Music » This Little Underground




For how many years now have your demented kin unraveled your sanity with lame holiday music? If you want to get 'em back — and you know you do — then slip on The Singing Saw at Christmastime (Merge Records), a collection of holiday standards played by Julian Koster (the Music Tapes, Neutral Milk Hotel) on, yes, the saw. Sure, it's inventive and starts off charmingly enough. But the supernatural howls of that spectral saw will eventually make one of your less stable relatives freak the fuck out. And wouldn't that be a gift in itself?


Probably the purest personification of the blues this city's seen all year was the venerable T-Model Ford (Dec. 8, the Social). Only thing you really need to know about the guy is that he's the genuine Mississippi blues article and is still knocking back the Jack in his 80s. The only other thing you could say about the ol' dog was already stated by his ball cap, which read "I'm the Boss." The man is barely able to walk but he's still groovin'.

Ford's music was forcefully expressed thanks to accompaniment by rugged Seattle blues brawlers Gravel Road, and the room pulsed all night with booze and reverence. Not a bad way to spend an evening.

As for Gravel Road, their opening set was an exceptional display of grit and brawn. Their stylishly grainy blues sports a thick rock neck more in step with the Black Keys than typical bar-band blues. Apparently, they played as a two-piece because their third member is in jail (how blues is that?). But between Stefan Zillioux's tough, ominous guitar slides and Marty Reinsel's hulking drums, they had the magical economy unique to duos and didn't sound like they were missing a thing.

Too bad their excellence was lost on the rude jagoff at the bar who kept yelling, "T-Model Ford!" throughout their set. Well, karma's a bitch, son, and this time it came swinging back with the instantaneousness of a tetherball. As soon as the set began, dickhead and his sidekick erupted into dancing so spectacularly awkward as to be surreal — Old Yeller wiggling like an ADHD-jacked toddler raised by monkeys and his buddy busting the sweetest White Guy moves I've ever seen — thereby unwittingly becoming the laughingstock of the club. Oh, the comedy. That guy's cognizance of T-Model Ford is as unfathomable as a mental patient raving about some underground artist like Daniel Johnston. Well, unless that patient happens to be Daniel Johnston.

A couple of nights later, Scott H. Biram took over (Dec. 10, the Social) with an especially rabble-rousing iteration of the blues heavily salted with country and punk. He wields a knowingly primitive texture and is one of the most stomping one-man bands alive. And he knows how to work the maximum mileage out of the honky persona.

Considering the gimmick, he's gifted with good stylistic range. No question, Biram's true to the one-man-band heritage and keeps it stripped and raw. But unlike most of his peers with their simplicity of approach, Biram expands the sonic possibilities with a pedal board that would make a shoegazer gawk. The result this night was high-octane rock sonics. And when he occasionally dove into it fully, he hinted at what might be an utterly original idea: the one-man metal band. C'mon, Biram, bring it.

From their opening set, it was clear that Cape Canaveral country rockers the Nine Volts are evolving nicely. Though their songs often start out boilerplate, they rise impressively with a big, two-guitar soar.

Texas tumbler James McMurtry brought the reliability of a seasoned vet (Dec. 7, the Social). Though forgettable when dipping into the blues, he shines when he sticks to roots rock. That's when he's the model of expressive guitar ability and emotional credibility.

What elevated this from good performance to good experience, however, was the spark that happens when evocative music meets a reactive audience. It was an older crowd, but they sure outdanced and outclassed most of you hipsters with applause that was louder and more sustained than that at many indie shows with twice the attendance.

I shouldn't have to spell this out for you, but artists tend to return when they feel appreciated. Loosen up and get over yourself already. Clapping's not uncool. But living in a town ignored by good touring acts is.

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