Sunday, December 20, 2015

Short Story: "Bob Dylan Is Dead"

As appears in the collection, The Keeper of Dreams. Painting courtesy of Dylan Kubic, @flaeschama on Instagram. Happy Holidays!

The tour bus groaned to a halt; the troubadour kicked back in his seat and looked out the window. Cars passed by in the southern heat; the air conditioner kept blowing against a few loose papers. He opened the fridge and poured another cup of lemonade.
This damned heat,” he said. His tour manager nodded and returned to his phone.
The troubadour sighed. The guitar from last night still rung in his ears. It was true: he was old. Even worse, he was famous: he couldn't get a straight answer whenever he asked about his voice. He knew it was hoarser than a wolf's growl; his bandmates lied, said it was as colorful as it'd ever been. His bandmates, almost half his age, stiffly swaying on stage, unable to get their own bands together. And he, the old man, still touring at, what, seventy-eight, now? And still audiences clap for him, applaud his piano-hitting, his raspy voice, the new songs and especially the old. Except for a few of the young faces, the ones who seemed transfixed, who were stuck as if in amber, no emotion. But he'd heard the others, generally older fans, scream at the top of their lungs. Their wild swaying. Entranced, pulled in, even if his voice was no longer...

Wolf's growl. Wolf's howl; he wished he were Howlin' Wolf, he wished he hadn't lived so long, that his name had faded like The Wolf's. That old generation, the true trailblazers, lost now to his own, he, one of the prophets of profit. You can't find someone to tell you a story of Howlin' Wolf. The Wolf, facing away, pulling the mic through his pants, crawling, growling into the audience wild, untamed. Alive.
He'd had those years. He'd taken fifteen people, tambourines, glockenspiel, harmonica all on stage. They'd performed for a dozen people once; the band was bigger than the crowd. He'd remember running around, from place to place, up talking all hours of the night: music music music. And each time they spoke about music, it was politics, it was the world, it was life, aching to be lived, to be thrust through with Truth and Vengeance and Youth. It was true, once he'd exchanged his cheap suit for a hobo's rags, and then performed on stage. It said something, he didn't know what then, that stench, that filth, that people could hardly recognize him. He played on the streets, pure joy, people gathering around – “Hey, it's him, isn't it?” “That looks like…” – he knew he was something, he knew there was something special about him. Now when they looked at him, all the old, gray-haired fans, they saw this young version of him, they didn't see him as he is now: old and decrepit, sagging, hoarse. Tired and ragged. Old. Simply just-
The tour manager mentioned something. “I said we can open another date in Georgia. We're already doing Atlanta, you want to do Savannah?”
He nodded. There were few things he liked to do more than tour and write, and he was glad for the extra date. There was an urgency to his performing, that he knew time was nearing an end. Yet, when he was young, twenty-one, he knew death intimately, he knew it was just around the corner. It would pluck him in the middle of the night, he was convinced, and he would show Him how. There was a familiarity between the two. He'd often thought about death, when he was imprisoned. Black riots, civil rights, The War, he'd only been one in a crowd and was arrested as just another demonstrator. He knew he was special, he knew it then. He was fighting for something, he was working toward something meaningful.
Where's it going to be,” he asked.
We're thinking the Martin Luther King Arena.”
Sounds good.”
Martin Luther King, Junior. He remembered Martin Luther King, Jr., even met the man, he talked unceasingly about his father, the old preacher. He performed for him once, perhaps the most important concert of his life. It was special. Last night, with those stand-up props of musicians, hammering against his songs, that would just pass away; all the old fans, the gray-hairs would tell their old gray-hair friends how incredible he was. But that was not true. They would lie about him and not know any better.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was regal, majestic. He was in the presence of someone greater than he could ever be; it was humbling. A deep, rumbling voice. His own, a wolf's angry growl.
The bus door opened. The bus driver stuck his head in. “We're going to get this show on the road again. Looks like a nail. Sorry about that.”
No problem,” he said. The driver left again.
He even had to apologize about a flat tire. Where was he now? He remembered stepping on a nail, once, barefoot to Washington, in the hopes of changing the world; he just pulled it out. And he had changed the world, they all had. He wondered if that's where they went wrong; there was nothing left to do now. All the fights had been fought. Maybe that's what's missing from these new musicians; none of them had impressed him. They keep sending him their songs; actually, that was not true. There was one boy who'd made him weep; it was painful to hear such poetry on his lips.
His songs no longer held that poetry. Had he switched places with that boy, just birthdates, would he-
We got it. We should be all set; any hotel you prefer?”
He shook his head. He'd been in Savannah a dozen times before; he knew all the hotels. He'd preferred the prison there, bunked with a black protester, the guards wanted to insult him. They talked about the future, about freedom and lovers and the country they loved. The country that was in madness. His name was Byron, like the poet, he'd had a wife and a daughter, Samantha and Shelly. Also like the poet, he'd said.
He wondered where Shelly was now. Whether she and her generation were sitting fat, enjoying the fruits of his labors. He didn't mind that, no, but he wondered where a person would get without that kind of fight. What kind of person you would be without that. Maybe the kind of person he was now, the person who fought and won, a shell.
He'd thought his job was to promote the new generation, some time ago. There were bands he'd felt excited about, whose albums provoked deep thought and admiration in him. But as soon as he'd shined the light of his fame upon them, they withered up again; each time he'd been left feeling embarrassed.
You remember those kids, the Painful Flight?”
No.” His manager was off the phone now. “Oh, back in eighty-four?”
Yeah. Just thinking about them.”
Why's that?”
His manager was almost sixty, had been with him for twenty years. Didn't know what was on his mind still. He hadn't seen the worst of him, hadn't seen the college girls, the girls barely old enough for college, the late nights, the parties, the sadness. He couldn't see his old manager afterward, couldn't lay his eyes on him after he'd decided to reform himself. He ignored his question; the tour manager would take this as just another quirk of a Great Man.
He hadn't thought to promote this new kid, to lavish praise upon his poorly-mastered hard-scrabble tracks. He was supposed to make it on his own, like he had, abandoning the old generation, forging a whole new language and future. He couldn't see how anyone could do it now, though. The new mores were in effect, the new rules would reign for some time, until what he'd fought for grew old and moldy and then they'd need another revolution. But in the meantime, there would be no greatness, no champions or heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr., no one to die before the great land would open before them. Perhaps that's where he should have been, perhaps he missed the dead more than he missed his three ex-wives, than his two children, he missed the dead's company and their music and their jokes, crude and divine. He was an aberration, he should not have lasted as long as he had. He needed to go now, he needed death, that is why death is, to carry one back to where one belongs.
It's a long day,” he said.
They'll fix the tire soon,” his manager said.
Tonight he would be in the hotel, four star, he could afford better, but he didn't want to live too high. He wanted to keep that part of himself intact. No mints on the pillows, please. He would stagger stiffly into the room, and there would always be someone with him: the manager, the lead guitarist. Always someone would be near him; he's frail, he might break, we must watch him. He was a relic, that much he knew, and more than anything, he wanted to see the day of his death. Twain was lucky that way – he knew his fame, the way the world would capture him – but more than that, he wanted to see the world without him. He wanted to pronounce those holy words.
He wanted to breathe them, “Bob Dylan is dead.” He wanted to see the world move on to greater things.
But that was the cruelest thing life would withhold from him. Not a family, not time away from his children, or true, deep friends, but his own death. He wanted to see people at the funeral, a simple affair, walk away and forget him, pitch a few quaint stories about him, and go on with their lives. But he knew it would be too much, it would be all blown-up and crazy, and that would make him sad. He wished he believed in the afterlife again, just so he could look down and see the world when it had forgotten him.
A gypsy woman told his fortune, once. They wished for fame and success and they made love that night. She was older, she was wise. Only she did not know the wish would be fulfilled; that he would come to be a Great Man and wish only to be small and nothing again.
A boy with great admiration came beside a general in his parade. He slowed his horse and told the boy, Only be not great...
The bus started up and roared. “Looks like we're on our way again,” the bus driver said.
See,” his manager said, “back on the road.”
His manager turned back to his phone, putting in a few more frantic calls. Tonight he would be in the hotel. He wondered what kind of movies would be on. Nothing of note, he knew. If only they'd left one thing, if only there was one dragon left to fight, left to multiply, if only there was that fight left in the world which he desperately needed. He failed in success. He should have fought for evil. He could take his own life. The bus started moving.
Back on the road,” he said, and took another unending sip of lemonade.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Crime and the Forces of Evil Offers a Dreary Sentence

