Sunday, February 28, 2010

SXSW preview – Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore

Photo courtesy of Sub Pop

The pair is probably the least recognizable figures on the star-studded Sub Pop roster, but Dear Companion has certainly caught my attention. The Kentucky natives crafted the album to bring attention and its proceeds to Appalachian Voices, an organization that works against Mountaintop Removal coal mining. The talented Jim James, a fellow Kentucky musician, produced the album and is featured on some of the tracks.

Each artist has their own solo career, but as a duo they really shine. I’m going to bet right now that their harmonies are even more stunning in a live setting. I’m hoping that Cheyenne Mize, who I saw with Bonnie “Prince” Billy, will accompany on fiddle and vocals. Be sure to check them out at SXSW since it may be your only opportunity to hear Dear Companion’s songs live. Check out their solo work here and here.

If you’re still not sold, then check out this recent in-store that You Ain’t No Picasso posted.

Thur., 3/18 – Central Presbyterian Church, 7:30 PM
Fri., 3/19 - Waterloo Records, 3 PM
Fri., 3/19 – Stompin’ Grounds (3801 S. Congress), 5 PM

Saturday, February 27, 2010

SXSW preview - 2010 Filter Magazine showcases

I generally don't have a huge amount of concern for promoting the bigger parties out there, but I was impressed by the line-up that Filter Magazine has put together. As best I can tell, the afternoon shows are free, but (maybe) requiring an RSVP (found here) to get in. Maybe they are serious about the RSVPs, but typically things are so disjointed they don't have time to check. The night shows, however, most likely require a badge or wristband unless you are a really smooth talker. Just act like you own the place and you might get in.

As for getting in to the afternoon shows, it all comes down to how popular the shows turn out to be, and how much money the sponsors have put in, because even with an RSVP, there is still there is no guarantee on getting in for non-movers-and-shakers such as myself (and you too). If someone is hassling you about getting in, then you probably don't want to be there anyway.

However, a number of bands on this list caught my eye, some I know, and others I would like to see. Thursday, I would definitely like to see Dawes and Delta Spirit, and Saturday, This Will Destroy You and Sondre Lerche should be worthwhile. Lots of others that probably would be good, but I'm already nearing overload on new band research and don't have that much time to look them up. Further, I don't really expect to be sticking to my schedule by Saturday, as I'll more likely be wandering listlessly at a site TBA.

Friday, February 26, 2010

SXSW preview - ComboPlate Roster Party/SXSF Benefit

Let's just be honest here, the first day of SXSW is the only day you are going to keep to any kind of a schedule at all. If you haven't completely lost or forgotten your list by Thursday, it will get screwed up by traffic, a hangover, or maybe most likely, day parties not running on any defined schedule.

Wednesday is another story though, a day when schedules might actually hold together. So why don't plan to stop by the ComboPlate Booking roster party on Wednesday afternoon? Entry is free, and I encourage you to participate in one or many of the raffles that will be held during the event, because the proceeds go to benefit Caritas Community Kitchen and Food Pantry. Laura at CBP has been spreading musical goodwill for Caritas since 2002, and this is a great event amidst the pomp and circumstance of all the big money showcases that go on during SXSW week.

And on a personal note, I met my wife for the first time at an A.J. Roach house concert booked through ComboPlate 5 years ago this June, when he played a small show in my garage following a big hail storm in Lubbock. The hail storm doesn't really matter, but it's one of the things I remember about the day.

But back to the roster party, here's the info:

March 17, Wednesday, 2:00pm-8:30pm
Gueros Taco Bar, 1412 S Congress Ave.

2:00-2:40 Elizabeth McQueen
2:50-3:30 Eric Hisaw
3:40-4:20 A.J. Roach
4:30-5:10 Moonlight Towers
5:20-6:00 Michael Fracasso
6:10-6:50 Matt The Electrician
7:00-7:40 Nathan Hamilton
7:50-8:30 Beaver Nelson

I don't know all of the artists' music, but I am relatively familiar with A.J. Roach, as noted, as well as Nathan Hamilton and Matt the Electrician, and I highly recommend all three.

Find additional details at the ComboPlate Web site.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

SXSW preview – The Morning Benders

First off, The Morning Benders will be huge. Well, they may already be the biggest break-out band of 2010 and their new album doesn’t come out for another two weeks. Big Echo was produced by Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear and you can hear two preview songs from the album posted on the band’s myspace. You can also watch the near perfect & downright inspiring video by Yours Truly for the song “Excuses” below.

The Morning Benders haven't announced their full schedule for SXSW but they are playing the recently revealed Stereogum: Range Life party with Ben Gibbard. Hearts will melt.

Wed., 3/17 – Rough Trade Showcase, Emo’s – 1 AM
Sat., 3/20 – Stereogum Range Life, The Parish

Yours Truly Presents: The Morning Benders "Excuses" from Yours Truly on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

SXSW preview - Bowerbirds

First caught these good folks at the UMS last July. Definitely worth checking out if you have the time.

