Monday, December 14, 2009

Favorite Albums of the Decade from Our Favorite Artists

(Design credit Julie Cope)

In the face of all of the "best of decade" lists, we...well, we did some too. However, we reached out to a substantial number of indie artists that we are fans of and asked them what albums made the most lasting impression on them over the course of the past decade, in hopes that we would turn up some records that you won't find on the typical lists. We left the format open and welcomed multiple lists from each band. We are extremely grateful to all who participated. Below is the response. As an added bonus to you, the reader, feel free to post your own list in the comments section.

Greg Vanderpool - Monahans

"Even though this has been the decade of iTunes and shuffle playlists, I still love the album format. When a record locks into a mood from beginning to end yet still has enough contrast from song-to song to keep things interesting, it's a beautiful thing. I also love consecutive albums that complement each other so much so that they become a sort of saga (the same way Godfather I & II could be considered one film). It's hard to deny the body of work that Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Spoon and Wilco created over the past 10 years, alone. Aside from those, these are some of the ones that stick out in my mind..."

Chris Whitley - Soft & Dangerous Shores
Califone - Roomsound
Crooked Fingers - Crooked Fingers & Bring On The Snakes
Centro-Matic - South San Gabriel Songs/Music
The Court & Spark - Bless You
Bexar Bexar - Tropism & Haralambos
Steve Earle - Transcendental Blues
The Damnations - Where It Lands

Rob Lowe - Piano & Guitars; Balmorhea

"I am surprised at my list. I think most of the music that I really love and respect happened before 2000. It's hard for me to have a lot of perspective on music since 2000. I guess these records are the ones that I find the most affective, the ones I want to listen to all the time. They don't particularly represent the records that I think are the most innovative or even the most interesting (although most of them are both), but these are definitely the ones that I am closest to. And I guess that is what I like most in a record, something mysterious that just makes you keep listening over and over and over."

In alphabetical order:
The American Analog Set - Know by Heart
Gillian Welch - Time (The Revelator)
Max Richter - The Blue Notebooks
Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Rachel's - Systems/Layers
Sigur Ros - ( )
Smog - A River Aint too Much to Love
Sun Kil Moon - Ghosts of the Great Highways
Tiny Vipers - Life on Earth
Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Winston Chapman - Drums; Bosque Brown

Strokes - Is This It? (2001)
Bill Calahan - Woke on a Whaleheart (2007)
Dr. Dog - We All Belong (2007)

Mara Miller - Bosque Brown

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Master and Everyone
The Shivers - Charades
Beach House - Beach House
the Knife - Deep Cuts
Gillian Welch - Time (the Revelator)

Jeremy Buller - Guitar, Keyboards, Miscellaneous, Vocals; Bosque Brown

John Vanderslice - Time Travel Is Lonely- Not his first solo album but, to me, the one with which he found his voice - settled into a style of writing, production, and engineering that all continue to influence me a great deal. His adaptation of Robert Lowell's 'The Old Flame' is perhaps my favorite of JV's recordings.

Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther- Though Midlake has had several markedly different-sounding records prior (and all of them very good), this one is another 'settling' album - they really found their sound here. A few critics thought the first three tracks left the album too front-loaded; they're idiots. Tracks 5-7 ('Young Bride', 'Branches', and 'In This Camp') make up my favorite three-songs-in-a-row of any album, ever. Magical moments include the vocal delivery of the second verse of 'Roscoe' ('now it's filled with hundreds and hundreds of chemicals that mostly surround-you-you-wish-to-flee-but-it's-not-like-you-so-listen-to-me-listen-to-me...'), the bowed strings and shakers that creep in at 1:27 in 'Head Home' (and Paul's most excellent guitar solo, and the dueling-guitars freakout slow-fade that closes the song), the lone snare hit that punctuates the second verse of 'Young Bride,' the way the words 'I wanted to maaarrrrryyy Babette' soar over the crashing guitars and drums of 'In This Camp'... etc. etc. etc... there are so many more...

Damien Jurado - Where Shall You Take Me? - It's hard for me to pick from Damien's albums. He's had so many albums full of fantastic songs... the first two songs of his I ever heard, though, were 'Matinee' and 'Window' from this album. 'Amateur Night' showcases the less-is-more dark-narrative writing that he's so freaking good at, and 'Tether' is one of those songs that is identifiable to the point of scaring me. 'Tether' is one of the reasons the repeat-one button exists.

David Wingo - Ola Podrida

"I was asked to provide 5-10 of my favorite albums of the last decade but I ended up with 12, and I couldn't see fit to take any of these albums off the list. Depending on my mood I could say that any one of these amazing records is my favorite of the decade...there are many, many albums that came out over the last 10 years that I love a great deal but these are the ones that I feel like have truly become a part of me and that I imagine will always fully engage and astound me, no matter how many times I've listened to them. I don't really know how to properly talk about any of them; I'm too close to the music at this point, and I think that's the hallmark of any great music...words can't even begin to do it justice."

In no particular order:
The Clientele - Suburban Light
Songs Ohia - Magnolia Electric Co.
Sigur Ros - ( )
The New Year - Newness Ends
The Radar Bros - And the Surrounding Mountains
Bibio - Fi
Explosions In The Sky - The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place
Joanna Newsom - The Milk Eyed Mender
The National - Boxer
Wolf Parade - Apologies To The Queen Mary
Radiohead - In Rainbows
M. Ward - Transfiguration of Vincent

Daniel Markham - One Wolf

Queens of the Stone Age - Songs for the Deaf...i was initially excited about Dave Grohl's return to the drums, but the songs and fuzzed out guitars really did it for me. i still listen to this on a weekly basis on cassette.

Ryan Adams and the Cardinals - Cold Roses...i always hear people talk about how hit or miss this album is, but for me it was just perfect. it just sounds so classic to me.

The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots...i love anything weird, and this is definitely that. it will always remind me of driving through thick fog on the California coast. i love how scientific wayne coyne's lyrics are, too.

Beck - Sea Change...when i got this i couldn't stop listening to it. it's just so mellow and trippy. it's by far my favorite beck album.

R.E.M. - Accelerate...r.e.m. is my favorite band of all time. this is such a great "return to form" for them after a few more experimental albums. it's very energetic and also very short. i absolutely love this album! it has everything i love about this band on one disc. for sure!

Sun Kil Moon - April
Richard Buckner - Impasse
Centro-matic - Distance and Clime
Hem - Rabbit Songs
The Walkmen - Bows and Arrows
Kathleen Edwards - Failer
Beck - Sea Change
Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker
Drive-By Truckers - Decoration Day
Lucinda Williams - Essence

Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros - Streetcore (2003)
Billy Joe Shaver - Freedom's Child (2002)
Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris - All the Roadrunning (2006)
Flatlanders - Wheels of Fortune (2004)
Brandi Carlisle - Brandi Carlisle (2005)
Robert Plant and Allison Krauss - Raising Sand (2007)
The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)

"Not in this order necessarily. These are some of the albums that I think have kept music to a high standard during this decade. I hope they're just a taste of what's to come."

