Our continually growing sampler of tracks from 2011 RFT Showcase performers has outgrown its initial installment -- you can still listen to those fifteen tracks right here. There are twenty-four more below, with handy-dandy photos and biographical information. Sit back, hit play, and dream about how awesome this Saturday will be.
All the tracks on this page appear courtesy of the artist and are meant for sampling purposes only. Please support these bands by going to their shows and buying their albums.
Cassie Morgan & the Lonely Pine Nominee for Best Folk Artist 7 p.m., Copia Urban Market and Winery
Three interesting things, courtesy of Cassie Morgan
As a duo we try to think of different ways to arrange songs to make things interesting and fill out the sound, which is why we bring an assortment of "instruments" to our live shows (such as wine glasses, cell phones, and a toy piano, to name a few). Many of the instruments we use were found or repurposed, so they tend to have a certain amount of character on their own.
"No More Tears" (the track available for streaming) is from our 2010 release "Weathered Hands, Weary Eyes." The song is largely inspired by the imagery and trials of "Love in the Time of Cholera," by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which is what I was reading at the time.
Our stage mascot is a Battleship board game, which serves as perfect base for the toy piano. When we're on the road it's always there in case we get bored; so far we haven't gotten bored enough to actually pull out the game and pretend we are naval strategists, though.
Sound Bites: "No More Tears" by Cassie Morgan & the Lonely Pine
Three important things you need to know about Dots Not Feathers, as said by member John Baier.
It's not as if singer and guitarist Justin Johnson is exactly hurting to have his songs heard; as the lead singer of Pretty Little Empire, he's become a standout presence with his impassioned performances. But alongside drummer Sarah Ross, Johnson also performs in the Jump Starts, and the simple two-person lineup gives space for his more direct, pop-friendly songs. With some raggedy acoustic guitar strums and Ross' often funky rhythms, the Jump Starts has the charm and panache of a bedroom-pop project -- at times raw and unpolished but never short on feeling or heart. --Christian Schaeffer
Sound Bites: "Lie In Your Bed" by The Jump Starts.
Pretty Little Empire heads straight for the gut. At a recent show an old '70s-rock fan told the band its set had touched his soul and that he would be straying from his well-worn rut to support the band in the future. It's not uncommon for the quartet to provoke such strong reactions; notoriously chatty St. Louis crowds fall silent at the first rich chords of vocal harmony. Occasionally performing with the Skekses' Elly Herget, Pretty Little Empire works the many traditions of rock & roll to charming and occasionally devastating effect, with frontman Justin Johnson's taut stage presence leading a consistent effort of uncommon sincerity. --Kiernan Maletsky
Filling roles as a trumpeter, trombonist, arranger and producer, it's little wonder that Lamar Harris' schedule is packed with appearances at the city's most-respected clubs. Nor is it a surprise that something new is always percolating. His last album, Groove Therapy, functioned as just that: Jazzy songs flowed easily from one to the next, leaving infectious head-bobbing in their wake. Of course, there's more to come from this soul man about town: The Here and After, an album that Harris describes as a fusion of jazz, soul and electronica, is on the horizon. --RFT Staff
Sound Bites: "The Nune March" by Lamar Harris.
