Tag Archive for 'review'

(Upcoming Release) Hiss Golden Messenger – “Poor Moon” Waxes 11/1/11 – Preorder Bundles Galore

Hiss Golden Messenger is the band name that former Court & Spark members MC Taylor and Scott Hirsch have been using since the dissolution of their previous band in 2007. Since then there have been four releases under this moniker: Live in Big Sur in 2007, Country Hai East Cotton in 2008 (which was re-released last year on Black Maps), and in 2010 we saw Root Work which was based on live in-studio Country Hai tracks and Bad Debt which was a recording of spiritually-themed songs Taylor recorded in his kitchen to a cassette recorder.

On November 1st, Hiss Golden Messenger will be releasing a new album called Poor Moon. Poor Moon will be released on a new record label, Paradise of Bachelors and will come out in a hand-numbered limited edition of 500 on beautiful 150g vinyl with a tip-on sleeve designed by Brendan Greaves from Paradise of Bachelors featuring a beautifully-detailed illustration by Alex Jako.

As if this wasn’t enough reason to jump on this purchase, there are tiers you can purchase at which get you bonus downloads. The base $20 “Oak” level gets you the vinyl on your doorstep around 11/1/11, but also a digital download of the album via Bandcamp on 10/15, so you can enjoy it whilst you wait for the physical version. (By the way, they are charging a very reasonable $5 domestic shipping and handling, as opposed to typical shipping charges seen via TopSpin these days). If you order at the $25 “Ash” level, you get an EP of demos and outtakes titled Lord, I Love the Rain which has some tracks from the Bad Debt sessions as well as some studio tracks from an “conceptual soundtrack” called He Wore Rings on Every Finger. At the $30 “Rowan” level you get the aforementioned EP, plus a live recording from 2008 called Plowed: Live in Bovina which was recorded in upstate New York around the same time that the Root Work radio session was taped.

Notably, the tracks on Lord, I Love The Rain will be the basis of the next HGM release, which is targeted for Spring 2012!

As for Poor Moon itself– the album shares it roots with the kitchen table ruminations of Bad Debt in that most of the songs started there. We get full-band treatments of  “Balthazar’s Song,” “O Little Light,” “Jesus Shot Me in the Head,” a driving “Super Blue (Two Days Clean),” Balthazar’s Song” and “Call Him Daylight” (which was a bonus track on the vinyl version of Bad Debt). The Lord, I Love the Rain EP also includes a Bad Debt version of “Westering.” So, you might consider Bad Debt and Poor Moon together as being a “deluxe” edition.

There are few songwriters today that have the ability to capture the sentiment of reaching desire that really grabs me. I think that MC Taylor is in a small group of current songwriters that includes Kurt Wagner of Lambchop and Richard Buckner that excel in this. If you’ve been following the combined story of The Court & Spark and Hiss Golden Messenger, the music on Poor Moon is not as much a revelation as it is a reinforcement of this fact.

Poor Moon captures a certain timelessness in its sound– the production doesn’t stand in the way of the music. Taylor confirms this in a recent conversation, “That was the intention. I wanted sort of a neutral production with the rhythm section fairly up front– which it is– and more acoustic instruments than Country Hai and Root Work. Country Hai was a concerted effort to feature no acoustic guitar whatsoever.”

To that end, Taylor has never been afraid to draw inspiration from his very diverse musical tastes and Poor Moon to these ears has some subtle but definite vibe and tone from early 70’s Van Morrison and Grateful Dead (more American Beauty than Aoxomoxoa, though). Certainly a more rustic setting than Country Hai, I would say, but no less enjoyable.

Below are the Bandcamp links to samples of tracks from Poor Moon and the two bonus releases and the links to order.

CLICK HERE to go to the Ordering Page for Poor Moon

Click Here for the Hiss Golden Messenger MySpace Page

Click Here for the Hiss Golden Messenger Facebook Page

Click Here for the Paradise of Bachelors Website

Click Here for Heaven and Earth Magic Recording Company

Click Here for MC Taylor’s Blog “The Old Straight Track”

 

Hiss Golden Messenger Transforms Country Hai Tracks on Vinyl as “Root Work”

When I heard that the next Hiss Golden Messenger release was going to be made available on vinyl I was pretty excited to hear it. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t going to be new HGM songs but an EP to be titled Root Work based on a live radio session in August recorded by Irene Trudel on WFMU. I’d had the tracks that would make up Country Hai East Cotton since 2007 and the album proper came out last year. I was getting pretty hungry for some new material from MC and company!

In appreciation for the general love that playbsides.com gives Hiss Golden Messenger, MC Taylor sent me the mp3’s of Root Work to peruse in April.  “At first, I wasn’t sure about commercially releasing this material as it appears on Country Hai,” he said in a later e-mail, ” but it sounds so good– through no fault of mine, really– that I thought it would make a really nice  limited-edition vinyl release. That particular lineup of the band was special, in that we only played together three times (this  recording was the second time), and it all came together.”

The lineup for Root Work is Slim Diamond (MC Taylor) on vocals and guitar, on bass and lapsteel is regular HGM member Scott Hirsch, Yair Evnine on guitar, Terry Lonergan on percussion, Robert Stillman on piano and Fender Rhodes, and Crowmeat Bob on horns.

The resulting six-track recording is less a re-hashing of Country Hai East Cotton than it is a re-imagining of the source. I think this is partially a product of the chemistry of the musicians as well as MC and Scott benefiting from a perspective two years after the original album was recorded. The fresh perspective seems to allow the band to exercise some light improvisation.

“John Has Gone to the Light” goes from an almost five-minute track to an almost nine minute song. The band spends more time riding the loping dub beat before succumbing to the double reggae-time chorus.

“Lion/Lamb” actually gets edited from the epic Traffic-ish “Lion” on Country Hai down to a just over three-minute stripped down folky strumming guitar and mandolin.

“Resurrection Blues” was a cursing post-death two-beat march on Country Hai. On Root Work it becomes a bluesy sax-driven gospel swagger. The call-and-response makes me think that the Blind Boys of Alabama should cover this version!

