Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New video from Tracy Shedd

Tucson's very own Tracy Shedd has just wrapped up a video for a new song, "City at Night," from the forthcoming EP88, out early next year on Eskimo Kiss Records. If this first single is any indication, the record will be a more somber, piano-based sound. Check it out, and look below for more downloads.

Tracy Shedd - Whatever It Takes
Tracy Shedd - Never Too Late (LIVE from WMBR 88.1 FM)
Tracy Shedd - Paris (LIVE from WMBR 88.1 FM)
Tracy Shedd - Plastic World (LIVE from WMBR 88.1 FM)
Tracy Shedd - Not Giving Up (LIVE from WMBR 88.1 FM)
Tracy Shedd - Valentine (LIVE from WMBR 88.1 FM)
Tracy Shedd - Louder Than You Can Hear (full album zip file)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Blind Pilot / The Low Anthem @ Plush Sunday

Probably more than any other area of the broader indie music world, folk has lost its boundaries, been shifted and recontextualized, and parceled out again in even stranger-termed sub-genres. Nobody in particular has directed this expansive redefinition, it's simply that practitioners of acoustic music themselves have reached broader, in terms of instrumentation, lyrical themes and the ways in which the bands and artists reach and interact with their audience.

But the core element of the various records that have found their way to my ears is simple: it's too damn good to ignore.

Portland's Blind Pilot and The Low Anthem, from Rhode Island - two excellent examples of this contemporary take on folk music arrive - in Tucson together, for a show Sunday at Plush.

I found Blind Pilot from Mr. Chair, who threw "One Red Thread" on a mix he passed my way a few months ago. I've been listening to Blind Pilot a lot at night, usually pretty late, and I think that in itself is a pretty good description of the band's sound.Originally a duo, the band has expanded to a six-person touring ensemble, which gives their calming and introspective music a wonderful fullness live.

I missed Blind Pilot's last Tucson show when I had the flu, but I caught them at the Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco in August and if they can top the short festival set tomorrow night, I'll be thrilled.

I'm newer to the Low Anthem, but the fact that the band's self-released 2008 album, Oh My God Charlie Darwin, was picked up and rereleased this year by Nonesuch had me sold. The album starts with spooky falsetto on "Charlie Darwin," but elsewhere the songs are rollicking. Sign up for the band's email list and snag and excellent cover of Dylan's "Dignity."

And I'm not sure whether the band knows it, but the Low Anthem comes with the Billy Bragg seal of approval. When I interviewed Bragg last month for a story on San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, we talked about how festivals are great for finding new bands, how previously unheard music can absolutely capture you in such a setting. And Bragg said that when he played Newport over the summer, he was impressed by the Low Anthem. So there you go.

The Low Anthem - Charlie Darwin
Blind Pilot - Buried a Bone (Live Laundromatinee session)
Blind Pilot - One Red Thread (Live Laundromatinee session)
Blind Pilot - Two Towns From Me (Live Laundromatinee session)

Blind Pilot / The Low Anthem Tour:

10/25/09. Tucson, AZ – Plush
10/27/09. Houston, TX – Bronze Peacock at HOB
10/28/09. Dallas, TX – Granada Theater
10/29/09. Austin, TX – The Parish
10/30/09. Baton Rouge, LA – Spanish Moon
11/02/09. Tallahassee, FL – Club Downunder
11/03/09. Orlando, FL – The Social
11/04/09. Atlanta, GA – The Earl
11/05/09. Nashville, TN – Mercy Lounge
11/06/09. Asheville, NC – University of North Carolina
11/07/09. Norfolk, VA – Attucks Theater
11/09/09. Carrboro, NC – Cats Cradle
11/11/09. Washington, D.C. – The Black Cat
11/12/09. Boston, MA – Paradise

Ezra Furman @ Solar Culture Saturday

After watching the Wildcats kick UCLA's ass tomorrow, I'm going to head downtown to check out Ezra Furman & The Harpoons at Solar Culture (though I can't blame anybody who picks Why? @ Congress).