Old-time folk meets the unholy blues in the spare and fierce sound of the Skekses. Taking its name from the reptile villains of Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal, the group keens and dreams through songs of murder, magic and monsters, carried by banjo, guitar, rattling percussion and Elly Herget's stratospheric moan. Recently pared down to the duo of Herget and Evan O'Neal (who drums for Pretty Little Empire), the Skekses proves that less is more isn't just a cliché. Herget is a gripping songwriter and singer with a voice that could tackle timeless Appalachian ballads if she chose, but whose original songs evoke the newer, personal tradition of Gillian Welch and Alela Diane. --Roy Kasten
It makes sense that people flock to shows when the funky guys of the Dogtown Allstars take the stage -- the band is, in a lot of ways, reflective of St. Louis itself. Even its moniker takes its name from a beloved, beer-drinking neighborhood. Like St. Louis, it's nothing too flashy, but there's a lot there if you know where to look (hint: For the Dogtown Allstars, that'd be Broadway Oyster Bar and Schlafly Bottleworks). Both have French (by way of NOLA) influences. It's been around a while and yet continues to draw adoring crowds who want to hear the same songs they've heard dozens of times: Free-flowing rhythms and good-time attitudes convince the band to keep the groove going and the crowd to grab one more beer. --RFT Staff
If Syrhea Conaway's work as Syna So Pro were a purely technical exercise in the creation of pop songs by looping and layering instruments and vocal parts, it would be astounding. Thankfully, the resulting songs can stand alone regardless of how they were put together, and Conaway's octave-spanning voice and multi-instrumental know-how combine to create bright, kinetic pop songs. Her creative spirit is restless, even when she's not working on her own tracks: Conaway recently began making "a cappella mashups" of local bands' songs, and for the first installment she sang snippets of Sleepy Kitty tunes and looped them into a stand-alone performance. Bands should be knocking down her door and begging her to pay them the same tribute. --Christian Schaeffer
LucaBrasi's second full-length album, The Norris Division, out last November, used melodic pop touches to soften the band's hard-rock edge. Singer Matt McInerney can scream with the best of them, but his voice turns out to be most effective when he's actually, you know, singing, and the single "Turned Around" is downright catchy. The quintet is filled out by Jerry Jost on guitar, Mike Jost on drums, Josiah Werner on bass and Bill Reiter on keyboards. --RFT Staff
The Breaks is far from the first band to specialize in high-energy power pop, but it distinguishes itself with smart, dynamic songwriting and charismatic stage presence. Between rhythm guitarist Karl Stefanski's leaping and lead axe-slimger Sean Gartner's ferocious finger tapping, the quintet puts on a riveting performance. The band also did a fantastic job of capturing the verve of its show in the Odd Man Out EP, which sounds positively massive. The group recently shuffled instruments among its members, which includes new bassist Matt Wicks, in order to expand on the jerky post-punk aspects of its sound. Judging from the promising first new song written with Wicks, the Breaks is only getting better.
Jason Hutto's bands have never lacked for pop hooks, but the latest fuzz-pop project helmed by the music-community mainstay is particularly tuneful and well produced. Warm Jets USA's "Records" contains lovely, jangly riffs, while "Peach Fuzz" is a classic, two-minute loud-soft-loud burst. "Dumb" is even better, a jolt of greased-up '70s hot-rod rock; it goes down like a shot of whiskey. If you're a fan of unheralded, criminally underappreciated indie-noise bands from the '90s, Warm Jets USA is right up your alley. --Annie Zaleski
Sound Bites: "Up In The Air" by Warm Jets USA.
Britches formed in mid-2009 and a few months ago released a demo called, er, Demo. The death sweats of early Sonic Youth and Xiu Xiu's skeletal noise sculptures are a starting touchstone, but the trio skillfully uses silence and restraint to magnify the dread of its chaotic moments. Among its best songs is "White Noise," a grayscale pastiche of beauty and horror: Chiming melodies and grandfather-clock percussion devolve into marching stomps, macabre chants and gravel-embedded-in-knee riffs. --Annie Zaleski
Sound Bites: "Out of the Cave Up To the Stronghold" by Britches.
Originally established in a recording studio at Webster University, Illphonics offers a refreshing take on alternative hip-hop. Frontman Larry "Fallout" Morris enthusiastically delivers his upbeat rhymes over the band's live instrumentation, which tends to draw its inspiration from a wide array of genres -- including rock, funk and reggae. The resulting sound is surprisingly polished for a relatively young band, and its efforts are already paying off. Debut album Illphonics Presents Sound was among Vintage Vinyl's top-selling CDs of 2009, and the group followed up with last year's free five-track EP, Illusion. Having already opened for industry heavyweights such as Lupe Fiasco, Everclear and the Roots, Illphonics is regularly playing shows throughout the region, with its sights set firmly on breaking into the national spotlight. -- Calvin Cox
This Bridgeton-based metal quartet lists its influences as Iron Maiden, Jethro Tull, Mastodon and traditional European folk. The band's self-titled debut album, released in 2010, delivers on that promise with a sound that thrashes into progressive territory -- and forgoes any pretense at vocals. Key track "Wolf Totem" begins with a pseudo-Celtic mandolin romp that would set the scene to any number of fanboy fantasy epics before a wolf howl signals the song's descent into heavy electric guitars. The song maintains its pursuit-on-mythological-horseback pace for nine rolling minutes. --Katie Moulton
Sound Bites: "Blood on the Hoar-Frost" by Borean Dusk.
Three important things you need to know about 18andCounting, as said by the man himself, Stan Chisholm.
Sound Bites: "Slaughter all Celebrities" by Dolor, featuring 18andCounting.
