September 28, 2010

Erin McKeown, 10th anniversary Distillation tour, Passim

   A couple issues back I featured a readers' poll asking which album you'd like to hear in entirety. The idea of artists playing their prized albums from start to finish in concert has become quite a trend. Critics claim it's the musicians trying to capitalize on past glories, while others believe that fans want to relive that thrill of hearing that album as it was created. It is, of course, is both, and done well is a win-win for everyone.
  Last weekend Erin McKeown celebrated the 10th anniversary of her stellar album "Distillation" at Passim in Cambridge. For an added bonus she brought along the album's producer and multi-instrumentalist Dave Chalfant and even wore the very (non-flattering) dress she was photographed in for the cover! Very brave.
As hoped, Erin rocked her guitar as the "Distillation" songs called for. She played the album in reverse order, starting with the funky rhythmed "Love in 2 Parts" and the beautiful "Dirt Gardener." Because I love every song on the album, it's hard to pick out favorites. "How to Open My Heart in 4 Easy Steps" is gorgeous, and she hit every note perfectly; the wink-wink of the cocaine-loving tune "The Little Cowboy" was filled with Chalfant's brilliant slide playing; "Le Petite Mort" is always great for its chance to let the audience scream "Oh Estelle"; and "Blackbirds" blew me away as always. I was really happy to see Erin really let loose on guitar. At some past shows, I have been left wanting more guitar from her because she is so great.
"If you a viper..."
  After a short break and a change of wardrobe, Erin was back and taking requests. As I remember, I counted three tunes from "Grand" ("Slung Lo," "Born to Hum," one other); two from "We Will Become Like Birds" ("We Are More" and "To the Stars"); a couple from "Sing You Sinners," including an amazing, drawn-out "If You a Viper" that had the crowd in stitches as Erin held her breath then let it out as if she was smoking a joint accompanied by the lyrics "The sky is high and so am I / If you a viper." And interestingly only one song from her stellar new album, "Hundreds of Lions."
  A surprising note: Erin asked the crowd during the "Distillation" set how many were familiar with the album and few people raised their hands. Odd for a show that was billed as a celebration of the album. Despite that, the crowd was totally into the show, and when Erin encored solo with "Rhode Island Is Famous for You," ecstacy was achieved. A fun night indeed.

September 23, 2010

Heavy duty: A night out with the Stone Temple Pilots

A review of the Stone Temple Pilots concert at Bank of America Pavilion, Boston, Sept. 1, 2010

  We had read the stories: Singer Scott Weiland, numerous times in rehab, had fallen off the stage at a recent show. We had heard the rumors: He was lip-synching at the time.
  But all of the worries that the Stone Temple Pilots are rock stars on the decline were blown away when the quartet – the enigmatic Weiland, brothers Dean (guitar) and Robert DeLeo (bass), and drummer Eric Kretz – took the stage at Bank of America Pavilion in Boston.
  During the day it had hit 94 humid degrees, and even though darkness was falling as we arrived and the venue shadows the Boston Harbor, the slight breeze didn’t do much to cool things down.
  The first group up, the badly named TAB the Band, played a quick and uptempo but sparsely attended set. They are mostly noteworthy because the bass player/singer and the guitarist are sons of Aerosmith’s Joe Perry – though to the band’s credit, it was never mentioned.
  Cage the Elephant followed. This is one of our son’s favorite bands, and they pack a ton of energy. The quintet is led by lanky frontman Matt Schultz, who lashes his long hair front and back as he sings, moving across the stage, into the crowd, and back without ever missing a rap-like lyric. It’s very entertaining.
  The one complaint in all the music we heard, including STP, is that there was a lack
of slower, or even downtempo, numbers. The pace is torrid, the beats are booming, and the guitars raging. Even guitar solos are masked by the squalor of the other instruments behind them. I’m sure this is not a problem for fans of these bands, but from a geezer perspective, someone who likes to hear the notes of the instruments, it’s a little bit of a sensory overload.
  STP took to the stage in front of a wall of lights – flashing colors, patterns, and words throughout their rocking show.
  Opening with fan favorites “Crackerman’’ and “Wicked Garden,” Weiland – who comes across as a little Jim Morrison, a little David Bowie – looked great in his fedora, scarf and suit, all which were soon discarded. Singing songs through his signature bullhorn (with a camera affixed to it from which pixelated-like images were broadcast behind the band), Weiland led his mates through STP classics as well as songs from their latest album. We’re not huge STP fans but we were able to recognize “Vaseline’’ and “Plush,” as well as their Led Zeppelin cover, “Dancing Days.’’
  The crowd was generally well-behaved, as fans high-fived each other as each song was
played. The band ripped through a 19-song, 2-hour set that took few breaks, closing with “Sex
Type Thing.” They returned for two encores: “Dead and Bloated” and “Tripping on a Hole in a Paper Heart,” much to the delight of their fans.

