Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Vacation All I Ever Wanted


I'm actually on vacation. I thought I'd be posting a lot, but am instead enjoying fun in the sun in Maine with my family.

See you next week!

In the meantime, here's a little tune from The Go-Go's!


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

TIme Warp Wednesday: Suzanne Vega's Suzanne Vega

At long last here is the return of a Time Warp Wednesday post.

I don’t really remember where I first heard this album. I originally owned it on cassette. I now have it on vinyl. Suzanne Vega was her first album, and two years before “Luka” became a huge hit.

Suzanne Vega is really a master of painting beautiful character pictures in song. And many of the songs on this album demonstrate this. “Marlene On the Wall” and “The Queen and the Soldier” are great examples of this.

The record leads of with “Cracking,” which to my mind is one of the most beautiful songs she has written. “My heart is broken / It is worn out at the knees / Hearing muffled / Seeing blind / Soon it will hit the Deep Freeze.”

I got the chance to see Suzanne Vega during her Solitude Standing Tour. What a great show. It was a Saturday night and she asked the crowd if we knew what the word of the day was from Pee-wee’s Playhouse. For the record it was “Cool.” Don’t ask me how I remember this, because I really have no idea.

My friends and I waited around by her bus after the show to get her autograph. She was really friendly and gracious and when her band started making noises about wanting to leave she got on the bus and told them to chill out. That was a really nice thing to do for us kids. And I still appreciate her doing that and still listen to her music today.

Marlene On the Wall



Saturday, July 19, 2008

Album Review: Sim Redmond Band's Room in These Skies

Whenever I hear the Sim Redmond Band—regardless of the season—it makes me feel like it’s summertime. I think it’s something about the beautiful harmonies between Sim Redmond, Jen Middaugh, and Nate Silas Richardson. With this in mind, I guess it’s fitting that the band kicks of it latest CD, Room in These Skies, with a song about the venerable summer pastime of Bocce. Some folks might be confused about the song’s subject, though, as it’s called “Roll a Few.”

One of the things I really dig about the Sim Redmond Band is that while they pull together a wide range of influences—roots, afro-Caribbean, and reggae to name a few—they never sound derivative. They have wholly incorporated their influences and this is no easy task.

On Room in These Skies the band recorded differently than they have before, recording the album in a church and playing the backing tracks live. They added the vocals later. This approach really creates a warmth to the CD that’s just beautiful. In addition, some of the song-writing duties were shared this time around with Jen Middaugh contributing a song for the first time, “Come and Gone.” And, man, it’s a lovely tune. This new approach to recording and the expanded songwriting duties have made Room in These Skies a standout album in the Sim Redmond Band’s already very strong catalog.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Album Review: The Horse Flies' Until the Ocean

The first time I ever heard of The Horse Flies was on a t-shirt that my now-wife owned when we started dating. That was ’round about 1996 in Chicago. Of course by then, the band had already been around for 15 years. After a recording hiatus that followed the death of original bass player, John Hayward, in 1997 they have just released a new album, Until the Ocean. The new record is a mix of covers and originals.

Until the Ocean is a welcome return to recorded music. It’s always great to get to see the band live—it is truly their element—but the new CD is a pleasure. With strong originals such as “14 Reasons” and the anti-war “Baghdad Children,” it’s clear what great songwriters they are. As strong as they are as songwriters, they’re also masterful interpreters of tunes by other musicians. It takes guts to cover the song “Oh Death,” which was made famous on the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack.

The new album is also a reminder of how lucky we are to have The Horse Flies call our fair region home. The band was alt-folk, roots rock, and Americana music, before these categories were even being used. They’ve been playing together for a long time and are fortunately not showing any signs of slowing down. And of this and the great Until the Ocean, we can be thankful.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Album Review: Frightened Rabbit's The Midnight Organ Fight

Like many others who look to the Internet to find new music, I found Selkirk, Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit on YouTube. It was a grainy-filmed live version of their song, “My Backward Walk” (more on that song later) with a short intro consisting of The National’s track, “Fake Empire.” I was totally blown away. I had a new band to love.

As luck would have it, Frightened Rabbit was about to release its sophomore album, The Midnight Organ Fight. The band began as a trio but as of the new record is now a four piece. Scott Hutchison is the main songwriter, lead singer, and one of the guitarists. Another guitar player, a keyboard player, and a drummer fill out the band. No bass. However, the musicianship is very high and the music sounds totally full.