“O Nathaniel” is stripped and slowed down to reveal the rich palate of the vocal melody at the sacrifice of the more pronounced double-time Fleetwood Mac glissando payoff at the chorus on. But, on the Root Work version of this song we get a really great guitar solo as the song wraps up that would make Lindsey Buckingham take a second notice.

“Isobel” doesn’t vary much from the original version, but it is clear that MC is comfortable hanging on notes in his vocal making the whole song a more relaxed and bluesy experience. The new mix of instruments and in particular the piano riffing is a welcome development to the song.

“From a Lincoln Continental (Boogie Interpolated)” I thought this Tim Rose cover from Country Hai ended up sounding a bit like a “Digging In The Dirt”- period Peter Gabriel due to the clockwork approach to the instrumentation. On Root Work “Boogie” gets a welcome extended swampy blues workout. The song ends up sounding a lot more like the original Tim Rose version this way.

I caught up with MC last week and the pre-sale is up on the Heaven & Earth Magic Company website. Heaven & Earth Magic Company is the record label MC and Scott Hirsch started for their projects. Their first release was Country Hai East Cotton. The vinyl release of Root Work is a frighteningly limited one-hundred records– each numbered with covers designed by Brendan Greaves and hand screened by MC! The record is $15 (around $20 shipped) and comes with a digital download from bandcamp so you can get 320Kbps mp3’s or FLACs (or just about anything else actually). This is a steal, frankly. If you’re not into the vinyl thing, you can just order the download for a very reasonable $6 or you can pick individual tracks for $1 apiece.

The debate over the versions of the songs between Country Hai East Cotton and Root Work is akin to debating the merits of red versus white wine. Either is appropriate depending on when you’re drinking. I’m looking forward to drinking in the subtle tannins and liquorice notes of the vinyl pressing of Root Work.

Click Here to listen to tracks from Hiss Golden Messenger’s Root Work and to order digital download or vinyl pressing with digital download.

Pieta Brown Paints Her Masterpiece in One and All (Review)

“I always wished I could paint, but I really can’t. My sisters Constie and Zoe got that gene. So, I made a painting here– of one kind.” — Pieta before a live performance of “Over You”

I’m awoken by the flash and rumbles of the first spring storm. 5:55 AM floods into my retinas rinsing recent dreams into faint images. In my head there’s music– like every morning– a score played over the final scenes of my sleeping film I’ll soon forget.

I roll on to my back and look at the runny light reflected on the ceiling and listen to the music in my head– it’s “El Guero” from One and All.

Shady grove & tattoo sleeves
Pink birds in a pile of leaves
All night
All night
All night long

Honeysuckle along the street
They say you never missed a beat
Records piled against the wall
Old bass & a wrecking ball

In conjunction with the Mission Creek Iowa City music festival that happened last week where she performed, Pieta Brown put her new CD One and All (Red House Records) in a couple stores to sell a week before the release date of 4/6. Over lunch last week I ran down to Iowa City to RSVP to pick up a copy.  The week I’ve had with it has apparently contributed to the music that plays in my head.

One and All is the first full album and the second release (the first being the EP Shimmer, produced by Don Was) by Pieta Brown on her new label home Red House Records. Red House has become kind of a center of the Eastern Iowa Blues and Folk scene. Starting with Pieta’s father Greg Brown they also have Greg’s long-time friend Dave Moore as well as The Pines which has Bo Ramsey’s son Benson in it. I’ve mentioned here before that I think the partnership of Pieta and Red House is one that ultimately should help foster her career.

After years following Bo Ramsey’s career, I find myself gravitating to albums that he produced or played on and One and All has that pull for me as well.  As with the previous six releases dating back to her self-titled 2002 release on the now-defunct Trailer Records, her constant collaborator Bo Ramsey takes a key role in the sound of the album providing his vocal harmonies and trademark clean country blues guitar riffing. Joining Bo and Pieta is their regular bass player Jon Penner and drummer Steve Hayes. JT Bates who played drums on The Pines newest album also played on One and All— apparently together with Hayes on some songs according to an entry on Bates’s blog.  Brian Wilkie from Chicago Bluegrass band Majors Junction provides some tasty pedal steel. Pieta’s sister Constie contributes harmonies and Bo’s son Alex Ramsey provides keyboards on “Faller.” Additionally, Joey Burns from Calexico returns the favor of Pieta and Bo contributing vocals and guitar to “Slowness” on their 2008 album Carried to Dust by contributing cello and accordion.

Pieta delivers a gentle– almost dreamy vocal over the balanced and paced instrumentals. This is music with a sense of place more than an urge of destination. We could go somewhere but let’s sit on the porch enjoying the breeze blowing through the screen door.

“Making a record always reminds me of taking photographs because it is just one moment in time, or just one version of the way that song is– kind of like a photograph.” — Pieta in her “Making of One and All Documentary

This quote as well as the one at the beginning of this review helps frame– if you will– the lyrics to Pieta’s songs for me. The lyrics on One and All are made up of images– the “shady grove and tattoo sleeves”, the “Pink birds in a pile of leaves” of “El Guero.” The passage of “You got your fine shirt/I got a cheap cigar/You’re in the sunshine/I’m in a dirty bar/Back by the jukebox/I’m lost in the sound” sets up two people in different places in their lives and in their surroundings.

These are the parts of her “painting– of one kind.”

We’re never told who these portraits are of– or even the full story. These paintings are not studies in the hard oil of realism, but more the impressionistic water color. The fading dream recounted to another. The details leave, but it is the feelings that hold.

If art is in the eye of the beholder, it is because we can become part of a piece by completing it with our particular experience. With One and All we are left to interpret this picture with our own details– the jukebox at our local bar, our own records against the wall, the pile of leaves at our feet. Pieta has created in One and All an album that draws the listener in– a welcomed– if gently engaging soundtrack.

