My recurring Mix Tape columns collect capsule reviews of new CD releases, but I don't think I've ever done a strictly Milwaukee mix tape.
But I blinked and found an ever-growing stack of local CDs on my desk. I've been writing about music in Milwaukee for, gulp, 24 years now and I can't recall another time when so much music was coming out. If the CD is a dying form, nobody thought to tell Brew City music makers.
Here, then, are some of the latest efforts by your hometown talent, Milwaukee.
Jamie Breiwick 5 & 6 -- Live in Milwaukee
The seven tracks on this disc -- which blends jazz, funk and pop -- were recorded in three settings: at WMSE, at The Highbury in Bay View and at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. What makes it really interesting, however, is trumpeter Breiwick's selection of material. In addition to great readings of Miles Davis' "Flamenco Sketches" and "Blue in Green," Breiwick and company -- including local musical luminaries like Steve Peplin, Bryan Mir, Matt Meixner, Mike Standal, Barry Velleman and others -- try their hands at two Death Cab for Cutie numbers. Though they tend to stick close to the melodies on "Brothers on a Hotel Bed" and "I Will Follow You in the Dark," they paint the changes in a rainy day sound that captures the spirit of the originals but adds new colors. I don't want to neglect to mention the long, slow, funky "Tunity," a Breiwick original that is one of the best moments here.
Knit Delicate -- Fulton Hill
Local veteran musician -- and Tiki bar guru -- Charles Jordan dishes up another plateful of Knit Delicate's infectious power pop with roots rock overtones. Like its predecessor, "Fulton Hill" was recorded in Richmond, Va., with Milwaukee ex-pats Al Weatherhead, Tim Buckley, John Daniels and Miguel Urbitzondo. But despite the well-known friends those guys have made out east, the real star here is Jordan and his great songs. There are jangly guitars and Beatles-esque melodies, but also strumming acoustics and plaintive pedal steel, creating a pleasing crossover. Once again, Jordan serves up what could be the local record of the year.
Hounds Tooth -- Soul Rockin (Tweed Tone)
J.D. Optekar and Hounds Tooth have grown into one of the most popular and exciting bands on the Milwaukee blues scene. Here the quartet continues to mine blues, rock (especially '50s-era rock) and soul for its slick sound anchored by the tight rhythm section of Bob Noll on bass and Jeff Oscarson on drums. The band also welcomes Jared James Nichols who guests on guitar and, on three tunes, vocals. The opener, "Blues is Truth," is fine urban blues and "Jumpin Rockin Rhythm" conjures Chuck Berry. "Time to Burn" opens with some great guitar interplay and "Is it Real" finds inspiration in Stax-style Memphis soul blues.
The Everyday Motive EP
This band -- which claims Weezer, Silverchair and Foo Fighters as influences -- got together just last year and already has this seven-song EP on offer. Recorded with Shane Olivo of The New Loud, these songs bank heavily on gritty but catchy guitar riffs and a pumping rhythm section. With dynamic production and infectious tunes -- check out the especially radio-friendly, "Lock It Up" -- these guys and gal seem ready to break out. The disc was recorded as a trio but The Everyday Motive is now a quartet thanks to the addition in January of guitarist and singer Jerry Bakkus. Expect to hear more.
The Gentle Guest -- Cast Off Your Human Form (Amble Down)
OK, so The Gentle Guest is from Eau Claire, not Milwaukee, but I give space to any Wisconsin band, you know. Plus the first track here reminds me of an Americana version of one of my favorite '80s bands, England's Redskins. "Rumor Mill," with its rolling snare and brass is an acoustic-y "Reds Strike the Blues," if you ask me. "To Pay the Piper" has a gypsy vibe and a great low-key arrangement. And that's the beauty of most of these songs. The arrangements are dynamic and engaging but never overwrought. Part Tom Waits, part Ennio Morricone spaghetti western, part alt.country, part country blues, The Gentle Guest takes a range of diverse vintage genres and constructs a music that is remarkably unified and whole and organic. It's also high-energy and almost inexplicably modern, too.
Cyberchump + Janzyk ReGrooved (Internal Combustion)
When Mark G.E. and Jim Skeel (aka Cyberchump) wanted to have their first two records remixed, they turned to Janzyk, who agreed and began to slice and dice the tracks -- which featured performances by John Kruth, Victor DeLorenzo, Mike Kashou, Jason Todd and other well-known Milwaukee musicians. Cyberchump was duly impressed and waited (patiently?) for five years as Janzyk finished his work. The resulting tracks are here on a record that could be described as electronica-rock-dub; in some cases dance-y ("Karmic Buzz"), in others more atmospheric ("Drums in Sleep"). All of it perfect for late night driving, I expect, or for the kind of ultra-hip club that may not even exist yet.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.