December 30, 2010

Lyrically Speaking: Mission in the Rain

  "Mission in the Rain" is my favorite Jerry-penned Grateful Dead song...
  That's how I was going to start this Lyrically Speaking entry. But I could just hear in my head Deadheads everywhere grumbling and huffing and puffing, and decided just to get the disclaimer* out of the way, right up top, to help ease their worried minds.
  So here it is:
   *"Mission" technically is not a Grateful Dead song, since it was recorded (on the album "Reflections") and mostly performed as Jerry's solo project the Jerry Garcia Band. And, technically, Garcia didn't write the lyrics -- they were penned by Robert Hunter, Garcia's songwriting partner.
So anyways, "Mission in the Rain" is my favorite Jerry-penned Grateful Dead song.
  I love the imagery -- a guy walking through a deserted part of the city at midnight thinking about his life and the choices he has made: "Ten years ago, I walked this street my dreams were riding tall/ Tonight I would be thankful Lord, for any dream at all/ Some folks would be happy just to have one dream come true/ But everything you gather is just more that you can lose." Wonderful.
  Though Hunter wrote the lyrics, Garcia has been quoted as saying, "it's autobiographical, though I didn't write it." Very Grateful Dead-esque. He actually sings the tune like he's lived it. You really feel the guy's pain, and yet the comfort he gets from his surroundings: "There’s some satisfaction in the San Francisco rain/No matter what comes down the Mission always looks the same."
  Hunter says he wrote the tune about his time that he lived in the Mission District in San Francisco in the '60s. The area apparently came alive with hookers and other creatures of the night after dark. (For more on the history of the song, click HERE).
  As stated in the disclaimer, the Dead only performed this song for a brief period, and I'm not sure why. All I know is that when it comes on my iPod, I turn it up real loud and sing every word -- with feeling.

Mission in the Rain
I turn and walk away then I come ‘round again
It looks as though tomorrow I’ll do pretty much the same.

I must turn down your offer but I’d like to ask a break
You know I’m ready to give everything for anything I take.

Someone called my name you know I turned around to see
It was midnight in the Mission and the bells were not for me.

Come again, walking along in the Mission in the rain,
Come again, walking along in the Mission in the rain,

Ten years ago, I walked this street my dreams were riding tall
Tonight I would be thankful Lord, for any dream at all.

Some folks would be happy just to have one dream come true
But everything you gather is just more that you can lose.

Come again, walking along in the Mission in the rain,
Come again, walking along in the Mission in the rain,

All the things I planned to do I only did half way
Tomorrow will be Sunday born of rainy Saturday.

There’s some satisfaction in the San Francisco rain
No matter what comes down the Mission always looks the same.

Come again, walking along in the Mission in the rain.

Jerry Garcia Band - 11/11/93

December 22, 2010

Lyrically Speaking: 2002

  A song's lyrics don't have to be overly poetic to be great. In fact, for me a story song, in which we can empathize with someone's situation or one that places us in a situation past or present, can be just as moving as one that delves deeply into artistic verbiage or clever wordplay. (The worst is one that is cliche, where we can guess the lyrics before the singer ever sings them.)
  Bob Schneider is probably known more as a singer or performer than as a songwriter, though I think he is quite good in that capacity. He has a kind of dual musical personality: He's got a raunchy, rockin', rappin' side and he's got an acoustic-based singer-songwriter side. He's an expert at balancing the two sides (though they don't necessarily mix on the same album).
  His song "2002," from his fantastic album "Lonelyland," deserves some recognition. It's him and an acoustic guitar and some really matter-of-fact, down-in-the-dumps lyrics of a guy who is missing is old girlfriend. He admits he's done some things wrong in his personal life, really is trying to get his life together but realizes it's pretty fruitless.
  The song is written as a letter to this woman telling her how his life has gone since their breakup. Sounds depressing? Yeah, well as he sings, "Doubt things are ever gonna get much better/It seems like life's one big whatever anyway."
  If you are not tearing up or feeling bad for the dude by the end of the song you have no heart.