Wed., 3/17 - Brooklyn Vegan showcase, Club DeVille - 11 PM
Thurs., 3/18 - Billions showcase, Mohawk outside - 1:30 PM

I don't know the Bowerbirds' full catalog very well, but the video below, for "Northern Lights," is my favorite of theirs so far.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Who needs SXSW when you can sell out NYC & Europe?

Just saw the band Mumford & Sons on Letterman the other night, and basically what I remember was looking up and thinking, "wow, this is actually pretty good." Not that typical for late night shows these days. I figured they were some East Coast band jumping on the Avett Brothers wave, but turns out these guys are from the U.K. I don't know their material too well, but this song is good.

I thought surely that they would be at SXSW, but it turns out they have recently sold out the Bowery Ballroom in NYC, and have a sold out headlining tour across Europe, so I guess they are doing alright and don't need to get into the pomp and circumstance of the SXSW tango. Need to check out more of their stuff though. What do you think?

Mumford & Sons / Little Lion Man video

Mumford and Sons | MySpace Music Videos

Saturday, February 20, 2010

SXSW preview - 2010 Ground Control Touring showcase

The good folks at Ground Control Touring have assembled one of the better SXSW showcases I've seen thus far. The schedule speaks for itself:

Saturday, March 20th, at Auditorium Shores

3:00 PM - Kimya Dawson
4:00 PM - Dawes
5:00 PM - Deer Tick
6:00 PM - Lucero
7:00 PM - Justin Townes Earle
8:00 PM - She & Him

While SXSW schedules are wont to change, hopefully this one will stay as is. You can find a few more details for this show on the Saturday schedule. Still a bit early for a lot of other showcases and parties to be announced, but they are definitely starting to stream in. The best resource for the free shows is Show List Austin, so stay informed there.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Guy Clark - Denver, CO, 02/17/10

(Photo by SeƱor McGuire, courtesy

Last night, at the L2 Culture and Arts Center in Denver, I had the great pleasure of seeing a performance by Guy Clark, someone I consider to be one of the greatest living songwriters. While not widely famous, Clark has likely written at least one song that you know, because while he hasn't really had any radio hits on his own, many of his songs have charted for other artists such as Jerry Jeff Walker, the Highwaymen, Bobby Bare, and Ricky Skaggs.

This show was my first trip to this venue, and the cavernous church building was the perfect venue to hear Clark perform. While playing somewhat of a short set, Clark didn't play a bad song the entire night, and more importantly, he spent a good amount of time telling stories in-between and during songs. He didn't necessarily play all of his most well known songs, but he played most of the ones that people really wanted to hear, including "L.A. Freeway" and "Dublin Blues," as well as some songs from his newest album, including "Somedays the Song Writes You," "The Guitar," and "Hemingway's Whiskey."

Most importantly (to me), Clark played "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train" about halfway through the set, a song written about a man ("his grandmother's boyfriend," as he says) that he spent a lot of time with during his childhood in Monahans, Texas, and who taught him a lot about life. Now I'm not here to try and make this song mean something to you if you've heard it and never thought much more of it. However, for me personally, growing up in rural West Texas, this song is maybe the most eloquently worded description of the type of character this man was, and everyone knows a few of them if you grew up in the area, that could ever be put to music. Any song after it that tells that story will just be a take on Clark's song. Guy Clark is a man of words, and seeing him last night, it was clear how he has made his living all of these years off of that exact thing.

I was also quite pleased that he played another one of my personal favorites -- "Out in the Parking Lot," remarking that it was "another song about Texas, but I guess it could really be about anywhere." He was accompanied on guitar and harmony vocals by Verlon Thompson, whom I presume is a long-time sideman of his, and who was the perfect accompaniment to Clark's singing and playing. Thompson played a few of his own songs as well, while Clark took a break, and he took the time to tell a few stories about what it's like to tour around with someone like Guy Clark.

The crowd was an odd mix of older folk fans and younger americana fans. If you haven't been to a Swallow Hill show, it's an interesting experience. They are an association with membership fees, and thus, the members get various benefits such as having the best seats reserved for them and getting to cut in line for the bathroom when the wait is too long. The most unfortunate moment of the night, that really made me wonder who the hell these people were, was when one person yelled out for Clark to play "Homegrown Tomatoes," which he played, and as soon as he finished, people began yelling from all corners of the theater for songs they wanted to hear. Now maybe this is just a soapbox of mine, but if he didn't specifically ask for requests, then don't start yelling at him to play something after his second song. If you want to hear a song, go listen to a CD; if you came to hear an artist perform, then shut up and let him do the job he's been doing all his life. Luckily he was able to put the kibosh on the requests with a polite yet firm statement that said not explicitly, but in so many words, that "I'm pretty sure I know what I'm doing up here."

