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Archive for November, 2011

When a pony runs out of tricks, then his work has just begun


When I first discovered The Barr Brothers in early October, I purchased their debut self-titled album and immediately got stuck on Beggar In The Morning. The song captivated me, its “quiet meditation.” But my fascination with Beggar In The Morning caused me to overlook the remainder of this quartet’s fantastic debut album. It was only when KEXP released their live video of the Barr Brothers, two months later, that I finally returned to the album.

The Barr Brothers is marked by complex, unique instrumentation, unsurprising for a band that merges a classically trained harpist, pump organist, and two (former) jam-band brothers. The result is a distinct blend of Brad’s soft, ethereal vocals and folk, jazz and rock influences. The album is dynamic and plays to the diverse strengths of its members. Give The Devil Back His Heart’s bluesy rock reminds listeners of the Barr boys’ former jam-band and highlights guitarist Brad Barr. But the band then easily shift gears into harp, acoustic guitar fingerpicking and pump-organ folk on Old Mythologies.

Below are live videos of my four favorite songs from the record. The group is currently on tour and I will have the distinct pleasure of seeing them play at Joe’s Pub next Wednesday.

Old Mythologies

Give The Devil Back His Heart

Sarah Through The Wall

http://vimeo.com/11739083 

Beggar In The Morning

 

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Latest and Greatest

This is the sixth installment of a weekly collection of the “latest and greatest.” I post two (yea, this week it’s one) newly discovered songs that have captured my attention and two (again, only one this week) of my longtime (word of warning, this will be a relative term) favorite songs that are building up dust in my music library.

THE LATEST

I’ve Got This Friend by The Civil Wars

This has been one of my most exciting discoveries of the year. While I had heard the name The Civil Wars tossed around—most recently touring with the beloved Milo Greene—I first heard the song I’ve Got This Friend on Sirius XM while driving on the Mass Pike into Boston last week. I was captivated by the blissful vocal harmonies between John Paul Williams and his partner Joy Williams as they repeatedly wail “oh if the right one came, if the right one came along.” I immediately purchased Barton Hallow, their debut album released in February 2011 and have been listening to it on heavy rotation ever since. It is hard not to be drawn in by the playful back and forth of I’ve Got This Friend and even more so by the duo’s lyrical craft. I am still spending time letting these two soak in, but expect a dedicated blog once I’m fully pruned by their sweet sounds.

I’ve got this friend holding onto her heart
Like it’s a little secret, like it’s all she’s got to give 

THE GREATEST

Galileo by Indigo Girls

After a challenging but rewarding effort to put together an all-female mix for my mom, I rediscovered Galileo, one of my favorite songs of all time. Galileo lives on the Indigo Girls’ 1992 Rites of Passage, an album whose songs continue to fill the rooms of my childhood home. I had the privilege of seeing this folk duo—Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, who have been playing together for over 20 years—back in 2002. I remember being blown away by their amazing harmonies, heartfelt lyrics and spectacular musical arrangements. I saw them again this past October at the Beacon Theatre, almost 9 years later, and was again floored by their gifted fingerpicking and vocal arrangements. While I have not followed them over the years, Indigo Girls deservedly continue to receive accolades for their music.

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What a beautiful mess this is

Jason Mraz delivered the best live performance I’ve ever attended last night at New York City’s finest, most elegant venue—Carnegie Hall. Despite nosebleed seats that left my back aching from leaning over to see Mraz and his compatriot Toca Rivera, I was literally blown away by Jason’s talent and musicality.

The setting was idyllic. The unrivaled acoustics of Carnegie Hall perfectly complemented Jason’s unparalleled vocal talent. Carnegie Hall’s plush red seats fit over 2,800 people. Taking up only 8 square feet of the entire stage, Jason managed to make the performance incredibly intimate.

Though it likely sounds hyperbolic, Jason was perfect. He hit every single note and enamored an already loving crowd with his vocal range, jazzy scatting and skillful guitar playing.

The acoustic performance was in celebration of the tenth anniversary of his Live & Acoustic 2001 debut album. Long-time friend and band-mate Toca Rivera—on percussion and vocals—joined Jason on stage. The duo was incredibly dynamic. Jason’s looped layers of guitar and Rivera’s vibrant percussion and vocal harmonies created a full sound that bounced off the walls of the great hall.

But the truth is, Jason could have been up there alone with only a guitar in hand and held our attention. His vocal range and depth—diving deep into low baritones and easily reaching incredible falsettos and sopranos—left my mouth agape.

Highlights of the night include Jason’s stunning opera singing on Mr. Curiosity and his performance of Love For A Child (studio version of both are streaming below). He playfully led the crowd in a back and forth sing-along to his scat and had the women in tears when he spotlighted a couple get engaged midway through his set.

I have been listening to Jason Mraz since the release of his first full-length album, Waiting For My Rocket To Come, in 2002 and have always believed him to be an incredibly talented musician. But not until last night did I fully appreciate the depth and breadth of Jason’s musical gift.

Love For A Child

Mr. Curiosity

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It’s Thanksgiving—my favorite holiday and the best time to give thanks to the ones you love. I am particularly fond of sharing what you love with those that you love. In that vein, I spend a good deal of time making mixes for my mom—we share a lot of things, and among them is our taste in music. But more often than not, my mixes are filled to the brim with the powerful male vocals of Josiah Johnson, Israel Nebeker, Josh Ritter, Robin Pecknold and others and only sometimes complemented by their female counterparts (Charity Rose Thielen, Kati Claborn). And so the other day, while giving thanks for my most recent mix, my mom challenged me to make her an all-female mix. Shouldn’t be so hard, right?

Wrong.