.e, a.k.a. Dottie Georges, continues to use everything from guitars, thrift-store keyboards, drum machines and her own whispery voice, plus a lot of obsessive knob-twisting in her home studio, to build up her dreamy, multilayered walls of sound that are completely unlike anything else you've ever heard. This year .e has started uploading her new projects to SoundCloud as she continues to tinker with an upcoming full-length. --RFT Staff
Sound Bites: "Activo" by .e.
The Blind Nils is a collaboration between local folk musicians Cassie Morgan, Jerry Baugher and Adam Hajari. Each member brings years of solo experience and talent, which shows in the lyrical depth and complexity of its songwriting. The trio's been performing together as the Blind Nils since 2009, and it plans to release a debut EP later this year. -- Chrissy Wilmes
Fans of Natalie Merchant's more soulful moments will find a kindred spirit in Beth Bombara. Whether performing on her own or as part of Cassie Morgan and the Lonely Pine (or recording as Beth Bombara and the Robotic Foundation, for that matter), the Grand Rapids, Michigan, native can be counted on for soothing, self-assured vocals. For Lonely Pine, she provides harmony vocals, percussion and glockenspiel, but she's also released the EP Abandon Ship on her own, and her latest full-length, Wish I Were You, came out in November. The album's name comes from the first line of the song "Can't Win," a countrified rat-race lament that's laced with clever turns of phrase -- and is more upbeat than its title and subject matter suggests. --RFT Staff
This hip-hop quartet -- including MCs Kama, Mathias, Black Patrick and DJ Mahf -- comprises well-known solo talents, but together they prove there's strength in numbers, and never more so than on the group's latest release, 2009's Midnight at the Capricorn. Though the men give nods to St. Louis in their songs, the group has proven that spot-on scratching, tight vocals and unrelenting energy can grab fans far beyond this river town's banks: They've played Austin's South by Southwest, Hollywood's House of Blues and even hopped around the Continent, performing at military bases. --RFT Staff
Sound Bites: "Down By The River" by Earthworms.
One important thing you need to know about Flaming Death Trap, according to the band. "Four dudes with shit guitars."
Last summer, Tight Pants Syndrome emerged from another short hiatus with yet another new lineup. Fortunately, not much else has changed about the collective's all-encompassing approach to pop. Buzzing synths still peacefully coexist with jangling twelve-string guitar licks and doowop rhythms and harmonies, sometimes all at once. If anything, Tight Pants Syndrome has expanded its reach. (Yes, that's a harp in "New Hit Record," among other things.) The result is a bigger, more impressive sound reminiscent of the New Pornographers' glorious excess. But for all the pomp, Tight Pants Syndrome retains the charm of a bunch of friends bashing out tunes together. They're just really good at it. --Bob McMahon
The Blind Eyes recently opened for Ted Leo when the singer played Off Broadway. The band held its own, which, as anyone who has ever seen Leo dive into a pit will tell you, is no mean feat. On June 11, one week after the RFT Music Showcase, the trio, which is comprised of Seth Porter on guitar and vocals, Kevin Schneider on bass and vocals and Matt Picker on drums, will release its second album, With a Bang. Its debut, Modernity, garnered comparisons to the Kinks, Squeeze and pre-Pet Sounds Beach Boys, and the followup promises more of the same smart lyrics, catchy rhythms and tuneful hooks that have made the group such a favorite around town. --RFT Staff
Sound Bites: "Hermetically Sealed" by The Blind Eyes, from its album With A Bang.
A clip on Rough Shop's website from last December's Rhythm 'n' Rails on the Holiday Magic Express metaphorically shows the transformative power of music: As the quartet plays its song "Christmas One More Time" aboard MetroLink, the soulful, folksy rock adds color and warmth to the gloomy-gray neighborhoods and scrubby fields the train passes by. Over the years the band has fine-tuned its rich instrumentation paired with insightful lyrics and vocals that brighten even the bleakest winter day. --RFT Staff
St. Louis has long been a breeding ground for both punk and blues. The two genres are in our city's blood, all the way from Petey Wheatstraw to the Conformists. In the last ten years, a younger generation has begun to merge blues and punk with a distinctively brazen, trashy and twangy St. Louis style. Led by singer Jason Holler, Kentucky Knife Fight comes well armed with fist-jabbing rhythms, blown-out vocals, snarling guitar, purring organ and a vintage sensibility that's neither quaint nor hipster. This gang makes dark music for dark rituals in the shadows of the honky-tonks, but the band ultimately worships the blues, in both urban and rural forms, and it kicks the shit out of hillbilly music to boot. --Roy Kasten