Local music: Crankshaft's barn-born album

  • Article by: CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER , Wire services
  • Updated: February 7, 2013 - 6:37 PM

The blues rockers celebrate Saturday while the Ashtray Hearts rise again after an intercontinental separation.

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Alex Larson converted a crumbling old barn into a recording space for his band Crankshaft.

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You’ve probably heard of bands changing their song arrangements or even altering their lineups before making an album, but how about converting an abandoned barn into a recording studio?

That’s the great length gritty blues-rocker Alex “Crankshaft” Larson went to in search of the perfect sound for his new Crankshaft & the Gear Grinders disc, “What You Gonna Do?” which they’re promoting Saturday at Famous Dave’s Uptown (9 p.m., $6). The record was made entirely within the dusty confines of a 1914 barn in Larson’s native Anoka County town of St. Francis. He had to wire the structure, erect a staircase, rebuild its woodwork and clean up a few decades’ worth of pigeon droppings before they even pressed “Record.”

“I’d see all these old, empty barns around where I grew up and was always attracted to them,” Larson, 29, explained Monday, a day after returning from Memphis’ International Blues Challenge (they made it to the semifinal round). In his fifth year as Crankshaft, he believes the effort was worth it: “The wood surroundings gave it this natural, vintage, Sun Studios kind of sound. And we had a really good time, too.”

You can certainly hear the latter quality on “What You Gonna Do?” —it ranges in tone from the slow-grinding blues boogie “Earthquake Shake” to staticky, sped-up, dare I say barnstorming rockers such as the disc opener, “When the Sun Goes Down.” Larson can be formulaic in a G. Love sort of way, but he has a cool fireball guitar style and doesn’t pretend to be a traditional blues player. He certainly didn’t go that route here, anyway.

Ashtray Hearts return

It’s one thing when band members wind up a few hundred miles apart by interstate. Ashtray Hearts frontman Dan Richmond landed worlds away from the rest of his serene folk-rock/alt-twang band in 2008. He followed his wife to the University of Tuzla in Bosnia-Herzegovina, two hours outside Sarajevo. With not a lot else to do, he wrote a lot of songs during their two-year stay.

After settling back stateside (first in Oregon and now in Salt Lake City), he put the old band back together to make a new album, “The Strangest Light,” which the Ashtray Hearts will promote Saturday at the Icehouse with the Starfolk (11 p.m., $8). The record should be a revelation to those not around a decade ago, with its elegant, dusk-tinted guitar and piano arrangements and burningly poetic lyricism — classic Americana sounds, even with its international back story.

Random mix

Of all the daring ways Mark Mallman has stuck to the show-must-go-on mantra, his gig Friday at the Turf Club could be the toughest: He lost his mom, Lila, last week. BNLX and Blue Sky Blackout open (10 p.m., $6). … The “stomp” in the name Stomp Out Stomach Cancer should clue you in to the “surprise” local headliner for Saturday’s benefit at the Turf Club, also featuring Gramma’s Boyfriend and Pocahontas County (9 p.m., $20). …

A band that already uses film projectors to great effect, psychedelic rockers Teenage Moods host “Dream Sequence” at the Cedar Cultural Center on Saturday, a Legacy Amendment-funded all-ages show with video accompaniment and art installations meant to create a unique “teenage dreamland of garage rock and pillow forts.” Prissy Clerks, Nallo and Gloss also perform (8 p.m., $8-$10, all ages). …

Our local Grammy nominees the Okee Dokee Brothers — up for best children’s music album — will return from Sunday’s awards in time for several local gigs next week, including two Tuesday at the Mall of America (10 and 11 a.m., free). One of the Bros, Justin Lansing, has been working for a music-ed nonprofit in El Salvador. … The family gig of the year, Rock the Cradle, is happening a month later than usual: March 24 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Children’s Theatre. …

February is fittingly a busy month for Dead Man Winter. The electric twang-rock band — led by Trampled by Turtles frontman Dave Simonett with guitar ace Erik Koskinen — lined up three Mondays in a row, starting at the Triple Rock next week (8:30 p.m., $15), followed by 7th Street Entry (Feb. 18) and the Icehouse (Feb. 25). The group is working on a new record, but Simonett said, “I really just wanted to play some shows after a very busy TBT year.” Good enough. … The Ike Reilly Assassination will also play a multi-venue local residency dubbed “Ike Reilly Saturday Night Special” starting March 2 at 7th Street Entry, followed by five more gigs at the Turf Club and Icehouse. Details at First-Avenue.com. …

Probably the local musician who most wants to get out and play this winter, P.O.S. is still waiting for doctors to set a date for his kidney transplant (originally penciled in for January). Promoters of the Sasquatch festival near Seattle also hope it will happen soon. They’ve booked him for Memorial Day weekend. 

chrisr@startribune.com • 612-673-4658 • Twitter: @ChrisRstrib

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