Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A House Stranger than 50 Years of Brubeck

My apologies to those of you in need of music recommendations from a trusted source. Unfortunately my absence was necessitated by a desire to improve my lot in life through education. With the work-load something had to give and it was the blog.
To make up for it I have three gems that you will no doubt want to purchase as Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or Solstice gifts.

Horse Feathers - House With No Home (Kill Rock Stars, 9 Dec 08)
Out of a stack of new music that I received over the past few days this is the disc that has been played over and over. Sometimes somber, sometimes upbeat, always Folk and always easy to listen to, I like it. Justin Ringle’s compositions are good and this Portland duo presents them well featuring richly layered harmonies, reminiscent of CSN, anchored mostly by a finger-picked guitar, complimented by the occasional mandolin, banjo or whatever else former Norfolk & Western member Peter Broderick wants to add (apparently the man can play anything.) The melodies are very pleasant and the spare arrangements actually contribute to the sound in a Zen-like way. Think of Sam Bush’s Iron & Wine or a slightly less suicidal Bon Iver. My favorite track; Working Poor.

The Moondoggies - Don’t Be a Stranger (Hardly Art, 19 Aug 08)
When attempting to describe the Moondoggies I’ve read references to The Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, The Byrds and some of the other great Rock/Country/Folk groups of the 60s & 70s. No doubt the Moondoggies are worthy of the comparisons, but the only group I think of when listening to Seattle’s Moondoggies is The Band. Like The Band, they have that unrehearsed, casual sound that is very difficult to produce and yet they do it so well. The quartet has been playing together since high school and they have a tight crisp sound. Good songwriting, great harmonies, accomplished musicianship all captured in their fine arrangements. My Favorite track; Ain’t No Lord.

50 Years of Dave Brubeck: Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival 1958-2007 (Monterey Jazz Fest, 5 Aug 08)
So some of the earlier recordings may be limited by the available technology, it’s still a great disc. The only negative comment I can make is out of 50 years of Brubeck performances at the Monterey Jazz Festival they could find only 10 tracks to share? This should have been a box set.

Other artists worth mentioning:
Cheb I. Sabbah – Traditional Central Asian music lots of bass, percussion & Techno effects.
Orgone – If Aretha Franklin, Sly Stone & James Brown went in thirds on a passel of kids this is what their band would sound like.
Hayes Carll – Country with just enough irreverence to make you overlook the clichés.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Fate of SteelDrivers; A Long Lovely List of Repairs

The SteelDrivers – The SteelDrivers (Rounder Records, 15 Jan 08)
I tripped over this band on a sampler included with a music magazine. Their song was track one and I liked it so much it took several tries before I could hear the rest of the disc. If you like your bluegrass really blue and leaning a little bit more to the Country side of the equation then I have a band for you. The Nashville quintet has a resume that reads like a Who's Who in Country music volume. They follow the traditional string and vocal lineup (guitar, banjo, base, fiddle, mandolin & harmonies) and do not stray far from the standard format. Front man Chris Stapleton would be just as comfortable, not to mention effective, using his smokey tenor to lead a Blues band. In fact his soulful delivery and song writing talent play a big part in keeping The SteelDrivers from being just another Bluegrass band.Tammy Rogers, the band's primary harmony vocal, adds breadth and depth by making her fiddle weep, moan and wail. And Richard Bailey's banjo contributes a hearty level of melody and just the right amount of lead. The two Mikes hold down the bottom end. Henderson on Mandolin and Fleming on Bass. My favorite track is If It Hadn't Been For Love.

Dr. Dog – Fate (Park the Van Records, 22 Jul 08)
In the traditional of Arcade Fire, Fleet Foxes and Grand Archives, Dr. Dog takes a little bit of all that's come before, mixes it thoroughly and makes it their own. Is it Folk? Is it Rock? Is it Country? Who cares, it's great music and it transcends genres. Fate is the band's fifth full length release. Dr. Dog was formed in Philadelphia in 2001, but it wasn't until touring with My Mourning Jacket in 2004 that they began to receive recognition. Band members and friends get nicknames like Taxi & Thanks. As near as I can tell there are five talented, multi-instrumentalist in the group and everyone appears to sing. I don't have any standout tracks on the release because I like them all, although Army of Ancients reminds me of The Beatles later work.

Amelia – A Long Lovely List of Repairs (Adrenaline Records 22 Apr 08)
Portland's own Amelia has been touring the West for several years impressing audiences with their blend of Folk, Country, Rock. The band has included members of the Flatirons, The Decemberists and Tin Hat. Right now they are a trio and Teisha Helgerson's sweet vocals will melt the hard of the hardest rogue. It's pleasant music for a rainy day.

Two bands that I have to mention simply because I love their music:
Blue Mountain This trio from Mississippi has been playing Alt-Country since the late 80s and they do it well. I discovered them as a result of an article in No Depression (damn I miss that magazine.) I bought every one of their recordings over the following week. My favorite so far is Dog Days. I love the track Blue Canoe. Give it a spin, you won't be disappointed.
The Coming Grass A quintet from Maine (One step closer to the rest of the world) "playing 70s rock today," Even though they haven't released anything new for quite a while Beauty of a Heart gets regular rotation at my house. Don't Be Wasting My Time & Work It Out are gems requiring no further polish.

More to follow…

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Black Crowes – Columbia Bank Concert Center, Western Washington Fair, Puyallup Fair, WA

On Monday, 8 Sept 08, I loaded up my mini-urban assault vehicle with lattes & Odwalla bars and with my favorite person in the whole, wide world as co-pilot, we cranked the MP3s and set a southerly course for the Puyallup Fair. We had tickets to see The Black Crowes, America's answer to The Rolling Stones. If you’re a regular reader of the blog/column (blolumn?) you’ll know this was the second time I’d seen the Crowes in the past twelve months. Plus I reviewed their new album, Warpaint as well as one of my favorite releases of 2007, Brothers of a Feather in earlier posts this year. What can I say, I love the Crowes!
The traffic was light thanks to a second bridge over the Tacoma Narrows. We were in Puyallup in less than 90 minutes. Berit and I had an hour before the show so we walked around the fairgrounds, taking in the sights, sounds and smells. We watched people stand in line and pay to be launched skyward in a chair attached to bungee cords, saw 35 million hot tub sales exhibits and nearly as many fried dough booths. We settled on some absolutely yummy scones with butter & jam and just before the show I got a giant Pepsi (basically a 5 gallon bucket with a handle) and some fried veggies. I should tell you that Washington State Code dictates all fair food must spend at least 3-5 minutes in hot grease prior to sale. The sole exception is scones.
As we entered the venue we discovered that the show was now free (I paid $62 for a free concert?) and we could sit anywhere. As Carney took the stage we found seats at the front of the Grandstand and settled in. The boys had a nice enough sound. A hard to pin down style of music, sometimes it was harder edged with a heavy blues influence, at other times it more closely resembleld Glam Rock, like New York Dolls or Queen. In fact the skinny lead singer sounded like Freddie Mercury. On the song Testify he channeled Robert Plant, man could he wail. The guitarist had great chops and the drummer didn’t play so much as attack his kit. Due to a slightly muddled sound mix it was hard to hear the bass player, but he looked like he was quite busy and having a good time. Carney played half dozen tunes and then the roadies began the transition.
The Black Crowes took the stage shortly after bundles of incense were placed at the front corners of the stage. They opened the show with two tracks from Warpaint; Wounded Bird & Evergreeen and we were on our way. The sound mix for the first couple of songs wasn’t good. The bass was way too high, you couldn’t hear Luther’s guitar or Chris’s vocals. By the time they got to the third song, Sting Me, they had sorted it out. Next came one of the evening highlights, Downtown Money Waster into an extended jam finished with Thorn In My Pride.
Chris, who’s been known to be chatty, excessively so at times, said nothing except “Thank you” between songs. The boys rolled from one track to another without delay. The energy was high and the crowd in front of the stage never stopped moving. To top it off it was a gorgeous summer evening with lots of stars overhead. Speaking of stars the boys offered stellar covers of Dylan’s Girl From the North Country and Clapton’s Poor Elijah Tribute to Johnson.
Some drunk cowboy beside me kept shouting for them to play Black Betty as he alternately spit his chaw into an empty beer cup and sipped from a full one. I was waiting for him to mix ‘em up. I knew Leadbelly wrote the tune way back when, that Ram Jam had recorded it in the 70s, but the best version was by Tom Jones. Do you suppose the wrangler thought he was at a TJ concert? If so, I’m glad he didn’t try to throw his undies on the stage. Sorry I digress…
The Crowes added Remedy & Soul Singing toward the latter part and had Jerry Miller from Moby Grape join them onstage for Hey Grandma. There was no encore.
The 90 minute set included 5 songs from Warpaint, a decent mix from their back catalog and three covers. It was a good evening. We followed the green line (the Fair paints colored lines on the pavement to get you back to the correct gate), put the MP3s on and set the compass north back to the island.
More to follow…

