Sunday, December 11, 2011

Best of 2011

It's time again to pause, reflect and remember what we enjoyed listening to the most this year. My friend and co-blogger Fletcher again introduced me to terrific new bands, including Dawes, and Wye Oak, I also enjoyed new music from bands I've enjoyed for years, and I have a new band to introduce, Girls, that I think is terrific. In my 2010 post I mentioned that I was looking forward to new Decemberist and Damnwells albums. Both made it to my top 10 list this year.

Here's my list of my favorite albums of the year. Fletcher's post and list follows mine. Fletcher and I would love to see your comments, both pro and con, about our lists and we invite you to share your favorite music for 2011 in the comments section.

Top Albums of the Year (alphabetical by band)

The Damnwells, No One Listens to the Band Anymore-- This is one of my favorite bands. Alex Dezen's songwriting just continues to improve. Alex recently received an MFA from the University of Iowa and the results can be heard in his writing.
Dawes, Nothing is Wrong--Thank you Fletcher! What a treasure.
The Decemberists, The King is Dead-- Another unexpected and wonderful musical turn from this band. They prove time and time again that they can play any style of music. This album came out last January and still made my top ten. That says a lot!
Deer Tick, Divine Providence--Young, wild, innocently (or not so innocently) Dyonesian. This band has an incredibly high energy. Their music is terrific for working out.
Destroyer - Kaputt-- I love the tapestry of sounds on this album. One can hear a venerable smorgasbord of diverse forms of jazz and rock influencing the songwriting and performing on this album.
Drive By Truckers, Go-Go Boots-- More terrific stories from DBT. Sadly, I just learned that Shonna Tucker is leaving the band. I wish both her and the band the best as they move on.
Girls, Father, Son, Holy Ghost-- I love listening to this San Francisco band as they create a new sound from various vintage rock sources.
Tedeschi Trucks Band, Revelator-- I reviewed this amazing band earlier this year. I've enjoyed this album numerous times.
Wilco, The Whole Love-- Great songwriting returns, the band members are performing as rock-n-roll virtuosos, and the band is incredibly tight. Note: This has also been a terrific year for guitarist Nels Cline and Drummer Glenn Kotche. Nels Cline has rightfully claimed his place among Rolling Stone's top 100 guitarists of all time and Glenn Kotche was featured playing amazing original compositions on a Radiolab concert.
Wye Oak, Civilian-- Quiet, yet forceful with delightfully unexpected musical turns. This album was selected as the best album of the year by AVClub.

Honorable Mentions:
The Jayhawks, Mockingbird Time-- Old friends, Gary Louris and Mark Olsen and writing and harmonizing again. Enough said...
Nikki Jean, Pennies in a Jar-- Terrific debut by this songwriter. Her debut includes several guest performances and a song that she co-wrote with Bob Dylan.
Fountains of Wayne, Sky Full of Holes-- FOWs lyrics always bring a smile to my face. Their songwriting is solid throughout.
Amos Lee, Mission Bell--This singer/songwriter's 4th studio album highlights Mr. Lee's folksy bluesy sound.
Portugal The Man, In the Mountain, In the Cloud:--Signing with Atlantic has not changed this band. Sonic landscapes abound.
Lucinda Williams, Blessed-- My favorite LW record in years. This album is blessed with strong songwriting musical performance.

Best Musical Moment
Rhett Miller and Alex Dezen put on an amazing show in front of a small but highly enthusiastic audience at Fizgeralds in Houston. I filmed them performing American Girl together.

Looking Forward to 2012
Esperanza Spaulding will be releasing Radio Music Society during the first quarter of 2012. I can't wait to hear where her musical muse is taking her. She's so eclectic that it could be almost anywhere.

Fletcher's Best

It is my favorite time of a musical year. It is the time when we get to go back and remember and reflect on all the great music, bands, songs, and moments. 2011 was a fantastic year musically. We saw a growth in the readership of our blog from both the US and other foreign countries. Larry and I both really appreciate your readership and will always try hard to try to turn you on to our favorite bands and music. We both take this responsibility seriously. It is a joy to just be able to write about bands that we care about and want you to learn about if you haven’t already. I really appreciate all your comments that you sent to me personally. Well let’s get on to the reason you read this.
I loved 2011. It brought back some great bands that I love and it brought some remarkable new bands. This year some of my favorite songs came from my favorite albums. So here is my top five albums with my two favorite songs from each one.

Fletcher's Best of 2011 Picks
Top Albums of the Year (listed alphabetically by band) I have spent a lot of time putting in links for every song, so please take a while and enjoy them. I want this to be interactive and you to be able to spend some time with this great music!!

