Tuesday, October 29, 2013

ShiSho: The Sisters EP Review

Akron Empire would like to welcome guest blogger Dominic Caruso for this record review of the local band, ShiSho.  Dominic has written about Dolly Rocker Ragdoll, Travelogue, and the UltraSpinx/Bad Trouble split 7". If you're interested in guest blogging or having your local band written about, please email us at AkronEmpire [at] gmail dot com.

This Band Could Be Your Life: ShiSho
by Dominic Caruso

ShiSho (Midge, left, and Vivian, right) at the Grog Shop

ShiSho is a folk-punk duo consisting of real life teenage sisters, Vivian and Midge Ramone, who have been writing songs and performing all over Northeast Ohio for nine years(!). They’ve opened for acts like Joe Jack Talcum of Dead Milkmen and They Might Be Giants, and recently played New York City’s Bowery Electric. ShiSho stickers and posters even turned up in prominent locations in the series finale episode of the popular British TV show, The IT Crowd. ShiSho plays quirky, irreverent, and cleverly humorous songs that are often meandering, playful narratives populated by odd characters, outsiders, Morrissey, and the occasional killer clown doll.

Cover art for the Sisters EP
In September 2013, they released five new songs on The Sisters EP. The new music captures the sisters sounding more polished and accomplished than ever before--both vocally and melodically--achieving a sound reminiscent of the deadpan delivery of Patty Donahue of the Waitresses, and the slightly off-kilter guitar-accordion pop of They Might Be Giants. ShiSho’s live performances  usually consist of Vivian’s guitar and Midge’s accordion. However, the EP fleshes their sound out, adding a catchy power-pop beat to the songs, along with an economical use of synths, making the songs even more irresistibly hummable.

Midge and Vivian at The Bomb Shelter, photography © Melissa Olsen, icatchfoxes.com, 2013
The five songs feature the sisters’ surreal storytelling: “It’s Coming to Get You (The Evil Clown Song)” focuses on the aforementioned killer clown doll and the inevitability of it getting you--despite your suspicion that the doll is alive, evil, and after you, and despite all the delicate social maneuvering you’ve done to avoid upsetting your grandmother, who presented the clown to you as a Christmas gift. “Chicken Poofie” is a journey to the sisters punky side, with the infectious shout-along chorus, “No friends! No Parents! Only his dustbunnies!” The best track is “Ohio Man,” an inventive bit of songwriting which catalogs the exploits of the character of Ohio Man.  The song seems to have been created by stringing together leads from the police blotter: Ohio Man recovers 300-year-old stolen bible / Ohio Man hits brother over the head with cremation urn / Ohio Man changes his name to Optimus Prime. The effect is a blackly comic composite picture of a decidedly weird, and often violent Ohio Man. “The Dead Milkmen Song” includes support from the Dead Milkmen themselves, and fashions a wild pastiche with elements from numerous Milkmen songs. “Shrouded in Shadows” closes the collection with a message from one outcast teen to another about suffering the slings and arrows of other teens for failing to fit in. The details of the song elevate it beyond any typical teen moping: “I think your Sonic the Hedgehog drawing are baller / I hope you include me in your next fan fiction.” Being an outsider can be painful, but with “Shrouded in Shadows” ShiSho want you to know their not only on your side, they’re sticking up for you too.

Midge and Vivian at The Bomb Shelter, photography © Melissa Olsen, icatchfoxes.com, 2013
With that Holiday time of the year approaching, The Sisters EP would make an excellent stocking stuffer for the music lovers on your list. Make it a double shot of ShiSho by including their holiday CD, Christmas for Your Earhole, (which will be available on the group's bandcamp page soon) and you’ve got a winter soundtrack filled with irreverent, danceable--and most importantly--fun, pop.

Follow ShiSho on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/ShiSho/233415402488
Get digital downloads of ShiSho's music: http://shisho.bandcamp.com/
ShiSho news and points of interest: http://magneticbunny.com/

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Tasting Room at Hoppin' Frog

The well-lit billboard sign above the complex of buildings at Hoppin' Frog Brewery on Akron's east side.

