Saturday, May 31, 2008

Chango Malo's acoustic farewell to Don Jennings

When the revered and dedicated host of the best local radio show ever makes a special request for his final show, it's a simple one to grant

So no matter that a thundering, calamitous rock band has never played an acoustic show before, the wish must be granted. After all, what could be a more fitting conclusion to Don Jennings' 10 years hosting KXCI's Locals Only than a one-of-a-kind send off from Chango Malo. And despite the fact that the impetus for the show just might have come from the combination of a joke and a drunken boast, the band is fine-tuning a set that promises to be one for the ages.

"I was wasted and Don came up to me and asked when the Chango Malo acoustic set was going to be ready," says drummer Jericho Davidson. "I got all offended and said that contrary to popular belief we all know how to play our instruments and we can do an acoustic set anytime."

Sax player David Clark jokes that it was "entrapment," but the band has nothing but praise for Jennings and his whole-hearted support of local music, and they remember the first time the dean of Tucson's music scene caught them play: during a Club Crawl set in the basement of the defunct Double Zero on Congress Street.

"There's going to be nobody like him again," says bassist Justin Lillie. "He's a pillar. He's part of the foundation," says singer Quin Davis. Guitarist Tom Beach says Jennings is as important as anybody to the Tucson music scene. Guitarist Ian Philabaum has a more personal take. "Don Jennings means to me waking up in the back of Tape Worm's truck one early Sunday morning and not knowing where I was. Me and Don slept in the back of a truck together one time and from then on it was magic. I've been with the quintessential man."

They've been guests on Locals Only four times, and don't mince words when talking about how important Jennings has been to Chango Malo and dozens and dozens of other Tucson bands. "There's no other show like that in Tucson. For him to be so down with the whole scene, he's just like a best friend," Clark says.

Jennings was also instrumental in helping Chango Malo to get the Stunning Tonto record label off the ground. During those days, Jennings bonded with fellow Stunning Tonto champion and "investor" Matt Moore, the best friend Chango Malo ever had. Moore died (five years ago today, in fact) at Club Congress after he collapsed at the end of a Chango Malo show.

Jennings dedicated a Locals Only to Moore, a show Lillie calls the most emotional he's ever heard. Chango Malo also played a memorial show for Moore, donating the money to the Humane Borders group their friend supported so deeply. At the show, Chango Malo performed "Redemption Song," Moore's favorite. They pledged never to touch the song again, but that performance was among the most dynamic and emotive I've ever seen, with Clark handling the opening lines on saxophone and the whole crowd singing and swaying, most in tears, as the song built and built until it was shouted to the heavens.

"That was one of the most magical moments ever on stage," Lillie says. And with the acoustic show, especially the surprise covers, the band is trying to capture that same spirit. "It's fun because we're putting the same energy into it that we did for our Cover Up sets and the Abbey Road show. We just felt so honored that he wanted us to do his final show."

Talking Friday night in their practice space just south of downtown, the Chango Malo boys clearly know that they're putting together the show specifically for Jennings, and that he deserves it. "I just want it to come across awesome on the recording, so Don gets his wish," Philabaum says.

For Chango Malo, acoustic doesn't mean mellow or slow. Don't expect brushed drums or hushed vocals. "You see a lot of bands playing their songs exactly the same, but with acoustic guitars and that's just boring. So we reworked our songs, we added new parts," says Davidson, who nods to the old bridal adage in describing the set list as "old, new and borrowed."

Chango Malo is a rowdy band by their very nature, but also one that likes to throw a good curveball. And they have the creativity and the versatility to pull it off. The band has performed cover sets of material by Stevie Wonder, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, the Temptations and David Bowie, and triumphed with a New Year's Eve show by playing Abbey Road from start to finish.

The band's sound has always been a challenge to describe. It's definitely rock 'n' roll, but there are elements of soul, funk and hardcore throughout, all contributing to an unmistakable presence for the band, which can turn from melodic to heavy and back, smoothly guiding those stylistic shifts. More telling than any of the cobbled-together genre-hybrids that the band has never liked is the unrestrained joy that hit them when they got to open up for their heroes, Fishbone. On stage the band is pure energy, a rapturous thunder that wails and crashes. They bounce around the stage, in thrall with that glorious noise they're creating.

Not only does the band bring the same energy and passion to this acoustic take on their material, but the songs emerge in their acoustic versions fully-formed, modified rather than stripped down. Clark brought in an accordion for some parts, and horns have a greater presence. With the new arrangements, the songs fall together differently. Each instrument's role becomes slightly different. Some songs have a more soulful tinge, others adopt a sort of countrified shuffle.

"We wanted to make it more elaborate and get more people involved. And Don's so involved in the whole scene, everyone we talked to is totally down," Davidson said.

Those eager guest musicians include British bluesman Tom Walbank on harmonica and horns from The Jons' Javier "Escubi" Gamez and Jon Villa, who sat in with Chango Malo for a soaring rendition of "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" in a cover-up set of the Temptations.