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bumbershoot 2008

Day One
Saturday 30 Aug 08
Bumbershoot ’08 began for me way back in the late spring when I ordered my tix (40% savings on a three day pass folks if you get ‘em early) As soon as the schedule was released mid-summer I was thinking, “If I’m not an aging Gen-Xer or into Hip-Hop I just wasted $60,” I started listening to MySpace sites and reading about acts and quickly determined that there were some great artists coming. Needless to say, by Saturday 30 Aug 08 I had a handful of acts I wasn’t going to miss, a good idea about which artists I wanted to see and back-up plans for those that didn’t live up to the expectations.
I took the earlier ferry to allow for my carbon-neutral approach of walking up to Seattle Center. When I arrived I was surprised to see lines from the Broad Street entrance wrapping back around to the front of the Science Center. Evidently the handheld scanners used to read the ticket barcodes weren’t able to read at least 1/3 of the tickets.
It didn’t take long to figure out a way to bypass the mess and get to the music. Before I knew it I was sipping Rockstar from a paper cup watching Throw Me the Statue (mentioned in 18 May 08 article) I love their record, but their live show didn’t seem to exude the same energy. Add to that to a mediocre sound mix and it was hard to focus on the music. I listened to a few songs and headed for the Main Stage.
I arrived in Memorial Stadium and was able to sit beside my longest known Seattle friend John and his lovely wife Carol. We caught up on the comings/goings for each other and shared our plans for the next three days while enjoying the music of Neko Case.
Neko has an amazing voice, strong & confident. She reminds a lot of Grace Slick except Neko leans toward the Country side of things and appeals to my inner redneck. Her band was tight, nice harmonies, spare arrangements and she shared a wonderful sampling of her body of work.
From there I went to the Starbucks Stage for Joe Bonamassa’s show. This was a must see for me. Part Stevie Ray, part Allman Brothers, part AC\DC, part Zeppelin, a little Skynyrd and the rest comes from studying the masters who returned the blues to the US via the British Invasion. He was amazing. What stage presence! What licks & runs! Fantastic music and a great show!
I had some time so I made my way to Horn of Africa for some lukuul, red lentils and injera. Man oh man was it yummy. I sat by the fountain and watched the skateboarders while I ate.
On John’s suggestion I decided to go see Mono in VCF at EMP. I made my way around to the back of the venue, sat on the floor and began to catch up with my journal. The band came out. Five guys who look like the IT staff at your office came out with a very beautiful young woman. She had a lovely voice. The songs were slow and somber. The musicianship was quite good, vocal range wasn’t bad, the delivery was slightly stiff and many of the tunes had a similar sound. When they were done I moved up to the barrier and waited for my final must see of he day, West Indian Girl I watched them tear down Mono in VCF, set up WIG’s equipment and do the sound check, all in less than 30 minutes.
West Indian Girl is everything you’d want in a rock band; excellent music with passion & attitude, skinny guitarists and hot chicks with great pipes. They made it worth wading through the crowds, standing in long lines, and dealing with the occasional less-than-courteous fellow concert-goer. Anyway, I was completely ignorant of this band a month ago and now they are one of my favorites. I play To Die in LA and Trip all he time. The lead guitarist, a little on the scruffy side, was right in front of me and played a couple of threadbare Les Pauls. The drummer was equally scruffy but thoroughly adept at keeping time and backing vocals. The bass player could have been a double for Prince and held down the bottom end nicely. The keyboardist on the far end added her layer and backup vocals. The keyboardist closest to me was very focused. The other singer, a petite, gorgeous young woman with loads of talent and an amazing vocal range delivered her songs with passion and emotion. The set was spectacular. I came home and bought all three of their CDs.

Day Two
Sunday 31 Aug 08
The morning rain and another commitment caused me to get a later start. I was really hoping to see Ashleigh Flynn, a Portland Folk Rocker and Star Anna, Central Washington’s latest contribution to the wonderful sounds of Country & Western (John said she was great.) Alas, the best made plans…
I did arrive in time to see the Tripwires at EMP, due to a suggestion from John. I’d never heard of them, but they have a reputation as a bit of a Seattle supergroup (members have played with The Minus 5, Neko Case and The Young Fresh fellows among others) and the reputation was much deserved. The quartet, a couple of guitars, bass & drums, delivered a nice brand of Rockabilly and Pop flavored Rock with tasty licks and catchy hooks. They reminded me of The Knack who remind me of The Beatles. Not much to look at, but interesting harmonies and some great guitar work. I left before the end of their set to catch another of my must see bands.
As described in the Bumbershoot preview, Howlin’ Rain is a group of five bearded guys from the Bay area. They play authentic 60s psychedelic Rock, the real McCoy! The lanky lead guitarist/lead singer had a raspy, blues influenced, tenor and growled, howled, screamed, twitched, stomped and threw various forms of fits from the first chord to the last bit of feedback. The keyboardist was less possessed and taken by the music, only slightly. The rest of the band filled in the sound and mostly stayed out of the way as these two convulsed. It was brilliant.
Dale Watson was next at the Starbucks stage. Silver pompadour, mid-length, black mourning coat and a well-loved Telecaster, Dale presented a set of Country classics and original material with a rich baritone (think Randy Travis, Merle Haggard & Johnny Cash thrown into a Blendtec, the result: a smooth, velvety concoction that hits the spot.) The crowd loved his aw-shucks between song banter. He was the consummate professional.
After Dale I needed sustenance. I took my shortcuts to Horn of Africa for some injera, red lentils & lukuul and quickly made my way back to the Fisher stage to bask in the cool funk of the tail end of Orgone’s set. Great horns & percussion, shake-the-dust-off-your-bones beats. There was a hint of Fela Kuti to some of their stuff. It was hard to sit still long enough to finish my meal.
The Weakerthans, a Canadian Rock/Pop/Alt Country/Folk band, were next on the agenda. These guys were weaned on Punk, but came together more than a decade ago because they wanted a more melodic approach to music. Well, I’m here to tell you that they found one. They reminded me a bit of Toad the Wet Sprocket, one of my favorite 90s bands. Simply put, The Weakerthans are a tight combo of accomplished musicians playing and singing great tunes.
I have to say that the Exhibition Hall where they played is fairly claustrophobic, like being in a giant, underground cistern, cold, dark and not a soft edge in the entire venue. I understand why they put all the louder, more expressive acts in there. They can’t break anything.
My last commitment for the day, as well as the final must see, was The Black Keys on the Mainstage. I saw these guys at Bumbershoot a few years ago and they blew me away. Basically, The Black Keys are two guys from Akron who prefer old school approaches to creating huge sound. They made their first CD, Thickfreakness, in their basement over a 12 hour period. The Keys play traditional pentatonic blues and they play it well. Their music easily filled Memorial Stadium. They were the highlight of the day!
On the downside, just before the boys took the stage I bought some strawberry shortcake to ease my pangs of hunger. I busted a tine off the plastic fork while trying to cut the biscuit and damned near chipped a tooth. I’ve had hardtack that was easier to penetrate. They must have used drywall mud in the recipe.

