SXSW Overflow: Day Ten, Pt. 1 (Hugo, Marvin and the Cloud Wall, Glory Days, & Eric Jennings)

Back up in the city proper now, so I’m back onto the SXSW Overflow Fest writeups, for all the bands playing tomorrow night, Sunday, March 18th, up at Super Happy Fun Land. It’s been quite a run so far, and it’s still rolling on strong.

Now, today/tonight’s lineup starts at 4PM, which, if you’ve got a watch handy, was, um, a little while ago. Sorry — lawns must be mowed, yards must be weeded, all that stuff. And unfortunately, I’m still not done writing everybody up. sigh. So rather than drop the ball completely, I’m going to post this in two parts, starting with the bands earlier on the schedule in Part 1 (right here) and finishing up the rest this evening.

Here goes:

HUGO: At this point in music’s history, frankly, it’s hard to not get pegged as sounding like somebody else if you play pop songs on the piano. Sad, maybe, but it’s the truth — if you play piano pop, odds are you sound like A) Elton John, B) Randy Newman, C) Ben Folds, or D) all of the above. In the case of NYC-dwelling piano man Hugo, it’s a little of B and quite a bit of A; he’s playful like both musicians, that’s for sure, although songcraft-wise, he’s a hell of a lot more like Folds than anything else.

That said, Hugo tap-dances through a much wider selection of genres, incorporating elements from samba, blues, musicals, and barroom/ragtime stuff, plus an unabashed, wide-grinning goofiness. And remarkably, it ain’t bad; the guy’s charm breaks through barriers with effortless ease, and I find myself shaking my head and smiling as I listen. Here you go:

MARVIN AND THE CLOUD WALL: Alright, so let’s get it out of the way early — there is no “Marvin” in Marvin and the Cloud Wall, and there’s not really a “Cloud Wall,” either. Instead, MTCW is the solo project of one Joe Novelli, who, along with his trusty drum machine, scrapes and rumbles his way through a well-crafted landscape of rootsy Americana. There’s some gritty blues (“Loaded Gun,” in particular), some windswept Western atmospherics (“Summer and the Swing”), and headnods to American rock ‘n roll classics like a tin can-sounding cover of “Johnny B. Goode.”

Throughout, Novelli comes off like a less-folky Ray Lamontagne, playing his signature slide guitar and singing along in a rough-edged voice that sounds like whiskey and far too many cigarettes. Oh, and if his name sounds familiar, that may be because he’s lent his slide to quite a few other folks, including Howe Gelb…

GLORY DAYS: C’mon, can you blame me for jumping to conclusions? I mean, c’mon. You see a band from New Jersey, who call themselves Glory Days…how can you not there’s going to be some kind of Boss connection there.

But nope, there isn’t one, really. Instead, the band’s midtempo alt-rock reminds me more of the gentler, heartbroken side of Jimmy Eat World, with confident-yet-vulnerable vocals, impressive melodies, and propulsive rhythms. Which isn’t bad, I have to say, although they don’t quite match up to the aforementioned band on the couple of tracks; they actually incorporate a lot more piano, as well, which makes the band a bit more in the Adult Contemporary vein, at least to my ears.

ERIC JENNINGS: Okay, so this should be Geisha Hit Squad, not Eric Jennings, if we’re being totally accurate — Geisha Hit Squad is the name of the “band,” and Atlanta-dweller Jennings pretty much is the “band,” as far as I can tell. Don’t let the semi-absurdist name throw you, though; GHS is actually pretty straightforward, fairly low-key, gentle-souled singer/songwriter folk-pop that jangles and sways, incorporating Jennings’ soulful voice, some subtle strings and piano, and delicate guitars into something that’s unassuming but still very charming. There’s an oddly R.E.M.-like feel, for some reason, at least to me…

Check out & download (for free, which is always cool) a blues-folk-y new track right here:

Alright, that’s it for now; more to come tonight, if all goes as planned.

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