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Feb 20

Indescribable: Andrew Bird, M. Ward, Eleni Mandell

Filed under: albums, live music | Back to: Homepage

I am swamped, but there are several new albums from indescribably talented artists that are helping me get through it…

Andrew Bird – Noble Beast

image I saw Andrew Bird last night at the Fillmore.  Like last time, GREAT show.  The stuff he does with looping and pitch modulation is cool.  In the past, I’ve been so impressed with his whistling and playing that I failed to notice what a great singer he is.  His new album, Noble Beast, is really starting to grow on me.  A couple of my favorites:

Not a Robot, But a Ghost
Effigy

New to Andrew Bird?  I’d probably still start with Armchair Apocrypha, but ask me again in a couple of weeks.

M. Ward – Hold Time

image Another singer-songwriter that defies explanation, M. Ward, just put out a new album.  I thought his last, Post-War was excellent and I’m digging Hold Time more and more.  Here are a couple of highlights:

One Hundred Million Years
Oh Lonesome Me

Lucinda Williams makes an appearance on the last one.  I really dig his slow take on the Don Gibson classic.  Also give his side project with Zooey Deschanel a listen, She & Him.

Eleni Mandell – Artificial Fire

image I read about Eleni Mandell on Songs:Illinois (a music blog right in my wheelhouse) and immediately took a liking to her stuff.  I gave Miracle of Five to my sister for Christmas and Afternoon to my mom for Valentine’s Day and I love her take on the classic country sound in Country for True Lovers.  As you can imagine, I took Artificial Fire for a spin as soon as it came out.  In reviews of Eleni’s first albums, folks compared her quirky, rocking sound to Tom Waits.  After a few listens, I think that the latest is a move back in that direction.  Very enjoyable and it reminds me a little bit of Shivaree.  Two examples:

Needle and Thread
Don’t Let It Happen

Which album would I but first?  Probably Miracle of Five or Afternoon, but it’s all good.

NPR and Neko

A final note – I have been listening to music online at NPR.org a LOT.  There are great interviews and performance from tons of artists.  They streamed the first two albums above in their entirety prior to release.  Neko Case’s new album, Middle Cyclone, will get the same treatment at midnight EST on the 23rd.  Guess what I’ll be doing Monday night?

Jan 27

Mark Olson & Gary Louris: Ready for the Flood

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image Mark Olson & Gary Louris, the original founders of the Jayhawks, released their first joint album in 13 years today.  I have been excited about Ready for the Flood since seeing these guys at last year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival – the highlight of the weekend.  I’ve been listening all morning and it just brings a smile to my face.

I’ve been a Jayhawks fan basically forever.  I can remember hearing Blue in a hotel lobby in Baltimore about 13 years ago and telling my co-worker that it was my favorite song EVER.  (A time in my life where I still felt the need to talk in absolutes…).  Mark left the Jayhawks around that time and Gary put out some great albums after, but I sorely missed the soaring harmonies and songwriting of the original duo.

Ready for the Flood is what you would expect from these guys – mostly acoustic music with poetic lyrics and beautiful two part harmonies.  The AllMusic guide says the songs are “faded and familiar.”  That just about sums it up.  Listening to these guys feels like going home and hanging out with old friends.

Here are some songs from Ready for the Flood to whet your appetite:

The Rose Society
Bicycle
Turn Your Pretty Name Around
Saturday Morning On Sunday Street

image If you want to explore The Jayhawks post-Olson, Rainy Day Music is a spectacular album.  Panned by critics for reasons that I can’t fathom and a precursor to the demise of the band, this is yet another record that I couldn’t put down for a long, long time.  Some tracks:

Stumbling Through The Dark
Angeline
Tampa To Tulsa

Enjoy.  I’m off to see Neko tomorrow night.  Sweet.  She’s my favorite EVER.

Jan 10

Robin Galante & Eric Pedersen: The Fuzz Sessions

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image On Saturday, January 17th, Robin and Eric debut their album at the Bazaar CafeThe Fuzz Sessions is a collection of all-acoustic folk songs, with tight, two-part harmonies and beautiful, sparse accompaniment that give color to the music while keeping focus on the songwriting.  Recorded live and minimally produced, this album perfectly captures the essence of their live show.  I really like this music and have had a few of the songs stuck in my head for weeks (i.e. Hangman).  Listen to a few tracks over at Robin’s Myspace page to see what I’m talking about.

Here’s a performance of Follow Me, which sounds like a lost Simon & Garfunkel song (if one of them was a girl I guess…):

If you’re in the Bay Area, come out to the record release party on Saturday and support local, live music (and wish Eric a happy birthday!).  I’ll see you there.


