There’s no way to under–celebrate the year Baroness had in 2009. Blue Record, the Savannah–based metal quartet’s second album for Relapse Records, was reviewed far and wide as the genre’s most innovative – and listenable – collection in eons. Decibel magazine, metal’s periodical bible, named it Album of the Year.
Said Pitchfork: “Blue Record is one of the year’s most generous hours.”
And in the vaunted pages of Spin – which called Blue Record “beautiful, savage, stunning and deeply psychedelic“ – there appeared a feature story on Baroness and the other, lesser–known band’s on the Savannah metal grid. The story was called “Metal in the Garden of Good and Evil.”
Baroness isn’t your basic the sky vomits blood speed–riffing metal band. The music, penned mostly by singer/guitarists John Baizley and Pete Adams, is an amalgam of rock ‘n’ roll styles, including prog rock, blues, boogie, towering metal and Zeppelin–esque bombast. Played really, really fast.
Baizley, who’s also an accomplished visual artist (and a new father!), told us in October that he and his bandmates don’t put a lot of stock in strict musical labels.
“The difficulty, and I think the beauty, of playing music the way that we do is we’re constantly trying to understand what is acceptable, unacceptable, what has become rote and boring, what is exciting,” he said, “and ”How does this fit in the context of me expressing myself, and striking a balance between all of these auxiliary ideas?”
Another Savannah success story this year was vocalist Katrina Train, who released her debut CD, Spilt Milk, on Blue Note Records to rave reviews. As Kristina Beaty, she was one of the city’s most consistently enjoyable live singers in the 1990s and afterwards, lending her powerful, supple R&B chops to any number of local projects.
Train will make her first re–appearance here at the Savannah Music Festival in March. “All I really want out of this is the ability to sustain as an artist over time,” she says. “I want to be able to keep doing this and have a lifelong career. I want to reach people. You know, music gave me a gift, and I want to give it back.”
PETER & PHIL
The arrival of jolly Irishman Peter Shannon as conductor and artistic director of the nearly–brand–new Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra gave the city’s classical music aficionados something to cheer about. Armed with infectious enthusiasm for his craft, a tireless work ethic and a hot–burning creative light, Shannon transformed Savannah’s sleepy classical scene into a vibrant musical force of nature.
From an all–in–Italian La Traviata and Verdi’s Requiem (with its partner–in–doubletime, the Savannah Philharmonic Chorus) to full–out classical masterworks including Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, the Philharmonic in 2009 was re–writing the guide book for orchestral performance, and turning the dissolved Savannah Orchestra (formerly Savannah Sinfonetta) into historical footnotes.
“I think the problem that the musicians had before was this standard repartee of “Savannah’s loaded, it’s got a lot of money, and history needs that symphony orchestra,’” Shannon told us. “Bollocks, as we say in Ireland. If you can’t prove your worth in so many different ways – especially in the financial climate we’re in at the moment – you really shouldn’t succeed.”
The touring shows got pretty good this year – we saw the new version of Sweeney Todd featuring actors playing musical instruments onstage, for example – but the real story was the vitality and breadth of Savannah non–professional theatre (this despite the growing concern that the sagging economy might kill community theatre outright).
The City of Savannah did a mighty job with the sprawling The Wiz (which turned out to be its last–ever big summer show), and the Little Theatre of Savannah successfully stretched its boundaries with the controversial Urinetown: The Musical.
The Tybee Arts Association took a risk on an original musical, The Treasure of Lefty the Pirate – Legend of the Tybee Bomb, written by Savannah pianist Eddie Wilson.
Yet it was the upstarts at the newly–formed Bay Street Theatre company who got the blood flowing through Savannah theatre’s sometimes varicose veins. At Club One, the group staged a thrilling, chilling production of the rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, followed by the always–fun Rocky Horror Show and the provocative comedy Mr. Marmalade.