September 21, 2010

Issue No. 30, September 2010

The Heights of Summer - Scenes from our busy day at the Newport Folk Festival

As much as winters are for hunkering down in a small, packed club with a pint of Guinness and a band playing ethereally on the stage, summers are for getting outside, celebrating the nice weather (hot, but not too hot, please), cool drinks, and hanging at multiple-band festivals.
This year, we traveled to the Newport Folk Festival, not only is it the most iconic of festivals (Bob Dylan, of course, plugged in there) but it is also situated in one of the most bucolic spots to see a show. The main-stage musicians look out past a peninsula packed with music fans nestled on chairs and blankets to the pristine harbor packed with more fans on pleasure boats and yachts.
Of course, it would all be meaningless if the music wasn’t great. But that was not a problem – not with the likes of the Avett Brothers, Sharon Jones & Dap-Kings, Swell Season, Levon Helm on the main stage and some great up and coming acts on the smaller ones.
We only wish we could have split ourselves so we could have been in two places at once: Tough choices had to be made as to which acts to catch. What we saw and heard was awesome.
We also spent a really hot summer night with the Stone Temple Pilots and Cage the Elephant courtesy of our teenage son’s love for grunge and heavy music.
Scott Weiland and the boys did not disappoint, putting on a “rock show” like it’s supposed to be done.
In the past, we’ve parked ourselves smack-dab in the middle of jam fests and speed metal shows to catch the vibe of music we don’t usually listen to. So we add this experience, all in the name of service journalism. (You can thank us later!) Check out our review of the STP show on Page 8.
Finally, summer’s usually a slow time for CD releases, but we found one you definitely should check out.
Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers have released a debut album of amazing country-style tunes. Muth is from the Northwest, which is why her music may take you by surprise when you hit the play button on your iPod. Check out our CD review on Page 9.
Nevertheless, it’s a perfect album to hop in the car, roll down the windows and blast the stereo ... while heading to the next festival.
Rich Kassirer, Editor
To read the new issue, click HERE
To see all my the photos from the Newport Folk Festival, click HERE; Stone Temple Pilots concert, click HERE

Song that helped us survive this issue:
1. “Captain Kirk,” “I’m Good Now,” Bob Schneider. A sunny-day song. Fun catching all the icon references.
2. “Black Hearted Woman,” “Beginnings,” the Allman Brothers. It ROCKS.
3. “Fist City,” “Eilen Jewell Presents Butcher Holler,” Eilen Jewell. A nice version; hearing it live is even better.
4. “Oye Como Va,” “Abraxas,” Santana. Fanstastic classic-rock, guitar-god awesomeness.
5. “Trying My Best to Love You,” “Acid Tongue,” Jenny Lewis. When I need a dose of beautiful vocals.

