Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Best of 2013

It is once again that time of year where Larry and I go through all the music that we have collected and enjoyed throughout this year and give you our choices for both songs and albums that we think are the best. Once again Larry and I thank you so much for reading our blog. We love having the opportunity to share with you our musical tastes and really appreciate your support of this blog. It makes it all worthwhile when we get notes from people telling us just how much they enjoyed a particular album or band that we have featured. That is exactly why we share our love for music with you. We encourage you to leave us a comment as to what albums or songs did we leave out that you think need to be included.

Fletcher’s Best of 2013 picks
I know I say this every year, but this year brought some amazing new music from not only bands I love, but many new bands that have hit the scene. Usually I only have 5 top albums, but this year I couldn’t do that so I struggled to whittle it down to nine. I have put links for two songs from each album so I hope you spend some time listening, enjoying, and hopefully hearing some new music!!!!

Top Albums of the Year (listed alphabetically by band)

Dawes. Stories Don’t End- This band continually puts out great music. Taylor Goldsmith may be the strongest and most consistent writer of music the past few years. There is not one weak moment on this album. Enjoy “From a Window Seat” and "Just Beneath the Surface".
Ha Ha Tonka. Lessons- Another strong album from this band from Missouri. Love this band. This new album is very sonic and shows real growth as they move forward. Have worked the table for these guys many times. Great musicians and even better people. Enjoy the harmonies and sonic boom of "Lessons"
and "Rewrite our Lives". 
Ivan and Alyosha. All the Times We Had. What a joy it was listening to this bands debut album on Dualtone. This is the same label that gave us The Lumineers last year. This album doesn’t disappoint either. Check out “Running for Cover” and “Be Your Man”.
Kopecky Family Band. Kids Raising Kids- I wrote a post about this band earlier and I stand by the post. One of the most exciting bands to breakthrough on a year where a lot of bands had success. Love these folks both musically and personally. Enjoy  "Heartbeat"   and; "Wandering Eyes".  
Little Green Cars. Absolute Zero- This Irish band is making waves on the other side of the ocean, but it won’t be long before they taste success here in the States. Killer male-female harmonies and they write really catchy pop tunes with brains. Here is “Harper Lee” and “The John Wayne
The Lone Bellow. The Lone Bellow- I also wrote about this band earlier this year. Got a chance to see them open for Brandi Carlile at Red Rocks in Denver. They killed it there like they have everywhere they go. Lot of press about this band. They deserve it. Listen to "Bleeding Out"   and  "Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold"
The National. Trouble Will Find Me- I knew when I wrote about them, that they would be on my top albums list. I continue to listen to this album over and over and I discover new things with each listen. Take pleasure in "I Should Live in Salt" and "Graceless".
Portugal. The Man Evil Friends- I have championed this band from the early days of our blog. every year they put an album out, it made my best of list. This year is no different. I don’t champion them because I like too, I champion them because every album they put out is amazing. This new one is dark but incredible. Listen to “Atomic Man” and “Purple, Yellow, Red and Blue
Wild Feathers. The Wild Feathers. A ton of buzz about this band especially their live show. I had the privilege to work two of their shows this year. I want to add to the buzz. Great album. Killer live show.  Enjoy “The Ceiling” and "Backwoods Company".

Top Songs of the Year (listed alphabetically by band)
Birds and Arrows. Safety- My favorite song from my favorite band from North Carolina. Andrea’s voice is amazing. Such clarity.
Black Joe Lewis. Come to My Party- Wonderful new single from this Austin rock-funk band. I want to be at his party.
Eleanor Friedberger. Stare at the Sun- Had the pleasure of working the merch table from this former Fiery Furnaces frontwoman. She still has it!!
Kodaline. All I Want- Another Irish band who deserves a larger audience. Love this video also along with the song.
Local Natives. Heavy Feet- A great song from this LA band. The song has a lot of richness and beautiful harmonies. Lot of depth in their music.
Love Language. Calm Down. My favorite song of the year. Love that the title is opposite of the music.
Mount Moriah. Bright Light- I don’t know what they drink in North Carolina but whatever it is everyone should drink it. Amazing song, amazing band.
Pure Bathing Culture. Pendulum- Really like this West Coast band. Love her voice and his guitar work is very intricate.
Thao and the Get Down, Stay Down. We the Common- Thao has this very cool sound and style of music. Listen and you will become a fan also.
Vampire Weekend. Diane Young- another very strong album from this NYC band. Always moving forward with hummable tunes. You will listen to this a few times.