Note:  In concert, Pieta does offer a clue about one song on One and All. In “Faller,” Pieta describes seeing Tom Petty backstage at a show she and Bo played at McCabe’s Guitar Shop opening for JJ Cale in March of 2009. The story goes that JJ ran into Tom Petty and Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers at a bar across the street and invited them to come sit in on his set. As a result, Bo and Pieta met Tom. Pieta sings “I see you leaning/against the wall/looking like/You might fall.” I picture a tall, lanky Petty precariously leaning on a wall. “It’s a long hallway/for a small place/A crowd of people/In your face.”

Click Here to visit Pieta Brown’s website.

Click Here to download or listen to “Faller” from One and All.

The Right Now – Carry Me Home (Review) & Upcoming Shows

I’m always concerned when an established band decides to change their name.

Chicago band The Right Now started life back in 2005 as R&B/Funk band Eli Jones and the Bare Bones by Brendan O’Connell. A live EP was recorded by this band in 2006. A few lineup changes and the addition of Stefanie Berecz as lead vocals prompted the truncating of the name to just Eli Jones. The album Make It Right was released in 2007 under this moniker while still continuing to hold true to the band’s R&B and Funk influences.

History shows that bands with names that seem like they would belong to one person tend to be confusing– just look at Jethro Tull, for example. Add in the fact that Eli Jones didn’t have the domain name for the band and the name was becoming somewhat cumbersome. So, it was the switch in name to The Right Now in 2009 that allowed the band to kind of re-invent itself. All of the fans of Eli Jones who had seen the high-energy shows in the small bars across Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa were going to follow the band even after the name change.

When I saw the band in December of 2008  at Mahoney’s in Cedar Rapids, they were still called Eli Jones, but had already incorporated a lot of the songs that would make up their new album which they had planned to release in 2009 into their live setsCarry Me Home is the first release by the band under it’s new name, and listening to the CD, I was taken back to that show with its memorable performances of “Ain’t Going Back,” “I Could Really Hold On,” “Doing Nothing,” “Carry Me Home,” “Nobody,” and “Before I Know Your Name.”

Getting ready for this review, I pulled out my copy of the Eli Jones album Make It Right for comparison. It’s an album I listened to quite a bit back when the band was rolling through the area. I thought it was really good– certainly the work of a band accomplished in R&B and Jazz, but felt ultimately  it didn’t capture the energy of their live set. Make It Right really seems to be the sound of a band in a transition– some of the tracks have the familiar throwback R&B strut, while other tracks evoke a more jazzy step.

Carry Me Home is the result of a very focused effort in the studio, apparently. The whole CD sounds like it was recorded in one marathon session– a balanced, almost live-to-tape sound. It has a polished production for certain, but not at the risk of the continuity. I find myself listening to the whole album when I put it on– I anticipate the next track at each song.

In some respects Carry Me Home is an album out-of-time– at once holding true to a retro R&B sound with its horns, stomps and claps and sneaking in a more current R&B edge in the form of lead singer Stefanie Berecz powerful lead vocals.

The album runs the gamut of emotion and energy from bright, sunny Tower-of-Powerish horn-driven songs like “You Will Know,” to the Motown harmony-mixed with clean funk picking “Before I Know Your Name” to the distinctly Southern R&B swing of “Doing Nothing” to the slow burner “Carry Me Home.” “Before I Know Your Name” was co-written by Stefanie and Brendan O’Connell (the conductor of this Soul Train) to her then-unborn child– the idea of which makes me smile when I listen to the lyrics.

The Right Now - 7 to 10 7"

It’s also worth noting that The Right Now also has a 7″ out of a non-album track “7 to 10”  which they recorded in Memphis in September 2009 at Scott Bomar’s Electraphoic Recording Studio live to 2″ 8-track tape! The flip is “The One You Love” from the album. On the return trip they took the master to Larry Nix at the legendary Ardent Studios who cut the plates. They hand-delivered the plates to United Record Pressing in Nashville and got a tour. Here is Brendan’s MySpace blog article about the experience (with video!).

It seems there are a lot of notable acts delivering the Stax/Motown-influenced sound today– Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings seems to be leading this front, certainly the last Amy Winehouse album (which uses members of the Dap-Kings), Joss Stone— so it takes a strong but distinguishable effort for a band to not get lost in the comparisons. It’s clear that The Right Now shows respect for the legacy of R&B, Soul and Funk that came before it, but in my opinion the band is building from that tradition.

One can consider the new band name as the answer to the question of what period of popular music they might draw from– no specific period, but obviously writing and performing in The Right Now.

The band just kicked off a run of shows which will bring them back to Eastern Iowa in April. On Friday, 4/16 they will be taping a second Java Blend show (the first as The Right Now), doing an on-air on IPR and hitting The Blue Moose Tap House. On Saturday, they’ll be performing at The Redstone Room in Davenport opening for Daphne Willis and hitting their favorite Iowa stop, Mahoney’s in Cedar Rapids on Sunday, 4/18.

Visit The Right Now Store to order Carry Me Home or the “7 to 10″ 7”

Click Here to visit The Right Now collection at archive.org for some streaming and downloadable live shows.

Click Here to visit The Right Now website.

Click Here to visit The Right Now Facebook Page

Here is where they Twitter.

Click Here for The Right Now on Bandcamp

Click Here for their last.fm page.

Click Here to visit The Right Now iLike page with videos and mp3’s.