The Tasting Room at Hoppin' Frog
by Joanna Wilson

Congratulations are in order for Akron's brewery Hoppin' Frog on their most recent success!  Earlier this month, Hoppin' Frog won a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival for their barrel-aged B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher stout. (Click HERE for the link for the list of medal winners at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival).  Upon hearing this wonderful achievement, I headed over to the Tasting Room at Hoppin' Frog to taste and enjoy the local brews. 

I invited a dinner guest to join me at the east-side gastropub last week.  We weren't the only ones there eager to celebrate Hoppin' Frog's recent success.  When we ordered our dinners, it was a relief to see drink suggestions on the menu, perfectly paired to compliment our meals.  There were so many drink options, it was easiest to begin with the menu's drink suggestion and go from there.  I ordered the pork tacos--an excellent marriage of tangy pulled pork and cole slaw--that tasted even better coupled with Frog's Hollow Double Pumpkin Ale.  My guest enjoyed a meal of pasta along with an imperial stout, the barrel-aged B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher.  (B.O.R.I.S. is an acronym for Bodacious Oatmeal Russian Imperial Stout).  The barrel-aged beer has a complex and full, whiskey flavor that won us over.

Inside the Tasting Room at Hoppin' Frog, one can enjoy both dinner and drinks.

After dinner, we continued to enjoy the Tasting Room's ambiance and order a few more drinks.  I wanted to try something different from the pumpkin ale and so I tried the new Gangster Frog IPA.  I loved it--the india pale ale had a citrus flavor that hit the right spot.  My guest ordered the seasonal special Oktoberfest Froggy Style Lager.  I just love seasonal beers and these did not disappoint.  We capped our night at the Tasting Room with a sweet dessert--we shared a Frog's Hollow Triple Pumpkin Beershake.  Yes, a beer mixed with ice cream and it was everything I hoped it would be! 

Look for the entrance to the Tasting Room at the green awning.

The Tasting Room at Hoppin' Frog opened earlier this year and I was waiting for just the right incentive to check it out for the first time.  However, it won't be long before I return for more delicious food and brews.  Who will buy me my first round of Frosted Frog Christmas Ale?

The Tasting Room at Hoppin' Frog is located at 1680 E. Waterloo Rd., Akron OH (right across from the Airdock).
Hoppin' Frog Brewery website
Hours open: Tues & Wed: 5pm-10pm, Thur & Fri: 5pm-11pm, Sat: noon-11pm, closed Sun & Mon

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mr. Fun's Costumes & Magic Emporium

Mr. Fun's is located on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls, just north of Steels Corners Rd.
Mr. Fun's Costumes & Magic Emporium: For All Your Halloween Costume Needs
by Joanna Wilson

If you strive to buy from locally-owned businesses, then I'd like to remind you about the family-operated institution known as Mr. Fun's in Cuyahoga Falls.  With Halloween just a few short weeks away, trick-or-treat and costume parties are on everyone's minds.  Not only is Mr. Fun's the largest locally-owned and family-operated costume store in Ohio, but they have a very knowledgeable staff to assist you.

Mr. Fun's has everything--including doggie Princess Leia!

Mr. Fun's is well-stocked with costumes for everyone from babies and children to adults and seniors--they even have pet costumes.  They carry costumes to create everything from the scariest, most nightmarish creatures, to workplace-appropriate outfits, to riqué and sexy adult garb.  Mr. Fun's also stocks every size imaginable, including plus sizes and tall.  The store's staff makes it easy for you to try on any of the costumes in the store before you purchase it.

Peruse the dozens of professional wigs to craft your own specialized look--or check out the less expensive packaged wigs.

Or top your costume with one of many choices in hats.

Some people prefer to start their costume with a mask--choose from scary, political, or a pop culture icon.