The Damnwells, No One Listens To The Band Anymore-- Coming back after a few years, Alex Dezen is one of the best songwriters and voices in the business. "Heart beats on the fault line of love and doubt and wasted time"are the opening lyrics to "Werewolves". Whole album is full of these type of lyrics. Doesn't get better than this. Listen to “Werewolves” and “The Great Unknown”. You won’t be disappointed.
Dawes, Nothing Is Wrong-- A great sophomore album. Strong from top to bottom. Taylor Goldsmith is at the top of his game and is going to have a long career. Listen to “Time Spent in Los Angeles” and “If I Wanted Someone”.
Givers, In Light-- This band kills it live and has earned a well deserved reputation. I loved their debut album. Their time changes and syncopation draws you right in. Very young band out of Louisiana and very very good. Listen to “Saw You First” and “Up,Up,Up”. I love everything about them. Potential to be huge.
Ha Ha Tonka, Death of a Decade-- This band out of Missouri also kills it live. A bunch of really nice guys who are talented as hell. Listen to “Usual Suspects” and “Westward Bound”. Do not miss the opportunity to see them live. They also have my favorite t-shirt ever!!! Sell a ton of them whenever I work their merch table.
Portugal the Man, In the Mountain, In the Cloud-- This under rated band just keeps putting out great music. This album is simply breathtaking. So much going on. Listen to “Got it All” and “Head is Flame (Cool with it)”. Brings you back to the psychedelic 60’s.

Top Songs of the Year (listed alphabetically by band)

Nicole Atkins, Vultures-- This opening track must be talking about her troubles with her former major label. After a few years dealing with those issues, it is great to have her songs and marvelous voice back.
Birds and Arrows, Mountain Air-- More great harmonies from this North Carolina husband-wife team. I love their sound especially with the depth of a cello in a folk rock band. Not to mention they are the nicest and kindest people. Check them out.
Decemberists, Calaminty Song---A great roots album from this band. Really went out on a limb and it all worked.
Dirty Guv’nahs-Baby We Were Young- A Southern rock and blues based band out of Knoxville. Lots of guitars and strong songwriting. Great voices. Great guys.
The Head and the Heart, Lost In My Mind--This Seattle bands album was a real surprise. Love the way this song builds. My idea of a perfect song.
The Jayhawks, She Walks in so Many Ways-- It is so great to have this band back with their beautiful harmonies and melodies.
Vandeveer, Dig Down Deep-- It is stunning what a guitar and two hauntingly gorgeous voices in perfect harmony can do. Stark and striking. Become familiar with them, please.
We Are Augustines, Chapel Song-- Just a great song from this high energy band. They leave everything on the stage live. Joe Strummer would be proud.
Wilco- Art of Almost- I have been a huge Wilco fan from the beginning. Haven’t really liked the past two albums. After hearing this opening song I knew they were back in form. One of the best opening tracks to an album I have ever heard. Wow!!
Wye Oak-Civilian- A great song from the musical pride of Baltimore. This album made a ton of critics year end lists and deservingly so. They had an amazing year. Don't miss this band live if you ever get the chance. Will blow you away.

Best Musical Moment
I had the honor and privilege of working the merch table for a series of East Coast dates with two of my favorite bands- The Damnwells and Harper Blynn. Had a blast with all these great and talented guys. Would do it all again in a heartbeat. Thanks for making me feel like I was 29 again.

Thanks to all the bands who trusted me working their merch tables this year. Always great meeting you and your fans. Always grateful.

Looking forward to in 2012
New albums dropping from Heartless Bastards, Delta Spirit, and Harper Blynn. Have had the fortune to hear a lot of the new Harper Blynn songs. It won’t disappoint.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Band That Changed My Life- The Jayhawks

This is the band that changed my life musically. I am not overstating the significance and impact that this band had on me personally. Most of my life I had only had access to Top 40 or Alternative radio stations. Therefore my music taste was decided by radio programmers who played music based on what would bring in sales income to the station. So I had not been exposed to music out of the mainstream. I moved to New York City and had the privilege of being turned on to WNEW which at the time was playing what would become AAA (Adult Album Alternative) music. WNEW is the station Lou Reed referred to in his classic song “Rock and Roll”. One day I was listening to the legendary Scott Muni and heard a song by The Jayhawks. The song was “Waiting for the Sun” from their 1992 Hollywood Town Hall album. I was frozen in awe. I couldn't move. The music had so much depth and absolutely the most beautiful harmonies I had ever heard. The lyrics had meaning and really spoke to me. A few weeks later the station sponsored a free live outdoor show and I went to see what they were all about. After seeing them I first learned about what was going to be known as indie music. I was again in total admiration of this amazing band. The moment I purchased the album it changed the way I listened to music up to this day. From them I learned of many other amazing bands that radio stations were not playing and to this day continue my quest for bands that I can write to you about and hopefully turn you on to. Bands who craft intelligent music that speaks to us as individuals in a variety of ways. Bands who are talented and are playing music that motivates them, not driven purely by sales.

