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Peep P-Town: Ryan Wines on Just What the Hell is Going on in PDX These Days

Posted by August 14th, 2008 No Comments »

Peep P-Town, Yo
August 2008

So which one's the builder and which one's the butcher?

So which one’s the builder and which one’s the butcher?

The Builders and the Butchers

There aren’t many bands in P-town these days with more buzz than The Builders and the Butchers. Already notching a major tour on their belts, B&B co-headlined last February with Sub Pop veterans The Helio Sequence on a west coast tour. And, no easy feat in this town, Willamette Week awarded them as Best New Band.

Reading descriptions of the band are nearly as entertaining as listening to them. Described by some as Americana Gothic and by one fan as, “a demon-possessed Southern Baptist preacher leading a requiem at a swamp-set, barn-burning hoedown,” this five-piece troupe includes a banjo, mandolin, organ, trumpet, acoustic guitars, and always two drummers; one beating on the bass drum, the other hammering the snare.

As witnessed by this writer, a B&B live show resembles a fun and in-your-face baroque folk marching band. They are notorious for enlisting friends and random people in the crowd to play extra shakers, tambourines, washboards, and little drums. Regularly, you’ll find front man Ryan Sollee stomping around the stage, earnestly singing, sometimes yelling, and occasionally blowing on an old bullhorn – presumably more for aesthetics than sound.

Folks will take notice that Decemberists‘ groove man Chris Funk took the band under his wing, producing B&B’s sophomore release, rumored to have been recorded in an old burned-out Masonic temple, complete with a live gospel choir. Through it all, they’re supported by scrappy Portland label Bladen County Records, who did a dynamite job of positioning and finessing the band into near-perfect stride.

If you enjoy the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack and yearn for a departure from whatever Pitchfork is selling, The Builders and the Butchers are likely to be just what the doctor ordered. However, let’s be clear about what this band is, and what it isn’t. They are not a pop band, nor do they write many happy melodies that would fit well on the Juno or Garden State soundtracks. Marching to their own beat, The Builders and the Butchers are 100 percent raw, foot stomping, old country bleeding, lacklusterly arranged, sometimes sloppy, while equally endearing – a what-you-see-is-what-you-get gospel backwoods symphony.

The Builders & the Butchers play Seattle’s Sunset Tavern on August 20.

Dudes in Portland like beards

Dudes in Portland like beards

Weinland makes music out of dirt and grass and an old Ford pickup bouncing down a country road. Picture yourself cruising along, windows down, with a crackling old radio on, sweating through your tank top and leaving a rather long trail of dust, and you have no particular place to be…except maybe baling some hay. To call Weinland pastoral would be much too cliché as they truly bring a level of production and detail suggestive of hard work on their latest record, La Lamentor, released Spring of 2008.

I confess a deep affinity for this particular style of American Folk Pop – at times leaking elements of bluegrass, rock, and baroque throughout. Weinland, along with bands like Iron and Wine, Alelia Diane, Wilco, Bright Eyes and Fleet Foxes, makes me want to seek out a rocking chair on someone’s front porch, insert a long strand of rye grass between my teeth and lose myself in the breeze as it blows by. This genre is one that is truly growing and emerging as a northwest favorite.

My favorite track on La Lamentor is “Sick As a Gun,” which begins as a lonely ballad. Then the beat picks up with the second verse while frontman Adam Shearer gives a Sam Beam-esque delivery radiating with wonderfully soft simplicity. The song continues to build, arriving at a harmonious chorus that begs listeners to hum along. Weinland’s pop sensibility prevents “Sick As a Gun” from falling into bland folk song trap, building around a cute propellant acoustic guitar part and eliciting smiles.

Weinland plays Music Fest Northwest September 9th at the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland.

Acoustic guitar, I'm gonna make you a star...

Acoustic guitar, I’m gonna make you a star…

Ehren Ebbage
Ehren Ebbage is a patient guy. By his own account, he waited over 30 years to release his first solo record. That’s not to say he hasn’t released a few records in his time, but none have been his own. From collaborating on friend, John Shipe’s various projects, to playing an integral role in the Justin King Band, to performing with the likes of legendary Pink Floyd cover act, The Floydian Slips, one can accurately accuse Ebbage of getting around. Most recently, Ebbage has lent his talent on lap steel, acoustic guitar, and his most perfect harmonies to Portland’s Dimes. But Ebbage’s debut LP Ten Cent Souvenir makes the hard work and waiting all worthwhile.

Every once in a while someone can honestly surprise you with a record and Ten Cent Souvenir is one of those. Wonderfully arranged and dramatically reconstructed, Ebbage took a handful of ‘pretty good’ songs and transformed them into something grand. The title track is luminous, starting subtly like a prototypical solo acoustic number, then opens up to a more dynamic song, complete with sparkly guitars, glockenspiels, and a driving kick.

I suspect that much of the songs are inspired by Ebbage’s experiences; joy and disappointments in love, life and relationships – nothing new to the world of songwriting. But Ebbage has a uniquely endearing method of striking a chord with his listeners, likely the result of his heartfelt approach.

The quintessential Ehren Ebbage song has words which have an eerie yet mesmerizing effect, like “Snakes.” Every time I hear this track it leaves me wondering why my eyes feel as if they want to tear up. Ebbage expertly compares a love affair to a snake waiting in tall grass. “At every opportunity, I turn my back and it sneaks up on me, but it doesn’t bite, it just hisses and spits. So why should I be scared of it?”

Ehren Ebbage plays the Comet Tavern in Seattle on August 22.

Ryan Wines is the guy behind new Portland talent agency/label/brain trust, Pet Marmoset, and shares his thoughts on new music, media, and a mad addiction to nachos on his blog,  

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