Friday, January 29, 2010

Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel - documentary review

At times I go to great lengths to try and report on bands or albums or other items that are either “news” or at least relatively obscure, of course trying to be a tiny little cog in the 24-hour news machine. Other times I review albums or books from a year ago or five years ago, or talk about artists from 35 years ago. In all honesty, sometimes both endeavors seem quite useless, but all the same, I guess you don’t have to read any of it if you don’t want.

What does all of that have to do with what I am discussing now? Virtually nothing, other than the fact that this one can be filed away in the “5 years old” category. Upon a recommendation from an internet faux-friend (or IFFs, as I like to call them), I was compelled to find a copy of the Gram Parsons documentary Fallen Angel, having taken a recent increased interest in Parsons’ various musical endeavors as a parallel to some of my searching for people who were involved with A&M Records and John Braden at that time.

Sometimes I find it preferable not to subject friends and family to the documentaries and such that I enjoy, so I chose to watch the DVD early one Saturday morning. By about halfway through, it was so good that I had largely decided it would be worth starting over so that H. could watch it with me.

What Gandulf Hennig and Sid Griffin put together with this DVD is a work that captured a short, but quite notable, piece of music history at just the right point in time. That is, over 30 years after Parsons’ death, each year that passes inevitably leaves us with a few less people who personally knew him. Likely at great effort and expense, they tracked down numerous people from various periods of Gram Parsons’ life, and from those individual accounts they construct a detailed and cohesive story that is compelling and quite well-rounded.

The film follows a progression of countless personal narratives from Gram’s friends, family, and fellow musicians in a quite tasteful manner, and the mixture of many personal anecdotes keeps the story intriguing throughout. At the very end, the film falls victim to a bit of sensationalism regarding the events surrounding Parsons’ death, and why this event breaks rank from the format of the earlier parts, I don’t know.

However, the value of the accounts throughout the film is priceless from a music historian’s perspective, as no amount of archival footage or periodicals can substitute for the personal memories of those involved. I note the timeliness of this documentary most particularly because some of those interviewed for the film, who are quite vital to its completeness, have passed on in the 5 years since it was filmed. Thus, no matter whether or not you buy into Gram Parsons’ recent resurgence in popularity, this film provides a well organized and detailed account of not only his life, but also gives us a portrait of the lives of those in the music business some 40 years ago. The style of this documentary is similar to Be Here to Love Me, which covered the life of Townes Van Zandt a number of years ago. Although still not a widely known documentary, Fallen Angel is an essential for anyone with an interest in Gram Parsons or the Flying Burrito Brothers. So if you’ve got your recruits and your green mohair suits, show your ID at the local video store and check out this documentary. Ironically, my previous sentence is about as cliché and unnecessary as the ending to the documentary, so consider yourself warned in that regard.

(Image source Speakeasy PR)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The best advertisement Grinnell Soccer could ever ask for

Basically nothing is more disappointing than going to a concert of a band whose album you love and being completely disappointed by their live performance. Possibly they played the songs live exactly as they are on the album, or maybe they were distant and total jerks to the crowd, or maybe they were ruined for you because you had to experience the music with 3,000 21 year-olds who were acting like idiots.

Without a doubt, experiences like those can sour a person on live music and make one wonder if it's worth the cost and the trouble to go to live shows. But then there's the moments that make it worth it. Moments that almost never translate onto recordings. For me those moments are things like seeing Steve Earle do an in-store and tell stories about Townes Van Zandt or seeing Old 97s for the first time at the Gypsy Tea Room in 1999 or my first Avett Brothers show or going to see Don Williams on his farewell tour. Those experience are etched into my being and make even the bad live music experiences worth it.

What is really amazing to me though is that every so often, some people are actually able to capture that greatness on tape or video. In fact, the Paris-based La Blogotheque's Take Away Shows have come to make capturing these experiences an art form. They may not be the only ones doing this type of thing, but they are certainly among the best. You can find the full list of Take Away Shows at the link above, but I'm posting what may be one of the best. The Bon Iver video below is simply amazing. You can find a number of other songs they played at the Web site, but this one is a favorite.

