2008 Artists to Watch | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

2008 Artists to Watch

Photo by Cover design by Melissa Webster

Music is constantly evolving, and so is the southern landscape that produces so many young new artists. Every year, the summer brings with it not only sweltering heat, but also the opportunity to get out and enjoy some good music.

With this year's Music Issue, which coincides with Jackson's own music festival, Jubilee!JAM, we sought to capture that sense of discovery by highlighting eight local artists who are busy making their mark on Jackson's music scene. They produce music that ranges from southern punk, to old-school country, to experimental rap, and they represent the future of the city's artistic movement.

In addition to these "Artists To Watch" is an interview with Juicy J of Oscar-winning Memphis rap group Three 6 Mafia, a look at hometown hero Claire Holley's new album, a guide to starting your vinyl collection and lots more. Use the issue as an intro to Jubilee!JAM, and as a starting place for getting out into the city and discovering some new musical heat.

Dark Knights of Camelot
by Lauren Beattie


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Dark Knights of Camelot started as a side project for Ben Shea, the lead guitarist of Hattiesburg band Stale Fashion.

In the past two years, Stale Fashion has gone on hiatus, and Dark Knights has grown into a six-member band with its own devoted local following. Their sound is a laid-back rock, sort of a folksy alternative largely led by Shea's low, clear voice. You can best hear this in "Brazil," a slow song that still packs a punch with the hard guitar riffs.

Shea started Dark Knights because he "wanted to be adamant about something." He started his love affair with music at an early age with piano and started playing guitar when he was 13. Shea cobbled the band's members together from the Hattiesburg pool of musicians he had "dreamed of playing with." The line-up is finished off with Brad Newton, Harry Crump, Ttoccs Rekarp, Sam Adcock and David Stark.

One element of his former band Shea brought to the Dark Knights is his flier design, which he draws by hand. One of them includes a human head on a snake's body wrapping itself through a guitar, and another shows a praying mantis against a red sun. Check out their sound at myspace.com/darknightsofcamelot.

5th Child
by David Dennis, Jr.


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Mainstream music has been pretty bad lately. Sure, songs are just as catchy, and the beats have as much bump as ever, but something is missing. Hip-hop needs a heavy dose of captivating and thought-provoking lyrics. 5th Child provides amazing lyricism over down-south, soul-influenced production, making listeners simultaneously look to the sky in deep meditation while doing the "this is hot" head bob.

His first two albums were innovative gems that will one day be considered underground classics.

On one of his newer songs, "Humble," 5th proclaims: "I'm tired of being modest, I gotta start being honest / I'm a problem baby." The most endearing quality about this MC's artistry is his cerebral approach to each line he spits. 5th Child embraces a concept and makes sure that each word furthers the story he is trying to tell. Listening to his music is listening to poetry on wax.

5th Child is hard at work on his third album, "Behind The Music," which is sure to hit your ears pretty soon. He is also touring all summer, so visit his MySpace page (myspace.com/5thchildmusic) to find out where to see his high-energy show.

Caroline Crawford
by Jeri Lynn Ostrander


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Learning piano from her grandfather as a young child, Caroline Crawford has been around music her whole life. Surprisingly, though, Crawford was tone deaf until she was older, so her parents tried to discourage her from pursuing a musical career.

"I eventually developed the physical strength to carry my voice, and I learned by just playing the piano and listening," she says.

Crawford's musically eclectic taste is evident in her influences, which include everything from Middle Eastern belly dance music, to David Bowie and Tchaikovsky. Her music goes through stages, waxing and waning with her creative bursts, but her sound would definitely be classified as rock.

"At the piano is the only time I feel completely honest and real," says Crawford, the former fashion stylist for the Jackson Free Press. "Worthwhile music comes from inside, and if you don't like what you're playing it's not going to work."

In addition to the piano, Crawford plays guitar, sings, and writes all her music and poetic lyrics. She also enjoys a strong female fanbase. "Women understand the gray areas of life and not just the black and white," she says. "Men can relate, but women really get it. I write more about the gray areas."

Visit myspace.com/carolinespiano to hear Caroline Crawford's sound and check out her tour schedule.

7even:Thirty
by David Dennis, Jr.


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Usually when people do these "Artists to Watch" type things, they introduce an artist and try to tell the reader who the artist sounds like, to give a feel of familiarity to the newcomer. Well, that just isn't going happen here because it's simply impossible to compare 7even:Thirty to another musical entity.

Just take a listen to his debut album "Star: The 7even:Thirty Experience." The album lives up to its name as it is definitely an experience to relish. Each track moves seamlessly, creating the feeling that the album is more a journey from beginning to end than a collection of standalone tracks. One minute, 7even is destroying a track with stellar lyrical dexterity, mixing metaphors about interstellar travel and everyday life. Then, suddenly, he breaks into crooning about a bevy of intergalactic concepts. A standout track from the album is "1 Point 21 Jiggawatts," on which the MC describes his space-traveling vehicle as a futuristic machine through which the passenger can get a glimpse how far ahead of the competition 7even:Thirty really is.

You can buy the album on iTunes or visit 7even:Thirty's MySpace page at myspace.com/7eventhirtysounds.