Still a year away from his 70th birthday, Clark is still visibly slowed by the leg he broke back in 2008 (that he referred to as "an old songwriting injury"). This fact didn't hurt the performance, but his slow and deliberate steps onto and off of the stage left everyone holding their breath just a little bit. Clark's genuine demeanor makes you believe that every word he sings could be true -- maybe the truest mark of a great songwriter. If you've not seen Be Here to Love Me, it contains some great accounts from Clark about his time with Townes Van Zandt, as the two were quite close, having come up in the same folk scene in Houston in the 1960s.

I've heard it said that the people who write the best songs often haven't actually lived the hard times and can speak about them because they can see them from the outside, while the people who have lived the hardest times can't write about them well because they can't see outside of them. Somehow it seems that Clark has made it through the hardest times and still has the ability to describe them in a way that can literally bring tears to your eyes. If you haven't had the chance to hear him live, or if you haven't heard his latest album, I highly recommend them both. Clark is one of West Texas' greatest sons, even if half the people there wouldn't know him if they saw him face to face. It is Clark's words that people know, which is appropriate, because that's what he is best at.
I know it's tough out there,
Good news is hard to find,
Living one word to the next,
One line at a time.

Now there's more to life than whiskey,
There's more to words than rhyme,
Sometimes nothing works,
Sometimes nothing shines,
like Hemingway's Whiskey...

--Guy Clark, "Hemingway's Whiskey"

Saturday, February 13, 2010

John Braden - Part 2.5

I hadn't expected to publish an entire new post for this, but after considering the value of some of this interview, it is probably better as its own section rather than making the Part II even longer. If you're behind in the series, you can find Part I here and Part II here.

Interview with Michael Vosse

To preface this entry briefly, Michael Vosse was a co-producer of John Braden's sole album for A&M Records, and while long out of the music business, he was more than willing to discuss his involvement with the album. This isn't an interview in the formal sense, at least not the type where you see the format of Question, Answer, repeat. Rather, I did a lot of listening and asked a few questions here and there when appropriate. I am greatly indebted to Mr. Vosse for taking the time on a Sunday afternoon to talk about his memories of John Braden and for throwing in a few other interesting stories on the side.

Signing to A&M

Michael Vosse told me that he started working at A&M Records in the summer of 1967, and so at some point in 1968, he was looking to get his foot in the door as a producer by bringing in a new artist. He said he believes that David Anderle at Elektra told him about John Braden, as John had tried out for them recently. However, at that time Elektra had Tim Buckley and a few other artists in that vein of music, so they recommended John to Vosse. My own read into that would be that they must have thought at least somewhat positively about John to help him out in that respect. Vosse was clear to point out that he was eager to produce his first album then and that he would produce anyone he could get A&M to approve.

At that time, Braden was already working with Richard Bell, and while Vosse doesn't remember the specific circumstances, he said it was most likely that the two of them came to A&M to demo Braden's songs. It was Braden's original material that was the convincing factor in getting him signed to A&M, as they had their own publishing division and wanted to sign artists to both the label and the publishing company, so the songs could then be marketed to other artists and increase revenue for the company all around.

However, the A&R and sales people were not completely on board with signing John. They didn't really "get" his voice, Vosse said, and felt it was a turn off. However, the publishing department liked the music. Additionally, A&M co-founder Herb Alpert liked some of the songs, but all in all, publishing was their main interest. Vosse was just really trying to sell him to the label, so he said he didn't consider at the time exactly how the dynamics would play out. He noted that Herb liked John, and thought he had potential, but didn't know exactly what to do with him either. In fact, Alpert liked some of the songs well enough that he kept dubs of them as possibilities for his own band. Thus, in the end, the opinions of Herb Alpert and the A&M Publishing Dept. were enough to get John signed to the label.

When John Braden showed up at the label, A&M Records was at an in-between period between pop, Herb Alpert's style of music, and the rock and roll that was just coming in. Vosse said they still wanted milder music, which likely led to them being a bit late getting into rock and roll, although he added that they were still open to a lot. Ironically, Vosse said they put out one of their first rock records in the form of a single for Captain Beefheart. While the single did well, he said that when Captain Beefheart actually visited the label's offices, they were so frightened by him that they didn't extend his contract. However, they didn't give up on rock & roll, picking up Joe Cocker and Procol Harum not too long after, which was around the time Vosse was starting at the label.

Once A&M agreed to sign John, they told Vosse he needed to have a co-producer for the album to make sure everything stayed on track, since it would be his first time in that role. The person selected was Henry Lewy, who had produced Joni Mitchell, and all around was well known as a good engineer. Not unlike what I was told when I spoke with Chris Ethridge, Vosse said that Henry Lewy was a "wonderfully calm person." In fact, he was known for being very good at managing various meltdowns in the studio with bands or individuals, and helping people get back on track. That said, Braden's session didn't have any of those problems, so that specific skill wasn't necessarily needed. Prior to recording, Vosse recalled having numerous get-togethers with Braden and Richard Bell. He noted that Bell was very musically focused and had a big part in the arrangements that were used on the album. Braden and Bell had been working together for some time by that point and they worked well together.

