Indianapolis’s Locals Only Art & Music Pub, located at 2449 E. 56th St., half a block east of the intersection of 56th and Keystone Avenue, is one of the Circle City’s most outstanding original music venues, and its noted open mics are active incubators of that music. All three of the CDs reviewed below have strong ties to those open mics.
Johnny Ping, creative force behind the Accidental Arrangements, used to host the Tuesday night open mics, while Jethro Easyfields has long hosted the one on Wednesday nights. Simeon Pillar, Muncie singer/songwriter and musical collaborator with Easyfields, has been playing at the Locals Only open mics for three years now.
The Accidental Arrangements
Johnny Ping has assembled a most unusual band here for Retox Blues, a band while it features Ping on guitar and vocals and Richard Jordan on drums, standard band personnel so far, incorporates for the rest of the instrumentation Ben Vokits playing tuba for the bass underpinning; Shawna Ping, flute throughout and co-vocals on one track; and John Jett on alto sax. Scott Kern guests on additional guitar.
"“Retox,” as used by Ping, means to get intoxicated again, intoxicated by creativity and getting high on life, music, love and artistry."
“Retox,” as used by Ping, means to get intoxicated again, intoxicated by creativity and getting high on life, music, love and artistry. Retox Blues is a 19-track collage of spoken-word-combined-with-sound bits, poetry and original music that unfolds and develops thematically, in an appropriately 1960s exploration that is excitingly different, yet never overdone or uneven. It holds the listener’s attention for the full 44 minutes and 52 seconds of play.
Yours Truly even comes to 24 seconds of recorded fame here, giving his introduction to his recitation of original poetry he did at one of Johnny Ping’s Tuesday open mics, where I pointedly ask the audience, “Are you still sober?”
Retox Blues actively mixes these little word-and-sound blips with seven original Johnny Ping songs, one instrumental, three poems, a “dictionary definition” of “retox,” the “Final Departure” introduction of the band, and one other original song, “Two Toned Socks,” from Brad Odom. Track 17, “Final Departure” and track 10, “Don’t Mind” sound as though they may have been recorded live.
This is a thematic CD, with the idea of retox, defined one way by Ping as “to make wild with excitement and happiness,” an integral thread running through the whole. Thematically, Retox Blues concentrates on the search for authenticity as intertwined loosely with another theme, that of the musician’s life in producing entertainment and working in music clubs. All this involves, naturally, retox.
This notion of retox is incorporated into two of Ping’s poems here, “D.M.W.” on track 13 and “The Final Arrangement” on track 15, where the notion of world peace is not only linked to retox, but also to a 60-cycle amplifier hum. Another political notion advanced is the mild dig at Indiana’s Gov. Mitch Daniels, on track 12, which is preceded by the following dialogue on track 11: “Do you follow politics?” “Are you intoxicated?”
A well-done, compelling CD is Retox Blues, one that does what art should do -- edify, enlighten and move us to reflection, while also entertaining us.
Retox Blues, which can be ordered by e-mailing Johnny Ping at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jethro Easyfields & the Arrowheads
My Shadow Records
Jethro Easyfield’s Elixir, follow-up to his Bookends of the Soul CD (reviewed in “Blues and More” Sept. 7, 2008), continues on positively with more of his original songwriting expressed musically through folk-rock, things he does well indeed. For this CD he has assembled a band, the Arrowheads, consisting of Easyfields on lead vocals, guitar, harmonica in a neck rack, and keyboards; Scott Kern, backing vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, and banjo; Dave Dubrava, drums; Cory Davies, electric and upright basses; Matt Stokes, piano and organ; and a number of guest Arrowheads on backing vocals, including Chelsea the Basset hound howling on “Suffer”!
"Easyfields is a master within his chosen folk-rock idiom, both as a singer/musician and as a songwriter."
Elixir is a solid showcase of Easyfield’s Dylanesque songwriting abilities, and his mastery of the folk-rock musical idiom. And while he does remind one of Dylan, especially with his acoustic guitar riffing and his neck-rack harmonica playing, he is no Dylan clone, but solidly his own, originally creative man.
All 12 of the songs on Elixir are originals, seven written by Easyfields himself, one, “I Shall Win,” co-written with Simeon Pillar, and four, “Jesse Died” (a poignant song of suicide), “You and Yer Boy,” “Full as a Catalog” and “Deer in the Cemetery,” co-written with Owen Neighbours. These are all compellingly diverse songs, and while most are up-tempo, “Open Cages” is a slow ballad, while “Deer in the Cemetery” is a seven-minute spoken-word surrealistic tale recited over a musical backdrop.
Easyfields is a master within his chosen folk-rock idiom, both as a singer/musician and as a songwriter. One of Indianapolis’s best musical artists, he deserves more than what he gets locally.
Elixir can be ordered by e-mailing Easyfields at email@example.com.
Help Has Arrived
Another Dylanesque singer/songwriter is Simeon Pillar whose first CD, Help Has Arrived, consists of 10 Pillar originals and two originals co-written with his friend and collaborator, Jethro Easyfields. One of these co-written songs, “Beyond Suspicion,” track 4 on Pillar’s CD, is the same track that appears as the opening track on Easyfields’s Bookends of the Soul. Pillar also uses some of the musicians that appear on Elixir: Easyfields on keyboards, Dave Dubrava on drums, and Scott Kern on guitar, bass, banjo and mandolin, while he himself does lead vocals and plays acoustic guitar.
"Pillar is a promising artist/songwriter indeed."
Pillar is another one of those solid, creative songwriters that are becoming somewhat common in the Central Indiana area, with most original content gracing “Anxious for a Wednesday,” “I Won’t Beg” “2nd Finger” and “99th Percentile.” “Words Will Fail You” is a poignant song about songwriting, and how it is the same as being faithful to a prostitute, while the highly ironic “In a Town with a Goodlookin’ Mayor” refers to the new mayor of his hometown Muncie. As Pillar related to me, when this attractive female mayor heard the song, she invited him to come and chat with her in her office, and they discussed songwriting and music at length. Which truly makes her stand out among politicians!
Pillar is a promising artist/songwriter indeed.
Help Has Arrived can be ordered by e-mailing Pillar at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have used the term “Dylanesque” to describe the work of both Easyfields and Pillar, although Bob Dylan is only a seminal influence, not a template, for both these artists. They are by no means simply content to copy from this True Master of Folk-Rock.
What I mean by “Dylanesque” here is that both Easyfields and Pillar share with Bob Dylan a knack for expressions that is brittle, direct and frequently surrealistic; but, in the case of Easyfields and Pillar, lacking in the often arcane imagery that characterize many of Dylan’s songs. And, of course, Dylan, especially in his more country vein, played a soft folk-rock, a musical approach that both Easyfields and Pillar not only do, but also do quite well.
Too bad Indianapolis and Central Indiana musicians are not more adept at marketing their wares, for in Ping, Easyfields and Pillar, to name just three, Indianapolis songwriters have not only found their forte, they have shown a mastery of it that truly deserves to be heard beyond the parochial confines of Indiana.
George Fish can be reached at email@example.com.