Best Musical Moments- Two shows stand out above the rest. The first was seeing Dawes live. Incredible. Never seen a band pace and build not only a show, but every song so well. Bands are afraid to build songs so slowly except for Dawes. Saw them in July and am still amazed by what I witnessed.
            The other was seeing Wild Feathers twice. I had heard how much energy they put into their live shows. People weren't lying. Amazing show. Amazing harmonies. Amazing songwriting. Really nice guys. See them soon.
            I had the honor and privilege this year of working two of my favorite all time bands. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Brett Dennen. Had such a great time. They are both very humble and down to earth despite their huge successes. It was an honor to meet and work with both!!!

Looking Forward to in 2014- The DAMNWELLS!!! Am so excited they have new music coming out. Also Clap your Hands Say Yeah. Heard some of new songs and it sounds great. My buddies Wye Oak are back in the studio and should have a new album dropping in the Spring. Cool new sound and they are set for a long tour also. I am also very happy to hear that Nicole Atkins is putting out new music in February. Always excited to hear new songs from her.

Larry’s Best Of Picks

Like Fletcher, I found this year to be an amazing year for great music.  I found myself continually playing the following 6 albums. The top 5 songs that I picked are all special.  Please check them out and share your comments with us.

Top Albums of the Year (listed alphabetically by band)

Catlin Rose. The Stand-In - Stalin Rose’s terrific songwriting and performing is starting to get the attention it deserves.  “Waitin’” was recently featured on ABC’s hit drama Nashville.  Pink Champagne is another favorite from this album.
David Bowie. The Next Day - A delightful treat for anyone who enjoyed David Bowie’s old music.  The songs on this album stand up to the best of DB’s old stuff.  They rock and continue to be edgy.  Enjoy The Next Day and The Stars Are Out Tonight.
Jason Isbell. Southeastern - A jewel of an album and a likely candidate for best of the decade. This album has made many top lists of the year. I reviewed this album earlier this year and I continue to love it.  Elephant and  Stockholm are two standouts.
The National. Trouble Will Find Me - One of the many things I cherish about blogging with Fletcher is learning about terrific artists I was not acquainted with.  The National are outstanding. I find myself enjoying the humor in their writing along with their tight, but not too tight, sound. Check out Fireproof and Don’t Swallow the Cap.
Neko Case. The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight the More I Love You -  This album, Neko Case’s 6th, has many things to love.  Neko’s voice is in top form, the guitar work is stellar, and the songs memorable.  Check out Man, and The Night Still Comes.
Vampire Weekend. Modern Vampires of the Modern City - This album marks a tangible maturity in the bands maturity as songwriters, both in their music and their lyrics.  The band’s hard work paid off as this album is both extremely well crafted. Both “Step” and “Ya Hey” are excellent examples of the music on this album.

Top Songs of the Year (listed alphabetically by band)

Aoife O Donovan. Beekeeper - What a lovely voice she has.
Billy Bragg.  Goodbye Goodbye - This tune is simply beautiful.
Kurt Vile. Wakin on a Pretty Day - If you enjoy nice psychedelic jams like I do, sit back and enjoy this one.  It’s pretty special.
The Lone Bellow. You Never Need Nobody -  The passion of these artists for their work can not be surpassed. Pay attention to how the harmonies develop over the course of this song. Thank you Fletcher for turning me on to this extremely talented group.
Parquet Courts. Stoned and Starving - This tune sits on top of a great simple riff.  It rocks, has passion, and I love the tone on each instrument.

Best Musical Moments - Highlights for me included seeing the Amazing Esperanza Spalding perform live.  I’ve been wanting to see her for years. As good as he is on her albums she’s even more amazing in person.  Another highlight was catching Dawes live.  They really know how to craft a show. Their show builds so gradually, subtly, and deftly that you barely realize it’s happening until they are going full bore.

Looking forward to in 2014 - I, like Fletcher, am very psyched that the Damnwells are releasing a new album. Further, Alex Denzen is reuniting all of the original band members from their first album, Bastards of The Beat.  A rising Canadian singer songwriter, Joe Nolan, has a new album, Tornado, coming out in January.  Also, Sharon Jones is releasing her first new album since she was diagnosed with Cancer.

