And one for the local folks, Adrian Niles
This week I review a local release by a superb musician.
Adrian Niles, “Supermoon”
There are few opportunities left in the Ohio Valley for live bands. In fact, venues for live bands everywhere has diminished except for music-centric cities such as Los Angeles, New York City, Austin, Texas, and Nashville.
But the truth remains, except for hoardes of musicians playing acoustic guitars, you have to travel if you’re in a band locally and you really want to perform. And if you’re playing original music, you might as well forget about it all together. There just aren’t any venues – even in Pittsburgh, unless you want to sell tickets to be on a bill with another band.
The fact is, while there are scads of great bands here that would be welcome on stages in other parts of the country, the Ohio Valley, once a mecca for live music and bands, has become the valley of the dead. There are lots of reasons why – an aging audience, less population, club closures and a declining popularity of music among young people, to name a few.
Anyway, the reason I’m writing this is because there ARE local musicians writing great, original music. One of those is Wheeling’s Adrian Niles, who has been around for awhile but came on my radar a few years ago.
Niles mines the blues and classic rock for his inspiration, and his latest release, “Supermoon,” recorded at Rick Witkowski’s Studio L in Weirton, is a wonderful slice of soulful blues, great guitar and even better songs. “Supermoon” reminds me of a great 1970s rock album, with plenty of grit, fabulous guitar tones and solos and Hammond B3, played by Jamie Peck at his studio in Wheeling. The result is an album with lots of character, killer hooks and Niles voice, an instrument that’s obviously been honed to blue-eyed soul perfection from listening to the masters of classic blues and R&B.
The anthemic “Classic Rock Radio” harks back to a time when music mattered and walks the line between radio-play readiness and lyrics that recall a time when rock ‘n’ roll was about joyful rebellion and the headiness of hearing a great classic song for the first time. The youthful abandonment recalls early Bruce Springsteen when he still penned songs about how much rock radio inspired him.
Niles, who is an adept guitarist, bassist and keyboardist, writes with an earnestness you just don’t hear in music that’s turned fake and plastic. There’s something endearing – and enlightening – to hear someone pen a song that draws inspiration from the great bands of the ’70s, and I hear influences ranging from Humble Pie to Howlin’ Wolf.
And speaking of Wolf, my favorite cut is the slow-burn of “King of All Kings,” which sounds like Niles channeling the ghosts of Jimi Hendrix, John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters. The song has that great vibe the Rolling Stones could sometimes conjur, with the dry, surreal and witty shotgun-poetry Howlin’ Wolf, Hooker and Diddley were so good at. I mean, you have to be schooled and steeped in that tradition to be able to write like this:
“Analog thunder and digital rain … I got the magnetic movement, I got the binary pain … I take bullets in my coffee, I pull the slugs from my chest … Messages from my loved ones I never get … Jesus is the king of all kings …”
Not only righteous, but really, really real. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of this track.
I couldn’t end this review without remarking on the incredible synchronicity between Niles the guitarist and drummer Clint Landis. These two have played together for a long time, and it shows. Landis is endlessly tasteful and has a touch and sensitivity most modern drummers lack. What I really like are his crisp tones and snappy snare, sounds that only come from listening to older music styles where the drummer played the song instead of just playing the drums. Also unlike most “modern” drummers he listens to the lyrics as well as the music, adding accents and creative surprises along the way. He intuitively responds rather than reacting out of rote. Beautiful.
The production by Witkowski also is stunning. He has a real knack for producing roots-inspired music, with the guitars having that chiming clarity of mid-70s Stones, only more modern. The drums are beautifully captured, and there’s enough of a live feel the project doesn’t get Pro Tooled to death.
But Niles’ talent is the real jewel here.
“Supermoon” is a great album inspired by great influences. If there were any justice in the world Adrian Niles would be at least an East Coast star. Maybe with some luck, he will one day.