And no, nothing about this post has anything to do with the soccer team of a small Iowa liberal arts college, but the video does...sort of.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Doug Burr - the best songwriter you (may) have never heard of

(Image credit Carmen Holt, via Burr's facebook.)

I feel like I've completely fallen off the map keeping up with one of my favorite songwriters, although given that he keeps a bit of a low profile, it's not terribly surprising. I have been a fan of Doug Burr's music for what I think has been close to 9 years now.

I don't recall the exact year when I first came to know of Doug, but I saw him playing with his band The Lonelies at a festival on the Brazos River around 2001, and I only wish I had recognized at the time how impressive a career he would have had since then. From what I remember, The Lonelies were a bit out of place among the typical Texas/outlaw/honky tonk music at the festival, almost to the point that seeing them has taking on mythical status in my mind, like I personally imagine it must have been like when my dad saw Johnny Cash open for George Jones in San Angelo, TX back in the early 1960s.

You may not have heard of Doug Burr, especially if you don't live in the DFW metroplex, near his home base of Denton, TX, or close to Austin, as the majority of his shows are played in those areas. What you have missed is one of the top songwriters around (period), who has been quietly building a fanbase with some of the best recordings released in the last decade. In fact, quite appropriately, the Dallas Observer named Burr's On Promenade one of the top area releases of the '00s. Some years ago, he largely moved away from performing with the Lonelies and has put out three records under his own name, with the most recent a collection of Psalms that Burr put to music, entitled The Shawl, and which was recorded at the abandoned Texas Hall in Tehuacana, TX. (See photos here.)

What I just found out is that Burr was recently involved in writing music for a small indie film named Topeka (here's the movie's facebook). Given that I typically foam at the mouth over Doug Burr releases, I was completely blown away that I was at least 8 months late in coming across this news. A video was posted with one of Burr's songs for the movie back in July, so like I said, this isn't new news, but it was news to me. He was interviewed back in August and mentioned both the film and his former band, noting how he wished they would have recorded more of their material back then (us too Doug!). Aside from this old news, I can't find much more about the film, so it seems it must be making the film festival rounds and/or waiting for distribution or funding to bring it to a larger audience. Knowing the fate of many small independent films, I just hope that we have some opportunity to see it online or on DVD at some point.

Beyond this bit of old news, Burr reports in this recent interview that he has been recording a new record, although knowing that he has always been careful to take his time and release the absolute best product possible, I expect a release date may be a few more months coming, but hopefully not too far in the distance. While I am unsure about whether the song will be on Burr's next release, this music player at the Dallas Observer's Web site contains an old Lonelies song called "Mirror Ball," although I can't tell if it's been completely re-recorded or just reworked. I have always hoped the unrecorded Lonelies material would make it to release eventually, and so if this song is in fact slated for Burr's new album, then we'll all benefit from it. If not, then his early material will remain quite obscure, as I noted some time back, unless of course he becomes a superstar and someone re-releases the material. However, for this humble family man, I don't think he has ever sought or desired fame or fortune through his music (maybe a comfortable living, but I doubt much more), and would probably reject it all to some extent if it ever came knocking. Doug Burr is a rare musician that stands well above the sea of mediocrity that is the music business, and more importantly, he is a grounded and real person who puts up with the often frustrating music business to do what he loves for all the right reasons.

(UPDATE: new Doug Burr release slated for April 2010)

"Should've Known" music video, producer - James Hurd, director - Jon Collins

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hayes Carll returning to Denver

Ever since he came through Denver as an opener for the Old 97s a couple of years ago, I've been anxiously awaiting Hayes Carll's return to Denver. Recently, I found out that he would be touring with Steve Earle and playing the the Boulder Theater in early February. While initially excited, I was a little bummed thinking about how expensive it would be to see Carll, as I would have to pay $35 or more just to see him open the show for Steve Earle. Not that I wouldn't want to see Steve Earle, but I've seen him in the last year, and don't really have much interest in paying that much to see him again so soon.

