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...