The Jayhawks were formed in 1985 in Minneapolis out of some other local bands. They had a strong roots and country rock influence led by the dynamic songwriting/ singing team of Gary Louris and Marc Olson. They released two albums on smaller labels and were at the forefront of what was going to be known as alternative country. They were then signed to Def American which has become American Recordings label and in 1992 they put out the album that changed my life. Just when I thought that I couldn't hear anything better, they released Tomorrow the Green Grass in 1995. To this day it is still one of my favorite all time albums. Its perfect songwriting and beautiful soaring vocals still sends chills up my spine today. “Blue” is also one of my favorite all-time songs. At the end of 1995 Marc Olson announced that he was leaving the band. They spent the next few years with a revolving cast of members, but in my opinion without the Olson/Louris combination, the band was a shell of its former self. By 2003 and three more albums they realized this also and called it quits.

What a surprise it was to me in September of this year that they released a new album called Mockingbird Time. I was skeptical at first and then I learned that Olson and Louris were back together again with some of the original members and the best of the previous formations. I had to give it a listen. While it may not be the best Jayhawks album it is certainly the best since Green Grass. To me personally just hearing the exquisite harmonies once again is worth the price of the album. Please enjoy the video and harmonies of “She Walks In So Many Ways” from the new album:

I am so pleased to be able to re-introduce this band to you. They are more than worth finding out about and listening to both their old and new music. They are a band that many current bands refer to as being a major influence on. If you listen to them, you will see why this is true. Just maybe they will change your life.

Larry Adds: I love learning how transformative The Jayhawks were in Fletcher's musical journey. When Fletcher introduced me to the band in 2000 they had a profound influence on me as well. In my case I had first listened to alternative music (called progressive music at the time) on Georgetown University's WGTB. When that station was sold for $1 in 1979 I lost my source to new music and gradually over time, lost touch with progressive music.

Like Fletcher I was drawn to the Jayhawk's harmony and intelligent lyrics. I also like the way that the Jayhawks can pull unexpected turns in their music so effectively. For example, they turn a lament into an anthem in "Blue".

I respectfully differ with Fletcher about one album without Olsen. I really enjoy 2003's Rainy Day Music. While I miss the Olsen/Louris harmony I think Louris exhibited extremely strong songwriting on this album. To me all of the songs on this album are excellent. From the lament, "All The Right Reasons" to the sadly humorous "Save It For A Rainy Day" I think this album is quite good. That said, I strongly agree with Fletcher that the Jayhawks best album is Tomorrow the Green Grass.

I've had the pleasure of seeing the band live 3 times. Most recently I caught the finale of their 2011 tour at the House of Blues, Houston. I can happily report that their live sound is still tight and terrific.

I'm forever grateful to Fletcher to introducing me to 21st century alternative music and the Jayhawks for being the band I first listened to when I started listening to new music again.

If you have been hesitant about listening to new music I strongly encourage you to give The Jayhawks a listen.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Nothing is Wrong-Dawes

Nothing is Wrong is the latest album from the Los Angeles based band Dawes. This will be on my top albums of this year's list and I believe that the title of this album accurately describes the music. There is not a bad song or moment on the album. I have been encouraging all my music loving friends to go out and immediately buy it. They released the album during the summer of 2011 and I still listen to it almost daily. I usually will tire of albums after a few weeks, but this Dawes album keeps me engaged with their beautiful hooks and pertinent lyrics.

Dawes has a very Laurel Canyon sound in its music. When I first heard them I thought it sounded a lot like Jackson Browne. It evokes that sound, feel, and spirit from people like Browne, Joni Mitchell, and early country-folk Neil Young.To my surprise Jackson Browne is a guest on the new album. I would classify their sound as folk-rock. They will thrill you with their beautiful harmonies and earthy tones. Taylor Goldsmith is an amazing songwriter who is wise beyond his years.