Day Three
Monday 31 Sept 08

We arrived just in time to have lunch. I say we because Berit, my favorite person in the whole wide world, was with me (sorry girls Esion’s taken!) We got our Death Cab for Cutie passes, just in case and headed for Horn of Africa for some injera, lukuul & red lentils. Unfortunately the sea of humanity sweeping on from the Mercer gate prevented us from making it past the Chutney’s where Berit opted for some fine Indian cuisine and I enjoyed a mango lemonade. We moved back to the Fisher stage and a Lebanese booth caught my eye. I grabbed a lamb gyro and we settled in for the tail end of Choklate’s performance. I’ll be honest, she wasn’t on the list because her MySpace featured some of the slower, heartfelt appeals for love that crowd the FM dial, but her live show was great. She can sing and her band is tight! Neil Young was right when he said, “Live music is better. Bumperstickers should be issued”
We finished our food and set course for the Wells Fargo stage to hear Joshua Morrison, but we saw someone else instead. I still don’t know who it was and no one was able to tell me. There was a mix-up in the schedule, either way she was good. A folky, her voice was pleasant and strong and her accompaniment on guitar was quite adept although a bit ambitious with his leads. Great harmonies.
Somehow I overlooked Blitzen Trapper at the Rockstar stage. Bummer. I’ll not make that mistake again.
My first must-see of the day was Bedouin Soundclash, three lads from Canada, eh, playing and singing absolutely fantastic, mostly original, Reggae tunes. I love this band!!!! I was blown away by their show. The lead singer’s has a bit of a raspy tenor, nothing fancy about his guitar work, minimal effects, but it’s perfect for their repertoire. The bass player and drummer hold down the bottom end with such synchronicity that they must be communicating on a sub-atomic level. Berit & I were on the barriers for the beginning of the show, but it was a tad loud. We moved to higher ground for a bit, but could not stay away. We ended up right back on the barriers. I bought both of their CDs immediately following the show and they have been playing constantly at home, work and in the Scion. Check this band out now!
We hustled to EMP to catch the Maldives but the doors were closed (it’s a small venue) so we strolled back through the Center grounds, listening as we went.
Not much tickled our fancy until we got back to the Fisher stage. Cheb I. Sabbah & 1002 Nights was starting up. Simply put, Cheb is a DJ mixing techno bass & drums under traditional Central Asian music. He had two percussionists, a dancer dressed in traditional garb and the occasional singer and musician who would come on stage for a song or two, the result, infectious beats that had a multi-generational crowd (my 17 year-old son was there with his friends) dancing non-stop for an hour. Unbelievable!
We moved quickly through the crowd to the Starbucks stage for the last few songs of The Old 97s to once again get in touch with our inner redneck. They did not disappoint. It was a fine delivery of some of the best in Alt Country. These guys have been at it for a while and it shows.
One of the many wonderful things about Bumbershoot is that it’s not limited to food and music. Berit and I used to look forward to the Independent Publishers & the One Reel Films. This year we spent more time watching performance art (the group from Oz doing a bit on flexible poles in costume was something else), checking out the artisan booths and Flatstock, the poster exhibit. No shortage of talent and imagination at Flatstock. We wandered the aisles being alternately awed, shocked, amused and entertained while listening to the strains of Hip-Hop phenom Del the Funky Homosapien. Del was playing on the Fisher stage next door to Flatstock. Nice grooves and lyrics with some substance, not just base & drums talking about bitches & hos and popping caps in asses. More than once Del appealed to the crowd to vote and make a difference.
Our last must-see of the festival, Xavier Rudd, hails from Australia and plays some interesting stuff. Once again we were next to the barriers and had an excellent view of what I would refer to as Xavier’s command module, a seat surrounded by various percussive instruments, some of which I’ve never seen before, as well as several didgeridoos. He took the stage and was accompanied by a gentleman on a conventional drum kit. Xavier plays an acoustic lap style slide guitar inside his module while hitting a stomp box and blowing a harmonica or didgeridoo. Occasionally he plays the harmonica through the didgeridoo. Regardless the music was great and had the whole crowd moving.
Overall I’d have to say it was a great festival! Well done!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bumbershoot 2008 Preview

It's coming and there are some great artists!


*Neko Case: Soon-to-be Alt-Country diva, channels Grace Slick. Cut her teeth with the Greater Puget Sound Punk scene and the New Pornographers.

*Lucinda Williams: Alt-Country diva, need I say more.

*Band of Horses: Rock, nice harmonies, melodic, very pleasant. They rose from the ashes of Seattle band Carissa’s Weird, whose break-up gave us Grand Archives & Sera Cahoone.

Beck: Try as I may to like him, even after Danger Mouse produced his latest release, there’s no getting around it, Beck’s music sucks a fat baby’s ass!

Exhibition Hall
Sweet Water: Seattle band reunited. Rock with a harder edge & heavier sound.

The Fall of Troy: Mukilteo’s own. Influences of 70’s progressive Rock mixed in with teen Pop & Hardcore. Some pretty wild guitar work.

Unearth: Boston, MA. Heavy, dark & angry. Manic drumming, distorted guitars, wrecking ball bass lines with primal screams and guttural vocals, all lovingly assembled for your listening pleasure. Caution; lyrics liberally sprinkled with f-bombs.

Anti-Flag: Good, old-fashioned, snarling, sneering, irreverent Punk from Pittsburg.

Fisher Green
The Staxx Brothers: Seattle Hip-Hop with some excellent, old school styled R&B grooves.

Grynch: Seattle Hip-Hop with a conscience, along the lines of Common Market & Blue Scholars.

Darondo: Bay Area 70’s R&B star who dropped off the face of the earth until recently. Reminds me a little of Al Green and Curtis Mayfield.

Estelle: Pop singer Estelle hails from London, has a great voice and is fortunate enough to have managers pair her with contemporary music icons.

Saul Williams: Rap & Hip-Hop devoid of tasty grooves.

Starbucks (Mural)
Nick Vigarino: Nimble fingers with quirky lyrics, music is funky, bluesy & soulful. Like the Subdudes without the harmonies. From Camino Island, WA

Vicci Martinez: Another fairly talented, Folk/Rock singer songwriter from Seattle.

Ian Moore: Another fairly talented, Folk/Rock singer songwriter from Seattle.

*Joe Bonamassa: Meet Steve van Zandt’s successor!

Asylum Street Spankers: Bawdy, loose, Country-leaning burlesque & cabaret Texas style.

*Nada Surf: Tightly arranged, harmonious, finely executed, melodic Rock.

Rockstar (Broad St.)
*Throw Me the Statue: Toe tapping, hum along, contemporary Rock from Seattle.

Barcelona: Arlington, VA. Sounds very much like the stuff that was blaring from college dorm rooms across America in the first half of the 80s. Makes me think of skinny ties and suits with big shoulders.

Thao with the Get Down Stay Down: DC via San Francisco quartet soft-rocking under an interesting singer. I could get used to it.

The Walkmen: Big Apple rockers playing, “melodramatic popular music,” slower tempo and a bit on the somber side with lots of keyboards.

Man Man: Is this Tom Waits kids’ band? They’re from Philly, but definitely not Hall & Oates, an eclectic mix of instruments and musical styles, raspy lead vocals layered over a chorus of humming, shouts & gasps balanced precariously on polyrhythmic textures (think international orange/lime green polka dotted corduroy made of expedition-weight polar fleece.)

M. Ward: Another fairly talented, Folk/Rock singer songwriter from Portland, OR

Wells Fargo (NW Court)
Beehive: Seattle duo playing electronic pop, soulful vocals with a bluesy edge, very danceable.

Das Vibenbass: Seattle quartet approaching Jazz with undertones of nearly everything else.

Asylum Street Spankers: Bawdy, loose, country-leaning burlesque & cabaret Texas style.

The Round: A collaborative arts event featuring Damien Jurado, Jen Wood, Buddy Wakefield, Rstar, Scott Erickson, and more.

Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby: Sounds like Alt-Country to me.

Tim Finn: Kiwi New Waver, former Split Enz member, will grace audiences with his talent and wit.

Sky Church (EMP)
New Faces: Rock trio from Port Townsend. I like it.

The Girls: Nearly New Wave, next generation Punk. You know, the poppy kind sans angst and attitude.

The Valley: Harder edged Rock music from Seattle.

PWRFL Power: Great guitar playing, quirky lyrics and some interesting vocals.

Mono in VCF: Tacoma pop group with a retro sound.

***West Indian Girl: Very nice Pop-Rock from 4th & Wall.

Kinski: Local boys (& girl) rock the house with a new album.


Keyshia Cole: Soulful top 40 pop, great vocals.

T.I.: Georgia Hip-Hop from an artist at the top of game.

*The Black Keys: A few years ago two guys from Ohio went down and their basement and made one of the best blues CDs I’ve ever heard! I saw them at Bumbershoot on the Mural Stage three years back, glad to see they’ve made it to the Mainstage.

Stone Temple Pilots: Can Scott Weiland keep his shit together long enough to complete a tour with one band? Time will tell.

Exhibition Hall
*The Blakes: Saw them last year at Bumbershoot and they rocked!

These Arms Are Snakes: A bit of Seattle metal with a nod to the Prog Rock of the 70s.

***The Weakerthans: The witty lyrics, tight harmonies and all-around melodic approach to Rock music does not betray their Canadian Punk roots. Very nice!

Brother Ali: Hip-Hop from the land of 10,000 lakes, nice grooves.

Fisher Green

Lushy: Jazzy, Funky, Latin and just plain fun.

Manooghi Hi: Indian music with lots of percussion and distorted guitars.

Forro In the Dark: Brazilian music from New York.

*Orgone: Funk, Blues, R&B and Soul Hollywood style.

Kid Sister: Rap & Hip-Hop with danceable beats.

Lee “Scratch” Perry: Reggae from a master!

Starbucks (Mural)
*Star Anna: Alt Country from Ellensberg.

*Tyrone Wells: Very talented, rock singer-songwriter from Spokane.

*Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses: Alt-Country from Austin.

*Dale Watson: Ain’t no Alt about this one. It’s Country from Austin through and through, sounds like Johnny Cash.

*Jakob Dylan: Former Wildflowers front man and you-know-who’s son.

*Ingrid Michaelson: Jazzy Folk. Joni Mitchell might sound like this if she was just starting out.

Rockstar (Broad St.)
Sage: Seattle band reunited from the 90s.

The Shackeltons: Rather sober & melancholy Rock from the Keystone state.

***Howlin’ Rain: Totally retro Psychedelic Rock by 5 bearded guys from Oakland.

*The Whigs: These guys from Athens Rock, nicely done!

Sons and Daughters: Scottish Rock.

Tapes’n Tapes: Rock music from the land of 10,000 lakes.

Wells Fargo (NW Court)
*Ashleigh Flynn: At first I thought, “Another singer-song writer from the Northwest,” going on about cats and their vegan lifestyle, but she writes great tunes and sounds wonderful! I have her CD right here.

