Peaks and Valleys–The Sapwoods

                                      Cover art by Dan Peterson.

Peaks and Valleys, the new record by the Sapwoods is likely one of the best new records you’ll hear this year.  Anchored by singer-songwriter Justin Swafford and guitarist David Suchan, the Sapwoods went through a bit of turnover after 2012’s Electric Glowbefore the lineup stabilized with Miranda Peyton on keys, Brian Speer on bass and Derrick Cook on drums.

The opener, “Relax, Be Real, Be Yourself” is a hard-charging Tom Petty-style number that sets the table lyrically, as other titles include “Let It Go,” “It’s Alright, Close Your Eyes”.  “Two Wounded Soldiers” and “Steady on the Breaks” also fall into the it’s-gonna-be-alright category.  Lyrics can be hard to decipher (they’re available on Bandcamp), but tend to be kind of oblique anyway.  “Leopard tongue speaks it’s alright” for instance.

The band hits quite a few different stylistic notes, from the opening rocker to the light reggae lilt of “Are You Lightning?” to the sprightly but melancholy breakup song “Serve You Right” to the spacy “Perdition”.  “Back To You” would fit right into one of the old Nuggets compilations.  That said, Swafford’s vocals pretty often suggest Tom Petty, with a hint of Jeff Tweedy.  “Drifters” even borrows some of the rhythms’s of Petty’s “Hometown Blues.”

                                      Photo by Sean Adams-Hiett.

Peaks and Valleys is absolutely worth your attention.  You can stream it on ReverbNation or Bandcamp, where it’s for sale.  You can also connect via their YouTube channel or FaceBook.  Catch them a one of their upcoming shows, and you can buy a physical CD.

–John Hiett

Iowa City Music Festival #2 Preview and Info



Who is ready for this weekend?!?!

Here is some magic by the Mad Monks, they’ll be at Gabe’s Iowa City on Friday night

Psychedelic Dance Rockers Zeta June

The Treats will get you dancing at Yacht Club Friday night

Don’t miss the the Feralings, beautiful song writting and steller musicianship

Catch Maiden Mars tonight at Iowa City Yacht Club for some primo Iowa City punk, here’s a tasty preview:

Crystal City

O we gonna get funky with OSG music, who ready to party, this Saturday at Gabe’s Iowa City

Velcro Moxie

Catch the Iowa City legend Kevin “B.F.” Burt this Friday at Gabe’s Iowa City

Can you say WOW?! This is going to be a great show!!! Will we be lucky enough to get the Instigators as well?!?! Come to find out.

Yes, it’s true we’ll be dancing to Dave Zollo this weekend as well, Friday night Iowa City Yacht Club!!! Don’t miss a minute of this 2 day, 2 venue, 20 band show.

These guys will be rocking with us this weekend, and it’s gonna be tiiiight!!!

Catch Milk Duct Tape @ Iowa City Yacht Club on Friday night


Check the facebook event for more info:

Item 9 to release 3rd Album on 4/19

An Iowa City staple, Item 9 & The Mad Hatter’s have been rocking Eastern Iowa and every where else from Dayton Ohio to Los Angeles California.  Their third highly anticipated comes out on midnight of 4/19 or just at 4/20/2014 begins.  Every time these guys put on a show they don’t hold back.  This will be their best local show to date and possibly the wildest time Iowa City has seen in a long while.  Catch them before it’s too late.

Iowa City Rock Band Item 9 & The Mad Hatters

Iowa City Rock band Item 9 & The Mad Hatters to release their next album on 4/19!!

In studio video:

Facebook Event:

Change — Crystal City


Crystal City‘s transition’s complete.  Former acoustic duo Dave Helmer and Sam Drella have added a band and released Change, their second record, following an eponymous EP.  Brock Muench adds bass and Blake Oleson (since replaced by Dan Peterson) drums.  Dave, a gifted writer, also sings and plays guitar.  The lovely and talented Sam sings (she could sometimes be mixed a little louder), whistles and adds the occasional trumpet part.  Dan designed the album cover, which, as you can see, is awesome.

Their voices go really well together and the band has great dynamics (fast/slow, loud/soft).  Hooks are everywhere.   Eleven songs last just 32 minutes, so nobody’s jamming much here, but when Dave rips a guitar solo, he makes it stick.  Change is stylistically varied, from the punk attack of The Best Way to the moody dissonance of Tangled Down to the soaring glory of Waiting.  Looking for a single?  Try Dynamite.

If there’s a theme in Dave’s songs, it might be mild relationship anxiety.  He’s an easy  going guy tho, and copious amounts of cheap beer seems to cure most ills.

Well I know that I treated you bad
I left you down and I know I left you sad
And I’ve apologized about a thousand times
What can I do to make things right?  

You can hear or buy Change here, follow them on Facebook, or catch them Friday night at Gabe’s.  Physical CD’s will be available at shows a few weeks from now.


— John Hiett

We the People: The Muckrockers on the State of the Union

Given the recombinant nature of Iowa City bands and the general talent level, it’s probably nuts to label any new band a super-group.  However . . .

Scott Cochran has been writing great songs for a long time now, polishing his craft with two excellent bands, Slew Grass and Flannel.  He’s given a lot of thought to the our national political/economic situation, and written a coherent group of songs from a radical, patriotic, populist perspective.  Their Facebook description serves as a mission statement.  “Muckrockers are a group of working class musician-citizens aiming to illuminate and eliminate the corporate stranglehold on our government and our lives.”