Mr. Fun's also excels at offering thousands of accessories to turn your simple costume into an award-winning costume.  The store's walls are lined with "departments" of accessories to add to your costume--they include an entire section of hats, shoes, wigs, hosiery, make-up, weaponry, and everything else you can think of.  As an example, the make-up counter offers choices in professional latex make-up, appliances, and blood effects with a range in cost.  Chain stores don't even come close to offering these options.

Knowledgeable staff can instruct you with your make-up needs.

In the store's rental section, you can find fancier costumes as well as one-of-a-kind outfits.

One of my favorite costume secrets is the rental department at Mr. Fun's.  Yes, I've rented costumes here several times!  When you need something special, nothing beats the effect you can get with a rental costume, which can be as elaborate and detailed as you'd like.  Mr. Fun's rental selection is vast--and they also have a wide range of sizes including children's, plus, and tall sizes.

I asked a staff member what are the hot costumes this season.  She revealed that Duck Dynasty, zombies, and traditional fairy tales--such as Alice in Wonderland, Little Red Riding Hood, and Cinderella--are the most popular choices so far this month.  I also know they are busy providing masquerade masks for the annual The Masque of the Red Death event at Akron's Civic Theatre on Oct. 26th.  How are you celebrating Halloween this year?

Not just a Halloween costume store, Mr. Fun's provides outfits for all the major holidays.

Unlike the chain stores or the temporary Halloween costume stores, Mr. Fun's is open year-round.  As soon as Halloween is over, they busy themselves preparing Santa Claus costumes!  Mr. Fun's has costumes and accessories for all the major holiday celebrations.  They also work hard all year long to dress many local high school theater productions and corporate costume events.  So remember--shop local, all year long.

Mr. Fun's Costumes & Magic Emporium is located at 4130 State Rd., Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44223
(330) 923-3339
Halloween Hours: open Mon-Sat 10am-9pm, Sundays 12pm-5pm

Mr. Fun's website
Mr. Fun's facebook page
Mr. Fun's on twitter

Saturday, October 12, 2013

This Band Could Be Your Life: Fast Molasses

Akron Empire is so excited to welcome back guest blogger J Hudson. J has been a regular contributor to Akron Empire since he wrote about The Fourth Annual Crafty Mart last November. J is a poet, short story writer, event organizer and, in a more recent venture, marraige officiant.

Fast Molasses: Contemporary Troubadours
By J Hudson

Fast Molasses is a Canton, Ohio duo that plays Americana music; folk, blue grass, blues, country, jazz, rags and vaudeville. Even in a time of roots revival and the pop success of Americana bands like Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers, Fast Molasses stands out for embracing the full spectrum of American musical styles and living a true minstrel life.

Fast Molasses’ core members are Christopher Smith and Shawn Wee.  Christopher is Fast and Shawn is Molasses in the band’s name.  According to Smith, the two are “polar opposites” and thus the oxymoronic name, Fast Molasses. Shawn Wee, who most people call Swee, is a multi-instrumentalist.  He plays guitar, banjo, fiddle, and harmonica. Christopher plays many instruments too:  banjo, piano, guitar and mandolin, and he also designs the logo and packaging for their albums. The two met while in high school and bonded over their shared love of roots music and cotemporary musicians like M Ward and Magnolia Electric Company. They frequently perform live and are mainstays of the Northeast Ohio club and festival scene.  Over the years, Fast Molasses has had a rotating caste of backing musicians. Their live performances are lo-fi but high energy with standup bass, fiddle, trumpet, washboards, jugs and if available piano.  According to Smith, “Fast Molasses isn't really a band. It's a partnership in which art is created; be that music, printmaking, theatrics. We bring others on to the team to share their on input.”

Despite being a mainstay of the Akron-Canton music scene, Fast Molasses had not released an album until this summer From the Sugarcane.  Swee says this is the first of three albums they plan to release as a set highlighting about sixty songs they’ve written over the years: the next two lps are entitled To the Still, and At the Bottom of the Barrel.

