Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Best of Baltimore-Part II

I am going to continue my series looking at the breadth of music and bands in Baltimore. Today I will focus on three different bands and styles. I want to reiterate and let you know that I do a lot of merch work for these people and consider them all friends, but as you will hear they are all excellent musicians first, for the purpose of this blog. I want to repeat that they are not all available in your local independent music store, but if you click on the highlighted name you will be led to their web sites, which will tell you how to purchase their music.

The first person I am going to focus on is ellen cherry (yes it is in lower case letters). ellen is another Baltimore based singer-songwriter who is also an amazing human being. I must tell you that I am in love with the sound of her voice. It is so pure and honest that I am inspired every time I get to listen to her. When you hear the clarity of her voice you know you are in the right place. ellen grew up in Texas and has been recording her own music since 1997.  She worked and did music until 2004 when she decided to pursue music full time. She hasn’t looked back since and we in Baltimore are very happy. She has her own recording studio and label; Wrong Size Shoes. I can tell you that she has a love for shoes and has bought me sneakers to show her appreciation for working her shows. I wear those gray Converse All Stars as my lucky merch table shoes every show I work. ellen has scored films, licensed her music to television shows, written a promotional song for a local news station, and been an artist-in –residence for local art organizations. She has recorded 5 albums of her own music. I love her album (New) Years which meshes her love of music and history. She took different historical events from different years and wrote songs about events. This is “2003: I Hope To Dream Of You Tonight”:          

The next band I want to introduce you to is Small Sur. It is hard to put a label on their style. I call it “slo-coustic”. All I can really tell you is that it is beautiful. The core of the band is Bob Keal who writes and sings the songs. The band plays in different forms but most include Andy Abelow on sax/banjo/keys and Austin Stahl on drums. They create dreamy and peaceful folk music that takes you along with it, in a meditative flow. I love experiencing the minimal sparse arrangements that let you reflect on the sound and takes you to a place that Bob wants you to experience. Bob grew up on a farm in South Dakota and lived for a time in California and you can hear the natural landscapes that influenced him in the music he creates. After college he came to Baltimore through an AmeriCorps assignment and has never left. We are a better city for this. Please relax , take a deep breath and enjoy this video.

The last band I am going to focus on today is the Americana roots-rockers June Star. They are led by Andrew Grimm who formed the band in 1998. He named it after a character in a Flannery O’Conner short story. This fits the band to a tee in that Andrew’s lyrics are very literate. He writes stories that could stand on their own, but thankfully puts them into his music. Stories about love, loneliness, struggle and triumph liter his music. He sings his songs with a drawl that emotionally fits the images of his lyrics. The band June Star has seen many people go through it in its existence.  Many players have passed through the band, learned from it, and moved on to form their own bands. June Star can play as a full 6 piece band or as a two piece with acoustic guitar and the extraordinary pedal steel of Dave Hanley. I enjoy all versions of June Star but for me personally the June Star of Andrew and Dave is my favorite. I feel this version brings out the true meaning of Andrew’s incredible lyrics. June Star has released eight albums as a band and Andrew has released other solo efforts. He is a prolific writer and observer. I love that he can go and play whatever the occasion calls for. He can open for rock bands coming through town or play a solo date at a house concert. The constant is you get his finely crafted songs that stick with you long after the show. Here is a video of "Undertow" from the newest album Slow Dance:

I hope this short series on Baltimore music has given you a good insight as to what is going on in our fine city. The past four bands I have chosen are only the tip of the music scene here. I have tried to show you different styles of music through these four bands. Trust me in that there are many more and from time to time I will share others with you.

Update: Two of my favorite bands that I have previously written about, have just released new albums. Jukebox the Ghost has just released another amazing album titled Safe Travels. They are traveling the country to support the album. I encourage you not only to pick up the album, but support them by seeing them live when they come to your area. Tell them Fletcher sent you. Also another of my favorites Langhorne Slim has also put out a fine new album titled The Way We Move. He is also touring this summer supporting the new disc. Two great bands that I hope you can support.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Best of the Scene-Baltimore

We in Baltimore are fortunate to live in a city with a great music scene. A few years ago Rolling Stone  magazine named Baltimore the “Best Scene” in the country.  I know I am prejudiced (I live here) but I agree with the Rolling Stone declaration. We do have an amazing music scene here. Ten years ago this may have not been a correct statement, but today I believe that we do have a flourishing scene. We have many smaller venues that have opened up the past five years or so. Many of these venues support local bands writing and playing original songs or smaller touring indie bands. We have also had some larger clubs open that support a variety of larger touring acts. Ten years ago the larger touring acts wouldn’t come to Baltimore, but now many of these acts want to play here. A lot of this is because Baltimore supports all kinds of local music. It is a city that encourages the type of creativity that allows a band to be itself. Because of this attitude we have had a number of bands over the past five years signed onto major labels and are doing very well. The list ranges from Dan Deacon to Wye Oak to J. Roddy Walston to Beach House. All very different musically and style wise from each other, but all have the same roots and support in Baltimore. The signing and success of these bands has brought many music people and labels to Baltimore to check out the music and try and sign some new bands.  Lower Dens and Future Islands  are two bands that have been recently signed to larger labels.

I have had the fortune of working the merch table for many of these bands. Today I want to share some other bands currently working out of Baltimore who I think you should pay attention to. This represents a shift in our blog because all the bands we have previously written about, you could go to any good independent music store and purchase. These next bands you would have to dig a bit deeper to find. I will highlight their web sites so if you interested in buying their music, you can do so from their websites. I will also give a disclaimer in that all of these are bands I have worked on multiple occasions and all of them I consider friends. For you however, they are great musicians who are very talented and creative. They will also show you the depth of the music scene here in Baltimore.

The first Baltimore musician I want to highlight is singer –songwriter Caleb Stine. I feel Caleb is the heart and soul of the Baltimore music scene. He tirelessly helps others in the beginnings of their career. He offers advice, encouragement, and support to all who ask for it. He has helped a number of local bands by having them open for him and introducing them to the venue owners. Having Caleb’s stamp of approval can go a long way in this city. However, he is first and foremost a remarkable musician. Caleb is one of the most honest songwriters out there. This Colorado transplant has written songs about things he cares about whether it is homelessness or a lost love. His songs are deep, honest, and thought provoking. Enjoy a song from his last album “I Wasn't Built for a Life Like This” titled My Service Isn't Needed Anymore:

While his main style is Americana and folk, he is much more. He has played with a full band, solo, and plays with other groups as a guest artist. He spent part of last year in an Off-Broadway show in NYC about Woody Guthrie and has even worked with a local hip-hop artist Saleem Heggins. WTMD radio put these two together and challenged them to write 4 songs in 6 weeks. They not only did it successfully but put a full album together called "Outgrown These Walls". Their collaboration has produced one of our cities favorite songs titled (of course) Baltimore. Enjoy.

I hope these two videos show Caleb’s diversity. Who would have ever thought a singer-song-writer and a hip hop artist would ever get together and write music. They not only put out a album but have become the best of friends. This is who Caleb is in his heart and soul. He is always looking to the next musical step that makes sense for him. We are fortunate to have him in this city.

My next post will be a Part II  and look at some other Baltimore bands you should know about.