New Jersey music means The Boss, Bon Jovi and – more recently, two guys who now live in Austin: Mike June and Mike Wojciechowski, aka Thick Red Wine. Jersey Mike’s is of course a nationwide subs chain which started up in 1956 at Point Pleasant Beach (hometown of Matthew Jurasek whose band Thee, Idea Men, who stayed at the Flanfire house during SXSW) – but our Jersey Mikes will fill your soul, not your tummy.
Mike June: Talkin’ Revolution Blues
When I first met Mike June he was working with the Killer Artist Agency and I did not catch on that he was such an accomplished songwriter. I went to Strange Brew for the release party for his new CD, Talkin’ Revolution Blues, and was duly impressed with the songs and with his New Jersey band (with a couple of ringers – for example, New York born Jess Klein). And with Ben Todd on lead guitar (his old band, Beautiful Mistakes, was one of my favorites), you can hardly go wrong.
The opening cut, “Pray for Rain,” is a rocker that showcases that lead guitar and presages the political content that culminates in the title track. “The Pauper’s Princess” switches gears; it’s a bouncy love song, yet again with that have-nots theme. “Charlie and Lily” is also cut from softer cloth musically, but again touts the theme of hard times and disappointments. John Mellencamp would love this song.
“Hard Times” is an acoustic blues rant (until the organ kicks in) reminiscent of Woody Guthrie – and Billy Bragg. Things have gotten so bad, says the protagonist, that “I don’t believe in hope and change any more…. the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” “The Lucky One” is a classic rock anthem – with more guitar and organ.
“Long Lost Brother” is gospel-tinged with lots of organ … feels a little like The Band. And “April Showers” has that classic anthem rock riff throughout – a hint of Bob Seger maybe. Back to back songs about the need to pray (not to mention Pray for Rain) … “Jesus was a rebel, when he died they took him corporate … you know the President knows him well.”
All that has gone before, though, is only the lead-in to the title cut – “You said you want a revolution, but you don’t want to walk the walk … [and so] it’s all just talk.” A far cry from another East Coast lad I once knew. Steve Scolnick joined the Revolution at age 16, having fled prep school with his camera and a dream to come to Washington to work with Marshall Bloom and Ray Mungo at Liberation News Service. Stevie took a few great photos – one made it into Atlantic Monthly – before his camera got stolen and one day as he was driving up to Vermont his car ended up in a tree.
You get the idea that Mike June is a little bit like that seventeen-year-old charmer whom the ladies loved, smiling and talking his way into and out of trouble while serving a cause greater than himself. And like Stevie, you get the idea that Mike June would rather live a revolutionary life that changes hearts while mocking the nakedness of the overlords of the Establishment than be the guy who violently pulls down one set of rulers to set himself up in their place with the same ruthless greed and arrogance. And maybe that’s why I like this Jersey Mike.
Thick Red Wine (Mike Wojciechowski) – Never Wanted To Be Cool
I remember the first time I met Mike whose name is so long he bills himself as Thick Red Wine (well, most of the time). He was just out of college in Chicago, a Jersey boy with stories to tell with his guitar and a voice not ready for prime time. In fact, he admitted to not performing in public until the first time (or thereabouts) he stepped onto the front porch at House Wine on a Monday night.
As a performer, Mike was raw, and his “songs” lacked structure, but from the minute he opened his mouth to sing (really, as soon as you were engaged in conversation with him off the stage) you knew you wanted to listen to what he had to say. The title song alone has endeared Thick Red Wine to a legion of fans – fellow open mikers to start with, truth seekers in general and of course the arrogant who might think they want to go on after him not realizing that their cultured voices and skillful fingers cannot mask the vapidity of their so-called songwriting.
And yet Mike kept on getting more polished (not noticeably so, that is, not losing his “charm”) – and more focused on making a real recording. It did not hurt that his day job brought him into contact with one Darian Momanee – the same Darian that Kullen Fuchs had recommended to work with The O’My’s on their first visit to Austin in 2009, the same Darian who then took three high school boys under his wing and put them to work while also learning THEIR music. That guy who plays trumpet and drums and co-produced Mike’s debut record.
Mike also gets help on this recording from fellow House Winers William Wallace, Shawnee Kilgore and Leah Nobel (who just released a lovely new video), along with Courtney Howell. But it is Mike’s songs and his honesty – and for some, maybe, his boldness to write and sing even about excrement as handled by an innocent child – that have won him loyal friends and fans alike.
There are ten songs here, but I will only write about the title track – and let you all find your own way through the other story songs either live and in person or by finding this record for yourself. I just would not want to spoil your party.
So to work – imagine yourself as a pretty cool kid who had the respect of your fellow fifth graders, until one day when one of the Bobbys of the world chides you for hanging out with someone who has been labeled “not cool.” How many of us would back away from such a friend, not wanting to lose coolness points? Mind you, Bobby himself is clearly not cool either – I mean he ate glue in kindergarten! But he maybe had a family with significant enough assets to buy his way into coolville.
Well, our hero “never wanted to be cool,” and upon realizing that his friend was not taking this condemnation very well, he was not at all going to play it cool. With his very best Stone Cold Steve Austin imitation, young Mikie chased Bobby around the school yard and put the hurt on him … and went back to hanging with his “uncool” friend. You really have to listen to the song – but now you know why Mike is such a magnet. He much prefers to be real than cool. In real, not cool, life!