Dawes includes brothers Taylor (vocals, guitar,songwriter) and Griffin (drums,vocals) Goldsmith. Wylie Gelber plays the bass and Tay Strathairn has just joined them on keyboards. The Goldsmith's father was in the Bay area legendary band Tower of Power. Taylor formed a band in high school named Simon Dawes which put out one album. After they broke up they formed the current band out of the ashes. They were signed to ATO Records which was co-founded by Dave Matthews. They released their first album North Hills in 2009. It created the Laurel Canyon sound and it resonated with a lot of other bands who took them out on tour. Langhorne Slim and Delta Spirit (both bands I have written about) were two of the bands who were impressed with their sound and presence and took them out with them as openers. As more people saw and heard them, they became the headliners. Enjoy the video “Time Spent In Los Angeles” from Nothing is Wrong:

The new album deals with a lot of their past two years in which they have been on the road. It was also recorded the old school way on analog equipment. I found the sound has a lot more depth than a lot of the newer albums have. It really brings them back to the Laurel Canyon sound. If you like what you hear from the video, run out to buy the CD. You won't regret it.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Marriage Made in Rock & Blues Heaven

Imagine that one of Rolling Stone's top 100 guitarists of all time married a rock/blues singer who has been nominated for multiple grammy awards.  Imagine that after years of nurturing successful careers on their own that they worked together on an amazing project.  Stop imagining:

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedechi have formed the Tedechi Trucks Band.  It's an incredible union.
I love the sense of joy I feel from the music on Revelator, the Tedechi Trucks Band's joint venture. Independently, both Tedechi and Trucks work with terrific musicians. Just because two headliners, who happen to be married to each other, got excited about a joint project didn't mean that the members of each of their bands would share that excitement. The question of how well all of these musicians would collaborate begged to be asked.  Fortunately,  everyone involved in this project seems to be having a terrific time making great music.  Gary Louris of The Jayhawks (one of my and Fletcher's favorite bands) wrote several of the best songs on the album and I'm delighted to report that the Tedechi Trucks Band does beautiful justice to his writing.  It doesn't get much better than this.
I first became aware of Derek Trucks several years ago when I attended the World Guitar Congress at Towson University in 2004. In front of an audience of serious guitar mavens, Derek Trucks and his band put on a show that literally had several members of the audience bowing down in homage to them.

Derek Trucks was born in 1979.  His uncle, Butch Trucks is a drummer and a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band.  Derek starting playing the guitar at age 9 and by the age of 12 was sitting in with his uncle Derek's band.  Derek formed his own band in 1994.  Derek met Susan Tedechi in 1999.

Susan Tedechi was born in 1970.  She graduated from the Berkelee College of Music at age 20 and formed her own band in 1994.  She and Derek married in 2001 and they have two children.

While it is quite a feat in itself that two rock musicians have maintained a marriage for 10 years it is even more impressive that they have been able to let go of their egos to produce such a fine album together.  My co-blogger Fletcher saw the Tedechi Trucks Band this summer in Baltimore.  Fletcher reports that "they slayed the audience.  They had their audience from their first song". I hope they continue to collaborate on future projects.

Elsewhere in the music world, there are two new releases that both Fletcher and I are both excited about:

Wilco:  The Whole Love
The Jayhawks: Mockingbird Time

Monday, August 1, 2011

I Knew Them When- Wye Oak

I can’t tell you how many times I have had people come up to me at the merch table and ask “How does so much sound come out of just two people?” It is part of the amazement of what makes the band Wye Oak.

I must profess to you a lot of bias on my part for this band. They are a Baltimore based band that I have worked the merch table for too many times to even count. I have even traveled with them outside of Baltimore. Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack are two of the most talented people that I know. Beyond their talent also lies two of the nicest people I have ever met in the music business. I consider them to be friends, so I must let you know this as I write this piece. However I will also tell you that most people I have told about this band, have also fallen in love with the music. This would include my co-blogger Larry. This band has blown up the past year with two fine albums. This is a band that I can truly say that I knew them before they blew up and it has been a pleasure to watch the rest of the country fall in love with them.

Jenn and Andy started the band as Monarch. They put out an album titled If Children. It created a lot of instant buzz with their unique sound. I call it controlled chaos. The songs build to a point that feels uncontrolled with sounds and guitar rising over each other. Jenn’s voice wails through the distortion and the next instant it all falls out to a quiet and gentle sound. I am always mesmerized by this perfect songwriting duo. So were many others. Merge Records signed them immediately to their label. Because there were some other bands named Monarch they asked them to change their name and Jenn and Andy settled on Maryland’s famous tree The Wye Oak. Merge is the perfect label for them because it is a company that gives control to their artists and nurtures them. They released If Children in 2008 under the Merge label. Wye Oak went back into the studio and then released The Knot in 2009. This album showed a lot of maturity both in musicianship and songwriting. Many others also found this to be true. They were now performing in bigger clubs across the country. They could see their own rise as they criss-crossed the country playing in venues where they had played a few months earlier but were now playing to many more people. All of a sudden they were opening for some of the most well known indie bands in the world. From December of 2010 through February of this year they opened for Spoon, The Decemberists, and Cold War Kids , which are bands we have written about in this blog. They have recently released their new album in 2011 titled Civilian. It once again shows a lot of growth.