Brooks Kendall - Bass; Rodney Parker & 50 Peso Reward

Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP
Jay-Z - The Black Album
Ryan Adams and the Cardinals - Jacksonville City Nights
The Game - The Documentary
Hayes Carll - Trouble In Mind
Macon Greyson - Uneasy
Radiohead - Kid A
Doug Martsch - Now You Know

Stephen Malkmus - Real Emotional Trash
The Court and Spark - Hearts
Joseph Arthur - Nuclear Daydream
Twilight Singers - She Loves You
Magnolia Electric Company - What Comes After The Blues
Strays Don't Sleep - Strays Don't Sleep
Daniel Lanois - Shine
Matthew Ryan - Vs. The Silver State
Nick Cave - Dig, Lazurus, Dig!!!

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Master & Everyone

"how about... top 61? okay, i got a little carried away. i'm sorry! i just couldn't leave all these great records off my list! so instead, i tried to sort them as conveniently and non-arbitrarily as i could. the categories are fairly self-explanitory, except maybe the "spiritual documents" one. these are the records that, for me, go beyond the mere classification of "record" and dip into a realm of creation that "records" such as Astral Weeks exist in - more than just timeless recordings or timeless songs, there is something greater than the art of the musicians being captured here...
also, there are just some records that i can't separate from others in my experience of them. for instance, in thinking about the radiohead records that came out during this decade, i don't have a favorite. they are all my favorite. this decade of radiohead was my favorite radiohead record! i keep expecting them to let me down at some point, but so far, they haven't. so those four records count as one to me. as opposed to the arcade fire, who do have two very good records, but their second record is hands down my favorite of the two. therefore, only neon bible is listed.
look, just be grateful that i didn't include my favorite records that came out in PAST decades but weren't discovered by me until THIS decade!"

Zykos - S/T
Fivehead - Guests of the Nation
Meryll - You've Got Cousins / Happened / Rimziate
Shearwater - Palo Santo / Winged Life
Alex Dupree and the Trapdoor Band - S/T / Las Meridanzas
Frank Smith - Big Strike in Silver City
American Analog Set - Promise of Love
Milton Mapes - The Blacklight Trap
The Gloria Record - Start Here
The Miracle Chair - #4 The Digital Frontier

Pete Yorn - Music for the Morning After
Brian Eno and David Byrne - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
Bob Dylan - Tell Tale Signs (Bootleg Series vol. 8)
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus
Radiohead - Kid A / Amnesiac / Hail to the Thief / In Rainbows
Thom Yorke - The Eraser
Coldplay - Parachutes
David Gray - A New Day at Midnight / White Ladder
Randy Newman - The Randy Newman Songbook vol. 1

Broken Social Scene - S/T / Bee Hives
Wilco - A Ghost is Born / Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
The Postal Service - Give Up
The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker
TV on the Radio - Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
Okkervil River - Down the River of Golden Dreams / Don't Fall in Love with Everyone You See
Joanna Newsom - Ys
The Mountain Goats - We Shall All Be Healed

The Standard - August / Wire Post to Wire / Albatross
Sam Amidon - All is Well
Ho-Hum - Near and Dear
Don Chaffer and Waterdeep - Whole 'nother Deal
Nat Baldwin - Most Valuable Player
The Lord Dog Bird - S/T
The Wrens - The Meadowlands
Vigilantes of Love - Audible Sigh
Creeper Lagoon - Remember the Future
David Garza - A Strange Mess of Flowers / Overdub

Daniel Lanois - Shine / Here is What is
Gillian Welch - Soul Journey
Crooked Fingers - S/T / Bring on the Snakes / Red Devil Dawn / Dignity and Shame
Calexico - Feast of Wire
John Vanderslice - Cellar Door
Jim White - No Such Place
Joseph Arthur - Our Shadows Will Remain / Redemption's Son
Sun Kil Moon - Ghosts of the Great Highway / Tiny Cities
Over the Rhine - Ohio
Nina Nastasia - Dogs

Guided by Voices - Universal Truths and Cycles
AC Newman - The Slow WonderWolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer
Damien Jurado - I Break Chairs
Pedro the Lion - Winners Never Quit / The Only Reason I Feel Secure / Control / Achille's Heel
Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight
Nada Surf - Let Go
Richard Buckner - Dents and Shells / Meadows

Akron/Family - S/T
Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans
Gillian Welch - Time (the Revelator)
smog - A River Ain't Too Much to Love
Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle

Western Ghost House

Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy
M. Ward - Transistor Radio
Desaparecidos - Read Muisc/Speak Spanish
Beach House - Devotion
The Unicorns - Who Will Cut Our Hair When We Are Gone?
Deer Tick - War Elephant
Lil' Wayne - Tha Carter III
The Shivers - Charades
Darkest Hour - Undoing Ruin
Modest Mouse - The Moon and Antarctica

Derek - Writer, CFO, Windfarm

The Paper Hearts - Plans for the Past
Lucero - That Much Further West
Damien Jurado - Where Shall You Take Me?
Willy Mason - EP
Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker
Silver Jews - Bright Flight
Drive-By Truckers - Decoration Day
Kathleen Edwards - Failer
Gillian Welch - Time (the Revelator)
Will Johnson - Vultures Await
Explosions in the Sky - The Earth is Not...
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Master & Everyone
Arcade Fire - Funeral
Damien Rice - o
Hayes Carll - Flowers & Liquor

Jeff - Writer, Procrastinator, Windfarm

If I was to have to pick the albums that I would say had the greatest impact on me over the past decade, this is a pretty comprehensive list. Some of these albums I might leave off if I wanted to appear super cool or hip, but here's as honest a list as I can put together.

Lucero - Tennessee
Explosions in the Sky - The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
Nels Andrews - Sunday Shoes
Hayes Carll - Trouble in Mind
Atmosphere - You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having
Slim Cessna's Auto Club - Cipher
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
Modest Mouse - Good News for People Who Love Bad News
Eleven Hundred Springs - A Straighter Line
Richard Buckner - Meadow

And while I didn't include any particular album from them, I want to note a few artists that I consider to have produced the strongest body of work over the decade.

The Avett Brothers (it was too hard to pick one album)
Doug Burr (both solo and with the Lonelies)
Ryan Adams (solo & with the Cardinals)
DeVotchKa (hardly a single bad song over four LPs)
Will Johnson (solo, Centro-matic, South San Gabriel, etc. etc. etc.)

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Not much to post lately:
although good things are on the way.

Check out Denver's own Nathaniel Rateliff and the Wheel:
on their recent Daytrotter session. These are probably the best recordings to date from the band, as their only record was recorded before the band was in its current formation.

Saw Invictus last night:
Great story. Good movie. Lots of rugby action, if you're in to that sort of thing. Still well worthwhile to watch even if you're not. However, no big surprises either.

In case you missed it:
Aquarium Drunkard posted a great interview with Kris Kristofferson a few weeks back.

Austin favorites Monahans:
have just reissued their out-of-pring debut record Low Pining for the first time on vinyl. Doesn't seem to be available online at this time though.

