December 15, 2009

Song of the decade - Josh Ritter's Thin Blue Flame

There are a zillion posts and articles out there expounding on the best this and that of the decade, and personally I don't give two wits about most of them. But I do feel it's necessary to offer my two cents on Song of the Decade. At first I was leaning toward Bruce Springsteen's "My City of Ruins" because of its connection to Sept. 11, 2001, which I believe set the tone for the entire decade. The words, which start off decrying a ravaged city, ends up imploring people to rise up. The Boss sang it on national TV during the telethon to help the victims of 9/11 and its meaning struck a nerve even though the song, actually written in 2000, wasn't penned with the terrorist attacks in mind.
But a second song, by Josh Ritter, called "Thin Blue Flame" – from his album "The Animal Years" released in 2006 – takes those same sentiments and unleashes emotions so deep it even surpasses Springsteen's song. Ritter alternately spits out horrific evil in the world and also its beauty, as if he can't figure out which is more powerful.
In my review of the album in Modern Acoustic (Issue No. 8, Jan. 2006), I wrote this about "Thin Blue Flame": "It's a massive collection of lyrical images, each one you hear for a split second before the next one comes along. The song seems to see-saw between political darkness – Borders soft with refugees/Streets a'swimming with amputees/It's a Bible or a bullet they put over your heart/It's getting harder and harder to tell them apart – and dreamy hopefulness – The straight of the highway and the scattered out hearts/They were coming together they pulling apart/And/angels everywhere were in my midst/In the ones that I loved in the ones that I kissed. All the while the music builds to a dirge-like crescendo and then dissipates to quiet gentleness – solo electric guitar then squalling guitar, bass, piano – and back again. The song clocks in at an unheard of singer-songwriter 9 minutes and 38 seconds, ending in one last crescendo, then to feedback fading to oblivion. It leaves the listener breathless, trying to figure out just what hit them."
And that was just after a few listens. Hundreds of listens and years later, the words – all 372 of them – are still chilling. Questions about religion, politics, God, beauty, heaven and hell. Who are we as human beings, and what can we believe in? All thrown up in the air after 9/11, and with a president who seeked revenge over understanding.
All the while the music is peaceful then chaotic, then peaceful and chaotic again – it's a rollercoaster ride of emotion. And in the end, Josh singing "Only a full house gonna have a prayer," telling us family and togetherness makes us whole. In the end, he's shouting it over the full-on instrumental dirge of guitar, piano, bass and drums.
I can't think of another song that hits you in the gut and makes you think at the same time.
Listen and download the song HERE.

The complete lyrics to Josh Ritter's "Thin Blue Flame"
I became a thin blue flame
Polished on a mountain range
And over hills and fields I flew
Wrapped up in a royal blue
I flew over Royal City last night
A bullfighter on the horns of a new moon's light
Caesar's ghost I saw the war-time tides
The prince of Denmark's father's still and quiet
And the whole world was looking to get drowned
Trees were a fist shaking themselves at the clouds
I looked over curtains and it was then that I knew
Only a full house gonna make it through

I became a thin blue wire
That held the world above the fire
And so it was I saw behind
Heaven's just a thin blue line
If God's up there he's in a cold dark room
The heavenly host are just the cold dark moons
He bent down and made the world in seven days
And ever since he's been a'walking away
Mixing with nitrogen in lonely holes
Where neither seraphim or raindrops go
I see an old man wandering the halls alone
Only a full house gonna make a home

I became a thin blue stream
The smoke between asleep and dreams
And in that clear blue undertow
I saw Royal City far below
Borders soft with refugees
Streets a'swimming with amputees
It's a Bible or a bullet they put over your heart
It's getting harder and harder to tell them apart
Days are nights and the nights are long
Beating hearts blossom into walking bombs
And those still looking in the clear blue sky for a sign
Get missiles from so high they might as well be divine
Now the wolves are howling at our door
Singing bout vengeance like it's the joy of the Lord
Bringing justice to the enemies not the other way round
They're guilty when killed and they're killed where they're found
If what's loosed on earth will be loosed up on high
It's a Hell of a Heaven we must go to when we die
Where even Laurel begs Hardy for vengeance please
The fat man is crying on his hands and his knees
Back in the peacetime he caught roses on the stage
Now he twists indecision takes bourbon for rage
Lead pellets peppering aluminum
Halcyon, laudanum and Opium
Sings kiss thee hardy this poisoned cup
His winding sheet is busy winding up
In darkness he looks for the light that has died
But you need faith for the same reasons that it's so hard to find
And this whole thing is headed for a terrible wreck
And like good tragedy that's what we expect
At night I make plans for a city laid down
Like the hips of a girl on the spring covered ground
Spirals and capitals like the twist of a script
Streets named for heroes that could almost exist
The fruit trees of Eden and the gardens that seem
To float like the smoke from a lithium dream
Cedar trees growing in the cool of the squares
The young women walking in the portals of prayer
And the future glass buildings and the past an address
And the weddings in pollen and the wine bottomless
And all wrongs forgotten and all vengeance made right
The suffering verbs put to sleep in the night
The future descending like a bright chandelier
And the world just beginning and the guests in good cheer
In Royal City I fell into a trance
Oh it's hell to believe there ain't a hell of a chance

I woke beneath a clear blue sky
The sun a shout the breeze a sigh
My old hometown and the streets I knew
Were wrapped up in a royal blue
I heard my friends laughing out across the fields
The girls in the gloaming and the birds on the wheel
The raw smell of horses and the warm smell of hay
Cicadas electric in the heat of the day
A run of Three Sisters and the flush of the land
And the lake was a diamond in the valley's hand
The straight of the highway and the scattered out hearts
They were coming together they pulling apart
And angels everywhere were in my midst
In the ones that I loved in the ones that I kissed
I wondered what it was I'd been looking for up above
Heaven is so big there ain't no need to look up
So I stopped looking for royal cities in the air
Only a full house gonna have a prayer

December 11, 2009

Our favorites of 2009

YEAH! Our faves of 2009 (from Modern Acoustic, Issue 27)

“I and Love and You,” the Avett Brothers; “Sea of Tears,” Eilen Jewell. The Avetts’ mountain music has just enough punky attitude. Yes, we realize the band’s sound has been scrubbed a little cleaner than in the past, thanks to legendary producer Rick Rubin, but “I and Love and You” still comes off fresh and exciting, and new to those of us who hadn’t been paying attention before. As for “Sea of Tears,” Eilen’s timeless voice gets backing from some of the most-kickass late-’60s and early-’70s guitar-based sounds from a band who appears to have totally found its groove.
(Read our album reviews: Avetts HERE; Eilen HERE)

“Friend of a Friend,” David Rawlings Machine. Since we’ve been waiting six years, anytime there is new music from Gillian Welch and David Rawlings it is a surprise.
(Read album review HERE; check out Dave’s music HERE)

Regina Spektor blowing the shofar as part of her encore.

Dragonforce guitar player Herman Li (see above)

Big Surprise Tour. We went to see Gillian and David. We also got to hear the Felice Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show and Justin Townes Earle – all together sharing the stage in one big hoedown. The highlight was a concert-ending full-on version of “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ’n’ Roll).”
(Watch our video HERE; read our CONCERT review HERE).

House of Blues Boston. We have mixed feelings about this. We love small clubs for their intimacy and HOB is a corporate rock club that holds a couple thousand people. But we saw six shows there this year – from Regina’s Spektor’s pin-drop quietude to the jam-rock of Grace Potter -- and the sound was perfect every time. Even when there were nearly 15 musicians on the stage for the Big Surprise Tour, we could hear every instrument and vocal nuance. While you do have to stand most of the time, the sightlines are surprisingly very good. One thing: $6 for a can of Bud? That’s why corporate rock really sucks. A special shoutout to the Palladium in Worcester. We had never been there before and it’s a pretty cool place to see a show. (read our GRACE concert review HERE)

Regina Spektor at the House of Blues, Dragonforce at the Worcester Palladium. Anytime you can experience music with your kids, it’s a good time.
(read our REGINA concert review HERE).