Crime and the Forces of Evil - Bone Walker
- out now
2.5 / 5

We like it when ambitious projects come our way. And when the nook-hidden fantasy indie group Crime and the Forces of Evil offered their latest project for review, we didn't want to decline. Bone Walker is a soundtrack to a fantasy book series by the name of The Free Court of Seattle, the city from whence these Newfoundland folk (self-described) elves come. Usually what happens with these kind of ambitious projects is we complain about overreaching scope (17 Pygmies' Even Celestina...); muddled storytelling (The Decemberists' Hazards of Love), or just crazy, crazy ambition. But that's not what we're faulting Bone Walker with here. It's much simpler than that.

What's missing with Bone Walker? Musical experience. The musicians here are capable, yes, but they lack the kind of experience that gives power to a performance, that makes music memory. We even have to say the lead vocalist's voice doesn't capture, but rather irks us; it lacks emotive strength, it's incapable of closing the distance between musical sounds and storytelling.

The album itself is composed of three parts: instrumental tracks, lyrical folk tracks (verse, chorus, etc.) and excerpts from the fantasy series. These parts are interchanged together well enough, but certainly not gracefully; there is a clear distinction between each of these, when we feel there are certainly ways to weave the material of the fantasy series a bit more gracefully to music. Furthermore, the instrumental folk parts feel rigid and stale; what we were hoping for was fire, unmitigated fire being restrained by the tempo, restrained the limits of musical expression. What we got instead are typical instrumental breaks followed by breaks for novel excerpts followed by a handful of songs. So about 2/3 fluff, in a sense.

Our lone highlight here is "A Lullaby for John Barbour," the extra given on the album. The simple guitar and singer arrangement fits best with the color of the vocalist's voice, and it comes off sincere, not forced. But yet, for the price, we have only one verdict for Crime and the Forces of Evil: take a pass.

Stream the album from their Bandcamp page.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

End of Love Not Off to a Good Beginning

End of Love - Ghosts on the Radio
Devise Music
-out tomorrow
2 / 5

Age old question: is the whole greater than the sum of its parts? If one were to sum up even a fraction of the talent on this record - which boasts members of Sonic Youth, Wilco, and yes, even Big Star - one would assume that having some of the musicians behind the seminal music of the '70s, '90s and 2000s would ignite the kind of music-gasm one might have should Jimi Hendrix open up Chick Corea's piano and start strumming some of Arthur Lee's tunes. Yes, that kind of talent.

And yet...

We have to say, we were insanely excited (clinically insanely excited) to see this kind of lineup. But the delivery left... much to be desired. In fact, it came short. So short that normally we'd struggle to find the good in an album like this, but no, alas, we can't really much recommend End of Love's debut. Now why is that?

Immediately into our first listen, we heard it: auto-pilot (or maybe cruise control is more appropriate, given the album cover). End of Love hoped to bring back that feeling of Big Star's, that feeling of the power pop just grooving and taking control of your body and soul. The feeling Alex Chilton gives when he sings about doctors, shrinks, and love (our favorite song of all time). But here, the musicians more often than not feel sleepy and not engaged; most cruel are the female lead vocals here, which are perhaps the dullest and least emotive we've ever heard. This is true. While the musicians on this album are technically proficient (they can play), we've got to say they are not entertaining (they don't pull us in). We're also going to take a gander and say they've had better material. Some of these lyrics are canned - "Don't cry until you remember the /  Color of my eyes" - to the point that we made faces similar to eating those pink hot-dog things that are probably worse for you than eating old nail clippings. To put it nicely. It's frustrating music, to say the least, in that it doesn't enchant, entertain, or even mildly amuse. So, to answer the age-old question, perhaps the sum of the parts is less than the whole. Especially in the case of Ghosts on the Radio, an album with far more talent than one could tell. Take a pass.

