With Nobody Expecting More, Has R. Kelly’s Lecherous R&B Finally Gone Too Far?

Friday at Colonial Life Arena
By Eric Tullis
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
R. Kelly
There’s a good chance that you were actually enjoying yourself last summer at a backyard party the first time you heard “Backyard Party.” You might not have even known it was the lead single from The Buffet, longstanding Chicago singer R. Kelly’s 13th solo album.

What: R. Kelly
Where: Colonial Life Arena, 801 Lincoln St.
When: Friday, Feb. 12, 8 p.m.
Price: $53-$115
More Info: 800-745-3000, coloniallifearena.com
And depending on who deejayed the party, the song may have been inconspicuously thrown into the mix, somewhere in between naughty juke-joint blues favorites like Theodis Ealey’s “Stand Up in It” or Marvin Sease’s “Candy Licker.” Because, unfortunately, that’s who Robert Sylvester Kelly — the once-praised, now-condemned R&B musician — has been reduced to, a singer whose 12 Play lingerie list of bedroom tricks has hit dirty laundry levels and even lower depths of old-man erotica. But now, the man who once believed that he could fly and who still thinks that his perverted ballads can make women’s panties fly off has suddenly grounded himself in a backyard shindig, an insulated fantasy existence where there are unlimited hoverboards; attractive women; guests of honor Snoop Dogg and Chance the Rapper; and a marching band.

“Everyone’s happy ... No one’s got hatin’ in their hearts,” he sings with perfectly pitched glee. He even argued as much in a recent, bizarre HuffPost Live interview when asked about people who may find conflict in reconciling his music career with past allegations of sexual misconduct.

“If I hear what you just said from 20 to 50,000 fans,” he told interviewer Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani, “I will never show up to that venue or any other venue again. But until then, I’m going to continue to do R. Kelly. I’m not perfect. But I’m perfectly me.”

On The Buffet, however, R. Kelly fails to perfectly do himself. All of the weird yet palatable imperfections that began on 2003’s Chocolate Factory, and were normalized on 2010’s Love Letter, go a little too far this time. On The Buffet, R. Kelly the singer finally loses control of his libido. Take the album’s spoken word opener, “The Poem,” in which his creepy pimp whispers and cunnilingus slurp sounds set up lines like, “We goin’ at it so crazy / This love so tasty / I’m talkin’ my jelly in your pastry.”

Women used to remind R. Kelly of durable things like Jeeps and car ignitions. He used to only mention baked goods as location points for kitchen sex. These days, the only thing that the 49-year-old songwriter can come up with is a metaphor about a woman’s genitals being an éclair.

Still, it doesn’t seem that the many guests on The Buffet have a problem with these lower-brow songs. On the duet “Let’s Make Some Noise,” Jhene Aiko — who may have single-handedly popularized a particular oral fetish with her infamous “Eat the booty like groceries” line from Omarion’s 2014 hit “Post to Be” — stoops to R. Kelly’s dialed-in bedroom aspirations. Pop-soul princess Tinashe always treads the line between risque pin-up doll and R&B adventurer, so the uptempo flair of “Let’s Be Real Now” doesn’t push her too far. Juicy J and Lil Wayne’s rap contributions on “Marching Band” and “Switch Up” respectively extend their own proclivity-filled discographies, but at least the absurdity of the way “Marching Band” celebrates noisy lovemaking falls in line better with R. Kelly’s previous ribald humor.

At this point, R. Kelly will never be recognized for beautiful, PG-13 songs like The Buffet’s closing country ballad, “Barely Breathing.” But that doesn’t mean he should become so dirty that he forgoes a sense of fun. Here’s hoping he starts sounding like his old self soon.