The show is Sunday, June 1 at Club Congress, with an early 7 p.m. start. The performance is being recorded and will be broadcast during Jennings' last Locals Only broadcast, on June 9 at 8 p.m. (It's at 91.3 FM in Tucson and available streaming at And the band will turn the tables on the host, interviewing Jennings about his 10 years hosting the program, and the countless bands he's helped out along the way.

Chango Malo - Superstition (Stevie Wonder cover)

Get the whole set, from the 2001 Cover Up, as a zip file.

For Manchester

I've updated the link for Arlo's 1966 proto-recording of Alice's Restaurant.

For more on Arlo, click here. And since I hadn't mentioned it before, it must be said now: I got to meet Arlo about a month ago and it was one of the pleasures of my life.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

New Wolf Parade single

SubPop has posted a second Wolf Parade song for download in advance of the Montreal band's forthcoming new record, At Mount Zoomer.

For my money, "Language City" is easily as good as anything on their debut record, Apologies to the Queen Mary. The new album is out June 17, and just over a month later, the band hits the Rialto Theatre in Tucson. (And who knows what some blokes from the frozen north are gonna think of the blistering desert summer. Hopefully we'll have the rains by then.)

"Language City" sounds like a slight departure from the Modest Mouseyness of their Isaac Brock produced debut. It's a zippy song, built around a straightforward piano groove and some shimmering guitar. It's the perfect type of song for a single - catchy enough to burrow into your head and complex enough to reward many, many listens.

Along with the new Portishead, Old 97's Billy Bragg records, At Mount Zoomer one of the ones I'm looking forward to most this year. And catching a band on tour riding a freshly released disc definitely makes for a promising show.

Wolf Parade - Language City
Wolf Parade - Call It A Ritual

Also, Captain's Dead has a whole live show.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

External Recap

As convenient and indicative of our technological age as it is, there's also a certain sort of erieness in being able to search around youtube for a few minutes and arrive at a fairly decent representation of my weekend.

First up is from the Calexico show on Friday. I briefly mentioned in another post that the band welcomed roughly 30 mariachi players onto the stage (two bands - one a bunch of high schoolers having what I am sure was the time of their lives while earning money for a trip to D.C. and the other Calexico's regular partners, Luz de Luna) for the finale, which included Neil Young's "Heart of Gold." Well, here it is, courtesy of someone recording from the balcony:

And from TucsonScene.Com, here's a performance from December of Dylan's "Goin' to Acapulco," which Calexico performs with Jim James on the I'm Not There Soundtrack, and briefly in the film. The Calexico boys have truly made this song, as well as "Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)," their own, which is a dual testament to their musicianship as well as Dylan's incredible songwriting.

Up next is Monday. Sport's On Congress took full advantage of the three-day weekend, having locals Garboski and The Swim play, along with Riddle of Steel from St. Louis.
Check out The Swim playing "Julie," from their March CD release show for Random Walk:

For more on The Swim, check out my interview with the band.

The Swim - Lazy Day

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mixes, Part 2

At this point, I've recreated all but a couple of my old mixes in the new iTunes library - and those two are all but done, just missing a few tracks that somehow I've found I don't actually own anywhere else after all these years. The "Mix Master" playlist that I'm using to string them all together is just shy of 500 songs, forming one hell of a 30-hour playlist. On my birthday several years ago I tried to listen to all the mixes, from start to finish, and though I didn't come close it was the perfect soundtrack for that day of BBQ and friends.

It fascinates me now to take a look through the whole shebang and see what trends emerge. With so many mixes (and the wonderfully searchable iTunes software) I can take a broad assessment of my whole mix-making world, and see which artists or bands or albums have turned up the most over the years.

As far as artists goes, Dylan and Springsteen run away with the crown, partly because for quite a while I made it an explicit policy to put one track from each on every mix, and partly because even without such a policy the same damn thing probably would've happened. Bob Dylan has been left off only three mixes, but each of those had somebody doing a Dylan cover. Bruce has been slightly less prevalent, but each time I leave him off a mix it doesn't feel right. Jeff Tweedy ranks next, combining Wilco songs with his solo recordings and contributions to Uncle Tupelo and Golden Smog projects.

Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot has placed three songs on mixes, and another one from an officially unreleased collection of demos pushes it to the forefront. This Desert Life from Counting Crows also accounts for three songs, which kinda surprised me at first until I looked and remembered those are the only tunes I even like on that album. Okkervil River's Overboard and Down EP has the best percentage, landing two of its five songs on mixes. Numerous albums have supplied two songs for various mixes, and I think my several-decades-late approach to Dylan makes it easy to understand that various volumes of his Bootleg Series are represented in five songs over the course of my mixes, rather than the original versions of the songs.

What I've long counted as my four favorite albums of all time - Blood on the Tracks, Born to Run, Ruby Vroom and Anodyne - only come in at two, one, one and two songs. And there's an interesting point in that - great albums actually make it very difficult for me to chose one favorite, or even one representative song. I'll take a cop out any time, picking some live song from somewhere else or even turning away from a band all together if I can't make up my mind.