Through all of this they remained committed to their music and sound. As I said in the opening they are the only two people on stage. Jenn plays guitar and sings with her hauntingly beautiful and passionate voice. Andy plays the drums with one hand and the bassline on keyboards on the other hand. It is something to watch. Please enjoy this video of “Holy Holy” from their network television debut on the Jimmy Fallon show.

This new album Civilian has continued to bring in many new fans not only here in the States but they have also toured through Europe. It has been great to watch this meteoric rise from this band with modest roots in Baltimore. We are happy to claim Wye Oak as our hometown heros as is Wye Oak proud of their Baltimore roots. Through this ride Jenn and Andy have remained humble as ever and I couldn’t be happier for their success.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

No One Listens to the Band Anymore- The Damnwells

My co-blogger Larry and I go way back with this band. We saw The Damnwells in 2004 just after they released their first full length album Bastards of the Beat. We were both immediately enthralled with them. For days we talked about how great they were and what an astonishing show we had witnessed. Alex Dezen’s songwriting was the best we had heard in a long time and the passion he brought to his songs with his vocal quality was inspiring. I have just had the privilege of working the merch table on a few dates for them and I want to assure you that the songwriting and passion continue despite personnel changes and having been knocked around a bit. It is a tribute to Alex for all he has gone through all and yet continues to write deeply personal and inspiring music. I still think he is one of the best songwriters out there, period.

The story of the Damnwells is one that could be made for a movie. Oh wait, it was!! Check out the amazing documentary titled Golden Days. It is one of the best movies about the rise and difficulties of a new band being signed to a major label. The rise shows this band being so committed to making music, that they recorded their first EP in 2002 in a Manhattan Mini Storage unit. It created a lot of buzz so they then recorded, on their own, their first full length Bastards of the Beat. Before they could put it out themselves, they were signed to Epic Records on the strength of the new songs they had laid down. The short story is it did well and Epic asked them to record a new album which became Air Stereo. The date of releasing the new album was continuously pushed back because the label wanted to give its full attention to two new bands The Fray and Augustana that they had also just signed and felt more commitment to. After a long delay they were dropped from the label and released the album with the help of Rounder Records, who then also later dropped them. The original Damnwells broke up and went their separate ways and Alex went back to the prestigious University of Iowa Writing Program to get his Masters degree.

You would think that all of this would have killed the band. Alex and the original bass player Ted Hudson recorded (with others) the new album that was recently released titled No One Listens to the Band Anymore. The album definitely refers to their dealings with a major label. It speaks to the perseverance of Alex in that these may be the best Damnwells songs yet. To make sure he could put his music out independently, Alex raised the money for the new album through his fans with the group Pledgemusic. This organization claims on their web site to: involve your fans-keep your rights-fund your music and raise money for charity. It is truly wonderful to hear these personal new songs. Please enjoy video of the song "Werewolves" from the new album. Great lyrics, voice, and tune. This should make you a fan.

In the realm of being a small world, the current touring edition of The Damnwells is Harper Blynn as Alex’s Damnwells. They open the show with their own Harper Blynn songs and then come back as The Damnwells with Alex fronting the band. It is a great version of what has become The Damnwells musical collective. Alex continues to write songs for other artists including some major players in the business. Both Larry and I encourage you to pick up the brilliant new album. You won’t be sorry. It will show you the story of resolve and determination in the ability to get music out to the world because it is great, not to be determined by a record labels analysis of profit margins only. Music should be heard because it is amazing and The Damnwells produce incredible and meaningful music.

Larry adds...  As Fletcher mentioned I am also a huge fan of the Damnwells.  Last October I caught an amazing live show that Alex put on at Cactus Records in Houston.  Alex kindly gave me permission to film the show.  Here is Alex and his sister performing "Golden Days".

Update: One of my favorite bands Portugal the Man has just released an excellent new album titled In the Mountain In the Cloud. They have been touring it and will continue to tour this Fall. It is a very strong album from this band. Pick it up!!!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Allstars of North Mississippi

How delightful it is to hear three musicians take the blues, that mystically magical musical form of 3 chords over 12 bars sound raw, fresh, and new. When I listen to The North Mississippi Allstars  (NMAS) that's exactly what I hear. While new, their sound is always reverential to the giants of the hill country sound in whose footsteps they follow. Their reverence, while present, is not the focus of their music. Instead of dominating their sound it's subtle.  Listening to their music I believe that they are  taking hill country blues to the next level.

