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Hip-hop summits and back porch angst



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The title of Joe Johnson's first "proper" solo album, A Time to Dance, was more than a little misleading. "It was meant to be a porch-rocking album of sorts," says the local singer-songwriter. "Everything was live and came out as it is, chairs creaking and everything."

This coming Saturday, Johnson and his band will play a record release show at the Ivywild School to celebrate Johnson's sophomore album, New West Sound. It's decidedly more danceable than its predecessor, with full-band arrangements featuring most of the Haunted Windchimes, as well as members of Johnson's old outfit Creating a Newsense, the Grant Sabin Band and the Broken Spoke.

A less expected contributor is Jacob Klock, the 20-something concertmaster for the Colorado Springs Chamber Orchestra. "I met Jake one night on the front porch of the Helm," says Johnson of the low-key house-concert haven, "and he's just an incredible talent. I had this dream for years — I even told folks about it — that I could find a fiddle player who loved classical music, country and bluegrass equally, could play each one proficiently, and wasn't in a band."

Johnson's most fully realized work to date opens with the loping country of "White Port Wine," before moving on to the galloping "Ghost Riders in the Sky" twang of "Ketchikan." Rock instruments find their way into the haunting melancholia of "The Bishop's Castle," while the album-closing "Jake Leg Blues" foregoes instrumentation entirely to showcase one of the most intense vocals I've heard in some time.

"I wrote 'Jake Leg Blues' a long time ago but I've seldom done it, mainly because it's a taxing song to sing," says Johnson, who recorded the track in just one take. "It was the last thing recorded after five straight 10-hour days in the studio, so finding the mood to wail with intense desperation was pretty easy."

Johnson and his band will be playing songs from both CDs — and maybe a couple from the download-only covers album he released in-between — at Saturday's show, with former Blue Mountain frontman Cary Hudson opening.

This Friday the 13th, meanwhile, should be a lucky day for hip-hop fans, as Wandering Monks head down from Fort Collins for a rare local appearance. Flodignatic will open the Monks' show at the Subterranean Nightclub, located beneath the Underground, with proceeds going directly to the Arc of the Pikes Peak Region.

The duo recently released its Shining Through album, which includes a collaboration with emcees Che Bong and Zetfree from the Springs' own Bullhead*ded collective. The track brings together Bullhead*ded's free-spirited inclinations with the Monks' more activist perspective.

"We feel like the 'Bullhead*ded Monks' track is one of the high points of the album," says McAD of the appropriately titled closing number, for which the four musicians collaborated by sending sound files back and forth via Dropbox. "We had no idea what to expect, content-wise, but in true Bullhead*ded fashion, everything was delivered professionally and on-point."

As for Colorado hip-hop at large, McAD sees unprecedented efforts toward community-building among like-minded artists. "We're seeing a newfound unity among the crews here," he says, "with positive support and admiration for one another — instead of the negative belittling and downplay that can come with too much competitive angst like we've seen in the past."

All of which brings us to the hip-hop performances at last Thursday's Indy Music Awards Festival. Following full sets by first-place category winners Black P and the ReMINDers, a host of emcees representing the other nominees — including Che Bong, Zetfree, Stoney Bertz, HoTT, Milogic, and Earsiq — joined forces for a late-night celebratory showcase. As the assembled rhymesayers took their turns freestyling at the mic, bassist Charlie Milo and turntablist DJ Gravity provided some 90 minutes of nonstop hip-hop accompaniment.

At one point in the set, nearly a dozen artists were sharing the upstairs Mansion stage. For me, the biggest surprise was ItsReaLight Love, an emcee/singer/poet with a larger-than-life voice and boisterous sense of humor. She also has a talent for scat singing that made me reconsider my aversion to that particular technique.

There was more, of course. If you go to here, you'll find photos of festival highlights as well as performers' reflections of their own favorite moments.

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