Christopher says that the three albums highlight different aspects of the music they’ve written but also represent “a view of the evolution of both American music and a creative process represented by the rum making process.”  Rum starts with sugarcane that is usually imported from another country, like the music they love came from African and European immigrant roots.  Then the sugarcane is refined into molasses, that molasses is brought to the still and made into rum, which is stored in a barrel and drank until it’s empty and you’ve reached the proverbial bottom of the barrel.

Swee says From the Sugarcane highlights Fast Molasses’ songs from a folk tradition.  They were recorded in an old, chicken coop converted to a cabin on a land preserve near Hocking Hills in southern Ohio.  The Athens’ Ohio group Hunnabee & the Sandy Tar Boys served as their backing band during the recording.  The album’s producer, Spencer Martin says that the goal of From the Sugarcane was,” to organically capture the authenticity that defines (Fast Molasses’) overall aesthetic.” In an a phone and email interview, Martin said, “By going completely off the grid and isolating ourselves in a middle-of-the-woods cabin for four days, we were able to create the focus to inspire the performances and allow for a spatial, sonic character that would lend itself to the songs.”

Americana is a broad term and the nine songs on the album vary greatly in style and tempo.  Some are lullabies, others troubadour songs from the plains, there are back country drinking songs and depression era laments.  The songs share an unhurried acoustic sound and are simultaneously laissez-faire and laissez les bon temps rouler, a hard feel to pull off. On first listen, I thought some had to be covers of traditional tunes, but despite the old-time sound, all of the songs are originals written and sung by Wee and Smith.  Despite this vintage sound, Fast Molasses engenders the songs with a contemporary feel that keeps them from being derivative.  The album begins with ambient sound from the cabin and Martin uses crickets and train whistles as segues and plaintive punctuation to the tunes.  You can even hear a gulp or two before one song and I have a feeling that more than a little drinking went on during the recording. After listening through to From the Sugar Cane, I can’t wait to hear the follow up albums that will complete the set.

Now that the album is done, Christopher and Swee plan to leave Akron and travel throughout the country.  Christopher is going to Portland, Oregon for the fall and New Orleans for the winter.  Swee works the sugar beet harvest on the northern plains in October and then hitchhikes south to New Orleans where he busks and is the house harmonica player at a music hall in the French Quarter. The duo plans to return to Akron in the spring and begin recording To the Still, which will highlight their songs using electric instruments.  At the Bottom of the Barrel will be recorded after that in New Orleans.  That LP will employ New Orleans backing musicians and will feature rags, music in the tradition of 1800s and vaudeville music.

If you want to hear Fast Molasses’ music, check out their Soundcloud page: 
They are on Facebook here.
To order the cd, From the Sugarcane email, rubbercitymolasses@gmail.com

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Land of Plenty in West Akron

Land of Plenty's entrance is accessible from the rear parking lot--next to West Hill Hardware.
Land of Plenty: Beautiful Things from Every Era
by Joanna Wilson

People ask me why I write for Akron Empire and I often reply that it gives me the excuse to explore new places and meet people.  But this week's adventure is one of those times that I'm reminded once again about the truth of my statement!  A new store opened this past summer in the West Hill/Highland Square neighborhood, next to West Hill Hardware on W. Market Street.  Friends and friends of friends kept urging me to check it out and I finally made my way to Land of Plenty.

Once inside, you'll find the space opens up to reveal a stunning gallery space.

One can only enter the gallery from the rear parking lot, behind the storefront (see the top photo).  But once you walk inside, you'll find a large, welcoming, curated space filled with wonders of all sorts.  The store contains an eclectic mix of beautiful items including art, furniture, jewelry, books, records, plants, rocks, taxidermy, and decor for a wide variety of tastes.

LOVE these mid-century end tables and the 1960s table (on the right).

Awesome torpedo hanging lamp.  To the right is a shelving unit filled with cacti and other succulents.