The year is two thousand & two
I'm doing exactly what I wanted to
And baby I don't even think about you anymore

Just thought I’d drop you a line
And let you know I was doing fine
Cause baby it's been a long long time
Since you walked out my door

It took me some time I must confess
For a while there I was feeling less than my best
Had to get out of town so I headed out west
Ended up in Seattle

I thought I’d start a brand new band
Thought I might call it Lonelyland
Things got a little out of hand
Ended up hooked on heroin

So I ended up moving back over to Germany
Living with the folks baggin' groceries
But the time I had was mostly free
Spent most of it drinking

I got myself in a jam or two
Guess it's what I had to do
But late at night I’d still think of you
Felt like I was drowning

'Til I met this girl at a discotheque
She was a dancer, baby, but not what you'd expect
She taught ballet and she was half-Czech half Chinese

But after she decided not to have the baby
Said she might move back to the mainland maybe
By then I didn't really care I was half drunk, half crazy

I got arrested but never convicted
My parents eventually had me evicted
Tried your number it had been disconnected
Guess I should’ve known

I heard you got married and you moved away
I called your folks but where they would not say
Said it's probably better that way so I just let it be

I moved back to Austin 'bout a year ago
Drive a schoolbus I don't drink no more
I go out every once in a while and see a show but mostly I just watch TV

So I don't know where I’m gonna send this letter
Doubt things are ever gonna get much better
It seems like life's one big whatever anyway

I just thought I’d drop you a line
Lie and say I was doing fine
'Cause baby it's been a long long time
Since you walked out my door

Here's a short explanation of the song from Schneider in an interview with Andy Holloway in the online magazine 5 on Sunday in 2009 (to read the whole interview, click HERE) :
Andy: Your song ‘2002’ is one of the most sincere and genuine offerings about tri­als and tribulations I have ever heard from a musician. Can you explain the time period that caused you to write this song?
Bob: I wrote the song in 1998 after a bad breakup and I was sitting in a room in Denver. I knew that I’d be feeling better in six months or a year and I was daydreaming about having some kind of remote control that I could fast-forward through the next few hard months of heartbreak. Any­way, I ended up writing the song in an hour or two and now people think that it’s autobiographical when in fact, it was what I imagined the next few years would be like at the time.

Bob Schneider on Austin City Limits:

December 20, 2010

Lori McKenna at Passim, Dec. 17

  The Holiday Crush is upon us, so I'll have to make this kind of quick. But because of the Crush it is important to take time out and enjoy the good things in life. One of those good things is seeing Lori McKenna on stage at Passim.
  Lori, who got a shot at fame a couple of years ago when Faith Hill "discovered" what we already knew (that Lori is a great songwriter). Lori opened for Faith on her arena tour and even appeared on "Oprah" with Faith. Lori's story (which all Lori followers know) -- a mother of five writing these songs of small-town surivival -- was captivating and helped her get a major-label record contract with Warner Bros. Nashville.
  For whatever reason, the relationship didn't last and now Lori is self-releasing her great new album, "Lorraine" (due out Jan. 25, but I bought it at the show!) -- and we are better off for it.
All this is a lead-up to the show at Passim, which had her playing six shows in three consecutive nights. I went to the late show of the middle performances, which were just her and her guitar in front of an enthusiastic crowd that included some of her hometown peeps.
  She is surprisingly unaffected by her almost-stardom, occasionally mentioning her friend Faith and sounding perfectly fine about the way it all turned out.
  Her set was a mix of old and new, opening with (I think, I could be wrong) the album's title song, which she said is about her mother or herself or both. After all, they are both named Lorraine. She apologized for her voice being a little hoarse, a victim of the multiple show format that she's been doing at Passim for the past seven years. Another great thing about Lori is that she is completely loyal to the people and venues that have supported her throughout her career -- musicians Mark Erelli, Kris Delmhorst and Mary Gauthier were namechecked during the show.
  Her voice to me, even slightly husky, sounded pretty great and really suits her songs beautifully. Is she folk? Is she country? Who the hell cares. She's got such a unique sound, and her guitar playing is really quite good. I originally thought I would miss the accompaniment of another voice or instrument (she played with a trio on the following night), but that was not the case at all.
  The older numbers included "I Know You," my favorite from "Unglamorous," and "Stealing Kisses," from the great "Bittertown" the one Faith Hill covered to all the attention. Just a side note: the Faith Hill version -- ick. I'm sorry, but Lori sings it with so much more feeling and tension.
  The same can be said for a new song, "The Luxury of Knowing," that is on the new album. Apparently Keith Urban has covered it as a bonus song on his new album. I listened to it online. Ick. Again, Lori's voice is so much more real.
  A couple of other great tunes she played from the new album: "Sweet Disposition" and "Buy This Town," which she called a "furball" song, one that popped into her head as she was driving her kids back and forth and back and forth to school.
  She filled most of the gaps between songs with these kinds of personal stories about her life as a mother, her relationship with her husband, and as a musician, and how they all crazily intertwine. She's named her studio in the basement Boy in a Hoodie because "whenever she goes down there, there's always a boy in a hoodie sitting at her computer." The stories are always followed by a little nervous laughter, like maybe she's revealing too much, like therapy. But it's just her being real and that's what her fans love about her.
For more pics from the show, click HERE.
Stay tuned for the review her new album a little closer to the release date.