BUT, there's a happy ending to this story. As it turns out, during an off night on the tour, Hayes Carll will be playing his own show at the Walnut Room in Denver on February 3rd. As you might expect, this show will be much cheaper than the Boulder show, and hopefully he'll play a longer set than he's playing as Earle's opener.

Whether you prefer the show with or without Steve Earle, I can't recommend Hayes Carll highly enough. He has gone from a guy touring across the country by himself in his car to one of the more respected songwriters in Texas, all in the span of less than 10 years. Carll's 2008 Lost Highway Records debut Trouble In Mind stands as one of the albums that I still can't stop listening to. Having lost touch with his music for some time in the mid '00s, I happened to catch a free show of his at Stubbs in Austin a couple of years ago, and the song "Beaumont" brought me back to his music in an instant. Trouble stands as one of the strongest LPs released in the last 5 years, and if you've not heard it I highly recommend you check out the previously mentioned "Beaumont," as well as "Drunken Poet's Dream" and "It's a Shame." The album includes a number of strong covers as well, including "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart" and Tom Waits' "I Don't Wanna Grow Up."

In short, consider what you are missing if you don't see Hayes Carll in Boulder or Denver on Feb. 2nd or 3rd, respectively, as he hasn't been here since June 2008, and it's not worth waiting two more years for another live show. And try not to get too confused by the fact that he has a first name for a last name and a last name for a first name.

(Photo courtesy of Hayes Carll's Web site.)

Update: Review of Hayes Carll's Denver show here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A (sort of) new Auto Club release

Just as I typically find out news about Slim Cessna's Auto Club, I happened to check their myspace to see if any new shows were on the books, and to my surprise, I found that they were releasing a new record. Well, a new-ish record.

Entitled Buried Behind the Barn, the new record is purported to contain "lost & rumoured out-takes, compilation tracks and alternate recordings" as per the band's myspace. A bit of research turns up this site, which has the album up for pre-order, although oddly nothing is mentioned on the band's label Alternative Tentacles' Web site yet. According to the former site, the album will be released on March 16th, 2010, available as a CD or 10" vinyl+download.

It's not exactly clear to me why the band hasn't linked to this pre-order site yet, so I can't vouch for it, but it seems to be legitimate as far as I can tell. The site, Midheaven, provides a bit more insight into the contents of the album:
Twisted twangsters Slim Cessna's Auto Club roar back with some raw, heart-shattering tracks from 2000 and 2001. Led by the vocals of Cessna and Munly, the Auto Club bares even more of their troubled souls than usual. Briefly released as a limited-to-200 CDR in 2004, these songs are basically unreleased, original versions of later album tracks and compilation songs. Whatever their destination, all eight are undeniably prime 'n' primal Auto Club--a rambunctious mix of joyful twang, acoustic folk, hillbilly picking, and old-time gospel backed with words of spiritual angst, roadhouse wisdom, and whiskey-drinking sin 'n' salvation.
Speculation on the band's Yahoo message board is that this is a proper release of the band's limited edition Crossbreeding Begins at Home, a 2004 CD-R release of rarities, although given that there is no track listing yet, it's tough to say for sure. Either way, it is nice to see the band putting out new material, and hopefully we'll see a new studio album from SCAC (and Munly) before 2010 is over.

Update: The track listing has been announced, and it would seem the speculation of this being a release of the songs from Crossbreeding is correct.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

New Langhorne Slim video - "Be Set Free"

Really loving Langhorne Slim's new material. Why haven't I gotten a copy of it yet (besides the fact that I keep looking in local record stores and not finding it)? Check out his Luxury Wafers session if you want to hear more.

Don't forget, he'll be at the Hi-Dive in Denver on February 10th.

Langhorne Slim - "Be Set Free" from Mog Dotcom on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

On the road with a song for you

I threaten to write a blog on this topic every so often, but generally I get sidetracked, or maybe more accurately I chicken out of writing it. I typically write blogs imagining that I'm writing for my friends to read, and quite literally, this blog is one that my friends could hold against me -- one that could lead them to de-friend me, and not just on facebook.

