March 27, 2011

Moving Day

  Hi everyone.
  Today is moving day... Yes, this blog is moving to Wordpress (!
  I promise it will be worth your while to join me there. If you've liked the content you've read here, or are just finding it for the first time, I promise to dazzle you with my words of wisdom about bands I love.  Whether your a fan of Grace Potter, Lori McKenna, Josh Ritter, Patty Griffin, or the hundreds of other musicians and bands I have written about here, I promise to continue to bring you all the CD and concert reviews, all the info that I find interesting and newsworthy.
  The move allows me to have all my content, my magazine (have you seen my magazine?) and my blog all on the same site. In the past, some people who read my music blog had no idea I also published a music magazine and vice versa.
  Well, that is all changing.
  It's exciting, with only a touch of sadness. Sadness in that I really have liked Blogger's features. The way it is set up is perfect, I think, for a blog. I'm addicted to the Stats!
  Anyway please, please join me at my new site, once again,
  I think you'll really like it.
 Oh, and don't worry, all the content on this site is now over there as well.
Thanks so much for checking in, and checking out the new site. I think you will find it very cool.

March 26, 2011

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals at the House of Blues Boston, March 25

  Grace Potter the band has arrived!
  This is the third time I've seen Grace and the Nocturnals in about a year and a half. Each time I reviewed the shows, I thought I knew what kind of band they wanted to be.
  The first, in Nov. 2009 and just after the formation of the new Nocturnals (adding bassist Cat Popper and second guitarist Benny Yurco), I guessed they wanted to be a female-led version of the Allman Brothers. They had already had their makeover -- snazzy short dresses for Grace and Cat, suits for the guys -- but for the most part they still seemed to be geared to jam.
  The second time they came around, last May, I was sure they wanted to be a bedazzled version of Heart. They still jammed but were starting to add a more sharp stage presence, really started to gel as a band. Popper, who stays mostly in the background and plays a solid bass, adds another dimension and a second female voice, which helps the band's balance (and obviously helps draws some eyes).
  So here they are now, post-VH1 Divas show (with Katy Perry and Nicky Minaj!!?!), have dazzled audiences on every late-night talk show out there, and crossed the country spreading the love of Grace. They are now officially their own band, one that can crank out songs like "Paris" and "Medicine," equal parts solid pop and mesmerizing jam rock. They are fronted by a woman who twirls like Stevie Nicks and can belt out tunes like Heart's Ann Wilson.
  Last night's show opened with mostly newer tunes -- "Only Love," "Hot Summer Night" and "Low Road" -- with only "Toothbrush & My Table" as the only older song in the first four. But while "Paris" gets most of the play when the band hits the late-night circuit (and who can blame them, the song is built to kick ass) and is the surefire main-set show closer, Grace & co. gives her past album tunes plenty of space in concert.
  "Low Road" led right into "Joey" and had the Friday-night crowd in full lather, singing all the words. It should be noted that it didn't take too much to get the crowd into it: Blues & Lasers, basically three members of the Nocturnals plus a second drummer and a different bass player, were the openers for the evening and during the break between bands, there was a spontaneous singalong to Bon Jovi's "Don't Stop Believin'" as it played on the venue's sound system.
  Other highlights included a wildly pschedelic intro to "Mastermind" and a nice version of "Treat You Right," featurning just Grace, Scott Tournet and Benny, all playing acoustic guitars. That led into a wild flurry of tunes that bled into each other: "Stop the Bus," "Big White Gate" and the great "Nothing But the Water," parts 1 (Grace solo) and 2 (the electric band version). By this time Grace was whirling like a Red Bull-fueled Stevie Nicks as she moved seamlessly from her Hammond B3 stage right to center stage strutting around playing her flying V.
  After "Why Don't You Love Me," the band brought down the house with "Paris." Scott, who had torn it up all night while playing in both bands, is such a great joy to listen to. He can play tasty or incredibly nasty. On "Paris," he was downright nasty.
  For the encore, Benny came out by himself and played some nifty acoustic for the intro of Heart's "Crazy on You." Then the band walked out, or in Grace's case, skipped, twirled, and jumped (in heels!) out and blew the song out of the water. If you thought Ann Wilson could really hit those high notes, well, Grace takes them into the stratosphere. They finished with "Medicine," which as a pop song is nice on the album. But it something special when it becomes the rocking closer, complete with full-band drum solo in the middle.
  It was a phenomenal way to end the night, and perfectly fitting to what the band is right now -- emerging pop stars who can really rock.
For more pics, click HERE

The setlist
Only Love
Hot Summer Night
Toothbrush And My Table
Low Road >
Money >
Apologies >
Tiny Light
Treat You Right >
Stop The Bus >
Big White Gate >
Nothin’ But The Water Part I >
Nothin’ But The Water Part II >
Why Don’t You Love Me
Crazy On You >

March 24, 2011


  So there is a new issue of Modern Acoustic magazine that is all done and ready to roll. However, I'm having some website issues that is causing its delay. I have posted the three new CD reviews from the issue: Lucinda Williams' "Blessed" (click HERE to read), the Low Anthem's "Smart Flesh" (HERE) and the Submarines' "Love Notes/Letter Bombs," which is due out April 5 (HERE).  When the new issue is up, you'll find it at my magazine site,
 And in case you are interested, I am working on a brand-new website that will merge the magazine and the blog into one handy site. I'm not sure exactly when that change will happen, but it means leaving theis Blogger site and merging all content onto Wordpress. Luckily, all content on this site, will move to the new one.
  I will post a note and a link here when the change happens (probably still a month at least off).
Thanks everyone who supports my musical sites. I love doing this and will continue trying to provide great content.