Recording the Album

The sessions went very smoothly, in large part because, Vosse says, "John had his shit together always" and largely knew what he wanted. Vosse's sentiments about John echo many of the other folks I've heard from, saying that he was immensely likable, very talented, and always prepared. Most arrangements on the album were fairly formal, as they had been worked out by Bell and Braden. However, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" was put together more on the spot with live tracks because Ry Cooder was there and was the session leader, a position he typically mandated for his studio work. Vosse noted, "we had a combination of people there that made it perfect to do something without an arrangement."

Vosse said that the John Braden album was done very efficiently, requiring limited sessions and most songs done in very few takes. Since the songs were simple and the people that played on the album didn't need a lot of takes, the album was finished with a very reasonable budget. As far as technical details go, some songs were overdubbed, although a number were played live. Vosse says that he and Lewy mixed the album, although it was mostly Lewy, and he recalls their general aim to be to make the songs sound clean. One of the main reasons that the album has such a great lineup of musicians on it was that Vosse hoped the names would bring people in for this new artist. Thus, in most cases, he knew the musicians personally and was responsible for calling them up and inviting them to play on the record, although many did only one session, as is evidenced by the diverse cast of musicians on the recording. Obviously at the time few people knew of John Braden, but they definitely knew about the Flying Burrito Brothers and Ry Cooder.

While discussing Sneaky Pete, who played on Braden's album, Vosse mentioned a side story about when he went to San Francisco with the Flying Burrito Brothers so they could open a show for the Grateful Dead. On the second of two nights, someone dosed Sneaky Pete's Coca-Cola with something and they had to take him to the hospital because he thought he had gone crazy. He said Pete he was a very straight laced guy, and so this was an extremely unpleasant experience. That terrible experience aside, he went on to detail that Pete was an amazing musician, and unlike any steel player he had ever heard. Interestingly, Vosse said as far as he knew, Pete maintained his job as an animator for Hanna Barbera during much of the time he was playing music in those years. He saw music as a passing fancy and didn't want to give up his day job, so Burrito Brothers' rehearsals were often adjusted to work around his job.

Vosse also briefly talked about Chris Ethridge, who played bass on three tracks for Braden's album, noting him to be the "ultimate southern gentleman." Despite the chaos with the Burrito Brothers at the time, Ethridge was serene and never got mad about anything. In general, he said Ethridge just had a good time in what he was doing. However, this didn't affect his professionalism, as he could come in to the studio and hear a song once and know what to do. Regarding his musicianship, Vosse said that Ethridge was "right on the money."

Vosse compared Braden's session to when the Flying Burrito Brothers would come in to the studio and take forever to record a record. As has been well documented about the band's history, drugs and arguments were problems in their sessions on frequent occasions. Lewy engineered a good number of these sessions, and as Vosse noted, "Henry was very good at walking into that chaos and making people get reasonable again." Hence the reputation that Chris Ethridge summed up well, describing Lewy as a "zen kind of guy."

Album Release

Once Braden's album was completed, Vosse says the A&M Records Sales department listened to the album and couldn't find a single that made any sense to promote. As a result, expectations were very low as soon as the album was done and this proved a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts because hardly anyone bought it. While he didn't stay at A&M for more than a year after the album's release, he said it was one of the lowest selling albums that A&M had had up to that point.

In addition to the album receiving little to no radio promotion, Vosse recalls that A&M never set up a showcase or any kind of a tour for John. He said it was very unfortunate that John was never given the chance of going on a promotional tour, because he was so professional and would have done very well at such a thing, not to mention that it would have been very low cost to send John on tour. However, Vosse said that the label didn't really see much in him at the time and took the attitude that some new people just wouldn't work out. Rather they seem to have cut their losses and decided not to promote him. Publishing tried initially to promote his songs, but his lack of notoriety and small song catalog didn't give them much to work off of. Vosse said he expects the A&M Sales department may have had trouble pushing John's voice, and thus didn't do much to promote him simply because they didn't know how to sell him.

Not directly related to the promotion of this album, but relevant to the story, Vosse left A&M not too long after Braden's record came out, around the time of Woodstock. Therefore, he didn't see first-hand the path that led to John and A&M parting ways. He saw John several times in the next year, but said he didn't keep up with him in the long-term.

In hindsight, Vosse said that if Braden had come to A&M 3 or 4 years later, it might have been better for his career, as they didn't exactly know how to nurture artists when he was signed. As an example, he said that when The Police were brought in [roughly 10 years later], they didn't even do an album for their first year because they didn't have enough material. A&M paid them and kept them on the label during this developmental period, which became how they dealt with new artists, and so Vosse said that John would have benefited from that system if given the chance.

