By Cory Sklar
By Alee Karim
By Christina Li
By Dave Pehling
By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
Bringing an infusion of bloody-knuckled punk energy to Dylan-esque folk epics and tear-in-your-beer honky-tonk, the two musicians of Two Gallants had the balls to name themselves after a short story by James Joyce, and they back up their hubris by crafting a surprisingly original sound out of their timeworn influences. Founded in 2002 by childhood friends and San Francisco natives Adam Stephens (vocals, harmonica, guitar) and Tyson Vogel (drums, vocals), Two Gallants cut their teeth at house parties and frequent busking sessions on the corner of 16th and Mission streets. Equally adept at dark, brokenhearted ballads shot through with a whiskey-soaked wit that belies their youth (Stephens and Vogel are in their early 20s) and punked-up jigs that make the duo sound like a pared-down version of the Pogues tackling Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, the Gallants honed their startlingly mature material with extensive touring long before they even had an album to hawk. Though the outfit made enough of an impression on legendary producer Jim Dickinson (whose résumé includes work with Big Star, the Replacements, and Mudhoney) for him to track some sessions with the group in 2003, Two Gallants ended up recording their debut effort in Berkeley earlier this year. The resulting album, The Throes, finds Vogel's alternately muscular and sensitive rhythms propelling vivid narratives built around Stephens' craggy, potent voice and intricate picking. As affecting as the album might be, it only hints at the cathartic ferocity the songs take on when Two Gallants perform live.
Not since Ben & Jerry's has ice cream had such a profound influence on an individual as it has on soul singer Quinn Luke, aka Bing Ji Ling (which translates to "ice cream" in Mandarin). Bing's story -- and he's sticking to it -- is as follows: A baby boy is born in the back of an ice cream truck in the early '70s and is quickly and aptly named Bing Ji Ling. Said baby develops melodic responses to individual flavors, producing giggles in various musical keys based solely on the ingredients of a scoop of the dairy product. Praised as a curious, sweet new wunderkind, Bing composes a slew of jingles for his family's armada of ice cream trucks. Like all child celebrities, he develops psychological problems, which, according to Bing, resulted in the kid holing up "in his room looking at pictures of nearly naked girls and listening to Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Hall & Oates, Luther Vandross, Prince, Freddie Jackson, New Edition." When he eventually emerges from his bedroom, the singer marks his return to the world by recording Doodle Loot Doodle a Doo, a soul record that packages all of the above influences into a butt-shaking pint of romantic goodness. Doodle is all funky Clavinet and Rhodes electric piano, bobbing booty bass lines and danceable drum machines, with soul vocals as juicy as they come. The record is meticulously crafted with minimal but effective arrangements, suggesting that all that time cooped up with the R&B masters really did teach Bing Ji Ling a thing or two. Best of all, though, is that when Bing performs his songs -- which he does aided by the talents of drummer Adrian Young and guitarist Tom Dumont, of No Doubt fame -- he brings free ice cream for all. Now that's soulful!
Nedelle & Thom
Why is Nedelle & Thom in the Soul/Funk category? Maybe it's because the local act is so eclectic that it could've been placed in any of four sections. No matter where you put this songwriting duo, though, their tunes stand out from their peers'. Having numerous releases of their own (including Nedelle's 2003 LP Republic of Two and Thom's three CDs with the Moore Brothers), the pair have already shown themselves to be accomplished singer/songwriters. But Nedelle & Thom's debut together -- Summerland, released by Kill Rock Stars this July -- is another beast altogether, an epic work of '60s soul and Brill Building folk. Imagine if Burt Bacharach recorded an album with an indie rock rhythm section in a tiny studio in Boston (in this case, with several members of Karate), and you might get a hint of what the pair have accomplished. There are loads of pretty harmonies, with Nedelle's jazzy phrasing wrapping around Thom's tart melodies. (She got her singing start covering jazz standards around town, after dropping out of the Berklee School of Music and giving up on classical violin in the late '90s.) And, more so than on the musicians' own records, Summerland brims with concise, jangly guitar hooks and swinging organ parts. As for lyrics, the two focus mainly on such Bacharachian topics as love that's sweet and sour. Of course, old Burt never weaved nuclear war and rampant consumerism into his romantic songs, as the duo do on "Cute Things," crafting protest bossa nova folk funk soul. Yeah, Nedelle & Thom can do it all.
Stymie & the Pimp Jones Luv Orchestra
The roots of funk band Stymie & the Pimp Jones Luv Orchestra date back to the late '80s in Los Angeles, where lead singer Sean Sharp was fired from a band called Stymie. That group later changed its name and morphed into a heavy metal act, while Sharp took on the "Stymie" alias out of a sort of revenge. Sharp moved to San Francisco in 1996, and he brought with him the ambition to further the lineage of funk in the city that birthed one of history's most acclaimed funk groups, Sly & the Family Stone, a chief influence on Stymie and his pals. Today, Stymie & the Pimp Jones Luv Orchestra entertain San Francisco audiences with their freaky blend of funk, a kind of sonic stew flavored with an array of musical seasonings, incorporating styles from ska to rock to gospel to blues. Always high-energy, the Orchestra manages to avoid sounding dated or retro, contributing a modern twist on a classic genre.