December 18, 2010

Lyrically Speaking: Trouble

Little Feat is one of those bands that, in my opinion, doesn't get enough credit. Sure, they may not have really broken new ground, but they were solid -- both lyrically and in band musicianship. They sort of fit very comfortably between Allman-esque Southern rock, New Orleans boogie, funk, jazz and Grateful Dead-like jam band. Many of today's jam bands take stock in different musical influences the way Feat did. Lowell George, his life cut way too short, was a great lyricist and musician. His songs -- "Dixie Chicken," "Willin'," "Fat Man in the Bathtub," etc. -- are classics. The band of George, Bill Payne, Paul Barerre,  Fred Tackett, Kenny Gradney, Richie Hayward, and Sam Clayton were a juggernaut of sound and counted Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, and Bonnie Raitt as FOB (friends of the band).
The song "Trouble," from 1972's "Sailin' Shoes," may not be their most famous, but is truly my favorite. It's certainly one of their most quiet tunes, sparse. It clocks in at a mere 2 minutes and 19 seconds.  But the lyrics offer up a guy who is totally overstressed and a reminder to just remain calm, take it easy and everything will be all right. I love this line, it calms me: "Well I'll write a letter, and I'll send it away
And put all the trouble in it you had today."
  Inara George, Lowell's daughter, covered the tune on a 2008 Little Feat tribute album called "Join the Band." I read an interview somewhere that though Lowell George died when she was only 5, her mother used to sing her this song at bedtime. Totally cool.

You yelled hey when your car wouldn't start
So you got real nervous and started to eat your heart out
Now you're so fat your shoes don't fit on your feat
You got trouble
And it's tailor made
Well mama lay your head down in the shade

'Cause your eyes are tired, and your feat are too
And you wish the world was as tired as you, whoa
Well I'll write a letter, and I'll send it away
And put all the trouble in it you had today

Oh your telephone ring and you went "oh ho"
You forgot about this, and you forgot about that
'Cause you got to get back to what you doing
Goodbye, click that, so and so
You're an island and on your own

You yelled hey when the stove blew up
Upset? why yes
And the footprints on your ceiling, they're almost gone
And you're wondering why?
Well mama lay your head down, don't you cry

From 2009:

And this classic from 1977:

Blast from the Past: Sunshine Daydreamin' from March 2010

This is a double Blast From the Past: Not only is it reprinted from an earlier issue this year (No. 28; the Two Stages of Jackie Greene; click HERE), but it also takes us way back to the early '80s when I was pretty much a Deadhead college student, going to shows near and far and enjoying life as it came.  Hope you enjoy my look back...

Sunshine Daydreamin’
  In our youth we spent some time doing the Grateful Dead thing. Not the full-on, traveling show to show across the country, but we did strike out from time to time from our home base in Boston to visit with friends and relatives – and maybe catch a Dead show that happened to be in their area. Sometimes the journey getting there was just as fun as being at the concert. And since we’ve been discussing the Dead a bit in this issue, it seems like a good time to look back on some of those long, strange trips.

Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland, Maine, 9/17/82 
  My sister, her boyfriend and I left Boston and traveled the two-plus hours, certain we could buy tickets when we got there. After some initial trouble finding a seller, we split up, me going it alone and planning to meet them inside. I got a ticket. They didn’t. I had an awesome time inside, they had almost as good a time partying in the parking lot.
Concert highlight: “High Time’’ (I’d never heard it live), “Women Are Smarter” (love the tune), and a great “Morning Dew.” Also, apparently it was the first-ever time “Throwing Stones” was played in concert.

War Memorial, Rochester, NY, 4/9/82
  My sister and I met up with my cousin Steve, a huge Deadhead. We partied like it was 1977. Can’t for the life of me remember how or why we decided to drive 7 1/2 hours to Rochester.
Concert highlight: “China Cat/I Know You Rider’’; “Satisfaction” finale with “Brokedown Palace’’ encore.

The Coliseum, Hampton, VA, 4/9/83 
  I had a friend who was going to school at Virginia Tech and figured we’d go visit him and then see the show. Got down to VT only to find out that Hampton was almost 5 hours away. And we didn’t have tickets. As I learned, that is not actually a problem on a college campus. So we made the trek and had a great time.
Concert highlight: New tunes “West LA Fadeaway,” “Brother Esau.”

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY, 6/18/83 
  My friend Rich and I drove to meet Jeff, who was coming by bus, in Albany. We got to the station and Jeff was nowhere to be found – we thought. We had an elaborate plan in case there were issues (no cellphones in 1983!) which we deployed. After a 40-minute mission to find him, it turned out he was at the other end of station the entire time. We made it to SPAC in plenty of time.
Concert highlight: It was a beautiful day, but as night started to fall, there were thunderstorms in the area... the Dead played “Scarlet Begonias/Fire on the Mountain” as lightning went off in the distance. At the beginning Brent teased the tune “I Can See Clearly Now (the Rain Is Gone).”