Thus, the demos of Braden's that I ran across may have been his last official work with A&M, and given the sales of his previous record, I doubt that he had much of a chance of getting them released. Vosse didn't personally know of these demos, but noted that it was very likely that John would have written and brought more songs to A&M at some point for the publishing department to try to push to other artists. While John never wrote "the hit" that would have made his career, it is nice to know that at least a few people at A&M still appreciated John's work and more importantly, that he eventually did find his place in the arts writing musicals.


In conclusion, I am quite grateful to Michael Vosse for taking the time to speak with me about his time with John Braden. He cleared up a number of major gaps in the story that I had accumulated thus far, but similarly, his few years with A&M and with Braden leave a number of questions unanswered. I realized after this interview that if I had begun this search a few years earlier, I might have had the opportunity to speak with Richard Bell, who passed away in 2007, and who no doubt would have had many things to add to the story of John Braden's time in the music business. Thus, without exploring the A&M Records archives at UCLA, I have exhausted most every resource available to learn more about the music career of John Braden, and for what it's worth, I've compiled a whole lot more than existed before I started this roughly a year ago. An eventual Part III will follow, although given various work obligations, it may be some time before I am able to give that portion its due billing.


A few small additions have come up in the past few months as well, mostly involving new links I've run across relating to Braden. As I've mentioned before, the periodical archiving process that Google has undertaken will likely continue to add resources to this search over time. For example, this Google News Archive link (see the "From the Rack" section) to a periodical called The Age TV-Radio Guide contains a very small mention of Braden's album in a September 1969 edition. Further, I have found one (only my second now) mention of an actual show listing for one of John's shows. It's a pay link for the New York Times, but in short, the listing says that John played a show with Lee Guilliatt, with the two described simply as "folk singers," at Judson Church in Greenwich Village. The show took place on Friday, November 20, 1970. In addition, I found a second reference to the only other show, or set of shows, that I have confirmed he played, with the MC-5 at Ungano's. The listing is linked in this New York Magazine archive.

I wish that John's music was more readily available, either for pay or free, and Michael Vosse actually noted the same sentiment. However, given that A&M Records is basically just a back catalog now, I expect it would be difficult to get the permissions to post it. On that point, I don't plan to post it here, given Google's history of shutting down blogs with illegal downloads, so hopefully you can find a vinyl copy on ebay or elsewhere if you are really interested.

I really appreciate hearing from the few folks now and then who knew John in one capacity or another, and I encourage you to continue sending small anecdotes you wish to share, as they help give a more full picture of who John was. I continue to be impressed with his work and feel that there is still a good deal out there to learn about him.

I look away and let it pass,
Like figures scratched upon fine glass,
We will crack, we will fade,
And everything we know today will go away.

They are waiting for me,
In their house by the sea,
To come home, from my pain,
To come home, from L.A., once again.

--John Braden - "They Are Waiting"

(Top picture courtesy of Braden's family)

nothing important

I am increasingly thinking, among their other mistakes handling the late night situation:
that NBC made an enormous error in not continuing to broadcast Southland, and instead giving Jay Leno that time slot. Watching it re-broadcast on TNT, I'm convinced it's one of the best shows on TV, and I really hope that TNT has the money to keep it going. You can see some episodes online at, or of course, through various pay sites.

Another thing about Southland:
If you don't believe me, watch the pilot episode. If you are not convinced by 3/4 of the way through that episode, you will be by the end when The National's "Fake Empire" plays over the last few scenes.

Cross Canadian Ragweed playing Bonnaroo 2010:
I did not see that one coming.

I've not said much about the death of Vic Chesnutt:
but he was one of the less appreciated masters of his craft, and I'm very pleased that the Grammy Awards chose to include to him in their video remembering those who had died in the past year. Read this very well written note about Chesnutt from the Oxford American.

If you cared at all:
the video that I embedded in my last post only plays on the Windfarm page, i.e., not in Google reader, as a result of various permissions that are attached to it. ...the more you know.

It don't matter who's in Austin:
'cause Bob Wills is still the king.

If you hadn't heard, Google shut down a number of music blogs recently:
and that's why we don't post mp3s, no matter who said we could. Also because I don't know how.

If you will be at SXSW:
I hope you get the chance to see Slim Cessna's Auto Club. They've been around forever, but only tour sporadically. Without a doubt they are one of Denver's greatest live bands, and one of the key elements of the Denver scene over the past 16 or so years.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

SXSW preview - Nathaniel Rateliff

No my friends, it is not too early to start talking about this year's SXSW, which will be upon us in right at 5 weeks. That's right, you're already behind if you haven't made plans yet, but lucky for you, a person doesn't really need a badge to see most bands anymore.