Q. How would you respond to some critics saying that “Inhuman Rampage” is just playing fast at the expense of taste?
Vadim Pruzhanov, Dragonforce keyboard player: We love to shred and shredding is what we do. There are plenty of bands that play mid-tempo power metal whilst looking at their fretboards and not move at all. If it’s too fast, you’re too fucking old! (FROM SAVIORSOFROCK.COM)

The Low Anthem. This R.I. band caught our attention with their song “Charlie Darwin.” We look forward to their next album. (Check out the Low Anthem HERE).

Steve Earle. We’ve known about Steve for a long time. But after seeing him at the Berklee Performance Center, we realized he is the real deal, a folk singer with that political drive to keep going.
(READ OUR concert review HERE; Steve's Music HERE)


Jenny Lewis at House of Blues We knew Jenny had a great voice, but we were amazed that in concert she hits all the notes, whether singing a solo gospel number or fronting her full-tilt rock band. (Read our concert review HERE; check out her music HERE)

The Avett Brothers at the House of Blues We’d heard that seeing these guys live is a different experience than hearing their albums. And it is true. The energy level is ratcheted up to the point where you can’t help but dance. (Read our concert review HERE; check out their music HERE)

Kathleen Edwards at Paradise This was our second time seeing Kathleen. She puts on a great show, stomping around the stage and firing off funny stories about life on the road. (Read our concert review HERE; check out her music HERE)

Eilen Jewell doing Loretta Lynn songs at Lizard Lounge We almost didn’t go to the show, but at the last minute changed our minds. And we’re glad we did. (Read our concert review HERE; check out her
music HERE)

Erin McKeown, “Hundreds of Lions” Erin has a spark, a wit, and a way with songs like no other. Take a listen to “(Put the Fun Back in) the Funeral” and “The Rascal” and try not to smile. (Read our album review HERE; check out her music HERE)

Regina Spektor, “Far” We thought we’d never love a Regina album as much as we did “Begin to Hope.’’ But, lo and behold, “Far” hooked us. It has so many great tunes full of her amazing vocal acrobatics. One listen to “Eet” or “Dance Anthem of the ’ 80s’’ and you’ll be hooked too. (Read our album review HERE; check out her music HERE)

Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, “Rattlin’ Bones” Kasey is a nationally known folk-pop singer; Shane, her husband, is apparently known mostly in their native Australia. This album, a mix of folk, blues and bluegrass, really stands out for the way their voices meld into one. The best songs -- “Jackson Hole,” “The Devil’s Inside My Head” – are romping tunes filled out with some furious banjo picking. (Read our album review HERE; check out their music HERE)

Issue 27, Dec. 2009

I Survived Dragonforce
We all have have things we have lost tolerance for. Animated kids’ films? No more, thank you. Musical theater? Not unless our kids our in it. Costume parties? No invite necessary.
But it is good occasionally to step outside your comfort zone and take in experiences you don’t consider your style. Sometimes they even surprise you.
A couple of summers ago, we spent a weekend at a jam-band festival. We are not big fans of jam music but we were interested to see if the groovy vibes of the Grateful Dead era that we knew and loved still existed. (They actually do!) Did we come away loving the music? No. But we were more appreciative of the whole scene.
This year we put our mettle to a test by taking our son to a metal concert. Now the metal-est we get is Zeppelin and Hendrix, so this was a real challenge.
The question was not only would our ears be able to take the decibals, but would we be able to tolerate the music and the scene, which has never appealed to us.
So how did it turn out? You’ll have to read all about it in our review, but we will tell you we were pleasantly – and amusingly – surprised.
Something that might not surprise you is that we have picked our favorites for this year and they include albums by Eilen Jewell and the Avett Brothers. We have written about both bands in depth, reviewing both their albums and concerts. It makes us happy just thinking about them.
We had a great time at shows this year, seeing performances by Regina Spektor, Grace Potter, and the Avetts at the House of Blues, Kathleen Edwards at the Paradise, Steve Earle at the Berklee Performance Center, and the metal extravaganza with Dragonforce at the Palladium in Worcester.
Check out our annual list of favorites.
Finally, just in case you hadn’t gotten your complete musical fill from this issue, we offer a review of the new release from – gasp! – Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. It’s actually the first release from David Rawlings, with help from Gillian Welch.
Hey, at least they have finally released something new. And with it, we can slip back into our comfort zone.
Rich Kassirer, editor
To read the full issue, click HERE
To read our review of David Rawlings album, click HERE

MA5 - Songs
Song that helped us survive this issue:
1. “January Wedding,” “I and Love and You,” the Avett Brothers. A wonderful little ditty of a love song.
2. “Long Distance Runaround,” “Fragile,” Yes. Reaching way back to someplace way back in my brain.
3. “To the Dogs or Whoever,” The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter,” Josh Ritter. Still a blast to listen to.
4. “The Rascal,” “Hundreds of Lions,” Erin McKeown. Erin sure knows how to have fun – even when she’s mad!
5. “A Man Needs a Maid/Heart of Gold,” “Live at Massey Hall 1971,” Neil Young. A great solo acoustic version.

November 20, 2009

Grace Potter, with Brett Dennen, at the House of Blues

Many times in the past two years I have thought -- even planned -- to see Grace Potter in concert. Each time there was a reason it didn't happen. But last Thursday, it finally did, at the House of Blues and it was everything I expected. The word was that if you hadn't heard Grace live, you really hadn't heard her, and this is true. The albums do not do her justice. There is an electricity to her, and it runs right through her body from her fluttering fingertips, to her hair-waving head, right down to her high-heeled shoed feet. Whether she's fronting the band playing slide on her flying V or from her perch at her Hammond organ, Grace Potter is in full throttle. I always like to ask myself, "what does this band want to be"? For Grace and the Nocturnals, I think they'd like to be the female Allman Brothers. And they've got a pretty great start. They've added a second guitarist, Benny Yurco, and have a new female bass player, Catherine Popper, a strong voice to the mix which includes longtime Nocturnals lead guitarist Scott Tournet and drummer Matt Burr. They look like they are having a blast up there, smiling away while blasting through "Ah, Mary," showing off their new dueling lead guitars on one of their new songs, and meeting together on the center stage floor for a kneeling group guitar jam during "Stop the Bus." They have always fit comfortably amid the jam band scene, but they are able stand out a bit from the pack, because of Grace. Not only is she a woman (and a great-looking woman!) amid the sea of guys, but her songwriting is also stronger than most in the jammy genre. She debuted six new songs, including one called "Tiny Light," which starts slowly and builds to a rocking crescendo filled with guitar feedback. She wound up nearly two hours onstage with an encore of the Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit," which fit her band perfectly. She closed the show with her a cappella-to-full blown rocker "Nothing But the Water."
A couple of other notes: I wasn't sure what the crowd would be like for the show. I was initially worried that the place would seem empty. But I was pleasantly surprised. I estimate the crowd at a couple thousand, filling about three-quarters of the place. Brett Dennen was a pleasant surprise and weird sort of cat. And he's got quite a fan base. When he was onstage, the front of the house was packed. It seemed to be less crowded when Grace came on... like all Brett's fans either left or moved back to the bars. That was fine. It left more room for Grace's fans -- which included a large majority of college girls (unusual for a jam band) -- to dance.
One more note about Brett Dennen. He's an odd mix of performer, not really sure where to place him. He's got a unique-sounding voice, a huge mop of hair, and has the stage presence -- dancing and moving his hips that puts him somewhere between Neil Diamond and David Bowie.
All in all, a really fun show.
Check out some great photos from the show (not mine, which were shit), HERE and HERE
Also, a video (not mine, either) from the show of new song "Only Love")

The setlist (from the blog This Is Somewhere)
Stop the Bus (not on setlist, played after mention of bus fire incident)
Goodbye Kiss
Ah, Mary
Big White Gate
Things I Never Needed
Low Road
Only Love
If I Was From Paris
Tiny Light
Sweet Hands
Watching You
White Rabbit
Nothing But The Water I
Nothing But The Water II

November 17, 2009

Regina Spektor at the House of Blues

Forgot to post this review when I wrote it... Here it is...