As you can see 2014 promises to be another terrific year for new music.  Fletcher and I look forward listening to and sharing our thoughts about music with you, our readers, next year.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Merch Guy

“Hi, I’m your merch guy for the night”. This is my typical introduction when I meet my contact for working the merchandise table for bands. I then introduce myself with my real name rather than the service I will provide for the evening. However once the audience is in the venue, people refer to me by my job for the evening, “Hey merch guy, how much is the cd?”  “Hey merch guy, how large is a large tee shirt? Can I see it?” Lots of people have asked me just what does a merch person really do. I am writing this post to let you see what goes on before people come to the show and want to buy band gear.

I LOVE working merch tables. I love meeting and having one on one contact with bands coming through Baltimore. I love talking to the bands fans and meeting them. I consider it an honor and privilege to be trusted by a band to be a face of the band. I take the task seriously and professionally.

I got started by working with local radio station WTMD, working the merch tables for shows that they would put on. I found out that I had a knack for it and really enjoyed it. It has led to a second career for me. Over years of work you get to know bands, managers, tour managers, and club owners who trust you and will recommend you to other bands that come through Baltimore. Much of my references come from bands I have worked before.

Last month I had the honor to work for one of my favorite bands Clap Your Hands Say Yeah  when they came through Baltimore. This reference came from the club’s owner at the Metro Gallery  which is one of my favorite places to work. I connected with my contact from the band and set up a time to go to the club based on their load in. We met, loaded in, and then I go to work. I am there usually 2 hours before the doors open. For this night we met at 6:00 for an 8:00 doors show.

On this night I met Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (CYHSY) at 6:00 and after the load is when the merch table work starts. CYHSY were traveling with 5 different tee shirt designs (had both men’s and women’s), 4 or 5 cd’s, 2 vinyl and some other small stuff. The first thing is you have to “count in” the entire inventory. This means you must count everything they might sell. You have to count in every tee shirt size, cd, vinyl, totes, and whatever else they bring in. This takes a long time and I usually will count it twice to make sure of accuracy. You then mark the numbers on what is known as a tally sheet, which again lists every item they are selling that evening. This can be tedious but needs to be done.

The next step, fun for me, is setting up the actual table or booth. You put out the band's gear to display in a way that is fun, easy to read, and catches the eye. You might hang shirts, make price lists, and creatively make the table as inviting as possible. While I do this the band is usually doing sound check which is always awesome because it is a concert for just a few. I so enjoy sound checks for it gives you a lot of insight to the band and what the show will look like that evening.

The doors then open up and you must be ready to go. The band has given you a “bank” or starter cash. As the audience comes in, many will come to the merch area and the selling begins. I will then spend the rest of the evening at the merch table selling and talking to people, pulling tee shirts, getting cd’s, showing off vinyl, all the time while being friendly and talkative. It helps to know a lot about the band so that you can answer questions that people might have. “What cd was that last song on?”.  “Is this the band that recorded the cd?”.  “Which is their latest cd?”.  For larger bands (Emmylou Harris, The Lumineers) or sold out shows (The Damnwells, Langhorne Slim, Dan Deacon, Wye Oak, Jukebox the Ghost) we may move thousand or so dollars in merch for a night. This means a lot of bending over to get shirts, vinyl, or trying to keep the stock updated in the few minutes when nobody is at the table. These nights mean I will not be able to see any of the show. On slower nights I can see parts of the show, which I always enjoy.

At the end of a night, after the headliner has finished, there is usually a last rush of people buying things as they leave. This is generally a very busy time and the merch area can get a bit untidy and sloppy. Once this last rush is over you then “count out.”  That is exactly what it says and opposite of counting in. You must count every item left, look at your opening tally sheet and find out how many items were sold. You figure out how much money was made and then you hope you match that number exactly. Many times you might be a bit off and most bands understand that when you count over 100 tee shirts in five different sizes, you might not have counted exactly right. Usually I am very close, if not exact. After the money is exchanged, I am then able to go home. By this time the band has packed up and the club is cleaned. This is usually about an hour after the last band has finished. To say the least, I usually get home very early in the morning.

I know that many bands I work for depend on the merch sales for a good percentage of their income. Bands offer compensation depending on the band. Some offer a percentage of sales for the evening, others offer a flat fee, and some pay by the hour. Because I have a full time job, I tend to try to take less money out of their pockets. I will trade cash for a t-shirt, a signed CD, and a ticket to bring someone in with me.