Stream Ghosts on the Radio and tell us what you think.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Our Next Story Is Up: "A House Burning"

(C) Krawiec/Flickr

The upstart podcast No Extra Words has decided to feature our flash fiction, "A House Burning." We want y'all to listen to it, and to let us feel the love (or the hatred, but we think you'll feel the love instead).

Check out the posting here. Cool quote, huh?


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"Providence is a Banjo-Lovin' Town"

The Dave Rawlings Special: Bitta heat, bitta cool, cowboy hat. All folk. All photos (c) Matthew Keefer
...and led us to the weekend, which we hit/ Just like a freight train. Got there early/ We couldn't wait... for Gillian Welch and headlining collaborator, Dave Rawlings. The Dave Rawlings Machine, comprised of Welch, Willy Watson, Paul Kowert and, of course, Mr. Rawlings himself, were joined by Miss. Brittany Haas to tour for his sophomore solo, Nashville Obsolete, which we're totally digging right now. You likely will dig it, too.
Welcome to the Machine. (L to R) Kowert, Welch, Watson.
You know why we say that? Because it's restrained, pared-down folksy country, the kind that you might hear around the barn on an off night. Acoustic, down-to-earth, simple; a fresh breath. Mr. Rawlings + Machine opened on "The Weekend" and about half the show came off of Nashville Obsolete grooves; but the highlights? This lass' fiddle:
Fiddle me this, fiddle me that. Brittany Haas.

Arco or pizzicato (that's bowing or plucking), the girl knows her folkin' grooves. Boston-based, she was well at home with the Machine on Saturday.

Another highlight? Dave Rawlings, a few songs in: "I bet you were all waiting for me to pick up this banjo... They say [Providence]'s a banjo-lovin' town." He was not wrong.

And another, you say? Rawlings: "We're all waiting to hear a dirty song." Turns to Willy Watson. "Keep it real greasy."
Watson sings a cover of "Keep it Clean." (Ultimate dad joke; g thx dav rawlings)

And that was the first half...


If we had to compliment Dave Rawlings and crew on anything, it would be on their ability to read a crowd. Providence, ourselves included, was in a mood to sing. SING. And the second part of the show was just that. A bit of "Sweet Tooth" via Rawlings and Welch; some of "This Land Is Your Land", and certainly Rawlings had it pegged: "It's startin' to sound like a folk concert in here." Watson got some sing-along in him, too (and some pipes! Clear, country and emotive) and for the record, we clearly should've caught him at the Newport Folk Fest on multiple occasions.

If we were to compliment Rawlings further, it would be this: the man knows how to please a crowd. Visibly exhausted during the encore, Rawlings caved into the raucous crowd, the barn-stomping and unified clapping aching to have more. Like we said, he caved in to one more, exasperated and flattered, though he had to give it over to Watson for "Midnight Special." It was a demanding crowd, yes, and as a performer of experience and wisdom, Rawlings knew it was his place to give in to that one demand.

The Man With No Eyes. Willy Watson.

Our verdict? We well-enjoyed ourselves, and though we kind of hate live reviews (you don't get to see the performers after the fact) we're going to suggest y'all amble on down next time they're in town. Gillian Welch nails it year after year at the Newport Folk Fest, and so did Dave Rawlings on Saturday. And pre-review of Nashville Obsolete - he sung our song! He sung "Pilgrim (You Can't Go Home)"!

Hope you made it this time, and we'll catch y'all at the next one *spits tobaccy*

The Oh Hellos "Met" Providence - Get It??

We'll admit it: The Oh Hellos is one of our favorite discoveries to come out of the Newport Folk Fest ('14, if you recall). A large, overwhelming nontet with two drummers, the brother/sister duo of Maggie and Tyler Heath seem to come naturally into singable, joyous melody, and at Providence last week...
Well, we'll get to that. But first things first. (Photos (C) Bera Dunau)

A Cereus Bright in the dark night. (L to R) Tyler Anthony and Evan Ford.
Cereus Bright caught us off-guard. Lovely harmonies, the quintet puts out. Their sound was beautifully balanced, and their drummer - sigh - their drummer! Don't tell Luke Bowers this, but we want to marry his beats, each and every of the subtle and dense hits he taps on the 'set. We chatted up Ford and fellow Matt, Matt Nelson (bass) before the show, picking both their brains about touring and bathing, and in addition to being good folk, Cereus Bright's performance that night definitely got us hummin' along. All the way through the set, to their last one, the eponymous "Cereus Bright," which was a stunning, gorgeous ballad that channeled... perhaps Fleet Foxes a bit? We picked up their two EPs, and while we definitely recommend their live work to their studio, a little birdie told us a full-length is on the way Spring '16. Which we are certain to cover.

If y'all is curious, check out their site for a free download. Again, unbelievable balance and talent, which we're hoping gets the full treatment next year. Congrats, gents.

We haven't a whole lot to say about the first opener, Friends and Family - Cereus was number 2 on the bill - other than F+F's vocals were washed out by the rest of the sound. But they were clearly inspired by Typhoon, playing even a cover ("Common Sentiments") and being friends with the Portland, OR band. So it's difficult to say! Hence, the not saying a lot (sorry guys and lady!)

And the Oh Hellos themselves...

We can sum them up this way:
"I think I'm in love with her."
"She's cute," us.
"Her voice."
-Bera Dunau
The voice to sink a thousand hearts. (L to R) Josh Heinlein (?) Maggie, Tyler
Miss Maggie's voice has a gentle country lilt to it, the kind of lilt that seems to reminisce a bit of Ireland; gentle, confident, capable. Tyler's voice doesn't have that kind of lilt to it, but together, with his calm gentleness, the harmonies the Oh Hellos produce are fresh, uplifting, even when their songs grasp about in the darkness, subject-wise. Add to that two percussionists, an accordion, and a couple of crazy banjoists (who were dancing so hard we could only get blurry photos like this:
Like The Flash - just impossible to catch.
Bad? Yes, we know.) and you suddenly have a stage presence that is unlikely to be met by the majority of national bands on our radar - those Rolling Stones darlings included. The Oh Hellos were - and certainly are - an act to catch live. And if you can't, be sure to hop on over to their site, as their songwriting is as beautiful and melodic as this guy above is crazy.