December 16, 2010

Decemberists cover the Grateful Dead

Two of my favorite bands come together in this cool cover by the Decemberists of the Grateful Dead's "Row Jimmy Row." Not much more needs to be said...
You can download it HERE
Listen to it below
The Decemberists - Row Jimmy (Grateful Dead cover) by jp917

CD reviews: Mike & Ruthy, Kate Redgate, Deadly Gentlemen

Mike & Ruthy, “Million to One
  We first took notice of Mike Merenda and Ruth Ungar-Merenda when their previous band the Mammals covered Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” as a stripped-down, slowed-down folk blues. Now out on their own as a duo they call Mike & Ruthy, the husband-and-wife team have released “Million to One,’’ an album of rockin’ folk tunes – or as we think of them, folkin’ rock tunes.
  The title, we guess, has something to do with the odds of the album actually coming out since it was funded by Kickstarter donations. But while the odds of making the album might have been long, the chance of fans liking it is a sure thing. The standout track is “Covered,” a blues rocker with the pair sharing lead vocals.
   Harmonies on the album are killer. They especially shine atop the walking bass and fiddle tune “As My Eyes Run Wild.” Those harmonies are backed by bassist Jose Ayerve, drummer Craig Santiago, and others on fiddle and pedal steel, adding to the organic sound. “Be the Boss” has Mike singing in early electric Dylan; “Who’s Who” is a fun mishmash of crazy vignettes; and “On the Road” showcases Ruthy’s gorgeous vocals on a song about band life: “Up one highway and down the next/finding banks that’ll cash our checks/smilin’ in the rear view mirror as another good town disappears/oh don’t you want to go on the road.” With this band? Yeah, that sounds like fun.

Kate Redgate “Nothing Tragic
  You get the feeling that with a little help, Kate Redgate’s songs would be right at home with the Nashville cats. Kate grew up in the Midwest and is now a full-blown New Englander. Similar to Lori McKenna, she’s a mom who has a calling to play music, though her sound is more straight-ahead country than Lori’s.
  “Into the Blues” rocks its country sound with help from drummer Zach Field and bassist Mike Miskis, with additional support from the great Kevin Barry on electric guitar and Tom West on organ.
  You can hear glimpses of Kate’s life stories in her lyrics: some hard times but always filled with resolve to keep on persevering. On the title track she sings “When your house is on fire you don’t think about what your next move will be/you grab the kids and you all jump out/run as far away as can be/when I said goodbye to you it was all that I could do/to pull these stakes out of the ground/it got a little messy here but you can rest assured my dear there’s nothing tragic here at all.”
  With songs such as “Walkin’ a Fine Line” and “Mississippi Moon” you can just picture Kate up on a honky-tonk bar stage somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line in front of a crowd of appreciatively dancing country fans.

Deadly Gentlemen, “Carry Me to Home
  You will either love or hate this album depending on how you feel about your bluegrass being mixed with rock and rap. Greg Liszt, the banjo player of Crooked Still, leads this foursome in some innovative – sometimes jarring – bluegrassy numbers. The tunes are mostly standards that have been reworked into new songs. The playing is virtuoso and the ideas are creative. The group – Stash Wyslouch on guitar, Mike Barnett on fiddle, Dominick Leslie on mandolin, and Sam Grisman on double bass – no doubt has fun, and the lyrics for such songs as “Police” (based on traditional song “Policeman”: “Drink my liquor with a pancake cold/Can a man make silver?/Can a man make gold?/You don’t need to be mad to need a method/Good to be the maker but bad to be the meth head?”) are comical.

CD reviews: Jess Yoakum, Dietrich Strause, Vickers Vimy

 Jess Yoakum, “This Quiet Mile
We first met Jess when she was gigging around Boston a few years ago. Her passionate, confessional lyrics drew us in, much like her musical influences Patty Griffin and Joni Mitchell.
Since then Jess has moved to Chicago, a move we’re sure was exciting – and probably terrifying at the same time. Her new self-released album, “This Quiet Mile,” is certainly influenced by this physical and emotional change. Her previous hometown is mentioned in two different songs, as she speaks of trying to figure out who she is and where she is going. She sings on “Hold Me In”: “Beautiful day/I don’t feel like I remember the sun, the green/And, it’s not this awake in Boston. Not this dirty. Not this real/So, what am I going back to, anyway? And, where will I find my love? My history?”
“Triangles” is a surprisingly rugged opener, with Jess singing through a voice filter: “Playing power games, we’re each as powerless as the rest/It will never be either/or with you it’s always more or less.”
Jess has a beautiful, expressive voice, which stands out against the album’s darker sound – cello, violin, piano and acoustic and pedal steel guitars intertwining in minor chord arrangements. “Texas’’ is one of our favorites, melding lyrics of longing against the realities of Christmas in a state with no winter.

