Foghorn String Band
Reap What You Sow

Born during a hungover jam session at the National Fiddle Championships in Weiser, Idaho, the Foghorn String Band has matured into an old-time force. In the hands of this Portland band, Appalachian tunes tumble, skip and roll like West Virginia’s New River at high water. Fiddler Stephen “Sammy” Lind and mandolin player Caleb Klauder (formerly of Calobo) share instrumental melody lines, while Kevin Sandri plays percussive rhythm guitar and Brian Bagdonas holds down the bass. The loose cannon of this group is banjo player Reverend P.T. Grover Jr. While many old-time banjo pickers play a clawhammer style, Grover drives the group with a mean three-finger picking style all his own.

Foghorn’s vocals are adequate to convey the tragic, hungry, lonesome stories of these songs to their listeners. But when this record hits its stride, the musicianship drowns out the lyrics anyway.

Rather than taking on the task of reinventing the songs of The Carter Family, Dock Boggs, G.B. Grayson and others, this band chooses to play them as-is with tremendous heart. Foghorn’s signature lies in the energy with which they pay homage to their roots. Everything they record, including Reap What You Sow, is recorded around a single microphone and that spontaneous, nostalgic energy transfers well. (Caroline Keys)

The Foghorn String Band plays The Top Hat Thursday, May 12, at 10 PM. Cover TBA.

Zion I
True & Livin’
Live Up Records

Oakland duo Zion I first appeared on the underground hip-hop radar in 2000 with the release of their phenomenal debut, Mind Over Matter. Combining traditional hip-hop elements with influences as diverse as electronic ambient and old school drum ’n’ bass, the album was a serious breath of fresh air amongst the comparatively stale releases of Zion I’s peers.

Two albums later we find MC Zion and DJ/producer Amp Live veering in a decidedly more pop direction. With their appearance on MTV2 last year, many fans may see this development as the death knell of one of their favorite acts. Worry not—True & Livin’ is seriously great.

Zion’s signature chill-yet-precise flow is still ten times better than most who pick up the mic. Amp Live’s production is also way ahead of the game. In spite of a few teeth-grinding inclusions of wailing R & B vocals, the tracks are perfectly mixed lessons in production excellence. Sitars, horns and synth pads intermingle over crisp beats and minimalist scratching to create listening bliss. Some tracks are up-tempo party jams, others laid-back cruising numbers, but all can stand on their own merits. True & Livin’ will be a serious contender for best hip-hop release of 2005. (Adam Fangsrud)

Zion I plays with Opio at The Other Side Wednesday, May 11. Tickets run $8 for over 21, $10 for 18-21, and the show starts at 10 PM.

Sleepers Team
The Show
GMG Entertainment

If you can relate to three guys talking about money, gettin’ and playin’ bitches and why their crew can verbally kick your crew’s ass, then you’ll probably like The Show, the latest offering from Washington, D.C.-based rap group Sleepers Team. If, however, you’re looking for rap that doesn’t pander to clichés and actually has substance, you probably won’t like this disc at all.

Sleepers Team is composed of MCs Tym (a former Missoulian) and Genius and producer Doc Roc. The beats, melodies and lyrics are all geared toward the dance floor and are akin to some of the heavy hitters in the commercial rap game, including 50 Cent, Nelly, Twista and The Game. If you’re into the minimal sounds of commercial rap, this may not be a bad thing. But the reason The Show is such a lackluster effort is that it relies exclusively on this commercial copying. Perhaps they could take cues from a group like Dead Prez, who maintain a gangsta image but infuse their music with revolutionary politics and respect for the opposite sex.

Although they lack originality, give credit to Sleepers Team for following their aspirations—they traveled out here for one show and have spent the last week doing promotions. But perhaps next time they record, they’ll branch out lyrically and musically and give us something of their own. (Ira Sather-Olsen)

The Sleepers Team plays The Other Side Friday, May 6, at 10 PM. Tickets cost $10 for over 21 and $12 for 18-21.

Tom Freund
Copper Moon

Surf Road Records

Folks say you’re known by the company you keep, and Tom Freund’s connections are a clear view into the type of rootsy music he produces. His latest album includes drums by session artists who’ve recorded with Rufus Wainright and Richard Thompson, lap steel by a member of The Wallflowers, and a string arrangement by legendary Tom Waits producer Jerry Yester. Freund got his start on an album with Ben Harper, has toured as Graham Parker’s bassist and receives praise from Victoria Williams.

That’s all you really need to know—his new album treads in the same waters as these bigger names. His title track is an ethereal acoustic tune that alerts cynics to standard songwriter fare, but the writing is thoughtful and obscure (think Wainright) and it’s a nice introduction to Freund’s gravelly, poppy delivery (think Jakob Dylan of the Wallflowers). From there, he rocks like old Tom Petty (“Run Like That”), dabbles in upright bass-driven jazz (“Comfortable in Your Arms”) and ends with a crooning, Beatles-esque piano ballad (“New Moon of the 7th Sun”). The production is smart and balanced, the musicianship solid; there are no mistakes on Copper Moon.

Yet, for all of the compliments he garners through comparisons, there’s still something missing to put him on a must-hear list. (Skylar Browning)

Tom Freund was scheduled to play Sean Kelly’s but cancelled as the Independent went to press.

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