Regina Spektor
At the House of Blues, Sept. 22

Standing in line before the show, you would not have guessed you were at a concert with fervent Regina Spektor fans. The mostly 20-something college crowd was content conversing, texting, even doing their homework. But once they were inside the House of Blues entrance, and had enjoyed the decent opening act Little Joy and what seemed like an interminable equipment setup, the crowd got what they came for.
From the moment Regina strode on stage, love was in the air.
As she sat down to her piano for the first tune, “The Calculation,” off her new album “Far,” whooping and hollering and multiple calls of “I love you” filled the hall. Regina genuinely smiled, and almost embarrassingly responded “I love you, too.”
Sitting behind a grand piano and backed by a drummer, a violinist and a cellist, she performed most of her new album, including “Folding Chair,” “Dance Anthem of the ’80s,’’ and “Two Birds.”
“Far” was only released in late June, yet the audience seemed to know every word of every song and sang along in mostly hushed tones so as not to drown out the main attraction. It actually made for an interesting effect since they seemed to know every nuanced turn of the sometimes complicated vocal acrobatics. And luckily for them, Regina didn’t stray too far from the originals.
Among the highlights was an amped-up version of “Eet,” on which she played on electric organ, and “Fidelity” and “On the Radio” from her “Begin to Hope” album. She also played a short set of solo tunes from “Soviet Kitsch” on her fabulous green Gretsch guitar.
At one point, sound from her piano was giving her trouble so she spontaneously performed a song about eye color done a cappella.
Her encore was a thing of beauty. After playing “Samson” and “Fidelity,” she brought out a shofar to help ring in the Jewish new year. And she ended the night with what she called her first-ever, unrecorded country song “Love, You’re a Whore,” which brought the crowd to a roar.
Too bad the audience didn’t know the words. They would have loved to sing along.

October 20, 2009

The Avett Brothers at the House of Blues

The Avett Brothers are family. The two leads, Seth and Scott, are real brothers, and bassist Bob Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon are extended family. And the crowd at their shows? Yes, we're family as well. Before they even played a note on Sunday at the House of Blues, the band sincerely thanked the ecstatic audience for showing up, saying "We never thought Boston would feel so much like home." It was a snowy (Oct. 18??!) and cold night, probably not like their home in North Carolina.
And then they ripped it up, played their hearts out and jumping up and down for those crazy relatives who just can't get enough of them. They fuze their country-rock tunes with an indie-rock energy. The Avetts' stellar new album, "I and Love and You," has brought in some new fans -- me included. I didn't know exactly what to expect from them live, though watching clips of their performances on YouTube, I had a good idea what was coming. The new album has some seemingly low-key tunes, including the show opener "January Wedding," but those worried that the new material would slow the boys down were mistaken. By the second tune, "Salvation Song," they were full-on.
Scott and Seth take turns on vocals, even seamlessly on verses of individual songs. They also shared drumming duties, giving up their guitars or banjos between tunes to whack on the kit. Crawford moved between electric and stand-up bass and Kwon added some expressive strings even in pogoing, high-energy songs you wouldn't expect it to work. Another tip-of-the-hat to the House of Blues for near-perfect sound. This is my fifth show there, and the sound has always been great.
While I don't know a lot of the older Avett material, I know they did cover a good cross-section of their past ("Will You Return" from "Emotionalism" and "Pretty Girl From Matthews" from "Country Was") and present ("Laundry Room" and "Tin Man" from "I and Love and You"). The setlist is below, courtesy of the Avetts message board.
After a solid hour and a half of frenetic fun, the boys came back on stage and twice thanked the crowd for coming out. Then finished up with a great pairing of new and old with "And It Spread" and "If It's the Beaches." We thanked the Avetts and went back out into the cold.

the setlist:
January Wedding
Salvation Song
Head Full of Doubt Road Full of Promise
Talk on Indolence
Tin Man
Tear Down the House
Pretty Girl from Matthews
Slight Figure of Speech
Living of Love
Incomplete and Insecure
Gimme a Kiss
I Would Be Sad
It Goes On and On
Laundry Room
Wanted Man
Left On Laura, Left on Lisa
Perfect Space

And It Spread
If It's the Beaches

A video from the show is below: I didn't shoot it because the HOB police came over and specifically told me not to shoot video. I did take pics.
Click HERE for the pics

October 16, 2009

The Avetts... and Dragonforce!

I can't wait for the arrival of the Avett Brothers this weekend (House of Blues, Sunday). Their new album, "I and Love and You," is definitely one of the best of the year. Almost every song is great. More to come on them after the show.
I'm still loving my trip to Worcester last weekend to see Dragonforce with my son Adam and his friend. For those unfamiliar with the band, their name pretty much gives away what kind of music they play. While I can't say I'm a fan, I certainly enjoyed the show -- something I never would have seen if it weren't for Adam's interest. The band is sort of goth, speed-metal -- fantasy lyrics (not that you could make them out in concert), two guitars, a keyboardist who also wailed on the keytar!, bassist and singer. The light show was great, dry ice, posing, fans blowing back the bands hair... it was AWESOME!
Anyway, I will write more about my experience in my next issue. Yes, something to look forward to.
Below is a clip someone else took from the show. That's my pic at the top of the keyboard players from Dragonforce and Sonata Arctica in a keytar duel. Told you it was fun.

September 30, 2009

New album from Gillian Welch and David Rawlings!

Actually it's a David Rawlings album with Gillian on it. The website Broken Wave Music has the info (editor's note: It's acually a Billboard story I found on Broken Wave), and it looks like the first David Rawlings Machine album, titled "A Friend of a Friend," will be released Nov. 17. This is pretty exciting news since it's been 6 years since the duo's last album, the Gillian Welch album "Soul Journey."
Here's part of what Billboard reported:
"Rawlings produced 'A Friend of a Friend' himself, recording it earlier this year at RCA Studio B in Nashville. Welch appears on eight of the nine tracks (and co-wrote five of them), while other players include keyboardist Benmont Tench from Tom Petty's Heartbreakers, keyboardist Nathaniel Wilcott of Bright Eyes and members of Old Crowe Medicne Show, whose 2006 album 'Big Iron World' was produced by Rawlings."
Among the songs on the album, according to the report, "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)" which Rawlings co-wrote with Ryan Adams, the Rawlings-Welch-penned "It's Too Easy" and the Bright Eyes song "Method Acting"/Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer" combo they've been playing in concert.
Click HERE to read the full story; it's got some great quotes.