I also want you to know that the best way to support a band is to buy merch at the shows. When you do this the band gets a much larger percentage of money from sales then they would if you bought it from a store or a download. It also helps if you buy the merch with cash. This keeps them from having to pay for the credit card percentage the company takes. Many bands don't even offer a credit card purchase because they can't afford it. Also when you buy directly from them, they will be there to sign the merch you purchased. It doesn't get better than that!!!

I have enjoyed working with many bands over the years. Most of the people I have met have been very kind and grateful. There have been a few people who take themselves too seriously, but for the most part I have grown from the people I have met and the stories I have heard. I consider myself to be very lucky to be known as the “merch guy.”

In memory: I found out a few days ago that one of my musical idols recently passed away from cancer. His name was Charlie Chesterman who was the frontman for one of my all-time favorite bands Scruffy the Cat. This Boston alternative roots band was way ahead of its time and was the group that led me to finding out that there were great indie bands not signed to major labels. Even though the band has not put out anything since the late 80’s, I continued to champion them. While Charlie continued to have a career after Scruffy the Cat, for me he will always associated with this band. They were one of the best live bands I ever saw and I saw them a number of times. This is for you, and how I will always remember you, Charlie.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Memphis Circa 3 A.M.: John Paul Keith

"In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up

"Did I forget to mention, to mention Memphis, home of Elvis and the ancient Greeks?" -- David Byrne, Cities

Stories from 3 A.M. have always intrigued me. I first became acquainted with the concept as a child, when I discovered Simon & Garfunkel's hauntingly beautiful "Wednesday Morning 3  A.M. " That song created a mindset in my head through a story with themes of desperation, longing, and regret.  Those themes, among others, can be heard throughout John Paul Keith's new release, Memphis Circa 3 A.M.

A segment of Christians see three in the morning as evil, and it is viewed by some as "the witching hour."  Throughout  time,  numerous writers, poets, and lyricists fixated on and created content around the idea of these dark hours.

I have never before seen the word circa associated with an hour rather than, as it is typically used, with years. Within the context of this album, this usage of circa works.  These songs are not necessarily about what is happening at exactly 3 A.M.  Rather, the music reflects what is happening during those pre-dawn hours. The bars are closed, and most of us have gone home -- alone, or not. The title perfectly ties together this album of songs all about stories from that murky time.

The city of Memphis provides a backdrop for these stories. The city that is home to Sun Studio, Stax, Graceland, and Beale Street suits these stories perfectly.

A couple of lines from "Ninety Proof Kiss" offers a sense of the stories John Paul Keith shares on this album: “No one ever looked finer still wearing last-night’s eyeliner / I’m sure gonna miss that ninety-proof kiss."

Tones, rhythms, and melodies, associated with the Memphis sound (rockabilly, country, and just plain musical fun) are heard throughout this album. Its classic rock-and-roll sound is meticulously produced by Roland James, who served as Sun Record's house guitarist in the 1950s. Since then he has been a long-time engineer and producer at Sun. This album evokes those early Sun recordings. Performed live during the recording, direct to 2 track tape, this authentically passionate music never loses its warmth.

Enjoy John Paul Keith, along with his back-up band, The One Four Fives, performing "Anyone Can Do It": 

In the 1990s John Paul Keith was a member of the tragically under appreciated Knoxville based alt country band, The V-Roys. When that band disbanded in 1999, John Paul Keith vanished from the music scene for a decade. We can be grateful that this gifted singer-songwriter and guitarist came out of exile in 2009 to start creating music again. This, his third album since his return, is the first I've heard and I'm extremely impressed.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Are You Listening- Kopecky Family Band

The Kopecky Family Band has what some in the merch business call “The Great Unknown Bounce”.  Let me explain what this means. First is that the band is great, and trust me this band easily meets that criteria. The “unknown” is that because they are a band that is getting popular, they are at a stage where they are opening for more well known bands. Probably more people are coming to see the headliners than the support acts. The “bounce” means that many times they are outselling the headliners at the merch table because they are so impressed by them. Many people may already have merch for the headliner and when you hear a band that is so good, you want the merch to remember and support them. Then you can say when they become a headliner that “you knew them when” and have the merch to prove it. I recently had the privilege of working the merch table and the Kopecky's outsold the headliner. I love it when people come to buy things at the table and you hear “Wow this band is so good, they are going to be huge.”