CD review: the Submarines, "Love Notes/Letter Bombs"

(Out April 5)
  The first thing that becomes clear on the new album, “Love Notes/Letter Bombs,’’ is that Blake Hazard and John Dragonetti, the duo that makes up the Submarines, is that they are still in love – even if everything isn’t always perfect.
  That might not completely matter since their first album, “Declare a New State,” ostensibly about their breakup and reconciliation, put them on the musical map, and their second one, “Honeysuckle Weeks,’’ about their reconnecting in everyday life, hit it big with the song “You, Me & the Bourgeoisie” (which was nearly the iPhone theme song for a while).
  “Love Notes/Letter Bombs” is sort of the pair’s settling in album – you know, alternating between loving each other and annoying each other as married couples do.
  “There was so much love exploding into the songs, but the tensions were just as strong,” says Hazard.
On opener “Shoelaces,’’ Dragonetti sings “I’ve had better days than this/ words trip like untied shoelaces/ Still you’re worth falling down for once in a while.” The pair trades off lines about trying to come to grips with their relationship.
  Fans who fell in love with the bubbly, electronic beats of “Honeysuckle Weeks” will be happy to hear that the group’s sound hasn’t changed a great deal. (They employed a live drummer, Jim Eno of Spoon, this time instead of the computerized one in the past.)
  “Love Notes” initially may not be catchy as “Honeysuckle Weeks,” but the songwriting and lyrics continue the band’s growth.
  Many tunes, like “Fire,” “Tiger” and their first single “Birds” (lots of one-word titles on the album!) feature Hazard’s dreamy organ, Dragonetti’s fuzzy guitar and a steady beat enhanced by various techno effects and hand claps. Another tune, “Plans,” has already gotten some play in a closing scene on an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy.”
  Our favorite song is the finale, “Anymore,” a Hazard tune in which she’s vulnerable and trying to figure out where their relationship stands. “And it’s not the first time/I’ve heard you say/why can’t you just love me the same way/I disappoint you try as I may/you might be better off without me these days.”

CD review: the Low Anthem, "Smart Flesh

  When you really are in the mood to “listen” to music put on a Low Anthem record. That is to say, don’t put it on as background music or when you are partying with friends. It’s not that the Rhode Island band plays overly serious music, but it is music that seriously needs your full attention to be appreciated.
  “Smart Flesh” is the follow-up to their hugely successful second album, “Oh My God, Charlie Darwin,” and continues the band’s trip into the ethereally intricate calm. Yes, they do break out occasionally, but “Smart Flesh” was recorded in an abandoned pasta factory in Providence, and the ghostly beautiful sounds of acoustic guitar, oboe, organ, and the like ring and echo off its empty walls.
  This is immediately apparent on the opening track, the haunting “Ghost Woman Blues.” “Apothecary Love,” one of my favorite songs here, sounds like James Taylor meets Neil Young, with its lilting country melody.
  The blending of voices of Ben Knox Miller, Jeff Prystowsky, Jocie Adams, and Mat Davidson is what really sets the band apart. And each is a talented musician, playing multiple instruments – Adams, for instance, plays oboe, the crotales, and even electric bass.
  Check out the multiple oboe instrumental “Wire.” On “I’ll Take Out Your Ashes,” plucking banjo mandolin backs the singular voice of Knox Miller singing as an old man: “For time just ain’t no healer, with your ashes sittin’ there/I know you have been counting on me/Ever since your sad cremation day/I scanned all your Alzheimer’s poetry for all that I wished that it would say/It’s a sad and guilty feeling/Since I did not take out your ashes/Whatever I was fearing, never came to passing.”
  Put on your headphones to listen to the hushed “Love and Alter” and the title track for a real sonic treat.
As stated, the band breaks out and rocks on a pair of tunes, the 9/11-inspired “Boeing 737” (opening line: “I was in the air when the towers came down/ In a bar on the 84th floor”) and a raucous guitar and organ “Hey, All You Hippies.”

CD review: Lucinda Williams, "Blessed"

  I’ll just come right out and say it: This is the best Lucinda Williams album since “Essence.” The songs on “Blessed,” her 10th studio album, are inspired, varied and contain some of her best writing in years. It’s an emotional album, with songs about a spectrum of loss and love, sung with depth and played with both subletly and with fire.
The album opener, “Buttercup,” tells a lover goodbye, with a nasty sneer and an electric guitar and organ backing.
  The next two songs, “Copenhagen” and “Born to Be Loved,” are softer in heart and in tempo. The former mourns the loss of a friend from afar, while the latter is a nice, slow blues ballad. The lyrics are simple: “You weren’t born to be mistreated/And you weren’t born to be misguided/You were born to be loved /You were born to be loved.” It reminds me a lot of songs like “I Envy the Wind” from “Essence,” where she repeats phrases and feelings for emphasis.
  “Seeing Black,’’ written to Vic Chestnutt, who committed suicide on Christmas Day 2009 is, excuse the pun, a killer. Like “Drunken Angel” – which was written about the demise of musician and friend Blaze Foley on her acclaimed “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” album (see Page 11) – “Seeing Black” is rife with not only sadness but an anger directed at the man for leaving life too early.
“Soldier’s Song,” sung to perfection in Lucinda’s tired drawl, is written from the perspective of a soldier overseas, with lyrical images that trade off between the tragic life in combat and thoughts of his family back home: “I hear echoes of shots/Baby’s only thinkin’ sweet thoughts /Why the hell did they send me here to fight?/Baby kisses my picture and turns off the light.” It’s a poignant reminder of what some families are currently going through.
  The album, in general, has some nice guitar flourishes. Redemption song “Blessed” is sparked by some crisp electric playing and “Ugly Truth” offers some tasty licks.
  The gospel-ish “Convince Me,” features a soulful organ and searing guitar, and the closing love song, “Kiss Like Your Kiss,” is a perfect ending to a superb emotionally wrought album.
  One more note: If you get the deluxe version of “Blessed,” you get a second set of the songs, stripped down to their bare bones. Williams dubbed these “The Kitchen Tapes,” just her voice and her guitar. Some of the songs, including the opener, “Buttercup,’’ a rocker on the album, is really great in its skeletal form. It’s worth the extra, minor investment to purchase them as well.