Also, I just saw Monahans tweeted:
"New Doug Burr songs kill!!!!" - Makes me even more anxious to hear that new record.

Not sure why I like this picture so much. Guess it just reminds me of my childhood:

(Picture credit here)

Monday, December 7, 2009

A decade of thrift

(photo credit Logan Caldbeck)

While I typically cover Denver area music happenings, at times I am compelled to mention events from my home state of Texas. Big milestones only come around so often, and thus I felt the need to make note of this one.

One of Lubbock's most longstanding rock bands, Thrift Store Cowboys, will celebrate their 10th year playing under that name this Saturday at Jake's Backroom. The band will be going into the studio next spring to begin work on their fourth full-length album, but in the meantime, you can pick up a copy of the 7" vinyl split with One Wolf from earlier this year, or check out the free downloads from their in-studio at KAMP in Tucson this past September.

TSC have lined up great support for the show as well, tabbing long-time friend and Austin rocker Collin Herring to open up the show. Herring is playing in support of his recently released fourth album, Ocho.

So if you happen to live in the Lubbock area, this is a show that will make you want to hire a babysitter and head out to. It's a celebration of not only the band's career, but more broadly of the Lubbock music scene and it's persistent presence over the decades. Check back here in 2019 for details on the 20-year celebration.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cold Weather for a Cold Heart

Photo: Library of Congress

It's worth multiple reads:
NPR presented a fascinating discussion on the record labels that we all love and their role in the current struggling music industry. It's worth multiple reads.

Austin blog action:
Austin Town Hall posted a great interview with David Wingo of Ola Podrida. Check out his excellent new album Belly of the Lion out now on Western Vinyl.

ATH also caught up with the always witty and quotable J. Tillman.

Recommended shows for Austin folks:
Monahans - December 3rd - Mohawk
Balmorhea with Ola Podrida & Martin Crane - December 11th - Mohawk
Dave Rawlings Machine with Gillian Welch - December 13th & 14th - Parish both days plus a free in-store at Waterloo Records on the 13th

Is there a more consistent band?
Spoon's new single, Written in Reverse, makes me happy. New album out January 19th, 2010.

Born to scream:
Cymbals Eat Guitars destroyed most of my theories on the state of music and "hyped" bands a few months ago when I saw their live show. This video almost proves my point.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cormac McCarthy emerges once again

If you've had all the family time you need for one day and you're now hiding behind your laptop while everyone is screaming at the football game, then it sounds like maybe you need a little Cormac McCarthy in your life.

He recently did an interview with the Wall Street Journal that you can find here. He's really coming out of the woodwork these days, first with Oprah, and now this.

Plus, in case you were interested, The Road was just named the Times' best book of the decade. For the most part, this list of the 100 best books is likely to make you feel like you haven't been reading enough the past few years.

And just to be clear, you do not own a signed copy of the The Road, and if you think you do, then you need to find the dealer who sold it to you and get your money back.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bonecrusher - film review

I came to know about the documentary Bonecrusher quite randomly, through a Medical Sociology listserve, in which people were discussing health and Appalachia. It is quite random indeed when my work interests intersect with the interests I write about here. Nonetheless, Bonecrusher is a picture of an America the world may forget still exists, one in which overarching poverty frames the lives of communities over the course of many generations.

The film has made its way around the country in various film festivals, gaining attention in the "people who go to film festivals" circle, and apparently the "people who study health in Appalachia" circle, but otherwise it has largely flown under the radar. The film is available on DVD, which is great for those interested, since catching a film you want to see at a local film festival typically requires a good bit of random luck. Director Michael Fountain has worked extensively in television for many years, and his experience shows in the care and detail in which the story is told.

The film centers around Luther Chaffin, a lifelong resident of Russell County, VA, who gained the nickname "Bonecrusher" during his years as a coal miner. As the film finds him, he is now quite literally a frame of his former self as a result of the long term chronic health complications associated with his profession. However, this is not a story solely about the high risk occupation of coal mining, but rather one about the culture, communities, and families that have defined coal mining for generations. Most important to this story is Luther's bond with his son Lucas, a young man who has only recently taken up coal mining as his profession, thus carrying on the family tradition.

In the past, I have discussed films about the American South such as Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus and Seven Signs, which cover the obscure and "off the beaten path" South that is very interesting, but which are often more a presentation of novelties than typical everyday life. Bonecrusher does well not to overly romanticize or sensationalize the coal mining lifestyle, presenting on a number of levels the hardships and adversities built into the lives of the impoverished families and communities, and further depicting the strained relationships and continual cycle of health complications that go along with their high risk occupation.

Coal mining typically comes into our perception every few years when a major disaster occurs in a mine, and our 24-hour news coverage spends a few days in these small communities, depicting the anguish of tight knit communities losing loved ones. At those times, they flood us with information about mine safety and what has changed and what hasn't changed in the long history of coal mining, and then, as quickly as they took up the coverage, they are gone, leaving families and communities to continue on with their way of life as they always have, and making us all forget about mining until the next media blitz. Bonecrusher tells us about the everyday life that occurs in between those events, where chronic disease kills far more people than major mining disasters likely ever will.

Similarly, the film tells stories about masculinity and the effects of globalization. With the former, we hear middle aged men discussing how much they love working in the mine, how they always wanted to work in the mine more than anything else, and how a man gains a certain respect in being a miner that he can not obtain anywhere else. With the latter, we also learn that the mining companies have found it difficult to find new young men to work, because younger generations have taken alternate paths and moved out of the mining communities to take jobs in urban areas, possibly as a means of avoiding the paths they saw generations before them take. Thus, the mining communities resemble many other rural areas in the U.S., where the prospect of jobs and opportunities has pulled entire generations away to urban areas, thus leaving a small aging population to maintain the disappearing culture.

In the end, one may come away from the film wondering what to take from it. As you might expect, no happy ending or comforting resolution concludes the film. Rather, the end is more a depiction about how life goes on and the work goes on, no matter what happened the day before. It is a film about all the love and bonds and stubborness that often comprise a father-son relationship, and I think it does quite well to depict the positives that have sustained the coal mining life for as long as it has been the lifeblood of small mining towns in Appalachia, most notably the strong sense of family and community that defines the lives of these individuals. While the documentary is unlikely to be a mainstream success, it will remain a staple in certain circles because it tells an important story that urban America increasingly doesn't remember or understand, in spite of the fact that it is the work of people like this that makes the lights in your house turn on when you flip the switch. It is a small picture of the occupation that has long defined the Appalachian region, and one that we should not forget exists.

Friday, November 20, 2009

John Braden - Part II

For the back story on my account of John Braden, see my original post, as well as Part I of the story.

Career as a folk recording artist

In spite of all the information I have obtained from various sources, John’s career in the recording industry has been quite difficult to find detailed information on. No doubt, this is largely a result of the fact that this part of his time in this part of the music industry was relatively short, and as far as notability, his career never really took off.

