Graig Markel is back with a trio, and it's not (exactly anyway) his old Seattle three piece of yore, New Sweet Breath whom I've revered over the years. In fact Markel ditched the distorto-punk thing almost two decades back, branching out considerably. His new enterprise, Graig Markel and the 88th St. Band is touted as being forged on a foundation of soul and blues, but truth be told that isn't that drastic of a departure when you consider he was was dabbling with posh urban contemporary grooves and flavors all the way back on his 2000 solo outing Hard Grammar. Ditto for his "R&B" dalliance with the newly minted 88th St Band, though I will concede the opening "Don't Stop" and "Back Into My Arms" adopt sonic motifs and textures that aren't far removed from the Stax and Motown aesthetic. "Blame it on You" and "Take a Walk" on the other hand, wield an economical, mid-fi spin on the dirty garage stomp of the White Stripes and the Black Keys.
Post-Twentieth Century, Markel has really perfected an indigenous knack for crafting bittersweet soliloquies that split the difference between contemplative ballads and relaxed-fit jams. "Holding On" and "Live It Up" fit said bill perfectly, and sound like business as usual even with new drummer Joe Patterson, and bassist bro and NSB alum Nicholas Markel in tow. When all is said and drummed, the finished product isn't so much a purist genre piece, so much as a solid set of new Graig Markel tunes with some slight and often welcome tweaks to keep things from getting stale. BTW, for those of you who indulged in Graig's insular 2012 solo album (highly recommended I might add), ...the 88th Street Band is considerably less despondent. Buy a CD here or digitally thru CD Baby, Amazon or iTunes. You can preview one song in the sampler linked below.
Shirk Circus? Yeah, I had a hunch you probably didn't, but you can catch up on them via a feature I wrote in 2011, in memoriam of front-man Josh Silverman. Smith played bass for them, and from what I understand, Groping for Luna, Vol. 1 is his solo debut. Alternating between muscular melodic rock and quieter reflective pieces, Groping... is chockablock with sixteen pensive and considered numbers that tend to err on the side of melancholy. Comparisons to Bob Mould are inevitable, but if you're anything like me you might also hear traces of likeminded singer songwriters including but not limited to Jon Sondgrass (Armchair Martian, Drag the River) and Mark Eitzel. Despite his weariness at times, Smith manages to brew up a howling, manicured maelstrom on some of Groping's most assertive slammers, nicely exemplified on "Worst Case Secnario," and "An Ultimatum." You can preview/purchase the whole thing at Bandcamp or via the stream at Big Takeover online. Hard copies are available from Dromedary Records, and as usual, iTunes and Amazon have you covered digitally.