It's also interesting from this perspective to see at which point in time any particular bands showed up. Some that are my absolute favorites now had a slow arrival. On the other hand, some bands or songs that I've come to rely on through the years show up surprisingly early. I was turned onto Morphine from practically the very beginning, something that didn't really happen too often with me in those days. I took quite a while to progress into soul and hip-hop. And local artists started showing up frequently once I started going out to seem more shows. Live songs have been a strong component in the last couple years as the Internet has made bootlegs easy to find and bands have realized that an open taping policy only leads to more fans.

The song stretch from Billy "The Kid" Emmerson's "Every Woman I Know (Crazy 'Bout An Automobile)" from 1955 clear through to several 2008 songs. Each year since 1962 is represented by at least one song somewhere along the line, which I hadn't known until writing this post. Songs from this decade make up about a third of the total, and the 1990s account for slightly fewer songs. I have put some effort toward balancing older and newer songs, to give the new-to-me their space alongside the purely new.

The overall process has stayed pretty much the same since the first couple mixes. It starts with a notebook, and over the course of a few months I'll jot down the songs as they come to mind. The first few are always totally obvious and kinda come all at once. There's just no doubt that those particular handfulls of songs are really the defining ones of each time period. The list grows and eventually I reckon it's time to start putting it together. Finishing it always includes cutting at least a few, and struggling to choose between a few songs for at least one band on the list. Then comes ordering, and finally naming. I linger over all that for a couple days, just to make sure the picks are right.

As I've been putting all this together, I've started thinking of another mix that I ought to develop: The Considered. This one would include all the songs that I've barely left off mixes - those should've beens and also-rans. I have no doubt that in hindsight many of them are far better than ones that I put on to begin with. I also don't doubt that many of them are garbage that I rightly turned away from when it really mattered. But I reckon curiosity is going to win out here and soon I'll be digging through old notebooks in search of bands or songs that were crossed out somewhere in the process. I'll bring new life to my 22nd and 23rd song of any sixth month period. Who knows what that'll bring? I'm also going back to the original cassettes of the early mixes and bring back whatever songs I had to chop off when I converted the 90-minute tapes to 80-minute CDs. And finally, I think I'm going to start reconstructing the various mixes people have made for me over the years, and string all those together in their own Mix Master playlist. Shuffle on.

And in case you missed the latest, download Howling Moon as a zip file.

The Drakes - Later On
Goshen - Believe It's True
Little Rooms - Peanut
Lost Armada - All Light Exchanged For Sight
The Seychelles - 13 hundred songs, three and a half days
Tricky Luz - Trace
Rainer - Last Fair Deal (live Robert Johnson Cover)

Far out and pretty cool

Here's one spacecraft orbiting Mars taking a photo of another spacecraft as it parachutes to the surface. Downright incredible.

And here's one of the first pictures taken from the lander craft, looking out over the Martian polar plains.

Find more images at the Mars Phoenix Lander site.

Seu Jorge - Life On Mars (David Bowie cover)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

The best post I've read today is over at Echoes In The Wind, which emphasizes just how little has changed since the last Memorial Day. He's got a baker's dozen of great songs and some nice sentiments on the day.

The only thing I have to add is that I'm thankful that all the family and friends I have who have been in the service over the years returned home safe and have had the good fortune to live their lives. For those who didn't return, may they always be remembered. And may wisdom actually prevail the next time some president wants to start a war.

Bob Dylan - John Brown
Bruce Springsteen - Mrs. McGrath (live)
R.E.M. & Billy Bragg - My Youngest Son Came Home Today (live)

(I'll be back tomorrow with part 2 of the post on Mixes)

Mixes: Part 1

One of the first things I had in mind to do once I got the new Macbook and began the long-awaited Complete Digital Revolution was to re-create all of my old mixes as playlists, to bring these treasured artifacts of my music fandom along with me into the next realm.

I'd say that nearly half of these mixes began on cassette tape (later transferred to CD), and only the last few existed just digitally, outside of the realm of CD. I say that to note the time period that this covers, basically dating back to my freshman year of college. The mixes (I hesitate to label them 'official' in any way, though I kinda think of them in that sense) have followed a fairly straight pattern through the years - one in the summer and one in the winter - though it hasn't been entirely precise.

I finished the first one right before Spring Break; it was to be driving music for Tony's truck as we headed back up north. The opening track was David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel," a song that to this day gets my blood pumping because (and this is the reason it not only shows up, but also kicks off the mix) it was at the center of my friend Mitch's Friday night music and it seems as if "Rebel Rebel" accompanied us to every party his Mazda took us to that year. I don't know that we ever really paid too close attention to the lyrics - we simply got from it what we needed. It was about posturing, about being Rebels, about cruising to a party on a Friday night, with all the badness and possibility that suggested.

That first mix was called "A Bit More Immortality," which started my habit of giving careful thought to selecting (hopefully) good titles, even if they did occasionally pass way into the realm of pretension ("Discovery and the Prophetic Sky" - I cringe at that one). More importantly, the titles definitely meant something. I searched for those right words that related to or defined the same time period those 20 or so songs did. In that case, the words came almost directly out of an email my cousin sent me: "Sometimes life makes you feel immortal. Sometimes life makes you want to curl up and die. I guess I could use some more immortality." When you're 18, you think like that. (A side note: those emails my cousin John and I sent in those years defied all conventions of what emails have become. We wrote. It was nothing for either of us to sit down at the computer for three hours and fire off an email longer than any paper we'd write during the course of a semester. I miss those days, mostly because I miss having that much to say at any given time.)