I first heard of Furman a couple years ago via Paste writer and blogger Andy Whitman, who dared use the New Dylan tag, calling Furman untamed, freewheelin' and manic, and saying the then 20-year-old "sings like his skull is ready to explode." So, I checked out Furman's debut album, Banging Down the Doors, immediately. Whitman was right. I put "Hotel Room in Casablanca" on a mix, and grabbed Furman's follow-up, last year's Inside the Human Body.

Furman is the very definition of raw talent, putting together two fantastic albums before evening coming close to scraping up against his mid-20s. This is mostly acoustic music, but it's pulsating with adrenaline and urgency. His lyrics rush by, a stream of language covering more ground than I would have thought possible. And it's perfect for his rapid fire singing, unpolished and nasaly, but like John Darnielle or Jeff Mangum or Dylan himself, Furman can pack his voice with enough unhinged emotion to launch his songs into the stratosphere.

Ezra Furman - We Should Fight
Ezra Furman Live on NPR's World Cafe
Ezra Furman Live Daytrotter Session

Oct 24 – Tucson, AZ @ Solar Culture
Oct 25 – Scottsdale, AZ @ Chyro Arts
Oct 27 – Norman, OK @ Opolis Coffee
Oct 28 – Houston, TX @ Walter’s on Washington
Oct 29 – Austin, TX @ The Mohawk
Oct 31 – Hot Springs, AR @ Maxine’s
Nov 1 – Little Rock, AR @ Juanita’s
Nov 3 – Memphis, TN @ Hi-Tone Cafe
Nov 5 – Nashville, TN @ 3rd & Lindsley
Nov 6 – Atlanta, GA @ The Drunken Unicorn
Nov 7 – Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506
Nov 8 – Charlottesville, VA @ The Southern
Nov 11 – Madison, WI @ High Noon Saloon
Nov 12 – Stevens Point, WI @ The Encore – Univ of Wisconsin
Nov 13 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry
Nov 14 – Iowa City, IA @ The Mill
Nov 17 – Columbia, MO @ MOJO’s
Nov 18 – Lawrence, KS @ The Bottleneck
Nov 19 – St. Louis, MO @ The Firebird
Nov 20 – Indianapolis, IN @ Vollrath
Nov 27 – Chicago, IL @ Double Door


Yo La Tengo, Bob Dylan and U2 - all in six days. And I could've added either the Pogues or Gogol Bordello to make it a four show week, but for the following constraints: broke, tired, lack of transportation. Still, what a week. More later.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I know it happens just as often the other way, but I still get a little stab of disappointment when I discover a new band, and said band is touring soon, only to play Phoenix in favor of Tucson.

Evangelicals sound a little psychedelic, a little pop, and seem just as fun as fellow Oklahomans The Flaming Lips. They tread some of the same ground as 80s and 90s alternative giants like James, but there's also a fresh and unrestrained side to Evangelicals. And they're just weird enough to make a perfect lead-in to the Halloween season (Halloween gets its own season, right?). It's just too bad they play Modified instead of a Tucson club.

I missed the band's 2008 album The Evening Descends (an 8.3 at Pitchfork), but now comes word from Dead Oceans that the band has been in recording sessions for a 2010 record.

Evangelicals - Halloween Song
Evangelicals - Skeleton Man

10/31/09 Norman, OK - Opolis
11/02/09 Phoenix, AZ - Modified Arts w/ Holiday Shores
11/03/09 Los Angeles, CA - Echo w/ Port O'Brien
11/04/09 San Francisco, CA - Hemlock Tavern w/ Holiday Shores
11/05/09 Portland, OR - Holocene w/ Holiday Shores
11/06/09 Seattle, WA - The Vera Project w/ Holiday Shores
11/07/09 Missoula, MT - The Palace w/ Holiday Shores
11/08/09 Salt Lake City, UT - Kilby Court w/ Holiday Shores
11/09/09 Denver, CO - Hi Dive w/ Holiday Shores
11/11/09 Kansas City, MO - The Record Bar w/ Holiday Shores, Eli August
11/12/09 St. Louis, MO - Firebird w/ Holiday Shores
11/16/09 Washington, DC - The Red and the Black w/ Holiday Shores
11/17/09 Philadelphia, PA - Kung Fu Necktie w/ Holiday Shores
11/18/09 Brooklyn, NY - Union Hall w/ Holiday Shores
11/19/09 Allston, MA - Great Scott w/ Holiday Shores
11/20/09 Buffalo, NY - Mohawk Place w/ Holiday Shores
11/21/09 Cleveland, OH - Beachland Tavern w/ Holiday Shores
11/22/09 Chicago, IL - Schubas w/ Holiday Shores
11/23/09 Bloomington, IN - The Bishop w/ Holiday Shores

