(In a show of empathy, this edition of The Hum is dedicated to new/returning college students. The rest of you are welcome to listen in -- think of it like auditing a class -- but try to keep it down. Word.)
Sorry, kids. HSU is back in session this week. The sunless end-of-summer/new semester soul suck is here. If this will be your first season with us here in Humboldt, I'll try not to sugarcoat it for ya: It will get colder. It will get wetter. Time itself will lose footraces to Arcata Community Forest banana slugs. You're here. Settle in for the haul.
OK, that was the overdramatized bad news. Now for student happy-making. There will be music.
HSU does a pretty good job of booking elite sound makers to take your mind off Humboldt's frequent gloom. For example, AS/CenterArts highlights of this coming semester include new electrofunk pathfinders Chromeo, singer/songwriter hero Mason Jennings, alt rock pioneers They Might Be Giants, blues inventor Buddy Guy, and some pothead named Willie Nelson. So there. While the bottom portion of your pant legs will be consistently puddle-drenched, your ears can be constantly sound-drenched.
This week is no exception. The Depot is likely to be as soulful as it's ever been this coming Wednesday when Charles Bradley turns it into his sanctuary and its attendees into his congregation.
Bradley is one of the more prominent artists signed to Daptone Records -- a label that has taken it upon itself to convincingly steward a revival of the soul music styles of the late '60s and early '70s. While he may be new to the national ears, Bradley is no youngster taking some retro style out for a test drive. Like his more celebrated label-mate, Dap-Kings queen Sharon Jones, Bradley took a long road to fame -- longer than Jones even. He dropped his critically acclaimed major-label debut, No Time For Dreaming, in January, at age 62.
Raised poor on the streets of Brooklyn, Bradley was inspired by soul music at an early age when his sister took him to see James Brown live at The Apollo. But it would be another 40 years before he found his voice.
After working as a chef in California for most his adult life -- only taking occasional musical gigs on the side -- Bradley returned to New York at age 51 and started performing under a James Brown-ish persona dubbed “Black Velvet.” He worked as a handyman during the day, which allowed him flexibility for his music career.
But just as things were looking up, tradgedy. Bradley’s brother was shot and killed in Brooklyn -- an experience addressed in Dreaming’s final track, “Heartaches and Pain.”
Persevering through the setbacks, Bradley’s Black Velvet alter ego caught the attention of Daptone founder Gabriel Roth. Roth introduced the singer to members of the Dap-Kings, who in turn encouraged him to write his own material. Eventually, Dreaming came to fruition, featuring Bradley backed by various members of other Daptone groups.
The results can leave a listener confused. Bradley’s pained yelps and the attention-to-detail reproduction of a Stax-y soul sound might make one assume that they are listening to an undiscovered early-’70s relic rather than an album that's less than a year old. The songs predominantly feature less frenetic arrangements than one might associate with James Brown -- perhaps Otis Redding’s sound is a more apt comparison.
In short, this is healthy soul food. Eat.
HSU students will have another chance to have their school day brightened by ‘70s-rooted sounds this week when local Tom Petty crusaders Full Moon Fever break down The Quad Friday at noon.
Other than that, the week’s remaining aural action happens off campus. Students, there is no shortage of venues vying for your feet this week with "Back to School”-themed dance/music nights. On Thursday the Jambalaya has Accurate Productions, and Friday at the Red Fox Tavern you'll find DJ Dub Cowboy, SambAmore, Children of the Sun, C-Baker and Area Sound.
In a similar vein at the ATL Friday, World Famous Productions is putting on an electronic music ‘splosion -- as they’re known to do -- featuring SoCal producer/glitch hop peddler/West Coast crunk distributor Stephan Jacobs headlining with Gladkill, +verb and Hypha making sure you get your money's worth.
The rhythms flow farther into the weekend when HumBrews opens its dancefloor for the more organically produced sounds of Dumpstaphunk. The group is fronted by Ivan Neville -- son of Aaron -- and propels a New Orleans-style funk/r&b sound that’s heavy on extended jams and musicianship. They’ll be joined by local soul-smiths The Speakeasy Saints.
Did you know that we’re deep into the Journal’s Best Of vote-a-palooza? I’ll mention that local Americana curators The Trouble were the first group I saw wisely hitting up their Facebook faithful for “Best Band” votes. Don’t know if they deserve your favor? Check them out at the Eureka Inn’s Palm Lounge on Saturday Night.
Another strong “Best Band” contender, bionic string band Absynth Quintet have mostly taken the summer off from performing locally. They’ll attempt to recapture your allegiance Friday night at HumBrews. If you’re a student who’s going to be here a few years, I suggest getting acquainted with both that band and that venue.
Sometimes, kids, the magnetic pull and promise of SoHum is too much to resist a drive down the 101. And there’s actually more than the average amount of activity southward this week. Local musical philanthropists NPK are releasing their latest album, curiously a collection of children’s songs titled Songs For Silly Geese. Their CD release party takes place Saturday night at Persimmons Garden Gallery.
From delighting kids to satiating boomers. House of Floyd returns to Humboldt -- lasers and all -- to make you forget that time you could have seen the real Floyd but didn’t have any money and then that thing came up. Oh wait, we’re talking to current college students. Uh. Ask your dad about Pink Floyd. He loved them. Give House of Floyd your money, they’ll give you their “Money.” Everyone walks away happy Saturday at the Mateel Community Center.
So much jazz! If you’re trying impress that classy girl in your psychology class, get dressed up and take the trip south to the Benbow Inn. They’re wrapping up their summer jazz series with -- roll call! -- pianist Randy Porter on Thursday, saxaphonist Francis Vanek on Friday, Sam Maez Quartet on Saturday and/or vocalist Lisa Baney on Sunday. Get a room. Student loans are free money.
Wrapping up our SoHum rundown, strikingly beautiful 25-year-old British female blues guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor clearly has enough inherent gimmickry just being herself to make it in the biz. But can she cut heads? This YouTube video I'm watchin' tells me she can. And she’ll do it Friday night at the Riverwood Inn.
Finally, in the coming months, students, you may notice more name hip-hop artists dropping into Humboldt than seems appropriate -- specially 'round October. Figure it out. An exception to that rule is clean-livin’, revolution-espousing Humboldt regulars Dead Prez who return to drop wisdom on Jambalaya Friday.
If there is any show this week that should count for extra credit it’s this one. Between beats and rhymes, don’t be surprised if you get a tough lecture on how to better yourself. At the last Dead Prez show I attended some doofus near the front made a comment about how the music was “straight gangsta.” Without missing a beat, group member stic.man without responded, “You know what’s ‘gangsta’? Takin’ care of yo’ kids.” Write that down.
Welcome to Humboldt, students. Day or night, class is in session.