Minivan Blues Band
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Minivan Blues Band

Memphis, Tennessee, United States | SELF

Memphis, Tennessee, United States | SELF
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On Lifelong Turbulation (self-released; Grade: B), jam-flavored "blues" group Minivan Blues Band does interesting and rewarding things with the form. Their largely acoustic sound is friendly and communal, the frequent (and well-done) Latin touches (see "Albino Trout") adding a flavor one might not associate with front-porch roots music.

Though Lifelong Turbulation opens with a blues cover, J.B. Lenoir's "The Whale Has Swallowed Me," the rest of the album is made up of originals, with writing credits split among band members Jonathan Ciaramitaro (guitar, mandolin, vocals), Joe Schicke (guitar, mandolin, vocals), James Ray (guitar), and J.D. Westmoreland (bass, vocals), with drummer Paul Buchignani rounding out the lineup. This music evokes comparisons to the rootsier side of '60s and '70s rock (the Band, Neil Young, even Michael Hurley in its likably oddball bluegrass impulses) more so than straight-up blues.

The Minivan Blues Band will join Yamagata, Parallel Parker, and another local act with a new record, Stout, this Friday, December 19th, at the New Daisy Theatre.
- Memphis Flyer


March 18, 2010

When the Minivan Blues Band hits the Hi-Tone Café stage this weekend to celebrate the release of its second album, Dancing With the Devil Once Again, it will be an event a long time in the making. The eclectic local roots band debuted in 2003 with the album Lifelong Turbulation and went into Easley Recording in 2005 to record a follow-up album.

As with many other local bands, a fire at Easley forced a change of plans. The band was able to salvage some of its Easley work, which it took to Willie Mitchell's Royal Studio for mixing, but that material never surfaced. Then, in 2007, singer/guitarist Joe Schicke moved from Memphis to Fort Collins, Colorado, for graduate school.

According to Schicke, the band has only played a handful of gigs since his move, but the recent "reunion" shows went well enough that the band decided to record a set last fall at the Hi-Tone Café, recruiting friend Dawn Hopkins of Beale Street Caravan to help.

"We lost our drummer about three days before the show," says Schicke of the November 2009 gig that ended up becoming the band's second album. "But the practices had gone really well. When Dawn came out before the show and asked if it was going to be a CD, I said yeah."

And so it was. The Minivan Blues Band captured on this live document is a little different from the version on Lifelong Turbulation, though the personnel is mostly the same.

"We were a more acoustic band back then," Schicke says. "More of a folk band. We've turned into more of a rock band now. But we still have an acoustic element. We may do an acoustic set [at the release show]."

With Schicke sharing songwriting and/or vocal duties with bandmates Jonathan Ciaramitaro, James Ray, and JD Westmoreland, the band draws on blues, bluegrass, and classic rock. Harry Peel came on as drummer shortly before recording the album and remains.

"We just like old, American-style music, though we come from slightly different places," Schicke says. "JD comes from more of a jazz background. I played in Memphis blues bands. I played on Beale Street with the Reba Russell Band. Jonathan is more into country blues. And James is probably the most modern in that he really likes stuff more from the 1960s and '70s."

With the diverse roots-music approach and the multiplicity of vocals, a key influence seems to be classic-rock stalwarts the Band, though the Minivan Blues Band lacks the same piano/organ musical foundation.

Their music is mostly original, but the band tends to draw from local and regional sources for outside material. Dancing With the Devil Once Again opens with Willie Mitchell's "That Driving Beat" and brings back Mississippi-bred bluesman J.B. Lenoir's "The Whale Has Swallowed Me Whole," which also was featured on Lifelong Turbulation. There's also a cover of Memphis alt-rocker Lorette Velvette's "God Forsaken Town."

"I'd never heard of Lorette Velvette," Schicke says. "Jonathan came up with that. He likes her and [her band] the Hellcats. He listens to that kind of stuff. I really like the song."

The new album's release — and release concert — coincides with Schicke's spring break, though he sounds as if he'd like to focus more on the band.

