MUSIC REVIEW | Joe Pug, Malamanya and Erik Koskinen on Real Phonic Radio at the Hill Library


This month was an eclectic lineup for the monthly Real Phonic Radio performed at the James J Hill Library with some Cuban salsa, folky Americana, alternative country and a little poetry thrown in for good measure.

Joe Pug headlined the show. He plays guitar and harmonica and sings like a non-whiny Bob Dylan. His voice or maybe the way he sings is imploring and almost urgent, especially in a song like “I am the Day I am the Dawn.” The guitar playing is a much gentler, easier steady plucking.

His songs are stories that seem much older than he is. Even a song like “I do my Father’s Drugs” seems like the song of an older generation or an earlier time. The lyrics make him seem much more serious than he is, which the audience picked up on after he claimed one song was a Fine Young Cannibals cover—adding that his heartfelt lyrics  came through the vessel of “a sarcastic little douche.” Refreshing!

It is rare that I feel this way, but I enjoyed Pug’s between song banter as much as his playing. He is smart, quick and funny. The Real Phonic Radio Band came out for the final two songs (“Call It What You Will” and Steve Earle’s “White Freightliner Blues”); Pug suggested ErikKoskinen and Paul Bergen do a Journey-style shred fest during the Steve Earle song. Again, refreshing.

I was excited to see Malamanya as well. I had heard them but not seen them before. They play Cuban salsa music. Not a genre I know well, but one that really makes you want to dance. The band consists of congas (Luis Ortega), upright bass (TonySchreiner), guitar (Trevor May) and drums (JT Bates). Each instrument is unique and strong. In any other band each musician would be the lead sound – together they are a very powerful sound that blends well, especially when the musicians play to their own tune.

The crowing glory of the band is the wonderfully rich vocals from AdrianaRimpel. Like the instruments around her, her voice is powerful, low and commanding. Her tone and pitch is perfect. While I recognize that the band has a Caribbean, Latin beat, I’ve never been to the Caribbean. I can say that they remind me ofFestesMajors in Catalonia – happy, hip-shaking, complex beats that are easy to enjoy.

Ben Weaver read his poetry for what I think is the fourth appearance. He had been reading from an epic poem. This time he read from other collections. His eye for detail and turn of phrase (such as mischievous fermentation) that continue to draw me into his poetry.

Setting the stage for the night was Erik Koskinen and the Real Phonic Radio Band (JT Bates, Paul Bergen, and Frankie Lee, who was recently named best Minneapolis song writer by City Pages). They played a theme of songs about women and money. They always do a good job.  And this month they selected some of their faster songs, which I always like. It’s fun to see musicians who seem to enjoy playing together. And I was glad to see they come out and play later in the night with Joe Pug. While Pug could easily pull off a solo set, it’s great to have the full band and it seems that musicians step it up and play off each other more when they play together and when someone new is added to the mix. It’s one of the best things about the Real Phonic Radio, which is an ongoing series happening at the James

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