Upcoming Shows (from MySpace):

Mar 8 2010    Bullfrog Brewery – CD Release Show!     Williamsport, Pennsylvania
Mar 10 2010     Puck Live – CD Release Show!     Doylestown, Pennsylvania
Mar 11 2010     Groove – CD Release Show!     New York, New York
Mar 12 2010     The Saint     Asbury Park, New Jersey
Mar 13 2010     Shadow Lounge – CD RELEASE SHOW!     Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Mar 18 2010     Vocalo 89.5FM – In-studio     Chicago, Illinois
Mar 18 2010     Fearless Radio – Live In-Studio     Chicago, Illinois
Mar 18 2010     WLUW – Radio Free Chicago (Interview)     Chicago, Illinois
Mar 19 2010     WGN Television     Chicago, Illinois
Mar 19 2010     Lincoln Hall – CD RELEASE SHOW!     Chicago, Illinois
Mar 26 2010     This Must Be The Place     Lemont, Illinois
Apr 9 2010     KSDK – Show Me St. Louis     Saint Louis, Missouri
Apr 9 2010     The Gramophone – CD Release Show!     St. Louis, Missouri
Apr 15 2010     The Frequency w/ Unicycle Loves You     Madison, Wisconsin
Apr 16 2010     Java Blend     Iowa City, Iowa
Apr 16 2010     KRUI 89.7 FM – In-studio     Iowa City, Iowa
Apr 16 2010     The Blue Moose Taphouse – CD Release Show!     Iowa City, Iowa
Apr 17 2010     Redstone Room     Davenport, Iowa
Apr 18 2010     Mahoney’s Pub     Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Apr 24 2010     Downtown Holland Groovewalk     Holland, Michigan
Apr 30 2010     Marly’s Pub – CD Release Show!     Springfield, Illinois
Apr 30 2010     Alice at 97.7 – Studio A Sessions     Springfield, Illinois
May 17 2010     Cosmic Charlies     lexington, Kentucky
May 20 2010     Rogue Tavern w/ Deep Fried 5     Birmingham, Alabama
Jun 4 2010     Upfront & Company     Marquette, Michigan
Jun 5 2010     Upfront & Company     Marquette, Michigan

Moby Shows His Natural Blues With New Band The Little Death (review)

When most people think about Moby’s career, they are probably aware that he is an artist of the electronic variety– samples, beats, synths, dance music, techno. In 1999, when Moby released Play, songs from it were everywhere due to some very  innovative licensing of every song to movies, television, and for use in commercials. At the time he was criticized by his peers for what was then seen as artistically and literally selling out. I remember some comments from DJ Shadow at the time in an open chat forum where he commented along those lines (I can’t find my backup of the chats, and Solesides.com doesn’t have them linked). Moby said at the time that he did this so that people could hear his music. Considering that he wouldn’t get any radio play in most markets it was a smart move to gain exposure. Looking at it these days licensing is really de rigueur with any release, and DJ Shadow as well as many other acts have resorted to some licensing.

Since the release of Play, Moby has recorded four more albums– 18— released in 2002 could be considered a continuing of the formula Moby established with Play, and indeed enjoyed the same success– 2005’s Hotel which was recorded with live vocals and instrumentation, Last Night which was a tribute of sorts to 80’s and 90’s techno, and Moby is currently touring in support of his latest album Wait For Me. Wait For Me is a mournful, introspective record. His goal was to make a “very personal, very melodic, very beautiful” record, and I think he’s achieved that. On most of Moby’s records he will throw in a slow emotional track or two– “God Moving Over The Face of the Waters” is one that comes to mind for me as a favorite– so it isn’t much of a stretch to have a full album of these songs.

In 2008 following the release of Hotel and the subsequent tour, Moby formed a band called The Little Death with singer Laura Dawn and guitarist Daron Murphy and drummer Aaron A. Brooks. Laura provided  lead vocals on Hotel and was part of the Hotel tour with Murphy.  Since the album had live instrumentation the tour had a full band. My wife Sherry and I saw the Hotel tour show at First Avenue in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, Laura Dawn was sick and couldn’t perform that night, but the show was high-energy and I felt that Moby’s catalog really translated well to live instrumentation.

The first thing that I noticed with The Little Death’s self-released debut album was that it sounds very little like a Moby album. It is funky and bluesy with Laura Dawn pulling out her Dusty in Memphis blues belting. The album kicks off with a nice guitar lick carrying Laura’s opening monologue, “Love can be the most beautiful thing in the world… but it can also tear your heart out…” which kicks into a groove that would sound at home on a Black Crowes album. “Children gather round ’cause I’m going to tell you how it works out” a cautionary tale of love’s blinding effect. “Raise your hand if you’ve known love,” she commands.

“All basic tracks were recorded in one or two takes, live in the studio to 2-inch tape, with the whole band playing together in one room. No songs were harmed by auto-tune, click track, or multi-band compression in the making of the album” — from the liner notes to The Little Death.

In a recent interview with TapeOp Magazine (#73, p. 32) Moby said, “When I recorded Hotel, I really wanted to record everything the ‘right way.’ Everything was recorded flawlessly. Unfortunately it had very little character.” It seems to be this reaction by Moby which provides the modus operandi for The Little Death. The whole album builds with a constant groove built of the great catalog of R&B riffs delivered like a band with years of time together. The albums payoff comes from the immediacy of the performances captured directly to tape.

This album is at its very core tales of love from a woman’s perspective, and we get the whole picture from lifting, hopeful wishes to biting, cursing (literally– if you don’t like colorful language and innuendo you may want to avoid this release), scornful warning , to hot impassioned eros all surrounded by throwback guitar bass and drums and the supporting harmonies of The Death Threats (backup singers Jamie Rae and Cherie Martorana). A symphony of the female condition, perhaps.

As with anything that Moby works on, The Little Death doesn’t escape his mark. In addition to all of the passion conveyed, there is an underlying spirituality and gospel delivered by The Little Death. The torchy ballad “Won’t Ever Let You Down Again” would sound at home on Play if the vocals were delivered by a scratchy old 78 of field recordings made by Alan Lomax. Certainly its love-during-the-apocalypse theme has that timelessness about it. “Let me hold you while the ground shakes,” Laura sings, “the buildings keep a coming down.”

The Little Death isn’t breaking any new ground with their first release– there are a number of strong-female-lead bands with their roots in the ground where Janis Joplin once stood– Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals come to mind– but for The Little Death coming out of the gate with such a strong and clear declaration of purpose and with the experience and guiding hand of Moby only great things can come.

The Little Death’s album is available now as a digital download from their website and out on 1/26 in physical release.

Where is the 180g gatefold vinyl release?