A number of months after my initial post on Braden, I was contacted by a gentleman named Walter Michael Harris who played drums for John on a demo back in 1967, well before he was signed to A&M Records. He said he met Braden through composer/performer John Herbert McDowell and recalls playing a "clip-clop" beat on "Carriage House Song" and brushes on "Mr. Bojangles on a group of recordings that likely helped Braden sign his record deal. While that session was largely the full extent of his time with Braden overall, he remembered him being very likeable, and further, found the release that would follow on A&M to mask some of John's "simple, sweet" sound. He went on to say that John had a "unique voice and musical sensibility," and that he felt their demo may have done better than Braden's subsequent LP in capturing certain elements of Braden's true artistry. Quite interesting finding out where some of the folks from these days end up, as Harris went on to become the youngest cast member in the original Broadway cast of HAIR in 1968 and now runs a non-profit in Seattle called Power of Hope. As a short side note, Harris's brother Hibiscus was a notable entertainer as well, and was founder of the Cockettes, whom you can read more about here.

Billboard notes the signing of Braden in the Nov. 16th, 1968 issue. While over 40 years since the release of the album, I have been fortunate enough to speak with a couple of folks who played on the record, although understandably the sessions aren't exactly crisp in everyone's memory at this point. John was signed to A&M by Michael Vosse, who also co-produced the record, and similarly served as a manager for a period for the Flying Burrito Brothers, which is well detailed in the Gram Parsons documentary Fallen Angel. (My interview/discussion with Michael Vosse can be found here.)

Conflicting reports exist regarding the album's release year, some stating it as 1968 and others as 1969. Given that Braden signed with Billboard in late 1968, it is plausible to assume that his album was released either at the very end of the year in '68 or at some point in early 1969. I expect that exact release dates are not available because they weren't quite as big of a deal in those days, as compared to today's releases, where an album is released on Tuesday and is old news by the weekend. What I do know, is that Braden’s only studio album as a recording artist utilized musicians who are this day remembered for their amazing talents and productive musical careers. The self-titled album (SP-4172) was released solely on vinyl, although such was not terribly uncommon in these days. I noted some of this in my initial blog, but just to recap, the album included famed musician and producer Ry Cooder, Sneaky Pete Kleinow and Chris Ethridge of Flying Burrito Brothers fame, Bruce Langhorne, Burrito Brothers producer Henry Lewy, Paul Horn, Richard Bell, and others. Even art direction and photography for the album were by individuals, Tom Wilkes and Guy Webster, who are now quite renowned in rock and roll history. Quite unfortunately, Lewy, Bell, Kleinow, and Wilkes have all passed on in recent years. It is this byproduct of the advancing age of all the folks involved with this album that has led to me to work to contact as many of them as possible for any information they might have. I regret that I was not able to contact Wilkes before his recent passing, although a blog acquaintance at Corduroy Mountain just so happened to have had a short correspondence with him not long before he died. The response he received from Wilkes is not uncharacteristic of what a number of folks have told me in my search, and I think is worth noting on account of it's humor and quite frankly, for the definite truth behind the statement:
I'm sorry I can't remember the man or his music.
It looks like all can do is quote the old axiom,
"If you remember the 60's, you weren't there."

Good luck,
Tom Wilkes
I had the great pleasure of speaking for a short while with Chris Ethridge, original bassist for the Flying Burrito Brothers, who also played bass on a number of songs on Braden's album. He recalled recording the album at A&M studios in Los Angeles, which he said was just off of La Brea and Sunset at the old Charlie Chaplin studios. While he wasn't good friends with John, Ethridge remembered him being a nice guy that everyone got along with, and he said he was quite honored that John asked him to play on his record. Ethridge has lived an amazing life, having begun playing with Gram Parsons as a teenager and going on to be a part of many albums that are now considered classics. In regard to his bass playing, I was quite taken by his philosophy, which was "anybody can play, but it takes a real musician to hold back and just play what's called for." This type of honesty really comes through in everything he says, including his great respect for the co-producer of Braden's album, Henry Lewy, whom he noted was a "zen kind of guy" and "almost like a saint." Regarding the other musicians from the album, I was able to find contact info for only a few of them, and in most cases, they either didn't remember the session or the contact info itself was outdated. Thus, I am quite grateful to Mr. Ethridge for taking the time to speak with me, even when the sessions are but a distant memory in his long musical career.

Official records from the site On A&M Records report that two singles, or "45s," were released off of the album, apparently both in 1969: one in the U.S. and a second in Australia. The U.S. release (A&M 1066) contained Braden's recording of the traditional "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" and his own composition "Hand Me Down Man." The Australian release contained "Carriage House Song" and "Wild Birds" (AMK-3036) and to add to the time line of that release, you'll notice that the very next 45 released by A&M was that of the Flying Burrito Brothers for "Wheels" and "Juanita." It is a bit peculiar to me that "What a Friend" was the U.S. single, given the strength of songs such as "Carriage House Song," "Baptist Funeral," and "Song to Raymondo," although maybe I don't fully understand the radio politics of the day, or what A&M might have considered the most marketable song from the album.

Beyond links to his album from various sites, about the only other reference I find (part of the link is Not Safe for Work) is to some shows he did with the MC5 at Ungano's in New York City around June 19th of 1969. I’m still looking for any concert information and/or information on his supporting musicians, if anyone finds a link, or an old poster, etc. Using a Google News archive search, I was able to find one article in the Chicago Tribune (June 29, 1969) from a column called "The Sound," by Robb Baker, that mentions a John Braden show at Ungano's, which may or may not be the shows with the MC5 given that both occurred in June 1969. The article is a music news column with a number of blurbs about various music industry happenings, and it just so happens to devote the last two segments to two "young, very good folksingers who tried to bring their music into clubs generally devoted to hard rock." I was quite blown away to find that he was talking about shows by John Braden and Townes Van Zandt. The article goes on to describe how neither songwriter was able to get the deserved attention from the audience.

While both Van Zandt and Braden found their niches in the music industry over the years, on a certain level neither found true appreciation for their songs in their respective lifetimes, although Van Zandt has been exalted to iconic status some 12 years after his death. Knowing their who they were competing against for radio play at the time may help clarify the situation though, as this issue of Billboard shows that Braden's album and Van Zandt's Our Mother the Mountain came out around the same time as Nashville Skyline by Bob Dylan. While Van Zandt's album is reviewed in the same issue, I have not been able to find any record that Billboard reviewed Braden's album, but it's not for lack of looking (in both online archives and microfilm). As a side note, I was quite amazed to find that a majority of Billboard Magazine issues are fully viewable on Google Books going back all the way to 1942. Some issues are still missing though, and thus searching is still not entirely comprehensive of all past issues.

While I digress a bit, a couple of other notes about my aforementioned archive searches. First of all, it would seem that A&M was along the lines of a mid-level label and didn't have a large advertising presence. That is, through many issues of Billboard throughout 1968 and 1969, the only A&M albums I saw advertised were for Herb Alpert, and surprisingly, I never saw an ad for the Flying Burrito Brothers Gilded Palace of Sin, an album that was charting in the Billboard 200 in mid-year 1969. Secondly, I would say that anyone interested in Braden or other relatively obscure artists from pre-internet times will likely benefit greatly from the increasing number of search-able archived magazines and newspapers. Google Books and other archive services are in the early stages of making many older periodicals available, and I think some amazing resources will emerge in coming years. Thus, while my search has felt exhaustive, I expect new details about Braden may emerge with increased archiving of old newspapers and magazines.