I'm starting out my preview for SXSW with one of Denver's great new bands, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Wheel. This band is a side project (or maybe now main project?) of Rateliff's fairly well-known Denver band Born in the Flood. The Wheel are so new that they don't really have an official release that fully showcases the band's current sound. However, you can hear a great set of new recordings from them on their Daytrotter session. The current CD available from the band is good, but doesn't have the full sound that you can expect if you hear them at SXSW.

The Wheel hasn't officially announced any specific SXSW dates or times, but they have SXSW on their Web site as TBA, so I expect they'll be playing a Rounder Records showcase and a few other parties such as the Mile Hi Fidelity day party.

Update - Shows posted (subject to change like any other SXSW shows):

Wed., 3/17 - Lamberts (C3 Party) - 2:40 PM
Wed., 3/17 - The Ale House (official SXSW showcase) - 7 PM
Thur., 3/18 - Hotel San Jose (High Road Touring party) - 2 PM
Fri., 3/19 - Habana Calle 6 (Mile Hi Fidelity party) - 1:40 PM

Note: Be sure to check ahead of time on whether you need a badge, etc., for entry into shows.

This is a really cool video of Nathaniel Rateliff playing the song "Shroud" solo acoustic, and was done by Rod Blackhurst and James Minchin, who have been doing a series of field recordings in the style of Alan Lomax. In addition to their individual Web sites, they should have a full site up and running for the project soon. Also you can check out Rod's vimeo site for more of their videos. But check out this video first. Seriously.

(Note: For various video permissions reasons, this video will only play on this blog (or at the vimeo link), but not in Google reader or other RSS feeds).

Nathaniel Rateliff + The Wheel Field Recording from Rod Blackhurst on Vimeo.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Justin Townes Earle - Austin, TX, 02/04/10

“Oh my damn!” The phrase was shouted many times by Mr. Earle during his headlining set at Stubb’s. The inside stage suited him just right as he plowed through 70 minutes of old school country music full of twang, swing, and most importantly, personality. This was my first time to see Justin even though he plays in Austin pretty often. The past two shows he played the supporting role for Old Crow Medicine Show and The Pogues on the mega stage that is Stubb’s outside amphitheater. This night had the feel of a 1940s or 50s high school auditorium show due to the appearance and music of Justin Townes Earle. It didn’t hurt that the stage has a worn black curtain as the backdrop. I was instantly reminded of vintage pictures of musicians like Elvis and Cash playing old gymnasiums and halls before their rise to coliseum prominence.

Wearing a vintage suit and tie and sporting black rimmed glasses, the man of the evening took full advantage of his headlining spot. As a sidenote, I recently learned that Earle was named one of GQ's "Most Stylish Men" which was made apparent by his fancy attire. But back to the music, Earle’s band consisted of a Stetson-wearing fiddle player and a female stand up bass player. From the opening note the sound was right on; which I was worried about due to the feedback of Dawn Landes’ opening set. Earle’s vocals were strong and confident, a result of years of straight touring and playing the largest and smallest of venues. It seemed like he was glad to finally be headlining shows and playing to crowds that appreciate his songs and presence. He won the crowd over quickly and I even heard one guy exclaim, “He won me over within the first 20 minutes! I thought it would take him longer.” There were definitely some new fans at the end of the night as he played a nice selection from each of his two full lengths and even a couple from the Yuma EP. He mixed in some folk and country standards from Guthrie and the Carter Family which he dominated with his grasp of both genres. Even on the slower numbers the crowd was respectful, except for a gentleman toward the front that Earle kindly put in his place a couple of times toward the end of the night. “It’s all in good fun,” Justin explained as he compared the guy to his Mama except with a “shorter reach”. The Mama was referenced many times throughout the night, but none as clearly as when he played the standout track, “Mama’s Eyes.” The hit was one of the first tracks that I heard from him and practically answers all questions about his famous father and the mother that cared for him (interviewers take note).

Earle puts big messages in short country songs, which makes for an easy comparison to the country stars of the past. He takes simple ideas and thoughts that are easy to understand and combines them with rhythms that make you want to move. It’s at the foundation of all music but especially in traditional country, an idea that has been lost in today’s country dark ages where Nashville radio hits consist of shallow cookie cutter themes. Which brings me to my next point -- Justin Townes writes incredible songs and is an entertainer. His waltzes around the stage and Louis Armstrong facial expressions make for a wonderful companion to the tunes. He’s having a great time up there and it rubs off on the crowd. Last night was easily the most enjoyable show that I’ve seen this year. The year is still young but I’m guessing that it will have a lasting impact as the months go on. “Oh my damn” indeed.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hayes Carll - Denver, CO, 02/03/10

(Image from

The long-anticipated (for me at least) return of Hayes Carll to Denver was essentially everything I had hoped it would be. I chose not to see him open for Steve Earle in my own backyard of Boulder yesterday, as my hope was that I would get to hear a lot more of Carll's songs at his solo show in Denver. That turned out to be one of the better decisions of the decade thus far, as he played a solid 75 minute set, as opposed to the 30 minutes he was playing with Earle.