September 29, 2009

Issue26, Sept. 2009

Far Out - Regina Spektor blows us away – on her album and live in concert
We were worried for Regina Spektor. Yes, worried.
We first experienced the World According to Regina when she was an opener along with Josh Ritter for Keane at an outdoor venue in Boston in 2005. (Guess who we were there to see!) Regina performed solo on the huge stage, and we remember thinking “who is this strange woman? What planet did she come from?” She was not any kind of singer-songwriter we had seen before and her songs and voice did not fit anything we’d heard before. She seemed a little lost up there, a lone figure sandwiched between the two massive video screens.
The next time she caught our attention was when she released the 2006 album “Begin to Hope.” This time we were blown away. Her tunes, a little less avant-garde and a little more pop, began to make sense to our ears. And her gorgeous, fluttering voice on songs such as “Fidelity,” “Better,” and “On the Radio” affected us like few others. And while commercial radio played these tunes occasionally, a fervent and devoted following grew, awaiting every video and interview she did.
Regina had seamlessly made the transition from quirky anti-folk outsider to quirky indie-pop darling. We loved it.
And that’s why we were worried. Would Regina, with her critical success, journey further into pop, leaving behind her wonderful quirkiness? Would she go all Tori Amos on us? Please no.
Well, our fears were for naught. Her new album, “Far,” picks up where “Begin to Hope” left off, and her live performance, which we caught recently was equally quirky and refreshing. You can read both the review of the album and the show beginning on Page 4.
And speaking of albums and live shows, we’ve noticed recently the trend by musicians and bands performing an entire album, start to finish, in concert. Bruce is playing “Born to Run,” Van Morrison did “Astral Weeks.” Whether you like the idea or not, it certainly makes one pause to think “Who would I like to see play one of their albums live in its entirety?”
We asked our readers what album would you like played in concert? Check out our readers’ poll results to see what others said.
No worries, Rich Kassirer, editor
To read the new issue, click HERE.
To read album reviews of Regina Spektor's "Far," The Avett Brothers' "I and Love and You," Erin McKeown's "Hundreds of Lions," and Thao's "Know Better Learn Faster," click HERE.

September 15, 2009

More Eilen Jewell, and other bits

I know I've blogged more about Eilen Jewell than about most bands... they may have to put me on the payroll soon! I can't help it. I think the band is great, and their new songs rock. Got a chance to see them a couple of weeks ago (that's how behind I am!) at Precinct in Somerville. I had not been there before. It's a small space under a restaurant that used to be a police station. As usual Eilen and the boys put on a fun show, running through a lot of the "Sea of Tears" album, a few from past albums and a great cover of the Yardbirds' "Putty (in Your Hands)" -- see the video below.
For more photos, click HERE

Another video is HERE

Another fun Eilen note: I recently downloaded the new iTunes 9. Afterward, when I was watching a quick tutorial on the new features, I noticed that "Sea of Tears" was one of the albums featured on the tutorial's playlist. Not bad pub for a small-label release!

A little shoutout to my friend Scott Duhaime and his band Tan Odyssey. The other night I ventured to Harvest Cafe in Hudson to hear the band in a stripped-down semi-acoustic performance. Now these guys all have regular jobs and don't get to practice, let alone play out, much. So this was a big deal and a fun night hearing their mix of originals and covers. A standout tune was their reworking of the Allman's "Whipping Post," done as a slow blues on acoustics. Pretty cool arrangement.

Finally, a couple of shows I'm definitely looking forward to: Regina Spektor next week at the House of Blues; the Avett Brothers also at HOB -- I've heard their new album, "I and Love and You," and it is a knockout. Look for a review of the album in my next mag issue (Late September); Grace Potter, also at HOB. Haven't seen her yet so I've gotta catch her...

August 14, 2009

Modern Acoustic Readers' Poll -- please particpate

Next month in Chicago Bruce Springsteen is slated to perform his classic album "Born to Run" in its entirety from start to finish. This has become quite a trend lately as more and more artists are bringing back their most-loved albums and playing them in concert. In the recent past, Steely Dan performed, on separate nights, "Aja," "The Royal Scam," and "Gaucho." Van Morrison embraced his famed "Astral Weeks," and Aerosmith cranked out "Toys in the Attic." It's a win-win for both the artists and fans, with little mystery of how the night's music will be recieved. Other artists, from a variety of genres, have gotten into the act, including Roger Waters (Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon"), Judas Priest ("Hidden Steel"), and even Lucinda Williams, who did a string of gigs in New York playing a different album in the first set of each night.

So here's my question for you, the astute readers of Modern Acoustic: Who would you like to see perform one of their albums in its entirety? Give the name of the artist, the name of the album, and a short explanation why. I will publish the responses in the next issue (hopefully coming out in late Sept.)
You can email me your response at

August 7, 2009

The Big Surprise Tour, House of Blues Boston

On the night Paul McCartney was playing right across the street at Fenway Park, my wife and I instead took a left turn on Lansdowne Street, away from nostalgia and ended up in a rollicking, ramshackle hoedown called the Big Surprise Tour. OK, it wasn't a total surprise, I had bought tix months before when I heard Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings were going to be joined by Old Crow Medicine Show, the Felice Brothers and Justin Townes Earle in a seemingly free-for-all night of music.
First, an aside about the House of Blues: There are very few big venues in Boston that are able to feel like a club. For the most part, HOB works. The sound is terrific. It is a big place, packs a lot of people, but never seems overcrowded to the point that you can't move, and the sightlines, from just about anywhere are pretty good. I do wish the tall dudes would step to the back, and the beer, at $6, for a can of Bud, is way overpriced.
But I digress.
The show was amazing. The Felice Brothers, with help from various members of the Crow, started things off with the tour's signature song, "The Big Surprise." They then gave way to Justin Townes Earle, who played a few numbers and then brought out members of the Felice Brothers to help him with a gospel number to finish up.
By now we got the concept of the show. Each act would play a 20-30-minute set in which time various members of the other groups would come out and join them.
The Felice Brothers, who I had never heard before live (I had just listened to their latest album "Yonder Is the Clock"), proceeded to throw down some indie-rock/country/punk led by the diminutive, Dylan-esque growling Ian Felice. "Run Chicken Run" was a standout. Accordion/keyboard player James Felice deserves a shoutout as well.
After a short intermission, out came Gillian and Dave, playing as the David Rawlings Machine, which meant that Gill would play the role of harmonizer to Dave's lead. The two are mesmerizing no matter who is in charge. I have to say I came to see them first and foremost and was not disappointed. For Gillheads like myself, the setlist included: "I Hear Them All/This Land Is Your Land," "Sweet Tooth," "Monkey and the Engineer," "The Bells of Harlem," "Ruby," "Method Acting/Cortez the Killer," and a really great rendition of "Queen Jane Aproximately." Also, keyboardist extraordinaire Benmont Tench joined them for a couple of tunes and then stayed the rest of the night. I have to say I was much more impressed with him than I have ever been. I knew him as one of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers, but never thought he added tremendously to their sound. But he really shined in this show.
It was really a credit to the HOB that the sound mix was so good you could hear every instrument -- and many times there were a ton of them onstage. I didn't count, but there must have been 20 people on stage in the latter parts of the show.
After Dave and Gill, Old Crow bounded out and blew the crowd away. I have to say, I'm only a real casual fan. But they have a ton of energy and really brought the house down. While fiddle player/lead singer Ketch Secor gets a lot of the glory, I give props to guitarist Willie Watson, who's mop-topped head moved only slightly less than his gangly legs. They also have that country/punk thing going on and do it well. They wowed the crowd with their party tunes, including new ones "Alabama High-Test" and "Humdinger."
The number of musicians onstage kept growing with members of the Felice Brothers and Justin Townes Earle and Gill and Dave jumping on and off stage to help with songs. When they finally broke out "Wagon Wheel," their hit, everyone was onstage and the crowd went bananas. Dave had picked up an electric guitar, Gill was working the tambourine (It must have been tough for her with all that boy energy flowing around her), there were washboards, banjos, mandolins, a pedal steel and multiple keyboards. Surprisingly, the sound, though chaotic, was amazing.
For the encore, everyone came back out, this time Gillian on electric guitar (!) and they romped through "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock and Roll)," which was a blast. See the video I shot below. We left totally spent and a little stiff from standing for 3 1/2 hours, but it was so worth it.
The Boston Globe review HERE.

