Monday, November 28, 2016

This Wednesday - Newport Folk Fest Tics on Sale

It's true. This Wednesday. You might catch folkers next year like this guy:

Four guesses: C,S,N or Y?

...who happened to be incredible at this past summer's Newport Folk Fest.

So you know we're partial to this particular Fest. We might have something of a history with this one. And you can, too, but only if you're able to grab a ticket. (And be warned, they've been selling out within a day... except for Friday. So...)

Again, reminder: This Wed, Nov. 30th. 10 am Eastern Time. Click this kind of link to get to the Folk Fest site. And again, last July weekend in 2017: 28th-30th (Fri-Sun).

It's gonna be good, and more importantly, sold out. On your marks, get set...

Monday, November 21, 2016

Matthew Logan Vasquez "Returns" for Solo

Matthew Logan Vasquez - Solicitor Returns
No label
-out now
4 / 5

Let's cut to the chase for y'all: it's a good album. Now Austin-based rocker/writer Matthew Logan Vasquez, from Delta Spirit / Middle Brother fame has his solo album. And it's good. It took us a few listens to get into his slower pace on here, but it's grimy, it's deliberate swagger, it's confident and assertive. Some time back, Vasquez mentioned that he envisioned his Delta Spirit not as "Americana," but as a rock outfit. We think this is the album he envisioned when he said that (not their decent, but lyrically flawed 2012 Delta Spirit).

Is it still Americana? Is it just straight rock? Is it more country, even? We don't care at this point. Solicitor Returns may not have the crazy, jump-off-a-roof (in a somersault) vocals of Delta Spirit's 2006 EP, I Think I Found It (which is one of our favorite EPs - ever); but it lays in a Johnny-Cash-like groove, stripped down, emotive vocals, almost eschewing songwriting in favor of pure musicianship. And then we get gems like "Bound to Her," a synth-heavy, somber dirge that crushes you under the weight of its sober beauty. It's the kind of song that we'd never thought we'd dig into - trudging, simple chorus, nothing terribly fancy going on. But... yeah, it's gorgeous. "Black East River" is enjoyable as well, mostly because it throws back to those soulful vocals in his starting days, even though it seems like his crazy dynamics are all but gone from his songwriting. In any case, it is confident like we said, it's mature, it's music that doesn't seek to impress or dazzle. It's music that looks to crush you, and it does.

It's not the album we wanted. It's not the album we expected, either. But it's something honest, truthful, and just good. Pick it up; recommended.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

We're watching the election, and...

This story (a year old) is what we'd like to repost to you all:


Hold on. Be political. Don't give up. It's not too much, it's too important.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Phantogram: One Ephemeral New England Date

Phantogram's Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter. Photo (c) by Timothy Saccenti.
Boston House of Blues, Boston, MA. Fri. 10-21-16, Doors. 7pm, Show 8pm. $25-$45.

Electro-pop duo Phantogram has strikingly few dates in the New England area. In fact, they have just one, which is a shame, considering a good portion of their dates are selling out. We're going to make the trek to Boston for this one, because, well, they're releasing their aptly named album Three and we feel like electro-dancing our ass off. Possibly to a single like this one. This would be our first time catching Barthel and Carter, and we're certainly excited to feel the vibe of this kind of show. If it's anything like the bust-a-move-cause-you-gotta-groove Three, this one might happen to be a wholly tolerable (slam-your-drink-and-bring-your-dance) party. That's our forecast on this one; most likely we'll see y'all there.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Beware of Darkness' Sophomore So Sophomoric, We Ask If It's "Real"

Beware of Darkness - Are You Real?
Bright Antenna
- out Sept. 16
2.5 / 5

The LA emo rock trio Beware of Darkness has come out with a sophomore album we've been anticipating since 2013's debut LP, Orthodox. A few words about that one: it's a fantastic rocker. And now, onto Are You Real?: it's not.

The dozen songs here do rock, yes. Stylistically, musically, the guitars growl, the hooks groove, the beats pound and sway. But what holds us back from declaring their sophomore a satisfying rocker is the, erm, sophomoric lyrics and content. Are You Real? feels conceited, a bit self-indulgent, and more than a bit misogynistic. It suffers from what we're going to call the "We've arrived... now what?" syndrome of successful debut bands. "Summerdaze" actually lists off the delights of summer, "Sandy beaches / B**ches on top of you" etc. etc. We're generally not a fan of such childish excess, no.

Our least favorite track is the title track, "Are You Real?", which is an incredibly mean, vicious breakup track. It's heavily one-sided, cruel, and lacks any redeeming wisdom that one ostensibly gains from breakups and setbacks. It's, quite simply, inauthentic. Which is a shame, because musically, instrumentally, it's a decent little rocker. We enjoyed a few tracks, including "Surrender," which maybe rocks a little less, but is far more mature. Still, coming off of Orthodox, we were fairly blindsided, and certainly put off, by some of the foolishness here.

This is an album we'd expect high school boys to jam to all the time... until they grow up. Take a pass.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Much awaited: Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Fete, 7-28-16

We'd been keeping on top of Unknown Mortal Orchestra since their sophomore full-length, cleverly titled "II." We were initially on the fence as to whether we wanted to catch the Portland, Oregonian foursome - mostly because we'd just come off the Newport Folk Festival the previous weekend. But we admit: we had a good time of it at Fete in Providence.

Yes indeedy.

