What Ails You
Twenty-something years ago, a group of folks--healers, airmen, woodcutters, hunters, and members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir--give birth to five children in various locales. As the children grow, their folks force upon them Simon and Garfunkel, Beach Boys and Beatles, old country, bad lite-rock and Christian nursery rhymes, a little jazz, and a bunch of AM radio. The five kids are kinda weird; they get chased by things unreal through the woods and try to talk to airplanes with scrap metal. Time is spent at the altar, concussions are landed... They do things they're not supposed to and bum the other kids out in choir and band class. They're remembering, quite well, the music they've heard. The kids get bigger, doing more stuff they shouldn't do--along with the skateboarding thing and the punk rock thing and the blues thing and the funk thing and the dub/reggae thing. They're boys in bands, driving vans across the land for spare change, over and over forever, because that's what kids in bands do. They keep growing and keep remembering, quite well, what they listened to when they were brand-new. More presently: Two of them, Nor'Easterners, find themselves along side the other three, NorCal natives, in San Francisco. The noise starts quietly (acoustics, banjos, piani, violins, brushes; 2003) in a Mission District kitchen and on a bedroom 8-track analog recorder closer to the Presidio. They start with harmony over melody, in the finest traditions of Americana, soul, reggae, and blues. As shows happen, things get louder (Gibsons, old Fender amps, lap steels, Rhodes and Hammonds, harmonicas, melodicas, synths, big sweet drums and heavy bass; 2005)--but the cool thing is that they learn to be plenty quiet or raucous, all in the same set. They become expert at creating live shows wherein each song builds upon a different sound and volume. They charm the coveralls off of freak Bohemians at folk festivals and fog up the indie girls' and boys' glasses at the rock club. Loud or soft, there's always a big groove that make the kids and folks move. They call themselves El Capitan. Where they're at right now is imbedded in this record. What Ails You was written to a one-inch tape machine at Bart Thurber's House Of Faith studio in Oakland, CA, hand-mixed down to two-track without the aid of automation or a computer. It's an album of roots music in it's purest form, full of masterful rhythms, tones, performances, and emotion. The songs start at midnight on a California forest floor and end up on the flip side of the moon. Within, you're as likely to hear a sad folk fable singing the fate of firefighters on the Stanislaus as you are a desperate, sonic brew of feedback and heavenly harmonies, where words are less about the language spoken and more about how fragments of vocalized sound flow into and out of each other. It's the first, granite truth about Ails You: These songs--the arrangements, writing, and instrumentation--are as solid as they come. Whether simple and literal or straight outta the cosmos--whether they make you think about man vs. Nature vs. ^#^machine or not--the hooks in these tunes will keep you up at night and burn themselves into your memory. Oh yeah--they sing about girls, too: pretty ones, wrong ones, and ones who don't love you no more. And if you've read this far and haven't listened yet? Well, that's an awful shame. EL CAPITAN - REVIEWS "What Ails You serves up heavy helpings of sunny melodies and ambitious songwriting; even some of California's solid-gold writers creep into the picture, from Everybody Knows-era Neil to the Eagles--and Lebowski be damned, we mean that as a compliment. After warming the tubes with the reverb-flooded "Manzanita I," the band bounces into the backbeat of "Osage Orange," whetting the appetite for what's to follow: clever lyrical turns that never get cutesy and dead-on vocal harmonies just when we need 'em most. Knee-deep into things, El Cap unveils it's strongest moments with the easy shuffle of "Metronome" and the arching melodic lines of "Silo Song." Throughout, Ryan Henry's gravelly delivery musses confessionals with metaphors and the band's instinctual playing drives us through choruses awash in lush strings and guitorchestras as well as more spacious, bare-bones verses. As the record fades in a squall of fuzz and droning violin, it becomes clear how far the Captain has come." --SF Weekly "These guys rock as hard as that hunk of granite they're named after." --Mission Creek Music Festival "Backwoods savants El Capitan closed the show with a satisfying ramble through the bogs and briars of their musical versatility, meandering from hoarse, guitar-driven blues to delicate vocal harmonies, and dredging up plenty of fiddle, harmonica, banjo, and other pioneer instruments along the way." --West Coast Performer "There's nothing flip about El Capitan, whose amber melodies, ebullient harmonies, and soothing aesthetic place their music more on open ranges than city sidewalks. Atwater KNEC, moves at the pace of a desert sunset, with Henry's slightly graveled vocals accented by the softer sounds of piano, lap steel, strings, banjo, and banjo." --The Stranger "I never knew what a cord of wood was until El Capitan defined it so eloquently on the spacey, back porch-swinging dirge "The Woodcutter's Hymnal." Don't pinch the measurements, and keep an eye on the details." --SF Bay Guardian "Relaxed without ever tumbling into lethargy, the introspective collaboration between guitarists Ryan Henry and Christopher Connolly works as both eclectic string symposium (the banjo-buffered 'Yellowpine Blues') and pure pop ('Yaney Street')." --Seattle Weekly "Misty mountain country bongwater fresh pine trees." --Dame Satan "Spooky California mountain music--nice guitar work and harmonies from the New Folk generation." --San Francisco Folk Festival "El Capitan offers something fresh, making you smell pine and hear cicadas just beyond the reach of your speakers-rocking with a smiling abandon that you can't help find infectious. Atwater KNEC is intimate, joyous-even when it's sad. El Capitan can write, and write well; there's an undeniable authenticity in the creaky arrangements." --Copper Press.