Health & Beauty and J.R. Bohannon push their music forward while staying rooted in tradition | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Health & Beauty and J.R. Bohannon push their music forward while staying rooted in tradition

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I first met Brooklynite J.R. Bohannon when he was working as a booking agent for underground bands and cult artists, so I was surprised when he left that business to focus on his own music. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Bohannon moved to New York in 2009 to soak up the avant-garde music scene (in an interview with Premier Guitar he mentions Sonny Sharrock and Acid Mothers Temple as favorite bands). In 2015 he released the debut album of his ambient project Ancient Ocean, but the earthy bluegrass sounds of his southern upbringing remained in his consciousness. In 2017 Bohannon finally began serving up solo music that reflected that duality, putting out an EP called Recôncavo (Phantom Limb) that reflected his background in classical guitar and his love of Brazilian music and the Takoma sound popularized by Leo Kottke and John Fahey. On the first LP under his own name, the brand-new Dusk (Figureeight), Bohannon’s influences blossom into reflective, post-American Primitive acoustic-guitar flights, with occasional contributions from jazz bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Greg Fox. Bohannon’s Bandcamp page describes the swirling track “The Sorcerer’s Hand” as “a Black Sabbath ballad performed by Appalachian musicians.” But introspectively lovely songs such as “A Continuous Harmony” and “Paradise Kentucky” transcend any simple comparisons (though to digress, Sabbath’s string-soaked instrumental “Laguna Sunrise” has on occasion almost made me weep). Headlining this show is local musician Brian Sulpizio, who’s been performing as Health & Beauty for more than 15 years. He’s used the name for various band lineups that serve his ragged yet tuneful vision, which encompasses dry indie-pop ruminations, Leonard Cohen-influenced melodies, and incendiary off-the-rails Crazy Horse-style rave-ups (copiloted by Sulpizio’s longtime collaborator, rowdy bassist Bill Satek of Mines) that showcase his blazing guitar prowess. (Sulpizio has often backed Ryley Walker, who’s no guitar slouch himself.) This show celebrates H&B’s new seventh LP (and second for Wichita Recordings), Shame Engine/Blood Pleasure, out on November 22 and available for purchase at the show. Though I’ve yet to hear the entire album, the horns, background singers, and swirly production of the first single, “Rat Shack,” hint that it could be the project’s most cohesive and polished recording to date. It’ll be great to hear Bohannon and Health & Beauty back-to-back at this show—two forward-thinking but tradition-rooted acts, both at the top of their game.   v



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