Has any local label been busier lately than Makeshift Music? The collective-oriented local indie-rock label, founded almost four years ago by Josh Hicks and Snowglobe's Brad Postlethwaite, has been coming into its own in recent months. Last year saw the release of the label's third and maybe best sampler, Makeshift #3, along with full-length albums from Postlethwaite, The Glass, and Blair Combest. Later this year, the label may be releasing the second album from Snowglobe and a new record from Andy Grooms. But this week they'll celebrate the release of Unlimited Symmetry, the debut full-length from The Coach and Four, a band named, of course, after the rotting shell of a hotel on Lamar Avenue.
A fixture on the local rock scene for a couple of years now, the Coach and Four get a coming-out party with Unlimited Symmetry, which repeats the five songs from the band's excellent early eponymous EP and adds seven fine new tracks. The title could well refer to the bracing, radiant guitar fireworks produced by the band's Brad Stanfill and Luke White (the band is rounded out by Tony Dixon on bass, Daniel Ferris on drums, and JD Lovelace on keyboards). In a blues-dominated town, this blues-free album might be the most interesting local guitar record since the last time Alvin Youngblood Hart plugged in. And you can hear this from track one, "In Transit," where clean, impossibly pretty guitar-pop takes a hard left into a noisy, warp-speed, Sonic Youth-style assault, only to come through the chaos with the same chiming lyricism it began with.
Where most local rock bands boast some sort of rootsy pedigree, the Coach and Four are refreshingly atypical. The brand of smart, feverish, expressive guitar-pop they capture on Unlimited Symmetry doesn't sound like any other local band in recent memory, instead evoking the likes of Built To Spill, the Go-Betweens, and the Feelies.
The Coach and Four will celebrate the release of Unlimited Symmetry Saturday, January 24th, at The Hi-Tone CafÇ. Arkansas band Questions in Dialect open.
The Memphis-based Blues Foundation announced nominations last week for the 25th W.C. Handy Awards, which will be held Thursday, April 29th, at the Cook Convention Center. Leading the nominations is former Fabulous Thunderbirds frontman Kim Wilson, who has found career rejuvenation in the arms of the contemporary blues scene.
Wilson is nominated in six Handy categories, including Entertainer of the Year and Blues Album of the Year. Trailing Wilson with four nods each are iconoclastic modern bluesman Otis Taylor and the year's most notable comeback kid, R&B cult figure Bettye Lavette.
Of local note, Alvin Youngblood Hart is nominated for Best Acoustic Artist and Jim Dickinson for best Comeback Album for his Free Beer Tomorrow. But perhaps most significant is the showing of Mark Lemhouse and local indie label Yellow Dog Records.
Lemhouse's Big Lonesome Radio was nominated in both the Acoustic Album and Best New Artist Debut categories, the first-ever Handy nominations for the Memphis-based label.
"We've talked to other similar labels about their experiences with this, so we're expecting a pretty good bump [in sales and attention] from the Handy nominations," label founder Michael Powers says. "We're really already seeing it in terms of our responses from bookers and festivals. I think having the Handy imprimatur really establishes Mark as a national artist."
Powers and Lemhouse met through playing with the now-defunct local jug band the Bluff City Backsliders, whose sole album was also Yellow Dog's debut. Powers says that Lemhouse is currently living in Portland, where he's become a significant figure on that city's blues scene, and will be returning to Memphis for the Handy Awards, at which time he may record material for his next album.
As for Yellow Dog's future, Powers is readying the national release of The Bo-Keys' The Royal Sessions, which is set for May 4th. Powers has hired prominent national publicist Shorefire Media, who most recently worked on Al Green's I Can't Stop, to help promote the album.
"That record I'm thinking about a little differently than the blues and roots things we're doing," Powers says, "because I think it potentially has a broader audience. So we're going to give it a different kind of push."
Powers says the label has five albums planned for this year. In addition to the Bo-Keys and Lemhouse, the next batch of Yellow Dog releases will include a record from Cincinnati piano player Big Joe Duskin, which will be produced by former Commercial Appeal music columnist Larry Nager and current CA scribe Bill Ellis.