NMAS formed in 1996.  This trio is comprised of brothers Luther (guitar/vocals) and Cody (drums, keyboards, washboard) Dickinson and Chris Chew (bass).  The Dickinson brothers are the son of Jim Dickinson, a Memphis musician and record producer.  For a time, Duwayne Burnside, played second guitar in the band.  Duwayne Burnside is a son of hill country blues legend R.L. Burnside. R.L. Burnside's music has had a huge influence on NMAS.

NMAS made a splash in 2000 with their first phenomenal album,  Shake Hands With Shorty, which was nominated for a Grammy Award for "Best Contemporary Blues Album".  14 releases, and 2 more Grammy Award nominations later, their  Keys to the Kingdom, is a mix of traditional hill country blues, honkey-tonk, and southern rock. My favorite cuts are those emphasizing the sounds of the blues, and honkey-tonk music. While most of the music on this album is new they do a masterful job reinventing Dylan's classic, "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" as a blues tune.

Enjoy Keys to the Kingdom's "Jellyrollin All Over Heaven"

 This summer I read Peter Guralnick's masterful book, Last Train to Memphis about Elvis Presley's early life in Tupelo, Mississippi; Memphis, Tennessee and his rise to stardom. I've learned a great deal about the fusion of blues, gospel, and country into a new sound at Sun Studio in the mid 1950s. When I listen to NMAS I  hear them fuse those same sounds into something completely new.

  I have had the good fortune to see NMAS twice live. Both times their sound has been well mixed, their playing first rate, and their set lists well thought out.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Luscious Harmonies of Vandaveer

Have you ever heard such beautiful harmonies that you can’t move? I am talking about the harmonies that mesh together so well that they sound like one voice. They follow each other and know each other so well that they can anticipate where the other is going vocally. If you love this type of harmony you must become familiar with Vandaveer.

I had the absolute pleasure of working the merchandise table for them when they last came through Baltimore. I have been a fan of theirs since I first heard the song “Divide and Conquer” from the album of the same name. I was stunned by the harmonies and was worried that when I saw them live, it wouldn’t be the same. Was I ever wrong. I spent the entire show mesmerized by the power of these two voices. I had shivers of joy the entire evening. When I heard them I really felt powerless at points. Who would have thought that just two people and one guitar could be so commanding? They had the audience with them from the first note to the last.

Vandaveer is basically Mark Charles Heidinger and Rose Guerin. They do tour at times with a drummer/percussionist but it is usually the two of them. Mark writes the songs and they both sing their style of alternative folk music. Mark started out his music career playing bass in the band These United States. He put out a side project in 2007 under Vandaveer moniker called Grace & Speed. It did very well and got a lot of great press. He then brought in Rose and they recorded Divide and Conquer in 2009. This album got such great reviews that it convinced Mark to pursue Vandaveer full time. They just released in April Dig Down Deep which continues to highlight his great songwriting skills. Vandaveer is not just a vocal one trick pony. The song writing is excellent along with meaningful lyrics. Here is a live video recorded at WTMD of "Divide and Conquer":

If you love harmonies, I encourage you to get out and support this great band. You can click here for a free download on their site for the song "Woolgathering". Make sure you see them live if you get the chance. You will also be mesmerized.

UPDATE: As we have done before, we will from time to time update you on bands we have already written posts on. My co-blogger Larry wrote a blog a while ago on the band Death Cab for Cutie. They have just released a fine new album titled Codes and Keys. The reviews have been excellent and if you like them you should pick up this new album.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Best Band You Have Never Heard Of- Marah

I am a hopeless romantic when it comes to this band. I love Marah, always have and always will. They are my third favorite band of all time behind The Beatles and Uncle Tupelo . They are the best live band I have ever seen and I have seen them numerous times. Never have I seen a show that was even remotely disappointing. They always leave every ounce of energy on stage. I have seen them in traditional clubs and church basements and they have always given their everything whether there were 30 people or 230 people. They bleed rock and roll music and all that comes with it. When someone asks me what rock and roll music is, I tell them to listen to Marah. They embody its grit, attitude, soul and never let it go.

This is a band loved by many from Bruce Springsteen, Oasis, and Steve Earle to author Nick Hornby. Yet when I mention them, the typical answer I get is “who?” Even many of my music friends have never heard of them. Why then aren’t they huge and on everyone’s tongue? It seems that they are destined to live the image of what a rock and roll band should be. They have always trusted themselves rather than the labels, management, or record companies. They bring a swagger and attitude with them and I imagine that doesn’t sit well with the upper wrung of executives who want to control them. They have recorded 9 full length albums that have been released on 5 different labels. To be honest, at times they almost seem to self destruct. I don’t know whether it is themselves, bad luck, or whatever but this seems to be part of their destiny. For their real fans, this is what makes us love them and their style.