The Kopecky Family Band is not a family in the sense of being related by blood. They consider themselves a family because they work and tour together and have to support each other. They are based out of Nashville and met each other while in college at Belmont University in that city. Kelsey Kopecky and Gabe Simon formed the band back in 2007. The rest of the band consists of Steven Holmes, David Krohn, Markus Midkiff, and Corey Oxendine. They write what I would call Indie rock-folk and pop song mix. They have a sonic music palette. Not only are the songs catchy and stick in your head, but it is all done with intelligence both musically and lyrically. You will hear the standard bass, drums, and guitars but it will be interspersed with cello, lap steel, horns and keyboards. There are places in their live show (which is great!) where they switch instruments, but don’t lose the flow of building the show. To top it off they have killer male-female harmonies that will send goose bumps up your arm.

Between 2007-2010 they released two EP’s on their own and then a full length Kids Raising Kids. The record label ATO  signed the band in late 2012 and re-released the Kids album this past April. It has received a lot of great press from blogs, music magazines, and critics. Here is "Are You Listening" from Kids Raising Kids:   

This is a band I believe next year won’t need the Great Unknown Bounce because they will be the headliners and people will know who they are. To prove that this is a band on the upswing, the night before I worked the merch table for them, they made their major television debut on the Jay Leno show. But until they headline, please make sure you see them so that you can be the person who can say “ The Kopecky Family Band..oh yeah.. You’re just hearing about them.. Not to brag but, I knew them way back when.” 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Jason Isbell's Southeastern Gem

We've all heard the tragic tales of the singer/songwriter/musicians who finds their muses in alcohol or other mind-altering substances. The all-star list of the tragically lost includes Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Harry Nilsson, and Amy Winehouse. Too rarely do we learn of an artist who has the personal courage to overcome addictions and grow as an artist. So, I joyfully celebrate in this post someone who has  faced and conquered his addiction to create some his best and most deeply honest work.

As I wrote in a previous Audio-didact post  I have been a fan of the music of the Drive-By Truckers for many years. What I did not share at that time was the concern I felt about the conspicuous amount of drinking that the band engaged in onstage, seemingly as part of their show, when I saw them perform in 2004.  Early in the evening, I thought it was kind of cool that the band members were symbolically sharing a bottle of liquor.  Before long I hoped the bottle of Jack Daniels that was still being passed around was just a prop.  Several hours later, as my co-blogger and friend Fletcher McNeill and I left the show,  the band was still "performing," but doing so poorly, and the band members seemed to be, for wont of better term, not themselves.

It was through the DBT's music, that I became introduced to Jason Isbell's playing, singing, and songwriting. In Reviewing Southeastern, Isbell's new solo album, Paste's Jerrick Adams rightly points out that while not many of Isbell's songs made it onto DBT albums during the six years he played with them, those that did are great songs. Adams point out that among the eight that made it onto DBT albums during that time are "'Outfit,' 'Decoration Day' and 'Goddamn Lonely Love' ... so good that they rank toward the top of not just Isbell’s discography, but DBT’s as well."

Jason Isbell was born in Greenhill, in northern Alabama near Muscle Shoals, in 1979. Outside of his immediate family, most of his family members were musicians. Isbell became interested in becoming a musician at a young age. He was married to the DBT bassist Shonna Tucker during most of the time he played with DBT. The two are now divorced. In February 2013, Isbell married songwriter Amanda Shires, who helped him get sober

Throughout Southeastern, Isbell deals with drinking, loss, pain, and love.  His writing has not lost any of its edge.  If anything, the edge with which he writes is even sharper.  Consider, for example, this segment of lyrics to "Elephant":

She said Andy you're better than your past,
winked at me and drained her glass,
cross-legged on the barstool, like nobody sits anymore.

She said Andy you're taking me home,
but I knew she planned to sleep alone.
I'd carry her to bed and sweep up the hair from her floor

Southeastern is an incredibly personal and powerful album.  I find myself thinking a great deal about its stories.

Here is a video of Isbell performing Southeastern's "Stockholm" on the Letterman Show from July 23, 2013:

Isbell was also recently featured on NPR's Fresh Air.  What a terrific album, and what an inspiring personal story.

Monday, July 1, 2013

You Should Find This Band- The National

The National  may be one of those bands you have never heard of. However their fans sure know who they are and support them all over the world. They typically will sell out the summer amphitheaters and large auditoriums that hold between 3,000-10,000 people. I am sure you are asking yourself “How come I don’t know them?”  Well it is time for you to jump on The National bandwagon. You are always welcome.