Dietrich Strause, “Laborsongs and Barkingdogs
  Dietrich Strause may be known more around Boston as a trumpet player, but that hasn’t stopped him from trying his hand as a guitar-playing singer-songwriter. In fact the talented Oberlin College graduate (yep, another Oberlin musician! See Josh Ritter) plays a variety of instruments, including mandolin, piano and organ.
  Many of these show up on his self-produced new album, “Laborsongs and Barking dogs.” Strause’s voice is mellifluous; his sound has traces of a young Paul Simon mixed with that Ritter Midwestern wanderlust.
  Standout tunes include “Fire” and “Jean Louise,” a tune that bobs along on acoustic guitar and is based on a “To Kill a Mockingbird’’ character: “Jean Louise I’ll tell you that your bare feet are still too loud, for sneaking through the garden you’ve got bells on your ankles and the belfry’s in the ground, lilacs and violets and a shotgun blast, the mockingbirds in whispers like the sky before the flash.’’
This is a solid outing and we look forward hearing more.

Vickers Vimy, “Vol 1. That Vinyl Scratch
  One of my favorite albums on these pages was just released this month and is available through Bandcamp.
  Ed Drea and Finton Hanley from Galway, Ireland, have put together an album that reminds us of tunes from Glen Hansard and early Josh Ritter. That may not be hard to figure since they have the backing here by Colm Mac Nomaire of the Frames and the Swell Season.
  Wondering what Vickers Vimy is? According to the band, they take their name from one of the most celebrated cross Atlantic adventures, from 1919. You’ll have to look that one up to get more detail.
  As for the band’s sound, banjos and glockenspiel, in addition to acoustic and electric guitars and light drumming, create a warm atmosphere, as if you’re sitting in an Irish pub listening to them play live. Our favorite track: “Devil on Your Back.” “Old Fashioned Lover” features some fun barrelhouse piano over lyrics about a guy trying to prove his devotion.

CD reviews: Lake Street Dive, Lucinda Black Bear, the Bowmans

Lake Street Dive, "Lake Street Dive"
  Band members Rachel Price, Michael Olson, Bridget Kearney and Michael Calabrese met at New England Conservatory, but don’t let that dissuade you from putting on this album and dancing around your living room because as Lake Street Dive they play ... a wicked mix of country/bluegrass/soul music.
  Price’s voice is soulful, sweet and moving and is backed by solid musicianship, that includes Olson’s enthusiastic guitar and splendid trumpet interludes, Kearney’s acoustic bass, and Calabrese’s steady, sometimes funky beats as well as keyboards.
  The sound of organ, bass and drums is intoxicating on “Don’t Make Me Hold Your Hand.’’ “Henriette” opens with guitar licks reminiscent of early Beatles but then quickly turns into a funky, jazzy tune with a Kearney bass solo in the middle! “Miss Disregard” is a great kiss-off song and “Elijah” is just pure, bouncy fun. “Neighbor Song” opens with the line “I can hear my neighbors making love upstairs/There love is rattling my tables and my chairs.” You think it might be a funny song but it instead explores a sadness of loss of love. A beautiful trumpet solo echoes the heartache and wanting. Lake Street Dive is another in a long line of great, homespun artists picked up by the small Western Mass. label Signature Sounds.

Lucinda Black Bear, “Knives
  It’s always fun when you come across a band that sounds new and different. Of course, if it doesn’t sound good, who cares? Luckily for us, New York-based Lucinda Black Bear, sounds both different and good.
  Its second album, “Knives,” on the small Eastern Spurs label, the group -- Christian Gibbs on vocals and guitar, Mike Cohen on bass, Kristin Mueller on drums, Chad Hammer on cello – stretches out, adding intricate arrangements that include loops and feedback to its folk-based tunes. It’s a sound that’s not simple to describe: equal parts experimental folk, indie rock, and chamber pop. One song may have the arc of Arcade Fire-esque indie pop, the next will soar like a new-school version of Queen.
  “Hand Bible,” with its guitar-plucked melody and electronica, starts slowly and builds to a crescendo of instruments, drums and bass crashing over Gibbs plaintive vocals. Our favorites include “Laugh at My Tears,” which features a full chorus and guitar break a la Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the neo-country of “She’s a Killer” and rocking “Suffocation Blues.”

