In conjunction with The Reader’s annual music issue, I was asked to come up with some top local roots bands. In no particular order, here are six local bands that I return to again and again for solid, heartfelt, original roots music.
Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal
I think the first time I heard Josh Hoyer was on a CD from one of his early projects, Electric Soul Method, which was on rotation at Michael Campbell’s old Benson bar, Mick’s. I was instantly impressed. Since then, Hoyer has worked through a couple of band formations and I’ve remained a fan. Even when compared with national and international acts, Hoyer has a distinctive quality and soulful grit to his voice that is unmistakable. As a songwriter, he continues to grow with every album release. As a bandleader, he puts together artists who are dedicated to the heart and soul of making great music. Guitarist Benjamin Kushner has been with Hoyer since the start of the current project, Josh Hoyer & The Shadowboxers. That band had to make a name change for legal reasons and has seen personnel changes, but the sound they put down is real-deal soul-blues. He had two performance opportunities on the TV show “The Voice,” singing in front of a national audience on the program in the spring of 2017. Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal has been invited to tour Europe the past two years by established promoter Teenage Head Music. The band has four studio CDs to its credit, all on Ashland, Nebraska’s Silver Street Records. The band headed to Denver at the end of May to record its next studio project. Eddie Roberts, the guitarist for veteran UK soul-funk band The New Mastersounds, is producing. Hoyer recently released a track showcasing a new collaboration with Roberts and his latest project, The Macy Sounds, on Roberts’ label Color Red. Find out more at color-red.co and joshhoyer.com.
One of Omaha’s brightest roots singer-songwriters and guitarists. Cox always delivers the goods whether playing a solo set or fronting his electric band. Original songs. Check. Rich, weathered vocals. Check. Cox translates his influences, including Greg Brown, Neil Young and John Prine (all of whom he occasionally covers) into his own musical vision. His sound is his own and he’s continued to be at the top of his game as a songwriter and performer. His music straddles the divide between folk, blues and Americana, appealing to listeners who are fans of these roots genres. Cox has a tremendous ability to maintain a raw, front-porch, spontaneous jam sound while obviously having worked hard to refine his craft as a songwriter and player. Since 2007, Cox has released six albums of mostly original material, partnering in recent years with Lincoln’s Sower Records. A 2009 live, full-band recording from a Waiting Room show was made available in a special release for this year’s Record Store Day and became available for digital purchase May 25. In January 2019, Cox represented the Blues Society of Omaha in the solo/duo category in the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge. See mattcoxmusic.net.
Kris Lager Band
Kris Lager has carved out a sustainable niche for himself making original blues-based, groove-laden rock music. Playing guitar since he was a teenager, he’s grown into a mature guitarist, band leader and songwriter. For a while, Lager and his full band became the backing band for Mato Nanji and toured as part of Indigenous. Lager’s guitar playing caught the attention of Tab Benoit when the two shared a stage at the Slowdown, leading to Benoit producing a studio recording for KLB in 2012 in his Louisiana studio. The sessions became the release Platte River Runaway. The two continue to occasionally share double bills around the country. Lager and his band also spent time backing up Andy Frasco. Lager at one point aptly described his music as “thrift-store funk,” which still seems like a good comparison. A lot of roots music influences have come to a boil with Lager’s years as a guitarist and the evolution of his band. For years, Lager has made his mantra “Celebrate Life,” and he reaffirmed that in a recent mission statement on his website. He chooses to play sparingly around Omaha and Lincoln, making local shows an event, and spends a lot of time on the road with his band. With four studio CDs still in print, Lager’s earlier catalog of releases may be hard to find. There is also a 2013 live recording. His most recent disc is Love Songs & Life Lines. See krislagerband.com.
Hector Anchondo Band
Hector Anchondo seems to have found his place in the music world since he transitioned from the popular rock band Anchondo to pursuing the blues. Even as his band lineup has evolved, Anchondo has grown his music. His band represented the Blues Society of Omaha in 2015 at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. In 2016, Hector Anchondo Band was again the BSO representative and made it from more than 250 bands to the eight finalists. That recognition opened more doors and Anchondo has continued to tour nationally and build on that momentum. His 2017 self-produced disc, Roll the Dice, received national attention, landing on the Top 25 of the Living Blues magazine charts and spending many weeks on the Roots Music Report Blues and Blues-Rock charts. Anchondo’s grit-tinged vocals, fiery guitar playing and original songwriting make him one to watch, whether he’s touring with his band or playing solo gigs around the area. See hectoranchondo.com.
Sebastian Lane Band
A relative newcomer to the Omaha blues scene, Sebastian Lane has a blues lineage that not many can match. And one that is unusual for Nebraska. His father is Jimmy D, Lane, an established, veteran Chicago blues guitarist. His grandfather was the seminal and influential Chicago bluesman Jimmy Rogers, whose career included working in Muddy Waters’ band. Rogers was a guitarist, vocalist and harmonica player. Sebastian Lane, who arrived in Omaha to pursue a medical degree, has somehow managed to balance the demands of medical school with late nights gigging in bars. His 2018 disc, Walkin’ By Myself, and his many local appearances have proven he is the real deal. He’s got vocal chops, songwriting ability and a power on the guitar that is fueled as much by Jimi Hendrix as by his famous connection to the Chicago blues sound. Lane may not stick around Omaha once he finishes his medical studies, so see him while you can. More at sebastianlaneband.com.
The Mezcal Brothers have been a favorite in Nebraska and beyond since 1998. Fronted by Gerardo Meza, with Benjamin Kushner on guitar, Charlie Johnson on bass and Shaun Theye on drums, the band was inducted into the Nebraska Music Hall of Fame in 2016. This band has been Nebraska’s top purveyor of hard-driving rockabilly, with performances that have included national rockabilly festivals and European dates. Their largely original material fits seamlessly into the retro rockabilly sound. Goldmine Magazine recognized the Mezcals as one of the top Rockabilly bands in the country during their heyday. The band has released several full-length recordings. Recently they’ve started showing up regularly on Lincoln’s Zoo Bar schedule and they’re still cookin’, with a high-octane sound that is irresistibly danceable. See Facebook.com/mezcalbro.