Jazz Northwest: WSU Faculty Ensemble

Matt Jorgensen + 451: Matt, surrounded by some great musicians, bangs the skins in a Jazz fashion.

Hadley Caliman Quintet: Jazz from Down Under.

Tiptons Sax Quartet: Very nice Seattle Jazz.

Pacifika: Latin, Jazzy, Folky, sultry music from Vancouver, eh!

Final Fantasy: According to their Myspace page, Owen sings Pop music and plays his violin while Stephanie plays the overhead projector. Works for me.

Sky Church (EMP)
*The Lonely H: Port Angeles rockers approach music with the attitude and ability of bands twice their age.

*Shim: I’m a sucker for classic sounding, guitar based rock.

The Tripwires: Some of their stuff reminds me of the Beatles.

Ravens & Chimes: New York Indie Rock.

Speaker Speaker: Lovely, local Punk-based Rock.

The Hands: Good ole Rock’n’Roll with just a hint of Punk.

Thee Emergency: Rock! In your face!


Paramore: Hardcore Pop

The Offspring: Hardcore Pop

Superchunk: Rock from Chapel Hill, NC

Death Cab For Cutie: Seattle darlings doing what they do best.

Exhibition Hall
Monotonix: Tel Aviv gives us very Bluesy, Hard Rock

Dan Deacon: Mostly Techno with an edge.

Flobots: Thought provoking Hip-Hop.

Scary Kids Scaring Kids: If hair bands, back in the day, did Hardcore this is what they’d sound like.

Aiden: The lights dim, the music begins. Fog rolls over the stage, a single beam of light illuminates the lead singer as he begins to sing. The rest of the stage is slowly back-lit in blue as the band moves toward the chorus…wait is that Kiefer Sunderland biting someone’s neck? I’m sure the live show is great.

Fisher Green
Choklate: The slow, heartfelt, soulful Top 40 sound that plays on the radio of every 14 year old girl in the country.

The Physics: South Seattle’s own Hip-Hop.

***Bedouin Soundclash: A bit of Reggae, very sweeeeet!

*Cheb I Sabbah & 1002 Nights: Cool Asian sounds, leaning toward the sub-continent. Nice beats.

Del the Funky Homosapien: Hip-Hop, kinda cool.

*Xavier Rudd: Caught one of his songs on Weeds: Season 3 during the closing credits. I thought it was Paul Simon. Great songs and he has several CDs. How have I missed this musical genius?

Starbucks (Mural)
Vince Mira: Anyone remember Dick “Tombstone Every Mile” Curless, a Classic Country baritone? Vince sounds just like him.

Mark Pickerel & His Praying Hands: Sometimes he sounds like Chris Isaac doing Alt-Country and at other times he sounds like very early Beatles.

Langhorne Slim & The War Eagles: Nice soulful stuff, but how in the hell can one person be from New York and California? They’re 3000 miles apart!

X Levitation Cult: Another fairly talented, folk rock singer songwriter, with a band, from Seattle.

Old 97’s: Stretching the boundaries of the Alt-Country genre!

Mike Doughty: Another fairly talented, folk rock singer songwriter, with a band, from Brooklyn.

Rockstar (Broad St.)
Chester French: This is what Pop music should sound like.

Blitzen Trapper: Portland group on the Alt-Country trail.

Two Gallants: Catchy Rock tunes.

John Vanderslice: Another fairly talented, folk rock singer songwriter from San Francisco.

Battles: Quirky, infectious beats with Munchkin vocals.

Minus the Bear: Local Rockers adept with song.

Wells Fargo (NW Court)
Kate Tucker & the Sons of Sweden: Somber & subdued, but man can she sing!

Joshua Morrison: Cool acoustic guitar sounds with lyrics & vocals to match.

Mariee Sioux: Another fairly talented, folk rock singer songwriter from Nevada.

J-Boogie’s Dubtronic Science: Hip-Hop with a nice feel.

Arthur & Yu: Another fairly talented, folk rock singer songwriter team from Seattle.

Sondre Lerche: Norway’s favorite son playing Jazzy Pop.

Sky Church (EMP)
School of Rock Northwest All-Stars: You saw the doc, now here’s the music.

Grieves: Local Hip-Hop

Shane Tutmarc & the Traveling Mercies: Local Rock with a nice groove.

*The Maldives: Very nice Alt-Country.

Feral Children: Rock with some Techno influences.

Velella Velella: Synthesized, Soulful Funk.

Black Eyes and Neckties: Rock with lots of attitude.

*My Picks
***Don't miss!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Only As the Day Is Long will we Plunder Beg & Curse the Cloud Tail

Rabo de Nube – Charles Lloyd Quartet (ECM, 15 Mar 08)
Charles Lloyd has been around the musical block, so to speak. Born & raised in post-Depression era (not to mention musically rich) Memphis, Lloyd began blowing saxophone at the tender age of nine. By his mid-teens he was working sideman gigs with Blues royalty (e.g., B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Bobby Bland.) He moved to Los Angeles in the mid-50s to attend USC and that’s where he jumped into Jazz with both feet. He recorded regularly, releasing an average of one LP per year, until the early 70s. At that time he took a detour into teaching Transcendental Meditation. He recorded sporadically for next decade or so, moving away from Jazz to work regularly with The Beach Boys.
Rabo de Nubo (Cloud Tail) is a solid piece of work. It was recorded live in Switzerland in 2007. Prometheus and Le Colline de Monk, are the only free form leaning jaunts (revealing his early influences from Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy) on the disc. The rest of the album is more melodic and accessible to the occasional Jazz fan.
The standouts: In spite of a rambling 4 minute intro Migration of Spirit is a great cut. The beginning of Booker’s Garden, a tribute to Lloyd’s childhood friend Booker Little, has a Keith Jarrett feel to it with Lloyd on flute (Jarrett worked with Floyd for a time in the 60s.). And the title track Rabo de Nube is outstanding! It’s the only non-Lloyd composition on the disc (composed by Cuban musician Silvio Rodriguez.)

Plunder, Beg and Curse – Colour Revolt (Fat Possum Records, 1 Apr 08)
In spite of the bands name they are not from the UK. They hail from Mississippi. Maybe that’s how they spell color down there, who knows. What I do know is that these guys rock! They’ve been playing together since high school in one form or another and it shows. Plunder, Beg and Curse has a sound that is noticeably absent from today’s airwaves (unless you listen to KEXP or something of that ilk) the sound of voices full of angst & dissatisfaction with the status quo baying at the moon. Voices propelled by a driving drum and bass and lifted heavenward on the notes of searing guitars.
Colour Revolt has put together a great CD of tunes. Tasty licks over thick beats, thoughtful melodic lyrics expressed through gritty vocals and it’s all arranged & played tighter than dick’s hat band. Your mom and dad could have danced to this kind of music at their high school prom, if the band had prepared for the gig by swigging post-coital Michelobs between bong hits while discussing what a shitty job our leaders have done over the past few decades (the past eight years in particular) and how hard it’s going to be to get the rig back on the rails. Or maybe I’m dreaming. Either way listen to this band!

Only As the Day Is Long - Sera Cahoone (Sub Pop Records 18 Mar 08)
Sera Cahone started out as a drummer for the Seattle band Carissa’s Wierd. When they broke up some went on to form Band of Horses and Grand Archives and, thank the gods, Sera set out on her own. She’s put together a nice little snap-shot of American Roots music. I like to call it Alt Country*. The ten tracks are stripped down, mostly country sounding, minimal arrangements with sweet vocal harmonies. Sera has hit one out of the park on her first pitch. I love this sound! If Neil Young had been born a double x instead of an xy, he would have released something like this in his post-Buffalo Springfield days.
The highlights for me: You Might As Well, Runnin’ Your Way and Seven Hours Later.

*For those who care, Alt Country is not a term I coined. I first remember seeing it on a music magazine called No Depression . “Alt Country, whatever that is” is a tag line for them, and a damned good one I might add. Anyway, some would say Alt Country comes from Rockers like Gram Parsons & Neil Young embracing a Country sound and adopting it for their own compositions way back in the 60s. Others would argue that Alt Country was born later, in the post-Punk era when the harder leaning artists discovered Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Waylon & Willie. Most will agree that the first true Alt Country band was Uncle Tupelo. In a nut shell, they melded Punk with Country for a new sound. The founding members of Uncle Tupelo went on to form Wilco and Son Volt.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Sundirtwater, Sun Kil Moon and One of C&W’s Favorite Sons.

Hey Folks,
My last few weeks have been filled with soccer and baseball. Very busy! The soccer was exciting. The girls played well and finished better than expected. Sadly I watched the Sox drop two in a row to the worst team in MLB (and, as luck would have it, my local team.)
Some selections are beginning to roll in and I'm looking forward to a big batch of new releases. Hopefully they will be blogworthy. As some of you may have guessed I prefer not to publish reviews for CDs that I don't like. There's enough negativity in the ether without me adding to it.
Now that the concert season is upon us I have lots of shows to attend. Emmylou, a Long Winters reunion, the Foo Fighters and Yes to name a few. And I nearly forgot, the demolition derbies, complete with rollover shows, started a few weeks ago. They're celebrating the Solstice with mini-car football. It's tough being a Renaissance man.