Click Here to visit The Little Death’s Website

Click Here to visit The Little Death’s MySpace Page

Click Here to download “Won’t Ever Let You Down Again”

Larger Than Life: Dave Matthews Band, Ben Harper and Gogol Bordello in 3D (Review)

Larger Than Life in 3D Poster
As I previously posted, movie theaters across the nation had a new live concert film/experience titled “Larger Than Life in 3D” which featured Dave Matthews Band, Ben Harper and the Relentless 7 and Gogol Bordello which showed from December 11th through the 17th. I attended the 9PM showing on Wednesday, December 16th at the Wehrenberg Theater in Cedar Rapids. The movie was a 3D experience of three 2009 concerts with each of the bands.

I haven’t heard any reports about attendance of the showings, but the dark theater was empty– an exclusive showing for me, apparently. Maybe the fans of these bands had seen earlier shows, maybe it was a factor of folks out for Christmas shopping. Unfortunately, I was planning to give away some teeshirts, posters and lanyards promoting the event, but ended up bringing the pile back home with me. I did give away a couple teeshirts anyway. I think that this is a pretty cool event idea and the 3D and surround aspects of seeing a live act, while not the same as experiencing a live show with the crowd is very much enhanced over just seeing a video or even just a movie of a concert.

The movie kicked off with short sets from Gogol Bordello and Ben Harper. I haven’t seen either of them live– video or otherwise, so I was interested to see them.

Before the movie started there were previews of some upcoming 3D movies– a cute preview to the new addition to the Toy Story series which should be out in 2010. The Spanish-language Buzz Lightyear had me laughing out loud– looks cute. I also saw the preview for the new Tim Burton film Alice in Wonderland, which is apparently a sequel of sorts to the original story with an adult-ish Alice returning to Wonderland. In addition to those trailers I saw a trailer for another 3D concert movie from the folks at inconcert3d– in February there will be a “Best of Lollapalooza” movie which looks cool, and the trailer dropped that there will be a “Best of Austin City Limits Festival” in 2010 at an unspecified date. I’m sure that the ACL Festival footage came from the same shows that provided the footage for the Dave Matthews Band set.

Following the trailers they showed Alberta Cross performing “Old Man Chicago” from the Livestrong stage at Austin City Limits festival. I hadn’t heard them before, but had heard of them from their Daytrotter.com session (click here).

First up was a short but high-energy set from Gogol Bordello. The two songs performed were effectively the last two songs before the encore of their nine-song performance at the All-Points West Festival in Jersey City, NJ from August from this year. Pretty crazy set– the band played in a frenzy. Very Eastern-European folk rhythms. I thought it sounded pretty great, but I think it would have been better if the set would have been more than two songs and actually at the show.

Following Gogol Bordello was a three-song set from Ben Harper and the Relentless7 excerpted from their performance at the Mile High Festival this year. I was really impressed with their set. Ben Harper was on fire laying out his bluesy approach which reminded me of Lenny Kravitz and Jimi Hendrix a bit. I really wish there would have been more Ben Harper! His set was enough for me to download his new album White Lies for Dark Times and order the 180g 2 LP version! I will admit that I hadn’t been following him at all. There was a friend of a friend in Minneapolis who, in the 90’s, was a big Ben Harper fan and had seen him a couple of times at First Avenue– he tried one night to get me to listen to some songs. At the time I wasn’t really very taken with what he played for me and I guess that stuck with me until I saw these songs in the movie. I was immediately taken with the slide guitar parts. Apparently the creation of the Relentless7 band sparked a new direction for Ben Harper– one that I think has some genuine soul and blues to it. I recommend catching him live with his new band.

Finally, Dave Matthews Band was up and played nine songs from their Austin City Limits Festival set. I was a fan of the first two Dave Matthews Band albums– especially Under the Table and Dreaming which was played on Rev105 and Cities97. I really hadn’t heard anything quite like them at the time– the passionate, slightly soft vocal delivery from Dave Matthews and the overall polish that really helped deliver the songs. Like many, I heard all of the huge singles– “Crash Into Me,” “The Space Between.” I just didn’t really keep following him because I didn’t feel that he really developed much over the years. It isn’t that I don’t like Dave Matthews, I’m just not really compelled to listen to him much–in my opinion he just hasn’t developed based on his studio output. Where Dave really shines is in a live setting. He has one of the great live bands, really– strong and able to really carry the show, I think.  I wasn’t very familiar with most of the songs in the movie, except for the “Burning Down the House” Talking Heads cover, “Ants Marching,” and I had heard “Why I Am” from the new album.  None of the big hits were in this set which seemed to focus on his new album Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, which is a tribute to the late DMB member LeRoi Moore. But, it is the live performance where he shines and he was clearly working for this performance– his shirt was soaked with sweat, and he was in constant movement, clearly enjoying the music often with a big grin on his face and doing his little shuffle dance.

After the DMB set, during the credits we got to see one more performance from Gogol Bordello– “Wanderlust King” which was cool. Effectively, then both of the opening acts got three songs. Looking around the empty theater I wondered if the show would have been more enjoyable with others in the audience. I expect it would have been– but traditional movie courtesy is to be quiet during movies– are the crowds more participatory during these live concerts– do they cheer? Maybe I’ll find out in February at the Lollapalooza movie if they have it in Cedar Rapids.

Gogol Bordello Set:
Start Wearing Purple
Think Globally, Fuck Locally
Wanderlust King (during credits)

Ben Harper and the Relentless 7 Set:
Lay There & Hate Me
Keep It Together (So I Can Fall Apart)
Serve Your Soul

Dave Matthews Band Set:
You Might Die Trying
Funny The Way It Is
Seven
So Damn Lucky
Shake Me Like a Monkey
Why I Am
Burning Down The House (Talking Heads cover)
So Much to Say
Ants Marching

“This Is Spinal Tap” Released on Blu-Ray Disc (Review)

“This is Spinal Tap” is one of those movies that people either love or are largely disinterested in. Anyone who is a scholar of or takes an active interest in the history of rock bands dating back to the 60’s are usually fans of  this “Rockumentary” by director Marti DiBergi (Rob Reiner) that pokes fun at a lot of stories and mythology of the big rock artists in the story of a washed out metal band who is desperately trying to make a comeback against seeming disinterest and plain bad luck.

