From titans of the scene to newcomers, rock to hip-hop and some weird stuff in between, Savannah musicians are putting out the jams this year. Here’s a snobby, sarcastic, semi-comprehensive list of recent releases, in alphabetical order for your reading pleasure.
Black Tusk, one-third of Savannah’s venerated triad of metal — Kylesa and Baroness being the other two anchors — released a new single in May from their forthcoming sixth studio album, “TCBT.” After the loss of founding bassist Jonathan Athon in an accident three years ago, the band has hit the reset button and reformed for a new era.
Charging into the future with new bassist Corey Barhorst and new guitarist Chris “Scary” Adams, along with drummer James May and guitarist Andrew Fidler, they've returned to their punk roots without losing the ferocious attitude that formed the basis of their "swamp metal." Black Tusk signed with Season of Mist (Cannabis Corpse, KEN Mode, Weedeater, Kylesa) for the new album and are planning a major fall tour around the album’s release. *insert devil horns hands emoji*
Eight years ago, CUSSES formed and rose to popularity in Savannah behind their high-energy, straightforward rock. They released one studio album, some singles and flirted with major label deals. In the last three years, however, the band reached a state of inertia. After a year's hiatus, they reformed in 2017. They won a contest to open for Bon Jovi shortly after in Memphis. Most recently, they opened for the Descendents. Their last hometown show was to a packed Club One at this year’s Savannah Stopover Music Festival.
After a highly successful Kickstarter to fund their second album, “Golden Rat,” in 2014, the band essentially sat on the album while shopping it to labels. They self-released an EP in 2015, “Here Comes The Rat,” featuring tracks from the new album, and have finally announced the full album will be released on Aug. 30. In anticipation, they recently put out arguably the album’s strongest song, “Critical,” via Revolver Magazine.
Although singer Angel Bond and drummer Brian Lackey have left town for new homes in Nashville and North Carolina, respectively, CUSSES will tour the album in the fall and are working on a third album. “Golden Rat” is the band's strongest studio effort, and it's nice to see it find the light of day as a full release. Here’s hoping the fans don’t have to wait four more years for the next one.
One of Savannah’s premier emcees, Dope KNife is continually releasing excellent hip-hop tracks following the simple formula of killer beats and exceptional, intriguing lyrics. There’s something to be said for continuity, and Dope KNife is continually good at what he does.
Dead End Hip Hop released Dope’s latest single, “Make It Dope,” as a one-off single. The highly prolific rapper, however, will undoubtedly have a new album out soon.
Beware, children, there are naughty words in this video.
With a legitimate pedigree, 14-year-old Flau'jae is carving out her own hip-hop destiny. The daughter of rapper Camoflauge, Flau'jae made her television debut on the third season of Jermaine Dupri’s "The Rap Game," but didn’t make the final cut. At the end of May, she made her first appearance on "America’s Got Talent" with the song, “Put Your Guns Down,” a conscientious piece concerning the prevalent Savannah gun violence that took her father’s life before she was even born.
Flau'jae is years ahead of her peers in lyrical content and flow. Simon Cowell was right in saying that this is the beginning of her career. Savannah couldn’t have a better ambassador in the hip-hop world than Flau'jae and we’re lucky to witness such an amazing talent come out of such a tragic event.
Jeff Two-Names And The Born Agains
Savannah’s only pop-punk dad band has released yet another EP with a song about their former bassist (and the original Mr. Savannah) Petey Worrell. Because we, the people, needed it and possibly demanded it. All of the songs on this EP are true stories. Only real punk bands write non-fiction.
Jeff-Two Names' only serious song, “I’m Done With My Brain,” bookends the EP. It’s hilarious. Support these aging dads by purchasing a copy of their EP, or at least stream it for free.
For more songs about Petey, check out this band The Ramages, too. OK, The Ramages is the band I formed with Petey. Collusion! Fake news. Hashtag winning.
