years, but the new album released last month? Daaang!

Transitioning is the title, and in the online description Scout explains its significance: “This album was recorded throughout the beginning of my Transgender Hormone Replacement Therapy. Here you can hear my voice shifting all the way from my first shot of testosterone (track #1) to the end of my first year (track #10). I hope you find a bop!”

The musical approach is familiar Scout—electronic-based slow jams and mellow dance-pop. And it’s as engaging as ever, with the transitioning voice playing across tightly constructed indie-rock/hip-hop/chillwave-informed songs. My personal “bop” is definitely “Not My Job,” with its sneaky infectious groove, insistent bassy synth riffs, multiple guitar flourishes coming and going, and lyrics addressing the often futile act of trying to open a closed mind, with repeated refrains of “What’s the point of talking to you” and “I’m not wasting my words anymore.”

The album is a brave, intimate and intense work, and following the artist’s road map—from the mesmerizing floating alto vocals of track two (the moody “Shivers,” which could be placed next to anything Billie Eilish has released) to the soulful character of Scout’s new voice in the closing tracks—is a journey I feel grateful for being asked to join. Download this piece of art today.

Anywhere You Take Me, The Bidwells
I’d bet no one has kept as busy making music during shelter-in-place as Ben Ruttenburg and Samantha Francis have. In addition to releasing their album, Anywhere You Take Me, last week and creating a super-fun lyric video for the song “The Mess,” the duo known as The Bidwells has been one of the busier livestreaming acts in town during the quarantine (Wednesdays on Facebook—next show: May 20, 7-9 p.m.).

Pre-pandemic, The Bidwells’ two big voices were everywhere—in clubs, lounges and coffee shops as a harmony-driven duo, sometimes joined by a full backing band. And for their debut album, Ruttenburg and Francis brought in a whole crew of local ringers—Joshua Hegg (keys), Ethan Swett (bass, cello, percussion), Madison DeSantis (drums), Kevin Briggs (mandolin) and Bart Budwig (trumpet).

The 14-track album of original songs features an impressive variety of styles and tempos. It opens with the lovestruck almost Dixieland-ish “Able” and closes with a sweet-and-smokey piano-jazz throwback, “Hold Every Little Part.” But my favorites right now are probably a couple of rollicking honky-tonks—“Suitcase and a Carry-On” and “Harriet,” the latter showcasing Francis’ expressive/impressive pipes.

And that video for “The Mess” is the perfect introduction to The Bidwells—their chemistry and their signature vocal harmonies. Ruttenburg says that they had other plans in motion, but the state mandate forced them to change their approach. The result is an intimate portrait of the adorable couple sheltering in place, with the sweet lyrics of the song placed around the house in creative ways: “What’s yet to come I won’t even guess/But you can’t have a party/If you’re worried about the mess.” It’s pretty irresistible.

For info on how to purchase a download or CD of Anywhere You Take Me, visit the band’s website.

The Hooker Oaks EP
It’s another local band named for a local icon! The Hooker Oaks act is actually one person, longtime local player and friend to many Ken Lovgren (of Ant Farm, Fang of Gore and Death Star fame).

This home-recorded project features Lovgren on vocals and every instrument for six jangly indie-pop throwbacks that bring to mind everything from the early 1980s New Zealand sound to the cleaner side of the Velvet Underground. The latter is especially evoked on my favorite track, EP closer “Some Direction,” which strolls along with mid-tempo acoustic strums and sparkly, stark-and-clean leads as the narrator ponders the unknown path ahead: “I’m looking for some direction.”

It is a beautifully crafted recording, with sweet-and-sad lyrics, inventive melodies and ridiculously great tone—reverb-soaked guitar chords and playful and perfectly place muted bass notes—from a veteran of the Chico scene. Download from The Hooker Oaks Bandcamp page (all proceeds donated to Animal Legal Defense Fund).

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1 Comment

  1. It does my heart good to see the News and Review writing about local recordings. For a long time, there was a feature in the News & Review highlighting a new CD review every week. That feature was dropped … but, Jason did keep at least mentioning local recordings every once in a while. I found this to be a very satisfying read, and I do hope you continue to feature new recordings EVERY week once again. As Jason points out: The quality of local recordings from our home town has always been impressive. Many of the home-created projects are every bit as good as the nationally celebrated releases. THANK you Jason. I’m going to listen to all of these.

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