March 22, 2010

6 Artists to Watch: Lissie, Smoke Fairies, Dawes, Dawn Landes, Anais Mitchell, Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons

Reprinted from Modern Acoustic, Issue 28. Click HERE to read the issue.


Latest album: “Why You Runnin’ ” (EP)

Where we first heard of her: A friend at work/ “World Cafe” radio show

What we like: On first glance you may wonder how old this hippie chick-looking singer-songwriter is. But the 27-year-old Lissie Maurus, who goes just by her first name, has a seasoned voice that falls somewhere between Neko Case and Sheryl Crow and sounds like she’s been around for years.
Her five songs on “Why You Runnin’,’’ speak mostly of heartbreak and resolve and are backed by guitars, drums, and keys. The opener, “Little Lovin’, simmers along before opening into a romp. A cover of Hank Williams’ “Wedding Bells” fits in seamlessly.
A full album is apparently in the works and if it is similar to “Runnin’,” we will be thrilled.

Song stuck in our heads: “Little Lovin”

Hear her music HERE


Latest album: “Ghosts” EP

Where we first heard of them: Saw a story about them in Teen Vogue (seriously, don’t ask!)

What we like: The British duo of Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire are unusual in that these young women would find their musical spirit buried in the folk blues of the Deep South of the United States. After spending some time in New Orleans, the pair found their calling.
This is not happy music. Most of it is dark and entrancing with layered harmonies backed by acoustic guitars and some sparse bass and drums.
The Fairies recently hooked up with the White Stripes’ Jack White, who was intrigued by their style and helped them release the single “Gastown.”
Hopefully, the duo will record a full album soon. Right now “Gastown” is the only song downloadable from the American version of iTunes.

Song stuck in our heads:“Gastown”

Hear their music HERE


Latest album: “North Hills”

Where we first heard of them: CD was playing at Newbury Comics

What we like:When we first heard Dawes our impression was that they sounded like a California version of the Avett Brothers.
Upon further review, we will stick with that even though others compare the band to everyone from Crosby, Stills & Nash to Fleet Foxes.
But you get the picture: dreamy harmonies, lush acoustic-leaning instrumentation and lyrics of love lost and found.
The quartet’s songs are a nice mix of soul and pop that could probably do with a little of that punkish edge the Avetts have. This is not to say Dawes can’t rock out – they do on a couple numbers. The next album should really let us know where this band is headed.

Song stuck in our heads:“When My Time Comes”

Hear their music HERE


Latest album: “Sweetheart Rodeo”

Where we first heard of her: Heard her CD “Fireproof” years ago

What we like: Potential. That’s what we hear in Dawn’s music and voice. In fact, when we first cracked open “Sweetheart Rodeo” and heard the opening tune, “Young Girl,” we shouted “Yeah! That’s what Dawn can be!” Sassy. Tough. Rocking. Well, the whole album doesn’t quite fulfill that. But there are moments that really get us excited. The song “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” has a great groove.
At times it feels like Dawn’s not quite comfortable pushing those limits. Her quirky folk-pop tunes have plenty of style but sometimes quirky just seems quaint. In our opinion, she needs to push those boundaries and let loose. We saw her live and she has the ability to rock, it’s just whether she’s comfortable enough to do it.

Song stuck in our heads:“Young Girl”

Hear her music HERE


Latest album:“Hadestown”

Where we first heard of her: Saw her open Kris Delmhorst a couple years ago

What we like:It’s hard enough for a young songwriter to put out a full album of tunes. It is another thing altogether to create a concept album, and another thing still to base that album on the Greek myth Orpheus, and give it a modern feel.
But that is what the Vermont-bred Mitchell does brilliantly on the 20-track “Hadestown.”
Initially, a “folk opera” she brought to stages around New England, “Hadestown” is now an album featuring her musical friends playing the different roles: Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) sings Orpheus, Greg Brown as Hades and Ani DiFranco as Persephone,” to name a few.
While best heard as a full album, the songs individually do stand on their own.

Song stuck in our heads:“Way Down Hadestown”

Hear her music HERE


Latest album:“Death Won’t Send a Letter”

Where we first heard of them: On radio show “World Cafe”

What we like: Corey Chisel. Now that’s a name. His sound backs that up with some gruff and rough-life tunes. Chisel’s voice rises above a dirge of guitars, bass, and drums provided by members of Jack White’s Raconteurs.
Chisel’s father was a Baptist minister so that first song “Born Again” is a direct comment on his upbringing, saying “I been feelin’ like my old self again/because momma didn’t raise me to be no Christian/and I been drinkin’ to my own health again/well raise another glass for the unforgiven.”
Other tunes that stand out are “So Wrong for Me,’’ one of the quieter numbers, backed by female harmonies and the haunting “Mocking-bird.”