Columbia SC Club Calendar: Feb. 10-17

By Free Times
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Wednesday 10

live music
Delaney’s: Two for the Road
Empire Social Club: Harlem Renaissance Poetry and Open Mic
Foxfield Bar and Grille: Zvi, Silvern Screen Orchestra, Dendera Bloodbath, Item
Michael’s: Open Mic Jazz and Guitar
Main Street Steakhouse and Bar: Open Mic
New Brookland Tavern: Trees on Mars, Moon Tooth, Semicasual, Se’nam Palmer
Shooter’s: Ronnie Hopkins

karaoke
555 Lounge: Big Mouth Entertainment

Art Bar: CarraRock Entertainment
Belle’s: Karaoke
Tsubaki: Karaoke

dance, djs & misc.
British Bulldog Pub: Pub Trivia
Drip (Five points): Poetry Reading
Kelly’s: Bingo
Locals: Trivia
Mellow Mushroom: Team Trivia
Old Mill Brewpub: Team Bingo
QUAKER STEAK: Bike Night
Rockaway Athletic Club: Trivia w/ Dr. Sams
Salty Nut Cafe: Trivia
South Lake Saloon: Bingo
Tipsy Toad: Trivia
Tin Roof: 30 Second Rocks
World of Beer: Trivia & Bingo

Thursday 11

live music
Delaney’s: Carroll Brown
Hemingway’s: Bo Jack & Nikki Lee
Music Farm: Yonder Mountain String Band, Trout Steak Revival
New Brookland Tavern: Apnea Effect, Finding Lucy, Colorworld, Social Outcast
Old Mill Brewpub: Open Mic w/ Freeway Music
Pearlz Upstairz: Mark Rapp
Tin Roof: Kenny George Band
World of Beer: Brandon Reeves

karaoke
Belle’s: Karaoke
Boze’s Restaurant & Bar: Karaoke
Kelly’s: Karaoke w/ DJ Snow & DJ Blue Steel
ale House lounge: CarraRock Entertainment
Main Street Steakhouse & Bar: Karaoke Dance Party DJ
Ozzie’s Country Island: Showtime Karaoke
Shooter’s: Karaoke
Tsubaki: Karaoke

dance, djs & misc.
Bill’s Music Shop and Pickin’ Parlor: Country Dance
British Bulldog Pub: Soda City Comedy
Carolina Ale House (Vista): Trivia w/ Ryan
Carolina Wings (Cayce): Team Trivia
Carolina Wings (Lexington): Quizon Trivia
PT’s 1109: Thirsty Thursday Drag Show
TLC Sports Bar & Grill: Trivia
Uncle Fester’s: Quizon Trivia
The Woody: Throwback Thursdays w/ DJ Chadly D

Friday 12

live music
Bill’s Music Shop and Pickin’ Parlor: Open Stage & Bluegrass/Acoustic Jam Session
Bistro on the Boulevard: Rene Russell
British Bulldog Pub: The Reggie Sullivan Band
Delaney’s: Carroll Brown
Hemingway’s: Radio Cult
Main Street Steakhouse and Bar: Just Another Distraction
Music Farm: Zoogma, Turbo Suit, Daily Bread
Old Mill Brewpub: Jesse Moore
Pam’s Front Porch: Ronnie Hopkins
Pearlz Upstairz: Robert Gardiner Jazz Quartet
Tin Roof: The Armory
Tipsy Toad: Keith Dominick Band
wild wing cafe (Harbison): City Lights
wild wing cafe (The Village): Center Lane
wild wing cafe (The Vista): Jerry Jacobs

karaoke
Belle’s: Karaoke
Friends Club: CarraRock Entertainment
Quaker Steak & Lube: Karaoke
Rags to Ritchies: Terryoke’s Music & Karaoke
Shooter’s: Karaoke
Tsubaki: Karaoke

dance, djs & misc.
Empire Social Club: Foreign Fridays w/ DJ
Kelly’s: DJ
Legion Post 215: Disco Night
Liberty Tap Room: DJ
New Brookland Tavern: Karoke w/ Blake
Throttle: DJ
TLC Sports Bar & Grill: DJ DDL
Uncle Fester’s: DJ Snow
The Woody: DJ