Monday, October 12, 2009

Preview Tom Waits' Glitter & Doom live disc

One of the best shows I've ever seen was the Tom Waits performance in El Paso last summer, and across the country, his Glitter and Doom tour was widely praised. So a live album from the tour is more than a little thrilling - and it's great to hear a full disc will be devoted to nothing but Waits' fascinating banter.

The kind folks over at Anti- Records have released a free digital preview of eight songs from the upcoming release (available Nov. 24). Just click on the widget below, enter your email and download away.

Here's the info on the release:
Available November 24th, Glitter and Doom is a 2 disc collection of the best of the best tracks from Tom Waits' sold out, highly acclaimed Glitter and Doom tour of the US and Europe in the summer of 2008.

Disc One is designed to sound like one evening's performance, even though the 17 tracks are selected from 10 cities, from Paris to Birmingham; Tulsa to Milan; and Atlanta to Dublin. Sonically the album is superb and has been beautifully recorded and meticulously mastered . Disc Two is a bonus compendium called TOM TALES, which is a selection of the comic bromides, strange musings, and unusual facts that Tom traditionally shares with his audience during the piano set. Waits' topics range from the ritual of insects to the last dying breath of Henry Ford.
Tom Waits - Live NPR Broadcast 2008-07-05 (2 hours 20 minutes, 130 mb)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Grove & Divisadero

As I say good-bye to San Francisco, here's a batch of tunes that will always remind me of my long and adventure-filled stay in this fantastic city. I'll be back soon...

Review - fun. - Aim and Ignite

My review of Aim and Ignite, the new album from former Format singer Nate Ruess and his new band fun., is up at the Tucson Weekly:

The opening line of Aim and Ignite —"As I walk through the streets of my new city, I'm back feeling much better, I suppose"—is the same sort of heart-on-the-sleeve sentimentality that distinguished fun. singer Nate Ruess with his previous band, The Format.

It's also a statement of purpose for Ruess, whose work here is a more theatrical and slightly more musically varied version of the ultra-catchy indie-pop that sent the Phoenix-area native on a quick ascension.

As the opening cascade of strings and accordion on "Be Calm" gives way to a herald-like trumpet and military drum rolls, it's clear that Ruess has progressed as a singer, able to both whisper and wail, conveying an emotional range that stretches from joyousness to vulnerability.

But however unrestrained Ruess feels with new bandmates Andrew Dost (Anathallo) and Jack Antonoff (Steel Train), there's still something missing from his collaboration with The Format's Sam Means, whose more grounded and understated skills as a guitarist made him such a fitting foil for Ruess.

"Benson Hedges" and "All the Pretty Girls" swell with handclaps, strings and sing-along choruses, while "At Least I'm Not as Sad (As I Used to Be)" and "Light a Roman Candle With Me" could easily find their way into a 21st-century indie musical.

Produced by Steven McDonald (Redd Kross) and Roger Joseph Manning Jr., who filled the same roles on The Format's Dog Problems, Aim and Ignite rushes along with the exuberant flair and candied adrenaline that you'd expect from a band named fun.

fun. - All The Pretty Girls

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Review: The Avett Brothers - I And Love And You

I wrote a review of the new Avett Brothers album for this week's East Bay Express:

North Carolina's Avett Brothers approach their major-label debut with a heady adventurousness, perhaps trying to bottle their excellent and frenetic live show while sticking close to the themes that have driven the band for a decade.