March 15, 2011

Lyrically Speaking: For the Turnstiles

  I'm not sure how I ended up with the album "Decade." I think I bought it from a used record store on one of the many excursions into Cambridge as a teen. My friends and I, or even sometimes me on my own, would drive into Harvard Square and spend hours walking the streets from used record store to used record store looking for cool albums or even just checking out the album covers... something today's teens probably don't get to experience. That album cover, with Neil's arms and head sticking out from his guitar case, is one of the classics.
  Sure, I had heard of Neil Young, and knew all his hits: "Hurricane," "Southern Man," etc. And of course had followed him into Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young territory. I think "Rust Never Sleeps" had just come out, which may have propeled me into a search for older, more obscure Neil. The best thing about "Decade" is that it isn't so much a greatest hits album as a look back at a young career, mixing the hits with cool songs that hadn't made the radio.
  When I first heard "For the Turnstiles," which was originally released on the album "On the Beach," it wasn't like anything I had heard before. Neil plucks out a haunting, almost sad bluegrassy melody on banjo and Ben Keith adds nifty Dobro over the pair's harmonizing. Being a big baseball fan, the lyrics "All the bushleague batters/Are left to die on the diamond/In the stands the home crowd scatters/For the turnstiles" really threw me as I tried to figure out what was going on.
  To this day, the sailors, the explorers and the ballplayers kind of haunt me. What is Neil trying to say? Here is one explanation, though I do not know its origin: The song was "inspired by the stadium tour he had just completed with Crosby, Stills & Nash. Mr. Young was clearly disturbed by the fact that big business was starting to take over rock and roll and art was suffering for commerce. The song foretells of the selling out of musicians and the forming of corporate rock."
  OK, I guess if you dig really deeply into the lyrics you can come up with that. I'd also say this is what's missing from Neil's music today... a little subtlety, mystery.
  In the past couple of years there have been some nifty covers of the song: The Be Good Tanyas do a great version on their album, "Hello Love" and Redbird recently released a slowed-down version on their album "Live at Cafe Carpe." Check them out.

For the Turnstiles
All the sailors
with their seasick mamas
Hear the sirens on the shore,
Singin' songs
for pimps with tailors
Who charge ten dollars
at the door.

You can really
learn a lot that way
It will change you
in the middle of the day.
Though your confidence
may be shattered,
It doesn't matter.

All the great explorers
Are now in granite laid,
Under white sheets
for the great unveiling
At the big parade.

You can really
learn a lot that way
It will change you
in the middle of the day.
Though your confidence
may be shattered,
It doesn't matter.

All the bushleague batters
Are left to die
on the diamond.
In the stands
the home crowd scatters
For the turnstiles,
For the turnstiles,
For the turnstiles.

A rare electric version by Neil in 2008

February 27, 2011

KINK-FM in Portland, a radio station worth watching

I recently ran across KINK-FM (101.9) , a radio station out of Portland, Oregon. Since I live on the East Coast I had never heard of them before. But a recent video post of a Josh Ritter song on Facebook led me on a search for the station and possibly more video. I believe the host is one of the station's DJs, Steve Pringle. He brings in a great variety of indie acts including Ray Lamontagne,  Justin Townes Earle and Grace Potter to name a few. Anyway, check out the videos and interviews HERE. You can also stream the radio station live, which I have not done yet, but hope to soon. Here are some vids I really liked.

Josh Ritter, "Change of Time"

Jackie Greene, "1961"

Bob Schneider, "Big Blue Sea"

The Avetts, "Kick Drum Heart"

February 12, 2011

Josh Ritter in Philadelphia and Boston, Feb. 10 and 11

Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band, opening night in Philly
  What should one expect from a Valentine's Day Brawl? Love, roses,  a nice slow-dance sax solo, and of course some heartache because this ain't no Hallmark celebration. This was Josh Ritter's tell-it-like-it-is idea of Valentine's Day, and it was quite a party.
  I was lucky enough to catch the first two of four of these events -- in Philly and Boston. Josh not only brought his crack band but also a three-piece horn section, and set the mood with roses draped on all the mikes.
Josh and Zack rockin' the Troc
  The Trocadero in Philadelphia, known locally as just the Troc, is nice old theater with a lot of history and some beautiful architecture, including swooping balconies and detailed columns. It made for an interesting contrast to the sort of cookie-cutter House of Blues in Boston the next night. Both venues had their advantages, the Troc's was the intimacy of its building. The House of Blues is a bigger venue (2,400 patrons to the Troc's 1,200) with impeccable sound so the HOB show really felt like a rock SHOW. At both places the crowd was right there for Josh as he led them through love's travails.
  The set lists for the two nights were similar though not the same (see below), and there was plenty of individuality to make them special. For one, Josh, at two points in each show, read out valentine dedications sent in by fans who were going to those shows. The dedications were hilarious, ranging from sweet to bawdy. One person in Boston even proposed through a dedication (and was accepted!).
Since the shows followed similar set lists, I'll go through the shows together, pointing out the highlights and differences as I go.
  Both shows opened with Josh bounding on stage -- dressed nattily in a vest over a red shirt with a rose in his lapel and even red socks! -- for one of his ultimate love songs (how many of these does he have?), "Bright Smile." It's amazing how he grabs the audience's attention right away... they see him out there alone and they immediately quiet down to hear him. At the Troc, the crowd sang along unobtrusively (mostly, more on this later) to every song. Josh's voice rang out but underneath you could hear the audience basking in the love of his lyrics.
  The band took the stage to roars from the crowds for the next tune. In Philly it was "Long Shadows" followed by "Lillian," in Boston the order was swapped, and seemed to fit better. "Lillian," played with rockin' delight by Josh's great band is a treat. At HOB, it just roared, a great piano solo by Sam Kassirer, and guitarist Austin Nevins was just on fire all night.
  "Southern Pacific" and "The Curse" were next. Beautiful renditions -- Josh waltzing by himself to the beautiful piano and bass lines of "The Curse." This led into the first set of dedications back by the still waltzing music of band. At the Troc, the last one read "Roses are red, violets are blue, hopefully not my balls"... something like that. The crowd was in hysterics.
  "Empty Hearts" followed, and then the highlight of both nights: the three-song killer of "Real Long Distance," "Rattling Locks" and "Harrisburg." A three-member horn section (trumpet and two saxes) torched these songs, rocking both venues to their core. This is where the HOB shined. Despite the volume and the number of players on stage, you could hear every instrument, crystal-clear. On "Rattling Locks," bassist Zack Hickman led the charge of musicians, including the horn players, cracking drumsticks together in percussive bliss. If Josh is the emotional leader of the band, Zack is the physical leader, making sure the show runs smoothly, and an incredibly talented musician. "Harrisburg," one of my all-time favorite tunes, including a very funny Josh story-song interlude that led in and out of the Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime."
  The band then brought the crowd down with a beautiful "Folk Bloodbath" before leaving the stage for Josh to work his magic again.
  At both shows, Josh opened the solo portion of the sets with "You Don't Make It Easy, Babe." In Philly, he dedicated the song to Sarah Palin, Queen of Alaska. He followed this with an acoustic "Thin Blue Flame," which he didn't play in Boston. The crowd was hushed as Josh worked his lyrical magic. The two shows continued with "Temptation of Adam" and a "Naked as a Window/Girl in the War" pairing that was amazing. In Boston, he poignantly dedicated "Girl in the War" to the people of Egypt. These songs, to me, really showed the difference in the intimacy of the crowds. In Philly, fans sang along with every word. In fact, they sang beautifully on "Girl in the War" except for one dude who kept shouting the lyrics before they were sung. It was funny at first, annoying by the end and then he was shut down. In Boston, the crowd really came to party. They were polite and sang along with the quiet songs, but lived for the rock.
  The band returned to the stage, but not to their instruments for the next song, a lush cover of Velvet Underground's "Pale Blue Eyes." Sam, Zack, Austin and drummer Liam Hurley stepped up to a side mike to sing harmonies on the chorus. They returned to their instruments for the next set of dedications, backing them with Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time." In Boston, this is where the proposal was made. It was pretty cool.
Matt Douglas' slow-dance sax solo on "Kathleen"
  Then it was back to rock. "Rumors" and "Right Moves" were blistering. The band was in high gear. The horns reappeared and took these songs to a new level. In Boston, the horn players were totally in to it, dancing and goofing in time to the music.
  And then there was "Kathleen," ever the crowd-pleaser. This time it was intro'd by the band, slow and quiet, as Josh worked the crowd into a lather. First, regaling the crowd with tales of love -- from a pigeon's standpoint. A male pigeon flies down, puffs himself for the females, who basically ignore them. He then warned the crowd there would be slow dance mid-song and promised it wouldn't be too awkward. Boom. Liam hits the kit and away the band sails into "Kathleen" full-on... and then mid-song the band quiets and Matt Douglas on baritone sax, steps to the front and delivers a jazzy slow-dance solo.
  You think you've come to the end of the night. There were peaks and breaks and peaks again. But the band played on. "Lantern," "Change of Time," and "To the Dogs" in different order (this is Boston's, and seemed to work best.) On "Lantern," folks swayed glowsticks to the beat. "To the Dogs" simply rocked, the crowd trying to keep up with the breakneck-speed lyrics.
  With that the band left the stage, but of course would be back.
In Boston, Josh unveiled a new song, "Galahad" (there's an animated video of the song HERE). He didn't play it in Philly (I think he ran out of time). Scott Hutchison of the band Frightened Rabbit, who was a great opener (need to hear more!), came out to perform an Everly Brothers cover "Stories We Could Tell," with Josh. Hutchison left, the band came back and ripped through "Snow Is Gone," a wishful, final valentine to their fans.  More than two hours of music finally over, the crowd left jubilantly into the chilly night.