That was weak, we know. We're still recovering from the intense awesomeness that was the past week. But still, thank y'all for stopping by, but do come back, cause even though our weekend started early, Dave Rawlings came out one of these nights...

We had to fit in another photo. Had to.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

+ Rawlings Make For A Folkin' Weekend

"The best country singers die in the back of classic cars" - Rawlings and Gillian Welch and Impala, Chevrolet.
Higher Ground, S Burlington, VT. Thurs. 11-12-15, doors 7pm, show 8pm. $30 adv, $35 day of.
State Theatre, Portland, ME. Fri. 11-13-15, doors 7pm, show 8pm. $37.50.
Lupo's, Providence, RI. Sat. 11-13-15, doors 7pm. $32-$39.50
Wilbur Theatre, Boston, MA. Mon. 11-16-15, 8pm. $34.50.

You've always liked Dave Rawlings. You just haven't known it. He's the male-half to Gillian Welch (check out everything from Time (The Revelator) to The Harrow and the Harvest) and everything the two touch is blissful earnest country. Now take your always-scintillating Welch-Rawlings duo, add a bit of Punch (Paul Kowert) and toss in a bit of Willie (Watson), and you've got... a mean four-cylinder-drive Machine. A... Dave Rawlings Machine, as it were. We've been hooked up on Mr. Rawlings' second full-length solo, Nashville Obsolete, and we have to say - between these old folkies and the Oh Hellos, it's gonna be a busy weekend. C'mon, check out this one. Hits what you didn't know you needed hit, right? We're antsy to get ourselves into this show, and hopefully all y'all will be, too. Just don't trust that old Impala to get you there; musicians like Rawlings and Welch don't come every generation.
Hitchhike instead. They'd appreciate that. See y'all in Providence.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Oh Hellos "Hello" New England

Tyler and Maggie Heath + band (+ waterfall). Photo (C) Laurie Heath.
The Met, Providence, RI. Thurs. 11-12-15, 7pm. $15 adv, $17 day of.
Paradise Rock Club, Boston, MA. Fri. 11-13-15, doors 7pm, show 8pm. $15 adv.

A glorious return to the East Coast cometh a band with a sound like a tidal force. Having left us jaw-gaping at Newport in 2014 (do excuse the poor sound quality), siblings Maggie and Tyler Heath (with about a dozen other musicians) have been on a tear with their sophomore Dear Wormwood. We will admit this: we adore their folksy harmonies. We adore their exuberance, their bright energy. And we adore their music, fully and completely.
And did you know you can still pick it up for free? (Don't be a dingo, though; slide them a few bucks for this 5 out of 5 kinda album. Even their Christmas EP is fantastic.)
What to expect: pure, unmitigated joy. Emanating from your every pore. We hope to see y'all there a couple Thursdays from now. Like the famous Austrian said, "We'll be bahck." And with photos. (Schwarzeneggar didn't say that, though.)

Monday, October 26, 2015

We Welcome The Oh Hellos' Gratifying Sophomore

The Oh Hellos - Dear Wormwood
- out now
4.5 / 5

We've anticipated this follow-up to 2012's bright folksome Through the Deep, Dark Valley for far, far too long - since Newport '14. On their sophomore full-length, these southern Texans have put us in the awkward position of having to promote their first LP above their follow-up; and yet, if this is that supposed "sophomore slump" that so many bands seem to go through... then only "wow" can be said of it. If it weren't for Dark Valley, which we'd give a more than solid 5 of 5 (the third in our 6 years of blogging), Dear Wormwood might be considered for that perfect score. So, the awkward position: Dear Wormwood is absolutely brilliant, emotive and beautiful; and their previous Dark Valley is even better.

What we love about both albums is their brilliance - in terms of brightness, light, simplicity and yet depth. This is folk that is at times dark, haunted, and intertwined with appreciation and subdued joy. Unlike Dark Valley, we haven't found ourselves singing along (that extra half of a point), but that's not the purpose of this twin brother (or sister) to Dark Valley. Songs like "Caesar" bring that darkness through on the wings of joy, a chorus of voices yearning, stretching; hand claps and quiet contemplation on "Where Is Your Rider." Like their first full-length, Dear Wormwood is not an album, a gem of an album, an excellent album: it is an experience, one worth digesting, reliving; and one worth passing along. There is no wasted space, there are no throwaways here.

Turn up the stereo, sit back, and immerse yourself in the small, formerly self-produced indie band that could. And did. And should be proud of. Beautiful and contemplative, by one of our favorite discoveries on the blog. Highly recommended.

We're going to direct you to the Bandcamp, where you can pick up the vinyl. Which we probably will, too.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Nathaniel Rateliff Sweat It Out on Stax Debut

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats - Self-Titled
Stax Records
- out now
4 / 5

We caught him at the Newport Folk Fest nigh two months ago, and this grimy, (night) sweaty fellow showed us how to boogie your tired soul out. The Herman, MO-born Rateliff is indeed soulful, smoking, burning on his self-titled Stax debut, his fourth full-length. If you haven't heard "S.O.B" on the radio, humming in the bar, in the bottom of that bottle, then maybe you should sober up and clean your ears out. Seemingly his anthem, Rateliff's strength here, and on this album, is the grit he blows through his lyrics. The songs are written well, but really, it's Rateliff's (+ Night Sweats') performances here that could turn even "Mary Had a Little Lamb" into anguish, soul-searching and catharsis.