Regarding finding Braden's album today, a few copies are available on ebay and Amazon from time to time for between $10 and $40. For a time, a blog had the entire album up for digital download, but the whole site has been taken down recently, likely for a violation of terms of service in posting a lot of other copyrighted albums.

Since the album is not otherwise available for pay download (on Itunes or otherwise), I don’t believe Braden’s family would have any problem with you downloading this work if you can find it somewhere. In fact, I expect they would be thrilled to see his music finding new listeners today. If I can find a way to provide his music to you without getting this blog shut down in the process, I'll do what I can. Write me if you really really want to hear it and I'll try to figure something out. You can hear what I consider one of Braden's better songs, "Baptist Funeral," at the blog Corduroy Mountain, but I'm not otherwise aware of a site where you can hear more. As I noted in my original post about Braden, the only band I’m aware of that has covered John’s work is the Australian band Autumn, that covered “Song to Raymondo.” Copies of that album are available on ebay Australia from time to time, although it is relatively rare as well. (Update: Don't know how long it will stay posted, but hear two more of John's songs at this site.)

Following his self-titled record, the only thing I know about further solo work from Braden is that a demo exists that I suspect was to be his follow-up album. I don’t know if it was recorded and rejected by the record label, or if it was possibly recorded with hopes of getting a new label. Nonetheless, I was able to obtain a copy of the demos from a gentleman who had an old box of reel-to-reel recordings that a friend of his at A&M gave him years ago. I have no info on it other than what was written on the outside of the box, so you can see for yourself that there isn't much clue as to when or where it was recorded (I don’t have the actual reels – just mp3s and picture of the reel to reel box).

As far as the personal interest story in all of this goes, the story behind the demo may actually be my favorite part of having taken up trying to tell John Braden's story. Before I knew anything about him, I saw the reel-to-reel demo posted on ebay, and inquired to the seller about how I would even go about getting the music off of the reels if I purchased them. Without hesitation, he offered to send me a CD of the songs for no charge. The songs are definitely in demo form, in that they are much less produced than the album, but nonetheless they are an interesting picture of Braden a few years after the first album. Months passed and I largely forgot about having the demos, including the time when I initially began corresponding with Georgia. Close to a month later, I mentioned the demo recordings in an email to her, and came to find that neither she or she and John's mother had ever heard the recordings. Thus, I sent the recordings on to her for she and her mother to hear over 20 years after John's death, and probably at least 35 years after they were recorded. The songs wouldn't likely mean much to you or me, but I can hardly comprehend what they must have been for John's family. It's along the lines of digging up a long lost letter in a way, I suppose, and as I've noted many times before, it was made possible because of the kindness of strangers and people who simply "want to keep the music alive."

Thus, unless/until I find any other substantial information on Braden's career in the music business, this is about as exhaustive a report as I can give. One entirely untapped resource at this point is the A&M Records Special Collection at the UCLA library. My expectations are that the files contain at least some interesting information on Braden, although without flying out to L.A., I have no way of knowing. The online archive only lists the basic contents of the archive, so one would have to go in person and look through the boxes of various business records files if they wanted to find anything. Quite honestly, that trip is not likely to happen any time in the near future, out of cost and sheer practicality.

The eventual next part of the blog will cover the portion of Braden's career where he found the most commercial success, that is, his work composing plays and children's albums. However, my research is admittedly lagging in this area, and it may be a number of months before I have the time to compile the information and feel like it is complete.

In conclusion (and speculation), I have to wonder what would have become of Braden's career had he been marketed differently or caught the right break at the right time. Nonetheless, his story is not unlike many others in the music industry. Like Townes Van Zandt, his talents fell on deaf ears for many years, although Braden eventually carved a new path in music following his career as a solo artist. While it is an extremely small amount of notoriety, I hope that I can introduce a few new people to Braden's music. I admit that the music didn't catch my ear immediately, but having listened to the album many times now, I've come to appreciate it a great deal. What comes through upon a few listens is the strength of Braden's songwriting and his melodies. "Carriage House Song," "Baptist Funeral" and "Song to Raymondo" are extremely well crafted songs with strong lyrics, while musically, the talents of Cooder, Ethridge and Kleinow are quite apparent, and at many points go a good deal further than one would expect from mere backing tracks on a singer/songwriter's album. Braden's voice exudes a sincerity that no doubt left a lasting on all those who took the time to listen, and it shows through on both the original tracks and the covers from the album. Ignoring entirely his album's lack of commercial success, one can still see quite clearly the talent and passion of an individual who was fortunate enough to find his true calling in music, but more importantly, who was not afraid to devote his life's work to it. If only we could all be so lucky.

It's funny how our lives, seem to slip away,
it's been 5 years, but it seems like yesterday,
but I'll shed no tears and cast no blame,
'cause after all, life's a damn good game.

John Braden - "Baptist Funeral"

Read the update, Part II.v here.

(Braden pictures courtesy of his family)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monsters of Folk - Stubb's, 11/13/09

The 'Monsters' played their final U.S. date in Austin to a sold out crowd at the always awful Stubb's amphitheater. It was friday night, the weather was perfect and the crowd had just finished the latest issue of Paste magazine. But none of that mattered to me. Jim James, Conor Oberst, M. Ward, Mike Mogis, and Will Johnson were all that I cared about. At first glance the appeal is obvious -- five guys with enough talent to fill three solid hours of music with no opener. Sure, why not?

The band played almost every song from their above average self-titled debut album, but the night was more about their respective other band songs for me. I missed the tour in 2004 and have never forgiven myself. All of these musicians have soundtracked my life at some point starting back in high school, so it was absolutely necessary that I put up with the huge venue and strange crowd. Obviously the soundtrack of my life in high school started with Mr. Oberst. He may even have a song titled that. There are a handful of indie artists that are completely polarizing and Oberst may be at the top of that list. I've had the argument many times and each time I come out victorious. Or at least in my mind. There is no denying his songwriting talent. Yes, he's kind of an ass but have you ever heard of a guy named Bob Dylan? Conor has undeniably influenced an entire generation of songwriters and bands. When Bright Eyes haters start on a rant, I only ask to see their CD collections so that I can point out the bands that wouldn't exist without the Nebraskan. The Monsters of Folk show could be called the Bright Eyes show featuring MoF but that was okay in my mind since two of the five monsters call the band their home. Oberst played a number of songs from "I'm Wide Awake..." throughout the evening while James and Ward provided vocals and various backing instruments. This was the theme of the evening and provided some incredible moments especially when the songwriters gave verses to another vocalist. Which brings me to Jim James, more commonly known as Yim Yames.