CD review: Zoe Muth & the Lost High Rollers

  Gone Country... by way of Seattle

(Out now)

  “Check out one of the best discoveries the EJB has made on the road...the great Zoe Muth!”
This note by the Eilen Jewell Band on its Facebook page in late July was our introduction to the up and coming “country” girl from Seattle.
Zoe Muth and her band the Lost High Rollers may be an anomaly in the Pacific Northwest, but their sound is faithful right down to its mandolin and banjo twang.
  Muth’s voice falls somewhere between Emmylou and Dolly, with maybe a touch of Lucinda for spice, and is backed by the Lost High Rollers – Ethan Lawton on mandolin, Miguel Sala on bass, Greg Niews on drums, Dave Harmonson on guitars/pedal steel, Tyler Richart on backing vocals/tambourine. The band provides an authenticity that pleasantly transports you to a backporch on a hot southern night.
  With the opening pedal steel licks of “You Only Believe Me When I’m Lying,’’ Muth pours out her heart as guitar mingles with mandolin and bass along bounces in the background.
  Honky-tonkin’ “Hey Little Darlin’ ’’ swings and “I Used to Call My Heart a Home” offers up those ol’ lonesome blues.
  The cool thing about this album is that it does not come off as some country knock-off. We’ve seen Gillian Welch, a California girl, turn old-timey music on its ear with her own interpretation of the music. Zoe Muth, while not nearly as seasoned as Welch, seems to have taken a similar path: an outsider to the music she sings but true to its core.
  The six-minute “The Last Bus” even meanders down a common stretch of road – a weary traveling companion – to Welch’s epic “I Dream a Highway.”
  In fact, Muth’s debut album is filled with songs that sound like they’ve withstood the rigors of the long road of touring, worked out intimately in honky tonks from Seattle all the way to Nashville – even if to date Zoe and the band have made few excursions far outside their native state.
  But it is only a matter of time before the group breaks out.
Songs like “Not You,’’ which sounds like it could have been penned by Loretta Lynn, is a my-man-done-me-wrong standout. Muth sings “I wish I didn’t even have to ask/where you were last night or the night before that...’’ and then she follows that up a few lines later with the tough-as-nails retort “... and if I want to start a fight/it wouldn’t be hard tonight/All I’d have to do is say/Hey, hey, not you.”
  The album certainly hits all the touchstones of country music: heartache, lost love, scorned lovers, long roads, which the final track, the seven-minute “Never Be Fooled Again,’’ encompasses perfectly.
  We certainly hope that Muth’s future travels lead her to a honky tonk bar near us.
To listen to tunes on Zoe's album, click HERE

September 15, 2010

Blast from the Past: Guitar Heroes, from Feb. 2008

This was one of my favorite issues to design. I was messing around with a program called Comic Life and came up with the idea of a whole issue done in a comic book format. I was also working on an idea for a readers' poll to find out which guitarists -- other than the obvious choices -- were people listening to. The two ideas just seem to fit together really well. I also think the list that Modern Acoustic readers helped compile is pretty great. Check it out. If you have others, let me know.  A kind of funny note: The pic on the front is of Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes. I had recently gone to a concert in which he performed with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings so I was snapping a lot of pics. He actually did not make the list, but the picture fit so perfectly I had to go with it.

Check out the whole issue HERE

Capo Crusaders
Everyone knows the greats – Clapton, Page and Hendrix. But we asked Modern Acoustic subscribers to tells us – aside from the guitar gods – who are the ones that strike chords with you. And you responded with a list that is both extensive and expansive. The list includes the well-known and the obscure, it draws from rock to folk to world music, and covers both electric and acoustic realms. Descriptions like “the most tasteful licks in folk music” and “either pure genius or pure trash, you decide!” made this project a guitar-smashing success. We’ve provided links to all the guitarists so you can visit their websites and check them out.

So here, in your own words, is your list (in no particular order). Enjoy!