“This is Spinal Tap” was released to theaters in 1984. In this time of ultra-mega-smash blockbusters the box office statistics are pretty small– The opening weekend of March 4, 1984 had the movie only playing on 3 screens netting only $30,000. It seemed to have done a slow spread through that spring growing to maximum of 206 screens by the end of April, and then dropping off until July 1st. Total net for “This is Spinal Tap” was $4.5 Million that year. In retrospect it was the promotion that Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer did by making appearances on places like MTV and the fact that they wrote and performed the songs that cemented Spinal Tap the band and catapulted “This is Spinal Tap” to the cult status that it is today.  Spinal Tap became a “real” band because it was a real band– the story is fiction, but how different is that from many bands that have a legend about them? The Wikipedia article on Spinal Tap is a humorous one in that it maintains both fictional and actual account. Under band members we get a list of the drummers and their untimely demise as well as actual people who performed or recorded with Spinal Tap. In a similar fashion we are offered a list of fictional and actual records recorded by the band.

2009 is the 25th anniversary of “This is Spinal Tap” and on July 28th it was re-issued on Blu-Ray Disc by MGM. The Blu-Ray edition of the movie is based largely on the excellent DVD version from 2000 that added over an hour of bonus material in the form of outtakes, real and fictional promotional material, TV appearances and an interview “Catching Up with Marti DeBergi.” It is worth sitting through the movie commentary which appropriately has Guest, McKean and Shearer in character.

The Blu-Ray edition of “This is Spinal Tap” is a 2-disc release with one Blu-Ray Disc and a bonus DVD . The Blu-Ray Disc is essentially the same content as the original 2000 DVD with new menus and the movie remastered to glorious high-definition. The bonus DVD includes the “Stonehenge” performance at Wembley Stadium as part of the Live Earth concerts and the National Geographic interview with Nigel Tufnel regarding his theories of Stonehenge. Pretty funny. I only wish they would have been able to include the rest of the Live Earth show that included a performance of “Big Bottom” with a number of guest bass players including Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield from Metallica and Adam Yauch (M.C.A) of the Beastie Boys.

It appears that the bonus material wasn’t remastered to high-definition, but I’m not sure that it would have benefitted much from remastering since most of it is made to look like old television appearances. Comparing the DVD of the movie to the Blu-Ray of the movie certainly shows that the Blu-Ray is providing a much sharper and brighter version of the film. Although the movie was only shot on standard 80’s filmstock, and since it was in a documentary style it isn’t like the cinematography was geared for breathtaking wide shots of landscape or special effects. The audio portion seems to be the same Dolby Digital version from the DVD. But, it sounds fantastic! The live performances in the film sound great. A word of warning– I found myself having to ride the volume button on the remote as the live performances are dramatically louder than most of the movie dialog. A couple of times my wife had to ask me to turn the movie down (sorry, Honey!).

The last time I sat down to watch “This is Spinal Tap” was in 2000 when the DVD release came out. Watching the movie on its 25th anniversary it is interesting to note how much of this film is still funny in a 2009 context.  It falls under the “It’s funny because it’s true!” context. The airport security scene where Derek Smalls is trying to smuggle an aluminum-foil covered cucumber is even more funny in these post-9/11 airport security days. The depiction of Polymer Records as a largely clueless organization run by stuffed shirts is an effective commentary as we watch similar stuffed shirts struggle with a new music economy. Bumbling concert promoters and label PR still exist in the real concert landscape. The situation where Sears is threatening to not carry Smell the Glove due to its “sexist” album art which causes the label to release the record with a totally black sleeve echoes the same strongarm tactics WalMart implements on releases it deems to be “not family friendly.”

From a purely guitar-head perspective I’m really impressed with the guitars the guys are playing in the movie. McKean is typically seen playing a white Gibson SG with humbuckers or a Gibson Les Paul Standard in Red Sunburst and at one point playing a goldtop Les Paul with P90’s. Christopher Guest is seen with a large collection of classic guitars in the “This One Goes to 11” scene which includes a beautiful three humbucker black Les Paul with gold hardware and a Shoreline Gold Fender Stratocaster. In a continuity problem, the black Les Paul is the guitar that Nigel Tufnel grabs for the “reunion” scene. If he was out of the band, I wouldn’t assume that his guitar would have been with the band– but whatever, my geek is showing.

“This is Spinal Tap” is one of those movies that has defined how we look at rock music and bands today.  As long as there are bands touring and fans that follow them, this movie will continue to be watched. Every day I expect another generation of music fans and musicians are watching the movie for the first time.

David St. Hubbins says in the movie, “It’s a fine line between stupid and clever” which seems to be a good way to sum up why “This is Spinal Tap” is the classic film it is.

“This is Spinal Tap” Blu-Ray Edition on MGM/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is out now with a suggested retail price of $34.99 U.S. / $37.99 Canada.

Click Here for the official Spinal Tap website

Click Here for the Wikipedia Article on “This is Spinal Tap”

Pieta Brown & Dream #9 at the Mill in Iowa City 6-12-09 (review)

Pieta Brown Live at the Mill Iowa City Poster

As I reported earlier, Pieta Brown assembled a band to shake up her live performances, which are typically a duo (usually with Bo Ramsey on guitars). This makes for a very intimate performance and Pieta’s music and vocals undeniably shine in this setup, but it’s been my opinion for a while that she should perform in a band setting to more closely approximate her albums. So, I was naturally very interested to see this lineup at the Mill. I wasn’t too concerned about the success of this, since Dream #9 is made up of regular sidemen– Bo Ramsey on lead guitar and Jon Penner on bass. Dream #9 also has Jim Viner on drums. Jim has worked with Bo and Jon frequently, and Jim is also on Pieta’s new self-released EP Flight Time with Bo and Jon.

Friday night was rainy, and the prospects of subjecting my gear to certain watery peril was eating away at my resolve it seemed. Eventually with the coaxing of my wife I made a late departure from Cedar Rapids. The show started at 8PM, and the opening act– Parlour Suite— came with good online reviews, but my late departure meant I would miss most– if not all of their set. Indeed, I walked in at 8:45 and they were just wrapping up their set.

