The old story on Irie Sol is the band formed on a dare: Somebody told Jamaican singer and percussionist Junior Williams he could never get a reggae group off the ground in his newly adopted hometown of Eau Claire, Wis.
A decade and countless Midwest gigs later, the latest story on the 10-man funk/reggae/rap ensemble also sounds like a dare: It’s releasing a concept album about F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Jazz Age, Harlem, Eau Claire, Dred Scott and the roots of Rastafarianism.
“Reggae traditionally is a genre that mashes up a variety of styles and influences, and this is just taking that concept a little farther,” singer and trumpeter Joel Pace joked.
No joke, Irie Sol’s new EP, “Dred Scott Fitzgerald,” blends all the aforementioned themes into a five-chapter “novella record” centered around Fitzgerald and his characters. Next Thursday’s album-release party is even timed to the late St. Paul literary icon’s birthday and is taking place at a site tied to his legend: the Commodore Hotel, just off regal Summit Avenue, where Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, lived for a couple of years after its 1920 opening. (He likely started drafting “The Great Gatsby” there.)
A fundraiser for the nonprofit organization Fitzgerald in St. Paul that will also include costumed actors and Jazz Age attire, the concert will help inaugurate the hotel’s newly renovated ballroom and lobby.
The Commodore, it turns out, is also central to Irie Sol’s story: Pace lives upstairs in what are now condos and often gets his band to rehearse downstairs in the building’s basement, of which he noted, “The old walls are thankfully extra thick.”
“It’s kind of mind-blowing to think we’ll be playing these songs in a room where [Fitzgerald] almost certainly danced on a regular basis,” said Pace, who’s also a literature professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and teaches classes on Fitzgerald and hip-hop. So if ever there was a musician to write some raps about a Jazz Age fiction writer. …
Recorded at longtime Irie Sol friend Justin Vernon’s April Base Studio, “Dred Scott Fitzgerald” centers on the title character from the Fitzgerald short story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” about a shy young woman from — guess where?! — Eau Claire trying to fit in in the big city of St. Paul.
The band picks up her story and brings her to Harlem, introduces her to Daisy and Gatsby, weaves in references to African-American and Rastafarian culture and ultimately celebrates her budding independence.
Combining such a wild grab bag of concepts and musical genres, Pace noted, “came pretty naturally to a band with members from Brazil, Jamaica and all over America.” As for the main inspirator of the project, Pace laughed at the thought of Fitzgerald getting to hear the record.
“I think he would’ve loved it — after the right amount of gin, anyway.”
From the May 27, 1995, issue of the Star Tribune: “These former Iron Rangers carve out some fresh territory with their jumbled marriage of classic rock, country and punk.” Twenty years later, the band in question — the Glenrustles, fronted by future Ol’ Yeller and Tisdales leader and Sparta Studio owner Rich Mattson — have a reunion gig Friday at the Turf Club timed to the 20th anniversary of that year’s album “Brood.” Mattson and his drummer brother Glen Mattson also reconvened their quartet a few weekends ago for Kurtfest in their native Eveleth. Jim Crego & the Northern Electric and Baby Grant Johnson open here (9 p.m., $8-$10). …
With its new album out Friday via Epitaph Records, Motion City Soundtrack is playing a free in-store at the Electric Fetus in Minneapolis that day at 6 p.m., access for which can be had by preordering the record there. “Panic Stations” was recorded at Seedy Underbelly North (nee Pachyderm) with producer John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., Hold Steady). The band is coming back around on its tour next month for an Oct. 25 gig at First Avenue. …
Before “The Realish Housewives of Edina: A Parody” opens there next weekend, New Century Theatre is hosting another installment of the New Century Sessions on Friday with Farewell Milwaukee, Fathom Lane and Actual Wolf (7:30 p.m., $20). The next “session” is with Peter Himmelman Nov. 19. … Minneapolis’ ongoing Open Streets festivals take a cool turn Saturday in the 4300-4400 blocks of Nicollet Avenue S., where Roadrunner Records is hosting sets by the Mighty Mofos, Grant Hart and the Kinda Kinky offshoot Runes Av Vaskeri, while the Driftwood Char-Bar will have an outdoor stage with James Loney, Rudegirl and more (noon-5 p.m., free, all ages). …
No, that wasn’t a fiery Roger Corman movie being shot in a field near you recently, it was the video shoot for the new single by L’Assassins, “Fire of Love,” a song written by Chan Poling. The local punkabilly queens are issuing it as a 7-inch on Piñata Records with a release party and tour kickoff Friday at Lee’s Liquor Lounge with Chicago’s Krank Daddies (9 p.m., $8). … Poling’s writing credit will next appear in the playbill for “Glensheen,” a new musical about the 1977 murder at Duluth’s regal mansion Oct. 3-25 at the History Theatre in St. Paul. The Suburbs bandleader composed the music for it, which is several kinds of awesome just on paper.