Merle Haggard - The Bluegrass Sessions (McCoury Music, 2 Oct 07)
Merle Haggard has been one of my favorites since I first heard “Mama Tried” on WPOR while riding to the dump with my dad. We loved riding to the dump because he’d stop at Dick McDougal’s store and buy us kids a birch beer and himself a Black Label or PBR. Then he’d drink his wrapped in a small paper bag, like no one would suspect anything. I never got that part. Any way I digress…
On this latest effort Merle and his all-star backing band, led by Marty Stuart, recorded a dozen tracks of old and new in living room style (live set approach) at Ricky Skaggs’ studio. Sure it’s called The Bluegrass Sessions and there’s a mandolin lead break on almost every track, but in truth it’s classic country, unplugged, Grand Ole Opry style. If you’re tired of all the Skynyrd and Eagles wanna-bes that clog country radio today, pop open a 16 oz. PBR and check out Jimmy Rogers Blues Medley, Blues Stay Away From Me and Merle’s different arrangement of his old hit, Big City. You’ll be glad you did.

The Waifs – Sundirtwater (Compass Records, 4 Mar 08)
In my humble opinion the best harmonies come from siblings; Anne & Nancy Wilson (Heart), the Robinson brothers (Black Crowes) and the Beach Boys, to name a few. Vikki Thorn and Dona Simpson are no exception. The girls from down under, supported by the phenomenal guitar work of Josh Cunningham, have put together an excellent assortment of songs. It’s a little more “built-up” than their previous releases. The trio is fast becoming a band and thickening up their sound by layering electric over acoustic. The arrangements are solid and I like the addition of instruments.
The bluesy lick of the opening track Pony will start you tapping your feet and you’ll continue right into the Fever-like title track (think Peggy Lee.) The mid-tempo country rockers How Many Miles and Goodbye are reminiscent of the Eagles (in their prime.)
Sundirtwater is my favorite release of 2008. It’s so good it inspired me to have another listen to their back catalog. The Waifs songwriting and performance remind me a lot of the Indigo Girls. Buy this disc now!

Sun Kil Moon – April (Caldo Verde, 1 Apr 08)
Mark Kozelek writes and performs some great music, but the guy is definitely not a cheery man. Having said that, I really like this album. It’s melodic, although a bit reserved, somber and to some extent, repetitive. He reminds me of Neil Young before his Keep on Rockin’ In the Free World period. For April Kozelek returns to his roots. He’s back to his Red House Painters sound; a stripped down, solid, slower-tempo approach to rock and best of all the songs are original compositions. There’s no re-working of other people’s songs on this disc. Included in the package is a four song disc of different arrangements.
Don't look for any rockers or dance tracks. This CD is better suited for relaxing on the porch with friends. And I apologize for not singling out a track or two as my favorite, but this whole album is good.

More to follow...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Steve and Herbie Accelerate with Van, plus plus...

I flipped through my latest copy of the magazine No Depression (#75 May - June 2008) with a heavy heart. This is the last print issue. From now on if you want to read their coverage of the alternative country music scene you’ll have to go to
I must confess that I was late to sign up for a subscription. Sure I took the complimentary copies from the table at the Backyard Stage at Bumbershoot (where I heard some of the best music of the festival, year after year) but I didn’t commit until two years ago. Kyla, Peter & Grant, I’m sorry I delayed.
I’m told that advertising revenue wasn’t enough to keep the print copy afloat and yet I couldn’t help but notice that issue #75 is substantially thicker than previous releases due to, you guessed it, advertising. A day late and a dollar short…anyway.
If you like traditional Country music, alternative Country music, Bluegrass, Blues or Folk music or anything that falls under the banner of American Roots music then this is your resource.
As Dean Mayhew was fond of saying, “Onward through the fog,”

After many weeks of nary a thing to discuss musically I have been inundated with Esion-worthy CDs.
First, some new releases from some very heavy hitters:

REM – Accelerate (Warner Brothers, 1 Apr 08) Remember when only you and few of your friends were listening to REM? They finally got back to that place, musically speaking.

Steve Winwood – Nine Lives (Sony, 29 Apr08) OK, so it’s not About Time, but a solid effort nonetheless. Opens with a great bluesy number I’m Not Drowning.

Van Morrison – Keep It Simple (Lost Highway, 1 Apr08) Blues based 763rd album by Van. It’s good, but a long way from Tupelo Honey.

Herbie Hancock – River: The Joni Letters (Verve, 25 Sept 07) Joni Mitchell’s songs in the hands of a different master. Nora Jones is amazing! Witness a rare moment where the Grammys got it right. Buy this disc now!!!!

And now for some up-and-coming acts:

Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend (Xl Recordings, 29 Jan 08) The band that’s taking the nation by storm. World influenced, poppy, bright beats and infectious rhythms. It’s very dance-around-the-house-in-your-undies kind of stuff.

Grand Archives – Grand Archives (Sub Pop, 19 Feb 08) Melodic, Pop harmonies, nice.

Throw Me the Statue – Moonbeams (Secretly Canadian, 19 Feb 08) Up-beat, Pop Rock melodies

The Weepies
Hideaway (Nettwerk Productions, 2008)
Say I Am You (Nettwerk Productions, 2006)
Classic guy/girl Folk, clever lyrics and oh-so-nice harmonies

Kate Tucker and the Sons of Sweden – Kate Tucker and the Sons of Sweden (Red Valise Recordings, 2007) Folk Rock, a little on the somber side, but great stuff

Crooked Still
Hop High (Signature Sounds, 2007)
Shaken By A Low Sound (Signature Sounds, 2006)
Traditional Bluegrass tunes with a Newgrass treatment from a quartet of Yankees.

Check out these bands. You’ll be glad that you did!
Moondoggies – Country Rock, Punk-a-billy, nice harmonies
Physics – Hip-hop, tasty grooves
Sleepy Eyes of Death – Electronica from a group named for a martial arts movie, but don’t let that stop ya
Pocket Change – Jazzy, Funky, not to be confused with the hip-hop group of the same name.
Black Whales – Stripped-down-to-the-primer Rock with undertones of surf music Boss Martians – Rock’N’Roll baby
Sera Cahoone – “Alt Country, whatever that is…”
Femurs – Acoustic Punk, if you can believe that.
Fleet Foxes – Folk with multi-part, super-smooth harmonies
Trespassers William – Folk Rock, a bit on the somber side but excellent (check out lie in the sound)
Blue Mountain – Been around for a decade or so, but new to me, “Alt Country, whatever that is…”
Ashleigh Flynn – Oh Gawd, not another singer-songwriter sharing tunes about their garden and cat! Actually this one does some rhythmically pleasing, melodic Folk songs
Love As Laughter – Brooklyn-based rockers on a Seattle label, they sound a lot like The Kinks.
Colour Revolt – The next generation of Southern Rock. I love this band!
Hilary McRae – Remember when Pop music was good? You know, way back before Simon, Randy and Paula ruined it for everyone? This girl gives me hope.
Sinem Saniye – Poppy sounds with a World music influence. Who can resist singing along with, “Boom sheke nana?”

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Danny Federici and The Wailin’ Jennys

Danny Federici, best known for his work as keyboardist in the E Street Band, died last night in New York after a long battle with cancer. Please take a moment to remember him and send some positive thoughts to his family and friends.

Wailin’ Jennys @ The Triple Door (Seattle, WA 15 Apr 08)
The combination of food & live music is right up there with raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. The Triple Door in Seattle takes talented acts, wonderful acoustics, excellent seating, great service and food (from Wild Ginger’s kitchen upstairs) and turns it into the consummate dinner theater experience.
I’ve always wanted to see an evening show at the Triple Door, to take advantage of the full range of features. I caught a Nada Surf acoustic “matinee” at the Triple Door a few years ago, courtesy of my good friend John, but the kitchen wasn’t available for that event. When my good friend John called to say he had four tickets for the Wailin’ Jennys I said yes immediately (in truth I ran it by my wife first.)
This was my second Jennys’ show in the past two months, four overall, and even though the sets were shorter than I’d seen in past shows the music was top shelf! The girls looked and sounded as good as ever. The vocals were as crisp and clear as a fall day. The arrangements were perfect and the musicianship was as good as I’ve ever seen or heard in recent memory.
I’ve commented before on Heather Masse and Jeremy Penner (9 Feb 08), the newest Jennys. Heather’s songwriting skills and vocals are a welcome addition. Jeremy’s amazing fiddle and mandolin round out the Jennys sound.
Highlights for me: the Gillian Welch penned One More Dollar, an a capella version of Leadbelly's Sylvie (at the February Harrison show it was scrapped due to giggles), Glory Bound Ruth's non-denominational Gospel song, and the encore of One Voice, the Jennys' anthem, and the a capella, no amplification, Parting Glass.

Emmylou Harris will perform at Woodland Park Zoo this summer. And the Black Crowes will appear at the Puyallup Fair.