Saturday 13

live music
Art Bar: ColorBlind, Jahson and the Natty Vibez
THE ATTIC: HeartBERN
Bill’s Music Shop and Pickin’ Parlor: Classic Country Music Jamboree & Dancing
British Bulldog Pub: Etheridge & Kimpland
Delaney’s: Carroll Brown
Hemingway’s: Modern Disruption
Music Farm: Bloodkin
New Brookland Tavern: Jon Stickley Trio, The Mustache Brothers
Pearlz Upstairz: Rod Franco
Old Mill Brewpub: 80 Proof Audio
Speakeasy: Robert Gardiner Jazz Quartet
Tin Roof: Craig Veltri
Tin Roof: Myles Nelson
Tin Roof: Anthony Orio
Tipsy Toad: Brenden Roberts
Venue on Broad: Thomas Flyer
wet Willie’s: Sam McWhite
wild wing cafe (The Village): Bethan & the Southside Boys
wild wing cafe (The Vista): U-Phonik

karaoke
Belle’s: Karaoke
Just for Giggles: Terryoke’s Music & Karaoke
Shooter’s: Karaoke
Tsubaki: Karaoke
Wet Willie’s: Redeyed Karaoke

dance, djs & misc.
Blue: DJ Riggles
Liberty Tap Room: DJ
Main Street Steakhouse and Bar: Comedy Night
Publick House: Quizon Trivia
Rue 77: DJ Louie Vee
Scooner’s: DJ3
Throt
wild wing cafe (Harbison): DJ DDL

Sunday 14

live music
All Star Pizza: Ray Piazzola
BRitish Bulldog Pub: WXRY Unsigned
New Brookland Tavern: Russian Girlfriends, Soda City Riot, Longshot Odds

karaoke
Belle’s: Karaoke
PT’s 1109: Karaoke w/ DJ Snow
Tsubaki: Karaoke

dance, djs & misc.
Kelly’s: Sunday Funday Bingo
The Pizza Joint: Quizon Trivia
Speakeasy: Mo’ Betta Soul Sundays w/ DJ Preach Jacobs

Monday 15

live music
Kelly’s: Open Mic
Tin Roof: Hey Marseilles

karaoke
Hemingway’s: Karaoke

dance, djs & misc.
Buckaroos Grill & Bar: DJ Ray Ray
New Brookland Tavern: Soda City Stand Up
Publick House: Quizon Trivia

Tuesday 16

live music
Bill’s Music Shop and Pickin’ Parlor: Songwriters Open Mic
Delaney’s: Freeway Music Jam
New Brookland Tavern: Daedalus, Pallor, Republican Marriage, Glamdring

karaoke
Baker’s: Big Mouth Entertainment
CJ’s: Karaoke w/ DJ Slinky
Corner Pocket: Karaoke
Post Call: CarraRock Entertainment
Rue 77: Karaoke
Tsubaki: Karaoke

dance, djs & misc.
Art Bar: Comedy Roulette
Carolina Wings (Red BAnk): Quizon Trivia
Cover 3: Sex Trivia
Flying Saucer: Trivia Bowl
Liberty tap room: DJ
MainStreet cafe: Trivia
Mellow Mushroom (Lexington): Team Trivia
Mousetrap: Trivia
Quaker Steak & Lube: Team Trivia
STATE STReet PUB: Trivia
Uno Chicago Grill: Bar Bingo
Wings & Ale (Columbia):Trivia
Yesterdays: Trivia

Wednesday 17

live music
Delaney’s: Jeff Lucero
Empire Social Club: Harlem Renaissance Poetry and Open Mic
Foxfield Bar and Grille: Devils in Disguise (acoustic)
Michael’s: Open Mic Jazz and Guitar
Main Street Steakhouse and Bar: Open Mic
Shooter’s: Ronnie Hopkins

karaoke
555 Lounge: Big Mouth Entertainment
Art Bar: CarraRock Entertainment
Belle’s: Karaoke
Tsubaki: Karaoke

dance, djs & misc.
British Bulldog Pub: Pub Trivia
Drip (Five points): Poetry Reading
Kelly’s: Bingo
Locals: Trivia
Mellow Mushroom: Team Trivia
Old Mill Brewpub: Team Bingo
QUAKER STEAK: Bike Night
Rockaway Athletic Club: Trivia w/ Dr. Sams
Salty Nut Cafe: Trivia
South Lake Saloon: Bingo
Tipsy Toad: Trivia
Tin Roof: 30 Second Rocks
World of Beer: Trivia & Bingo