Working with famed producer Rick Rubin, the band reaches for a bigger and often rowdier sound — including plenty of piano and a rock 'n' roll backbeat with more drums than ever — leaving their rootsy bluegrass as an accent that colors in the edges.

While that might sound as if the Avetts are working against their strengths, the real revelation of I and Love and You is that the band is versatile and talented enough to pull it off with the same passion and straightforward tenderness that made Emotionalism one of 2007's best albums. Their songwriting blossoms from its core honesty into songs about friendship, family, love, challenges, doubt, and striving for the right things in life.

The opening title song is a gradually swelling cello and piano ballad that highlights both the ache and the buzzing excitement of starting over. "Laundry Room," the album's next most memorable song, layers piano and strings on a bed of guitar and banjo picking, and the Avetts' superb harmony vocals, buoyant enough to dig hope out of heartbreak: Tonight I'll burn the lyrics, 'cause every chorus was your name.

In expanding their sound, the Avetts have crafted an album of abundant thrills, and while not quite a masterpiece, I and Love and You continues the band's long ascendancy.

The Avett Brothers - I And Love And You

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Recap

Everyone finds his or her moments to cherish over three days and 80 some bands. That sentiment stands out among the few music festival truisms. The moments are the memories, the reasons to put miles upon miles on your feet, fretfully scan schedules to make the tough calls between two favorites playing a half mile apart at the same time, and make so many people agree to come together, to make a silent pact to enjoy it all as much as possible.

Those moments are why people play music, listen to music and find joy in a fellowship that extends from the artist on stage straight through the crowd to the very back, which in this case felt like it stretched clear to the Pacific Ocean.

They're both intensely personal and communal - communal between a small group of friends or tens of thousands of like-minded strangers - sown amid a brew of exhaustion and elation that can only be found at a gargantuan music festival. Here are my moments from the 2009 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival:

• Tom Morello closing out his Nightwatchman set with "This Land Is Your Land," joined by Steve Earle, Allison Moorer and even Boots Riley. Woody Guthrie and his towering spirit were prevalent through much of the festival, but I felt him strongest during that song, singing "From California..." along with the rest of the crowd, and following Morello and Earle in an all-crowd jump-along.

• John Prine's voice ain't what it used to be, but he warmed up amazingly well during his set, which was laced with humor and grace. "Angel From Montgomery" was another heart-swelling sing-along for me.

• I'd never seen Lyle Lovett before, and damn if his voice live is even richer and smoother than on any record I've heard. "If I Had A Boat" is the song that'll stick in my mind, but Lyle's Large Band blew me away every song with their Texas Swing, blending honky-tonk, blues and gospel like a thick stew.

• Saturday's first big priority was Okkervil River, but on stage before them was the legendary Buddy Miller, and he was joined by Emmylou Harris (holy shit!) and then Robert Plant (holy shit!!!).

• Okkervil is better than ever - energetic and beaming with a lively sort of poise that's developed slowly in the six years since I first saw the band. "Westfall" is a live treasure, like always, but I'm falling more and more for the latest album - "Lost Coastlines" in particular - each time I see the band play.

• I left our Towers of Gold homebase to catch Dave Alvin & The Guilty Women, who tear shit up. I interviewed Alvin for my Hardly Strictly feature in the East Bay Express, and while they were on stage, I kept thinking about how he described The Guilty Women. An all-female band was a different direction for Alvin, no doubt, but they fit together on stage like they were born playing together instead of a one-off all-star team. Which makes it no surprise that Alvin & The Guilty Women are stronger than ever.

• It'd been eight years since I'd seen the Old 97's, but they haven't diminished a bit. If you can't sing along with "Barrier Reef," you can't sing along with anything.

• Unless you stake out a place for the main Banjo Stage by about 11 a.m., you're going to be nowhere near the stage. But a less-than-ideal spot for Gillian Welch is still amazing. I wanted to see her Fillmore set the night before the festival began, but it was sold out. Gillian, David Rawlings and Emmylou Harris teaming for "Didn't Leave Nothing But the Baby" is always going to be excellent.