For some bands, 30 minutes is the perfect length, but for someone like Hayes Carll, who has three albums of great material, the longer set is needed to keep from coming away from the show saying "I just wish he had played...." Though he was clearly fighting off a bit of laryngitis, Carll never complained to the audience or tried to cut the show short on account of any vocal problems. It didn't affect the show other than not hitting a few high notes, which wasn't really what any of us were there to hear anyway.

As is one of his strong points, Carll managed the audience very well. At times, the crowd volume crept up a bit too loud, and rather than being the pretentious songwriter who tells everyone to be quiet, he simply told good stories (of course in his dry and sarcastic tone) and got everyone to listen, so the problem fixed itself. It's the only show I've been to in Colorado where the performer mentioned Texas and people cheered.

Carll mentioned at one point that this was the first time he had played a solo show in Denver, and so it was all the more impressive that the Walnut Room was sold out for this first headlining gig. A large number of older folks were in attendance, or as Carll noted, his primary fan demographic of "65 to 80 year-old men." However, there were also a good number of younger people who, if they were in Texas, would be classified as the "Texas country crowd," but since it's Colorado, they are not quite so annoying or fratty and fall into more of a general classification of Americana fans. Plenty of Ray Wylie Hubbard and Ragweed shirts were to be seen. Oddly the guys who cheered the loudest when Carll talked about Arkansas, because they had apparently gone to the same college as him, decided that they were such big fans that they should talk through the entire show. It was okay though because they were talking about how cool they were.

At one point, Hayes said that he was getting ready to release a new album in the spring, and after a short pause, followed that with "of 2013." Hopefully we won't have to wait quite that long, but given his typical 3 years between albums, it may be well into 2011 before we hear a new record. Nonetheless, he played 3 new songs in his set that indicate he's got a fair amount of good material in the works.

Lost Highway definitely has a good thing going with Hayes Carll, and judging from the crowd he drew, he has used the label to his advantage in building a strong base of Americana fans across the country. Never pretentious and always humble, Hayes Carll is one of the finest young songwriters in the country, and I look forward to many great albums to come.

Setlist for the Walnut Room show:
Drunken Poet's Dream
Wild as a Turkey
I Got a Gig
Morrissey Falls in Love at First Sight
It's a Shame
Arkansas Blues
Little Rock
Girl Downtown
I Don't Wanna Grow Up
Willing to Love Again
Flowers and Liquor
Knockin' Over Whiskeys
New song
New song
New song
Easy Come, Easy Go
She Left Me for Jesus
Wish I Hadn't Stayed So Long

Bad Liver and a Broken Heart
Down the Road Tonight

In a just world

...this would have happened a long time ago. But I can't complain because this is the best news I've heard for 2010. Cue over-anticipation now.

Following the Winter Olympics, Zach Galifianakis will host Saturday Night Live. If this episode is a bust then everything I ever believed in will be called into question. I have full confidence that it will be amazing though. My hope is that this episode will be a smash hit and he'll become a regular SNL host.

March 6th is the date to put on your calendar. No word yet on the musical guest for that night, but I have to say, why not make it an all-North Carolina night and have the Avett Brothers play?

(Image courtesy of Galifianakis' Myspace)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Crazy Heart

I finally got the opportunity to see Crazy Heart over the weekend. I can't say that I have a ton to add on top of all of the reviews it has already received. Here are my quick thoughts though:
  • The movie is really good. I wasn't disappointed at all. I think it deserves the fanfare it has received, and seems to have gotten some decent attention in the Oscar nominations.
  • It's reminiscent of The Wrestler, as far as the redemption theme, etc. You'll see what I mean.
  • The music is well done. Colin Farrell is an interesting pick for the country superstar, but he pulls it off. He portrays more of the 80s or 90s country star than a modern one, since modern country stars don't actually sing country anymore.
  • Jeff Bridges nails everything about the part of the troubled songwriter. I heard the part was styled after a number of songwriters such as Waylon, Merle, Kris, and Billy Joe Shaver, although it's much more along the lines of Billy Joe and maybe Townes Van Zandt if you ask me. Huge huge difference between a songwriter who has written some famous songs and a songwriter who is actually famous. Jeff Bridges doesn't have a Waylon Jennings voice, but then again, that's probably the best voice ever to sing country music, so no true critique there.
  • Ryan Bingham plays a small part early in the film and does it well I would say. Also, I think he hasn't received the credit he should for the film being successful. I read an interview a while back that said they've had this script for a number of years, but needed "the song." He wrote that song, and I think it really is pretty integral to this story.
  • And if you're down on Ryan Bingham for any reason, whether he had anything to do with it or not, I was really impressed that his actual band was in the movie also and not just some Hollywood stand-ins.
  • Great overall soundtrack. For music written for a movie, the songs on the soundtrack are really strong.