See my video of Gill and Dave doing "Method Acting/Cortez the Killer" HERE.
Check out my photos from the show HERE.

July 29, 2009

Italy and Erin McKeown's Cabin Fever

I'm just finishing up a fabulous two-week vacation in Italy with my family. It's been an amazing time filled with history and spectacular vistas. The trip started in Rome for a week where we toured the Vatican, the Forum, the Coliseum, as well as the many piazzas and fountains. We then moved South to Sorrento where we enjoyed sidetrips to Pompeii, Positano and Capri. The tourist towns were quaint, swimming in the sea was a refreshing respite from the heat, and the food, wine and limoncello was all to die for. It will be a trip to remember for a lifetime. I will post pictures when I return.
Anyway, this being mostly a music blog, I deem it necessary to report the one thing that seemed lacking throughout our trip was music. I was surprised at what seemed like a lack of music in the streets and shops both in Rome and in the vacation spots. There were occasional buskers playing guitar and accordion here and there, especially in the restaurants trying to make some tips. Most of the songs were of the "Volare" sort, cheesy tunes to win over the tourists. I heard very little modern rock 'n' roll-like tunes, though I won't say I sought it out with much gusto. It helped having my iPod handy, for our plane, car and boat trips.
One thing I was able to take in was Erin McKeown's Cabin Fever web concerts. I previewed the concerts HERE, and while I was not able to listen to them live because of the time difference in Italy, I was able to watch and listen to 3 out of the 4 shows.
First, the news from the shows: Erin's new album, "Hundreds of Lions," will be out Oct. 13, and has been picked up by Ani DiFranco's label, Righteous Babe Records, for distribution. That is pretty exciting news for Erin, who had come up with the idea of the Cabin Fever concerts to help fund her new album.
Cabin Fever was a unique idea which included broadcasting over the Internet for different house concerts -- an acoustic show from her living room, an electric, all-request one from her porch, water songs performed in her river, and her new album performed in full front yard. Viewers paid $10 per show or $30 for the series to watch.
How well did it work? While I have not heard how many people tuned in, it seemed overall to be quite a success, at least from a viewer's standpoint.
I wondered how technologically it would work, since streaming live still has it's issues even at its highest quality and backed by big money. At the grassroots level as this was, I wondered how it would all look and sound.
In most cases it went well. There were camera glitches as expected, but each concert felt special. Most of the sound was filtered through one major mike so the farther Erin and her guests were away from the microphone, the less you heard. But for what they were trying to accomplish, what you got were energetic, exciting and fun-filled performances.
By far the most fun performance was the one from the river. This consisted of Erin, with her chair firmly planted in the water playing songs about water. Apparently the six-inch river swelled to nearly two feet because of a night of rain which made the feat even more challenging. Her guests Jose Ayerve, Natalia Zukerman, Trina Hamlin, and Susan Werner joined her at various points to sing songs including DiFranco's "78% H2o," a rollicking Ike & Tina's version of "Rollin' on the River," Johnny Cash-by-way-of-the-Grateful Dead's "Big River" and a hilarious and wonderful take of "Cry Me a River," complete with stream dancing by Susan Werner.
In all, this is yet another great attempt by an artist to bypass big-market labels and create a unique way to reach their fans and keep their musical inspirations alive.

July 4, 2009

Eilen Jewell sings Loretta Lynn at the Lizard

I love those shows that you hear about at the last minute and then, after much back and forth whether you should go or just head home, you decide to go to the show, and you are rewarded and proved to have made the right choice.
All of this happened this week when, after a little waffling, I found myself waiting in line at the Lizard Lounge to see the wonderful Eilen Jewell and band. I've written about her many times, including a review of her latest album, "Sea of Tears," which is still my favorite album of the year. (My review is here.)
Anyway, while waiting in line -- and waiting for my wife to meet me for the show -- ended up chatting with some really nice, equally excited fans as well as the always-smiling Johnny Sciascia, bassist in Eilen's band. In fact, Johnny informed me that the band just learned that one of its songs from the new album will be on HBO's popular vampire show "True Blood," which is really a big deal. He believed the episode will air sometime this month, so we'll have to watch out for that.
OK, on to the music: First up was the Brewer-Miller Band (or is that Miller-Brewer?). Whichever it is, they are something to hear. Two great local guitarists -- Lyle Brewer of Sarah Borges' Broken Singles and Jerry Miller from Eilen's band -- were backed by Eilen's drummer Jason Beek and Sciascia, and they basically kicked ass, trading leads back and forth for a set of country-rock tunes. Some of them I recognized, though I cannot come up with song titles here. All I could do was shake my head at the amazing sounds coming from the guitars. Miller has the classic country licks, while Brewer adds an extra southern rock twang to his playing.
A short break later, Eilen made her way on stage backed by her aformentioned band and proceeded to play 15 or so Loretta Lynn tunes. The band was billed as Butcher Holler, the town (actually Butcher Hollow) that Lynn lived in Kentucky. It must have been some contractual reason why they couldn't perform under their own name... not sure there.
Now, I don't know many (if any) Loretta Lynn tunes by name. I know Eilen covered Lynn's "The Darkest Hour" on "Sea of Tears," which was great live. But Eilen sang each of Lynn's tunes as if they were her own, and the band followed suit playing the tunes with class, and humor, and reverence. It was a wonderful evening.
The band finished off right around 1:30 a.m. with a couple of Jewell jewels including "Fist City," which is just a blast. Lyle Brewer joined the band for the final songs, and completed a great night. Spotted in the crowd: Sarah Borges and her drummer Rob Dulaney.
I didn't have my camera because I came from work, which was a damn shame. So here is a YouTube take on "The Darkest Days." Please check Eilen and her band out when you get a chance. They are awesome.

June 29, 2009

Sarah Borges on tour

I've blogged about this before, but Sarah Borges and her band of merry men, the Broken Singles, are such a fun bunch I had to post again. When they go out on tour, they take their video camera with them and chronicle the life of a rock band on the road. In their latest video, they fly from Boston to Tampa and then to Seattle where they meet up with their tour van. We see them silkscreening their own T-shirts in their hotel room, meet up with bassist Binky's mom at a radio recording stop and watch as drummer Rob Dulaney excruciatingly tries to get comfortable in the back of the van after hurting his back at a party.
We all may have dreamed of being in a band and taking off across the country on a tour -- thinking wouldn't it be great to be seeing the country and living wild and free. Well, of course, it's not really like that. There are miles and miles of driving, bad food, bad hotels, and little sleep. But Sarah and the Singles seem to revel in all of it, and we are better for it.
Here's the video:

June 11, 2009

Jenny Lewis at the House of Blues

(image from

Somwehere around the fourth song, a dude in the audience yelled out "I love you, Jenny!" Which prompted another dude to yell-respond "Join the fucking club!," which got a laugh from the crowd around him.
And that pretty much summed up the Jenny Lewis fans in the audience, a mix of indie dudes and chicks -- and a few of older semi-geezers (me included!) -- who came to hear the singer's mix of country, gospel and rock tunes. And let it be said, Jenny Lewis is the complete package. Yes, she can rock a T-shirt and jeans like no other, and her stage presence -- with her dancing and posing onstage -- keeps all eyes focused on her, but more than all that she can flat-out sing. Her range on her albums is amazing, but that she can do it all on stage is even more impressive. Her voice commands attention whether she's standing solo singing a gospel number or surrounded by the full-on rock 'n' roll crunch of her tight and versatile band. Playing for more than two hours, Lewis played a generous portion of her new album, "Acid Tongue," a few choice morsels from "Rabbit Fur Coat," a couple of Rilo Kiley numbers ("Silver Lining," played solo) and, by my count, two new tunes (one called "The Big Wave.")
Here are a couple of highlights: She opened the show in force with "See Fernando," immediately showing off a band that is creative and powerful, and incredibly versatile. A pair of women percussionists, Danielle Haim and Barbara Gruska, also played crankin' guitar on certain tracks. The guy next to Jenny, Johnathan Rice, was playing the part of a young Neil Young on acoustic and had a great voice. And Farmer Dave Scher, who was an opening act as well, played all sorts of guitars, from lap steel to electric to some weird lap instrument. Other songs included "Rise Up With Fists!!," "The Charging Sky," and the Willbury's "Handle with Care" from the "Rabbit Fur Coat" album. She really took off on the electric tunes from "Acid Tongue." "Carpetbagger" and "Jack Killed Mom" were killer (he, he) and "The Next Messiah" was massive, with each part building and building to rock climax. Awesome. She also did beautiful renditions of "Pretty Bird," one of my favorite tunes from the new album, and the tune "Acid Tongue," which was one of three encores.
This is why you buy a ticket to a concert instead of sitting in your living room listening to the stereo.
For a professional take on the show from the Boston Globe, click HERE

See Fernando
The Charging Sky
You Are What You Love
Pretty Bird
Sing a Song for Them
Jack Killed Mom
Trying My Best to Love You
Rise Up With Fists!!
Just Like Zeus
Handle With Care
The Next Messiah

Silver Lining
Acid Tongue
The Big Wave
Born Secular

I didn't bring my camera this time because the last time I went to the HOB, to see Derek Trucks, they wouldn't allow it in. But here's a video of "Acid Tongue" posted from the show.

June 10, 2009

In Praise of Neil Young

(Reprinted from Modern Acoustic magazine, Issue 25, June 2009)
The ultimate Neil Young career retrospective is finally here. Years in the making, months in the start-and-stop release, this first collection highlights the years 1963-1972 and features an unprecedented 10 Blu-ray discs-worth of Neil classics, previously unreleased material, alternate takes and live cuts, from his earliest days with the little-known band the Squires through his classic “Harvest” album. This series – the latter years edition(s) still to come – according to press material, is the “definitive, comprehensive, chronological survey of his entire body of work.” At a cost around $200, you will have to be the biggest of Neil fans to own it.
However, the release of the retrospective does present a good time to discuss Neil Young’s place in the pantheon of popular music.
He is, in my opinion, one of the top 5 American songwriters in pop music history. There is Dylan, Lennon and McCartney, Paul Simon, Springsteen. And then… Neil Young? He is surely right up there. I’m not talking about number of hit songs, but quality of output, longevity, versatility and passion.
His longevity alone qualifies him. Music lovers can recite with ease the stages of Neil’s career: folk-rock pioneer with Buffalo Springfield in the ’60s; the loner rocking in early ’70s; his on-again, off-again musical love affair with Crosby, Stills and Nash; his guitar-hero frenzy with power trio Crazy Horse; and his laid-back country acoustic side. In his four-decade past he’s compiled album upon album of songs now forever referred to as classic rock – from Springfield’s “Mr. Soul” to CSNY’s “Ohio” to “Tonight’s the Night” with Crazy Horse and “Like a Hurricane.”
These stages were not a bunch of side projects, but a full-blown part of Neil Young’s musical spirit. And each stage, no matter which he chose, felt like a perfect fit for his talents.
Yes, his music took some unexpected turns. There was an electronica album (“Tron”), a rockabilly album (“Every-body’s Rockin’ ”), and a jump blues album (“This Note’s for You”). Each seemed like a detour down some dirt road to nowhere. But at the time, they were what felt right to him and he didn’t give a darn what anyone else thought. If he had to go the trip alone, so be it.
In the mid-’80s, I went to see him in concert during the “This Note’s for You” tour. In an interview beforehand, he warned his fans that he was only going to play his “blues stuff.” Yet those at the show came expecting to hear “Cowgirl in the Sand,” “Hurricane,” etc. As promised he hardly played any of his hits, and the crowd was not pleased. Finally, as an encore, he played “Tonight’s the Night” and fans roared with approval.
That desire to follow his heart has lead Neil to some pretty tough places, including battles with CSN over commercial success, and with critics over perceived poor material. But that’s what makes Neil great. His whole musical existence is to play what moves him. Luckily a lot of what moves Neil, moves others as well.
His work with Crazy Horse on 1979’s “Rust Never Sleeps” through 1989’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” inspired the grunge movement so much that Pearl Jam basically made him an honorary member. In 1992, at a time when folks started to worry Neil might be washed up, he delivered a stellar acoustic sequel to his 1972 hit album “Harvest,” called “Harvest Moon, which sweetly celebrated of aging and his love for his wife.
In fact, the latter album’s song “You and Me” talks directly to the “Harvest” song “Old Man”: Old man sittin’ there/Touch of grey, but he don’t care /When he hears his children call.
The song is sung with an elegant simplicity, yet it captures the phrasing and style of the original and echoes the tune without stealing from it. It’s genius songwriting.
Neil’s lyrics run the gamut from very personal, simple messages (“Only Love Will Break Your Heart”), to political rants (“Rockin’ in the Free World”), to complex story songs (“Cortez the Killer,” “Pocahontas”), each played with equal earnestness.
And Neil’s electric guitar playing, while not the most sophisticated or flashy, has reached legendary status for the way he maniacally hunches over his axe and stomps around the stage shooting out wailing solos. His acoustic playing is more subtle, but just as heart-filled.
As he’s gotten older, he’s returned to genres he loves, with varying degrees of success. 2005’s “Prairie Wind,” made after Neil came back from a brain aneurysm. And just as we thought he might again be was slowing down, he followed that up with the scathing “Living With War,” which was filled with songs blasting George W. Bush in a fury of electric guitars.
The former was praised by critics, while the latter was dubbed a Grumpy Old Neil album.
Now at 63, he’s released another rocking album, “Fork in the Road,” inspired by his Linc Volt electric car. Like it or hate it, this is a perfectly fitting album for him. It’s about what he is absolutely passionate about: cars, politics, going green, and rock ’n’ roll.
As usual, if you don’t care to take the journey, he’s OK to go it alone.