Robin Galante and Eric Pedersen Record Release Party
Saturday, January 17 at 6:30
7 PM
Bazaar Café

http://www.bazaarcafe.com/
5927 California Street, between 21st & 22nd Avenues
San Francisco, CA 94121

UPDATE 2-24-2009: I just found Fuzz Sessions on Rhapsody.  Here’s a few tracks:

Worth It
Hangman
Unrequited

Jan 07

Andrew Bird – Noble Beast

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When I went to see multi-instrumentalist (and damn fine whistler) Andrew Bird at the Warfield last year I walked out seriously depressed.  Usually when I go see a band I have some thought that with just a little more work on my part I can get to their level.  But Andrew Bird’s music is so complex and so creative and so indescribably unique that I have no idea how I could ever approach it.  Depressing and uplifting at the same time I guess.  To see what I’m talking about, watch this video of him playing violin through a looping pedal:

Andrew Bird @ From The Basement from Daniel Caballero on Vimeo.

See what I mean?  I have recommended Bird’s last two solo albums to many friends, and they have been universally liked.  Most folks find Armchair Apocrypha more accessible, but trust me – after several listens you will love The Mysterious Production of Eggs.  This is another one of those albums that I listened to every day for months.  That’s why I’m so excited about Noble Beast, which will be released this month.  NPR has the whole album online and the New York Times has an in depth feature on Bird and this release (with a really interesting account of what it took to get started).  Bird is one of the writers on the New York Times’ Measure for Measure songwriting blog, where he writes a little bit about the making of this album.

A few songs for your enjoyment:

image The Mysterious Production of Eggs
A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left
Masterfade
MX Missiles

image Armchair Apocrypha
Fiery Crash
Imitosis

Andrew is playing at the Fillmore next month.  I’ll be the depressed, awed guy in the back.

Jan 05

Middle Cyclone

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clip_image002Given that I couldn’t put down Fox Confessor Brings the Flood for months, I can’t wait for the March 3rd release of Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone!  I’m definitely intrigued by the album art…

There’s a video on the Amazon site with a little more information.  Check it out.

UPDATE – of course the video is on YouTube.  Here it is for your viewing pleasure:

Oct 03

Play downtime on Rhapsody

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Brad Meador - downtimeAlmost a year after setting up digital distribution on CDBABY, downtime has finally made its way to Rhapsody.  I have no idea how I get compensated for this, but I’d like to find out.  If you’re a Rhapsody subscriber, please go download it and set play on repeat.

Even if you’re not a subscriber, Rhapsody will allow 25 free plays per month.  So do me a favor and play the tracks below a couple of times and we’ll see if I recoup my setup costs.  Thanks!

The Nicest Guy She’d Meet
I Can’t Feel Love
I Don’t Know
Micheline
Grumble
Come Again
The Bitter Guy
Cryin’ Dyin’ Blues
Magic
Marie’s Song
New York’s Just a Dream
Not Anymore
November
Micheline Reprise

BTW – Just got back from a week in Joshua Tree.  Like last year, Christopher and I got some great recording done.  I’ll post some stuff as soon as I’m done mixing and mastering.  But first I’ve got a couple of days to spend at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival!

Aug 27

Patty Griffin at the Mountain Winery

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Patty Griffin has it. I don’t know what it is, but you just know it when you hear it. Case in point, several years ago I went to see Patty at a songwriter’s pull with Shawn Colvin, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Dar Williams at the Warfield. All lovely singer songwriters in their own right; but it must have been embarrassing for those women to share the stage with Patty. Something about her electrifying voice speaks right to the heart and makes all other sound pale in comparison. Much like James Taylor, I think Patty could sing anything and she would have the audience swooning. Over the years I’ve swooned at the Variety Playhouse, the Warfield x2, the Fillmore x2, the Great American Music Hall, a tiny Tex Mex restaurant in South Austin and Slim’s on the hottest SF day on record with surprise guest Natalie Maines….

So last night I went to see her at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga. And while this wasn’t the absolute best Patty Griffin performance I’ve seen, it was in full effect. Of note, she opened with the cover Hang on St. Christopher which is off one of my favorite Tom Waits albums. Happily she played a few older songs from Flaming Red – an album that is jarring compared to her folkier work but brilliant and under appreciated. She did play my current favorite Up to the Mountain, but sadly without the lead guitar of Doug Lancio this time.