More to follow...

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Dalai Lama speaks. Dave listens.

Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds @ Key Arena, Seattle, WA, 11 Apr 08
Friday night’s concert was a fundraiser for Seeds of Compassion The evening began around 4:30 PM with a discussion between the Dalai Lama, Ann Curry (Dateline NBC) and Dave Matthews.
The chairs were set on the stage. The large projection screens were in place. The Dalai Lama received a thunderous, standing ovation as he took the stage. During introductions Dave Matthews received a similar response from the audience. His Holiness donned a crimson visor to shield his eyes from the stage lights and the conversation began.
As a precursor to his question for the Dalai Lama Matthews began with a little bit about his background and how music affects his life. He finally asked if there was a correlation between compassion and music. His Holiness replied that a compassionate approach to any activity or action is more beneficial than doing something without compassion.
Anne Curry’s question of, “How can we have compassion toward our enemies?” Got the dialog moving along and allowed the Dalai Lama to expand on his ideas and share his perspective. I saw him Saturday as well and was able to have a better grasp after hearing him a second time. Here’s what I took away from Friday and Saturday.

  • Have compassion for your enemies, forgive them. That doesn’t mean to forget what they’ve done or to stop protecting yourself from further harm. Create dialog to help solve problems. You may find you are more alike than different. His Holiness suggested having world leaders, who are at odds with each other, vacation together with their families; prepare and share meals with each other, the kids play together, the spouses talk and the leaders spend a few days getting to know each other before discussing issues.
  • We are just one in six billion but we have a responsibility to take care of ourselves. Wise selfishness is taking care of yourself, if you are healthy and approach life with compassion that affects those around you in a positive manner. Foolish selfishness is indulging with disregard for the effect on others and the consequences of those actions. It lacks compassion and gives off negative energy.
  • All of the world’s problems are manmade. If we created them then we should be able to solve them. And when the Dalai Lama says manmade he means “men” made them, not women. The Dalai Lama learned compassion from his mother’s affection. He feels that women, due to their inherent nature to care for little ones, have more capacity to be more compassionate than men.

They talked for close to an hour. Then we had a break while they set the stage for Death Cab for Cutie. We decided to go to the Center House and get some refreshment. Unfortunately we returned in time to hear the lion’s share of Death Cab’s last number. It was good, a mostly acoustic rendition of Brothers on a Hotel Bed.
The roadies arranged the stage for the final event. Two chairs with a coffee table separating them and one mic set up on an oriental carpet (Is it PC to say oriental when referring to a carpet?) After a bit Dave and Tim showed up. They began with a long, almost haunting intro to Bartender on the barely lit stage. The 16 song set was full of between song banter, Dave confessing his nervousness during the Q&A part of the show and sharing some about the compositions themselves. I can’t remember when I’ve heard a more full sound from two guitars. Who needs a band when you have Tim Reynolds standing next to you?
The highlights: Bartender, Cry Freedom, Betrayal (Tim Reynolds one-man demonstration of just how much you can do with an acoustic guitar and a few effects), Everyday, Dancing Nancies and the encore Lie In Our Graves.

More to follow…

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Boss Barely Slams the Back Door

In the 50s British & other European radio stations broadcast regular programs featuring American Blues, R&B and Country & Western in addition to the new sound from the states, Rock’N’Roll. British teens were hearing the very roots of American Rock’N’Roll at a time when all but the most die-hard music fans in the United States remained ignorant of the genre’s origins. Weaned on a steady diet of American roots music, teens in the United Kingdom formed their own bands, mimicked what they were hearing on the radio and eventually moved forward to export their own version of Rock’N’Roll. The resulting effort was known as the British Invasion (circa early 1960s.)

Back Door Slam – Roll Away (Blix Street, 26 Jun 07)
Back Door Slam is an updated version of the British Invasion story. According to their own website this talented, power trio from Isle of Man was, “Brought up on a potentially overindulgent appetite of Everything Blues,” and thank the lord that they decided to share their sound with the rest of us. From the first drop of the needle it’s evident, these guys mean business. Come Home, builds from the bass line, adding drums and then guitar, by the time Davy Knowles starts singing it’s like the whistle on a southbound freight train telling everyone to get the hell out of the way. And when these guys get rolling you won’t want to stop them.
The group is young but they write and play with a misleading level of maturity. You’d swear Gotta Leave, a bluesy number about moving on, was written and performed by seasoned veterans. Nope, Davy Knowles wrote it and Back Door Slam serves it up like they’d spent two decades on the road with John Mayall. Their treatment of Outside Woman Blues borrows just enough from Eric Clapton to let you know it isn’t Cream. (Note: “Gonna buy me a bulldog, watch my old lady while I sleep” Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think I’d want to be with someone distrustful enough to require a guard dog to assure fidelity.)
Just when you think the boys are limited to a blues treatment of Rock’N’Roll, they offer songs like Stay, Too Good For Me and the title track Roll Away. The acoustic arrangements betray their folk influence and demonstrate vast range & great depth.
Tasty licks, hooks that grab you first time ‘round, searing solos, soulful vocals, tightly executed, meticulously produced, excellent songwriting and musicianship, I can’t list any favorite tracks because every song is great. This is how records should be made.

Bobby Bare – Sings Lullabys, Legends and Lies and More (RCA 24 Jul 07)
Most of you know Shel Silverstein as the author of Where the Sidewalk Ends and other children’s books. Did you know he was a cartoonist for Playboy? Or that he wrote many songs including several number one country hits.
Back in the early 70s Bobby Bare asked Shel Silverstein to write a few songs for him. Silverstein returned with a dozen newly penned compositions along with two older songs. Bare recorded them as Sings Lullabys, Legends and Lies in 1973, what some would call Bobby Bare’s best album. This is a remaster of the original recording. The newer version has a second CD with 16 tracks of Silverstein penned, Bare performed collaborations recorded after the Lullabys sessions. The set is a sampling of Bare’s bawdy, irreverent approach to music as one of Country & Western’s original outlaws. A word of caution; Bare’s loose treatment of Silverstein’s offbeat humor is most definitely not politically correct and it’s not for everyone. I doubt that you’ll find it patently offensive, but it may make you cringe a little. Anyway, if you listened to country music radio in the 70s like I did, (don’t act surprised folks I listened to everything and still do) then you will feel a certain familiarity, maybe even comfort, like running into an old high school chum that you haven’t seen for years.
My favorites, Numbers and Tequila Sheila.

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band @ Key Arena, Seattle, WA 29 Mar 08
Springsteen was the hottest ticket and one of the biggest concert draws for nearly two decades. Last night’s show at the Key was a testament to his popularity. Backed by his just as popular E Street Band he ran through two and a half hours of old and new compositions before a house, packed to the rafters, of bouncing baby boomers. Hey, we may dance like pudgy, middle-aged, rhythmically-challenged, white men, but at least we’re still dancing.
The band took the stage around 8:30, sans keyboard player Danny Federici, who is undergoing treatment for melanoma, and Mrs. Springsteen, Patty Sciafla, who is “protecting the fort” both for and from his three teens. Max dropped the beat on one of my faves Trapped (a Jimmy Cliff tune that was recorded for the USA for Africa: Live Aid album) and they barely took a breath for the next three songs: Radio Nowhere, Lonesome Day & No Surrender. The roadies and guitar techs had their work cut out for them trying to keep up with the 58 year old Springsteen and his bandmates. While The Boss may have lost a little spring in his step he hasn’t lost much. Everyone looked good, a few more wrinkles and pounds, a little less hair, but for the most part, healthy. The Big Man, Clarence Clemons, was the exception. Not to be disrespectful, but Clarence spent as much time in an elegant, wingback chair to the side of the stage as he did standing up. In the old days there was a lot more interaction between The Boss and The Big Man. Rest assured, even though Clarence moved slowly he can still blow that horn!
You can keep your shredders, cheddars and bangers of headers because Nils Lofgren can tear up a fret board like nobody’s business. There were few time where he was able to stretch his legs and he went for a stroll with a capitol “S”! Wow can that guy play guitar.
The 24 song set featured eight tracks from the band’s latest release, Magic (Esion reviewed 26 Oct 07) and three each from The Rising, Darkness On the Edge of Town, & Born to Run. The highlights of the show for me: Reason to Believe, She’s the One, Tenth Ave Freeze Out, and Rosalita, which he’s played three times in the past 54 shows.

More to follow…

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Satisfied with Two Shoes and Warpaint

Two Shoes - The Cat Empire (Velour Records 6 Oct 07)
Sure this is an older album, according to my resources it was originally released in Australia on 10 Oct 05, and while I first heard Sly several months ago I didn’t get a chance to hear the whole disc until recently. So the music is new to me and certainly worth the space on my humble blog.
Cat Empire is a sextet from down under who has taken the sound from the Ska resurgence of the late 70s and turned it on its ear. They prefer to lean toward a Latin approach instead of relying on the more tradition Reggae-based sound (the disc was recorded in the same studio as Buena Vista Social Club.) I other words, they’re more like The English Beat than The Specials. Although their vocal style, with lots of slang and heavy Aussie accents, most closely resembles Ian Dury & the Blockheads. Any way it’s brilliant!
My favorites: The Car Song has a full R&B sound, similar to the recordings Ray Charles shared with us. Sly is an up-tempo story infatuation with a walking bass line, starts & stops in just the right places and a perfect vocal delivery. If you’re sitting still after 8 bars of this tune you need to check your pulse because you’re probably dead! Saltwater is the most traditionally pure Ska tune on the disc.
If you’re looking for something to get you out of your chair and shake the dust from your bones then buy this CD and play it loud. Your neighbors will thank you.