Our favorite Neil songs, and the album the songs come from:
1. Needle and the Damage, Done, “Harvest”
2. Tonight's the Night, “Tonight’s the Night”
3. Pocahontas, “Chrome Dreams”
4. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”
5. Down By the River, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”
6. Cortez the Killer, “Zuma”
7. Tired Eyes, “Tonight’s the Night”
8. The Loner, “Neil Young”
9. A Man Needs a Maid, “Harvest”
10. Country Girl (I Think You’re Pretty), CSNY’s “Deja Vu”
11. Comes a Time, “Comes a Time”
12. Don’t Let It Bring You Down, “After the Goldrush”
13. Cowgirl in the Sand, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”
14. Helpless, CSNY’s “Deja Vu”
15. I Am a Child, Buffalo Springfield’s “Last Time Around”

Issue 25, June 2009

That Magic Moment - Our favorite musicians tell us why they do what they do
What would it be like to be standing on stage bathed in the warm glow of blue and green spotlights, looking out on a crowd of people waiting eagerly to hear your songs? You start playing, picking out chords to your most personal of tunes, the one you wrote when you were in that private place and time where the words and music came together. And then the band kicks in behind you – the drums tap out the beat, the bass follows, and then guitar, keyboards, and other instruments. There is a swelling of sound, a surge of energy and then…
What comes next? What does it feel like? We haven’t had the opportunity (or the skill!) to know the pleasure or the terror of what comes next. But it is something that has always intrigued us: Can you feel it when everything is going right? You surely know when things are going wrong, but can you hear it when you are in that Magic Moment when it is all perfect?
Modern Acoustic asked some of our favorite musicians to describe that Magic Moment to us – when they really knew why they do what they do: why they spend hours on end putting their most personal of feelings to music; why they are willing to travel great distances for potentially little pay and small crowds; how they are able to get up in front of those people and perform as if the whole world was listening.
It is a feeling that those of us who have never done it may have a hard time understanding, but we believe, with a little help from our friends, we’ve captured some of that Magic in our four-page feature.
Someone we didn’t hear from (but sure would have loved to!) was Neil Young. What makes Neil tick? We’re not quite sure, but we do know that he loves what he does – and that it should be celebrated. His long-awaited retrospective box set is finally out and that gives us reason to rejoice in his four-decade-long career and see him for what he is: one of the best songwriters in pop music history. Where would you place him in the pantheon of rock, folk and pop music? Can you think of anyone else who has covered so much ground for so long? Also, we offer up our favorite Neil tunes, and a list (one we don’t completely agree with) of the best living songwriters.
To read the Magic Moments, click HERE.

MA5- Songs
Songs that helped us survive this issue.
1. “Knuckleball Catcher,’’ not available yet, Gillian Welch. YouTube is the only place you’ll find this, but it’s worth the search.
2. “From My Own True Love (Lost at Sea),” “Picaresque,” The Decemberists. Their story songs just hit a nerve.
3. “Ain’t No Grave,” “Shaken by a Low Sound,’’ Crooked Still. We keep coming back to this album. Fantastic.
4. “James!,” “Grand,” Erin McKeown. Waiting (im)patiently for the new album.
5. “Loretta,” “Rear View Mirror,” Townes Van Zandt. After seeing Steve Earle, we had to go back and listen again.

June 5, 2009

Erin McKeown's house parties

In the past couple of years musicians who have decided to free themselves from the corporate structure of the music industry have come up with creative ways to finance their albums. One way they've done this is by offering their fans special deals in exchange for some help with funding. This has included exclusive meet-and-greets, autographed items, special concert seating, and even personalized house or backyard concerts for top donors.
Well, Erin McKeown has taken her house concert idea to someplace totally new: her house. Erin is offering up a series of concerts at her own house in Western Mass., and is inviting fans to join her over the Internet. In what she is calling Cabin Fever, Erin will play four shows from various places in her yard, all with different themes, and is asking people to pay $10 per show to stream it live on her site. A cost of $30 will get you all four shows. This is all to benefit the recording and release of her new album "Hundreds of Lions."
She writes: "In the grand tradition of barn-raisings and house-rent parties, Erin McKeown is inviting you into her living room, onto her porch, into her river, into her yard and asking you to lend a hand... just as farmers needed their neighbors to help raise the roof and musicians have sung for their supper."
Here's how it works. You sign up with a credit card on her site and then the day of the show, you log in with a password and watch the show live. If you aren't available that day, you can still view it at your leisure afterward.

Here is the info and schedule for the four shows:
Tuesday, July 7 - 7 p.m.: An intimate, acoustic candlit evening in Erin's living room, plus a tour of her house
Thursday, July 16 - noon: An interactive, all-request electric set from Erin's riverside porch
Wednesday, July 22 - 5 p.m.: Erin performs classic cover songs about water of all sorts from a rock in the middle of her river.
Sunday, July 26 - 3 p.m.: The new album performed in sequence by Erin and band, from her front yard
Rain Location: They'll broadcast from the inside of Erin's Sprinter Touring Van.

I love the idea that musicians are coming up with unique ways to share their music and give fans a chance to feel closer to the artist and to being a part of the creative process.
When I first got the email, I thought I was being invited over to Erin's house to hear her play live. That was exciting. But this makes more sense as a funding idea since fans can still feel some of that intimacy, but the reach for the artist is far wider than having fans who live in geographical proximity stop by... and it saves on cleanup!
Seriously, if this is the future of the music industry, it is so much better for consumers than going to some big box store and plunking down $18 for a CD, with most of the cost going to some fat cat label executive. At least you know you know where your money is.

I don't know what the quality of the broadcast will be. The technological aspect of this may be the tough part, though streaming video is getting better and better very quickly.
My guess if Erin's idea goes off without a hitch, there will be a lot of artist's following suit. And if so, I will be a happy music fan.

Check out the video preview:

June 1, 2009

Steve Earle and Joe Pug at Berklee

Friday night I had the chance to experience a performance that symbolizes all that is right about music and the music business. Steve Earle is one of those performers who is the reason folk music exists and thrives. Earle said he learned his musical outlook from the great Townes Van Zandt, Earle's idol and mentor and whose songs he covered on his latest album: Be true to yourself and sing what is true to you. And Earle has followed that.
Before we get to the Earle specifics, let me say a few words about Joe Pug, since I was invited to this show to see the young folksinger from Chicago. Pug, a lanky dude, got up on stage with a guitar and a harmonica and no backup. He has been compared to John Prine, Josh Ritter and M. Ward, though I would say he's not quite there yet. He seems to have a good sense of humor -- a reference to how he travels to gigs was humorous -- but he could more stage presence. To say his influences included Bob Dylan would be an understatement. In fact, one of his numbers could have been called "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall Jr." But Pug is his own self too. "I Do My Father's Drugs" speaks to a generation that will be left to pay the bills of their parents. And his CD title song "Nation of Heat" is catchy. A little more seasoning could make Pug a name to listen for in the future.
As for Earle, well, I went to the show with the following knowledge. He is a straight shooter, not afraid to speak his mind. He spent much of the Bush years railing against the government (for good reason!) and he is married to country hottie Allison Moorer.
What I didn't know was about his love and dedication to the spirit of folk music, of following your heart on a musical journey, no matter where it leads. His set was littered with songs of his hero, Townes, but also with his own tunes, both political and satirical. At one point he stated that he though the country felt different now that Barack Obama is president. He said he voted for Obama and he was happy with what Obama was doing... right now, but he reserves the right to change his mind. He mentioned clean coal, and how he disagreed with Obama on it's potential use. He was funny, engaging and told some great stories about his relationship with Townes Van Zandt, especially about the first time Earle played in front of Townes in a down-and-out Texas bar. Townes kept shouting at him to play the "Wabash Cannonball."
As far as songs he played, well, I'll defer to Mark at, who provides an almost-complete setlist:

Where I Lead Me (TVZ)
Colorado Girl (TVZ)
?? Unknown
Fort Worth Blues
Pancho & Lefty (TVZ)
Brand New Companion (TVZ)
Tom Ames' Prayer
More Than I Can Do
Valentines' Day
Hometown Blues
My Old Friend the Blues
Mr Mudd and Mr Gold (TVZ)
City of Immigrants
Soldiers' Joy (instrumental)
The Mountain
Lungs (TVZ)
To Live is to Fly (TVZ)

Marie (TVZ)
Sparkle & Shine
Copperhead Road

(TVZ = Townes Van Zant cover)

For more pics, click HERE
Below is a video I shot during the show. It's a long, rambling explanation of his love for Townes. Awesome. If you know the name of the tune, let me know.