Check out my pics HERE

"Temptation of Adam" at The Troc

"Pale Blue Eyes" at the House of Blues"

Setlists for the two shows
The Trocadero, Philadelphia, Feb. 10
Bright Smile (solo)
Long Shadows (band joins in)
Southern Pacific
The Curse
(Valentine dedications)
Empty Hearts
Real Long Distance
Rattling Locks -->
Harrisburg (with Talking Heads' Once in A Lifetime interlude)
Folk Bloodbath
You Don't Make It Easy Babe (solo)
Thin Blue Flame (solo)
Temptation of Adam (solo)
Naked as a Window (solo) -->
Girl in the War (solo)
Pale Blue Eyes (Velvet Underground cover; band joins in)
(more valentine dedications)
Right Moves
To the Dogs
Change of Time
Stories We Could Tell (Everly Brothers cover w/Scott Hutchison)
Snow Is Gone (full band)

House of Blues, Boston, Feb. 11
Bright Smile (solo)
Lillian (full band)
Long Shadows
Southern Pacific
The Curse 
(Valentines dedications)
Empty Hearts
Real Long Distance
Rattling Locks -->
Harrisburg (with Talking Heads' Once in A Lifetime interlude)
Folk Bloodbath
You Don't Make It Easy Babe (solo)
Temptation of Adam (solo)
Naked as a Window (solo) -->
Girl in the War
Pale Blue Eyes (Velvet Underground cover; full band joins in)
(Valentines dedications)
Right Moves
Change of Time
To the Dogs 
Galahad (new song; solo)
Stories We Could Tell (Everly Brothers cover w/Scott Hutchison)
Snow Is Gone (full band)

February 9, 2011

Lyrically Speaking: Charlie Darwin

With a new album, "Smart Flesh," ready to hit the streets on Feb. 22, I figured it would be nice to give some kudos to Low Anthem's surely most popular song from its 2009 album, "Oh My God Charlie Darwin." It's a song that despite how many times you hear it, it still sends chills down your spine.
  The Rhode Island band of Ben Knox Miller, Jeff Prystowsky and Jocie Adams provide some of the most beautiful high harmonies and ethereal moody instrumentation to back lyrics of a world in turmoil. Are they about the past or the present?: "And who could heed the words of Charlie Darwin/The lords of war just profit from decay/And trade their children's promise for the jingle/The way we trade our hard earned time for pay." Adams' sparse bowing of her instrument called a crotales as well as a beautiful clarinet solo adds to ghostly atmosphere of the tune.
  We can't wait to hear what the band has in store on the new album.