The two principals of the band have been the Bielanko brothers, Serge and David. They formed Marah in Philadelphia in 1995 and released their first album Let’s Cut the Crap and Hook up Later in 1998. It got a lot of great press. They followed it up with Kids in Philly in 2000. Again another critically acclaimed album. This is one of my Top 5 albums of all time. They go through personal and label changes but always continue to further the Marah sound. In 2008 they released Angels of Destruction which was supposed to finally put them into the mainstream psyche. Their songwriting on this album was superb and this was my favorite line-up. Then a few days before a major European tour the band fell apart. It seemed the title about destruction seemed to fit them. Serge left the band after this album to start a family and we all figured Marah was finished for good. But David hooked up with some new players and released the aptly titled Life Is a Problem in 2010. In typical Marah fashion they only released it on vinyl and cassette until late last year when they finally agreed to put it out in CD. David is in the process of writing new material and putting it out this year.

Enjoy this live video of It's Only Money, Tyrone which is a song from the Kids from Philly album. It captures the enthusiasm of their live show and it is from my favorite Marah line-up. Make it full screen and turn up the volume!!

Despite all the reason to give up on Marah, I can’t. They are too good no matter what they do to me. How can you not love a band that uses bagpipes, bottles, lap steels, horn sections, dobros, train whistles, xylophones, and tapes of sleeping people and phone calls into their music. How can you not love a band that has recorded in an auto repair garage as well as a bathroom? This is what rock and roll is about. Trust your instincts and go out and do it, despite that people say differently. How can you give up on a band that gives their all every time out whether it is in a studio or a live show? Once you get them in your soul, they will never leave you. Working the merch table for many bands I get a lot of cool memorabilia. My favorite band memorabilia is a huge signed Marah poster that has David on the ground paying homage to his guitar and the crowd in front of him. It is Marah. It is rock and roll.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hang Them Out To Dry-Cold War Kids

I was so excited when I found out that the Cold War Kids were finally coming to Baltimore last summer. I had been waiting to see them since 2006 when I heard the first song from their debut full length album Robbers and Cowards. I was totally consumed by this album from the real gritty life lyrics to the amazing rhythms of their songs. It all sounded off beat and very atonal. It seemed like everything fit together when nothing logically should have. The tempo and vocals seemed to be moving in opposite directions, yet it fit together so beautifully. It is hard to explain, you just need to listen. I do think they are an acquired taste and you either get them or you don’t. I haven’t spoken to many people who are middle of the road on them. You like them a lot or not at all. I am in the former camp obviously.

The band is now located out of Long Beach, California. They formed in 2004 and put out a few EP’s before they signed to Downtown Records who released their Robbers and Cowards album. This was a band that got a lot of internet buzz which propelled them to stardom before they had really gone through just being a band. The album got a lot of critical acclaim and they then toured almost non-stop until they went back into the studio to release their second full length album Loyalty to Loyalty. This album had a backlash from the bloggers who were so high on the first one. However they rose above it and continued to gain fans from all over the world. They have just released Mine is Yours a few weeks ago. Even though it seems more polished in the studio, it still incorporates the primal sound they are known for. I really love Cold Toes on the Cold Floor. It should get a lot of the blog base back with this one.

Here is a live video of my favorite Cold War Kids song Hang Me Out to Dry. Make sure you watch the whole video for the end is really cool.

As you can see they are an exciting band live. When they finally came through Baltimore last year, I was not disappointed. They delivered everything I thought they would and even more. Make sure you check them out when they come to your town.

UPDATE: Larry and I have decided to have some updates about bands that we have written about, for those of you who might be interested. I wanted to update you about Harper Blynn. They have just released a new EP a few months ago. Again it features great harmonies and some wonderful songs. I had the pleasure of working them when they opened for Liz Phair and will see them in a few weeks as they become Schuyler Fisk’s band and then they will tour as The Damnwells featuring Alex Dezen. They are also working on a new full length album. They are busy!!!..... On another newsworthy note Matt Vasquez from one of my favorite bands Delta Spirit, has joined forces with two other bands to form the indie super group Middle Brother. He teams with members from the bands Deertick and Dawes. They are releasing an album and will go on a short tour, for this will not be a full time gig for them. They all remain committed long term to their own original bands.. I am currently in love with the single Me, Me, Me. They are guaranteed to rock the house.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Indie Music, The Decemberists, and The King is Dead

