The National Public Radio Tiny Desk Concert Contest is really neat because it gives musicians at every level an equal chance to catch the eye of the arbiters and find their way onto the famed web series. Bands from all over the world have submitted their own personal versions of the show with the hopes of getting on, and Valley locals Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra's performance got featured on the NPR website.
Obviously, not every entry got as much attention as PAO, but that doesn’t mean that no other Phoenix acts produced entries worthy of a shout out. Nearly 40 Phoenix-based acts submitted video to NPR for the 2016 contest. These are our 10 favorite.
10. “Waiting on You” - The Henry Company
Henry Rivera went solo acoustic for his band’s entry into this year's Tiny Desk Concert Contest, and his song “Waiting on You” is probably the most upbeat tune turned in by a Phoenix artist this year. It’s a simple shoot for a simple song, and it comes off soulful as the Phoenix native sings it out.
9. “Anna Lee” - Jake Busby
“Anna Lee” is a tune about a cheating lover's fate, as sung by Jake Busby and his dastardly mustache. The video is shot in a sepia filter and has a good deal of accouterments meant to give the video an old western feel. It’s not the highest quality, but Busby definitely gets an A for creativity and effort.
8. “The Way I feel” - Paris James
“The Way I feel” is a well put together song with insightful lyrics. Paris James doesn’t bring quite as much passion to this particular performance as some of the other entrants did, but it’s still of high enough quality to warrant a mention. He kept the recording real simple and had just one angle through with him in dead center. It may not be the most interesting video, but it’s a really good song.
7. “April Waiting for Spring” - Theron Jenkins
The video quality on Theron Jenkins “April Awaiting Spring” leaves much to be desired, including a desire for Theron’s head to not get cut off in the middle of the song. However Jenkins voice leaves nothing to be desired whatsoever as he soulfully delivers his original tune. With a fairly basic guitar accompaniment Jenkins' voice shines as really delivers a gorgeous song for his contest entry.
6. “Feels Like Trouble” - The Technicolors
It seems like The Technicolors just placed a go-pro in the corner of the ceiling of their practice space and went to work. The production on the video may not have been professional grade but the song, “Feels Like Trouble,” is pretty phenomenal. It’s got a good indie rock sound that probably comes in far clearer when the group is playing it full bore. But they certainly got enough of the raw emotion across in the Tiny Desk version to more than warrant a bump.
5. “Pollen” - Dry River Yacht Club
Packing all that punch behind a tiny desk must have been a real struggle for Dry River Yacht Club but the gypsy western seven-piece found a way. Even without the bellowing bass clarinet of Fred Reyes the Yacht Club turned in a sufficiently satisfying tiny desk concert contest entry. Lead singer Garnet is absolutely whimsical with her white wig and witchy ways, while the rest of the band show that even while restraining the power of their instruments they are still more than talented. Add in the fancy clothes on the individual players and with a few string lights DRYC made a fairly plain room into their own fairy land.
4. “Undertow” - Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold
There is a certain Neil Young-esque feel and sound to Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold’s tiny desk version of “Undertow,” and it’s working for them. The addition of Chester Carmen on drums and backing vocals to join with guitarist Tyler Mattock and banjo player Jesse Gray is something else going in the band’s favor on their contest entry. The whole video has a nifty old timey feel to it which is something that Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold seem to always be going for no matter where they are playing. In this video, it’s coming through in spades.
3. “Keep Me Going” - Jared & the Mill
In the past I have been pretty vocal about my distaste for Tempe’s Jared & the Mill. And then they released their Tiny Desk Concert video and gave me a pretty good reason to eat my words. Someone whose musical opinion I thoroughly respect once told me that Jared & the Mill were way better full acoustic than plugged in, and when they turn in performances like the one in this video it’s easy to see why people would think that. Frontman Jared Kolesar delivers a stellar vocal performance, and it’s probably not a coincidence that Rachel Smith, the same person who directed The Blood Feud Family Singers entry, was behind the camera to capture all the subtle nuances of the groups desert back drop performance.
2. “Jenny Lind” - North Brother Island
The first time I ever interviewed Phoenix based chamber folk outfit North Brother Island Dario Miranda, the band’s lead singer and chief songwriter, told me that the biggest show his quirky five piece mostly likely ever could play would be a Tiny Desk Concert. They play a peculiar style of music that is equal parts orchestral with the inclusion of Megyn Neff on the violin and Amber Gore on cello and twangy with Miranda playing the banjo. They’re style really does seem almost tailor made for a Tiny Desk Concert and the odd choice to go with such low quality video only adds to the band's mystique. It was also a pretty hip choice to do the video inside a “tiny” record store like Phoenix’s Stinkweeds.
1. “Lay Me Down and Let Me Down” - The Blood Feud Family Singers
If NPR has a short list for bands that didn’t quite make the cut I have to imagine that The Blood Feud Family Singers rendition of “Lay Me Down, Let Me Down" is on it. It’s nothing more than four men playing their instruments behind and desk and in front of a bookshelf. But the level of emotionality emanating from lead singer and the song's writer Daryl Scherrer is simply transcendent. He looks and sounds more confident than ever with the backing of bass player Marc Oxborrow, guitarist Mark Allred on leads, and drummer Douglas Berry. Nearly two years ago to the day I called this tune the best love song ever written by a Phoenix-based musician, and it’s hard to believe that since I wrote that, the song has gotten objectively better. Basically this Tiny Desk Concert Contest entry might make you feel things.