The Bowmans, “Live at PowerPlay Studios
  Sarah and Claire Bowman, twin sisters who have been performing around New York City for years, were recently invited to record these 13 songs – some new, some from past albums – live at the famous Powerplay studio in Maur, Switzerland, a place they have returned to often.
Sarah wrote most of the tracks and plays guitar, while Claire provides the harmonies and percussion, oh, and the album art.
  Playing live proves to be inspiring as this album is filled with the pair’s beautiful shared harmonies.
Back-to-back songs “You’re Right,’’ which urgently rocks on its acoustic guitar backing, and “The Kitchen Song’’ are particularly ear-catching.
  On “On the Road,’’ Sarah sings: “The bumpy road might break your toes, so you will never know/But I’ll take my chances, cut my losses. ’Cause I would rather go.” Sounds like they had a good trip.

December 15, 2010

Favorites of 2010

Way Down with 'Hadestown' and more!
Our annual list of Favorites: 2010

To read the whole issue, click HERE

Hadestown,” Anais Mitchell
A concept album in itself is very tough to pull off. A folk opera about the Orpheus myth? Please. Top it off with an incredible cast – Ani DiFranco, Greg Brown, Justin Vernon, etc. – singing the various roles and a band that pulls off an array of musical styles. We can’t think of another album in the last 10 years that has consistently been in our heads nearly every day since its release. It is truly an amazing accomplishment.

See above.

“Hadestown” performed live at Passim 
We’ve never seen a group of musicians more into what they were doing. Some of Boston’s best musicians crowded onto and in front of the small stage to re-create “Hadestown” from start to finish. It was exquisite. Peter Mulvey, Kris Delmhorst, Tim Gearan and many others along with Anais and backed by Michael Chorney’s band. Even when they weren’t performing you could see how intensely the musicians were listening: bobbing their heads, eyes closed. It was mesmerizing. Read our concert review HERE

Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band, Orpheum Theatre, Boston, and State Theatre, Portland, Maine
We should just retire this category. There’s no way to beat friends, family, and Josh Ritter… Unless another band wants to invite us along to ride their tour bus, this is the way it’s always gonna be!
Read our concert reviews HERE and HERE

Avetts on the scissor lift at Newport 
It captures the band’s free spirit and the surprise of the moment. What the photo doesn’t show is the row of port-o-potties beneath them. See a video HERE

‘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.’
- Jackie Greene   Read the full interview HERE

Fort Adams State Park, Newport Folk Festival
This may be only a once-a-year excursion, but it is a great festival experience. There may be more scenic venues – Red Rocks in Colorado, the Gorge near Seattle – but the Newport stage looks out on a peninsula of land surrounded by boats and yachts on the harbor, the crowd is more intent on listening than drinking and the acts are diverse, ranging from up-and-coming to legendary.
Read our concert review HERE

Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers
How does a young woman from Seattle sound like she’s spent her whole life playing Nashville-based country music?
Read our CD review HERE

David Rawlings Machine, Paradise, June 5
“The beauty of The Machine is that they really swing – they almost rock those acoustic instruments. ... The beautiful “Ruby” shined with Gillian’s amazing harmony vocals backing his. She and Dave were just meant to sing together. They seem to fill in each other’s empty spaces like no pair I can think of. ... They came back for two encores and the crowd was rocking. I’ve seen Gillian and Dave a couple times before but I’ve never seen such a rowdy, excited crowd – and they knew almost all the words to the songs.” To read the whole review, click HERE

Stone Temple Pilots, Bank of America Pavilion, Sept. 1
“All of the worries that the Stone Temple Pilots are rock stars on the decline were blown away when the quartet took the stage. ... Opening with fan favorites “Crackerman’’ and “Wicked Garden,” Weiland looked and sounded great. Singing songs through his signature bullhorn, Weiland led his mates through STP classics as well as songs from their latest album. To read the whole review, click HERE

Erin McKeown’s 10th anniversary Distillation tour, Sept. 24
“As hoped, Erin rocked her guitar as the “Distillation” songs called for. ... “How to Open My Heart in 4 Easy Steps” was gorgeous, and she hit every note perfectly; the wink-wink of the cocaine-loving tune “The Little Cowboy” was filled with [Dave] 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.” To read the whole review, click HERE

Josh Ritter, “So Runs the World Away”
 “Josh Ritter’s proven to be a natural storyteller. So it is no surprise that on his new album, the focus turns to tales of cursed mummies and ships seeking new worlds. The songs, says Josh, “are larger and more detailed and feel to me as if they were painted in oil on large canvasses.” After the rockin’, brash “Historical Conquests” album, this time we get a much more cerebral one, overflowing with imagery set against a palette of sound, rather than the raucous backing of the past.” To read the whole review, click HERE