I think it's important to acknowledge that I'm recreating these mixes as much for a sense of continuity as for the tunes themselves. While I've always loved putting together just the right tunes and crafting mind-blowing transitions in the process, I'm still fascinated in general by the incredible way I can make a kind of personal statement about a period of time just by stringing together what music I was listening to most. It's fascinating as well how that spirit never dies, how that same statement reflects itself 10 years on down the line.

And it's in that spirit that I still warmly embrace some of the songs that are, shall we say, a little bit more difficult to listen to now. I have no problem hanging onto the somewhat conflicting notions that a particular song now makes me cringe and at the same time brings me a rush of youthful emotion. My second solid mix, the somewhat out-of-rhythm summer compilation "Northern Arizona Skies," has its strengths, but also contains the following songs, in order: Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight," The Eagles' "Peaceful Easy Feeling," and Bob Seger's "Against the Wind." Thankfully I followed up with the definitely respectable "Let It Be" and then a song from the first bootleg album I ever bought, Dylan singing "The Times They Are A-Changin'" accompanied on piano, from a collection of his publishing demos. (Not only is that a fantastic version, but the song itself formed the core of a freshman year paper that was returned with the comment that I had a "gift for clear, elegant prose." Sweet.)

Not every mix is created the same, and even if for each one I've had a roughly six-month period of time with which to pull together 80 or 90 minutes of music, the results have varied wildly. The mix that followed that clunky "Northern Arizona Skies" was one I still rank in the top tier of the 22 I've put together so far. The name "Eighth Street Symphony" simply came from the fact that I lived on Eighth Street, but I loved it. From New Order's "Regret" to Zeppelin's "Over the Hills and Far Away," it's great song after great song, straight through. I was living in what was practically a lunatic asylum with two best friends, just off campus in a dump of a house that we never saw as such. We had freedom and space and a 60-disc changer ran through a high-powered receiver and four speakers that wrapped the living room in pure volume. The songs came from friends and parties and my own discoveries as I dug into the country-rock scene of the mid 1990s.

This was also the first mix directly influenced by particular bands I'd seen perform live, which has since become probably the most fundamental way of picking which band or song shows up on a mix. In that instance it was the Son Volt show I'd caught at the end of that October, as well as the Pearl Jam show from the previous summer, and the Social Distortion and Superchunk songs that I'd come to love from live performances.

(Since this is getting way too long, I'm gonna leave y'all with some songs from the mixes that I doubt you'd be able to find anywhere else, and then come back tomorrow with the conclusion.)

Bob Dylan - The Times They Are A-Changin' (demo)
Bueno - Paralyzed
Fourkiller Flats - Cat Song
The Hollowbodies - Kodo And The Queensbound R

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Mars landing day

After nine months of travel (across 422 million miles), the Mars Phoenix lander probe is set to touch down today on the Red Planet.

And since the entire mission is being led by scientists right here in Tucson, I reckoned I'd go on down to campus and check out the whole thing live as it happens (on NASA TV, of course).

I'm excited to experience the "will it land or will it crash?" tension that will envelope the entire seven minutes of the craft's descent through the atmosphere and dramatic slowing via rocket thrust. As the scientists themselves say, landing a spaceship on Mars is not easy. (The last successful landing of this nature, using rockets to slow descent, was accomplished on the first Mars probes, the Viking landers in 1976, just seven years after man arrived at the much closer moon.)

Anyway, it should be an interesting afternoon. And for your pleasure, here are a couple Space songs, one from our local greats Calexico, who I saw tear down the roof Friday night, when they brought out about 30 mariachi players for a stunning take on Neil Young's "Heart of Gold."

Calexico - Lost in Space (live)
Luna - Lost in Space (live)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Greetings from S.F.!

(Photo from the San Francisco Chronicle. More here.)

Howdy everybody. What a time indeed out here in San Francisco! Great friends, great weather and yesterday I got to participate in one of the strangest events on the planet, the annual Bay To Breakers, "a party disguised as a footrace" as it was described by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Outlandish costumes were the rule for the more than 60,000 folks who wound their way through the heart of the city. Some ran it in all seriousness; the vast majority turned out simply for the festiveness of the damn thing.

Freaktown and I went as the Dude, if the Dude were going jazzercizing, sipping Caucasians along the way. Not too bad, and I was surprised we saw no other Dudes along the way. There were at least four Viking ships, tons of pirates, an elaborate 1970s disco group, at least two groups representing Team Zissou, several Never Nudes and all manner of other nonsense, including, as I was warned, a sizable contingent of folks who decided not to costume at all.