Of course the subject I am talking about is Ryan Bingham. If you don't know him, he's a Lost Highway Records recording artist who recently won a Golden Globe for a song he wrote for the movie Crazy Heart. On account of that win, he's likely to get an Oscar nomination at the very least, if not the award as well.

Bingham started out on the Texas country scene a number of years back, making the rounds as a singer/songwriter well before had an album to push. (See this article from Hilly Country Explore April 2008, pages 15 & 16) I believe actually helped him release his first LP Dead Horses, which is now out of print, largely because a number of the songs were re-recorded for his Lost Highway debut Mescalito. As this article in Lone Star Music Magazine details, there was a short span a few years ago where Bingham went from not being able to get a gig in Austin to playing Coachella and The Tonight's Show not long after. There are a number of live recordings of Bingham available on the internets outside of his two studio LPs, most of which are poor quality, but one semi-obscure recording of his comes from a show he did in Paris with dobro and steel player Stephane Beaussart. It's a pretty worthwhile listen.

It won't make sense to the typical reader why I would ever have anything against Ryan Bingham. I don't even know the exact reason myself. Let me try to explain. I think the short version is the fact that various press releases have hyped up his time as a bull rider and his hardscrabble West Texas roots. Technically, he is from Hobbs, NM, although he lived around various parts of Texas growing up, and I'm sure he rodeoed around the area plenty as well, although I have no idea for how long. So combine that with his former affiliation with Texas Country music, a song lyric saying "I've been a desperado in West Texas for so long Lord I need a change," getting attention from big names in music so early in his career, and his relatively meteoric rise to fame, and yeah, that's where I think some of the initial resentment stemmed from. As well as I can understand it myself, I think this whole situation is tied to my growing up in West Texas and wanting to be able to decide who the "real" West Texans are. Irrational, I know, but what can I say?

Before his second album, Roadhouse Sun, it was relatively easy to ignore Bingham. He wrote "Southside of Heaven," a catchy song that was pretty widely popular in Americana music terms. The song was even featured on an episode of ER last year, believe it or not, not as background music, but actually played by one of the characters in the show. Essentially, it is the perfect song to have on a first album, because it just keeps spreading to new listeners because people love it, and before you know it, you've got the perfect fan base built up and primed for a follow-up album.

As fate would have it, Ryan Bingham is a record company's dream. He's just plain marketable. I am starting to learn not to hold that against him, because I think he's just as genuine as any performer is. It's an unsettling thought at times, but that's why they are called performers. No matter how much we want to believe our favorite musicians are completely genuine, every artist is playing a part in some manner. Some are just better at making it "feel" genuine. In all honesty, I think Ryan Bingham has actually lived a lot of the stuff he talks about in his songs more than most songwriters. Perhaps I've been put off by him because he might actually be the real deal, if such a thing exists. In my defense, I present exhibit A, an LA Times article, where they try to throw every roadhouse/outlaw cliché in the book at him in a three paragraph review of Roadhouse Sun. Check out his press page and you'll find 50 more articles just like that one.

Amazingly, Bingham has found success on the old music model -- the one we really don't see that much anymore. That is, A&R rep sees artist with potential, signs artist, develops artist, and artist gets popular. These days you practically have to sell 100,000 records out of your trunk before a label will look at you. Nobody gets signed without a following these days. Except Ryan Bingham, it would seem. Not that he's going platinum, but did I mention he won a Golden Globe?

What has led me to write this blog really has nothing to do with the movie Crazy Heart, or his Golden Globe for "Weary Kind." It's actually sad to me that he missed the acceptance of his award because he was at the bar. I'm happy to see a guy from Hobbs, NM, making a name for himself. What finally led me to sit down and write about him is the fact that there are a number of songs off of Roadhouse Sun that I simply cannot get out of my head.