That link to "S.O.B." above should suffice, and while that track seems rather pervasive, our snobbish selves have actually pulled a few others that we slightly prefer to it. "Howling at Nothing" brings out such a primal desire to dance - no, not EDM dance - but more like this: "We were howling at the moon / We were shaking our hips." Dancing the pain away, we think explains it. We similarly love the opener and the closer, and even the songs we don't dig as much ("Thank You" - My Morning Jacket still has a monopoly on that in our heart), we still dig them enough. We docked this album a point down to 4 because some of the songs don't really bring out Rateliff's stellar, gut-gripping performances. "Look It Here" is another one of those, and while the Night Sweats shine all the way through, it's really Rateliff's howl that we've come for.

Overall, an excellent soulful rock album that you'll want to drink / punch / swing to for as long as you can stand on your two feet. Highly recommended.

Try them out on Soundcloud, and make sure to get some freebies on Noisetrade (while they last!).

Monday, August 17, 2015

Newport Folk Fest: Sunday feat. The Philosopher Part II

The much-belated finale of the Newport Folk Fest is here. The third part, the Sunday of the weekend. The part where we pretend to wax wise and cast about all kinds of wisdoms. Pelt you with them.

And with pictures, too (again, all copyright Ravings).

Electrical tape apparently fixes sizable holes.
Chris Stelling is here to the left, erm, other left, we guess. And the one thing we can say about him, other than the fact that he really, REALLY should just get a new guitar at this point, is that he's got really good, intricate plucking and riffs.

Maybe that's where the two sizable holes in his guitar come from (you can see the larger of them, below his right pinkie).  But you can't see the half-roll of electrical tape he's using to keep his guitar together.


If only we had a picture of that...

Oh wait! Faith and begorrah, this one came out okay!

She sure ain't pretty, we'll say.
Yes, we think that's a hounds-tooth band-aid there as well. Classy K-Mart shopper.

But you know, class doesn't usually factor into these things. It shouldn't. It's not the reason someone gets up on stage, performs a handful of songs, and goes about their generally poverty-stricken way in hopes of one day making ends meet. Why would a musician do that to themselves? Why would they live rest-stop to rest-stop on cold cans of beans and, occasionally, franks?

We can make all kinds of assumptions, here. Why we'd do it; why we kinda are doing it (though with writing). Why is Mr. Stelling up there on stage? We'll never quite know. But having known a few musicians, and writers, and people of the creative sort, we can say there are about 173 different - and good - reasons to be some sort of artist.

Pay ain't one of them.

You know, check out Red Green up there. Here's another reason down here you'd want to be in this kinda profession.
Group huddle (wish magical suspenders)

If you were having as good a dancing time as these folks, you might be confused for this guy:

And the Night Sweats? It's daytime and he's pourin'.
Nathaniel Rateliff poured it all out on Sunday. And as much as we'd love a decent shot of those magic, magic feet o' his, those shots came out too blurry for any sort of comprehension.

This guy knows how to boogie. With an up-tempo, down-trodden wail, he's like a soul voice for rock and roll: jamming, punch in the gut, but pick you up and swing you after. We think it's fair to say Rateliff plays music so that he has something damned good to dance to. We're going to give you an album review of his coming up right soon (as it's due out later this month).

We haven't quite answered why we stick to our thing. The "writing" thing. Our reason? Number 145: to teach, primarily. Rateliff, we might say, falls under Reasons 39, 87, and 110: respectively, to dance, to wail, to get all the bad sh*! outta ya.

We've had our thoughts set on good ole #145 for so long, that sometimes we think it's the only way. Maybe it's the same way with a lot of musicians. Maybe they get stuck in the same rut, and don't go off exploring new reasons to write and perform.

The Ballroom Thieves, #24:

Cellist Calin Peters, 1/3 of Ballroom Thieves

We think of this group as sharing that same #24 as with The Head and the Heart. That is, to get people to sing along. Their melodies, more rustic, more folksy, are similarly singable, with nice, sweet harmonies.

But really, what we think we're getting at is this: that there's no one right, or wrong way, to pursue music. Or writing. Or painting, or whatever else have you. Some people are lucky enough to do it professionally; some people do it for reason #15: to soothe one's soul. We're not saying, "Yes, you should buy a guitar and get a-strummin.'" That that's the only way to go about life and things and stuff. (Besides, get something gutsy like a trombone.) But sometimes, for a lot of people, anyway, you don't have to do these things for profit. Sometimes you profit enough by just doing them. There are all kinds of studies we can cite, involving happiness or empathy or reading signals in dating; but really, push all that garbo aside. Find something that centers you. If you don't sell a CD or a book, so be it; that's not always success.

We mean, look at the books that tend to sell. Billionaire Dinosaurs who seduce young guys and... well, you get the idea. Contribute to yourself. I think that's what we're trying to get at. And that's what festivals like Newport are good at. That kind of connection, that kind of reflection, all in about 72 hours of hectic running around and photographing everyone and everyone's dog.

They're also good for craziness like this:

Gillian Welch, drum monster.
Highway 65 Revisited was a most fun and most crazy mosh-pit of musicians on stage playing those classic old Dylan tunes. Here Ms. Welch has apparently defeated the bass drummer of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (most likely in a game of Yahtzee) and is touting her prize.

But again, why we write? We've got to take things back home.

Not particularly for entertainment's sake. There's a bit more to explain about it, true, but that's best left for another time and another place. What we can say is, somehow we missed our favorite photo of the 'Fest. The one that brings out both curmudgeon and thoughtful philosophy from us. We don't really think there's much more for us to say, sometimes a decent photo speaks it loud enough, and we think this one's fairly decent. Reason #3 to write: to stare off in the distance at nothing, at everything.

We'll catch you all next time. Thanks for putting up with unexpected delays, and thanks more for catching up with us again. Peace in you,

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Wave Goes On An On

On an On - And the Wave Has Two Sides
Roll Call Records
- out now
3 / 5

Minneapolis trio On an On comes back to our blog with their sophomore release, and we're going to say they're getting better. A pastiche of pop and electronica, the Minnesotans have refined their sound, honed it to where it hits directly, no frou-frou, just click on the dance switch and let it jam. But while we appreciate the effort, and there are certainly highs to the album, we're going to say that And the Wave Has Two Sides isn't as deep as it seems: despite a few singles, and perhaps even including them, this smattering of dance-inspired tracks doesn't have it. These tracks lack that kind of personality we look for in an album. What remains are some decent choruses, some nice beats, but ultimately, a Wave that doesn't really peak or arch or, well, flow quite the way we'd hoped.