To a lot of eyes

Greed and lies

Killed the American dream


Economic inequality, chronic unemployment, and a seemingly hostile government are all weighty topics, and if you want to engage an audience while addressing them, you’d better include a hefty dose of fun.  Mission accomplished on that front.

These songs, some of which you might recognize from recent Slew Grass shows, range from fist-shaking, storm-the-barricades anthems (Great Depression, Kick the Power Out) to sad, thoughtful ballads (Soldier, That Shit’ll Kill Ya).  Paris Hilton is a honky tonk story song about a guy headed to DC to see about getting his job back from Mexico.   Matt Kearney performs The Contract as a sardonic monolog over a rocking soundtrack.  How Long ends with a children’s chorus that recalls the Clash’s Career Opportunities.

The exhuberant chorus from Great Depression sounds like a cross between John Prine’s Spanish Pipedream and the Mermaid Avenue records.

“Burn all your money.
Pack up your kids
Better find your religion.
Better get off the grid.
Better learn your constitution.
Someone grab a gun.
There are people goin’ on the run”

You can hear this, and a couple other songs on the Muckrockers’ Facebook page.  (*WARNING*  Earworm alert)

Tom Spielbauer (Porch Builder) plays guitar, banjo and fiddle.   Agit-rockers Matt and Jamie Kearney (Pigs and Clover) sing backup vocals.  Matt adds bass, harps, banjo and guitar.  Jamie plays her purple sparkly cocktail drum kit.  Tho not on the record, April Dirks Bihun now plays mandolin with the band.   Dustin Duwa recorded, mixed, mastered, and generally engineered.

We the People engages with both the heart and the head. Passionate and thoughtful, it deserves a huge audience. You can buy it here.

-John Hiett


Catfish Keith plays the Mill Saturday, Dec. 28th, 8pm

If you haven’t seen heard Catfish Keith play, odds are good you haven’t seen anyone like him.  The shorthand for what he plays is  acoustic blues, but you’ll hear hokum, Caribbean and Hawaiian influences as well.  He’s toured overseas 41 times, and is just back from 2 1/2 months in Denmark, Ireland, N. Ireland, and the UK.  Tho he lives in Washington, Iowa, Keith just plays locally a few times a year, usually at the Mill.  This Saturday night, for instance.

An astonishing virtuoso on guitar, he’s recorded 15 albums on his own Fish Tail Records label, the most recent being Honey Hole.  Subject matter on this includes blues standbys like sex (Sweet Honey Hole, Best Jelly in the Neighborhood) and drugs (Weed Smoker’s Dream, Lotus Blossum).

Can you tell us a little about how you research the older styles you play?

 Well, John, I’ve been in love with the real deep blues since I was a kid. I was always endlessly curious and have always been digging deep to discover more great music. A common thread in all of this is a heartfelt human quality, and a virtuosity that made one guitar sound like a whole band or orchestra. So I take all of these essential American music styles from the old days and make my own sound with them. It’s a sound that has a lot of twang to it, big string bends, chiming harmonics, and the full human spectrum of joy and sorrow, everything that being human is. 

I get into early blues artists, with life-changing sounds, such as Son House and Charley Patton, and have learned as well from some of the greats that were still living from that era: I’ve studied and got to know Johnny Shines, Henry Townsend, Honeyboy Edwards and Jessie Mae Hemphill personally. They were friends and mentors. My musical grandparents, so to speak. 

Then, my musical fathers and mothers, uncles and cousins include people like John Hammond, Dave Van Ronk, Paul Geremia, and some great musicians from around here like Greg Brown and Joe Price, Bo Ramsey, Pat Hazell, Robert One Man Johnson and  Al Murphy. So it’s definitely a tradition handed down. 

But I did forge my own thing out of all of this: Hawaiian, Caribbean, Hillbilly, Blues and Early Jazz. And the artists that I made my sounds from were giants: Lonnie Johnson, Django Reinhardt, Howlin’ Wolf, the Carter Family…it goes on.

But I’ve always dug deep, and continue to do so. It’s not something you hear on the radio or TV, I don’t even bother. I just keep finding these great old records, and keep learning big repertoires of great musicians, like Leadbelly and Mississippi Fred McDowell. Any of my songwriting is informed from that, to me it’s the same thing as playing the old songs, but in my own way, always.

You and your wife Penny Cahill make such an effective, efficient team.  What are some of the roles she plays in your career?

Penny is my manager, sound engineer, she’s Pres. of Fish Tail Records, our record label. And she has endless curiousity as an archivist, loves to videotape, take photos and preserve magic great moments of our life and travels. We’ve sort of intuitively forged a career out of just my music for over 25 years now, and I love it that she enjoys it, sometimes even more than I do!


You used to describe your old dobro as a cross between a hubcap and a garbage can, then accidentaly dropped it in the ocean.  

Yes, I did drop my old National in the ocean once. Didn’t help it.


 Now you sell high end guitars.   How did that come about?

I love great guitars. Ones that are brand new, inspired by vintage instruments. We now live in the peak of the golden age of the guitar, there are a bunch of wonderful luthiers and small manufacturers that make the best guitars you will ever play. So my selling guitars came about as a natural extension of loving this music. When someone gets a new National or Flammang or New Era or Bown or Fraulini through me, I get a vicarious thrill from it, as if it were my new guitar; I love that “angels singing” moment when they open the case for the first time! It just goes right along with playing and teaching and touring and recording. I love it.

Catfish’s YouTube page is full of great performances, and five of his albums are available from the Local Music Project.  There’s nothing like hearing an elite player live tho, and Saturday night’s your chance.

–John Hiett