Other than that, I've been sharing and talking music with my wonderful hosts and other friends. Reminiscences of my last visit and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, another free and uplifting gathering of tens and tens of thousands of people, have been great, and we've been listening to several of those performances, especially Jeff Tweedy and Emmylou Harris. And don't look now, but Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2008 is around the corner and even few acts already announced are very impressive. I'll be back - S.F. is already a second home.

So that's the quick update. I'm now back to vacationing.

Jeff Tweedy - Pecan Pie (live, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival 2007)
And check out the whole show at Owl and Bear's amazing Wilco archive.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Howling Moon

Hey everybody.
I'll be offline for a few days visiting friends and enjoying the best weather of the year in the San Francisco Bay area. Plans are light, but Bay to Breakers is gonna be the centerpiece of the weekend. Other than that, it'll be sun, relaxation, laughs and good friends. Perhaps I'll squeeze a post in, but don't bet on it.

However, lest I disappoint, I'm glad to announce that I've completed the latest mix, another in the ongoing biannual series that dates back now more than a decade. This one may have been the hardest one yet to put together, in terms of narrowing down a lengthy list to the final selections. There's no doubt I listen to far more music than ever, and seek further and further to find things that are new and interesting and full of passion and excellence.

The title for this time around is "Howling Moon," a phrase that I just recently stumbled upon, built from some imagery in some poems I wrote years ago. I like the butting heads, as it is, of the wild and the pristine; at least that's how the words seem to echo in my head.

This one seems to have less rock and soul than the last couple mixes, leaning more toward folk music and live performances. There's still an amazing variety, but for an overall feel, this one comes across as a bit mellow. Ah, but what fantastic songs they are!

So, enjoy, and write if anything particularly strikes you. And I'll be back late next week.


SumKid - September
The Swim - Margaret With Comets
Capstan Shafts - 61 Sideburns
Golden Boots - Days Are Night
The Helio Sequence - Lately
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Gardenia
Dean & Britta - You Turn My Head Around (live)
Gillian Welch - Black Star (live)
The Mason Brothers - Into the Canyon
Tom Russell - Tonight We Ride
Sam Cooke - Another Saturday Night
Greyhound Soul - Rainer (live)
Greg Brown - Canned Goods (live)
Arlo Guthrie - Highway in the Wind (live)
Elliott Smith - Whatever (Folk Song in C)
Ezra Furman & The Harpoons - Hotel Room in Casablanca
Felice Brothers - Frankie's Gun
Bob Dylan - Let Me Die In My Footsteps
John Prine & Bonnie Raitt - Angel From Montgomery
Townes Van Zandt - Tower Song (live)
Bill Monroe - I Saw The Light
Suicide Kings - Hooker's Lament

Howling Moon as a .zip file
(included is an .xml file, import that through iTunes and you'll have the playlist automatically in order. Sweet!)
Bonus: Iron & Wine - Resurrection Fern (live) -- which is the last song cut from the mix.

And go check out the last few mixes, from Burma Shake & Shimmy and on back, all the way to Momentary Fires.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Hold Steady touring

The Hold Steady are taking their new record out on tour and are stopping in Tucson for a gig at the Rialto on Aug. 2. (The Rialto has nothing online about the show yet, but it's in the theater's print ad, and the Hold Steady has all the dates online).

I've caught the band on their last two trips to Tucson - first at Club Congress and then at Plush - and also lucked out to see them in Philadelphia in October. And on stage they're intensely entertaining - it's definitely a jump up and down and shout the chorus type of a show.

The band's new record is out on July 15, but we get to try out the first single next Tuesday.

The Hold Steady - Stuck Between Stations (acoustic)
A whole set and interview from KEXP.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Live: Kathleen Edwards

It's a rare and truly uplifting thing to take a chance on a show when you've heard just a couple songs of a band and read just a bit about their reputation and be completely blown away.

Catfish Vegas, meet Kathleen Edwards.

Since roots rock has always been some of my favorite stuff, it's no surprise that I came away so impressed. I kept coming back to one particular comparison for Edwards' blend of rock, country and folk: Lucinda Williams. I'd read that too, but there's no doubt that Edwards fits into that league. And not just in stylistic terms either, but also in terms of the quality of her songs. Edwards has a tendency to rock out more than Lucinda, and there's an obvious difference between a Canadian and a Southerner, but the two seem to be coming at the music from the same place, in terms of songwriting head-space as well as craft.

Edwards went back and forth between acoustic and electric guitars for the most part, and slung a harmonica around her neck a couple times. It's your basic dust-and-denim rock and in that regard she's not breaking any real new ground. But what matters is the execution and Edwards is near the top.

Her four-piece band is obviously a seasoned and accomplished bunch and hearing guitarist (and husband) Colin Cripps tear through two blistering solos during the encore I was surprised they didn't lean that way a bit more earlier, though his slide guitar work was equally impressive.

Edwards introduced "I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory" by talking about a video they just shot, one where her vision trumped the record company's usual reason for shooting a video ("To show that you have boobs"). She was ice-skating with former hockey player Marty McSorley, who's referenced in the lyrics. Reading the song's lyrics online now it's making a lot more sense (hockey references fall kinda flat here in the dusty Mexican borderlands). It's an opposites attract sort of thing, probably better explained by another line: "I'm a Ford Tempo you're a Maserati."