We do have some favorites here. "Icon Love" is our top of the twelve, with a toned-down, 80s feel to the electronic component. Next up is the obligatory dance-floor number "It's Not Over," which hits all the notes that it should. But even though we like it, and it's enjoyable, we wish it'd hit some weirder notes, add more color to it (see B&W cover above), flesh out a bit. It works, yes, but at some point we're going back to Chain Gang of 1974 et al. It's depth, really. And Wave lacks a bit of that.

On An On makes good strides with their sophomore, but feel like they're still splashing around in the pool a bit. "Icon Love," and then take a pass.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Newport Folk Fest: Sunday feat. The Philosopher

We wonder why you stop by. Really.

We've got a couple theories. One is that you use our website the way we (try to) use a music website: to hunt down good music, dodge the stuff that doesn't get there. Save a buck or two. Make new discoveries. This works fine and well for things like CD reviews; we like to pick those apart for you. Go save that dollar.

Concerts, festivals: stuff like that is different. It's already happened. That theory, why you'd like to read up on a festival that's already happened, is a bit more complicated: shared experiences (if you went), relive those memories; something more technical, scientific (if you didn't go), involving the brain's mirror neurons, a vicarious kind of enjoyment. In either case, what kind of action can you take at this point? Other than waiting a few hundred years for time travel to become efficient and commonplace, and send yourself back to an expired music fest based on our recommendation?

(And no, time travel in any form still does not exist. Not even on the SyFy channel, bleh.)

We "Think" this is Rodin. Give us a moment.
We don't get why you'd want read up on a festival that passed, on our having a great time and tons of fun. We really don't. "Shoulda gone last weekend" is the most we can do with a post - or three (or four) - of this kind.

And here we are still.

We want to cut to the chase first with this post. What did we get out of Newport? What do we get out of Newport - something tangible, something that maybe you can take, too? What we like most about the Folk Fest - when we're not feeling curmudgeonly, alas - is when a new act catches us by surprise. The Oh Hellos, Hozier last year, especially (gosh! how he's blown up!). We have a bunch of favorite acts that we know we have to catch, but this kind of festival is a great place to get introduced to new music. And we'd like to think this blog is kind of like that, too.

This is what we're going to do after this post: hunt down some CDs. Try to check into NE concerts, too. Perhaps we'll even get some coverage for the blog, let you know how they pan out for us. We're definitely into checking out these albums:

-Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn
-The Suffers (definitely)
-Sam Beam and Ben Bridwell. We thought the "all covers" thing wasn't going to get us, but it did.
-and The Ballroom Thieves, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats (Sunday spoiler!)

These are the new albums we'll be hunting out, and check the previous posts for stuff we've already covered, and hopefully given a thumbs-up to.

We're breaking a bit of form, throwing away that old acoustic for a new electric, trying to give you something useful from this kind of blog post. Something that's not "this is the best band ever to have banded" kind of stuff. You know us, we're particular, we're critical, this is what we do. If their performances were any indication of their albums, we'd have you check out those six bands.

In fact, let's make that easier for you to sample them:

-Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn
-The Suffers
-Sam Beam and Ben Bridwell
-Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear
-The Ballroom Thieves
-and Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats

Bam, links to their Soundclouds. Because we think you might like to check them out.

This is our post-Newport takeaway. This is really all that we have to offer here. We're honestly not much about "this act was so cool, wish you were there" stuff, that kind of rub-your-face-in-it coverage. What we're about, our philosophy is that this tiny tiny tiny blog is here to serve you, our readers, first and foremost, and hopefully we've done that here. We try to put our money where our mouth is. That's the only way this kind of thing works.

So go out, check out our "Albums of the Year" and "Recommended" links below the banner. If you like those artists, go see them live, have them sign something for you. Get the heck off this blog, because, let's face it, if you're putting time into sitting on your bum over here, you're not living a life worth living. Blog Philosophy, 101. Go out and make memories. We're only a signpost that might not even be all that useful to you. Feel free to graffiti that post over, we don't mind, no offense taken. Just make it sound cool, to paraphrase Wayne Coyne.

And go dance, too. Hopefully with a pretty girl (or hot guy). See you on the floor tomorrow for the last part of Newport,

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Newport Folk Fest: Saturday feat. The Traveler

It lay at our feet, dead. Decomposing. The Grinch of All Festival Curmudgeondry. Flies buzzed; vultures circled. We moved on.

Desert sands shifted beneath our boots. The sun beat an oppressive cadence on our shoulders. It was hot; it was hot. Through the dust, we could make out a distant oasis. It came closer, crept closer. There were drums, there were horns; there was a woman on stage, shouting; congas pounding. A crowd of some sort of worshipers. We stopped by to see the commotion (these photos (c) Ravings as well).

The Suffers' strangely armed guard and their lead conjurer

"Who are we," she demanded.
"The Suffers," the crowd replied.
She rewarded their fidelity with a siren-song: mixes of soul, Latin and jazz poured from forceful lips.

We pondered on their Sharon-Jones sentiments. Big band, big energy, lead siren to bring you in. But with the curmudgeon in us gone, we knew we had to keep moving, knew that we couldn't stay all day. Acts to photo. Alas.

One half of Luluc
Wanderlust inspired. Luluc was next, guy/gal acoustic duo. Quiet, solemn, they seemed a good choice to keep cool on a blistering hot day. But you know us, we're picky. Particular. We started the day off strong, and wanted an act to burn away the heat. Not some place to lie down and cool off.

Country-style Traveller took the back stage next. Their opener, "Get Me Out of the South," was just what we were looking for: a hot, pounding one in the sun. But then the cooled off, and our attention wandered, wandered to an artist whose album we absolutely, certainly should have covered...

And artist whose hippo we still have. Cosmic hippo, to clarify. (Though he came minus cosmic hippo, and with the wifey).