It gets said in every interview and review but... Jim James' voice is an instrument. I don't know how else to put it. He is flat out one of the best vocalists in all of modern music. Once drowning his voice in silo reverb, he has now accepted his talent and taken it to new heights. (Warning: more Jim James review cliches ahead.) His simple "oohhs" and "aahhs" gave me chills. Literally my body shook. Oh, and I couldn't see him for 90% of the show. Due to Stubb's being one of the most poorly planned venues in Austin, Mr. Yames was obscured by a wall of speakers at my standing location. It didn't matter. He presented his case and I received it loud and clear. I have seen My Morning Jacket and it remains in my top five concerts of all time, but this was a different Jim. A more polished and shaved head Jim. Well at least until the last 20 minutes of the show where he almost took out the rest of the band doing what can only be described as tornado solos. The highlight of his material was "I Will Be There When You Die" from MMJ's first album, Tennessee Fire. Absolutely stunning.

Montgomery Ward, Matt Ward, M. Ward, M. It doesn't matter what you call him; the fact remains the same: He is a phenomenal guitar player. His unique style was crafted from various legendary guitarists of the past. He's created a sound for himself that is instantly recognizable and has recently taken him to a new level of fame. Ward has a refreshing amount of confidence these days and is almost a different person from the time that I saw him in 2004. Once a ball cap wearing soft spoken guitar virtuoso he is now a stage prowling crooner. He knows he has the voice and he knows people are listening to him. "Vincent O'Brien" was my favorite performance of the night and brought smiles to every performer on stage. Which brings me to my next point.

They smiled. Yes, even Conor was smiling throughout the show. An incredible achievement for a group of guys that have played thousands of shows between them. It was proof that behind all of the supergroup hype is a group of friends that are playing music together because they want to. They're touring because they want to be on the road together sharing each other's music with the masses. I don't think there is anything fake about their enthusiasm or love for each other. They were not put together by some record company executive that wanted to cash in on the indie boom. It's simply friends creating music together.

The highlight of the night for me was watching the main monsters hand over the reins to drummer Will Johnson. In my mind there is no one more deserving of getting a touring spot on the MoF tour than Will. The prolific songwriter has long been a staple of the Texas songwriting scene with his groups Centro-Matic and South San Gabriel but now he is being introduced to a bigger audience with this tour and his recent album with Jason Molina. It's better late than never but few artists have impressed me with their musical integrity more than Will Johnson. So it brought a huge smile to my face and a surprising amount of emotion to the area above my nose when Jim James introduced his "favorite son" to the crowd and handed Will the acoustic guitar. The following chords introduced the song "Just to Know What You've Been Dreaming"; the standout track from his solo album, Vultures Await. Jim James provided background vocals which created a new mountain somewhere in the Himalayas. Perfection.

The night was filled to the top with folk songs, rock & roll moments, amp standing, and the occasional man love. During one of the encore songs Conor was standing on Will's drums while Will played Conor's guitar with his teeth. I wouldn't believe it either if I wasn't there seeing it with my own eyes. While in another song the smoke framed Jim James' vocals in the most dramatic fashion. That's right I said framed his vocals.

As the decade winds down and every publication puts out their "best of the 00's" lists I find it fitting that the Monsters of Folk are touring in the last months of 2009. In 2000, these guys were playing to barely 25 people in small clubs and basements trying to make enough money to get to the next town. Now they're considered some of the best songwriters of their generation and selling out venues around the world. As Jim, Conor, Matt, Mike, and Will took their final bows I thought about what each of their top moments of the decade were and then realized that it was probably happening right before our eyes.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hold out your hand

Check out a number of new recordings:
from lots of great artists on the Coal Country Music compilation. Performers include Ralph Stanley, Gillian Welch, John Prine, Justin Townes Earle and many others. Proceeds go toward helping to stop mountaintop removal coal mining.

You should do yourself a favor:
and go check out the just-posted Lucero Daytrotter session.

If you're a fan of Son Volt:
check out drummer Dave Bryson's tour blog.

Man this song gets stuck in my head:
Not sure what's going on the video, but it's still a great song. Monsters of Folk - "Say Please."

Another cool blog I just ran across:
called Superlative Lunacy. Lots of good retro pictures and great songs posted as well.

So many amazing spring shows announced recently
02/02 - Steve Earle w/ Hayes Carll - Boulder Theater, Boulder (honestly a bit more excited about the opener)
02/13 - St. Vincent - Bluebird Theater, Denver
02/17 - Guy Clark - Swallow Hill, Denver
02/19 - Justin Townes Earle - Bluebird Theater (headlining tour), Denver
04/20 & 04/21 - Avett Brothers - Boulder Theater, Boulder

For Rent, Spelling Proficiency Optional:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

John Braden - Part I

I have been meaning to write this blog for a couple of months now, although more than anything, I did not want to rush into it and neglect important information. While I know my search for information on John Braden is not of widespread interest, I have taken it upon myself to use this blog as a source for information for anyone interested in him in the future. My research has been fairly extensive, although it has led to dead ends in many cases, but as you will eventually see, not in every case. I will continue to compile more information as I can find it, but I have come to find that I shouldn't continue to wait for some note of finality to publish everything, because I'm not sure that time will ever come.

It may become clear at times that I am not a trained journalist, but I did put some time in as a copy editor at my college newspaper, so I'll do my best to clearly and cohesively present the story. My reporting at times will shift between reporting the facts I've gathered and reporting the personal interest story that this has become for me. For anyone that runs across this blog who had a personal connection to and/or sources that reference John Braden that I have not come across, I welcome you to contact me, and I'll attribute the information to you as you request.

You can find the back story here if you’re unfamiliar with where my interest in John Braden arose from, quite randomly I might add. My search from that original point was largely unproductive for 5 or 6 months, but at the end of July, it just so happened that John Braden’s sister Georgia commented on my blog and has been in communication over email about her brother ever since. Unfortunately, I was hitting a really busy time just when she wrote, so I’ve put much of the writing off until now. As much as anything, I found through my searches that John Braden is a fairly common name, and thus, her clarifications have helped me to discern more accurately which references are specifically directed at this particular John Braden. I have reached out to as many people as I could in regard to their connections with Braden, and quite literally have found some people who "know a person that knows a person" that had some connection to him. However, even in those cases, it has proven quite difficult to obtain much information, given that many of these people worked with John over 40 years ago. This search has been sustained by the kindness of many persons, all of whom have taken the time to talk or email with me all in the name of keeping the music alive. Whether that sounds cliche or not, it is quite literally the case here. I don't make a cent off of this blog, and no one else profits in my writing of it, so it is what it is. I welcome corrections on any information you may find in error.

As I’ve come upon various pieces of information, I’ve decided that his story is best broken up into a couple of parts. First of all, I hope to pass along any and all information I’ve been able to acquire in regard to his career as a recording artist. The other major part I’ll spend time on the part of his music career that lasted the longest, that is, his career as a Broadway composer and lyricist, as well as his time producing and writing children’s records. Throughout each of these pieces, I’ll link to as many internet references as possible. In some cases, I provide information specifically from his sister, and while I consider it “official,” I’m not sure wikipedia allows such sources, so any facts I mention that are not linked are my "official unofficial" reports from his sister.