After about eight songs, the rest of her band departed and she took a song by herself on electric guitar ("Mercury," if this show in Kansas City had a similar set list). And there's no doubt she could have held the crowd for the whole show as a solo performer.

Next she switched over to violin for a piano-driven ballad before jumping back into some more rockin' songs.

Later she pleased the crowd by giving props to a trio of Tucson's favorite local music heroes: Howe Gelb, Calexico and Neko Case. Apparently the Calexico folks were down at Hotel Congress earlier in the day filming a video. If these artists she respects and admires all find some reason to reside in Tucson, she said, the city must have something special going for it. And Congress itself earned some praise from Edwards, who called it a "wonderland for musicians" with its combination of a club, hotel, restaurant and coffee shop.

Edwards closed out with the stellar "Cheapest Key" - check out a video of her performing the song on Letterman - and came back out for an encore with another solo tune, this time playing the heartbreaking "Scared At Night" on acoustic guitar. Then two of Edwards' most rocking tunes closed out the night.

For reasons not entirely clear (thought definitely not cleared by me), we live in a world in which Carrie Underwood sells out arenas and Kathleen Edwards plays nightclubs to a couple hundred people at a time. But if the songs keep flowing for Edwards, she'll no doubt have a long and spectacularly acclaimed career. And if she continues to show the exceptional generosity and kindness by meeting with people and signing autographs after the show, she'll have absolutely devoted fans.

Kathleen Edwards - Asking For Flowers ( acoustic version)
(It's a free download, but this will save you the hassle).

Edwards is on the Tonight Show on Friday (May 16) and for some tales from the road, check out her blog.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Source Victoria: free album download

The desert breeds strange creatures, and one of the toughest things to remember about that is the fact that not all strangely bred desert creatures show any signs of such lineage.

Arizona has never been the most celebrated musical hub on the planet, but there's a long list of truly great artists and bands to make their mark in the broader musical world. And most of the time that has something to do with the fact that the music is some unique concoction of the Arid Madlands - Waylon Jennings' "Hell if I care" outlaw country; the Meat Puppets' countriefied psychedelic punk; Roger Clyne's Sonoran twang; Giant Sand's everything-under-the-punishing-sun feedback-laced Americana and Calexico's cinematic desert noir.

So beyond simply refreshing, it's actually a great encouragement to come to a new Arizona band that breaks free of all cliches of desert rock, cowpunk and the like.

If anything, Tempe's Source Victoria comes across as the great lost Brit-Rock band of the mid 1990s. They'd comfortably fit on a bill with Pulp and the Verve, and on top of that, show the Brits a few things from the Built To Spill side of the pond.

The Fast Escape opens with the swirling atmospheric track "The Welcoming," which welds a somber piano to feedback and vocals that start out slightly muffled and build to a haunting echo that rides out on a cello. Next up is the hard-driving "Until We Crack," which matches a soaring chorus to the sort of bombast that Coldplay stole several times over and watered down along the way.

The whole record rides on an unassailable backbone of solid drums and meaty guitars. Source Victoria slow it down and speed it up, set fire to songs and let things dissipate into air like smoke, but the band never drops that backbone.

"Miss Spiritual Tramp Of 1948" is an out-and-out rocker, clocking in at under 3 minutes and sounding about ready to hit the top of the charts in a world where the masses bothered to listen to good music. "Heartless Boy" adds an existential ache to the mix, driven by shimmering guitars and a rolling drumbeat.

Take advantage now of the band's generosity and head on over to Source Victoria's Web site to grab this record FOR FREE. That's right, no gimmicks or anything, just a download link for high-quality files, complete with album art. Just click on the words "take the fast escape."

Source Victoria - Miss Spiritual Tramp Of 1948
The Fast Escape album

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Blame It On Gravity out this week

I've spent a good bit of today revisiting my Old 97's albums in anticipation of Blame It On Gravity, the new record that hits stores Tuesday.

I'm probably a rarity among Old 97's fans in that I don't have a strong preference one way or the other for their more honky-tonk type stuff or the poppier later records. As far as I'm concerned, the stylistic changes were always kind of overstated anyway and whether it was a twangier song or one with more straightforward guitar licks, the hooks showed up no matter what.

The Old 97's hit me at a perfect time, when I was drawing in alt-country bands as fast as I could. I kinda took a back door into indie rock, following Wilco straight through and wound up in a whole different scene. But for several years, any good rock with a bit of twang was something that just sounded amazing to me. And the thing of it is, there was a core group of bands that really seemed like they couldn't do any wrong for several years. Wilco, Jayhawks, Whiskeytown, Old 97's, Richard Buckner, Alejandro Escovedo... the late 1990s to early 2000s were rich with great albums.

And screw any notion that it was all a fad or a trend. Whatever terminology people tried to lasso bands with was the only thing that's faded. Alt-country as a term may be dead, but so is alternative. It's all somebody in marketing who misunderstood the music to begin with.