Savannah superstar Keith Kozel has had a rough go of it in recent years. Battling a rare kidney disease, Kozel (GAM, Superhorse, Shoplifters) was able to get a kidney transplant, but then was diagnosed with blood cancer. Needless to say, the bills are piling up, which has been rough for his young family.
To offset the growing medical costs, Kozel put together a compilation, “Summer Comes but Once a Year,” of new tunes and old ones. The 21 tracks were recorded at various places and coalesced into this compilation, with the help of Gene Lyons, over the course of nine months.
Featuring a number of great local musicians and Kozel's bandmates like Lyons, Kevin Rose, Josh Safer, Jim Reed, Ricardo Ochoa, the late Robyn Reeder and more, this is a killer compilation of great rock ’n’ roll tunes. Kozel has not set a price on the album, meaning you can pay what you will. So not only do you get 21 great rock tunes from one of Savannah’s best rock ’n’ roll frontmen, but you also get the opportunity to do some good in the world. Win/win. Do it. I am going to.
Ryan Jones showed up on the 2018 Savannah Stopover roster, seemingly out of nowhere. Perhaps I just haven’t been paying enough attention. Regardless, Jones’ bedroom pop/indie-rock is excellent. She dropped a new single, “Gold Pack,” just this week.
Jones delivers a wonderfully rich, introspective narrative about a relationship with a gold pack of cigarettes (presumably, American Spirit) as the active agent driving the song’s story line. Jones’ clean electric and docile vocals guide the verses, only to give way to a building, chugging pre-chorus, completed by staple indie-rock stops and starts. Midway through, a lull helmed by synths and long organ tones seems to be a cadence, but is only a valley before the song climbs to yet another satisfying climax.
This is truly splendid songwriting and dynamically interesting music similar to a great movie, where tension and release build the drama. It ends with Jones proclaiming an ambiguous addiction, to either cigarettes or the person. Damn it, Ryan, make more music, please.
A number of storied, longtime Savannah and Georgia musicians have formed, for lack of a better word, a supergroup. (Ugh. I hate that word. Can we replace it with super-duper group?) Anyway, Power Struggle began with drummer Bailey Davidson after he broke his foot and couldn’t play drums. He refocused his music energy into guitar. According to a nice press release, he became bored with covers and began writing original material.
Davidson began forming a band around his original music. Yeah, it’s a killer lineup. Athens’ John Neff, a founding member of Drive-By Truckers, adds pedal steel guitar, while Michael Solomon (guitar) and Jason Anderson (piano, organ, vocals), the latter of Superhorse fame, form a rhythm foundation and Eric Dunn of Velvet Caravan (formerly of The Train Wrecks) plays the bass. Essentially, that is a list of professional musicians. Hard to go wrong with that chemistry.
Drawing on a host of Southern-rock influences, Power Struggle is solid rock ’n’ roll with alt-country flavors and R.E.M. aesthetics. The eponymous album is a fun listen. Worth your time and seven bucks.
Vatican’s particular brand of metalcore caught national attention last year, when a number of music-minded web-based media outlets picked up “Ache of Eternity.” The straight-edge metallurgists released this two-track promo EP, “Spawn of All Pain Taken,” as a teaser for a forthcoming LP. Metalsucks, the home for all things metal, premiered the EP.
While Vatican rarely plays hometown shows these days, due to lack of acceptable venues and similar acts, they are not sitting around. They toured extensively through April and May with Cruel Hand, Old Wounds, Sanction and No Victory. They have 10 dates scheduled for a July tour as well. The last played Savannah at this year’s A.U.R.A. Fest. I was there. It was pretty gnarly.
Writing metalcore songs about issues like the death of friends and suicide might seem to fit the macabre aesthetic often affixed to heavy metal, but Vatican doesn’t use these subjects as advertising tropes and tactics. Rather, they use heavy music as an honest outlet for their emotional trials. That kind of brutal honesty is admirable and makes the already killer tracks even more accessible.
Joshua Peacock is the arts and entertainment features writer for the Savannah Morning News. Empire of Sound has won three Georgia Press Association awards. He tweets @JoshuaRPeacock. Contact email@example.com or 912-525-0724.