David Rawlings – Tasteful, innovative, effortless solos.
Kristin Hersh – Plays the hell out of the guitar whether it’s one of her beautiful Collings customs or her electric.
James Blackshaw – Acoustic instrumentals a la Robbie Basho.
Erin McKeown – Fresh sound, terrific technically, interesting lyrics. An absolutely breathtaking instrumentalist; whether she is improvising on a jazz tune, creating a new sound for one of her own, or accompanying, she has a unique and exhilarating sound; she makes it seem so effortless.
Sonny Landreth – Who other guitar players love to watch, even while conceding that they can’t really cadge from what he does, because it’s singular.
Vince Gill – With his songwriting, performing and vocal skills, his guitar talent gets overlooked. I’ve regularly been amazed by his casually skilled riffs.
Ani DiFranco – She plays, plucks and beats the heck out of her guitar.
David Hidalgo – Los Lobos is perhaps the most unfamous band performing regularly for more than three decades. Its most-often-lead guitarist is similarly underappreciated.
D’Gary – a Madagascaran who plays mostly acoustic, though I find his electric work even more thrilling. You might often think there are two guitarists playing, but he’s the only one.
Duke Levine and Kevin Barry – They are recording studio quality guys who justlove to play; Duke is one who rarely takes the main role, but he’s a backbone for so much great music.
Mike Castellana (formerly) of Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles – On both electric and pedal steel, he is tasteful and ferocious, sometimes at the same time.
David West – Simply brilliant melodies, in both his original compositions and as lead guitarist for others. He has the ability to get the sweetest sound from a guitar.
Nina Gerber – The most astounding and tasteful licks in folk music. She just adds magic to whomever she is playing with.
Blake Sennett of the Elected and Rilo Kiley – He is so comfortable wailing like Page, yes, or scruffing the edges like Elliott Smith or Nick Drake. His instincts are unexpected and right on.
Patty Griffin – She is hailed mainly for her vocal and songwriting talents – which are exceptional – but her guitar playing is subtly complex. She plays the guitar just how she plays her vocal chords: intricate, fluttering, also brick-solid.
Richard Thompson – He’s underrated on every level. His songwriting and guitar playing are amazing. This man can take you from 0 to 180 in seconds and then lull you to tears with a gorgeous Celtic-inspired ballad the next.
Chris Smither – Great acoustic blues guitarist, who plays with passion.
John Hammond Jr. – Yet another amazing blues guitarist.
Rodrigo y Gabriela – This Mexican duo is lightning fast and precise. Great guitar work.
Trace Bundy – He’s very flashy, actually, but also very interesting.
Jerry Miller of Eilen Jewell’s band – He is a guitar master and the most tasteful player alive.
John Mayer – His guitar work on “Continuum” was awesome.
The Edge of U2 – Has always had one of the most clearly recognizable sounds, like the ringing of a bell.
Jonny Buckland of Coldplay – The right texture for their particular brand of haunting music.
Jack White of the White Stripes – It’s either pure genius or pure trash, you decide.
Willy Porter – He’s incredibly dynamic live.
Derek Trucks – A guitar god without the attitude. A monster on slide guitar covering a wide range of styles – from Southern rock to world beat.
Phil Wandscher of Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter – His electric-guitar lines whine, moan and wreak havoc on your brain ... in a good way.
Eliot Fisk – The classical guitarist extraordinaire is able to merge technical challenges of Bach while bringing forth a beautiful lyricism.
Prince – His funky licks are electric. Someone once called them “delightfully masturbatory.” That about says it all.
Jackie Greene – He blows me away with his talents on the guitar and seemingly every other instrument available on the stage. He also has a great voice.
Austin Nevins of Josh Ritter’s band – He has been the go-to guy for so many Boston locals. He’s one who flies under the radar – until he takes the stage and starts playing.
David Jacobs-Strain – He is a mainstage performer, known both for his remarkable guitar work, and his penetrating vocals.
Also receiving mention: Leo Kottke, Alexi Murdoch, Damien Rice, Julian Coryell, Nils Lofgren, Joe Satriani, Mark Knopfler, Bryan Lee, Otis Taylor, Keller Williams.

League of Legends
Where would rock music be without these great guitarists? Not only have they been around for decades dazzling us with their riffs, they basically created what is now called “Classic Rock” and are still performing today.

Carlos Santana
Neil Young
B.B. King
John Fogerty
Jeff Beck
Bonnie Raitt
Stephen Stills
Joni Mitchell
Eric Clapton
Steve Winwood

The (guitar) gods must be crazy
Our top guitar gods, and their songs that make us bow down

Jimi Hendrix,“Little Wing” – Probably not the song most would choose as a Hendrix guitar masterpiece. But his licks here are just so tasteful.

Duane Allman, “Black-Hearted Woman” – Tough choice here. There are so many great solos, but this is Duane at his nastiest, just ripping through the song.