The first thing you notice about the band is that they are mostly in their 40’s and by looking at them, you would not think they are world famous rock stars. This indie band now working out of Brooklyn was first formed in 1999 in Cincinnati where they were in college. So you can see they have worked their way slowly to the current success they are having. The band presently consists of Matt Berninger who is the principle song writer and singer. It also features two sets of brothers, Arron and Bryce Dessner and Bryan and Scott Devendorf. Their sound is one of the bands who have helped define indie rock. It is dark and melancholy and many times the lyrics may be confusing as to their meaning. They have a mystique about them and this has only helped to keep their indie cred through all these years. The band put out a few highly regarded albums off the Beggars Banquet label. Their fourth album Boxer gained a lot of critical acclaim after its 2007 release. The next album released off of the 4AD  label was High Violet in 2010. Many critics had it on their top albums of the year and it has sold over 600,000 since its release. This is the album that turned me on to this band. I wondered at that point why I had never heard of them before. The National just released Trouble Will Find Me this past May. It actually reached number 3 on the Billboard chart, which shows how far they have come. Here is  “Don’t Swallow the Cap” from the new release:

I can attest to the strength of this album. If you are a National’s fan and haven’t picked it up yet, go now and purchase it. If you don’t know who they are but liked the song, run to your nearest record store and get it. They are touring all throughout the world so check out their web site and see when they are coming near you. I also will leave you with one of my top 10 favorite songs ever, “Bloodbuzz Ohio” from High Violet:

There is also a new documentary called Mistaken for Strangers made by Matt Berninger's brother Tom. Tom, a self described metal head who needed to get his life together, went out on tour to film what life on the road was like for a major band. He also wanted to find out why his brother was so loved by critics and fans. The movie is both funny and poignant and shows a lot about the differences in the two brothers. I hope by reading this post you will be encouraged to go jump on the National bandwagon. It is never too late.

Friday, May 31, 2013

They Will Do It Themselves- The Lone Bellow

I wondered how the country-gospel-soul sound on the album would translate live for the band, The Lone Bellow. Their harmonies are so lush, rich, deep, clear and full, I did not see how they could do it live. One of the great advantages of working the merchandise tables for bands coming through Baltimore, is I am there early and usually get to hear the sound check. I had fretted for days before the show worried about the live sound. All my worries went away the second they started to play. Their harmonies are the “send chills up your spine” variety. They mesh together like they have been singing with one another their whole lives. Some bands just have “it” and The Lone Bellow is one of them.

The song lyrics came from Zach Williams journal entries after his wife had a catastrophic injury after being thrown from a horse. The doctors said she would never walk again. Zach poured his heart and thoughts into this journal and a friend of his encouraged him to turn them into songs. His wife miraculously recovered and his songs went from pain and despair to redemption, rescue and recovery. Zach and his wife moved to Brooklyn and Zach began to perform as a solo artist. Zach was looking to form a band and he was eating at a diner when he ran into an old musician college friend, Brian Elmquist, who worked there. He asked Brian if he could rehearse some songs with him at the diner after it closes. Brian said sure and also invited Kanene Pipkin along. Late that night The Lone Bellow was formed. They knew the magic of the music and harmonies would tie them together as they go forward in the music business. Very quickly good things have happened to them. They were signed to Descendant Records, which is an off shoot of Sony Records, and released their self-titled album in January of this year. It has created a lot of buzz in the indie rock world and deservedly so. It is full of beautiful songs about all the ups and downs of life that they have gone through. Please be prepared to be amazed and enjoy the single "You Never Need Nobody":

The rest of the album is just as strong as that song. I highly recommend it to anybody. I loved listening to them live and wasn't disappointed at all in the translation from album to live show. As a matter of fact I think their live show only strengthens the studio songs. If it makes any difference, they are also really nice and genuine people. They were a pleasure to work the merch table for. Many bloggers are catching on to this band quickly, so I expect that they will have quite a year in 2013. I was talking to one of them and they told me they are just hoping to make enough money to be able to really afford their Brooklyn brownstones. I believe that they will easily accomplish that task this year and more!!

Update: From time to time Larry and I will post some updates of bands we have previously written about. I wanted to inform you of two amazing albums that are out and one that is out next week. The first is Vampire Weekends Modern Vampire of the City. A real step forward in this bands already amazing career. The second album out is Dawes newest Stories Don't End. It is full of reflective songs of a band on the road. Portugal the Man newest is Evil Friends. I have heard most of it and it is fantastic. By the time you read this it will be released.