A wikipedia page exists for a John Braden, although the entry is not for the Braden I have taken interest in. However, the wiki page notes that that John Braden made albums for Kid Stuff Records, which in fact, from every source I can find, is actually the work of the John Braden that I am writing about. Kind of confusing I know. However, I cannot find a single source used in the aforementioned wikipedia page for the John Braden they reference, so eventually I hope that either myself or another person can help disambiguate these pages, and give John Braden the musician and composer his own page. Since it really needs to be done correctly, that is, with all information fully sourced, I'm hesitant to make the major changes that are needed, since a few gaps remain in sourcing all of my research fully.

Biographical Sketch

John Stuart Braden, Jr., was born in Asheboro, North Carolina, on January 17th, 1946. He graduated from Southwest Miami High School in 1965. He hitchhiked to New York City shortly after graduating high school and lived there for the rest of his life. While I will elaborate more upon it in later posts, Braden made his living from music his entire life. As you can deduce from the obscurity of his first album, his income from music was quite meager at times, although he eventually did find success and a bit more financial security with later musical endeavors. As his sister notes, he was not cut out for the 9-to-5 life, and continued to pursue what truly inspired him, which was clearly composing, performing, and producing music. At her permission, I provide you with a story directly from Georgia about an experience John had in applying for one such 9-to-5 type job (his only such attempt, according to her).

He applied for one job as a Western Union bike delivery guy, in the late 60's, early 70's, and at the end of the interview, he told us the man said, "well, John, I like you - I just need to ask you one more question....have you ever shot up marijuana?" John replied, "well, I've smoked marijuana, but the only thing I've ever shot up is heroin." Needless to say, he did not get the job.

As I've come to understand his passion for music more clearly, his story and his music have become more compelling and meaningful for me. The personal accounts of John from the folks I've spoken with, both family and musicians, paint him as a person who was quite non-conformist and forward thinking for his time, yet more importantly, as someone who was an extremely personable and pleasant person to be around.

The main part of Braden's story that I plan to tell, that is, his life from the time when he moved to New York City up until his death, will be covered in subsequent posts. Quite regrettably my initial search for him did not turn up a still-living John Braden, but rather a report from his sister that he had passed some 22 years earlier, the details of which I note below in the interests of completing his basic biographical information.

This New York Times obituary is in fact for the correct John Braden, or more accurately, the one I am interested in. As his sister confirmed, he died of complications resulting from pneumococcal meningitis, after a 7 week long coma, at Cabrini Medical Center in New York City on July 22nd, 1987. John’s sister has pointed out that one account you'll find, if you search hard enough (linked here), notes that John succumbed to AIDS in his mid-thirties. This is technically incorrect on both accounts – he was never tested for AIDS and he was 41 years old at his death. Further, she has confirmed that his death certificate matches the NY Times account, in regard to the date, age, and cause of death. I am greatly indebted to Georgia for her willingness to discuss these details with me, as I know even 20+ years after his death, losing a loved one at such a young age, and after such a long ordeal must remain a painful memory to this day.

As a result of the great generosity of John's mother and sister, I am able to provide a few pictures (all of those included in this post) of John from their personal collection that have not been otherwise available in the past. I'll be passing along more of these, including some promo pictures from his time with A&M, in future posts.

Read Part II here.

Georgia and John, New York City, circa 1984

(All pictures courtesy of Braden's family)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Apparently I'm behind the curve on hearing about this one

but this movie looks really amazing (and sad). It is based on the book Push, by Sapphire, which I have not read, and which is also checked out at every library in the area. I heard about the movie because it is the feature movie this Thursday night at the Starz Denver Film Festival, although the showing is already sold out, because, as I noted, I was way behind the curve on hearing about this because I don't watch Oprah. Nonetheless, from what I can tell, Lionsgate is putting it out for wide release in the very near future.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Setting the bar for Denver's dives

When was the last time you went drinking like it was your job? Well, Drew Bixby has been doing just that throughout Denver for some time now, and as it turns out, it actually has been his job. His new book, Denver's Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in the Mile High City, was recently released by Ig Publishing, in conjunction with Westword, following a series that has already covered Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, and New York City. How did Bixby end up getting called upon to do this job instead of say, you or me or one of the other 2.5 million people in the metro area? Well, I honestly have no idea, and I don't think he wants to let his secret out either.

You might know Bixby as the author of Westword's weekly "Drunk of the Week" column, covering his experiences at various bars across town, an assignment which no doubt provided him ample opportunity to research the book and maybe have a couple of beers on the company card as well. The book provides a short commentary on each bar, weaving relevant details (opening time, payment options, happy hours) into various anecdotes from at least the more memorable stops. Additionally, each bar is ranked on a scale from one beer bottle ("Your mother would be proud") to five beer bottles ("Your mother might be propositioned by a meth head"), indicating that if your favorite dive bar gets only one beer bottle, you probably also think the bar at Applebee's is worthy of dive status. A second scale, represented by between one and three ironic mustaches, indicates the likelihood of a hipster presence at the bar - quite an important factor to consider given that hipsters love the idea of hanging out with good old working class folk, but can subsequently destroy the ambiance they so crave when they show up in large numbers. While those with differing definitions of dive bars might disagree, it would seem that a rating of five beer bottles and one ironic mustache would indicate the most "divey" of dive bars. These are the type of bars where an "outsider" is anyone who shows up after 2 p.m. (and completely misses morning happy hour).

I am by no means an expert on Denver's dive bars, primarily because most of my excursions to the city involve music venues, which are largely excluded from the book. Nonetheless, Bixby does well to cover the large geographic area of Denver metro, sampling bars of all smells and sizes, from the mammoth honky-tonk Grizzly Rose to the hole-in-the-wall Lion's Lair. It would seem from the book's Web site/blog that Bixby will continue to chronicle new dive bars as he comes upon them, ideally with subsequent editions of the book to follow.

Toward the end of the book, it is quite surprising to find that a section was reserved for a number of Boulder dive bars, especially given the dirty looks one gets in Denver when you mention you live in Boulder. However, I expect this decision likely came down to economics and the publisher's desire to sell a few books in Boulder. None of the Boulder dives rate particularly high on the overall scale, but our most divey bar by a far stretch, the Outback, is still quite tame and in an entirely unseedy area. (It's in Boulder after all). However, it nonetheless gets credit for being the most un-Boulder of all the dive bars covered, which no doubt serves as its claim to fame. All in all, the descriptions are pretty spot-on, and the book maintains the proper "Boulder is too overrun with yuppies and trust fund hippies to be cool" attitude that any self respecting Denverite should espouse. In discussing Catacombs Bar's scrapping of its idea to change to an upscale martini bar, and rather just adding paint and raising prices, Bixby notes that the decision "rules and sucks simultaneously. Like Boulder." Can't argue with you there Drew.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Weather or not you care

Weather really wreaked havoc on touring bands:
in the mountain west this week. I know Langhorne Slim and Lucero had to cancel a number of shows simply because of road closures. I think Langhorne canceled Salt Lake, but then got to Salt Lake the next day trying to make his next show in Boise, but had cancel Boise due to weather, so he ended up playing Salt Lake a night or two later. This is a real nightmare for touring bands, so I hope they are safely back on track now.