Stevie Ray Vaughn, “Cold Shot” – Again, others will probably think there are better tunes, especially for his soloing. But we love the groove here, and when Stevie lets loose ... it’s controlled mayhem.

Eric Clapton,“Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad” – We gave this away earlier in the issue. This and “Layla” are probably two of the most urgent love songs ever. But this one is by far the best as Clapton and Duane Allman duel it out in a wild guitar-solo frenzy.

Jimmy Page, “D’yer Mak’er” – Again, not Page at his wildest. But what we love about his guitar playing is what you hear underneath the bombast of Zeppelin songs. He filled out those tunes with amazing licks. Check out the quieter numbers and really listen to the guitar.

Rolling Stone's great guitarists
In case you were wondering, here is Rolling Stone’s list, from 2003, of the top 30 of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”
1 Jimi Hendrix
2 Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers Band
3 B.B. King
4 Eric Clapton
5 Robert Johnson
6 Chuck Berry
7 Stevie Ray Vaughan
8 Ry Cooder
9 Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin
10 Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones
11 Kirk Hammett of Metallica
12 Kurt Cobain of Nirvana
13 Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead
14 Jeff Beck
15 Carlos Santana
16 Johnny Ramone of the Ramones
17 Jack White of the White Stripes
18 John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers
19 Richard Thompson
20 James Burton
21 George Harrison
22 Mike Bloomfield
23 Warren Haynes
24 The Edge of U2
25 Freddy King
26 Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave
27 Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits
28 Stephen Stills
29 Ron Asheton of the Stooges
30 Buddy Guy

September 4, 2010

Goodbye Paste

You knew this was coming. Paste magazine, which had struggled for some time from lack of advertising revenue, is dead... or at least the print edition is. Earlier this week, Paste abruptly let go all of its staff and closed up shop, with a note saying they may try to make it online a la No Depression, which folded a year or two ago in a similar fate.
It's sad. The magazine's heart was in the right place. It truly wanted to be the indie,  hipper version of Rollng Stone. But the truth is, I lost interest in Paste a few years ago.
When it first came on the scene, it was hip and indie and strictly filled with just music. They consistently wrote about bands before they hit the mainstream. The issues featured a few interviews, but mostly it was filled with album reviews, loads of them.  You could sit for an hour reading their reviews, and most of them I found fit my music tastes.
 I remember the cover of the first issue I read – in 2003, Issue No. 8,  I believe –  very clearly: Josh Ritter, Erin McKeown, Sondre Lerche and Kathleen Edwards, all young, fresh faces on the music scene. The mag had gathered all four in New York for a photo spread and interviews.
I had heard of Josh and Erin, but was new to the other two. No other magazine was featuring these types of musicians. Rolling Stone was featuring nearly nude actresses or women musicians on their covers almost every month and lots of crap features inside. There were a few other mags, Harp, for instance, which had short stays and little interesting to say. No Depression was cool,  covering the alt scene but didn't branch too far into indie rock.
Paste was a blast of fresh air. Oh, and I forgot to mention the free CD of music with every issue!!
Then along came the music industry meltdown. I don't exactly remember the year, but I do remember what happened to Paste. I'm guessing music advertising began to diminish and Paste, trying to save itself, added movies, books and culture to its music content.
The Little Music Mag That Could started to become Just Another Magazine, a GQ for a hipper set. The number of album reviews shrank; where there were solely musician interviews, now there were actors, authors and other movers and shakers. I understood the move, business-wise, I just didn't like it.
Then it ended for me: Michael Jackson's glove showed up as an issue cover (No. 40, 2008).
My indie mag was no longer. I had had enough. I bailed on my subscription renewal, and when No Depression folded and offered Paste to finish out that subscription, I rarely picked it up from the pile of bills on the table.
It is sad that Paste is gone; it's sadder that the whole publication business is dying thanks to the Internet and advertising. I'm in the newspaper business so I feel the pain personally.
So don't forget to read your issues of Modern Acoustic when they are published... I think I can safely promise you (because I don't accept advertising and therefore not making any money!)  that it will always just be a music magazine ...  as long as I publish it.