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.