Patty Griffin - Children Running Through My favorite albums, not surprisingly, are the ones where she really lets he voice shine.  She said in concert last year that she’d been advised to sing quietly on previous albums.  Thankfully she ignored that and really belted out on her latest masterpiece, Children Running Through.  It shows. If you don’t have this album, go buy it now. Sadly, it looks like Rhapsody doesn’t have it available, so I can’t link to samples here.

Her debut album Living With Ghosts will always hold a special place in my heart. It reminds me of contented Sunday mornings and cardamom flavored coffee. That has nothing to do with the album – all acoustic guitar and vocals filled with loud, bitter tunes – but more because I’ve got my own things going on.  Anyway, here’s the album on Rhapsody:

Mosesimage
Let Him Fly
Every Little Bit
Time Will Do The Talking (Mariah moment and all)
Mad Mission
Poor Man’s House
Forgiveness
You Never Get What You Want
Sweet Lorraine
Not Alone

And here are a few gems from Flaming Red:

One Big Love
Tony
Change

Also check out Chief, Tomorrow Night and Mil Besos from 1,000 Kisses.

Finally, I’ve made my sister record some Patty Griffin tunes over the years.  I Write the Book (clip here) is off some bootleg I found and probably my all time favorite Patty song (really, really bitter):

I Write the Book
Time Will Do the Talking
One Big Love

Take a listen. If you figure out what it is, please let me know.

Aug 01

Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

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image Neko Case is the love of my life.  She will be, anyway, if we ever get to meet.  When she sold out Bimbo’s four nights in a row, I went to every show.  I was totally going to stalk her until I saw this guy’s post and realized what a rank amateur I am when it comes to obsession.

It’s an easy bet that I have listened to Neko’s latest, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, more times than she has (that’s the nature of art).  It is a gorgeous piece of work that I find hard to describe, but can’t put down.  It’s filled with quirky little songs that defy conventional songwriting structure – lacking choruses and repeated hooks – but I find myself singing along to.  I’m a fan of big, strong voices, and Neko’s is the biggest and the strongest.  I also love a lot of reverb and the production of all of Neko’s solo work revolves on big, beautiful, echo’y sound.  She surrounds herself with some great musicians, including Kelly Hogan who I’ve followed since her Atlanta, Jody Grind days.  “Country noir”?  “Alt-country”? “Southern Gothic”?  I don’t really know what adjective applies other than “beautiful”.

I love her other albums as well.  I can listen to Look for Me, I’ll Be Around, the Sarah Vaughan cover from Neko’s Blacklisted, over and over and over again.  My sister and I did the best we could to cover:

Kim Meador – Look For Me, I’ll Be Around (Faster, Acoustic take here)

I think there’s a new Neko album on the way.  I can’t wait.

Here’s some songs off of Fox Confessor:

Margaret vs. Pauline
Hold On, Hold On
That Teenage Feeling
Maybe Sparrow

And here’s a couple of bonus songs from other albums:

Favorite
No Need To Cry

Jul 22

Firecracker – So Long Someday

Filed under: albums, books | Back to: Homepage

I don’t feel music like I used to.  In high school and college I would get albums that I would listen to over and over and over and over again.  Stuff by Lyle Lovett and Cowboy Junkies and Dwight Yoakam and Chris Isaak and whoever else really grabbed me wound up in high rotation for months before I even thought about listening to something else.

But as an adult, that doesn’t happen to me that much any more.  I have a lot of theories for it:

  • Too many albums at my disposal
  • More discriminating
  • Not enough time to absorb new material

Daniel J. Levitin has a better theory in This Is Your Brain on Music (great book!).  I’m paraphrasing, but one of the points he makes is that teenagers’  brains are better wired to be overcome by the effect of music – to really feel the sound in a way that adults can’t.

image I would buy into that theory except for the fact that occasionally an album comes along that I play all day, every single day, for months on end.  Firecracker – So Long Someday is one of those albums.

I picked up So Long Someday after finding out that a Rhett Miller song was on the album.  The music is right up my alley – pop/rock songs above love lost with a little grit thrown in on the side and some great lead guitar work.  Scout, the lead singer and songwriter, has an appealing voice, his lyrics are heartfelt, and the sound crafted on this recording is soothing.

The sad thing about all this is that these guys are local and were playing gigs right down the block at the Hotel Utah.  By the time I became transfixed by this album, I only caught a few acoustic gigs before they seemed to disappear.  I still hold out hope that Scout or the band will resurface in some form somewhere in the City.

Note to self – go see more local, live music so that I don’t make this mistake again.