Saturday, March 8, 2008

Local Music Roundup: Shook Twins, Josh Hedlund, Robby French

While North Idaho is certainly no Austin or Seattle when it comes to churning out the latest hip independent music acts, we do have our fair share of original young talent. Consistently, venues in Coeur d’Alene and beyond play host to some truly cool musicians whose work expands horizons and opens minds up to the notion that there’s more to life than 80’s Rock cover bands and mid-life crisis Blues acts. Here are three current local artists you’ll definitely want to pay attention to.

The Shook Twins
In their online bio, Sandpoint’s Katelyn and Laurie Shook mention that if they weren’t enchanting Northwest audiences with their modern folk jams, they’d like to pursue the idea of hosting a show on the Travel Channel. It’s a brilliant notion; our girls trotting across the globe, guitars and djembes in their hands. They could chat a bit about the locale, and then pop into some little cafĂ© to spread good times and goodwill with the gorgeous beauty of their tunes.

While Sri Lanka is still perhaps a ways off for The Shook Twins, they’ve been hitting the road for a short regional tour in support of their incredible third album You Can Have the Rest. They’ve recently unleashed their magic to audiences in such exotic locations as Park City, Utah and Bellingham, Washington and will be returning home for a gig at the Pend Oreille Winery on March 22. With the addition of new bass player Kyle Volkman and cellist Lane Exworthy, the group is now officially a foursome, joining such greats as Thompson Twins and Cocteau Twins as “twin” bands with more than two members. Certainly, they share nothing in common with the former, but they certainly do deal in some of the same trance-inducing grandeur of the latter.

The hypnotic “Wild Fire” opens You Can Have the Rest impressively with an ominous, exotic cello sound and brings in a Native American flute riff that practically pulls you into the desert at dusk for a harmonic convergence. Like the rest of the album, the instrumentation and production is impeccable, and the sisters’ voices blend and braid with amazing clarity and depth, their guitars percolate brightly, and the intensity builds to incendiary proportions with layers of percussion gradually added to the mix. “Dance Around In Circles” is a favorite of mine, another showcase for Katelyn and Laurie’s crystalline voices and impressionistic wordplay.
Their sound is often described as modern folk, but there’s more to it than that. A keen experimental streak runs through the band’s lush pop-rock arrangements, and unusual instruments like banjos and ocarinas often come out to play. The album cover image of a musical bathtub is spot on, since their songs completely immerse the listener in bubbly feelings of warmth and relaxation.

There are some truly “pop” moments here, such as the intriguing “It’s Lost” in which Laurie’s trademark vocal beat boxing is so subtle and smooth it sounds like a vintage synth loop. However, much of the material seems darker in tone, ominous in a way that calls for repeated listenings in order to solve the delightful mystery of The Shook Twins’ world. You Can Have the Rest will surely rank as one of the finest Inland Northwestns albums of all time.

Recommended if you like Ani Difranco, Coldplay, Iron & Wine, Feist, Fleetwood Mac, Dido.

Shook Twins: Website
Shook Twins: MySpace
Shook Twins: Buy the Album at CD Baby

Josh Hedlund
Josh Hedlund's voice is fraught with a twisted sort of delicacy, intriguingly ageless and genderless, and filled with a very rare and delightful form of soul indeed. So many musicians trawl the local coffee and wine circuit armed with nothing but an acoustic guitar and a head full of post-modern angst, but few do it with the startling glory of this young Sandpoint troubadour. In his typically poetic and mildly cryptic fashion he describes his music as “Sounds like the combination of everything that’s happening and has ever happened in the entire everything and everywhere and everyone.”

The four tracks he's posted on his MySpace are just a tease in lieu of a full release, but they do show off well Hedlund's fantastic songwriting and brightly portentous voice."Polar" is a mellow and melodically sweet self-examination of Hedlund's fried emotional state. Lyrically, it describes a surreal, bitter impression of lovesick hunger, with the ponderous refrain "I'll just wish in one hand". "I'll Fall Apart" charms with its surprisingly polished, layered vocal sound which pops up to surprise attack you after the rough studio chatter (“OK ready?…dude!") at the beginning of the track. The show of humanity is an unusual touch amidst so many otherworldly moments.
Live, Hedlund's voice has an endearing dramatic quality that these recordings fail to fully capture, and his demeanor on stage is as warm as toast. His appearances seem to be a bit rare of late, but keep your eyes on the Get Out Music & Arts Calendar below for upcoming shows.

Recommended if you like Devendra Banhart, Elliot Smith, Jeff Buckley, Hunky Dory-era David Bowie.

Josh Hedlund: MySpace
Josh Hedlund: 7 Podcast

Robby French
Robby French probably doesn't remember meeting me. He had just been rudely awakened by me, a couple of my friends, and his mother, who we had met earlier that night while out on the town. We were having a blast at the bar and she decided to drag us home with her to try some of her rare imported wine and continue the good times. It was well beyond the bewitching hour and our mirth and merriment brought a very sleepy teenaged Robby out of his basement room to blearily gaze at us for a moment. "Hey everyone, it’s Robby" slurred mom before he snuck back off to bed, slightly bewildered. In the morning, he probably thought we were just a bad dream.

Since I first encountered a groggy Robby that night, he's been a quite a busy boy. According to his online biography, he grew up ion a very musical house and started his career with the notion he would become a professional drummer. He had a change in plans after catching the acting bug in high school and graduated from The Idyllwild Arts Academy in California with a Theatre Arts major, then completed his Bachelor’s Degree at the New School University in New York. An acting gig with a regional touring group in Los Angeles led to his entry in the World Championships of the Performing Arts. French says “I swept the male vocal category, which was awesome, winning the most gold medals for a vocalist, and also Grand Champion vocalist of the World for my age category.”

Naturally, such a victory led Robby to focus much of his energy on learning guitar and writing songs, which from what I’ve heard seems like a mission accomplished. Robby currently resides here in town and won accolades for performances with the CDA Summer Theatre last year. He also plays a weekly gig at O'Shays Irish Pub on Cd'A Lake Drive. Go have a frosty, delicious Guinness one of these Wednesday evenings and enjoy the lad's emotive folk/pop tunes. If you like what you hear, ask him how to get a copy of his debut CD "Rain Fell Down".

Recommended if you like: Rufus Wainwright, Queen, Jason Mraz, Broadway Musicals.

Robby French: MySpace

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