Charlie Darwin
Set the sails I feel the winds a'stirring
Toward the bright horizon set the way
Cast your wreckless dreams upon our Mayflower
Haven from the world and her decay

And who could heed the words of Charlie Darwin
Fighting for a system built to fail
Spooning water from their broken vessels
As far as I can see there is no land

Oh my god, the water's all around us
Oh my god, it's all around

And who could heed the words of Charlie Darwin
The lords of war just profit from decay
And trade their children's promise for the jingle
The way we trade our hard earned time for pay

Oh my god, the water's cold and shapeless
Oh my god, it's all around
Oh my god, life is cold and formless
Oh my god, it's all around

February 5, 2011

David Wax Museum CD release party at Oberon

  When a CD release party is billed as an Extravaganza, you expect just a little bit more than a band onstage running through their new songs. And so it was that the alt-Mex-folk act David Wax Museum -- essentially the duo of guitarist David Wax and his violin and donkey-jawbone-playing partner Suz Slezak -- brought not only their music, but a musically theatrical show to the funky confines of Oberon on Feb. 3 for the unveiling of their hip and spirited new CD, "Everything Is Saved."
  After some brief comments from an emcee (who was also a super fan of the band) and some unusual merch hawking (including some shirtless male body posing), the pair took the stage along with Wax's accordion-playing cousin and a percussionist for the opening number "That's Not True." It was about halfway through that first number that the crowd realized why this venue was chosen for this party, as a procession of horns, percussionists and accordionist snaked its way from atop the theater's balcony, parted the standing crowd joined the group on stage.
  In all, 12 musicians would come and go during the set, playing a variety of instruments. At one point there were six or seven donkey jawbones simultaneously being whacked to the beat. The tunes, such as "Born With a Broken Heart," already played with enthusiasm on the album, were ramped up to foot-stomping, hand-clapping, audience-participatory levels by a group of musicians (and obviously good friends of the band), who couldn't stop from emitting smiles and laughter as they were playing.
  As for the carnival atmosphere of the show, well, let's see... there were two people on stage who had string pulled out of their mouths, there were crepe-paper streamers tossed from the corners of the theater into the crowd, shiny confetti fell from the ceiling. Oh, and did I mention the trapeze aerialist? Yes, there she was, about a third of the way into the crowd, doing her thing while two accordions and a percussionist serenaded her from the balcony.
  The highlight of the show (no, I haven't mentioned it yet) was around midway though the night when the musicians broke off into groups, with the horn section performing in the balcony stage right, followed by Wax and Slezak on the catwalk behind the crowd, then down to the floor where an acoustic bass backed a solo singer, then to the center of the crowd where Wax and Slezak performed a very acoustic gospel number that had the whole crowd foot-stomping the beat. It was mesmerizing music and theater.
  The night finished up with multiple encores: their very popular "Yes, Maria, Yes" brought the band out in full force. It was followed by a beautiful duet of just Wax and Slezak side by side on a single microphone for a final tune.
For more pics, click HERE

My video clip from the show

February 3, 2011

CD review: Iron and Wine, "Kiss Each Other Clean"

  In our last CD review, of the new Decemberists album, I wondered how the band's longtime fans would react to their new sound. Well, I can ask the same question here, with Iron and Wine's latest release, "Kiss Each Other
   Originally, Iron and Wine was Sam Beam, solo acoustic folkster. He built a fanbase around his hushed vocals and soft sound. Band members were added and world beat flavorings were introduced for the next pair of albums, "Woman King" and "The Shepard's Dog." The hushed vocals were now enveloped by a swirling, churning beats. Iron and Wine became critic darlings and the fanbase grew and grew. In fact, this is where I came in. "Woman King," to me, was dazzling.
  And that brings us to "Kiss Each Other Clean," in which the band, and especially its leader Beam breaks out and offers some new surprises.
  The first surprise is that I can finally understand his lyrics. I loved "Woman King" mostly for the music and mostly because I couldn't make out what Beam was whispering. On the new album, the vocals are out front. On the opener, "Walking Far From Home," he sings: I was walking far from home/And I found your face mingled in the crowd/Saw a boat-full of believers/Sail off talking too loud, talking too loud." I didn't have to look those lyrics up; I could actually hear them!
  The other surprise is that the songs are a lot more accessible. I wouldn't call them pop songs, but they are certainly more catchy than his past works. He still is offering up his takes on love and faith, and some of the lyrics are actually quite dark. But then there's "Tree By the River," which opens with the line "Marianne, do you remember the tree by the river when we were 17." It almost sounds like a line from a Beach Boys song!
  The tunes continue to have a world of influences. Touches of gospel, blues, world beat are weaved through the songs. On "Monkeys Uptown," percussion, electronic sounds, echoing guitar and marimba percolate under Beam's lyrics. A toy flute wanders amid blasts of heavy fuzz of electric guitar in the haunting "Rabbit Will Run." Blasts of clarinet punch through the funk beat of "Big Burned Hand.'' Beam litters the album with ear candy -- fuzzed-out vocals, funked-up bass lines, organs, wind instruments, and electronica of all sorts.
  It all sounds interesting, if not memorable. But by album's end, I start to grow weary. I really am wishing the band would play one song without the bells and whistles. I just kind of need a break.
  I don't long for the good old days, but a reminder every once in while wouldn't hurt.

NPR concert of new album

January 30, 2011

Lissie at the Paradise, Boston

  The second show of my weekend concert extravaganza was quite different than the first. Instead of the sold out large-theater setting of the House of Blues for the Decemberists, I was a mile or so up Comm. Ave. at the more intimate and comfortably crowded Paradise Rock Club, where a heavily college-age crowd eagerly anticipated the singer-songwriter known only as Lissie.
  If you haven't heard of her, you probably will soon. If you know her already, either you were there at the show or you at least thought about going. I first heard about her early last year from a work colleague who is always ahead of the curve on these things. Once I listened to her "Why You Runnin'" EP, she quickly became one of my "6 Artists to Watch" (in the March issue of Modern Acoustic; click HERE to read the issue).
  For those who haven't heard of her, Lissie's sort of a hippie chick in the sense that she doesn't wear any makeup, doesn't shave her armpits or legs (her own admission on stage!), and doles out advice about living in the moment and "not letting shit bother you" (also her quote).
  As stated, the crowd at the Paradise was mostly college-age kids and heavily female in gender, who exuberently screamed out "WE LOVE YOU" and "YOU'RE SO HOT" with regularity. And the singer, in turn, spread The Word of Lissie, happily doling out advice (Lissie's in her late 20s, so she's got a lifetime of wisdom to impart): "Don't get STDs," "Don't get pregnant, unless you want to," and the best one, "Don't get drunk and end up in the back seat of some dude's car. Make sure you get yourself home... and then you can hurl.") She said this all in a very loving way. She really cares.
  Now on to the show... On record, Lissie sports a soulful voice, singing material that ranges from country to bluesy, and the songs themselves tend to live in that same country, gospel range. In concert, she becomes a powerhouse. The music is amped up with a more danceable beat behind her. You might think Lissie would get lost in all that, but you really haven't heard the best of her until you see her live. That soulful voice booms. It rises and falls easily with the music. She uses her arms, specifically her guitar-strumming hand as an exclamation point to her lyrics. Her head sways back, forth, left and right with feeling, her long, blond hair ending up covering her face, until she gently brushes it away in the quiet of a moment.
  She opened with a cover, "Wedding Bells," by Hank Williams, and ended with another, the Kid Cudi tune "Pursuit of Happiness," which is a staple of her shows and had the crowd in full frenzy.
  In between, while I don't have complete setlist at this time, she played a number of the tunes from her two recordings. "Little Lovin'," the bluesy "Oh Mississippi" (which she called an "ode to death"!), and "Everywhere I Go" from "Why You Runnin'" were superb. "When I'm Alone," "Bully," and "In Sleep," from "Catching a Tiger," could all make pop radio if they were given the dance beat they were given in concert.
   To me, Lissie has potential to be whatever she wants. Would she put up with being polished and primped up to make it as a pop artist? Is she happy being a soulful singer-songwriter outside the mainstream? We'll have to wait to see where she goes from here.
To view my pics from the show, click HERE