There. I said it. No, it's not my favorite album of 2009. It's kind of all over the place really. The sounds range from the Byrds to Ryan Adams to Arcade Fire (seriously) to various other mixes of folk and guitar rock. I guess part of that is what happens when you've got a label paying for studio time and the other part is what you get when you mix a New Mexico singer/songwriter with a producer who is a former guitarist from the Black Crowes. So as far as having a groundbreaking sound, the album is fairly middle-of-the-road. What keeps me coming back though is the songs.

Turns out that "Southside of Heaven" wasn't a fluke. Roadhouse Sun has a number of songs that I have found myself humming over and over for the past few months. Specifically, "Dylan's Hard Rain" and "Country Roads" are damn catchy, and they have literally been like a little voice on my shoulder telling me to give this guy another chance, or maybe rather to give him a first chance. Besides those standouts, a number of other songs are solid listens, including "Tell My Mother I Miss Her So," "Day Is Done," and "Change Is." Others are forgettable, but that is to be expected.

If you're not convinced yet, then I understand. That's where I was for years. However, if you listen to the songs with an open mind, you just might get dragged over into the camp of his supporters, and as it turns out, you'll probably find me in that camp when you get there. Looks like I'm about to go pony up $10 plus another $10 in popcorn to go see Crazy Heart this weekend. Judge me if you want. De-friend me if you must, but just know that you might be missing out.

(Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses photo courtesy of Lost Highway Records)

edit: an additional good article about Bingham can be found at Carnage & Culture, which I believe was originally an L.A. Times article.

Waymore videos

I know it's kind of annoying when bloggers just repost videos, but don't worry, this one is an old Waylon video. I know things are getting busier with work when I start watching lots of old country videos on youtube.

By the way, if you happen through Littlefield, TX, you should stop by Waylon's brother James' museum/liquor store, called Waymore's. Yes, you read that correctly. No, I haven't been there, but it's a top priority when we are back in Texas.

Everyone, meet 80s country. Take your coat off and stay a while.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Since you're not likely to hear these on the radio today

This clip has some of my favorite songwriters on stage together, but something is just a little off with the performance - I think maybe it's not the ideal key for everyone to be singing in. Nonetheless, it's still an amazing song. And in case you didn't know, Guy Clark will be in Denver on Feb. 17th.

This has nothing to do with any of the above songwriters, and has nothing to do with any upcoming shows. However, it never hurts to break out the Don Williams every so often. And also, my new mission is to revive the greats of 80s country. Did someone say Vince Gill? Rodney Crowell perhaps?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Your favorite Maines brother and other thoughts

If you miss Arrested Development, there is no replacement:
but Modern Family on ABC is a great new show with a similar theme - family craziness and inappropriate comments. I'm a big fan of everything I've seen so far.

I know you've been pondering your selection for the past year:
but time is almost gone to vote for your favorite Maines Brothers band member of all time. If you read the blog in Google Reader, come on over to windfarm and find the poll in the top right corner. Lloyd has a pretty commanding lead, but like I've always said, you would be a fool to count out Kenny Maines.

Aquarium Drunkard is still the best at blogging:
Check out this awesome piece about JJW's 1969 Driftin' Way of Life album.

To make up for his November show that was canceled due to weather:
Langhorne Slim is coming back through Denver in less than a month. Wednesday, Feb. 10th at the Hi-Dive.

I know you cringe when I mention Rolling Stone magazine:
but they've got an aweomse piece on Devendra Banhart in the most recent issue (Cover title: "You Idiots"). In summation, it does really well to describe how no matter what he does with his appearance or his music, the media insists on calling his music "hippie folk."

In case you missed the shows:
the Denver Post's Reverb blog covered the DeVotchKa and Slim Cessna's Auto Club NYE performances.

It won't affect you, but it will affect the blog's content a bit:
Windfarm will be relocating (geographically, that is, not changing URL) this August. More details on that as the time approaches, and lots of shows to see between now and then. For similar reasons, I may not be able to post and cover as much music and junk as I did for much of 2009. Oh well, at least you've still got the rest of the internet.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I've been waiting for this...

for over three years. Quick back story: When we first moved to Boulder, we were most excited about the music scene in the area and had hopes of seeing many bands that of course never came through Lubbock. The first problem in all of that was that we had just moved to Boulder, so we didn't really have money to be going to live shows.