Bela Feck. Abigail Washburn. Banjo to banjo.
They were unconscionably late to the stage, causing all kinds of ulcers of anticipation for something we'd held off listening to since the release of their duet album late last year. A calm, sophisticated bluegrass duo (sophisticated, even with a bit of clog dancing), dense, the kind of stuff that tends not to play well in a big festival. But: Bela Fleck. And Mrs. Washburn, too. It was a fantastic change of scene. We were stunned that they decided to sign CDs and albums (and even our shirt!) by the merchandise tent. After the set, Abigail was sweet as peach cobbler; we think Mr. Fleck was a bit out of his element there. No banjo in the hand, perhaps.

The Mama Bear (and Tom Hudson) and Madisen Ward
We heard a bit about this mom and son duo from one of the other photographers. "His voice, his voice..." Seeing him live, Madisen Ward shakes a bit of vibrato the old country way: dance the jaw into the mic. Like a hungry barracuda. And yes, the voice, the voice. Folksy and soulful; we were all about vocals. We only caught a couple, a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" being one of them, but even in two songs Madisen and The Mama Bear were one of our highlights of the day. That's saying a lot, considering...

Considering some of the rumors floating around. "Next set is going to be such-and-such." "I heard it was hmm-hmm." "I don't have this verified, but it might be..."

Whatever. We heard a few different things on Saturday. It turns out it was The Optimal Solution.

Which, in all cases, is James-Freaking-Taylor.

James Taylor. Whom we'd pay to have as our biological uncle.
It was a short, short set. We cried, we laughed; we waved goodbye from behind the security guards escorting us away. We're willing to bet NPR streamed his set and has it up somewhere, but just be warned there were some audio blips/bloops/explosions, really, during that set. Some imperfections with the sound, we'll say.

And Mr. Taylor?

Pretty much looked like this. Despite the 100+ Decibel shrieks, he looked pretty much like someone was passing him a tea cake and he was politely declining. Whatever. When you calmly croon about Fire and Rain, losing 5% of your hearing is probably not that big a deal to you. His set closed with "You've Got a Friend." Our life was complete.

Sufjan Stevens is an old, old man. But he can still get down and funky.

Jungle Boogie, c.o. Michigan.
Okay, so he's not that much older than us. Probably. There was a general consensus that Mr. Stevens' set was the one to hit (other than James-Freaking-Taylor) because, let's face it, Illinois. And perhaps a little bit of his latest album, which maybe we like a little bit. Just a smidge. We enjoyed this set. We enjoyed it despite:

-Sufjan forgetting some of his lyrics
-His deep voice. Like, almost Morgan Freeman deep. Making some of his own vocals hard to hit
-Sufjan dancing to "All of Me" like a white guy

Not everyone's perfect. Sufjan is a brilliant writer, probably the most earnest, heartfelt ones of his/our generation. We can't say his performance at the Newport Folk Fest this past weekend was flawless, but we still can appreciate it for not being as such. For being honest. He was good, certainly not a let-down, and if we had any other set to be at, we wouldn't have changed our minds. And we're not going to pay NASA ticket rates to see him perform live, either. Though we're sure it's worth it. (We took 100 pictures of Stevens and Taylor each.)

We know some of y'all like The Decemberists. We haven't really kept up with their albums since 2009's "The Hazards of Love," and as a closer to the 'Fest, they were spot-on.

Colin Meloy, avec la beard.
It was a very good set from them. They knew their crowd, they rocked it out, they played a song about oatmeal. "Quaker Oat Blues," we think it was (okay, we just made that name up).

(But really, it was about oatmeal.)

This would be another great set to catch streamed, but - and no offense to these Portlandiers - we were still in shock by James-Freaking-Taylor. So much so that that's where these travelin' shoes are going to stop.

You'll come back for Friday, right? The Philosopher?

Y'all comin', right?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Newport Folk Fest: Friday feat. The Curmudgeon

Welcome back. We've missed you. This is eighth year of our Newport coverage, including our really fantastic article in the Newport Mercury in '08, and it's safe to say, the festival's been on an upward trend for us. It's also safe to say that we, at Ravings, are familiar with how exhausting and draining these kinds of festivals can be on us. It is safe to say, we are rather curmudgeonly.

We rain on all parades. (c) Dr. Seuss, and illus. by Chuck Jones, we think.
Here is what it boils down to: it's hard to enjoy a three-day, four-stage music-gasm knowing that we're still kinda working (and occasionally sleeping) for the 72-hour stretch. This year, we decided to Grinch our attitude and stay as often in one place as possible.


But think about it, isn't that what you'd do, too? Catch the acts you want to see, not have to hop around to EVERY act to catch up on photos and maybe a song or two ? (There were 18 acts on Friday alone, and that's not even counting the fourth stage). Maybe we should call it an experiment in being the average, sensible music-goer; "How the Other Half Listens"; but really, it's just our being lazy and Grinch-y and stubborn.

And still it was awesome.

The thing about being a curmudgeon, or really, about covering this festival for far more years than we've deserved, is this: habit. We want to break it a bit this year. We feel that we've earned it (not really) and that this particular year earned it - the 50th anniversary of Dylan's "plugging in." Breaking habit is something a curmudgeon does not often (or ever) do, but check out that first pic there. A break in routine already. You see, this time around, we've been thinking other things, thinking bigger thoughts; life, the universe, and everything. Those parts that relate to music and music blogging, anyway.

Here it is, habit biting our bum, the first act to open the Newport Folk Fest (all photos (c) Ravings):
Haunt the House haunts (and opens) the house at Alex and Ani Stage.
This time was a first for us: a real camera. Auto-focus, zoom lens, the whole 8.5 yards (we're still a bit stingy, yes). This gent on the left and his crew was floating about all three days (should we mention Haunt the House's music? They have an accordion. *cue accordion jokes*), and certainly had a great time of it. They probably had a better time than a grumpy old (though not that old) Mad Music Man. Or probably complained less about the good time they had. Yes, we can have a good time and still complain, because: talent. We're just not sure what kind of talent that is.

