The Makers are on the move. From here to there and from this place to that, Spokane's prodigal sons of rock 'n' roll move so fast you hardly have time to notice they've gone before the heat of their presence has cooled. That's the way it's always been. And the way it's likely to stay. The Makers -- Michael, Jamie, Don and Jimmy -- will be gracing a hometown stage this Saturday night at the B-Side. But they won't be hanging around town for long because those fabled winds of fortune are taking the band out into the world once again, this time on a jaunt to the East Coast (and back) to perform at the CMJ New Music Festival in New York City on Oct. 15.
There are other changes in the air as well for the intrepid quartet, the most obvious being the change of recording label. Once a Sub Pop staple, the Makers can now be found on an Olympia label, Kill Rock Stars. The band's first project for KRS is called Stripped (in stores Nov. 23), and, as Makers guitarist Jamie reports, it's something "kind of weird.
"It's a different record for us," he adds. "It's all five of us --Tim [former main axe man] included -- playing songs that haven't come out before, some new songs and a lot of old songs in kind of a faux live setting. Basically, just kind of a celebration of the last 10 years."
"Well, we're live in the studio," explains Jamie. "It's really stripped down with just the five of us playing. It's not like the records we've been putting out" (the lovingly produced Strangest Parade and Rock Star God, for example) "it's just a 'Hey, here we are, we're the Makers' kind of record."
There's certainly nothing faux about the performances on this thing. And in fact, since "live" is the way most of us know the Makers, Stripped represents not only some of the band's finest material, but also the best way to experience these guys. No overdubs. Naked. Raw. A party in your head.
You know you need it. Any -- and every -- way you can get it.
Swingin' for Schuur -- By the time she was 4, Diane Schuur had memorized the Dinah Washington songbook. Washington, who was mentioned in the same breath as Billie and Ella in the 1940s and '50s, was dismissed by jazz purists in the '60s for her poppy recordings, beginning with What a Diff'rence a Day Makes in 1959.
As with Washington's career path, Schuur has turned into a respected jazz singer who's made a few forays into pop. Her latest Concord Jazz release, last year's Midnight, is more than just a foray, however: All 13 songs on it were written or co-written by a guy who's identified more than a little with pop tunes -- the Prince of Schmaltz himself, Barry Manilow.
The Midnight tunes range from upbeat and swinging ("Meet Me, Midnight") to brooding ("When October Goes") to comic and sassy ("Stay Away From Bill"). Schuur will perform with the Spokane Jazz Orchestra on Friday, Oct. 1, at the Met.
INLANDER: Your versatility is often mentioned -- your ability to adapt to the different demands of pop, jazz, blues and gospel.
SCHUUR: I just move pretty easily from one style to another.
Which of your songs is best suited to being sung with a jazz orchestra (like the SJO) that you've never worked with before?
We'll do some songs from the Basie songbook. I don't think many tunes from Midnight lend themselves, but I don't know. I haven't seen the song list yet.
Some have described you -- I'm not sure they used these exact words -- as a "brassy, bossy diva." Are you a bossy diva?
I would say I'm self-assured.
But where does that self-assurance come from?
It comes from experience.
Your voice is on the edge of tears in "Goodbye My Love." How do you recreate emotions like that when you're in the middle of a busy recording studio?
I just recollect things. You put yourself in those moments.
To adapt what Charlie Parker said, "If you haven't been through it, it won't come out your... mouth." What obstacles have you overcome in your own life? Because they seem to be reflected in your singing.
I've had a lot of setbacks.
On the video that comes with Midnight, Barry says that back in the '50s, being "cool" meant doing less, not more -- not showing off. Which songs on Midnight exemplify that?
"When October Goes." "Southwind."
Apparently the woman believes in letting the music speak for itself.
A Washington state native, Schuur, 51, has released 17 albums and won two Grammys as Best Jazz Vocalist. She got her big break at the 1979 Monterey Jazz Festival, when she deeply impressed Stan Getz with her rendition of "Amazing Grace" -- understandably, since when a woman blinded shortly after birth sings the final lines of that hymn, it can be pretty powerful.
Several of the tunes on Midnight have a similar power and could become standards, too. For some jazz purists, however -- the kind who attribute canned sentimentality to all pop songs -- a Barry Manilow-Johnny Mercer song like "When October Goes" exemplifies emotional gushing.
Schuur, naturally, denies that sentimentality and jazz are opposed forces: "That's b.s.," she says. "I think of Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong and the late Ray Charles."
But Schuur -- whose mother nicknamed her "Deedles" -- doesn't help her case any with a contrived moment at the end of her duet with Manilow, "Anytime."
"Love ya, Deeds," Manilow says in a sticky-sweet voice. And Schuur -- who has her own nickname for Barry -- replies, "I love you, too, Bear."
Jazz feeds on improvisation; contrived moments such as this one measure how far Schuur has swung to the pop side of the spectrum on Midnight. Fans of Spokane's jazz orchestra will be rooting on Friday night for the Count Basie side of Diane Schuur. -Michael Bowen
Alley of the Dolls -- There's actually nothing very machine-like about the Mechanical Dolls, a quartet of West Side women with that exquisite rock 'n' roll poison coursing through their veins and good times to distribute. No, they're made of mortal stuff. And that's good, for rock rendered with too much precision is mighty sterile, indeed.
The Mechanical Dolls are the headlining attraction of the Spike Coffeehouse's "Rockin' the Alley" (co-sponsored by the good folks at the Downtown Spokane Partnership), a free, all-day, all-ages live music and sloppy barbecue hootenanny raging in the alley behind Far West Billiards this Saturday from 1-8 pm. The band will also be performing an acoustic show in the Spike's new indoor venue, the Underground, on Friday at 8 pm.
A quad of Olympia, Wash., high school friends first formed the Mechanical Dolls four years ago. Today, the band is comprised of Savanna Reynolds and Danielle Woods (both on guitar), Kayla Rakes (bass), and Valerie Brogden (drums). All four of them sing as well. And at some point, in a moment of fist-pumping solidarity, the decision was made to surrender their individual family names and adopt the unifying surname, "Doll." Inspired by heavy-hitting classic rockers like Led Zeppelin, Heart, Aerosmith and AC/DC, the Mechanical Dolls bring as much attitude as chops to a performance.
That take-no-prisoners presence and attention to craft has earned the group a fair amount of respect in the notoriously jaded Seattle music scene. They've been able to play choice gigs with choice bands. And they generally slay the competition at regional battle-of-the-bands contests.
While the group's Christian views are expressed within many of the songs, those views have been sufficiently obscured for enhanced palatability among the masses. The homilies aren't obvious, but they're there for anyone interested in digging for them. Instead, the overarching message is that of positive action: affirmations of the power of rock 'n' roll to shake loose the cobwebs of dreary existence and inspire the otherwise un-inspirable. -- Mike Corrigan