Music News

Rocky Mountain Highs (and Lows)

Just us folks: Chances are good that those who've frequented downtown and Capitol Hill coffeehouses during the past eight years have, at some point, been privy to the quiet stylings of singer/ songwriter Micah Ciampa. After a prolonged stint as a member of the local folkie roster, however, Ciampa has decided to pack it in and head East. Leaving Denver's latte sippers and polite clappers behind, he's going to get in his van, which sometimes doubles as his domicile, and drive, drive, drive -- all the way to Massachusetts.

"I'm going to land as close to Boston as I can afford to get," says Ciampa, who's been lured by the active folk scene in that city. "There are just a lot more serious folk venues there and lots of good players, which means there's more competition, but it brings respect to the scene."

The pace of East Coast living will likely necessitate some serious adjustment. After all, this is a man who has happily never trained for the rat race. In 1998 he recorded his debut CD, Cut to the Chase: Human Behavior Commentary, in a ten-by-eleven-foot room that housed his bed and clothing as well as his recording equipment, and he supplemented a struggling existence as a working musician by delivering newspapers downtown and doing occasional odd jobs. The possible changes are not lost on the 31-year-old songsmith. "I wonder if the good music is an antidote to the lousy lifestyle of living back there," he says.

Ciampa once served as soundman for the Swallow Hill Music Association, the seat of Denver folk-music activity -- and oddly, the place where he first entertained thoughts of leaving town. "A great majority of traveling songwriter types who came through Swallow Hill live back there somewhere," he explains, "so there must be something to it."

Ciampa is taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the actual date of his departure. He could be gone by as early as this weekend, or he may hang around for the Old-Fashioned Hootenanny hosted by Harry Tuft at Swallow Hill on September 3. Either way, we wish him luck and suggest he bring plenty of music for the road. But that shouldn't be a problem.

Operational guide: Fort Collins may seem an unlikely locale for a music scene, but thanks in large part to the foundation laid by prodigal punks All and the Descendants, it has maintained its status as a music town, if a geographically surprising one. These days, the All/Descendants presence can still be felt in the labors of Owned and Operated Recordings, which formed about two years ago. Though retail and distribution manager Jason Chinnock says those involved "didn't get [their] shit together until this year," a quick roll call reveals that the company is well-armed in the sometimes ugly struggle for survival. Those who both own and operate the label include Bill Stevenson, a former member of All; Joe Carducci, who had a heavy hand in SST records in the Eighties and also runs Provisional Films out of Laramie; and former C/Z Records honcho Joe Young.

All of the Operated folks have been mighty busy lately, as the label recently released Center of the Universe, a compilation including Wretch Like Me, Bill the Welder, Tanger and the Pavers, the new band from former All singer Scott Reynolds. Perhaps sensing a lucky streak, the company has also launched Upland, an offshoot imprint for artists who might not share the rock-and-roll aesthetic of bands on the Operated roster.

"A lot of times when rock-and-roll bands start a label, they sign a lot of bands that all sound the same," says Chinnock. "Upland adds diversity. We had friends doing all kinds of roots music, and we knew there were different areas of roots to explore, but it might not have worked on Owned and Operated."

Upland is getting ready to set its first-born free in the world. In mid-September, a compilation titled White Out on Black Paper will begin making its way to record outlets, spreading the music of Drag the River (featuring John Snodgrass of Armchair Martian and Chad Price from All), Grandpa's Ghost, the straight bluegrass stylings of Stop and Listen, and Spot, some kind of Celtic mutation from the former producer of records for the Minutemen and Hüsker Dü.

According to Chinnock, both labels share goals with other indies in that they see artist development and opportunity as their primary directive. "All of our bands have worked their asses off," he says. "With our label, they are finally getting a little bit of a break, a little bit of a financial backing and tour support and everything. Of course, if we're gonna work for them, they have to work for us, and that means touring. Doing guerrilla warfare sometimes." And though the label is looking out for the little guy, the caliber of its cache allows Owned and Operated to be a tad picky. "People will send us promotional stuff that sounds like the Descendants and All," he says, laughing. "Like, 'Oh, I sound like they used to -- they'll sign me.' But the guys who were actually in those bands don't even sound like that anymore. We're just looking for bands we can get behind, see live and know they're gonna be great."

Center of the Universe is currently widely available, and White Out on Black Paper will be soon.

The hills are alive: The members of 16 Horsepower are getting ready to get nice and cozy with local recording legend Bob Ferbrache. In a house, in the mountains, at 10,000 feet, for six weeks. (Drummer Jean-yves Tola stated that the sojourn was imminent in a July installation of Feedback.) Ferbrache, who's taking a mid-point break from producing Slim Cessna's Auto Club's new release, will again set the Horsepower levels on a new album, to see European distribution by the indie Glitterhouse label.

"I don't know what it is that 16 Horsepower has," says Ferbrache, "but their sound is kind of outdoorsy. I thought we should be somewhere with no distraction, no phones ringing, to kind of capture that." And though the idea of creative minds being secluded in a mountain town for any length of time may evoke images of Jack Nicholson's famous shower scene in The Shining, it sounds as if the band will have plenty of breathing room. "There are four bedrooms and a total of 24 beds," says Ferbrache. "We'll be comfortable."

Let's just hope everyone remembers that saying about all work and no play making for dull boys. There's little doubt, however, that there will be plenty of playing.

He's so good they named a building after him: The Grammy-winning Taj Mahal, one of the country's most innovative blues artists, has always produced music with a keen appreciation for other cultures, a carryover from a youth spent in the Caribbean and an adulthood in Hawaii. So when Mahal hooked up with Malian master Toumani Diabate to record Kulanjan, a new CD released on Hannibal Records, the two beautifully fused organic American and African music and created something that is as much an homage to musical antiquity as a true original.

Throughout the record, a nod to the African roots inherent in early blues music, Mahal and Diabate take turns embellishing songs from their respective traditions. On some tracks, Mahal's raspy, soulful, straight-from-the-Delta voice is placed on a backdrop of Diabate's kora, an African harp-lute. Conversely, Malian spirituals are lightly tinged with slides from Mahal's guitar. Happily, fans here have the opportunity to see the live version of this collaboration this week, as Diabate and Mahal join Baaba Maal and Oliver Mtukudzi in Africa Fete, an Afro-pop festival coming to the Chautauqua Auditorium on Friday, August 27. That's clearly something to beat a drum and let the people in the other village know about.

Pre-party time: This Friday offers the first in a series of events leading up to the Westword Music Awards Showcase on Sunday, September 19. Henry and his Rollins Band will take the stage at the Bluebird Theater, along with Squatweiler. Those in attendance will get free wristbands for the local music extravaganza...not to mention the chance to see ol' Hank do his best impression of a local musician. -- Laura Bond

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Laura Bond
Contact: Laura Bond