Lissie doing Kid Cudi's "Pursuit of Happiness" (not from Paradise show)

January 29, 2011

The Decemberists at the House of Blues, Boston, Jan. 28, 2011

  "Apparently, we ruined indie," declared the Decemberists enigmatic lead singer Colin Meloy, in the middle of a small run of new songs off their new latest album, "The King Is Dead" early in the show. Meloy was referring to a recent, hilarious article in the Boston Phoenix blaming Meloy and his merry band of misfits for ruining "music doesn't mean anything" indie rock with their influential and wildly popular brand of  "trying too hard" prog-folk. The article goes on to accuse the Decemberists of spawning bands like Fleet Foxes, the National and Blitzen Trapper. (Read the Phoenix article HERE.)
  Whether you think the article is funny or just stupid, may depend on your sense of humor and your love for the band's "British"-sounding tales of long ago and its dramatic flair. In fact, the new album drops much of that for a more stripped-sound and alt-country feel of harmonicas, 12-string guitars and beautiful harmonies.
  Which brings us to Saturday night's show at the House of Blues, where Meloy led the small band version of the group through a too-short (72 minutes, to be exact), but fun-filled night of music that spanned their 10-year career. (Ed. note: I learned after the fact that Meloy reportedly had the stomach flu, causing the show to be cut short.)
   After opening with "July, July," from one of their earliest albums, the group romped through  three new tunes off the new album, beginning with the single "Down By the Water," "Rox in the Box" and "Rise to Me." It was amazing how well this new sound fit the band live. Sara Watkins, who became a star with the band Nickel Creek," is a powerhouse and a good sport (more about this later) and provided the Gillian-Welch-sung backup vocals on "King Is Dead" songs as well as some great violin solos.
   Not to be locked in on the new album, the Decemberists then launched into two of their great story-songs, "The Engine Driver" and "The Soldiering Life."
  After another new tune, "All Arise!," much of the band traded their instruments for drums and rocked the house on the highlight of the night, "The Rake's Song" from "Hazards of Love." The huge percussion sound rung out through the venue.  This was followed by more fun tunes, "Valencia" and "The Chimbley Sweep," which got the crowd singing along "For I am a poor and a wretched boy!" Watkins was goaded by Meloy into multiple violin solos, and of course, the high-end woman's voice mid-song.
  Then they left the stage waving... It seemed like a little too soon. Maybe they'd be back for a bunch of encores?
  They did come back, for two songs: A fun "A Cautionary Tale" (see video below) had three members of the band (including the poor Watkins) parading into the crowd to perform a "tableaux of the wonders of the world." It was very goofy; and "June Hymn," an ode to summer during a nonstop horrendous New England winter.
  Then the lights came on and the show was over. A fun night that should have gone on a little longer.
To view my pics from the show, click HERE.

July, July!
Down By the Water
Rox in the Box
Rise to Me
Won't Want For Love (Margaret in the Taiga)
The Engine Driver
The Soldiering Life
All Arise!
This Is Why We Fight
The Rake's Song
O Valencia!
The Chimbley Sweep
A Cautionary Song
June Hymn

A Cautionary Song from the show (not my video):

January 25, 2011

Lyrically Speaking: April the 14th, Part 1

Pity us poor Gillian Welch fans!  We keep tapping our toes, checking our watches, paging through our calendars waiting for the next album to drop. I mean, she's got plenty of time to help her partner David Rawlings put out a nifty album, fly 'cross country to Portland to sing back-up on nearly every song on the new Decemberists album... But she can't piece together enough songs over the past, whatever, seven years for her own new album? We've even heard some of the new songs -- "Throw Me a Rope," "Knuckleball Catcher" -- and we love them. So please, Gillian...
  In the meantime, here's an old song of hers I love.
  Off of the still-amazing "Time (The Revelator)" album, from 2001, "April the 14th, Part 1" is part history lesson, part story of a band on the run.
  Gillian details what she terms "Ruination Day," April 14th, a day in history that includes the Lincoln assassination (1865), the sinking of the Titanic (1912) and "Black Sunday," one of the worst Dust Bowl storms in Oklahoma (1935).
  Over haunting minor-chord acoustic guitars, the first lines of the song set the tone: "When the iceberg hit/Oh they must have known/God moves on the water/Like Casey Jones."
  Gillian sings about an anonymous young band playing a nowheresville Idaho festival presumably on that same grave April Day: "They looked sick and stoned/And strangely dressed/No one showed/From the local press."
  Is she comparing the band's experience to the date's other tragic events? The lyrics do read like a disaster: "And the girl passed out/In the backseat trash/There were no way they'd make/Even a half a tank of gas."
  The bleakness of the lyrics, sung in Gillian's aching yet beautiful voice meld beautifully with her strummed chords and Rawlings haunting plucked notes.
  A second part to the song, "Ruination Day, Part 2" is a two-minute, 37-second epilogue repeating the same disaster themes and bringing the whole thing to a close, counting down the miles, like counting down the years: "That's the day.../The day that is ruination day./They were one/They were two/They were three/They were four/They were five hundred miles from their home..."