This was September 2006, and Band of Horses played a Tuesday night show at the Fox that we ultimately decided we couldn't make it to. We had started to like their one and only album (at the time) quite a bit, and had listened to it on our drive from Texas, but apparently they hadn't quite assumed "can't miss" status. I'm sure we said "oh they'll be back again before long." That turned out to somewhat untrue. I think they have probably played Denver a time or two since then, but for one reason or another, we never made it to those. Now, finally, they return to the place where we missed them the first time, much more popular than they were then, but hopefully not an instant sellout type of popular.

(Image: SF Weekly)

Monday, March 15 - Fox Theatre, Boulder, CO

Tuesday, March 16 - Ogden Theater, Denver, CO

I think the admission price has doubled since 2006, but that's a small price to pay for making up for missed opportunities. Presumably these shows are being played en route to Austin for SXSW to do promotions for a new record. Hopefully we'll make it to that too and see them about 14 more times in the same week.

Monday, January 11, 2010

No one really cares, even on Facebook

The most surprising thing about the recent news that Jay Leno will reclaim his 11:35 PM EST /10:35 PM CST slot, moving Conan and the Tonight's Show back at least 30 minutes, is the fact that no one really seems to care. When the news broke, I fully expected Facebook groups to pop up all over the place with titles like "Keep Conan" or "I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who want Conan to stay." While those groups exist here and there, they don't seem to have gained any steam and the bigger message that I'm getting is that no one really cares. Far more people have joined Facebook groups to protest the change in football coaches at Texas Tech, if that puts it in perspective for you.

I guess from a personal standpoint, I don't really care either. I really really don't like Leno, have never watched his new show, and think he isn't funny most of the time. I think Conan is far better and funnier, but while I never watched the Tonight's Show with Leno, I rarely watch it with Conan either.

Apparently ever since Conan took over, Nightline has become the number one show in the 11:35 PM EST slot. I don't even know that the issue is about Conan, but rather that the change gave people the opportunity to break old habits and try out something new. Turns out Nightline is a pretty good news program, which isn't Conan's fault. Moreover, the game with late night shows is much different now than when Leno took over, in that a much smaller percentage of people had cable when he replaced Johnny Carson and so he didn't face so much competition in maintaining viewers. When the Leno/Conan transition happened, probably as many people shifted over to watching Ace of Cakes or Roseanne reruns as switched to Nightline or Letterman.

What does all of this mean to the world? Very little. Why did I write about it? Monday morning procrastination. The Conan die-hards will doubtless get to see him in some time slot on some channel, whether it be NBC or FOX or Univision, and the continually struggling NBC is going to take the Leno show that didn't work in the 10 PM EST slot and move it back an hour and a half where it used to work and hope that everything works again. I'm not sure that's the best reasoning, but as I've noted, I don't really care. Apparently you don't either.

Update: Great NSFW interview with Patton Oswalt about the situation.

Another update: The facebook group finally showed up, with over 600,000 members, but way too little too late.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Los Comicos Super Hilariosos

I still haven't gotten to see a Los Comicos show live, but I'm making that my new year's resolution. Denver's relative isolation in the country has provided for a pretty great indie comic scene, and these are two of the main guys responsible for that (although Ben Kronberg doesn't live in Denver anymore). Adam Cayton-Holland performs regularly in Denver, and his column "What's So Funny?" can regularly be found on the Onion A.V. Club Denver's Website on Wednesdays. In fact, a new column is up today.

To be on the safe side, you should know the video is generally NSFW, although that is somewhat dependent on where you work.

New Year's Resolutions with Adam Cayton-Holland and Ben Kronberg from Adam Cayton-Holland on Vimeo.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Hope you had a great holiday

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I've been working on my Waylon Jennings tribute album, tentatively titled Waylon on the Trombone. That's right, 14 of Waylon's classics performed on the greatest brass instrument ever crafted.