Monday, April 29, 2013

This Rose Is No Stand-In

It begins with the sound of a heavily punched and distorted guitar chord immediately followed by the sound of a gorgeous female voice exclaiming, "I'm making a call to any line that's open." From that moment on, Caitlin Rose captured my full attention, no easy task these days, and thus I remained riveted as I listened intently to her second full-length album, The Stand-In, for the first time.  The opening track, "No One to Call," starts off like a rock anthem, but quickly and adeptly morphs into an alt-country lament. Much to this listener's delight, this album is full of delightfully surprising sounds.

Throughout the album, Rose creates, with a cool aplomb, a mosaic of musical styles including rock, alt-country, country, and a bit of swing. The stories in her songs are compelling and deftly written. Scanning the credits, I note that two of this album's terrific tracks, "Only A Clown" and "Silver Sings" were co-written with one of my favorite songwriters, Gary Louris.

I also note that Rose acknowledges the author Joan Didion for inspiring the moving tune, "Pink Champagne." An early Joan Didion essay, "Marrying Absurd," about the quick passions of a Vegas wedding, proves to be the source for Rose's song.

Throughout the album, Rose and her co-writers create an album full of meaningful and witty musical lamentations. A prime example is the music video to "Only A Clown":

It's easy to see how Rose was drawn into songwriting. It's what her mother, Liz Rose, does for a living. The younger Rose was raised in Nashville.  She began writing songs at the age of 16.  Originally, her work was much more Punk influenced.  Over time she has integrated increasing amounts of the Nashville sound into her music,  and the resulting sound is what is revealed on this album.

I encourage you to answer Caitlin Rose's call and open your line to her music.  Her album is easily one of my favorites so far for 2013, and I expect that it will be in the running to be one of my top albums of the year.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Rise From the Mountains-Birds and Arrows

I have written before and continue to say that when you go out and see live music, you need to make sure that you see all of the bands on the bill. A few years ago I went to a show and saw Birds and Arrows,  who have become one of my favorite bands. They were actually the first of four bands that night and truthfully I did not expect much from them. They walk out on stage with a guitar, drums, and a cello, and I had even less expectations from them. They launch into their first song and I was mesmerized by them. Richness, depth, clarity, and beautiful harmonies set a spell on me that continues until this day. I champion them to everyone I meet and talk about music. Now I want to introduce them to you. I will admit that I have become very good friends with them, so I am bias, but the beauty of this blog is that Larry and I are trying to introduce you to bands that we love to listen to and therefore are biased about. We don’t pretend that these are critical reviews of records or live shows. It is just bands we love.

Birds and Arrows formed in 2006 by the husband-wife team of Andrea and Pete Connolly. They still live in the Chapel Hill-Durham, North Carolina area, which is a hotbed for bands now like The Rosebuds, Love Language, and The Bowerbirds. Their name comes from a cross of wanting a good masculine-feminine sound and when Andrea had flying birds tattooed on her arms and Pete was making folk art arrow sculptures, the name made sense to the two of them. They produced two Birds and Arrows EP’s on their own. Then in 2009 Josh Starmer joined them with his cello and the group’s sound really took off. They released Starmaker through 307 Knox Records. This is when I saw them for the first time. I fell in love with their mountain and folk influenced sound, which made you feel like you are sitting on the porch of their house and listening. Andrea and Pete’s harmonies are so beautiful and lush and when combined with Josh’s cello, the depth of the music is stunning. They then released We’re Gonna Run in 2011. This year they just released their new album Coyotes, which is a huge step forward in their career. You can hear the inspiration of their rural school house-turned-cabin country home in the mountains outside of Durham. Please enjoy a song from Coyotes called Firefly. The video was done in one continuous shot, no cuts or edits.Very cool.

I also want to include a live video my favorite Birds and Arrows song Mountain Air:

The new album is fantastic.  It is produced by Chris Stamey of the dB’s and he has done a great job with it. It features other musicians from Ben Folds Five, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Mount Moriah (another N.C. band on the rise). However while these people help support Birds and Arrows, the songs and music stand on their own. I can feel the confidence in the new songs and I look forward to their continued growth. I have worked their merch table many times and I can also tell you that they are some of the nicest people I have ever met in the music business. They are kind, considerate, humble, and very down to earth as people. I really encourage you to visit their web site and purchase the new album. It will be worth it.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Wayne Shorter's CQ, PQ, and IQ

Our Curiosity Quotient, or CQ, and Passion Quotient, or PQ, are becoming as important as our Intelligence Quotient, familiarly known as IQ, according to a recent brilliant column by  New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.  I couldn't agree more.  For my day job, I work with educators and students to promote that mindset. Now I'm thinking about how it relates to the the music I listen to.