But back to the Old 97's specifically: I lived on Satellite Rides for most of 2001. That record took me through six months living in Phoenix and right back home. It's great for driving, for sitting on the porch, for headphones, for everything. Four or five songs off that record ended up making it onto mixes, a feat matched just a handful other records (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Ruby Vroom, Darkness on the Edge of Town).

At the very tail end of my Phoenix experiment, the Old 97's rolled through the Valley and I got to catch them at the sadly long-gone Nita's Hideaway. I remember Rhett kept flinging his sweaty bangs out of his face, over and over and whenever Murray took lead vocals he looked like he was living his dream. I hung around and got some autographs on the ticket stub. The Old 97's were are as energetic as anybody on stage and you could tell there was a purity to their recording process because the songs were never labored live. I've since seen the live DVD and bought the live two-disc album and there's no doubt that's where their strengths really are.

Drag It Up fell into the good-not-great category, which certainly felt like a disappointment at the time, but listening again today it's hard not to think that it was an overlooked record in a lot of ways. The opener, "Won't Be Home," is outstanding and would've fit well anywhere in their catalog. I also love "Valium Waltz" and the goofy "Coahuila," but there are a couple duds.

Judging from the first track I've heard from Blame It On Gravity, the Old 97's are about bursting at the seams to get back in the game. "Dance With Me" is a hard-charging roadhouse type track that actually seems to split the difference between the band's country and pop tendencies pretty well. This year has already been marked by some highly anticipated return albums (Portishead, Magnetic Fields, Billy Bragg, R.E.M.) but there's nothing I've been looking forward to as much as this record. Stream three new tracks at the Old 97's MySpace. And I'll see you at the record store Tuesday.

Old 97's - Beer Cans (Too Far To Care outtake)
Old 97's - Valium Waltz (Drag It Up demo)

And check out this album preview clip from the Old 97's:

Saturday, May 10, 2008

May your wishes all come true...

For Josh & Andrea.
And for Brian & Megan.
May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you.
May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.
May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.
Neil Young & The Grateful Dead - Forever Young (Bob Dylan cover)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Okkervil Rooftop has a great new video of Austin's ramshackle Okkervil River, stuffed into the New York skyline:

Also check out Pitchfork's videos for "Unless It's Kicks" and "Okkervil River Song," which may just be the best version of that one I've heard yet.

And if you're a fan of Okkervil, check out Down the Oubliette, a fan site that collects set lists and live recordings.

Okkervil River - The Plus Ones (live 09-04-2007)
Get the whole show as a zip file.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


This is shaping up to be a great late spring for live music in Tucson.

Even just at the Rialto Theatre there's a string of shows as good as any I can remember: Calexico, Cowboy Junkies, X, Rancid, the RZA, Drive-By Truckers, Steve Earle & Allison Moorer and Mike Ness, just through the end of June. How's that for variety?

And over at Club Congress we've got Kathleen Edwards, Von Bondies, the Bell-Rays, Helio Sequence and Islands.

Plush is bringing to town American Music Club, Sea Wolf, Clinic, the Liars, Limbeck and Grand Archives.

Solar Culture is hosting Shearwater, Frog Eyes and Fleet Foxes.

And that's surely not all, just what's really jumped out at me already. And there are some fantastic shows already booked for July...

Kathleen Edwards - Copied Keys
Helio Sequence - Can't Say No
Calexico - Alone Again Or (live)
Steve Earle & Allison Moorer - Coming Around (live)
Mike Ness - Sweet Virginia (live with Eddie Vedder and Beck)
Shearwater - Rooks

Check out the Tucson Weekly's interview with Kathleen Edwards.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


Check out this new EP, a collection of comfortable, down-tempo folk songs from Lipstik (New York songwriter Sam Jacobs).
There Is Only One Thing is three Jacobs tunes and a terrific slow-burn take on Tom Petty's "Yer So Bad."
He's got this sly vocal style that sounds like a half wink and really carries the songs. The mostly acoustic guitar-based EP fits in cello and piano without loading the songs down or tipping the balance from rough to shiny.
The tunes swell from simple to damn-near elegant at times, with that balanced instrumentation definitely one of the album's top charms.
The three originals are all strong, but the closer "There Is Nowhere To Run" is what grabs me the most. It's the most atmospheric of the tunes, somber and winter-sounding.
And "Yer So Bad" trades in Petty's hard electric charge for a weariness that sounds at times remorseful and at times resigned.
The Leonard Cohen comparisons aren't too far off, though Jacobs is more up front as both a singer and a songwriter, and the music is more fleshed out along the lines of alt-country stalwarts like the Scud Mountain Boys and Clem Snide.

Lipstik - There Is Only One Thing

Monday, May 05, 2008

Glitter and Doom

A Tom Waits tour is fantastic news. A Tom Waits tour that stops for not one but two nights in the great state of Arizona is several degrees beyond fantastic!
And leave it to Waits to announce his new tour in the strangest manner imaginable:

Check out all the dates at the Tom Waits Anti- page.