There is a tasteful assortment of antique, vintage, and modern furniture and decor.  But the collection also features a wide assortment of art -- including paintings, refined crafts, as well as the meticulous, dimensional art of the shop's owner Kristi Wall.  My photos don't really capture the essence of this new place.  You'll have to experience it for yourself.  This place is surely an experience to behold for ones' self--a cool space for creative types, a one-of-a-kind spot for cutting edge art and artists that feels like the sky's the limit in terms of its potential as a store/gallery.

What an interesting table!  Lots of vintage items for creative people's homes.

My favorite store attraction is Little Mister, the shop's dog.

If you're looking for an excuse to check out Land of Plenty, mark your calendar for Saturday, November 2nd.  The store is hosting a special evening to come and hang out.  The evening will serve as the closing reception for the current art exhibited and the beginning of the next collection.  There will be a Halloween costume contest, electronic musicians and deejay, a bonfire in the back lot, and so much more.  Come and support the forefront of excitement in West Akron at Land of Plenty.

Land of Plenty is located at 339 W. Market Street, Akron OH 44303
(330) 703-5633
Hours: Thursdays-Saturdays 12p-7, Sundays 12p-4
Land of Plenty website
facebook page for Land of Plenty

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Good Life Tattoos & Piercings Gives Back to Support Akron Children's Hospital

Akron Empire is excited to welcome back guest blogger Mathias Noble King. He wrote about his favorite Indian restaurant, Saffron Patch, last year. (Click HERE to see that post again!) Mathias, who is incredibly handsome, is the founder of Manly Mart, a craft fair where shoppers can purchase gifts exclusively for dudes by dudes and he also recently launched Tame Your Mane, a line of beard oil blended from essential oils.

Good Life Gives Back
by Mathias Noble King

12 PM? Pssht. As soon as I heard Good Life Tattoo & Piercings was hosting a $50 tattoo for charity event I knew I had to get there by at least 10 AM. Low and behold I was right. (Are you really surprised?) We were the 7th and 8th persons to stand in line and by 11 AM there was a line stretching to the end of the storefronts on West Market.

(photo credit instagram.com/livignij)
The Orange Truk showed up and there was a sigh of relief. There's nothing worse than standing in line to get a tattoo without delicious fresh gastrocuisine to fill your belly. Good Life didn't announce what tattoos were available to choose from, which just added to the excitement of the whole thing so as soon as they posted the flash sheet everyone was huddled around the door to the shop discussing which tattoo they were going to get. It was a three way tie between the eagle, the ship and the cowboy skull.

So many great designs to choose from
As we walked in we were ushered down the line, Chipotle style, filling out our papers, getting our drivers licenses photocopied, and letting the artists know which design we had picked. There was such a buzz in the air (Get it buzz-- cause we were in a tattoo parlor) and a sense of excitement and positivity that can only occur from getting tattooed by Akron's finest while contributing to a worthy cause. All the tattoo artists were in great spirits and ready for a full day of tattooing and fun. Due to showing up early we weren't there long, Brian and Jeremiah had us out the door by 12:45 with our one of 40 traditional style tattoos (We decided to get ships).

(His and Hers respectively.)

Upon leaving the shop, to get the most delicious noodles and cabbage ever, we realized the line had only gotten longer. A ton more people must have shown up even after we left, because when Jeremiah told me they were able to collect about $3,200.00 to spend on toys for the Akron Children's Hospital Playrooms. By the looks of it neither could the people at Akron Children's. Here's a video from when they dropped off the toys: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=727301667284611. Toys R Us even gave them an extra 15% off of the toys they purchased which resulted in an even greater reward for they hard work.

(Do I see some Adventure Time Toys? Showzow!)

All in all this was nothing short of of one of the best Sundays I've had in Akron in a while. Everyone should head over to Good Life to congratulate all the artists involved on a job well done and get another tattoo! Here are some photos that were taken during and after the event http://statigr.am/tag/goodlifegivesback/.