May 9, 2009

The community of No Depression

It's been a while since I posted, what with major job issues, etc. But I just have to spend a few minutes talking about the new No Depression website. First let me say that I really miss the magazine version. It was one of the few publications that went for substance over style (take that, Rolling Stone and Paste). The interviews were always interesting and the album reviews weren't always trying to please the artists. But being in the print business (newspaper), I understand how hard it is to keep a publication afloat, and where this is all heading no one really knows. I want to say damn the Internet, but of course I use it as much as anyone -- even for reading my own newspaper!
But to the ND website. At first I thought I would have very little interest in the "community" idea. Yeah, we could post our favorite shows and listen to others rattle on about this and that, but I just didn't think I'd find it that interesting. But I was wrong.
The ideas, the ruminations and the information about "alt-country" music (whatever that is!) has become a great jumping-off point for many interesting and relevant conversations. My favorite spot is the forum where such topics include "Funniest Live Moments," talk about the new Dylan album (see, not just alt-country), and a question about whether house concerts are the savior for acoustic music.
I've even used the space to post my own question for musicians to answer for my next issue of Modern Acoustic.
If you haven't checked out the site lately or at all, you should. It may not offer the same experience as sitting down with the latest copy of No Depression the magazine, but it still has the same alt-country (whatever that is!) feel.

In a conversation of Neil Young's best songs was this great video... Enjoy!

April 6, 2009

Derek Trucks at the House of Blues

I have been waiting patiently for other bloggers to chime in, to deliver a setlist, pictures from the Derek Trucks show last Thursday at the House of Blues in Boston. I was there, and Derek put on a great show. The problem is, I'm not a huge fan so I don't know the song titles, players etc. So I was looking for some help.
Here's some things I do know: Derek Trucks may be the last of a dying breed of guitar gods -- guys who just stand up there and play without the bullshit theatrics or corny pop songs -- he isn't even his own band's singer.
The band was superior: The singer Mike Mattison has a soulful, gravelly voice who must have the patience of a saint, for standing there during all the lengthy solos. Kofi Burbridge on keyboards and flute is a dynamo. Bassist Todd Smallie, Yonrico Scott on drums and Count M'Butu on percussion are solid. For this show, Susan Tedeschi, his wife and who is also from Norwell, joined the band on a number of songs on backup vocals and Jaimoe, the Allman Bros. drummer, played on a few tunes. His Jassz Band was the opener, a funky mix of soul and jazz.
The new House of Blues is a nice place to see a show IF you are able find a good spot for viewing. It has an expansive floor space and a balcony above that, which is a great place to watch from IF you can get along the rail. If you don't get the rail, you will not see. The acoustics in the place are dynamite so if you don't care about "seeing" the show, you can still enjoy the sound. There is an awesome VIP area (which I did not get into), which starts on the same level as the balcony and slopes upward and is straight-on to the stage.
So the songs... He did a totally out there, great version of "My Favorite Things" and a blow away version of "Anyday," the Derek & the Dominoes tune.
I finally found the setlist and luckily for me, it was attached to the actual whole show available for download. Click HERE to go there.

Here it the setlist:
Get What You Deserve
I'll Find My Way
These Days Is Almost gone
So Close, So Far Away
Don't Miss Me When I'm Gone
I Know
Down in the Flood
Already Free
Done Got Over
My Favorite Things

We're A Winner
Sweet Inspiration

PS Sorry for the rushed post... my life is kind of in upheaval at this time. Will try to be more attentive to this blog in the future, but it may be a while before I get my act together.

March 16, 2009

Bill Fagley at Toad

Bill Fagley's CD Release Party at Toad on Sunday night was a blast -- lots of friends and family on hand to hear the tunes from his debut CD, "You Don't Care," played live. Billy appeared to be having the time of his life up on stage in front of many of the folks who backed him in his musical endeavors, including his parents, co-workers, and various hangers-on. His emotion-filled songs were flushed out by the able members of Josh Ritter's band -- Zack Hickman on bass, Austin Nevins on guitar, Sam Kassirer on keys and Liam Hurley on drums.
Check out the video below:

March 12, 2009

Issue 24, March 2009

WINTER THAW - Our CD review special Skating, skiing, sledding, snowflakes quietly descending on fields and trees, icicles sparkling in the sun ... shoveling, falling on black ice, heavy boots, gloves, hats, below freezing temperatures for a dozen days straight...
OK, you get my (snow) drift: Winter, as beautiful as it can be, is a long drag of a season. What is fun and even inspiring in November and December basically sucks by February and March – and don’t get us started about this past January.
But we New Englanders are a hearty sort (so they say) and we know how to make the best of the coldest, most miserable months of the year.
Yeah, for us it’s finding ourselves a warm club, a Guinness, and a killer band. Give us Johnny D’s on a Saturday night with Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles ripping it up on stage. Throw in some sweet potato fries and don’t bother sending out a search party.
We actually did that recently and we’re much better for it. The next day it was nearly 50 degrees and our whole attitude changed.
Hearing music thaws the brain. So this issue we set out to melt our winter blues with a slew of new tunes.
There are lots of new albums coming out, and some that have been out for a bit that we hadn’t caught up to yet.
Tops on our list is Eilen Jewell’s “Sea of Tears,” due in April. And Sarah’s new album, “The Stars Are Out,” is out this month.
Another group, who we have not seen live yet, is Sometymes Why, a trio of women who play in other bands we like. Their new album, “Your Heart Is a Glorious Machine,” is a treat. We also love to “find” albums by musicians who many have not heard of yet. So we are offering some info on the music of Seattle songwriter Ali Marcus; singer Marybeth D’Amico, who lives in Germany; and a Nashville group called the Bittersweets.
Take a listen, and come and find us when the snow melts.
To read the full issue, click HERE.
To read the reviews online, click HERE.

MA 5 - Songs
Songs that helped us survive this issue.
1. “Drunken Angel,’’ “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road,” Lucinda Williams. We don’t know why, it just always pops into our heads.
2. “Rain Roll In,” “Sea of Tears,” Eilen Jewell. Bringing back that great 12-string Byrds sound.
3. “Melt Your Heart,” “Rabbit Fur Coat. Jenny Lewis. Just a sweet tune.
4. “Mission in the Rain,” “Reflections,” Jerry Garcia. Makes us want to see California through his eyes.
5. “Goodbye, San Francisco,” “Goodnight, San Francisco,” The Bittersweets. Continuing our Bay Area jag.

February 20, 2009

Kris and Kathleen

It was a good week for Modern Acoustic, we got out and caught a couple of fun shows this week: Kris Delmhorst played a solo show at Passim last Sunday and Kathleen Edwards was at the Paradise on Wednesday. Both shows were more laid back than rocking, which made for a chance to really listen closely to their lyrics. I'm usually one to focus on the actual music but I really dug just paying attention to what their songs were saying.
That's not to say that the music was secondary, because it's not. They both play with melody and harmony in such beautiful ways. Kris has a deep voice, but surprisingly hits high notes with a gorgeous softness. Kathleen can sing softly, but she can belt it as well, and when she does her cute Canadian accent really is accentuated.
Neither show was the kind that you say "I will remember forever," though. Kris played solo most of the night, until the end when she brought local singer Jennifer Kimball up on stage to sing with her. The show was nice, but I missed the extra guitar that Mark Erelli or Jabe Beyer provided when I've seen her in the past. As far as Kathleen's show is concerned, I saw her almost exactly a year ago when she brought a full band. This time she had keyboardist/guitarist extraordinaire Jim Bryson and another guitarist with her. Without the drum and the bass, the show wasn't quite as rockin'. Also missed Bryson's pedal steel which he didn't bring his time.
Neither of these are necessarily complaints since it gave me a different perspective and way to listen to these great artists. So in all, a great week.
Below are a couple of videos I shot of the two shows. For more pics from the shows, click HERE.