Taylor Glazier at The Whig

By Christian Barker
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
interview and photo by Christian Barker
Name: Taylor Glazier
Setting: The Whig (1200 Main St.)

I hear you’re moving away from Columbia. What are you going to miss the most?

Easily New Brookland Tavern. They have the best shows, and you can go in pretty much any night and you can see an awesome show of bands you probably haven’t heard of. Or you can go to see bands you’ve always wanted to see. I’m coming back to see the MC Chris show. But if there were one thing I could bring with me to Myrtle Beach, it would be NBT. Sean Rayford is the s#!t, John Gibson is the s#!t, everybody who works there is the s#!t!

What is the best show you’ve seen there?

I’d say it is between Sea Wolf Mutiny and Say Brother.

What do you like about The Whig?

The Whig has great drink prices, they are open pretty much all of the time, and their food is great. I also really like the lighting in here. Everybody just looks good in this soft orange glow.

What are your best memories from this place?

My fondest memories are when I came here with enough friends to take over the vault and just chill.

What do you think The Whig can do to improve?

I am happy with everything they are doing. They are very active in the Main Street community.

Columbia is growing so much now, but we are still losing so many University of South Carolina graduates. What do you think needs to be done to keep the grads here?

There needs to be more opportunities for new grads. There are a lot of very talented people here, but all they get offered is either an entry-level, dead-end job or a good job that pays way below industry standard. In both situations, people have to get second or third jobs just to get by. If the community wants to keep the talent here they need to stop being so cheap and pay these guys what they deserve.

Concerts in Columbia: Feb. 11-17

Zoogma, ColorBlind, Jazz on the River, Widespread Panic
By Free Times
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
ColorBlind | Photo By John Carlos
Thursday 11

Apnea Effect — The #emorevival might’ve been overblown, but there is no shortage of upstart bands whose indie rock lineage is peppered with pop-punk and melodic hardcore, and who embrace earnest songwriting. The propulsive rock of Columbia’s Apnea Effect follows the angular trajectories of early Taking Back Sunday, while pleading vocal hooks recall Saves the Day. With Finding Lucy, Colorworld, Social Outcast. — Bryan C. Reed

New Brookland Tavern: 7:30 p.m., $6 ($8 under 21); 803-791-4413, newbrooklandtavern.com

Graham Nash — Best known as one third of Crosby, Stills & Nash, Graham Nash’s career spans not only that classic rock supergroup but also The Hollies, along with solo albums. Nowadays, he mixes compelling new material with familiar hits such as “Wasted On the Way” and “Cathedral.” — Kevin Oliver

Newberry Opera House: 8 p.m.; $69; 803-276-6264, newberryoperahouse.com

Friday 12

Tanya Tucker — Long before Taylor Swift or Katy Perry, teenage dream Tanya Tucker hit country music gold with 1972’s “Delta Dawn.” She would go on to mature into a popular star of the genre for many years to come, moving from sultry early hits to later classics such as “Strong Enough to Bend.” — Kevin Oliver

Newberry Opera House: 8 p.m., $69; 803-276-6264, newberryoperahouse.com

James Hunter Six — Ignore Mojo magazine’s four star review and toss the Grammy nod aside — James Hunter and his five-piece posse are proof that talent alone can’t pump Anglo blood into submission. This British combo can rip through blues-infused soul and R&B with deadly precision, but the net result is too polished and edgeless to be any fun and is better suited for the waiting room of a once-hip podiatrist. — Michael Spawn