Warpaint – The Black Crowes (Silver Arrow 3 Mar 08)
Call me old-fashioned, but I interpret the process of reviewing music to include listening to the songs. It looks like agrees. Their definition of review: To examine with an eye to criticism or correction. Maxim’s choice to assign Warpaint 2½ stars without hearing a single note has sullied the reputation of music critics the world over. They should be lashed to the mainmast, striped to the waste and flogged repeatedly for their transgressions. Sorry, I digress.
The hiatus Chris and Rich Robinson took a few years back to pursue their own projects (Chris’s New Earth Mud & This Magnificent Distance and Rich’s nearly solo Paper) gave them the space they needed to explore their own musical direction as well as mature as songwriters and performers. While the work from that period gave us some very good songs, something was missing. Eventually the boys discovered what all of us suspected. To create a full sound Chris needed Rich’s musicianship as much as Rich needed Chris’s vocals. It’s all about balance people!
Warpaint is the first studio recording from the Brothers Robinson since 2001’s Lions. The sessions for the CD benefited from that time of exploration and was worth every minute of the wait. For those of you who pigeon-holed The Crowes as an American knock off of The Stones or The Faces, think again. This album demonstrates a range and creativity that Black Crowes fans have been aware of for years.
The boys have assembled a collection of tracks that will make their mamma & daddy proud. Drawing once again from their influences of Blues, R&B, C&W, Gospel, Rock, Folk & Bluegrass, Chris and Rich Robinson demonstrate a thorough knowledge and complex understanding of all who have come before. They take that knowledge, run it through the Crowe songwriting process and yield eleven great tunes. I love every cut on the disc from the opening rocker Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution to the folky Whoa Mule. My favorites: Oh Josephine, a soulful lament of things not turning out quite the way they planned, and God’s Got It a bluesed-up treatment of the Reverend Charles Jackson’s Gospel tune.
This is a must for any Crowe fan and highly recommended for lovers of great music.

Satisfied – John Sebastian and Dave Grisman (Acoustic Disc 6 Nov 07)
There’s a lot to be said for “one take” style recordings. First of all you get more of a performance based tune as opposed to an engineered sound, so it’s closer to what you’d hear in a live setting. Secondly, there are no overdubs, pitch correction or speeding/slowing of the track so the artist must rely solely on delivery & musicianship. Lastly, it’s a bit like eavesdropping and slightly voyeuristic. When listening to the stripped-down performance, warts and all, I can’t help but having the feeling that I’m privy to something I’m not supposed to hear. It definitely appeals to the naughtier angels of my nature.
Dave Grisman and John Sebastian are undisputed masters of their craft. They’ve been performing since the Dead Sea was sick. The two have played with everyone. And I do mean everyone. On Satisfied, a “one take” recording, you get a guitar, a mandolin, a banjo, an occasional harmonica and some vocals showcasing the nearly 100 years of musical experience represented by Dave & John. Combine that with one part Folk, one part Blues, one part Jazz, a sprinkling of Country & Bluegrass and apply liberally to a few public domain songs, some blues and country standards, several compositions by the masters themselves and you have a good disc of tunes to help you unwind after a long day of adding value to an unappreciative, soul-sucking corporation. The one drawback, and it’s just a slight detraction, Sebastian’s vocal isn’t quite as strong as it once was. Let’s not forget that he sang Summer In the City over 40 years ago.
I got a kick out of John admitting, via the liner notes, to being in uncharted territory when it comes to “Acoustico-Dawg” recordings (i.e., one take recording.) He asked the recording engineer to turn up his guitar and was told to play louder instead. I love it.
This is a CD any guitar player, or musician for that matter, would enjoy. Its approach can be appreciated for what it is, simple and pure. Not unlike me.

More to follow…

Friday, March 14, 2008

Brother Earl Kane

It doesn't seem possible that it's March already. In like a lion, out like a lamb, not unlike the way I make love. I know, I know, too much information. Any way…
I spent a great week skiing in Canada and even though I’m a die-hard Trailer Park Boys fan, my application for political asylum was denied. I'm excited nonetheless because The Boss arrives at The Key with The E Street Band toward the end of the month and, praise be to the gods, baseball begins soon. In addition, I have tickets for Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds at The Key. Evidently His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, has agreed to play bass for the set. Then Big Head Todd & The Monsters invade The Showbox. For those of you who haven’t heard their new release, All the Love You Need, what the hell is wrong with you?
I’m beginning to see a few new (to me any way) blog-worthy discs begin to trickle in so I hope to resume posting with regular frequency.

Brothers of a Feather – Chris and Rich Robinson (Eagle Records, 10 July 07)
The Brothers Robinson, aka The Black Crowes, never cease to amaze me. First, they demonstrate their knowledge and appreciation of music by including some covers of lesser known folks songs from the 70s on this disc (I had the same, “knock me over with a feather” feeling when I found out that Page & Plant listened to Joni Mitchell’s music backstage during their monster tours in the 70s.) Second, the boys have a knack for taking the basic elements of Rock’N’Roll and tweaking it just enough to make you think they invented it. Brothers of a Feather really emphasizes the latter. This is a great album!
The CD is a result of an abbreviated tour Chris & Rich did back in 2006 just before the reassembled The Black Crowes. The tracks for this disc were culled from a three night stint at the Roxy in LA (no, not Lewiston-Auburn.) Even though the songs are stripped down, mostly acoustic renditions, Chris’s vocals are as soulful as ever and Rich shines with his guitar work. Included in the set are four Black Crowe songs, several unreleased Robinson compositions, two from Rich’s solo album Paper and several covers.
The highlights: Cursed Diamond – a Crowe concert staple from Amoirica, Over the Hill – penned by Scottish folkie John Martyn, Roll ‘Um Easy – A favorite of mine from Little Feat’s Lowell George, Leave It Alone – An overlooked song from Rich’s solo album Paper (Chris’s harmony gives it just the kick it needs to make it a great song), and they finish the night with a great version of Thorn In My Pride from The Black Crowes' Southern Harmony release.
This is a must for any fan of The Black Crowes and I’d recommend it, without reservation to people who appreciate Rock’N’Roll.

Earl Greyhound – Soft Targets (Some Records, 6 Aug 06)
This is the first full length recording from a Brooklyn power trio with a huge retro sound reminiscent of the psychedelic rock from the 70s. While they don’t reveal their musical influences on their website or Myspace, I detect strains of Zeppelin, Hendrix, The Kinks and The Beatles, among others. It’s the heavier side of Rock’N’Roll with great vocals.
The ‘in your face’ energy of S.O.S and guitar lick focus of Monkey, could have these two tracks easily fitting on any Led Zeppelin releases. Two Weeks and It’s Over have a poppy sound that demonstrates the bands range. Good has a similar feel to the work from The Beatles Revolver release.
Soft Targets wouldn’t make good background music for an afternoon tea, but if you’re looking for a soundtrack to clean the house or just plain rock out, this is the disc!

Kane Welch Kaplin - Kane Welch Kaplin (Compass Records, 11 Sept 07)
Kieren Kane has been around the music biz for a couple of decades. Certainly long enough to get fed up with the type of albums the big labels were releasing. He and a few friends started their own company so they could make the kind of albums they wanted. This disc is a testament to the high quality of music you can get from an independent label. I should warn you; do not listen to this CD if you like great song writing, excellent musicianship and crisp harmonies.
Kieren Kane, Kevin Welch and Fats Kaplin, along with Kieren’s son Lucas handling percussion, have put together a collection of what some would call Roots music, Americana if you will. Using the influences of Country & Western, Folk, Bluegrass, Blues & Gospel they load us in an old pick-up truck with a quart bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon (concealed in a brown paper bag) slam the door and go for a long ride in the country on a dusty back road. It’s perfect!
My current faves are Highland Mary, Red Light Blinking, That’s What I Got and Zagnut.
I defy you not to like this CD.

