With 2009 laid to rest behind us and a little time to digest the year that was, it seemed a good time to ask a few local music movers and shakers what they thought of Milwaukee's music world last year: be it a favorite CD, a beloved gig, a new development.
Here's what they had to say.
One bright spot was the emergence of first-rate music videos from local artists. In a time when the music video has become a depreciated commodity for national artists, local rappers are turning out high quality visual narratives to their music, at an amazing clip.
With all the back and forth between artists on Facebook and YouTube these days, it's nice to see a well done video that actually contains music instead of two individuals barking at each other. Artists like Prophetic and Scott Knoxx have upped the ante with their professionally produced work, that was great to see last year.
My favorite album last year was Kid Millions' "Recession Proof Rap." The Kid's creativity and optimism is relentless, and his music just keeps getting better. The tracks he did with Sage Schwarm have a real block party vibe, and just as he pulled that pop maneuver on "Victim to the Beat" and "I Made a Mixtape," he weirdly got more experimental on the same album. As with any great MC, his humility is his saving grace, and he is exhibiting more political suss: when he says, "Your way of living might burn the house down / My way of living ain't all that classy," he's acknowledging the poverty-driven despair of a drug addict, and reminding the addict that he isn't on some superiority trip. If hip-hop is to survive, it needs more people like OutKast, Gnarls Barkley, Roots Manuva, Busdriver and Kid Millions.
My favorite local CD is Willy Porter’s "How to Rob a Bank." Another great CD from one of Milwaukee’s most talented musicians. Willy has shown a consistency in his recordings from the beginning. We are lucky to have him here.
The Pabst/Riverside/Turner Hall Ballroom
and Muzzle of Bees (Matteson also books some shows at venues like Club Garibaldi)
Narrowing down my favorite Milwaukee music moment of 2009 is an impossibly difficult task to undertake. I mean, Decibully put out an amazing album, Volcano Choir erupted from a Milwaukee center point, The Celebrated Workingman continues to be one of my favorite live bands, Jail signed to Sub Pop Records, and Juniper Tar put on live shows I will never forget. I could wax for paragraphs about how proud I am to be living in Milwaukee during this period of time. I truly believe we are in the midst of the best creative output of musical talent this city has ever seen. Not only is the talent there, but there is a supportive and enthusiastic community there to nurture and watch these bands grow and develop. I'll narrow my list down to a singular moment, which, lucky for us, has been so graciously captured in video form by WMSE. There's a good chance you've never heard of Conrad Plymouth. In due time, I hope this city wraps its music-loving arms around Christopher Porterfield and his talents. I've watched the video for "Fergus Falls" (recorded live at 91.7 WMSE) at least 50 times. It's a fantastic piece of music with supreme lyrics that I hope you take the time to listen to and enjoy as much as I have.
Promotions director, WMSE
My two favorite local music developments of 2009 are:
1) the rejuvenation of the club scene. It was no secret that touring bands routinely skipped Milwaukee the past few years. 2009 saw a few local promoters step up to bring live music back to places like Cactus Club and The Mad Planet, while making places like Club Garibaldi and Frank's Power Plant relevant places to see a show. Throw in the Borg Ward reintroducing all-ages shows, Sugar Maple filling a variety of niches and the Bay View Brew Haus just getting off the ground and Milwaukee is brimming with viable venues. All this while Shank Hall celebrates 20 years of staying on the scene and Linneman's continues to be a haven where locals can cut their teeth.
2) The plethora of talent that now makes up the Milwaukee hip-hop scene. We saw long-time Milwaukee MC Kid Millions gain much deserved attention with a couple performances on big stages at the PBR / Burnheart's street fest and at the Made in Milwaukee Turner Hall Show. No request sound keeps pushing forward. Melissa Czarnik seems to be everywhere. Fresh Cut Collective and Adebisi are staking their claims. The King Hell Bastard dudes are amazing. Rusty Ps keep bringing it. And now Def Harmonic is back. I know I forgot about five others doing good things, too, but Milwaukee hip-hop has taken a huge step forward and I'm hoping these folks start garnering the attention, both locally and nationally, that they are worthy of receiving. There's THAT much hip-hop talent in Milwaukee right now.
I almost have to disqualify myself, I go out so little. I do have a studio, though, and one of the amazing things I saw was Jim Liban -- who I think has slipped beneath everyone's radar -- come up with an amazing solo for a guy named Justin Scott, who I am producing. On a song called "Portland Bound," Jim's band came up with a very slithery mambo, which worked quite well. Jim sat out the first couple of takes while we got bass and drums, if I remember, and then blew some very memorable harmonica. You'll notice I didn't say "amazing" or "technically dazzling." It was just so darn right for the song and hummable -- a real melody. Give this a guy a medal for taste and restraint and everybody ... study what he does!
My other favorite moment was (on Dec. 27) when a lot of the bands and musicians I know and admire came together at Shank Hall to play and raise some money for Bob Jennings, who had a lot of gear stolen. Blue In The Face, who I had seen at their Shank reunion, were once again awesome and powerful and my favorite chanteuse, Robin Pluer, sang with my band Semi-Twang on a song. Victor DeLorenzo -- could this guy look any happier? -- sat in, too -- I was in heaven.
Everyone should check out Paul Cebar's new solo recording "One Little Light On." It reveals a guy who is quietly creating a monster catalog of songs on his own and with some pretty talented friends like Willy Porter, Peter Mulvey and Pat McGlaughlin. He also does a dead charming version of one of my songs.
Managing editor, OnMilwaukee.com
I'm gonna give a shout out to two local bands that signed deals with cool record labels. Kings Go Forth landed a contract with David Byrne's outernational Luaka Bop imprint, while Jail inked a deal with the legendary Sub Pop label in the Pacific Northwest. The signings are reminders that the bands that break out aren't always the ones we expect. That's of course not to say that these bands aren't worthy. Just the opposite, they are among the city's best and have the opportunity to put Milwaukee back in the national -- and international -- musical spotlight. Good on ya, boys.
On the down side, both Call Me Lightning and Decibully made fabulous records in 2009 and neither, sadly, has seen release via a nationally-distributed label. That led the latter to form its own label, Listening Party, to release "World Travels Fast."
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.