Sumter Opera House: 7:30 p.m., $31-$38; 803-436-2500, sumtersc.gov/sumter-opera-house

Zoogma — The title track from Nashville/Atlanta EDM-rock quartet Zoogma’s New Era EP is comically reminiscent of a tune that Zoolander might walk onstage to if he ever added an electric guitar to his neon kitsch. In fact, most of the EP sounds like that — one chord change from a pre-programmed keyboard demo, but with too much funk to be denied its own party section, even during “Molasses,” when the band’s messiness still zaps its way into a ridiculously contagious groove. With Turbo Suite, Daily Bread. — Eric Tullis

Music Farm: 9 p.m., $15 ($12 advance); musicfarm.com

Saturday 13

Bloodkin — Like the similarly dazzling Deep South roots-rockers in Blue Mountain, Bloodkin has the unfortunate distinction of always having its outsized critical acclaim compared to its commercial following. Still, the group’s sprawling, rustic Southern rock sound — halfway between Skynyrd and The Replacements — has frequently been without compare, and frontman Danny Hutchen’s barstool poetry ranks high among his ’90s alt-country peers. Billed as an after party to tonight’s Widespread Panic show at the Township Auditorium. — Kyle Petersen

Music Farm: 11 p.m., $12 (10 advance); musicfarm.com

Dave Cappello & Jeff Albert — West Columbia’s Conundrum Music Hall may be gone, but the fervent free jazz following it frequently entertained is alive and well — evidenced by the handful of recent shows housed at if ART. And the quality hasn’t dipped either: On their album Duets 2014, drummer Dave Cappello and trombonist Jeff Albert display chemistry equal to their inimitable technique, with the former’s undulating patterns leaving space for the latter to flex his dynamic textural range, gliding from bright blasts to guttural bleats with uncommon smoothness. — Jordan Lawrence

if ART Gallery: 8:30 p.m., $10; 803-255-0068, ifartgallery.blogspot.com

ColorBlind — Acoustic guitar-based hip-hop suffers from a dearth of respect in the more insular corners of rock and rap. There’s a sense of cutting corners, of taking the basest components of both genres and combining them into a ghoulish Frankenstein built for crossover success. But ColorBlind, rapper Fat Rat da Czar and folk-hop singer-songwriter Justin Smith, avoid all of that. The duo’s guileless earnestness helps, but the real trick is how deftly songs like “UndaGround Railroad” and “Hiding Under Covers” deal with their diverse subjects, highlighting and triumphantly overcoming the cultural divide between the two musicians. Jahson & the Natty Vibez open. — Kyle Petersen

Art Bar: 8 p.m., $5; 803-929-0198, artbarsc.com

Jazz on the River — Nothing says Valentine’s Day romance like jazz, dinner and drinks in an idyllic outdoor setting. Lucky enough, Jonez of Columbia has put together an inclusive package to provide you just that. The Mike Frost Band, featuring singer/saxophonist Lauren Meccia, plays the early set while the Sim-ple quartet takes the late one. Both bands balance technical talents with a warm, affable appeal that should make for a lovely soundtrack. Dinner included. — Kyle Petersen

Stone River: 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., $53.74-$64.29; 803-834-4434, jonezofcolumbia.com

Scenario’s First Date — This event beckons you to fall in love — with Scenario, an intriguing new local arts collective, and with what could become a welcome new show space, one attached to Kaminsky’s in the Vista. The marquee name is that of Atlanta’s Sea Ghost, a striding indie rock band with charming experimental inflections that created some buzz with last year’s SG. Add a lineup flush with promising talent (Mac McComb, Paper Shoes, Prince Rupert, Os3) and the potential Scenario has already showed (December’s Dreamfort Revival featured bands performing in a blanket fort), and this becomes one enticing First Date. — Jordan Lawrence

