OTM decided to kick back and take it easy for the final night of CMW. Making myself at home at The Rivoli, I was treated to an unusual brew of old gen and new, classic and sardonic. First up: the newer generation.
Having played the local punk scene for over twenty years, self-described troubadour Cactus Vella could be regarded as an expert in the three-chord standard output of the genre. In recent years, Vella has turned towards a more acoustic sound, blending punk structure with a more indie folk feel.
I have to say: I’m not exactly digging this particular blend of genres that seems to be spreading across the sonic landscape. While many genres seem destined for a blending — alternative and country, as an example — punk and folk just don’t jive for me. The eloquence of folk and the passionate “rage on!” of punk are both lost in the mix. The result is really a plain, campfire riff with perhaps powerful lyrics.
Such is the case with Cactus Vella’s work. Songs feel very similar due to the lacking complexity and as a result, the tunes drift into the background. I had the sense of being trapped in the dorm room of a Bruce Springsteen fan emulating his back catalogue circa The River, a feeling that only grew as the set became peppered with assorted covers. There were odd moments where hooks beckoned, but for the most part, it was an unremarkable set by someone who clearly holds potential beneath the surface.
Blackie Jackett Jr.
If Afroman (he of “Because I Got High” fame) were a country artist, I’m pretty sure he’d have penned “I Got Stoned”, one of Blackie Jackett Jr’s arsenal of sardonic honky-alt-country gems.
The side project of Finger Eleven’s Rick Jackett and James Black (a strange yet somehow unsurprising pedigree), Blackie Jackett Jr is a modern take on the “tear in my beer” and “screw it, I got my truck” country of old. Ever see The Blues Brothers? Of course you have, and if you haven’t, get the hell off my blog and go watch it, then return — I’ll wait. Anyway, that scene in the country bar? Picture Johnny Cash (the drunken car crash era) born in the late 70s bringing his band to that bar today, and you’ve pretty much got a feel for Blackie Jackett Jr.
It’s refreshing to hear them in a world where true country has been watered down to saccharine, Mean Girls-inspired pap sung by the likes of T-Swift. Topics range from heartache to substance use and/or abuse, from the lighthearted and wry to the downright depressing. It’s the country of Garth Brooks’ classic “Friends In Low Places” with delicious harmonies marinated in whiskey and served straight no chaser. With the guitar gurus of Finger Eleven at the helm, the compositions are layered and engaging.
Dear country music: break out of your little boxes and shoot it straight (not sober) once again. Let Blackie Jackett Jr remind you of how it’s done.