"I've got about a year left [in grad school]," Schicke says. "I would really love to move back, because I miss Memphis music."

The Minivan Blues Band celebrates the release of Dancing With the Devil Once Again Friday, March 19th, at the Hi-Tone Café. Showtime is 7 p.m. Admission is $7.

by Chris Herrington - Memphis Flyer


March 19, 2010

Since 2007, the Minivan Blues Band has been a long-distance affair. That year, Joe Schicke, group co-founder, singer, guitarist, and one of the band's chief co-writers, moved to Fort Collins, Colo., to go to graduate school.

It was a dramatic change for a group that, since its founding in 2001, had honed its freewheeling, improvisation-based roots sound over years of frequent and intense jam sessions.

"For the first five years we were somewhat inseparable, playing three or four shows a week and touring and playing constantly," says bassist J.D. Westmoreland, who like guitarists Jonathan Ciaramitaro and James Ray and new drummer Harry Peel, still lives in Memphis. "It's good that we did that. We got to know each other very well as musicians, so now we don't have to be together all the time for it just to work."




The separation has had its impact on the band's sound, though. Originally conceived as an acoustic project, trading in slightly groovy versions of old folk songs — "bluegrass with a djembe," as Schicke calls it — the Minivan had morphed over the years into a electric roots-rock outfit known for its expansive jams.

Now, however, without the luxury of playing together all the time — and without the demands of keeping themselves entertained playing the same material night after night — the Minivan has tightened its sound, trimmed the musical excess and fastened in on their original songs.

This more tightly focused model Minivan is on display on Dancing With the Devil Once Again, a new live CD that documents the band's concert last November at the Hi-Tone. The band returns to the Hi-Tone tonight for a CD release party.

Dancing is Minivan's second CD following 2003's Lifelong Turbulation. A follow-up disc was begun in 2005 and was literally plucked from the fire that consumed the studio Easley McCain Recording that year. The sessions are done and mixed, but the band has been reluctant to release them as a CD because they are, even by Minivan's genre-bending standards, too eclectic.

Instead, the band's sophomore release is a record that — as opposed to the Easley sessions, which have been labored over for five years now — was barely planned at all.

"I knew we were going to do this show, so I called (audio engineer) Dawn Hopkins to come record just to have a record of it," says Schicke. "She came and set all her stuff up the day of and said, 'Is this going to be a live CD?' And I said, 'OK, I guess so.'"

Like the Easley sessions, however, Dancing was almost derailed by unforeseen circumstance. A few days before the show, the band's longtime drummer Paul Buchignani quit the band. At the last minute, the Minivan pulled in session ace Harry Peel to fill in.

"There are very few drummers around Memphis who have that very rooted Memphis sound. Paul is one, and Harry is another," says Westmoreland. "He was in a session with Teenie Hodges all day the day of the show and was late to the gig. But when he got there, he just got right to it and was phenomenal."

With the release of Dancing, Minivan's members are preparing to see a lot more of one another than they have in recent years. Hyped about their new direction, the band is making plans to get the Minivan back on the road.

"This is the time to hit it," says Schicke. "Everybody's writing songs and playing great. It's crazy, we've been playing together so long and everybody's now getting a second wind."

by Mark Jordan

Minivan Blues Band CD release party

Tonight at the Hi-Tone, 1913 Poplar. Doors open at 9 p.m. Admission: $7 at the door. Advance tickets available on the Web at hitonememphis.com. More information: 278-8663.
- Commercial Appeal


Discography

Dancing With The Devil Once Again (2010)

Lifelong Turbulation (2003)

Photos

Bio

Minivan Blues Band mixes up a potent blend of strong songwriting, solid grooves that make you wanna shake it, rippin' guitars and great vocals. The band plays high energy rock and roll with a penchant for experimentation, and their broad catalogue of original music, fun cover songs, and lively and dynamic stage show have made Minivan Blues Band one of the South's most popular music acts.