• The cold and the wind hit with vigor just before Steve Earle hit the stage, and the day's Tecates were taking their toll, so I sadly have to admit that Saturday's closing set was spent mostly shivering, and being glad I saw Earle in August so I didn't feel like I missed out on too much.

• After his early Sunday set, I'm more convinced than ever that Elvis Perkins has put out this year's best record. "Doomsday" brought me chills at 12:30, and that's saying a ton.

• I broke away from a completely enjoyable Dr. Dog set to trek across the park and settle in for Billy Bragg, who had the best performance of the festival, hands down. Opening with "Help Save The Youth of America" and hitting several Woody Guthrie high notes, Bragg was everything I was hoping for the first time I saw him. "Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards" will always be one of my top-5 favorite songs.

• The crowds (estimated about 750,000 over the weekend) started taking their toll on me and the crew about that point, and several friends called it quits before the Neko Case set. I was glad I stayed, but from the excessively far distance, it's hard to say much about her performance. The setting sun, however, put a memorable glow in her red hair, and it was all worth it to hear my favorite songs from her new album, "I'm An Animal" and "People Got A Lotta Nerve."

• Then it was once again time for Emmylou Harris, the queen of Hardly Strictly. And for some reason (Monday morning work, Saturday's horribly cold weather, who knows?) the park emptied quite a bit, so were were able to get closer to Emmylou than were for any other act that entire day. "Pancho & Lefty," "Shores of White Sands," and "Return of the Grievous Angel" were all stunners, but I have to agree with the Hardly Strictly booker Dawn Holliday, who told me that he favorite moment of the festival is when the sun is going down and Emmylou is singing "Red Dirt Girl" - "I could stay in that moment forever," she said.

And those are the moments.

Elvis Perkins in Dearland - Slow Doomsday
Dr. Dog - My Old Ways
Okkervil River - Westfall (live)

Friday, October 02, 2009

It's Hardly Strictly time!

Photo by Ken Friedman

In four hours, I'll be in Golden Gate Park, listening to the Nightwatchman, Tom Morello's folk persona, to be followed by John Prine and Lyle Lovett. And that's just the slow first day at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Did I mention it's free?

I first came to the festival two years ago (and I'm listening to the Jeff Tweedy set from that year as I write) and of course fell in love with the park as a venue for live music. I missed out on last year's Hardly Strictly, but I've seen the two Outside Lands Festivals in the same location, so now it feels like I'm an old pro at navigating between the Speedway and Lindley meadow stages.

The lineup is amazing and there's no way I'll be able to see everybody I want. But my priorities are clear: Billy Bragg, Lyle Lovett, Mavis Staples, Richie Havens, Aimee Mann and Nick Lowe - none of whom I've seen before - as well as Elvis Perkins, Okkervil River, Neko Case, Old 97s, Dave Alvin, Steve Earle and the queen of Hardly Strictly, Emmylou Harris.

Aside from the big, big names playing the festival, the vibe at Hardly Strictly is what's truly special. It's free, so there are no fences, no gates, no long lines (excepting the johns at times), no pressure. It's an easy come and go if you want. Lay out a blanket, bring some food and your own beer and just soak it all in. The weather is great. The friends are great.

Simply put, if the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival isn't the highlight of the year, then your life is a hell of a lot more exciting than mine.

I'll end by referring everybody to the feature I wrote on the festival for the East Bay Express. And I have to say it was a bit of a thrill to interview Nick Lowe, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Dave Alvin and Billy Bragg:
Golden Gate Park's biggest musical event, the always-free Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, returns this weekend with another impressively rich and varied collection of roots music. While maintaining the festival's core spirit — a classic Bay Area combination of generosity and creativity — organizers are going bigger and bluesier in this ninth year, adding a sixth stage and welcoming artists who might have found a stage at the cancelled San Francisco Blues Festival.