Cool Papa Bell
by Andi Agnew


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James "Cool Papa" Bell, a Starkville native, was known as the "fastest man in the league" in the early days of pro baseball. He has a street in St. Louis named after him, and of course, Cool Papa Bell Drive, the street here in Jackson leading to Smith-Wills Stadium and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. But I wonder if Cool Papa ever thought that a funky, blues-rock band would be named after him, too?

William Gates, Paul Bresnahan, Robby Peoples and Chris Wheeler make up Cool Papa Bell. The group may be new on the scene, but the music tells you that these guys have been at this for a while. A mix of funky grooves, blues lyrics and sloppy New Orleans beats, Cool Papa Bell's sound stands out from the crowd of indie-rock bands that have cropped up in Jackson over the last few years. Peoples' growling vocals and soulful harmonica are authentic and a perfect fit for gritty tunes like "I Been Down" and "Gypsy Blues." Fans of Galactic and North Mississippi All-Stars will find that Cool Papa Bell's sound tucks in nicely between the two.

The group has just put the finishing touches on their debut album. They have not determined a release date, but you can catch Cool Papa Bell at Martin's Restaurant and Lounge on June 28.

DJ Brayks
by Vince Falconi


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DJ Brayks, or Ken Bray when he's not working, does not care if you want to hear Soulja Boy or the new Britney Spears. It isn't that he thinks those songs are boring, but it's his job to "take stuff you know and try to make it new."

A native of San Diego, Brayks, 32, got his start as a deejay at his sister's birthday party 15 years ago, mixing and mashing songs on a dual deck stereo and using cassette tapes to layer songs over each other. Since then, he has upgraded to laptops and digital turntables, and his audiences have increased to international proportions.

When he relocated to Jackson in late November 2007 with his then-girlfriend, Brayks was confused by friends' sympathetic response to news of his moving here. Once in town, Brayks says, he found a city with a vibrant arts community.

"I'd like to be considered an artist. We're all artists; we paint our days," he says. While his art is more aural than visual (though he mixes and mashes videos, too), his craft is just as nuanced, taking seemingly dissonant tracks and sounds and making it nearly impossible to keep from at least bouncing your shoulders in time.

In addition to spinning Thursday through Saturday at Club Fire, with other gigs sprinkled in his schedule, Brayks works as a producer and has started a few projects, including Plan B (a band/production group) and a new downtown club opening soon.

While he makes sure to keep a lot of details under wraps, he's open about the fact that he wants to see people's perspective on nightlife change. When people pay to get into a club, Brayks says, "(they're) paying for entertainment." He sees the goal of going out as being able "to have fun with your friends, and maybe make some new ones."

When you hear music by Nine Inch Nails mashed up with 50 Cent, or his own original music, as long as you let go of your assumptions about dance music and trust that Brayks knows how to make you move, you're sure to leave satisfied. Groove to DJ Brayks at Club Fire or online at myspace.com/djbrayks.

Deltagun
by Lauren Beattie


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The members of Deltagun identify themselves as southern-punk rockers and, fittingly, their sound is raw and approachable. Formerly called Slang, the band has been constantly changing its line-up almost since it formed in 2007; even now, they're looking for a new lead singer so that their current one can focus on guitar-playing. However, that hasn't stopped them from gathering a following. Their accessibility stems from the fact that most of their songs broach no subjects that have not affected themselves or their average listener.

Casey, the drummer, describes their music as "down, straight to the bone rock 'n' roll. No glamour—southern!" Their punk edge is most clear in the song, "Oh Yeah," which incorporates the requisite fast punk beat and high energy. Their newer songs, however, such as "Ms Behave," seem to be moving more and more toward the southern aspect of their sound, yielding a slow-and-steady sound.

This summer, the band is embarking on a 15-state tour, including Louisiana, South Carolina and Pennsylvania. Currently, they have a four-song demo available on their Web site, but they are working on their new album, "The Legend of Billy Rhodes." Listen to their music at myspace.com/slangtheband.

SweetWater Jade
by Jeri Lynn Ostrander


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As little girls singing in the school play eight years ago, Kelsey Carroll, Jeanna Upchurch and Whitney Hennigan had no idea they would one day be honored as Mississippi's future Grammy contenders. SweetWater Jade performed at local competitions and fairs until a couple of years ago when they realized big changes were happening. People began calling them for gigs instead of the other way around.

Upchurch, of Madison, first realized the "wow factor" when the group opened for country music star Taylor Swift in May. "I look up to Taylor and Lady Antebellum … and there they were watching me sing on stage!" she says.

This upbeat country-rock trio has opened for the Beach Boys, Sammy Kershaw and Dierks Bentley and performed with Mississippi natives Jerry Lee Lewis and Marty Stuart. Most recently, SWJ performed at the CMA Music Festival in Nashville.

"We aren't in this for the fame. We are in it for the music," Carroll says. "I just want one day to have someone sing one of our songs, and if someone came up to me and told me that I helped them through a hard time with one of our songs that would be my dream."

SWJ is not willing to accept success at just any cost. Hennigan, of Brandon, explains: "We've established who we are, and we are staying true to ourselves. We are doing what we love and we want people to like us just the way we are."

These "down home Mississippi green-eyed girls" won't need to change a thing—fans do love them just the way they are. Listen to SWJ's debut album at myspace.com/sweetwaterjade or go to sweetwaterjade.com to see their tour schedule.

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