More to follow…

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Wailin Jennys at Harrison Memorial Hall, 8 Feb 08

My lovely Ms. Esion (a.k.a. the brains of the outfit) and I decided to take some time away from the hustle & bustle of daily life and venture north to our Canadian oasis, Harrison Hot Springs. We love to soak in the pools, graze at the buffets and lounge around with nothing to do and all day in which to do it. I must confess that the main reason we decided to make the trip was to see one of our favorite bands, The Wailin Jennys.
The Wailin Jennys are three amazingly talented, stunningly attractive women (+ Jeremy Penner, the phenomenal fiddler who looks a bit like Tim Robbins.) They have the voices of angels (words alone cannot describe the harmonies), possess a captivating stage presence, are thoroughly proficient with a wide array of musical instruments and they write and perform some of the best music I’ve heard in the last ten years.
This was our third Jennys’ show in two years. The performance last night at Harrison Memorial Hall was phenomenal!!!! Jeremy and Heather are the latest additions to the Wall of Sound. It’s not actually a Wall of Sound in a Phil Spector sense of the term. It’s more like a fence of sound. A functional, sturdy, aesthetically pleasing fence built from sustainable material protecting your organic tomatoes from deer and keeping your pound-rescued dog from wandering into the road. Sorry, I digress…
The girls (+ Jeremy) took the stage at the Harrison Memorial Hall a few minutes past 8 PM. The modest hall was set up café style with candle lit tables for 240+. The sell-out crowd (no surprise) was treated to a great first set including my favorite song of the night, Glory Bound, a Gospel tune from Firecracker featuring Ruth on the banjo. After 50 minutes of captivating music the Jennys took a short break and let us stretch our legs and grab some refreshments.
The girls (+ Jeremy) returned and gave us a choice between a Huddy Leadbetter, better known as Leadbelly, composition and one penned by County music god, Hank Williams, Sr. They started with an a capella version of Sylvie, but after two false starts (Heather got the giggles) they abandoned Leadbelly for the Hank. They handled the skip with graceful ease. While it was refreshing to see that the Jennys are indeed mortal, I was slightly nervous of a repeat for the next few songs. Maybe it was my concern for the newest Jenny and fellow Mainer-in-exile, Heather. In my humble opinion Heather’s voice compliments Ruth & Nicky better than any of the previous iterations of the group. Cara and Annabelle are both talented musicians (oh if I could play guitar like Annabelle) but The Wailin Jennys 3.0 is my favorite version. I don’t see a need for a service pack up-grade.
The second set featured another highlight for me, Beautiful Dawn from 40 Days. After another 50 minutes of wonderful songs the girls (+ Jeremy) returned for an encore with One Voice from 40 Days and finished as they have every time I’ve seen them, with an a capella, unamplified version of the old Irish tune, Parting Glass, also on 40 Days .
Another spectacular performance!!!
If you don’t have anything by The Wailin Jennys drop whatever you’re doing and order any/all of their CDs from the Jennys' website. You can thank me later.

The Jennys Myspace site, just in case you want to hear and see them.
More to follow…

While I have you, check out the following Seattle bands (Gosh I love Myspace):
Fleet Foxes – Folk-based, multi-part harmonies
Grand Archives – Folksy-Countriesque-Rock with a Pop feel, great harmonies
Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground – Rock with Folk, Pop, R&B and Jazz influences. I love this guy’s voice.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Big Head, Lupe and Sweet Baby James

It’s been rather boisterous and blustery on the Island since the holidays. Not really boisterous but I was going for alliterative effect. I ended up with a busted wing as a result of an altercation with several very persistent moms and their desire to get the last Official NASCAR Dale Earnhardt vs. Richard Petty Speedway Showdown slot car race track at Toys’R’Us. While I suffered a fractured radius I was able to proceed to the register with my prize. To the victor go the spoils!
And the weather has been, to say the least, interesting. Colder than usual with lots of precipitation. It figures, tons of snow in the mountains and me unable to ski.
To add insult to injury, I’m dealing with a dearth of high quality CDs to review. Not to worry, if my sources are correct we should have a few noteworthy discs from new as well as established artists being released over the next few months.

James Taylor – One Man Band (13 Nov 07, Hear Music)
I’ve loved James Taylor’s music since I first heard Sweet Baby James and Mud-Slide Slim on my brother’s stereo way back when. And I’ve been fortunate to see him perform several times. He’s one of the best, a consummate entertainer.
James Taylor’s long and distinguished career as one of the original singer-songwriters has been marked with great peaks and deep valleys. He was institutionalized for depression and struggled with heroin addiction for decades. Those elements combined with his love for performing and recording have taken a toll on his personal life as well. He’s been married several times. On the upside Paul McCartney & George Harrison worked on his first album, he wrote some of the most memorable songs of the 70s, he’s sold more albums than Carter has little pills, has a bridge named for him in the Carolinas, appeared on an episode of The West Wing and sang the National Anthem at Game 2 of the '07 World Series. Through all of this Taylor has kept his sense of humor (One fan shouts, “Go Red Sox” as James takes the stage and in the liner notes under Special Thanks he’s written, “…with apologies to Joe Torre.”)
One Man Band is a collection of some of Taylor’s greatest tunes, spanning his entire career, stripped down and performed live at the historic Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, MA. His voice is in fine form and as usual he’s accompanied by some of the best in the business.
He opens with a stellar, solo acoustic version of Something In the Way She Moves from his 1968 self-titled Apple release continues with Never Die Young accompanied by Larry Goldings on piano. He never misses a beat, a quip here and there, a little bit about the next song, just enough to engage the audience, never rambling, he wants to play his music and it’s all here folks; Country Road, You’ve Got Friend, Shower the People, Sweet Baby James, Carolina In My Mind, Fire and Rain and my favorite, Copperline. He finishes, as he’s done every time I’ve seen him, with a short, simple, solo acoustic version of You Can Close Your Eyes from Mud Slide-Slim and the Blue Horizon.
Oh, I almost forgot, this disc contains a concert DVD as well.

Lupe Fiasco – The Cool (18 Dec 07, Atlantic)
I’ve been quite selective when it comes to Rap/Hip-Hop music. If the truth be known my favorite songs in that genre are Ian Drury’s Reason’s To Be Cheerful Part 3, The Magnificent Seven by The Clash and Deborah Harry rapping at the end of Blondie’s Rapture. Additionally, I really liked Rapper’s Delight and Run DMC’s version of Walk This Way. By the way, Run DMC's recording accomplished two very significant things;
1) It brought Rap/Hip-Hop to white kids in the suburbs
2) It resurrected Aerosmith’s career propelling them, once again, to the stratosphere of Rock stardom.
Call me old fashioned, but I can do without the artists talking about bitches & ‘hos and popping caps in asses. The misogyny, homophobia and general sociopathic behavior that is the focus of a Gangsta Rap is wasted on me.
You don’t get this with Lupe. You get good grooves and thoughtful lyrics with a social conscience. Born and raised on the tough, west side of Chicago Fiasco, whose birth name is Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, focused on literature, comic books and skateboarding instead of hustling drugs and joining gangs. And even though he was influenced by the harder Gangsta style from California he abandoned it for songs with a less negative message. He focuses on musical production and lyrical content instead of creating an image of excess, bravado and shameless self-promotion. Native Chicagoan Kanye West gave him his big break and he’s been in good company ever since (Jay-Z helped produce his first album Liquor & Food.)
The Cool is part editorial part Hip-Hop Opera part R&B and all solid tracks. This what happens when intelligent people have access to the resources to create their art.
By the way, if Rap/Hip-Hop with a conscience sounds interesting to you please check out Seattle's own The Blue Scholars as well.

Big Head Todd and the Monsters – All the Love You Need (4 Nov 07, Big)
In the summer of ’95 I was stuck in the ice for two weeks on a tug boat north of Point Barrow. Not much to do except give an ice report every four hours, listen to music, watch the polar bears on the ice flows and play poker every night. I had a copy of Strategem and it received a daily spin or two. It was during that period that I developed my appreciation for the music of Big Head Todd.
The eleventh album by Boulder’s rockers All the Love You Need is free if you want to download it from their website. I‘m not sure how I ended up with a copy. I think it was sent as a bonus from one of the music magazines I subscribe too, Paste, maybe? Anyway, it rocks from the bluesy opener Her own Kinda Woman to anthem-like Beautiful Rain.
A quick comment on the fairly recent changes that have been made in the distribution of music: It’s about frigging time. For too long too many lesser-deserving people have made tons off the sweat & blood of the artists. With few exceptions the major record companies have operated in a predatory manner. They preyed on the talent and they preyed on the consumers. Genrally speaking we’ve been limited to two or three good tracks in amongst ten tracks of filler for an exorbitant price and, due to pressure to play certain artists on the radio, a strangle hold on access to anything unique or independent. Hopefully the new model of music distribution (i.e., artists distributing their own creations) will turn the music industry on its ear and major record company execs will be forced to abandon the limo for public transportation. Thank God for Radiohead & Madonna (just for the record I’m not a big fan of the music of either of the previously mentioned but the big acts have to lead the way for change to happen. Radiohead & Madonna have done just that.)
Back to All the Love You Need. I’ve always liked the Big Head sound, but I’d have to say the boys have hit a high mark with this disc. My favorite cuts are Cruel Fate, with a nod to the southern rock sound of the 70s and Fortune Teller, up-tempo rockers that'll get your foot tapping.
In case you’re interested, according to Wikipedia, Blue Sky is being used by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Funny, I figured the boys would be Obama supporters.

More to follow...