Song stuck in our heads:“Born Again”

Hear their music HERE

March 16, 2010

The Two Stages of Jackie Greene

When Jackie Greene and his band played Boston recently, he strolled on stage at the Paradise Rock Club in front of an intimate, but enthusiastic crowd of about 500 who came to hear his songs such as “Animal” and “Like a Ball and Chain.” • He could just as easily be back this summer or fall playing the Boston Garden in front of 15,000 dancing, tie-dye-wearing fans eager to do some serious truckin’.
Thus is the dual life these days of the 29-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist/multi-instrumentalist from California, who leads his own band and released the stellar “Giving Up the Ghost” in 2008.
He was also tapped by bassist Phil Lesh to join his group Phil Lesh and Friends and travel the world playing and singing classic Grateful Dead songs to the masses.
Even though he was born and raised in California, Greene is too young to have experienced the Grateful Dead.
“I had no connection growing up,” he says, in an e-mail interview from a recent tour stop. “I mean, I knew who Jerry [Garcia] was and the big songs: ‘Casey Jones,’ ‘Sugar Magnolia,’ ‘Box of Rain.’ ... Stuff like that. But I never heard ‘Dark Star’ or ‘Sugaree.’ ”
And now that he’s played alongside both Lesh and Bob Weir he’s practically an unofficial member of the Grateful Dead.
“Ha, ha. No,” says Greene, “[I’m] just a guy who plays and sings with them sometimes.”
As for his solo career, Greene is no newcomer. “Ghost” is his fifth album and he says he just finished recording the follow-up and is hoping to release it this year.
“We may release it in stages ­ or do something very different with it,” he says.
“Ghost” is filled with a mix of rock, blues and soul backing some introspective lyrics that range from spiritual to lust and revenge. It has roots in music’s past but carves out its own identity.
So how does a guy who is too young to ever have attended a Dead concert end up on stage with Lesh playing to tens of thousands of Deadheads?
“Well Phil tells the story a little better, but in a nutshell: I had a song on the radio some years back called ‘I’m So Gone.’ Somehow Phil caught wind of it, liked it, and came to see us play.  I think it was Bonnaroo [perhaps, 2006], Greene recalls.  “Months passed and I get a phone call out of nowhere. It was Phil. He asked me to come into the studio with him to play and sing on some tunes. I was delighted. Pretty soon we struck up a friendship and next thing I knew, I was learning a bunch of fantastic new tunes.”
New tunes to him; not to Deadheads, who know every song by heart, when they were played by the band, and who took which particular solo.
Soon, Greene was on tour with Phil Lesh and Friends playing and singing Dead classics like “Dark Star” and “Scarlet Begonias.’’ “I think partly that’s what attracted Phil – the notion that if I sang these old tunes, they would be fresh, legitimately, since I’d never heard many of them before,” he says.
This would seem to be a guitar player’s dream, to be up on stage in front of throngs of fans playing music they adore. But as Greene tells it, it didn’t come without a few “oh-shit” moments.
“It occurred to me more than once on those tours: Here I am in front of thousands of people singing a song that every person in this building probably knows better than me.  What if I screw up? What if they hate me? I know these songs are like gospel to some people. How do I honor that? In the end, you can only do what you do and hope that it works out.
“The deeper story about that first PLF tour is this: Those who were watching closely may have witnessed a meta-morphosis of sorts. I truly felt different after those shows. 
Almost enlightened. It was a different way of playing music that I wasn’t accustomed to and it was marvelous,” says Greene, who recently released a three-song EP of Dead covers for free download on his website (
Recently, Greene spent some time in Jamaica with Weir and his band Ratdog. He has also collaborated on tours with Warren Haynes, another charter member of the Dead, as well as the Allman Brothers. All of this pretty much cements the young guitarist a solid spot with the jam-band crowd. It’s a spot that’s a little odd for Greene’s own music, which he doesn’t necessarily believe fits the genre.
“At the end of the day, we aren’t really a jam band,” Greene says. “Never aspired to be. We get lumped into that circuit and happily just do our thing anyway. We are definitely more open and fearless onstage now, but I still hesitate to call us a jam band.
“What I appreciate is the spirit of the thing. Doesn’t matter what you call it, really.”
The real difference between playing his own tunes and playing with Lesh is the number of people in the audience, a difference between playing to a few hundred Jackie Greene fans in a club and playing to an arena of thousands.
“It’s a different feeling for sure,” he says. “But one thing remains certain:  You have to connect.  10 or 10,000 ... doesn’t matter. You have to try and connect with the audience.  I know it’s cliche and old news ­– but it’s true.  Music is entertainment, yeah sure.  But it’s also a language. It can be a romantic dialogue.  A mournful soliloquy with
onlookers.  It can be playful, sexy, offensive. The only way to get reactions from
people is to connect. That’s the truth.”
That connection has become even more intense and now includes social networking, something that Greene at least from afar seems more than comfortable with – chatting with fans on Facebook and blogging when the inspiration strikes him. But he says even that is more of a challenge than it seems.
“It’s not a natural thing for me, necessarily. I’m pretty anti-social. But … Facebook is an easy way to let in the people who want to know a little bit about your life.
It’s pretty painless. I write blogs for a couple reasons: because 1) sometimes I’m bored and have nothing to do, and 2) to help crystallize my own thoughts for my own peace of mind.”
A recent blog entry included a lengthy missive on his love of baseball. Asked about his favorite team, the lovable loser Cubs, it’s no secret his baseball roots run deep.
“Yeah,” he says, punctuated with a sigh.  “I’m also a Giants fan. I’ve loved baseball my whole life. I played up through high school but never really got any bigger. I learned how to sing instead. But if the Fresno Grizzlies called me and told me to report to spring training, I’d say adios to music. Well, not really but I’d definitely think twice about it!”