Lyrically, Frightened Rabbit writes quirky/clever lyrics—but in a very intelligent way. A lesser songwriter who used leprosy as a metaphor for falling in love (“The Modern Leper”) would come up with something offensive, instead of the compelling track found here. Another standout song on the CD is the aforementioned “My Backwards Walk.” This song’s line, “You’re the sh—t and I’m knee deep in it,” is one of the strangest, but loveliest, lyrics I’ve heard in a long time. Frightened Rabbit also cover some of the other big themes of life—such as religion—in addition to love. “Heads Roll Off” is a really beautiful tune about faith and the belief that death is not the end.

For me, it’s always super exciting to find a new band creating its own brand of compelling music. And Frightened Rabbit certainly fits that category. With two albums complete I certainly hope that the band keeps writing and recording, because the buzz is now building around them in the US and they’re poised to reach the much wider audience they deserve to.

Check out the "My Backwards Walk" with the "Fake Empire" into and "Heads Roll Off" below.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

2008 Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance

The official title of the annual happening that takes place at the Trumansburg Fairgrounds every July is the Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance. But, hey, we’re from here, so we just call it Grassroots. Need I say more for you to generally know what to expect? I think not. The specifics of this year’s festival are a different matter, though, and do need a little further description.

So what to expect at Grassroots 2008? Well, first off, you’ll find the great performers that play the festival every year. Sim Redmond Band, Donna the Buffalo, The Horseflies, and other great local performers such as Thousands of One, Hank Roberts, Kevin Kinsella, Jennie Stearns, and Johnny Dowd will all be there. Just on its own, this is a killer group of musicians to get to see. But in total there are going to be 70+ groups playing at Grassroots between July 17 and 20—many of whom music fans would have to work pretty hard to see otherwise. For instance, you would likely not get an opportunity to see the amazing Navajo punk band Blackfire. I mean this trio is good—really good. So good that the late Joey Ramone once called them, “Fireball punk rock.” They will be also performing with their traditional Native American Dance group, the Jones Benally Family Dance Troupe.

Niger’s Etran Finatawa is another great example. The band, whose name means “The Stars of Tradition,” formed out of a jam session at the annual Festival au Desert in Mali. They combine their traditional cultural sounds with the blues. Another band, Luminescent Orhcestrii, plays a nice little combination of Romanian gypsy melodies and punk rock performed by 2 violins, guitar and bass.

As if that weren’t enough, though, I have yet to tell you about the two incredible headliners. Thursday night sees Lucinda Williams hit the Stage and on Friday, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Yes, you read it correctly. And yes it is amazing. In case you don’t know, Lucinda Williams is an alt-country, folk, rock singer who has been hailed as one of the best songwriters in America. In addition, her 1998 album, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as number 304 in its list of the top 500 albums of all time. When I asked Megan Romer of the Grassroots Festival about the choice of Lucinda Williams, she told me, "We're really, really excited about this year's lineup. Having Lucinda Williams at the top of the bill is a big deal for us—she's the largest headliner we've ever had, in terms of demonstrable draw and local popularity.”

If you haven’t heard the music of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, this is the best way I can describe it: They take the traditional brass band music of New Orleans and blow it up. Their latest CD provides a prime example of this. It is a song-by-song brass band reinterpretation of Marvin Gaye’s classic album, What’s Going On. Another example is the two-song medley they do that combines the song, “I’ll Fly Away” (From the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack) with Prince’s “Purple Rain.” And hey, all you hipsters out there, they’ve even recorded with Modest Mouse. But the song they are best known for is, “My Feet Can't Fail Me Now,” which took on a new meaning after Hurricane Katrina. If you’re not blown away by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, well, I don’t know what, but I’ll sure be surprised.

When I asked Megan for her overall impression of Grassroots 2008, she told me they have an “amazing array of performers from around the world—The Dirty Dozen Brass Band from New Orleans, Etran Finatawa from the Sahara Desert, Cyro Baptista from Brazil, and The Meditations from Jamaica—alongside an amazing variety of performers from around the country and right here in Ithaca. Musically, it's going to be a really high-energy year, and I think everyone's gonna have a really good time."

To my mind, this lineup represents a high water mark for they always great Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance. Please see www.grassrootsfest.org or call 607.387.5098 for ticket information. The festival runs July 17-20 at the Trumansburg Fairgrounds.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Yikes! Not Actually Stranded On A Desert Island


Sorry loyal readers. I have neglected you. Life just got really busy. I had a flurry of posts while on a business trip to San Diego as I had lots of time in the evenings to write. Since returning home it has been busy. Not bad busy. Lots of time with the wife and kids, which is always great and the priority. Anyway, I will try and treat you, my readers, better.

In the mean time here is a song that I love.