I ran into Jim Viner and his wife Katy eating at one of the booths so I got the lowdown on the Daytrotter session. Jim finished his chicken strips and made for the stage and I ended up sitting with Katy most of the night– when I wasn’t out shooting pictures anyway.

Pieta Brown and Dream #9 at The Mill

One of the first surprising things about this band lineup is that Pieta is playing electric guitar, too! I sort expected that she’d rock the acoustic, and leave the electric up to Bo. She concentrated on two guitars– a black Gibson SG with a P-90 pickup, and a Reverend Flatroc with a Bigsby. I recognized both of these guitars as being Bo’s. I saw that SG for the first time at Bo’s last gig at the Mill. The Reverend is one he’s had for a while, and is a unique guitar in that Reverend didn’t make many with the Bigsby, and in fact isn’t a standard option. After the show I asked Pieta about the guitars and she said that the guitars she wanted to play hadn’t arrived. She said that she has a Reverend Flatroc coming as well as a white Fender Telecaster! Those will be very complimentary to Bo’s guitars since one of his primary axes is a Telecaster Deluxe, too. Pieta said that she used to play electric guitar out when she lived in Tulsa and had a band– a fact I hadn’t heard before.

Bo Ramsey of Dream #9

Jim Viner of Dream #9

Jon Penner of Dream #9

Dream #9 is made up of seasoned musicians and are able to pull together a show on-the-fly with little prep. Effectively this band has only been playing Pieta’s songs for a couple of days– but they all found the pocket in Pieta’s songs perfectly.

Pieta Brown live in Iowa City

The show was a quick hour-and-a-half single set. The Mill wraps their shows up pretty early– the show was over by 11PM. So, don’t worry about going to mid-week shows here– you should still be in bed in time for work the next day provided you behave yourself! I was surprised about the low turn out. I guess the rain kept folks home– like it almost did for me.

The set was made up of a nice selection from all of Pieta’s albums and included some new songs that I assume are under consideration for a new album. All of Pieta’s songs benefit from the country-blues sound that I equate with Bo Ramsey and his projects. It gives the songs a similar feel and recognizable to her albums– all of which Bo helped produce. I would have liked to hear more songs from the new EP, but I suspect that as the band plays together more there will be variation in the set list. It was pretty clear that having the two Iowa shows was giving the group the home-court advantage to work out any kinks that might exist with this new arrangement.

Bo Ramsey and Pieta Brown

I really like Pieta fronting a band like this– it draws natural comparisons to other strong female artists like Lucinda Williams or maybe even Chrissy Hynde of the Pretenders. A good, structured driving rhythm really shows the strength of the songs– and not for a lack of intimacy where needed. On the song “Even When” from the Flight Time EP the band shows knows how to carry a gentle song, too.

Listening to the band and Pieta talking after the show it was clear that they were satisfied with the results, so hopefully we’ll start seeing more Dream #9-fueled shows in the future!

The band did record a Daytrotter show on Thursday, so I hope that session gets released in the near future.

Setlist (1 hour 27 minutes):

Sunrise Highway #44
In My Mind I Was Talking to Loretta
Rollin’ and Tumbin’
You’re My Lover Now
Rollin’ Down The Track
Bad News
Loving You Still
807
How Many Times Do I Hear Myself Say These Things
Faller (introduced as a new song)
West Monroe
I’m Going Away Blues (Frank Stokes cover)
Hey Run
Even When
Fourth of July
Over You
Remember The Sun
Are You Free

Click Here to visit Pieta Brown’s website.

Click Here to visit Pieta Brown’s MySpace Page

The Long Journey of “Country Hai East Cotton” by Hiss Golden Messenger

Hiss Golden Messenger - Country Hai East Cotton
Once upon a time there was a little band from San Francisco called The Court & Spark. For seven years they crafted their own flavor of Americana and Rock in relative obscurity. For those people who did hear their music, most– like me– became fans.

I first heard about The Court & Spark on All Things Considered one cold night at the end of 2001 when Sarah Bardeen reviewed Bless You. I had never heard anything quite like it, and the loping clockwork percussion paired with singer M.C. Taylor’s melancholy vocals and slide guitar– particularly on “To See The Fires” had me tracking the album down immediately and I followed their career until they disbanded in 2007 following the release of Hearts– an album I thought was their best effort to that point.

As announced from their website, “seeing as how we’re all involved in different musical projects, it seems best to retire the C&S name for a while.” M.C. Taylor and Scott Hirsch moved to the East Coast and would continue to work together in a new project cryptically called Hiss Golden Messenger. At the same time they announced the new direction, they also announced from their MySpace page a live CD for sale of a show that Hiss Golden Messenger did called Live at the Fernwood Lodge, Big Sur 4/22/07. I ordered that right away since it was a limited hand-stamped run. When I received the CD, I also got another nondescrept CD-R with only a Sharpie-scrawled “HARPO” on it.

The songs contained on this CD were, according to M.C., “very rough mixes” of an album he was hoping to release after he sorted out getting a label and taking to a studio for mixing and mastering. He was very modest about the recording since I guess he felt it wasn’t done, going so far as to suggest I could share it on my site if I wanted.

The music contained on HARPO was mesmerizing. It was really a continuation of the experimentation I’d heard on the last Court & Spark album, Hearts. I was a bit giddy with this secret album and I did share it with a couple of people I knew who loved The Court & Spark as much as I did. I really felt that the modesty that M.C. had about HARPO’s fitness to be released was completely unfounded! If these were home demos on some hissy old 4-track, I would have still been excited to hear it, and would have shared it out– but I saw the potential of these songs to be much more than mere “rough mixes.” The damn thing sounded complete, to me! I know that others who had received HARPO felt the same way.