Wayne Shorter's CQ, PQ, and IQ

Wayne Shorter's music has impressed me for decades with its delightful cocktail of CQ, PQ, and IQ.   I stumbled upon the music of Weather Report, which he co-led with the late and great Joe Zawinul, when I was in high school.  Their music was vastly different from most of the other music I listened to then.  While each player's virtuosity was self-evident by virtue of his technical dexterity, I was mostly moved by the beautiful melodies Weather Report wrote and how its songs painted musical landscapes. Listen to Black Market in a quiet space with your eyes closed to experience this. Back then I was also taken by the complexities of the improvisations in Weather Report's music.

A few years later, I learned that Wayne Shorter had played with Miles Davis Quintet in the 1960s.  Over time I have become a fan of many of the other alums of that amazing group, including Herbie Hancock, and Ron Carter

Recently I was delighted to read that Wayne Shorter's quartet was releasing a new album.  I downloaded it as soon as it came out and found it to be a total joy.  Wayne Shorter,  now 80,  has not lost any of his CQ, PQ, or IQ.  Listening to Without a Net, I find it's immediately apparent that the music he is creating today is much more abstract and less structured than the music of Weather Report.  While performed using acoustical rather than electronic instruments, the music is nonetheless electrifying. The quartet's improvisations and musical conversations tell complex stories.

The opening riff of the first tune, "Orbits," played both on the string bass and bass notes of the piano,  told me that that I was for a treat. The riff, played in an odd time signature and with adventurous syncopation, is tantalizing. I was immediately taken with the CQ. 

From there the fun begins. Nine compositions are performed on the album.  All deserve multiple listens, and it's far too early for me to settle on a favorite.  That said, I'm particularly drawn to the deconstruction of Vincent Youmans's, Gus Kahn's, and Edward Eliscu's 1933 tune (from the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film of the same name) "Flying down to Rio." Clearly Shorter loves this tune.  The PQ jumps out at the listener.

Enjoy listening to the IQ in "Plaza Real":

 If you are a Wayne Shorter fan, or simply a fan of musicians who dare to go where few others do, I think you will love Without a Net.

Other Notes: 

February has been a great month for enjoying terrific new music from old friends.  If you were a fan of the group Roxy Music, I encourage you to check out Bryan Ferry's new release, The Jazz Age, in which he recasts many Roxy Music tunes, such as "Do the Strand" and "Love is the Drug," as if they had been written and performed in the 1920s.  No ironic humor here.  The band plays these tunes seriously, and result is a joy.

Lastly, I want to give a shout out to my co-blogger, Fletcher McNeill, for turning me on to First Aid Kit.  Thanks to his post I've been listening to and enjoying this terrific band.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Roar From Sweden- First Aid Kit

Where does one go to hear the most authentic Nashville sound today? Why Sweden of course! The Swedish duo First Aid Kit is producing some of the most faithful country tinged Nashville music today (and that includes bands out of Nashville). They sing these incredible heartfelt lyrics such as “I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June/and you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny too” as a tribute to those who were there before them. They however don’t live in the past and are producing some of the best county and folk music I heard last year.

First Aid Kit is composed of sister’s Johanna and Klara Soderberg. They grew up outside of Stockholm and their father was a working musician who always had music playing. The two sisters can never remember a time when they weren’t singing together. This singing grew into a demo that they sent out in 2007 to radio stations in their native country, who immediately picked up on the sound and gave them airplay.  They were quickly signed to a local label and opened for Fleet Foxes when the group toured Sweden in 2008. First Aid Kit then signed with a larger label, Wichita Recordings who put out their first full length in 2010. Jack White and Conor Oberst  fell in love with their sound. Jack had them record a single for his Third Man Records and they toured with Conor. Last year the band released their second album titled The Lion’s Roar which featured a song with Conor Oberst/Bright Eyes. The album gained a lot of attention on Triple A radio stations who were in disbelief this Americana sound was coming from Sweden. Please enjoy this video of “Emmylou”.

They took their name from an English dictionary because it suggested both care and protection. I think it is hard not to fall for the charm of these sisters who are passionate about American country/folk and roots music from the 1960’s and who put today's spin on it. I hope you fall for them, as many have, and hopefully many others will. I know I have.