I consider myself a feminist. But for some ungodly reason my music catalogue has a great dearth of females. As I scrolled through thousands of songs to create the mix, it was literally like pulling teeth. The final version? 16 songs and only 12 artists. This is compared to mixes that usually require me to trim them to fit onto a CD.

So, why am I so drawn to male vocalists? It can’t possibly be that there are more male singers than female. Or that male singers are more influential or popular than female singers. Certainly not.

I think there is definitely a social/behavioral theory that can help explain this phenomenon. But without advanced training, I’ll give you my own take on it. I believe the reason behind my shortage is twofold.

First. As sad as it is, I am drawn to the male voice. I find it appealing, palatable. I can connect to the music because it feels like the lyrics are being sung to me (and aren’t they?!). And so much of music discovery, I have found, is self-perpetuating: You love Fleet Foxes? Listen to The Head and The Heart. You love THATH? Listen to Blind Pilot. You love Blind Pilot? Listen to Gregory Alan Isakov. You love Gregory Alan Isakov? Listen to Bryan John Appleby. And on and on it goes. If I start with male vocals, when do I ever end up with female vocals?

Side note: I dated a guy once who loved female vocalists. He played Aimee Mann, Joni Mitchell, Amy Winehouse. I found it incredibly endearing and mature. But, why couldn’t I get into it as much as he could?

Second reason. I am more selective and have a shorter attention span with female vocalists. I can listen to Blind Pilot, THATH, Fleet Foxes, Tyler Lyle and others for hours, even days on end. And, believe me, I have. But put Indigo Girls on and I will jam out for 3-4 songs before changing the artist. I absolutely adore Caroline Smith & The Good Night Sleeps, but enjoy Little Wind most when it is sprinkled into a mix instead of played as a full album on rotation.

I have been told that the female voice offers a more limited sound palate. Whether this is actually true, I don’t know. But I certainly feel more limited and restricted in my options for female vocalists.

Maybe it is just that I have not yet found my female vocalist. In recent years, Adele has filled part of this void and she is accompanied by Feist, Indigo Girls, Gillian Welch and a few others. I hope that my list of female vocalists will expand with time and that perhaps my own palate will mature. For now though, this is the mix I came up with:

 I’m gonna show you, baby, that a woman can be tough

Melt My Heart To Stone by Adele
Someone Like You by Adele
Eagle’s Nest by Caroline Smith & The Good Night Sleeps
Realize by Colbie Caillat
Mushaboom by Feist
Graveyard by Feist
Look At Miss Ohio by Gillian Welch
When You Were Mine by John Heart Jackie (Prince Cover)
Challengers by The New Pornographers
Clementine by Sarah Jaffe
Untitled No. 3 by Sayde Price
Take It from Me by The Weepies
Gotta Have You by The Weepies
Heaven When We’re Home by The Wailin’ Jennys
Closer To Fine by Indigo Girls
Galileo by Indigo Girls

Happy Thanksgiving, and I love you mom, the strongest female I know!

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I’m not sure any words can do justice the absolute perfection that is the 2011 Doe Bay Session finale with Pickwick. So for now, I’ll let the video and music speak for itself…

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Latest and Greatest

This is the fifth installment of a weekly collection of the “latest and greatest.” I post two newly discovered songs that have captured my attention and two of my longtime (word of warning, this will be a relative term) favorite songs that are building up dust in my music library.

THE LATEST

Dirty Rain by Ryan Adams
Ryan Adam’s October 2011 release Ashes & Fire, his 13th album, has been a wonderful addition to my library and a great return to the Ryan Adams that I loved on Heartbreaker and Cold Roses. Clearly Mandy is having a good influence. The album opens on the perfect note, with Dirty Rain, a jazzy blend of acoustic guitar and electric piano. The song offers a powerful metaphor for the heartbreak and brutality of a relationship.

Last time I was here, you were waitin’
You’re not waitin’ anymore
And your eyes were filled with terror and smoke from the gasoline
As the stars exploded with gunfire
I saw you smilin’ just before
Last time I was here, you were cryin’
You ain’t cryin’ anymore

To The North by Matthew And The Atlas

I love the banjo. When used appropriately (sometimes that means sparingly), it adds a special dimension to a song. Matthew And The Atlas use the banjo perfectly in To The North. The banjo compliments the unique, raw vocals of Matthew Hegarty. It is not overpowering. In fact, it is almost subtle. But you know it’s there. And without it, the song would not be complete.

THE GREATEST

Challengers by The New Pornographers

The New Pornographers are an indie-rock outfit from Vancouver—a collection of solo artists who come together to produce some incredible music. Challengers is a song that caught my attention many years ago for its beautiful female vocal harmonies. This song is the title track of the band’s 2007 record Challengers. It has recently come back onto my radar—I was challenged to put together an all-female mix—and this will be the centerpiece of the product.

On the walls of the day
In the shade of the sun
We wrote down
Another vision of us
We were the challengers of
The unknown 
 

Lucky by Jason Mraz (feat. Colbie Callait)

In anticipation of a special acoustic performance with Toca Rivera I will have the pleasure of attending at Carnegie Hall in a few short weeks, I have recently unearthed the sweet, unparalleled goodness that is Jason Mraz. His songs formed the soundtrack of my college years. He is pure sunshine, with playful scat singing and a voice reminiscent of Paul Simon. Pop music as its finest, in my opinion. And I never tire of this beautiful melody with Colbie Callait, Lucky. This song brings me back to the playful, lucky joy of being in love with my best friend.

 

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Finally, a video of Hey Marseilles’ “Elegy” is up! I wrote about this song in last week’s Latest and Greatest. Enjoy!

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