And let's agree to not rush out and buy up all the tickets until I get a chance, OK? Tom Waits is probably alone at the top of my list of musicians I've never gotten the chance to see play but must before I (or they) die. I've dug through a few bootlegs and his concerts are things of glory, almost as much for the stories as for the songs. And as much as I dig Arlo Guthrie and Robyn Hitchcock for their wonderful storytelling, Waits is in a league of his own. Check out a story and a song from his 1999 Storytellers appearance:

Tom Waits - Picture In A Frame Story
Tom Waits - Picture In A Frame

Sunday, May 04, 2008

SumKid Majere

One song stands out above the rest in everything I've been listening to lately - "September" by SumKid Majere, an MC and songwriter who hails from "Brookakalantalangeles."

It's that combination of the East Coast, the South and West Coast that makes him stand apart.

"September" is laid back and nostalgic, a traveling type of groove in which motion gives way to self-reflection.

Sum is as good a wordsmith I've ever heard in hip-hop. There's nothing of the bling and boast that dominates the club scene. His lyrics are truly lyrical, with a peaceful core as well as a restlessness that drives the songs.

Another track from his 2006 The Lil Folk record, "Dude More Blue" follows an even more explicit road trip, from North Carolina to Atlanta. Sum deals in imagery that's extremely evocative of place and space.

Sum shifts gears on his forthcoming project The Bone Mustache Combe into a rawer sound, but doesn't lose anything on the lyrical side. "Chuck Norris On Drugs," produced by BadTouch, is downright brilliant, a collection of modern life's annoyances, crutches and ubiquitous technology, strung together in a stream of consciousness style.

Sum is for fans of rappers like Murs, Aesop Rock and Ghostface Killah, so don't take him lightly.
Visit Sum at MySpace to download "September," and also check out The Lone Wolf, Sum's collaboration with Belief.

SumKid Majere - Dude More Blue
SumKid Majere - Chuck Norris On Drugs

Saturday, May 03, 2008

A few good reads

Since I'm probably not the only person to spend a little time wondering just what it was like to wander the Greenwich Village streets in the early 1960s, to bop into the folk clubs and sit cross-legged in Washington Square Park, to know who was who and just basically watch as the world became a new place, this new book from Suze Rotolo will command a lot of attention.

Dylan's girlfriend for the four years that he went from a recently arrived Midwestern nobody to one of the world's biggest stars, Rotolo had an utterly fascinating place in that scene.

Her bright eyes light up the Freewheelin' album cover, while Dylan stares downward. And in all likelihood, we might not be hearing from her today if she'd never appeared on a Dylan record cover.

But as this excellent LA Times article makes clear, this isn't a book of just Dylan, not does it have any sort of the groundbreaking revelations that Dylan nuts are always searching for.

The promise of an in-depth and detailed history of the whole folk world is what I'm most excited to read. A book about that place and time as it nestled and nurtured Dylan doesn't have to be just about him. Whatever it was about Greenwich Village that drew Dylan there in the first place by definition existed apart from him. That Dylan and the folk scene of Greenwich Village are now understood to be inseparable is a product of those years when Rotolo was at his side and it's that transformation of the place that's at the core of the book, as this Salon review discusses.

DOWNLOAD: Bob Dylan - Let Me Die In My Footsteps (Freewheelin' outtake)


Next up is an ongoing feature I stumbled across at the Seattle Weekly - Behind My Music, a series by the Long Winters' John Roderick (Part 1 and Part 2 are all that are up now).

In a sense, Roderick's tales parallel Rotolo's. He was front and center for the grunge explosion in Seattle and rather than trace too much of his own existence at the time, Roderick writes as an observer, with a list of fascinating names of both bands (Motor Virus) and singers (Joey Shithead). He catalogs a rich list of strange jobs and various other weirdos he encounters along the way.

As the dying grunge scene was co-opted by major record companies, Roderick was basically out of music himself, but kept writing songs. And as Seattle began its rebirth as home of the Northwestern jangle of indie rock Roderick was in the same boat again.

He's a fascinating writer and I'll definitely keep up as this series progresses.

DOWNLOAD: The Long Winters - Pushover


And finally, there's a great new blog at the New York Times about songwriting: Measure for Measure. The contributors are Andrew Bird, Roseanne Cash, Suzanne Vega and and Darrell Brown. Yeah, not a bad lineup.

The blog has been up for a little over a month and in the first entry, Andrew Bird described all the time he's spent over the past year in a tour bus, and how time to kill in the unfamiliarity of a new town is perfect time for songwriting. And in case I had any doubt that songwriters are a breed apart, consider this line from Bird: "Almost every breath contains some fragments of an escaping melody." It's as if he would actively have to try and prevent music from escaping from his body.

In other posts, Suzanne Vega talks about writing songs even as a teenager, and Roseanne Cash argues that the truth shouldn't get in the way of a good song - if an event didn't really happen that way, go with what makes the song better, she writes.

Indeed, what's most fascinating is how completely different one songwriter is from the next. The creative process is by its very nature an individualized thing, and this blog certainly puts the meat on those bones.

DOWNLOAD: Andrew Bird - Measuring Cups (live on KCRW)