Poster Art by Jon Harper, original artwork for Skagg Philips by Michael Reeder
Joseph Carr submitted this piece ahead of this weekend’s album release shows by 35 Alums CORY PATRICK COLEMAN and SKAGG PHILIPS (DANIEL MARKHAM will be there, too). A lover of Denton, friend to both bands and music enthusiast who knows his way around a word or two, Carr provides special insight into the moments leading up to the new releases. If you’re headed up to Paschall Bar, Give him a high-five. He’ll be the guy at the door or cleaning up your spilled drink.
I’m deaf, legally, certified in the state of Texas, and have been for quite some time. When I listen to music I love it because I experience something akin to ecstasy. I finally moved to Denton because I knew I was in the last precious years of my hearing and I wanted Denton and all its personality to move me. I knew I would never be blessed by greatness without standing in her presence. Little d hasn’t done me wrong yet.
Wether it’s the occasional 1 o’clock performance or superstar-level showing at the Murchison, the random destined-to-be-shut-down house show, or a living room Will Johnson might play in, I’m open. I want it. I want it to fill these dead ears and bring them back to life, this decaying soul revived by every single note pronounced by greatness or experimental luminosity. In the midst of my journey I’ve found that my panacea, much like many others, lied closer than I suspected, as close as a brother.
I want to be filled, overwhelmed, at peace, questioned, detained, enraptured, harkened, enslaved, set free, slain and enlivened. Anyone can turn on the radio but I want to be changed, and nobody has changed my life more than these bands, these brothers and sisters have saved me.
The boys of Skagg Philips and Cory Patrick Coleman cut their teeth on Denton. They played in open mic nights at Brick House, Banter and Andy’s Bar, and since have graced almost every single stage in Denton. No stranger to the Metroplex, they’ve played in bars you’ve heard of and places you didn’t even know existed, some long gone. You’ve probably seen their faces in North Texas bluegrass staple A.M. Ramblers photos plastered across billboards along 35 touting one of our local universities, but I’ve know them as more than a face or even just a voice.
When I first met Cory Patrick Coleman, we harbored a misunderstanding of one another — due much in part to the aforementioned deafness. I’m happy it was but a moment before we were family for life. Much of CPC’s music dwells in that space between understanding and just missing one another. Tracks like “Porchlight” and “Once” on his freshman Bird Sounds along with “Kingdom” and “Thimble” on this newest release, Gonna Find You just seethe with lost chances and tension held taut by what could have been and our present reality. It’s the mark of a seasoned songwriter to take these special instances and weave them into a narrative we can all empathize with.
The entire new album reads as most of Cory Patrick Coleman’s work: A constant cycle between the playful and deadly serious. Rather than succumb to a bipolar swing, Cory finds a way to resonate the two into one uniquely melodic and transformative narrative. Tracks like — one of my personal favorites — “Kingdom” have a headnotic bop and shoulder sway twisting through a dark and somber lyrical rollick. The trend continues with instant classics like “Rolling the Dice” and super fun “Gun Barrel City.” Stippled among them lay awesome cat tracks that pleasantly fit to our too human endeavors. “Condensation Queen,” “Sleeping Willow” and “Gonna Find You” are as different as one cat from another and just as cherished (worth noting: all three tracks have been inspired by Cory and his girlfriend’s furry friends). The title track remains a thoughtful romp, “Condensation Queen” is ridiculously catchy and if you can make it through “Sleeping Willow” without shedding a tear you might not have a soul.
CPC continues its promise of joy in the midst of strife. and revels in childhood wonder at every turn while maintaining a mature and almost heavenly arrangement of harmony.
I’ve known Skagg Philips’ frontman Jordan Batson for almost 15 years. When he told me years ago that he planned on having a band with such a ridiculous name, honestly I giggled and shrugged it off. I knew he was a brilliant songwriter and would only grow to be greater, but a whole band with a misnomer of such silly unfounded reasoning was doomed to fail in my eyes. I’m glad I could not have been more wrong.
Having come from a very traditional upbringing — his father is a well-loved music minister, no doubt an inspiration in every single way — Jordan loves to oscillate between mournful songs about love lost and won. This album is grounded in what could only be called new Southern standards — like “Coochie Women” and A.M. Ramblers’ favorite, “Coming Around The Mountain,” — along with evocative post-folk like “IOOF,” “Fish” and “Lover’s Lane.” Skagg Philips has yet to relinquish its deep set Southern roots and stays existentially daring with dark and sobering hymns like “If I Should Die Tomorrow” and “Have Thine Own Way” which are, in a word: praise. Jordan’s vocal chops are second only to his ability to turn a phrase and to find new ways to express the beautiful with even the most mundane.
With the addition of well-seasoned and tremendously accomplished band mates, Skagg Philips’ vision gains the utmost traction in its debut album, Problems in Japan. Here are the dark toils of man, the mines, the whiskey, the medicated ladies by your side, the hiding spaces, the tiny spaces between the rows and rows of cars on lover’s lane, the search for a quilt beneath the stars, and “Problems in Japan.” Skagg Philips’ songs are about men looking for peace out in the wilderness, the search for wisdom and discipline and the possibility of happiness ever suspended but close enough to reach out and touch.
Both these guys are a brother to me, I’m embarrassed to say exactly how long I spent sleeping on their couches and eating their food. But in the moments between and in the midst of their hospitality, I cherished every word they sang and every strum they strung. You see, I was on the ground floor of these albums, I was there when the subject of these songs played themselves out in front of us — when the first verses scraggly wrestled their way, out shackling us to hindsight with all its lessons now learned and memories stirred. I am proud, thankful, and beyond blessed to have shared in them.
I know my experience isn’t unique, this is Denton, this is what we do. If you’re lucky you can get into Dan’s this Saturday, December 5th, and have a glimpse of the full life we’ve all lived these last 30 some odd years. And if you’re not so lucky you can still pick up the albums I’ve been waiting for all this time. The words might seem as coming from a folk tale or a children’s book but they are as real as the voices who sing them. I have no doubt you’ll find our experience mirrors yours.
If you do indeed have the chance to come out I’ll be the guy behind the merch booth, putting your money in the box and putting my money where my mouth is. Doors are at 9, $5.