Sweet Spot (930 Gervais St.): 7 p.m., $7 ($5 advance); scenariocollective.com

Jon Stickley Trio — Drifting between Americana, jazz and prog-rock inflections, this instrumental fiddle-drums-guitar trio is led by phenomenal flatpicker Jon Stickley, whose reimagining of his chosen instrument’s capabilities reaches the innovative heights of Michael Hedges or Bela Fleck on freakouts such as “Darth Radar” during 2015’s Lost At Last. With The Mustache Brothers. — Kevin Oliver

New Brookland Tavern: 9 p.m.; $6 ($8 under 21); 803-791-4413; newbrooklandtavern.com

Widespread Panic — After 30 years, Athens, Georgia’s Widespread Panic keeps on trucking. Though it’s released 12 studio albums since forming in 1996, the true environment in which to experience Widespread is onstage. There, the band can stretch its dirty, percussion-spiked grooves, incorporating jazz, funk, folk and country into durable song structures. The band was thrown for a loop when founding member and lead guitarist Mikey Houser died in 2003, but it came back stronger than ever thanks to the addition of guitarist Jimmy Herring. The band returns to the Township for a second engagement on Sunday.

Township Auditorium; 7:30 p.m. both nights; $38-$43; 803-576-2350, thetownship.org

Sunday 14

Preach Jacobs with The Secret B-Sides — In Asheville soul-funk quartet The Secret B-Sides, local emcee Preach Jacobs (who, full disclosure, writes Free Times’ Crime Blotter) has found a perfect live partner. Jacobs’ progressive hip-hop has always drawn from rap’s soul and Afrobeat roots, and The Secret B-Sides’ smooth neo-soul explorations and prehistoric psych-funk excursions provide an excellent backdrop for the rapper’s smooth flow and refined rhymes. With Kelvin Armstrong, SympL. — Patrick Wall

Art Bar: 9 p.m., $5; 929-0198, artbarsc.com

Russian Girlfriends — Russian Girlfriends shares its relentless momentum and knack for punchy hooks with early-’00s punk-rock headliners like Strike Anywhere, but their gruff proto-hardcore delivery and brisk guitar runs give the band a thrash intensity not far removed from Municipal Waste. Columbia’s Longshot Odds provide an able complement, racing through gruff and energetic punk that takes cues from psychobilly, street punk and speed metal to craft buoyant shout-alongs. Soda City Riot makes its debut, too. — Bryan C. Reed

New Brookland Tavern: 8 p.m., $6 ($8 under 21; $3 for Derby Girls); 791-4413, newbrooklandtavern.com

Monday 15

Hey Marseilles — As evidenced by Coldplay’s pre-Bruno-and-Beyonce turn during Sunday’s Super Bowl Halftime Show, the kind of arching, elegant pop-rock the British band pushed to the fore more than 15 years ago still has a big audience. If you’re looking for a similar group that supplicates populist ambition to subtlety and nuance, come check out a quick five-song set by Seattle’s Hey Marseilles benefiting MusiCares, “a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need.” — Jordan Lawrence

Tin Roof: 7 p.m., $5; 803-771-1558, tinroofcolumbia.com

Tuesday 16

Daedalus — You can often tell a metal band’s sound by the T-shirts the members wear. Daedalus members don band merch from Fallujah and Cattle Decapitation, among others. With the single “Speaking Tongues,” the band offers deeply dark tech-metal injected with howling ambience. With the upcoming EP Apotheosis, Daedalus promises to blacken to the point of burnt or beyond. With Asheville grind crew Pallor, plus Republican Marriage and Glamdring. — David Travis Bland

New Brookland Tavern: 7 p.m., $6 ($8 under 21); 803-791-4413, newbrooklandtavern.com

Wadaiko Yamato: The Drummers of Japan — The essence of yamato, or the nationalistic Japanese spirit, is elegant simplicity — the monochromatic beauty of a Zen garden, or the careful tranquility of a yamato-e painting. And so it is with taiko, a form of Japanese percussive music revived in the mid-20th century and honed to a point of powerful austerity. The Wadaiko Yamato drumming troupe delivers a thundering contemporary take, one influenced as much by austere graphic design and minimalist composition as primeval pulses. — Patrick Wall

