Rattlesnake Radio

By Jennifer ToledoStaff Writer Justin Powel and Karl Engelmann are two talented local musicians both with complex and successful musical histories who have come together to form their new musical project, dubed Rattlesnake Radio. This band can be expected to start off with a bang, given the rest of the dynamo members, including Tommy Dennison (an amazing rhythm guitarist), accompanied by Ben Kilmer on drums. Their songs express a fun outlook on life.”(We have a) Playful, emotional perspective,” Powell said. “(Our songs) are about our cars, parents, family, loving and losing, and a life in the service industry.” Powell has a strong history in jazz piano, and in fact studied under WCU’s own Pavel Wlosok, however his repertoire also includes classical piano and organ. Powell has recently experienced musical success in Chicago, Illinois and is currently a featured player in the John Wasem Band. He has also played with The Count Basie Orchestra, Umphree’s McGee, Mother Vinegar, Dirty5Thirty, The Afromotive, 56 Hope Rd, Stellar Road, The Hue, as well as many prominent jazz musicians such as Bobby Watson and Andrew Clausen. Powell is an important part of the Sylva/Cullowhee music scene’s history. He has taken part in musical projects such as the Crunch, After Dark, Friends & Fiends, and has enjoyed two years of piano solo playing at Spring Street Café. Justin is a member of Chicago’s newly formed jazz/rock fusion group Land of Atlantis. It can be rightly stated that Justin Powell is a musician’s musician, a true player of the musical field, and a man sincerely committed to his instrument. Powell can usually be observed in a state of calm focus, releasing his smooth melodies from their hiding place inside that black Roland box, with a lit cigarette dangling from one side of his face. Karl Engelmann, born in Tinley Park Illinois, possesses multi-instrumental talent. It would be unfair to say that Engelmann is known for any instrument in particular, when in fact he is known for everything in particular. Engelmann enjoys musical diversity and is an accomplished vocalist, guitarist, sitar player, bassist, and percussionist. Englemann also plays melodica, organ, trumpet, and claw hammer banjo. It would be no surprise if Engelmann picked up a sack of potatoes and made music with it. Known for lead vocals, songwriting and guitar in Asheville band Mother Vinegar, Englemann is also founding member of Ali Baba’s Tahini in the Midwest. Along with songs made famous by Keller Williams and Umphree’s McGee, Engelmann also enjoys the solidarity of a one-man-band. He writes and records songs on a regular basis. His apparent influences range from Tom Waits to Charles Mingus to Fishbone. There’s an occasional but prominent vein of reggae in his songs, Engelmann manages to create a well-synchronized product that reveals a wide breadth of instrumental understanding and production. They are personal, yet not effusive or overly sentimental. They are rowdy without being raucous, and simply structured but fleshed out with an interesting variety of sound and internal rhythms. African drum beats, comical rap monologues and melodious layers of sitar meld into something that still manages a solid continuity of style, all framed as a theme displaying Engelmann’s life experience. After the brief introduction to each of these highly prolific musicians, assume that their collaboration is going to be unpredictable. After talking to each musician, I attempted to get a sonic image of the forthcoming shows. Powell and Engelmann hang out a lot, and apparently music just happens. “Well I’ve noticed lately, you know, being a chef, and experiencing chefdom, that when I write songs, I write them in a way parallel to chefing,” Engelmann said. “You have a certain theme, you have to use everything and not waste anything. I have papers and papers of things I’ve written down and don’t want to waste. Then I try to eventually incorporate them into songs.” If his new songs are anything like his version of Low Country Shrimp and Grits at Spring Street Café, I’d say we’re all in for a treat. Powell, also a part of the service industry during his everyday life, is a front of the house man, and also relates music making to restaurants. “I kind of approach music making from a give and take perspective, just as is ideal with customers,” Powell said. ” I try to read customers, I deal with people all day; dealing with an audience as a musician, I have to be able to understand what they go through, good or bad, and offer up a conversational response. Karl and I are trying to find some resolution about questions we have in life, big stuff, politics, personal stuff and this music is cathartic. Just like in different styles, genres of music, if you’re going to be one sided in music, you will be in life and a more open person can listen and/or play many styles of music.” What can be expected is something like southern rock, but nothing jam-bandy. Engelmann and Powell are making song-based music, with good vocal harmonies and references to the regional/traditional music of Appalachia, as well as the allowance of past influences to come through. “Old-time honky-tonk and chicken pickin'” says Engelmann, “with some heavy rockin’ too.” Powell and Engelmann are even stoked about performing cover songs from bands such as Sublime, Little Feet and the Silver Sun Pickups, an endeavor which neither has ever really pursued. I asked these two a serious question, about how they think their music integrates with the current condition of humanity in the US, not expecting either one to have consciously thought of this yet. Powell answered quickly, with a tinge of sarcasm. “Selfishness, inherently,” Powell said. “That comes to mind immediately, because of the way Americans live. We want the amount of our guitar solos to reflect amounts of sugar consumption.” If this music sounds interesting to you, then check out an acoustic performance at Spring Street Café on August 22 or at Doyle’s in Murphy on August 2. Also expect appearances at Big Ricks, a bar on Main St. Sylva appreciated by these musicians for the good room, the good acoustics and the selling of liquor. Powell can be found every first and third Monday with Asheville’s own Vertigo Jazz Project at the Guadalupe Café on Main Street in Sylva. Engelmann can be seen with the Ravioli Riot, “doing his best to offend you, and everyone, and himself” in Powell’s opinion. Rattlesnake Radio is forming with plans for the future, plans for recording and for selling. I would expect nothing less from this collaboration of talented musicians.