Chyna Brackeen, the organizer of this weekend's Dogwood Arts Rhythm n' Blooms Music Festival, is a self-described workaholic. She runs Attack Monkey Productions, a constantly evolving entertainment company that does everything from artist management to booking tours, and is also responsible for booking live music at the Knoxville Botanical Gardens. This year's Rhythm n' Blooms, which takes place at the gardens and a variety of other downtown venues, features New York's Felice Brothers and a reunion of Robinella and the CC String Band, as well as performances from more than a dozen other artists.
Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside
Dirty Radio (Partisan, 2011)
Sallie sounds like what you'd get if you crossed Ella Fitzgerald with the Clash. She has this retro neo-soul quality to her voice, and she and the band dive into high-energy rock that reflects both their Portland indie hipster roots as well as old-school punk. Their lyrics are smart and funny, a little bit dirty sometimes, at one moment making a reference to classic literature and the next a commentary on pop culture. They look like one of the nerdiest bands ever, but they get up on stage and absolutely kill. They are one of the few repeat acts at Rhythm n' Blooms this year and I'd absolutely call them a must-see.
Cure for Pain (Rykodisc, 1993)
Listening to it again makes me realize what a genius Mark Sandman was. He died in '99 and the musical landscape lost an incredible visionary. Morphine was essentially an amped-up, bluesy, mutated jazz trio on steroids—saxophone, slide bass, and drums backing Sandman's deliciously dark vocals. This sounds exactly like music by a band named Morphine should—deep, languid, pulsating, lush, raw and dangerous.
Le Pop (Nettwerk Records, 2010)
I first heard Katzenjammer at Bonnaroo a couple of years ago. They are this gorgeous Norwegian female quartet, and their live performance is like a circus—pure fun, lots of colorful dresses with crinolines, instruments being traded around the stage at the speed of light. They each seem to play about a dozen different instruments, and their vocal harmonies are spot on. I bought Le Pop almost immediately after the festival and it has been a mainstay in my collection since then. It's the best kind of energetic pop, mixed with more traditional European folk styles. You really just can't keep from smiling and dancing when you hear it.
Be Set Free (Kemado)
I'm a little late to the Langhorne train. I'd heard about him for a couple of years, but hadn't listened to much of his music when I booked him for a show at the Square Room last month. After that show I was completely hooked. The music is about love in all of its forms—good, bad, unrequited, ugly. It's passionate and heartfelt and witty, and the songs take hold of your soul and rattle around in your head long after you stop listening to the album.
When the Devil's Loose (Fat Possum, 2009)
Haunting, poetic, and mesmerizing—Bondy's voice has this raw element that grabs you and makes you feel his pain. The album is sparse and intensely intimate, with fantastic songwriting and symbolism. There's a melancholy feel to it, and the deliberate pacing leaves you with a sense of moodiness that can't quite be shaken. It's a lovely album, with songs so beautiful that it might be easy to overlook the vulnerability behind them—but the more you listen, the more you truly appreciate how well crafted they are.