So, obviously the UMO played some cuts off their latest jam, Multi-Love. No surprise there. But what we enjoyed about this performance were two things: how adaptable their songs were. Yes, as enjoyable as listening to Multi-Love is (and it's certainly enjoyable), we really enjoyed the disco beat the group had given to many of their songs. And the extended keyboard jams. And the drum solos.

Which actually brings us to #2 on the list of things we loved: this lady (photo (c) Marie Amara).

Newcomer Amber Baker on the tricked-out disco drums.
We probably should've made her #1, but we like making surprises for y'all. Miss Baker on the explosive disco-shredding drums was possibly one of the funkiest things we've seen. Perhaps funkier than keyboardist Quincy McCrary's hair (though our photographer may somewhat disagree with us there). Baker can certainly handle her drumset, and we've got to make her out as a highlight of the night.

So yes, we were surprised how tight and dance-y this group can be. They played to a small crowd maybe a bit under 50 people, but they know their stuff. Funky, exploring, jammy, too - the only Mortal Orchestra that shouldn't go Unknown. That was kinda catchy, right? Well, probably not as catchy as their extended jam closer "Necessary Evil," but we'll have to live with it. Our verdict? Yes, yes and yes. Definitely worth the price of admission. Catch Unknown Mortal Orchestra at your soonest convenience.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Newport Folk Festival Review: Sunday

Joan Shelley (all photos (c) Matthew Keefer)
This was where we started off the third and final day of the Newport Folk Festival. She's actually the second act of the Harbor Stage, having missed the first one (whom we later discovered was an amazing highlight of the whole Folk Fest - Ian Fitzgerald with Smith and Weeden...). But here we buckled down for a bit, sat and enjoyed Joan Shelley's acoustic duo, nice, simple, sparse. Kind of a palate cleanser, musically speaking. Refreshing start to the day.

And if Joan Shelley's brand of folk is refreshing, then the Oh Hellos are just a knock-out, high-octane pounding of folk-rock and harmonies.

Maggie Heath of the Oh Hellos.
Not only do we love their songwriting and execution, but we love how they execute: just sheer craziness. Absolute havoc wrecked the stage, especially because of this shoeless banjo bandit:

Unidentified Acoustic Guitarist (UAG) and troublemaker Reagan Smith, a la banjo.
Here you see Mr. Smith just singing along. Most of the time, he was a blur to our camera for the Cain he was raising. So that's why he appears all nice and approachable now. Be warned.

But yes, the Oh Hellos are an entirely energetic bunch of a nigh-dozen musicians, and we do love them madly. Next is Glen Hansard, whom we've never caught live before. We think this photo makes a strong case for buying a pickguard for your guitar.

A beat up guitar, maybe some traveling shoes (lyric stolen from Mark Erelli).
Like Joan Shelley's set earlier in the day, Glen Hansard's performance was one of those stripped-down, bare, let's even say naked kind of performances that sometimes you just need. Sometimes it just takes some scribbled lyrics and some damned emotive vocals to bring you to it. And that's what Hansard has, in spades, even. Never mind that he gave a Bernie Sanders shout out, and was maybe 4% political compared to Father John Misty (which is still more political than normal); Hansard was one of those acts... let's say we were definitely glad we caught him. It was enjoyable, yes, but moreover powerful. (Plus, he sucked Elvis Costello into a tambourine cameo.)

These guys... now these guys we love.

John McCauley, 1/3 of Middle Brother.
Middle Brother made a fantastic return to the main stage this time at Newport. And not only the three of them (Deer Tick's McCauley, Delta Spirit's Matt Vasquez, and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes), but a ton of cameos hopped aboard, too. Kam Franklin, lead singer for The Suffers, was around Newport all weekend, and got in some good spots, including one for Middle Brother; and Shovels and Rope was another who joined in later on. We'd like to post more photos of the trio, but we figured we had a pretty bad-arse one of Vasquez on Friday already, so here's one to Goldsmith:

Goldsmith, another 1/3 of Middle Brother.
Middle Brother unfortunately has no plans for another album... we asked Vasquez himself... but regardless, their collaboration is one of our after-the-fact Top Albums of 2011 (review here) because, quite frankly, we still listen to it too much. It's fantastic, and worth it on vinyl if you have a player.

One more stop! We know, we know; why does the fun ever have to end? Because all good things must come to an end, and all things must pass. But thanks much for stopping by, for supporting the blog with your curious eyes and clicks, and for throwing an occasional comment up there. We appreciate your time and energy (and fun), so without further ado, we figure...

Mr. Elvis Costello. (Who had all kinds of stage cameos.)

Here's lookin' at you.
We don't think there's much to say about Mr. Costello: you know him or you don't. You respect him or you don't. We, honestly, don't know his music much, but stayed for the whole set; it was good. He brought along female rock duo Larkin Poe, who's new album we listened to a little bit, and liked. But yes, words don't always convey that much. Basically: you had to have been there.

So goodbye! Thanks for stopping by! We'll catch you all next -

Bye bye!
Oh wait, it's the Alabama Shakes! Led by Brittany Howard! We bought their vinyl Sound and Color at the folk fest, and while it's not too bad, really now, you have to catch these powerful musicians live. Howard is a madwoman fighting her guitar most of the way through the set, slashing and soloing like... like... like this, really:

The old myth of "sell your soul to the devil... for a guitar." Worth it.
They are so talented and ridiculously tight live, especially Howard, that we kind of don't get why their album didn't grab us that deeply. But yes, catch them now, catch them live, and enjoy the raw power of rock goddess guitar shredding.

There. You knew we wouldn't let you down (too much). Thanks again, stop by sometime next week (we've got something special planned), and catch y'all next festival season,