What makes music "Indie"? Is it the label, or is it a quality in the music or the lyrics? Is it the size of the audience or the type of venue a band plays? My friend, and co-blogger Fletcher believes that it is the amount of control that a band has over the music (type of music, track length, etc.) that is selected for an artists albums.  When I think of The Decemberists, these questions come to mind because, depending on which of the Decemberists' albums I play, I find that I  hear music with a huge range of influences and styles ranging from early English folk music to 1970s progressive rock. Further, while The Decemberists recorded for two different independent labels during their early years, The Decemberists now record for Capital Records, hardly what comes to mind when I think of an "indie" label. 

The Decemberists recently released their 6th album, their 3rd for Capital Records, entitled The King Is Dead.  It has been well promoted. I listened to it streamed from NPR for a couple of weeks prior to its official release. It is also featured on the iTunes home page and was reportedly the most downloaded album from iTunes on the day of its release.

The music on the new album has a wonderfully rootsy American sound,  a sound not heard on earlier releases, at least not in such abundance. The album starts off with the sounds of a harmonica, acoustic guitar and rhythmic drum, immediately signaling that this album will be decidedly different than 2009's The Hazards of Love which began wish an incredibly long and dramatic crescendo performed on a pipe organ.  Unlike that album, and all their previous albums, which was a concept album, The King is Dead is not. While the music has a different sound, the band's distinctively salient lyrics as written by frontman Colin Meloy, remain, well salient.  He seemingly unintentionally continues to drop AP-like word such as "trillium" into his songs. A guest appearance on The King Is Dead by REM's Peter Buck on guitar adds a welcome richly textured sound on six tracks, as does moving vocal harmony by Gillian Welch.

Another interesting note about this album is that for the first time The Decemberists have released an album in which none of the songs are longer than 10 minutes.  The longest track on The King Is Dead, "This is Why We Fight" runs 5:30.  While I have enjoyed their longer songs in the post on this album I enjoy the shorter numbers.  I can already tell that this will be one of my favorite albums of 2011.  "Down by the Water" from the new album was stuck in my head after just a couple of spins.

Here is a well-recorded live performance of O Valencia!, a song about two star-crossed lovers, from  The Crane Wife, The Decemberists' 4th album:

To me, "Indie" represents a creative spirit. No matter how successful artists or musical groups become, they are still "Indie" if they continue to create work that is new and innovative. Thus, in spite of their success, I believe The Decemberists are still one of the best "Indie" bands around.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Say Yes and Be Set Free- Langhorne Slim

The guitar player is kneeling on the ground strumming his guitar in a rock and roll frenzy. The drummer’s sweat is flying all over as he is beating his snare drums and smashing cymbals at an incredible pace. The bass player is frantically hitting the frets as he spins his upright bass. The crowd is bouncing up and down and is right with the band as the song hits its final crescendo. Welcome to the energy of Langhorne Slim.

Langhorne (Sean Scolnick) and his reliable band of Jeff Ratner (bass) and his longtime drummer Malachi DeLorenzo have been making great music together the past few years. Langhorne is truly happy when he is making music and his music has made many of his fans happy. His music is hard to define. It is a mixture of roots, americana, alt-country, with a mix of folk, bluegrass and a touch of punk. His voice brings forward all his influences with his great phrasing of the lyrics. You honestly need to listen to a full album to appreciate his musical range.

He takes his name from his hometown of Langhorne, Pennsylvania. He and his original band The War Eagles were signed to V2 records in 2006 and released an EP on that label. They then signed with Kemado Records and released a critically acclaimed self titled album in 2008. In 2009 he released Be Set Free which was produced by Chris Funk of The Decemberists.They have been touring almost non stop since 2006. They have opened for bands like Cake, The Avett Brothers, The Violent Femmes, and the Drive By Truckers .They have earned a very loyal fan base that is constantly expanding. Many people go to his live shows because of his great reputation. You can get a sense of this from this in-studio video of "Say Yes" from Be Set Free:

I have had the pleasure of working his merch table a number of times. He is a very nice,personable, and a thoughtful person. I have always been impressed with the amount of time he spends with his fans. He must be zapped of energy after one of his shows, but every show I have worked for him, he has come out after the show to sign autographs and have his picture taken. He seems to be very comfortable and really enjoys this interaction. He is always humble and looks the person who he is talking with, in the eye. He gives that person his undivided attention and makes them feel as though he has known them for a while. This is not always typical of a lot of bands. I encourage you to listen to his music and enjoy his vast musical range.