April the 14th, Part 1
When the iceberg hit,
Oh they must have known,
God moves on the water
Like Casey Jones.

So I walked downtown
On my telephone,
And took a lazy turn
Through the redeye zone.

It was a five-band bill,
A two-dollar show.
I saw the van out in front
From Idaho,

And the girl passed out
In the backseat trash.
There were no way they'd make
Even a half a tank of gas.

They looked sick and stoned
And strangely dressed.
No one showed
From the local press.

But I watched them walk
Through the bottom land,
And I wished that I played
In a rock & roll band.

Hey, hey,
It was the fourteenth day of April.

Well they closed it down,
With the sails in rags.
And I swept up the fags
And the local mags.

I threw the plastic cups
In the plastic bags,
And the cooks cleaned the kitchen
With the staggers and the jags.

Ruination day,
And the sky was red.
I went back to work,
And back to bed.

And the iceberg broke,
And the Okies fled,
And the Great Emancipator
Took a bullet in the back of the head...

January 22, 2011

CD review: the Decemberists, "The King Is Dead"

   My 17-year-old daughter and I both love the Decemberists, but I suspect for different reasons. She loves their wildly dramatic flair, their old-world story songs, and that British tone. I love all that too, but what gets me is the band's sound -- rock guitars mixing with banjo and other assorted cachophony-inducing instruments, the minor-chord melodies.
  It will be interesting to see how some Decemberists fans will take to "The King Is Dead," the band's superb sixth studio album, because it literally drops all the fancy pretensions of the recent past and really gets back to its stripped-down Americana roots.
  The album falls somewhere between early Neil Young-era folk-rock and a '90s REM jangle (Peter Buck actually plays on some cuts). Throw in some Gillian Welch backing vocals on eight of 10 songs and you've got an album with an alt-country feel.
  "Don't Carry It Off," the first song, showcases the new (old) sound: Hard-strummed acoustic guitar, strong drumbeat and harmonica, and Buck adds some tasty mandolin. The song could have right at home on Young's "Harvest" album. Gillian's voice blends beautifully with Colin Meloy's, which in this context loses that "British" accent.
  On "Calamity Song," Buck's 12-string rings out, bringing the REM feel to the forefront. A pedal steel and harmonica ring out in "Rise to Me." The Neil Young references keep coming back to me. "Rox in the Box" may be the closest thing to a Decemberists story song, about the toil of old-time miners: "And you won’t make a dime/On this gray Granite Mountain Mine/Of dirt you’re made and to dirt you will return." The songs are creative and feel very true to their sound.
  The album's single, "Down By the Water" is probably the most rocking tune here. It's got that REM feel and the Colin/Gillian vocals adds a great tension. "June Hymn" is a nice, acoustic ballad as is "Dear Avery," which closes the album.
  It will be interesting to see how this album is received by true fans of the band and where the Decemberists will go next. But for this listener, "The King Is Dead" is a playlist keeper.

The Decemberists with Gillian Welch on Conan

January 15, 2011

Lyrically Speaking: For No One

   It almost feels like cheating to pick a Beatles song for this feature.  I mean, just because everyone knows every note, every lyric by heart -- does that mean I shouldn't be able to share my thoughts? I say no.
  Yes, I could have pretty much picked any song from their epic discography, but "For No One," off of arguably the best Beatles album ever, "Revolver," is an amazing song.
  What gets me the is the depths of the heartache in each stanza: "She wakes up/ she makes up/ she takes her time and doesn't feel she has to hurry/ she no longer needs you." The horrible emptiness of a guy whose lover has psychologically left him.
  And the chorus -- "And in her eyes you see nothing/ no sign of love behind the tears cried for no one/ A love that should have lasted years" -- is broken-hearted poetry.
  The music too is sparse and sad, just Paul and Ringo on this cut. Paul reportedly plays a clavichord (a medieval stringed keyboard), as well as piano and bass. A French horn takes the solo, adding to the mood.
  From Wikipedia: McCartney recalls writing "For No One" in the bathroom of a ski resort in the Swiss Alps while on holiday with his then girlfriend Jane Asher. He said, "I suspect it was about another argument." (To read the whole entry, click HERE)
  For some reason, when I think of the Beatles and how they broke up in 1969, this song always comes to mind...

For No One
Your day breaks,
your mind aches,
you find that all her words of kindness linger on
when she no longer needs you.

She wakes up,
she makes up,
she takes her time and doesn't feel she has to hurry;
she no longer needs you.

And in her eyes you see nothing,
no sign of love behind the tears cried for no one.
A love that should have lasted years.

You want her
you need her,
and yet you don't believe her when she says her love is dead;
you think she needs you.

And in her eyes you see nothing,
no sign of love behind the tears cried for no one.
A love that should have lasted years.

You stay home,
she goes out,
she says that long ago she knew someone but now he's gone;
she doesn't need him.

Your day breaks,
your mind aches,
there will be times when all the things she said will fill your head;
you won't forget her.

And in her eyes you see nothing,
no sign of love behind the tears cried for no one.
A love that should have lasted years

January 8, 2011

CD review: Lori McKenna, "Lorraine"

  It's easy to hear the appeal of Lori McKenna's songs to country music stars and fans: the trials and tribulations, thoughts and actions of her everyday characters are those that fill countless country songs.
 Yet I certainly didn't come to her music from a country music angle. I first heard her singing "Fireflies" on the disc "Respond," a compilation of songs by female folk singer-songwriters, and followed her with delight through the superlative "Bittertown."
  That album is what caught the attention of country-music queen Faith Hill, and gave Lori her brief shot at stardom. Lori toured with Faith, appeared on "Oprah" with her, and garnered her a deal with Warner  Nashville which produced "Unglamorous," a nice, if overly produced, group of country-leaning tunes. And while the attention was certainly warranted, it left me wanting my Lori back again.
  And, luckily for me, she came back.
  Her new album, "Lorraine," is out Jan. 25 and it is everything I hoped for. According to her, the album is named after her mother, though she admits that her real name is Lorraine as well, so it may be just about as much about herself.
  And as with her songs of the past, you deeply feel the pain, the uncertainty, the love that her characters feel in her lyrics.
  She opens with "The Luxury of Knowing" (which Keith Urban actually sings as a bonus track on his new album), about the ups and downs of a couple's relationship:

You know that I like to dance/ But only when I’m dancing with you/ You know I must be bad at lying/ Because I’ve only ever told you the truth.
Just when I think you’re a hurricane/ You freeze right over and all that rain/ Turns to ice and your whole world just starts snowing/ I don’t have the luxury of knowing
These lyrics just flow out of her. They could be about me, about you, about people we know. And her voice and delivery is so convincing of both the ache and love. It is why when you hear Faith Hill or Keith Urban sing her songs, well, it's just not the same.
  The title track, "Lorraine," may be the most personal song of all here as she sings about her relationship with her mother, who died when Lori was small. The opening lines are so descriptive and wonderful:

The kitchen smells like orange peels/ Her stomach turns like a spinning wheel/ She puts the baby down in a little seat/ You should rest now mama you should eat/ 
It ain't right you've been working all day and all us kids getting in your way/ So she goes to bed as soon as the kitchen's clean/ And that don't mean a thing to you but it does to me.

 Other great songs include "You Get a Love Song," which starts soft but turns into one of the few rocking songs on the album, and "Buy This Town," which Lori described in concert as a song she wrote in her head while driving her kids back and forth through her town to school multiple times in the course of a day.
 There's also a lot more piano on this album than on her past ones. "If He Tried" has with a delicate keyboard intro and "Rocket Science" is pretty much just her voice and the piano (there's some atmospheric guitar and backing vocals that add to the song's beauty).
My favorite song  on the album is "Sweet Disposition," an incredibly soulful and sad tune about someone who has lost her way but trying to find their way back:

My mother left me a wedding band/ And impossible shoes to fill/ Something I’ve always tried to do/ But I know I never will.
If you ask my children about me/ I wish in their brief description/ They’d say I love them with a true heart and a sweet disposition.

Wow. If this stuff doesn't make you cry, I don't know what will. This is the Lori we know and love.

January 5, 2011

Album releases update

January and February are usually pretty light when it comes to album releases. Many bands like to release their albums in time to take advantage of the holiday season or wait till spring. But not this year. There's a ton of great music coming out early and I can't wait. Instead of waiting until the next issue of my mag (March), I'll be reviewing as many of these albums as I can here on my blog... so keep checking back. Since I'm waiting for the Decemberists and Gregg Allman's album to hit my mailbox, I'll start off with Lori McKenna's album, "Lorriaine," in the next couple of days. So stay tuned...

Here's a list of albums I am eagerly awaiting.

The Decemberists, "The King Is Dead" - Jan. 18
Gregg Allman, "Low Country Blues" - Jan. 18
Iron & Wine, "Kiss Each Other Clean" - Jan. 25
Lori McKenna, "Lorraine" - Jan. 25
Dala, "Everyone Is Someone" - Jan. 25
Wailin Jennys, "Bright Morning Stars" - Feb. 8
Low Anthem, "Smart Flesh" - Feb. 22
Zoe Muth, title TBD - april (date TBD)
Lucinda Williams, "Blessed" - March 1

January 2, 2011

Lyrically Speaking: Drunken Angel

Blaze Foley

   Some songs just grab you the moment you hear them. That's how I came to "Drunken Angel," one of Lucinda Williams' best songs. The tune, off her famously popular 1998 album "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road," is a tribute to Texas folk-blues singer Blaze Foley.  I had never heard of Foley before this song. Apparently he was some sort of Texas legend, and friend of another tragic folk hero, Townes Van Zandt. While Van Zandt's life and death is well-documented, Foley pretty much lived in obscurity and was shot dead in 1989 trying to help a friend defend himself.
  The greatness of this song is in the detail of Lucinda's lyrics. She captured the devotion of his fans and the self-destructiveness of his personality. Each stanza builds him up and knocks him down:  "Followers would cling to you/ Hang around just to meet you/ Some threw roses at your feet/ And watch you pass out on the street/ Drunken Angel."
   Her lyric "Some kind of savior singing the blues/ A derelict in your duct tape shoes," perfectly captures this antihero, who according to Wikipedia "had a love affair with duct tape. Initially he placed duct tape on the tips of his cowboy boots to mock the "Urban Cowboy" crazed folks with their silver tipped cowboy boots. This love of duct tape grew until he'd made a suit out of duct tape that he used to walk around in. At his funeral, his casket was coated with duct tape by his friends." (Click HERE to read the whole entry on Blaze Foley).
   Of course, Lucinda's sort-of slurred/sneered Texas accent and the added 12-string guitar sound completes the song.
  I never tire hearing it. I just don't know how you beat this line: "Blood spilled out from the hole in your heart/ Over the strings of your guitar/ The worn down places in the wood/ That once made you feel so good."

Drunken Angel
Sun came up it was another day
And the sun went down you were blown away
Why'd you let go of your guitar
Why'd you ever let it go that far
Drunken Angel

Could've held on to that long smooth neck
Let your hand remember every fret
Fingers touching each shiny string
But you let go of everything
Drunken Angel

Drunken Angel
You're on the other side
Drunken Angel
You're on the other side

Followers would cling to you
Hang around just to meet you
Some threw roses at your feet
And watch you pass out on the street
Drunken Angel

Feed you and pay off all your debts
Kiss your brow taste your sweat
Write about your soul your guts
Criticize you and wish you luck
Drunken Angel

Drunken Angel
You're on the other side
Drunken Angel
You're on the other side

Some kind of savior singing the blues
A derelict in your duct tape shoes
Your orphan clothes and your long dark hair
Looking like you didn't care
Drunken Angel

Blood spilled out from the hole in your heart
Over the strings of your guitar
The worn down places in the wood
That once made you feel so good
Druken Angel

Drunken Angel
You're on the other side
Drunken Angel
You're on the other side

Sun came up it was another day
And the sun went down you were blown away
Why'd you let go of your guitar
Why'd you ever let it go that far
Drunken Angel

Lucinda Williams performing "Drunken Angel"

Blaze Foley performing "Oval Room"