Newberry Opera House: 8 p.m., $35; 803-276-6264, newberryoperahouse.com


Friday, Feb. 19:
Steep Canyon Rangers
This bluegrass band from North Carolina walks the line between festival favorite and sophisticated string orchestra. In 2013 their Nobody Knows You won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album. The previous year they were nominated for the same award for their collaboration with banjoist-comedian Steve Martin in Rare Bird Alert. — Florence Civic Center, 6 p.m., Feb. 19. $15 in advance, $20 day of show. 843-679-9417. Florenceciviccenter.com.
Paid Listing

Yonder Mountain String Band Lost a Core Member And Kept Right on Moving

Thursday at the Music Farm
By Vincent Harris
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Yonder Mountain String Band
In April 2014, Yonder Mountain String Band parted ways with singer and mandolin player Jeff Austin. After 15 years together, the Colorado progressive-bluegrass quartet cited those familiar “creative and personal differences.” Austin was in many ways the public face of the band, the lead vocalist on many of its songs. It was a big blow for a group that was coming off three consecutive No. 1 albums on Billboard’s Bluegrass Albums chart.

What: Yonder Mountain String Band
Where: Music Farm, 1022 Senate St.
When: Thursday, Feb. 11, 8 p.m.
With: Trout Steak Revival
Price: $25 ($22.50 advance)
More Info: 803-252-9392, musicfarm.com
After forming in 1998, Yonder Mountain quickly became trailblazers in the genre, pushing into more experimental territory and acting more like a jam band than a bluegrass outfit on stage. Touring relentlessly, the band encouraged fans to tape shows, building a loyal following not unlike that of the Grateful Dead. By the time of Austin’s departure, the group — which also included bassist Ben Kaufmann, banjo player Dave Johnston and guitarist Adam Aijala — had become a reliably great live act, weaving instruments and vocals together in dazzling displays of musicianship.

“It’s a very anxious moment when you make a change as big as the change that we made,” Kaufmann admits, never mentioning Austin’s name. “You expect there to be fallout from that. A lot of people had spent 15 years of their lives really liking the way things used to be.”

But rather than taking Austin’s exit as a critical blow, the band pressed on. Adding mandolin player Jake Jolliff and fiddle player Allie Kral, the group entered the studio to record 2015’s Black Sheep. Kaufmann says he was initially nervous about how Yonder Mountain’s audience would react when the album dropped in June. So far, he’s been pleasantly surprised.
[Online copy corrected.]

“We’ve seen a noticeable growth in attendance for our shows,” Kaufmann reports. “We’ve experienced a regeneration of our fan base by bringing Jake and Allie into the band. There’s a younger element to the audience. More females are showing up and feeling a connection with Allie. That’s been an amazing thing to witness.”

Bolder still, for the first time, the members produced the record themselves, remarkable given their limited time together before entering the studio.

“It was something that we’d been thinking about doing for a while,” Kaufmann says. “We felt like we were ready for that challenge, but also, that album was the first one with a new lineup. So we were still learning about what this group of musicians would sound like. If you’re going to work with an external producer, then you accept that they’re going to have a lot of input as to what the sound’s going to be. I think in this case there would have been a danger in giving too much input to someone outside the group.”

The approach worked. Black Sheep leaps to life with crisp arrangements, precise harmonies and joyful improvisation. Indeed, it sounds like the work of an ensemble that’s been together for decades. But in Kaufmann’s mind, it was the newness that helped make the album special.

“If you think about a band as a metaphor for a different kind of relationship, when you’re in that brand new period, that when you’re quickest to experience great fits of happiness and love,” he offers. “That’s what we were experiencing in the studio. Everything that we would do, every suggestion that someone would make, when the suggestions were good, it was quite a turn-on, and it sent jolts of excitement through the room. The whole thing was very exciting. There was a lot of great happiness, too, because as we were making the record, we were having the experience of the sound coming together.”

Let us know what you think: Email music@free-times.com.

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