To read my Jackie Greene concert review, click HERE
To see the full issue of Modern Acoustic, click HERE
To see pics from the Jackie Greene show at the Paradise, click HERE

March 15, 2010

Issue 28, March 2010

Who is Jackie Greene?
We first heard about him by chance. In 2008, his record label, from which we had requested a different album, sent along Greene’s newly released “Giving Up the Ghost” with a note saying “Thought you’d love to hear this. Jackie is an amazing guitarist, an amazing musician. Enjoy.”
OK, we’re always up for something new. We loaded up the CD, hit play and our first reaction was “who is this guy? And why haven’t we heard of him before?” “Giving Up the Ghost” is filled with a mix of rock, blues and soul backing some introspective lyrics that range from spiritual to lust and revenge. It has roots in music’s past but carves out its own identity.
While we’ve been waiting for his next album, Jackie’s been spending time with various members of the Grateful Dead as well as doing his own thing.
It intrigues us how someone can balance intimate club shows and huge rock venues, how it affects one’s playing and their psyche.
We talked to Jackie about it and we think you’ll find his frankness refreshing.
We also caught Jackie at a recent concert in Boston and we offer a full review of the show.
And, as usual, when the Dead pops up on our radar, we can’t help but spend a little time enjoying the tunes and our memories of the past. On our Lists page we offer some of our remembrances of those happy-go-lucky days truckin’ to the Dead.
But we can’t stay in the past forever, so we also keep checking out new music and cool new artists.
We take a listen to six new artists that excite us. Five years from now, will these artists be the next Patty Griffin, Josh Ritter or the Decemberists? One never knows. They could easily be just a fond memory or a onetime wonder, but for now we’re digging them.
And speaking of Patty and Josh, we wouldn’t be who we are without them.
We are so excited to review both of their new albums. Patty’s “Downtown Church” is out now; Josh’s “So Runs the World Away” won’t be available until May.
For now, enjoy this issue and whether you’d rather go to small clubs or big rock venues, get out there and hear something new.
To read the new issue, go HERE
To read reviews of Josh Ritter and Patty Griffin albums, click HERE

MA5 - Songs
Song that helped us survive this issue.
1. “Like a Ball and Chain,” “Giving Up the Ghost,” Jackie Greene. The album that inspired a whole issue.
2. “The Next Messiah,” “Acid Tongue,” Jenny Lewis. 8 minutes and 45 seconds of awesomeness.
3. “Right Moves,” “The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter,” Josh Ritter. A new album is here, but we’re still enjoying the last one.
4. “I Smell a Rat,” “Downtown Church,” Patty Griffin. Just a fun tune.
5. “Fire on the Mountain,” “Shakedown Street,” Grateful Dead. Live versions are better, but this is still great.

March 4, 2010

Grace Potter, "White Rabbit"

It's been pretty quiet here in blogland lately, basically due to trying to put the finishing touches on another issue (No. 28, if you are keeping track!). It's gonna be awesome.
But we thought we'd touch base briefly and offer up a new video from Grace Potter. She and her band are readying a new album, due June 8. They are also featured on the soundtrack to the new "Alice in Wonderland" movie, performing the Jefferson Airplane classic "White Rabbit." Grace Potter singing Grace Slick. We saw Grace and her new band play the House of Blues a couple of months ago and we really liked what we heard. Read our review HERE. The Nocturnals, featuring a new bass player and an added guitarist, sounded great backing Grace's incredible vocals. To our ears, her albums never lived up to her live shows so it will be interesting to hear if the new band is able to bring the albums up a notch.
Anyway, here is the video. Enjoy!