On a summer morning, with the sun rising just over the tree tops kindly lining Milwaukee’s streets, I still had Pay the Devil’s album in my cd player from the night before. I listened to it a couple of times prior, trying to get used to not seeing the notes and melodies fly off their instruments live; still absorbing those little pieces genius in songs that you miss in a performance.
I left the album inadvertently cued to Johnny, a down beat march adding a somber rolling snare and fiddle to the banjo and guitar mainstays. With the reddish blues engulfing everything near the horizon, Ivan Eisenberg’s voice humbly laments, projecting a first person account from the Antebellum past,
“Born in an coal mine in the Appalachian hillside in western Pennsylvania north of the Dixie line… I never hurt no one just minding business working my land and drinking my wine // Until one day a man came walking, down the roadside a rifle in his hand // He said old Abe Lincoln, he needs a small favor he needs the help of every strong man…
In a extraordinarily rare and powerful way, in that moment, I saw history with someone else’s eyes, a forgotten man’s story, buried under the lines of text penned by history’s learned hands and obscured by rhetoric of spokespeople of the oppressed and bigots alike; sung for years with frosted breath, up to this unsung and unspoken sesquicentennial of the US Civil War. I welled up and nearly cried.
Milwaukee’s music strata has a ton of composite minerals, and it’s blues/folk/bluegrass scene lays underneath, the bedrock of it all. Pay the Devil: Ivan, Ivan, Matt and Jeremy, a band of scrappy banjo picking, washboard raking, mandolin strumming, guitar riffing common law siblings gives this firmament it’s strength. Now and then, they add the gold that Johanna Rose brings to all her collaborations, and glasses clank, knees rock and the times ring loverly.
A cacophonous symphony for the strange folk when they play live, Pay the Devil recently released their debut LP Wrong Side of the River, a 13 track doozie that rambles and presses over everyday Milwaukee life with a rolling pin, and shaves off some good old folk tales with at a straight razor.
Pay the Devil has distilled on the scene for a few years now and Wrong Side of the River is a welcome project capturing a moment in time that’s worth riding till the carriage breaks. An essential piece of Milwaukee’s musical stitching, this album is one 2015 best projects and well worth nabbing.
With a somber drone, “Woven by priests and jeweled by the sea”, Sun Dogs I: Spirit Modules changed what I thought possible in music aesthetic. Encased in a Medieval garment, this opening phrase allowed a ghastly mood to settle over Rose Window’s debut album, Sun Dogs, from the onset. A homeless bard in a hooded cloak headed toward a path leading to a dark forest, transported back in time from the cover of Aqualung, this is his song. So went the close of 2013, the year of sound aesthetics beyond anachronistic.
I’ve been waiting to hear some acclaim for this album or this band for that matter, Sun Dogs time came and went. Hard to believe it was nearly three years ago. Pardon my reminiscence, turns out this praise says ‘I love you” too late, Rose Windows skipped the rocking chair and burned out after their self-titled second album.
On most of their debut, Sun Dogs, they come across light and fluffy, a bed of moss, with wispy, often laboring vocals, loping alongside melodies that arduously drag iron plows through drought cured dirt. Then Chris Cheveyo does something like push Rabia Qazi from behind with serrated guitar measure that scrapes all the moss away to the rock hidden underneath, near where my mind likes to camp.
Native Dreams, Rose Windows
A forbidden auditory coven, with forbidden customs, awaits as your eyes open, awake again. Sun Dogs plays like a soundtrack to a ritual healing ceremony, the ancient essences fomenting those numb areas where electrical impulses sit weakened by corrosion from to living, leaving them receptive and renewed.
Rose Windows entered a realm with Sun Dogs where song titles disappear, stories unfold mysteriously and untraceable. It culminates with This Shroud, a benediction, a 7 minute prayer to the expanse of possibilities life holds in it broadest sense and the hopelessness the transition from American youth to adulthood promises; a fitting ending for a band that executed every step with such precociousness, a song for the open road.
Wartime Lovers, Rose Windows
Rose Windows called it quits in 2015, not surprising given their stilted follow-up Rose Windows, where they sounded like a band ready to break up on almost every track. While having its moments, it sorely lacks the build-up and sincerity of Sun Dogs. I say that constructively, the album is good, just not up to their capability. Maybe it just starts in the wrong place featuring a mixture of mono-tone male vocals on Bodhi Song. A rote and routine structure guides the second album, carrying a theme that offers little foreplay and quickly ends just when its getting good, trying too hard to say something. Given that it has far more pop appeal that Sun Dogs, to many it might appeal.
Strip Mall Babylon, Rose Windows
Did they go the fate of all those other large ensemble rock bands with tremendously talented female vocalists? Who cares. Although barely heard, Rose Windows will likely have many remembrances when kid after kid from gen-this after gen-that during their angsty years discovers a discarded LP with this weird cubist and folk art mosaic on it, deep in a stack of dusty records in a museum basement commemorating physical media, the Toad Hall of this millennium. Credit due to Paul Gavin of SongLyrics for introducing me to their music quite serendipitous while I tumbled through the internet abyss on summer night back in 2013.
Rose Windows contained the collective talents of Chris Cheveyo, Rabia Shaheen Qazi, David Davila, Nils Petersen, Pat Schowe, Richie Rekow, Veronica Dye. Get back together and please come to Milwaukee.