We got our fair share of that weather too (around 24 inches of it):

So much free music out there these days
so I understand if you don't feel like/don't have time to try out new bands. However, you should give Ha Ha Tonka's Daytrotter session and Dawes' Luxury Wafers session a try if you get the chance.

It was great while it lasted:
but having played their final show, Everything Absent or Distorted is no more. You can, however, get their final EP for free here.

I don't know how long it will stay posted:
but Ryan Adams just announced that he's got a new 7" vinyl record available for sale.

I wouldn't call him obscure:
but Collin Herring has really never gotten due credit for his great songwriting, or for his three great albums either. I was pleased to find out he's just finished his fourth studio album, entitled Ocho, at Ramble Creek studios, which is owned and operated by Britton Beisenherz of Monahans notoriety. Also, pretty cool to see from this photo album, that the album includes backing from not only Beisenherz and Roberto Sanchez of Monahans, but also Will Johnson of Centro-matic, and (I am assuming from the pictures) the man/myth/multi-instrumentalist Todd Pertll. And most importantly, of course the album includes maybe the coolest guy in all of Texas music, Collin's keyboard/steel guitar player and dad, Ben Roi Herring.

Just ran across:
this quite well written article from the 1960s, by Bud Shrake. It ran in Sports Illustrated, but wasn't really a sports article. Rather, it chronicles the growth of the Texas Hill Country up to the mid 60s, and is quite interesting in the portrait it paints, especially knowing how much the area has developed since then. And yes, you can file this one under "completely random."

DeVotchKa - Boulder Theater, 10/30/09

Halloween shows can be quite a funny event, considering that it can be hard to convince people to get dressed up in their costumes and then pay $35 to go see a band, when they could just as easily go to a friend's costume party for free. DeVotchKa, however, has quite a corner on the market when it comes to Halloween shows, and their regular Halloween night show in Boulder has grown to a two night affair, with the shows either being sold out or sufficiently full in the large Boulder Theater.

Seeing DeVotchKa's Halloween show on October 30th felt a little bit like going to church on Saturday morning or observing Veteran's Day on November 10th, if you know what I mean. Nonetheless, the band withheld no noticeable effort for the show, outfitting themselves in full Spanish matador costumes and playing an impeccable 90 minute set of both old and new material. Combine that with the top rate sound system of the Boulder Theater and the small army of sound crew accompanying the band, and it was quite easy to forget that it wasn't even Halloween night yet.

DeVotchKa is a band that has become so good at what they do, I think one can almost come to take for granted how refined and perfected their sound is. They were fortunate to find the right lineup early on in their progression as a band, and the ensemble of four incredibly dynamic musicians has produced some of the most important music that has come out of the Denver scene in the last decade. To add to that, they haven't removed themselves from the scene now that they are big time rock stars, as evidenced by drummer Shawn King's recent appearances at Everything Absent or Distorted's final show, as well as an appearance with the flash mob band known as Boba Fett and the Americans.

Bands take a certain gamble when they step outside of the basic rock formula, and in the case of DeVotchKa, the continued refinement of their Eastern European/Mariachi indie rock has paced them well ahead of many of their peers. It seems quite cliche to say so, but when you take the time to do things the right way, rather than following the quick and easy approach to success, the payoff in the end is that much better. I hope both the band and the fans can enjoy all DeVotchKa still has to offer us for many years to come.

(I welcome corrections to this set list. It may be a bit shaky on the instrumental songs, but this is fairly close to what they played.)

Set List
The Enemy Guns
Queen of the Surface Streets
Basso Profundo
Along the Way
Venus in Furs
Whiskey Breath
Clockwise Witness
We're Leaving
How it Ends
Gasoline Serpent
Viens Avec Moi
Comrade Z
Such a Lovely Thing

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Lucero - Aggie Theatre, Fort Collins, CO - 10/26/09

Monday’s Lucero show at the Aggie Theatre in Fort Collins, CO, brought out a number of contrasts for me in relation to the last time I saw them. First of all, Lucero brought a horn section with them to this show, and secondly, I didn’t drink any whiskey. There is a good and bad side to both of these details - some for obvious reasons and for other reasons that I will explain.

This show was my first opportunity to check out the Aggie, a theater that brings in unbelievably diverse acts, as evidenced by the posters on the wall that ranged from Ol’ Dirty Bastard to Robert Earl Keen to Ministry. I suspect this is chiefly a product of being basically the only big venue in town, which consequently allows them to be jerks to you if they feel like it, because you can drive to Denver to see Lucero for all they care.

Another big contrast between this and other recent Lucero shows I’ve been to was the age of the crowd, a result of the proximity of the venue for students from Colorado State, Northern Colorado, and the University of Wyoming. Given the young crowd, I saw a disproportionate number of people who weren’t exactly seasoned whiskey drinkers, and thus, much stumbling, having to leave early, and vomiting in the bathroom transpired throughout the night. Additionally, the combination of youth and whiskey and Lucero created the perfect atmosphere for a mosh pit to develop - the first I’ve seen at a Lucero show. However, the cool head of John C. Stubblefied prevailed in this circumstance, taking the mic to inform these young men that people came to the Lucero show and not to be a part of Ultimate Fighting, and further that the guy in the green shirt was about to be kicked out if he put anyone else in a choke hold. This statement pacified the crowd ever so slightly, but didn't kill the energy for the show either. I wouldn’t have wanted to press my luck with Stubblefield either.

Moving on to the music itself, the biggest addition was that of a trumpet and saxophone player to the mix. Digesting this addition was not all that different from the experience many of us worked through in accepting keyboard player Rick Steff as a relatively permanent addition to the band. We all recoil just a bit because it is a change from the norm, but as most of us did in Steff’s case, we’ll come to a certain acceptance of it eventually. The horns have the best fit in the newest songs, which were recorded with them, and broke new ground on older songs, adding horn parts to songs like “That Much Further West” and “Tears Don’t Matter Much.” The new arrangements were a nice change, but in all their glory, they might have missed in one area, and that was in how hard the songs rocked, for lack of a less clich├ęd term. I don’t begrudge the band for trying new things, and it wasn’t their fault that the sound at the Aggie is not exactly top notch, but their normal standards just didn’t hit with the same impact as usual.

That said, my complaints about the band’s performance are really quite minimal. Quite impressive, but tangential to the music, were the massive beards they were sporting, with the exception of Steff, whose facial hair was crafted in a style I would describe as “neckburns.” You’d have to see them to know what I’m talking about. The band went on just after 11 PM and didn’t leave the stage for good until around 1 AM, with considerable whiskey consumed in between. It is probably this type of devotion to the fans that makes Lucero so immensely popular, as they play each show as though it is the most important one yet, no matter how many more days they have left on the tour. I’m not sure you need a major label when you’ve got fans like this, but the increasing popularity of Lucero does not appear to be slowing down any time soon.

Check out the Denver AV Club's interview with Ben Nichols here.

(Photo credit Alan Spearman, courtesy Lucero myspace)