In 2008, the Music Was Alive and Well

Article excerpt

Byline: Serena Markstrom The Register-Guard

There is a certain rhythm to the entertainment scene here. Road warriors come to town year after year but never break into that 5,000-plus venue range. Eager newcomers attempting to build a name for themselves. And the locals plug away - their work often underappreciated.

Let's face it, we see our share of has-beens milking old fame. But there's enough to get excited about in those three categories, so I'll focus on them as I take a look back at some of the highlights in local entertainment this year.

I hope everyone has a resolution to discover some new music this year. Although I enjoy attending shows where there is little competition to see the stage, I never will cease to be amazed how long it takes people around here to get excited about a new artist.

I say: Take a chance and go see someone you've heard very little about. Continue the quest for new music even if you are out of college.

Best local releases

Jon Timm, lead singer and songwriter for Ingredients the Band, made me laugh when he said about his music: "People say, `It sounds like a normal CD I would listen to.'"

The group's "Cold Blooded, Warm Breaded" is not normal, per se, but it does sound good. On their sophomore album, Ingredients the Band swings from a somewhat melancholy "Work Another Day" to the infectious disco track "Groovy Groovy Man" to the charmingly wise "Wake Up Blind."

If you like fun, you should go buy this CD and go to all of the band's shows. Actually, that is also true for a few other of my favorites.

Yeltsin's "A Closer Walk With Yeltsin" is a fine rock album. Lead singer Jake Pavlak may not be the most engaging live performer, but his voice is appealing and he has become a decent lyricist.

Pavlak has a somewhat-shy approach to rocking. But Yeltsin has a secret performance weapon in drummer Jivan Valpey, who manages to ham it up from behind a drum kit.

Yeltsin also is great because its three core members are married with children, and (most of the time) all three hold other jobs. Yet they are dedicated enough to keep the band going with all the other forces of life pulling them somewhere else.

A group that is now officially geographically challenged but also staying strong is Animal Farm, which released "The Unknown" this year. Members are scattered across three cities, but they keep bringing the goods.

Hip-hop is not my area of expertise, but I can recognize quality when I hear it. Animal Farm is a band of unusual charisma and spunk.

"The Unknown" has a few tracks I can't stand, but I took care of that by simply unchecking them in my iTunes library. One song that will stay in my rotation for a long time is "Ragtime Gal," for which the group members researched such 1920s slang as "the cat's pajamas."

Perhaps the antithesis of a four-MC, high energy hip-hip act full of guys in their 20s is bluesman Al Rivers, who also made my short list of favorite local releases. Rivers is a middle-age solo artist with an understated, self-deprecating delivery.

He's funny too. "Grumpy Old Man," from his release "Inside Out," makes me wish more people were into writing nonsense poetry.

Rivers' sound reminds me of some of my favorite paintings, which employ white space as well as color. His music is relaxing, but in no way lazy.

Best Portland releases

Two of the best albums from Portland artists that came my way this year have a surprising thing in common. Does anyone know the Stephanie Schneiderman/Mic Crenshaw connection?

Crenshaw recently played a meagerly attended free show at John Henry's. The size of the crowd did not befit the quality of album he was celebrating, called "Thinking Out Loud."

Aside from Atmosphere's "When Life Gives You Lemons ...," this is my favorite hip-hop album from 2008. The track "Follow Your Instincts" has a powerful and disturbing message, with expert production from Auditory Sculpture. …