A case study in the music industry

Although I regret watching almost every year, I found myself watching the Grammy Awards yet again this year. All but 1 or 2 of the performances are completely forgettable, with the majority being new songs that the labels are trying to push to a captive national audience, along with trying to help various artists crossover into new fan demographics. Nothing new there.

What really got to me tonight was listening to the Recording Academy president give his speech toward the end of the show and essentially say that illegal downloading threatens the artists we love and the quality of music we are accustomed to. While it may not greatly affect the biggest artists in the business, he said there are 1,000s of artists below the mega stars who are dependent on a successful recording industry to make ends meet. Something to that effect at least.

That's where I really lost patience with the whole show. I don't download illegally, nor do I support it. I rarely download live shows from bands without having also bought music from them as well. I recognize that the industry needs money to make music happen, and I know that record labels have played an integral part in facilitating the production of the music that we all grew up on. However, what downloading really threatens is the excess and control of the music industry. Major label artists are mostly a manufactured product now anyway. Labels have dropped hundreds of bands over the past decade, because those acts couldn't make back for the label the huge advances and expenses that were standard with major label deals.

However, the quality and diversity of music has only gotten better. In the last 10 years, we have already seen a huge reduction in the number of bands signing to major labels, and many more operate as independents or on smaller labels, and I would have to say that quality music is more accessible to fans now than it ever was. The artists predate the industry and I assure you they will outlast the industry. (Should I repeat that line? Just back up and read it again.) The big shift is that the industry no longer gets to control what bands get heard, and inevitably that affects their profits. In the 1980s, the labels dictated probably 95% of the music that the general public heard, and as a result, they profited hugely from that. Did they ever question their huge profits and wonder if they would last? Not really -- they just kept raking in the money and throwing out generous sums to the bands, knowing that only a certain percentage had to be really successful to finance the entire operation.

Enter the internet age, and suddenly, labels aren't in control of what you hear anymore. Downloading has been a part of it (and probably played the biggest role in causing this shift), but at this point in time, it is more about the wide availability of music and the seemingly infinite number of outlets from which to acquire your music that has transformed the industry.

My personal example involves two bands - Old 97s and the Avett Brothers. Over 15 years ago, the Old 97s got their start as a band, gained a small cult following, and ultimately were signed to Elektra in the mid 1990s. I expect they made good advance money from the label, and subsequently made one of the greatest albums of all time - Too Far to Care. Whether you are on board with that last part is immaterial, but at least humor me when I say that in 1997 the Old 97s were on top of their game, and they were really, really good. The problem was that Elektra still didn't really know what to do with them. TFTC didn't really have a radio single that would fit anywhere at the time, because radio was still highly compartmentalized and dominated by the major labels, and so they became just another major label band with a small fan base. They probably picked up a number of new fans (myself included) through promotions the label provided, but there simply was no outlet to send their music through to reach their target audience. Nowadays, the band has a comfortable following and makes a decent living, but they never really got big because the system in the 90s only allowed a few people to get really big through a few official channels, at least as far as major label bands go. They'll always be a favorite of mine, but I think they've missed the window to become as popular as they might deserve.

Fast forward to the early 2000s, and you have the Avett Brothers. They are another band who built a cult following around the country, although already by the mid '00s, they had a seemingly better trajectory as far as popularity than the Old 97s. Why? Because there were many more outlets for people to hear them. The rise of myspace, blogs, and radio and festivals that were more open to indie bands (or even specifically devoted to indie bands) allowed them to grow at a much faster rate. They did not have to wait to see if Atlantic or RCA was going to push one single of theirs really hard to make them the next big thing. Rather, they just did it on their own, as countless other bands have done in the past decade. Do the Avetts have any qualities that are far more appealing than the Old 97s had back in the late 90s? There are differences, but all in all, I don't think they do. They are an amazing band that is at the top of their game, and there were simply more ways this past decade for them to get big than would have been available 15 years ago. Now the band has signed with Rick Rubin's American Recordings, but no matter how that business partnership turns out, they have already cemented a huge following that will allow them to be successful in coming years no matter their label status.

Both literally and figuratively, the labels don't really own the music world any more. They are still a major player, but they refuse to let go of their model of creating huge artists to make them huge profits, and as a result they fall farther and farther behind. They try to blame illegal downloading, but it is only symbolic of the control they have lost on the industry. It is a business that refuses to acknowledge its mistakes and will not accept that it is no longer in control. The Recording Academy president's statement was a weak attempt to ignore the elephant in the room, and as a result he insulted our intelligence by asserting that the quality of music will decline without a healthy (read: wealthy) industry running the show. Instead of giving million dollar advances to unproven artists, labels could give out 100 $10,000 advances to promising artists and I guarantee they would make better profits, assuming they are willing to nurture and develop those artists as labels once did. I'm not worried about it though. We don't actually have to tell the labels that we're letting them go. I fixed the glitch. It will work itself out naturally.