Dawes, “North Hills” 
 “When we first heard Dawes our impression was that they sounded like a California version of the Avett Brothers. ... 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.” To read the whole review, click HERE

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, “Grace Potter and the Nocturnals” 
Grace has a new female bass player and has added a second guitarist. The new lineup allows for a fuller – and sexier – sound, and a chance for Grace to step out front even more. But don’t be led astray, she’s not putting down her Flying V or forsaking her Hammond B3 chores. That is very clear from the first tune “Paris (Ooh La La),’’ which opens with some screaming guitars. It sounds like a ’70s Heart tune on steroids.” To read the whole review, click HERE

December 14, 2010

Issue No. 31, December 2010

Way Down With 'Hadestown'
Anais Mitchell's stellar folk opera tops our list of Favorites of 2010

  It seems every year there’s one album we cannot stop listening to: In 2004, Patty Griffin’s “Impossible Dream” blew our minds; a few years later, a neo-bluegrass band named Crooked Still shook us up with their “Shaken by a Low Sound.”
  This year it’s “Hadestown,” Anais Mitchell’s brilliant folk opera, which is based on the Greek myth Orpheus, but set in a mining town during a post-apocalyptic American depression era.
  The easy answer as to why this is such a great album is that it’s a blast to listen to.
  The songs, full of inspired and detailed description of life in the underground, tell the story of love and greed.
  It is actually an ALBUM, something you have to listen to from start to finish, unlike so many of today’s releases. It’s a concept album that doesn’t feel contrived or forced, exceptionally difficult to pull off.
  But there is so much more to love about it.
  The voices: Anais, who sings Eurydice, has an almost childlike voice, one I suspect people either love or not. And the other characters add incredible depth. The husky, deep sound of Greg Brown is perfect as Hades; Ani DiFranco, as Persephone, adds a ’40s speakeasy madame’s persona; Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) warms up Orpheus; and Ben Knox Miller (The Low Anthem) adds a funky presence as Hermes.
  The music: Under the direction of Michael Chorney, the music moves effortlessly from genre to genre – blues, jazz, sparse folk – in a way that ties the whole undertaking together.
  From the moment we heard it – and saw the whole album performed live with local musicians at Passim in Cambridge – “Hadestown” was destined to be the pick as our favorite album of the year. Congratulations Anais, it is truly a work of art.
  As for our other favorites, turn to Page 5 to see who else rocked our world in 2010.
  We also offer a chance to read about some musicians you probably don’t know, those who are either on small labels or have self-released albums. They might not have the vast resources to get their music out there, but they deserve to be heard.
  Who knows, one of these musicians could be the next to produce an album as breathtaking as “Hadestown.”
To read the issue, click HERE

Songs that helped us survive this issue:
1. “Furry Sings the Blues,” “Hejira,” Joni Mitchell. Beale Street in Memphis comes to life.
2. “Burgundy Shoes,” “Children Running Through,” Patty Griffin. Just beautiful.
3. “Jealous Guy,” “Imagine,” John Lennon. The guy put his feelings right out there for all to see.
4. “Pour,” “Bittertown,” Lori McKenna. Word of a new album early next year, got me listening – again.
5. “Washington,” “Oh Little Fire,” Sarah Harmer. This song has grown on me, even if the album hasn’t quite.

December 10, 2010

Lyrically Speaking: It Makes No Difference

  Earlier this morning when I was contemplating doing another Lyrically Speaking, "It Makes No Difference," by the Band popped into my head because of the sheer pain in the lost love of the words. When a song makes you feel something deeply -- pain, happiness, etc. -- you've got greatness.
  By sheer chance, today also just happens to be the 11-year anniversary of the death of Band bassist Rick Danko. While Rick didn't write the song (that would be Robbie Robertson, probably one of the most underappreciated American songwriters), he did sing it. His mournful voice, which he often stretched into registers I didn't think possible, perfectly projects the deep, deep loss of the lyrics. So RIP, Rick. We miss you.
  As for the lyrics, Robertson came up with some beauties. First of all, this song isn't written in standard verse, verse, chorus, bridge, verse. It sounds instead like it was written as if the person was just rambling through his sorrows, tears rolling down his cheeks. My favorite line: "Since you've gone it's a losing battle/Stampeding cattle/They rattle the walls." Stampeding cattle? Wow. This guy is really bad off!! And this line, another killer: "Well, I love you so much/It's all I can do/Just to keep myself from telling you/That I never felt so alone before." Yikes.
  Robertson is known for his story-songs -- "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "Get Up Jake," "Up on Cripple Creek" -- songs that sort of transport you to another place and time. But for me, this song just eats me up. "It Makes No Difference" is originally found on 1975's "Northern Lights - Southern Cross," but may be best heard in the Band's farewell concert "The Last Waltz" (see video below).
  Oh, one more note: If you like the Lyrically Speaking entries, you can easily find them by going to the Labels pulldown menu to the right, and look for "lyrically speaking."