Heavy on legends and local favorites — including the perennial headliner Emmylou Harris, Doc Watson, Lyle Lovett, Gillian Welch, Steve Earle, Del McCoury, and Earl Scruggs — the lineup has 81 acts, spread across six stages. Organizers say about 750,000 people attended over the course of three days last year and, weather permitting, they expect at least as many this year. (Full lineup, schedule, artist biographies, and festival map at HardlyStrictlyBluegrass.com)

"There's a vein of music that if you're turned on to, you're going to like, it's just a matter of being exposed to it," said Dawn Holliday, who books the festival. "By the eighty bands we chose, there's going to be a similarity that's going to flow through that crowd. Last year was a perfect example. People who love Steve Earle and Emmylou got to hear Iron & Wine and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, and people who love them got to hear Earl Scruggs."

The festival's lone sponsor, financier and banjo picker Warren Hellman, started the festival in 2001, with twelve bands on two stages. "Warren wanted to do a bluegrass festival in the park and we booked Hazel Dickens first," Holliday said. "I said I think we better hire Emmylou, or we'll have thirteen people there. He called it Strictly Bluegrass music to begin with, to try and shame Emmylou into doing bluegrass. I was booking songwriters and Americana and Cajun music and diversifying every year, and I don't think Emmylou did bluegrass until year seven."

This year, Holliday hopes the Hardly Strictly helps pick up the slack from the cancelled San Francisco Blues Festival, another early fall fixture that had run for 36 years. "Because of the blues festival closing, I knew that Allen [Toussaint] and Mavis [Staples] and Booker T would be good acts," she joked. "We're going to have more B3s than banjos."

It's a festival known for special guests and collaborations. At one of last year's most acclaimed performances, Hardly Strictly regular Dave Alvin unveiled his new project — the Guilty Women. "They asked me last year to do something different and I said, without really thinking about it, 'An all-female band,'" Alvin said. "And within a day, everybody had agreed to do it. It was all musicians I'd more or less worked with, but a lot of them had never played together. I just kind of had the feeling it would work out — blind faith in fate."

Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women felt so good for everybody that the band regrouped a couple months later in Austin to record an album. "Everybody walked off stage pretty excited about it," Alvin said. "Everybody in the band is an amazing musician. It's a cooperative kind of effort. Even though it's Dave Alvin's band, it's not really Dave Alvin. It's not me with a backup band. It's more of a meeting of the minds."

Alvin — who will perform this year with the Guilty Women and with the Knitters — said the festival's easy-going vibe comes from the generosity of Hellman. "There's a huge audience for this type of music, but it's not very well represented in pop culture as a whole, not catered to at all," he said. "A festival like this is about traditional music, done in a variety of styles, and here's 80,000 people, 90,000 people who love it. You get a feeling of communion. You're sharing a love of this music with other people. That creates a very nice vibe among the crowd. And you can't beat the location of Golden Gate Park."

Returning for his second Hardly Strictly performance, British folk-punk icon Billy Bragg said singer-songwriters flourish at the festival, a strong draw for him. "It brings people from all sorts of different traditions, but what we have in common is a storytelling aspect of what we do," he said. "It's always an honor to share the space."

Known to introduce topical updates to "Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards" — from his 1988 Workers Playtime album — Bragg said a 2009 version is in the works. "I'm sure there'll be something local and up-to-date that I might want to sneak in," he said. "That's the good thing about that song — you can shape it for so many different reasons."

English singer-songwriter Nick Lowe is back at the festival for the fourth time, saying that despite its growth in popularity, Hardly Strictly has remained sociable. "It's real fun to walk around and it's very friendly without being a hippie weird-out."

"I make no secret of my love for American popular music, of course that includes many folk stylings as well, folk and blues and so on," he continued. "I love it. Being British, we tend to feel that we have carte blanche to jumble the stuff up as we see fit."

In addition to playing a solo set, Lowe will join James Cotton, Austin de Lone, Buddy Miller, Derek O'Brien, Wes Starr, Jimmie Vaughan, and Jack "Applejack" Walroth in Boz Scaggs' Blue Velvet Band, put together specifically for the festival. "It's wonderful to get the opportunity to play with these great musicians," Lowe said. "There isn't really a great live music scene in the UK anymore, and there really isn't a place where you can just turn up and play away."