As it turned out the songs on HARPO would become Country Hai East Cotton remixed and in a different track sequence. I received a review copy of Country Hai East Cotton in early May and have been listening to it in my regular diet of music. The resequencing was a bit jarring at first, since I was so familiar with the sequence on HARPO. The mix was certainly an improvement on Country Hai East Cotton over HARPO, so the effort of taking it to a studio for some polish yielded exceptional results. The levels were pushed up a bit and the instrument head space has been expanded. HARPO was a good headphone album, but Country Hai East Cotton is really an experience on the cans. No more is the remix more evident than on the cover of the Tim Rose song “Boogie Boogie” where we gained prominent breaths and and a wah guitar line! What was a song I didn’t really care for in the original mix, but the Country mix has much more texture and kind of reminds me of “Digging in the Dirt” by Peter Gabriel.

Standout tracks for me have been “Watch Out For the Cannonball” with it’s compressed snare and keyboard patches, and “Oh Nathaniel.” “Oh Nathaniel” is the theme to a vampire story that sounds a lot like an outtake from late-period Buckingham-Nicks Fleetwood Mac. True Blood’s second season starts this month– they could use this song for the soundtrack– “drink their blood when they call on you…Rise up like the moon…” “Resurrection Blues” is a Nawlins funeral march of desperation where the narrator can’t seem to make it to heaven.

Country Hai East Cotton was released this week and is available in a couple formats from either the website of the record label the band formed called The Heaven and Earth Magic Recording Company, or from a number of brick-and-mortar stores– mostly on the coastal regions. The first format– and most desired frankly,  is the crazy-limited edition CD pressing seen in the picture above in all its glory. The limited-to-500 CD is encased in a color miniature gatefold cover which was illustrated by Nathaniel Russel and printed on 100% recycled cardstock. The CD is lovingly encased in a woven-fibre inner sleeve and the whole shebang is protected by a mylar sleeve. The picture above also shows the small gold-colored thankyou card that lists all of their intertube access and a haiku by Jaime De Angulo on the flipside.

Alternatively, you can download a 256Kbps version of the album in mp3’s for the price of a donation. Per the press-release from the band, “I realize that Country Hai East Cotton will be easily obtained for free on a host of torrent sites and blogs very soon, if it isn’t already. That’s OK. We appreciate that. But, at the risk of sounding totally romantic and/or naive, we’re hoping that those who have heard HGM and like what we do will choose to spend a little money on a disk or download directly from us.”

Indeed, this form of electronic sales where the consumer chooses what to pay has been attempted before successfully and not. Country Hai East Cotton is certainly one of my favorite releases this year and I can’t recommend enough that you, gentle reader, give this album a shot, and I think you’ll find that the band deserves your donation for this fantastic album.

Click Here to visit the Hiss Golden Messenger MySpace Page where you can hear tracks from Country Hai East Cotton.

Click Here to visit the Heaven & Earth Magic Recording Company to order your copy of Country Hai East Cotton.

Click Here to visit the blog page for Hiss Golden Messenger

Click Here to visit Hiss Golden Messenger Facebook Page

Backyard Tire Fire – The Places We Lived (Review)

My discovery of Backyard Tire Fire is thanks to MySpace. I’d heard of the band– references have shown up in a few of the RSS feeds I follow– but I hadn’t heard their music. Apparently, their enterprising “web guy” saw that I was a fan of Cracker and Johnny Hickman and reached out. Hickman is quoted as saying that Backyard Tire Fire is his favorite band right now. After listening to the streaming tracks from their MySpace page and samples on their website as well as a full album stream of their previous album Vagabonds and Hooligans on Indie911 I, too have become a fast fan of their Midwestern brand of country-tinged rock. Hickman compares them to early Wilco, Son Volt and Flaming Lips.

However, I don’t think that the shades of early Wilco and Son Volt stick around for long on Backyard Tire Fire’s new album The Places We Lived. There is something more at work here. From the treated pianos, chimes, bells, and strings throughout, the plucky bass and the double tracked harmonies– specifically on “Shoulda Shut It.” It at times seems like a darker version of Brian Wilson’s vision and the band toys with some Smile-ish changes in mood and the layering of instruments and sound effects. Is this our Surfer Girl with Seasonal Affective Disorder?

I’m not sure that Backyard Tire Fire would ever claim the Beach Boys as a relative, however. Maybe through a second cousin of Tom Petty or Cheap Trick. Ed Anderson has one of the better voices I’ve heard out of the indie scene with the ability to get very soulful and funky on the stomping “One Wrong Turn,” he evokes his inner Zander with the anti-tribute to the workweek “Welcome To The Factory.” “Bright lights and blank stares through the night,” indeed complete with ratchet and clank over big rock drums delivered by official timekeeper Tim Kramp. This is clearly the sound of a band having fun in the studio playing with all the toys. The album sounds great. I read that Tire Fire likes to work in analog, and this album has a vinyl release to compliment that effort, BTW.

This record seems to owe a bit to Tom Waits as well. Certainly Ed’s voice is easier to listen to, but you can hear it in the slightly boozy songs anchored with treated piano in “Rainy Day (Don’t Go Away),” “One Wrong Turn” and the album closer “Home Today.”

“It’s funny how we forget sometimes,” Ed sings in the album opener and title track, “the places we once lived.” Tire Fire’s new album is as much about the Middle-Class Midwestern perspective of the places they lived that colors the landscape of the songs as it is about the influences of the music that provided the soundtrack to the journey to get to those places. The Places We Lived wears its influences proudly. Each of the songs on the album’s economical 35 minutes stands on its own effectively, but also provides guides to those places they lived from funk and blues to country and classic rock. Mixed together with some impressive studio production we have what I think it one of the standout albums from this Summer! In an interview with JamBase, Ed says that with each album he thinks, “this is the recording that everyone is gonna latch on to” which drives them to “get the job done.” In my opinion, The Places We Lived certainly has the hooks and chops to get them there.

Backyard Tire Fire are currently touring in support of The Places We Lived. Click Here for the updated dates. They are going to be at the Picador in Iowa City tonight (9/10) for an early show and I’ll be there.

Click Here for Backyard Tire Fire’s Website

Click Here for Backyard Tire Fire’s MySpace Page

Click Here for the interview in JamBase with Backyard Tire Fire

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