It Makes No Difference
It makes no diff'rence where I turn
I can't get over you and the flame still burns
It makes no diff'rence, night or day
The shadow never seems to fade away

And the sun don't shine anymore
And the rains fall down on my door

Now there's no love
As true as the love
That dies untold
But the clouds never hung so low before

It makes no diff'rence how far I go
Like a scar the hurt will always show
It makes no diff'rence who I meet
They're just a face in the crowd
On a dead-end street
And the sun don't shine anymore
And the rains fall down on my door

These old love letters
Well, I just can't keep
'Cause like the gambler says
Read 'em and weep
And the dawn don't rescue me no more

Without your love I'm nothing at all
Like an empty hall it's a lonely fall
Since you've gone it's a losing battle
Stampeding cattle
They rattle the walls

And the sun don't shine anymore
And the rains fall down on my door

Well, I love you so much
It's all I can do
Just to keep myself from telling you
That I never felt so alone before

From "The Last Waltz"

December 9, 2010

News and videos

Some of this and a little of that before the big splash of the next issue of Modern Acoustic, which should be posted early next week (HERE).

A bunch of new albums from some of our favorite artists are slated for release right after the first of the year. Here is the list I have... feel free to send me others
The Decemberists "The King Is Dead," Jan. 18
Iron & Wine "Kiss Each Other Clean,"  Jan. 25
Lori McKenna "Lorraine," Jan. 25
Dala "Everyone Is Someone," Jan. 25
The Low Anthem "Smart Flesh," Feb. 22
Zoe Muth (album title to be announced), April 2011
Lucinda Williams, "Blessed," March 1

And now for some fun videos...
The curling scene from the Beatles' "Help"

Josh Ritter on the creative process and his responsibility to his audience
The Responsibility Project

December 3, 2010

Lyrically Speaking: Casimir Pulaski Day

  In a few days, I'll be publishing and posting my Favorites of 2010 issue of Modern Acoustic magazine, but until then I thought I'd offer up another in the series Lyrically Speaking, song lyrics that, to me, go beyond just words to a song.

  Sufjan Stevens is an odd cat. In concert he wears butterfly wings; early on, he wanted to make one album for each of the 50 states, etc. He has actually abandoned the idea (the states thing, not the wings!). But before he did, he released an album called Illinois, in which all the songs had some connection to the state. It's a pretty great album, with cuts -- many with long titles (like "The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is out to Get Us!") -- that run the gamut from instrumental snippets to songs with sincere, heartfelt stories, all backed by his odd orchestra-like band. A song called "John Wayne Gacy Jr." tells the story of the '70s serial killer from Chicago and how we all have that instinct deep inside of us.
  As for our favorite song on the album, "Casimir Pulaski Day," is about a girlfriend who is diagnosed with cancer and passes away, presumably on Casimir Pulaski Day, a state holiday in Illinois. The lyrics are heartbreaking, as he remembers memories of their relationship and the pain of his loss: "Tuesday night at the bible study/We lift our hands and pray over your body/But nothing ever happens."
  The best lyrics are ones that move you, takes you into the author's world. When the music fits that mood, you have a great song. This is one.

Casimir Pulaski Day
Golden rod and the 4-H stone
The things I brought you
When I found out you had cancer of the bone

Your father cried on the telephone
And he drove his car to the Navy yard
Just to prove that he was sorry

In the morning through the window shade
When the light pressed up against your shoulder blade
I could see what you were reading

Oh the glory that the lord has made
And the complications you could do without
When I kissed you on the mouth

Tuesday night at the bible study
We lift our hands and pray over your body
But nothing ever happens

I remember at Michael's house
In the living room when you kissed my neck
And I almost touched your blouse

In the morning at the top of the stairs
When your father found out what we did that night
And you told me you were scared

Oh the glory when you ran outside
With your shirt tucked in and your shoes untied
And you told me not to follow you

Sunday night when I cleaned the house
I find the card where you wrote it out
With the pictures of your mother

On the floor at the great divide
With my shirt tucked in and my shoes untied
I am crying in the bathroom

In the morning when you finally go
And the nurse runs in with her head hung low
And the cardinal hits the window

In the morning in the winter shade
On the first of March on the holiday
I thought I saw you breathing

Oh the glory that the lord has made
And the complications when I see his face
In the morning in the window

Oh the glory when he took our place
But he took my shoulders and he shook my face
And he takes and he takes and he takes

A video of Casimir Pulaski Day