Janisch, Reddell, Melancon and Whelan: LA’s Posse of Four
Los Angeles as a culture of creative music, wild minds, backstreet songwriters and troubled troubadours has nothing to compare itself to-even though today it is an often over-looked community of musicians and artists. In truth it never has needed to be compared to anywhere else, though it is often compared to Nashville, Austin or Houston in vain attempts to find an adequate frame of reference for what has been happening there since the 50’s; Places like Doug Weston’s Troubadour helped to ignite the early post-McCarthy folk era and saw artists like Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Hoyt Axton and The Kingston Trio pass through its doors. In 1965, the Sunset Strip became the home of many folk singers who made there way from Greenwich Village to pursue the electric sounds with bands like Buffalo Springfield, Lovin’ Spoonful and The Mamas and Papas. In the late 60’s and for a decade after Los Angeles would be the home of the singer-songwriter movement with artists like Tim Hardin, Jackson Browne, Tom Waits, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Gram Parsons. Although it was hard to resist its proximity to the larger, corporate music industry, it was always something more about the spiritual and creative call of the Pacific coastline that would lure artists to the beauty and the magic of the place where the desert and the mountains meet the sea.
Today is no different. On Wednesday night Carolina Chickadee aka Julie Richmond, will host a Melody in the Round at Taix restaurant in the heart of Echo Park, the district where the Rolling Stones recently chose to play a ‘secret’ show for their world tour. Rod Melancon, Dan Janisch, Ben Reddell and Brian Whelan will gather for an acoustic round of songs with each artist taking solo turns on songs, new and old. While you couldn’t ask for a stronger night of talent, they are also a group of artists who bring the kind of geography and genre diversity we’ve come to expect from an evening of Americana music anywhere in the country. Their origins range from Washington to Lousiana; Texas to Los Angeles. The musical terrain they explore is rooted in the swampy blues of Louisana cajun, Mississpippi Delta blues, the country folk of Kerrville, Texas and California country-rock. But, it’s all anchored on songs that include insightful lyrics and echoes of Cash, Lightening’ Hopkins, Buddy Holly and the ever-present Townes Van Zandt.
For Rod Melancon the road was a clear one. Gifted with looks that inevitably land him with the comparisons to Elvis or James Dean, he’s no imitation of anyone past or present. He is first and last a songwriter with a vocal style that gives him an edge recalling the finest of country artists who draw from their origins and the ghosts of past poets. Melancon came to L.A. four years ago for acting career, but discovered a different kind of muse as he began to write stories about his home, family and friends in South Louisiana. The last two years has seen the release of the critically successful My Family Name and an EP, Mad Talkin’ Man with sessions recorded in Nashville.
Brian Whelan migrated from Washington state to L.A. a few years back. His first album, The Decider, released late in 2012, recalls the best of alternative country with a power-pop flair. The mix conjures up a virtual update on the kind of youthful but informed innocence and straightforward music of Buddy Holly. Whelan is most known today for his long-term gig as Dwight Yoakam’s multi-instrumentalist wunderkind band member. He’s doggedly trailing Yoakam in making new inroads into mainstream country music which favors quality over image and calls the listeners back to the music’s roots in a fresh and original way.
Ben Reddell is quickly on his way to becoming one of L.A. Americana’s premiere journeymen with a studio gig day job at Bedrock Studios in Echo Park, a tried and true bass player for Rod Melacon and Drive He Said. He’s also started his own, The Ben Reddell Band this year. He released his first solo EP, The Big Dang Deal last March. It’s a glorious throw-back to the best days of 70’s country-rock via his home state of Texas. The songs are clear-eyed, light-as-day originals filled with heartbreak, Lone-Star honky-tonk ambiance with just the right amount of country-soul to give the EP a clear distinction among this year’s new Americana entries-a contender for any journalist or fan’s 2013 ten-best list.
Probably few artists have integrated as many of music’s most powerful elements as successfully as L.A. veteran Dan Janisch. Hearing him the first time, live or on record, is a revelation. Like the first time you heard Tom Waits and realized jazz, blues and country could not only coexist, but could soar together. Indeed, whatever he performs, Janisch soars when he writes, sings and plays his raging lead guitar or skillfully tasteful acoustic. He draws guitar influence from Chicago blues and the British Blues Revival but his writing is sharp, engaging with a vulnerability and soul that is kin to Townes Van Zandt and early Tom Waits.
These four artists are all in their own way worthy of solo shows of their own. Gatherings like this are a tradition that goes back to Nashville days when Mickey Newbury, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Roger Miller would gather in the kitchens and saloons of Music City Row to trade off songs. At Taix tonight, comes the rare opportunity to visit these four artists who are proving themselves today in the same way others have over the last 50 years in Los Angeles’ always interesting music culture.
Dan Janisch, Brian Whelan, Ben Reddell and Rod Melancon will be playing Melody in the Round at Taix Restaurant in Echo Park on 8/28 at 9:00 PM. Admission is free.