Texan Jimmie Dale Gilmore is another Hardly Strictly veteran, playing this year with longtime friends and collaborators Butch Hancock and Joe Ely as the Flatlanders, the on-again, off-again band that released Hills and Valleys earlier this year. "I've told a lot of people that it's probably my very favorite festival," Gilmore said. "To me there's an aura around the whole thing. What it boils down to is there's a love for the music other than a love for the profits and you can just tell. It comes out in so many different ways."

The Flatlanders will introduce some of the band's new album to the Golden Gate Park audience, but are also planning for a loose, spontaneous set. "Working with Butch and Joe, anything can happen," Gilmore said. "We all have a real experimental streak in us. As the Flatlanders, we never were pushing any kind of a commercial career. It's purely been the love of the music. We have to blend that with the fact that we have our own separate careers and we have to make a special place to work as the Flatlanders, but it's something we really enjoy a lot."

For her part, Holliday shuns the backstage friends and family section, preferring to spend her time in the audience to take in all the music she can. "The highlight of the day for me is the end of the festival and Emmylou is singing 'Red Dirt Girl' and the sun's going down," she said. "I could stay in that moment forever."

Billy Bragg - Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards (live)
The Flatlanders - Homeland Refugee
Dave Alvin & The Guilty Women - Fourth of July (live from Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 8)
Nick Lowe - All Men Are Liars

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Review: The Dodos - Time to Die

I have a review of The Dodos new album, Time to Die, online now at the East Bay Express:

Gently layered on top of the Dodos' pounding rhythms, both from the polyrhythmic drums and syncopated guitar strumming, is a melodic sweetness. That combination, plus some classic California psychedelic touches, gives the band's pop songs their fuzzy edges — too often at the expense of the hectic rawness of Visiter, the Dodos' 2008 release.

For Time to Die, the San Francisco guitar and drums duo grew to a trio, with the addition of an electric vibraphone that both expands the percussive sensibilities and finds ways to take up the spaces in between the rhythms. Producer Phil Ek (The Shins, Built to Spill) is on board to handle the band's bigger sound.

While generally light in sound, the band can turn wicked lyrically. On "The Strums," Meric Long sings, So children kill your teachers, kill your parents, then kill your preachers, 'cause you know that they will only doubt you — as sweetly as possible, of course. Dark introspection emerges elsewhere: Like an opera you sing about yourself, you feel nothing, Long sings on "Two Medicines."

It's hard to fault the Dodos' ambition or musicianship, but the band's song-crafting is a step behind; there's no standout song to recommend. Ultimately, Time to Die sounds careful and calculated, pleasant enough to draw in the listener, but sadly not delivering much else once you're inside.

The Dodos - Fools

Review: Circulatory System

My review of Signal Morning, the first Circulatory System album in eight years, is online at the Tucson Weekly:

Eight years have passed since its first album, and Circulatory System is back with its sophomore release, a hectic and sonically dense collection that pushes the band's experimental side to the forefront.

Will Cullen Hart again occupies the center of the Circulatory System. Instead of overpowering the music, the story behind the album—recorded steadily over seven years in seven different studios while Hart was battling multiple sclerosis—becomes a helpful guide to the spacey Signal Morning, which oscillates between disconcerting and comforting.

The album has a turbulence that roughens up the poppier elements of Hart's songwriting that were more prevalent on Circulatory System and with his previous project, the Olivia Tremor Control, an original Elephant 6 band. Signal Morning's more subdued tracks, like "Tiny Concerts" and "The Breathing Universe," most recall the eccentric beauty of the band's 2001 self-titled debut.

The album skips quickly along, with songs mostly shorter than three minutes, many of which feel like collages of atmospheric sounds, collected and repurposed by Hart into deep layers of background decorations. The longer songs—like "Round Again" and "Particle Parades"—find more balance between the experimental and the captivating, catchy psychedelic rock that's been the hallmark of the E6 collective of bands.

While there's little to suggest that Hart crafted Signal Morning as his "M.S. record," there's a deep sense of questioning and longing at the album's core, a quest to find one's place in a universe filled with alienation and weirdness.

Circulatory System - Round Again