Though it's certainly not a marketable talent. Not even a parlor trick kind of talent. Not talent like this:

Joe Pug + guitarist Greg Tuohey.
This was our first act for us. Mr. Pug (who is our spirit animal, should you need to know) is one of those annoying acts who has "wit" and "congeniality" and "talent." Nuts to that. "This next song," to paraphrase/misquote Mr. Pug, "is pretty dark. You probably don't want to be eating your frozen yogurt during it, or at least eat the half without sprinkles." Lead into one of our many favorites, "The Great Despiser."

We brought an old band tee with us, that - yes - was signed already and washed out. Greg, in the background up there, was "kind" and "considerate" and "sweaty" and brought it around to the band to sign. Even got MorganEve Swain a la Brown Bird to sign it (who made a guest appearance on stage!). He is a really nice guy. But here's what we're going to do with the tee.
-Wrap it up
-Give it to a Who in Whoville
-Steal it on Christmas day

Yes, we're an evil one indeed.

This picture:
Leon Bridges, part dance, part sing.
...and this picture:

Music goers, all dance... not so much sing.
We think this sums it. Cool retro sound, 7-piece band.

The curmudgeonly part of us came out later in the day. We knew there would be a lot of great acts to cover, all kinds of new discoveries, but we went with an old standby.

John Convertino, aka the pulse of Calexico.
Followed by another old standby (see right).

Sam Beam, aka Iron and Wine. (minus Ben Bridwell)
And followed by My Morning Jacket (another old standby, bear below). We were not adventurous, no.

But the Calexico set was probably the best set of theirs we've caught these past few years. Perhaps the third time we've seen them? - and they caught the crowd right on the Quad / back stage. "Roka" was probably our favorite of theirs, just spine-tingling.

We don't have a lot to say about Sam Beam and Ben Bridwell, other than listening to the two of them do folk classics together is like tasting like a thick, smoky honey. We don't know if that sounds appetizing to y'all, but it does to us. We're going to hunt down their new album at some point.

And My Morning Jacket. Still good. Still rocking. The new album sounds awesome live.

Here is Jim James' bear. One of them. This one is called Ephesius.
(Okay, now we're just making sh#$ up.)

Jim James' "Rosebud." Perhaps.
We've got a lot more cool stuff to say, other cool pics, but we've wasted a lot of time on Grinches and sourpusses and bears, oh my! - and we still have to get to IT. You know. You've heard of the guy, the guy your old curly-haired soccer-playing college friend keeps bugging you to go see even though you went to one of his Phish concerts and couldn't breathe for the life of you.

This guy. Him. Maybe you've heard of Pink Floyd or something.

Roger Waters, aka Jim James' spirit animal.
And then the rains came. Blast. That's why the left side of (above) is all blurry.

Heart palpitations. Goose flesh. Nervous shaking. Waters was phenomenal. And then he started playing, too. "Wish You Were Here" was so anticipated, so enjoyed, that everywhere in the crowd people took out their iPhones to photograph the old man. Despite the rain. And occasional lightning. That's $500 for a photo, right there, but you can't explain these things to people. Not when you're being serenaded with "Wish You Were Here." Money just doesn't factor in. That's stubborn.

We did it. We caught all, and only all we really wanted to see on Friday. We're sure there were superb performances by acts we've never heard of, or at least never listened to, and we're going to say this: Bah humbug. Sometimes you just got to be stubborn. Sometimes you just want it your way (TM). Sometimes you just got to stick to your guns (not permitted on festival grounds, by the way).

But that's the fun of these things. Do what you want, go at your own pace. There's no wrong way to skin a cat; there's more than one way to eat a Reese's. Something like that.

Waters spoke, and thus died the Grinch.* We know you're probably shopping around NPR and various other sites for far, far better coverage than we're giving here, but thanks for stopping by anyway. At least we don't ramble on too much, right? Go catch us Wednesday for Part II, The Traveler (and Friday for Part III, "the good part"),


*cue face-melting scene from Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark, by the way

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

It's... coming

Sallie Ford (+SOS, -electricity) at Newport, 2011
In a few more weekends, the sheet (music) will hit the fan. It's that time (of the season) for probably our favorite festival. Probably? Almost certainly. Almost certainly? We can do better than that.
It's about time for the Newport Folk Festival.

It took us a little while to do another writeup on it. Why? Lack of inspiration, laziness, lack of direction. Working on a book (or two). But last night, we realized why we had to come back; speaking to a friend, whom we'd met at last year's, there really is something different about this "little" fest. A fellow music reviewer herself, she had a somewhat hilarious nightmare about not getting tickets - why the fuss? you might ask - because it is something special. It isn't rowdy or pushy or drunk, stoned; out of control. It's kind of another home, we think. "Last year," she recalled, "I went with people I didn't even know and NFF was still amazing... It's much more family friendly than any of the other fests I've been to."

And there's something to that. There's something to the fact that we get to recognize a friendly face at the ticket booth (Ms. C.M., riding another stressful season, haha!). We get big acts (BIG acts this year) and small acts; remember these guys and gals? We get a packed, big ole historical fort crammed to the parapets with musicians - some of whom hand-selected the smaller acts to come aboard - all of whom are bustling with energy and focus and drive. And da- darned well fun, too. It's the only place  you'll get to see, hopefully, Roger Waters jam along with Sufjan Stevens (yes, our dreams of the NFF kinda reach a bit high). It's the only place you'll get to see Mr. Shakey Graves hopping about between acts, a gentleman and a music scholar. It is a kind of family, really, much for the musicians, much for the media, but also for the music fans who, year after year, pitch a blanket, reminisce about a few years ago, before the dance pit; reminisce to some of the same fans, to some newcomers as well, about how Jim James kept wearing some weird hankerchief, haha; the Avett Brothers, well, they were drowned out by the pier, no electricity, but man, what a jam!; and Cat Power, man! you should've seen her! I think fell in love...

We know the tickets are sold out. But - we do highly advise to check out the Newport Folk Fest's after shows (and before shows) as that's as good a place as any to get a heady brew of your favorite musicians, whom are almost always attacked on stage by fellow guest musicians. It's totally unbeknownst to us who will show where (RI's ole Deer Tick McCauley tends to show quite a bit) but we know the ensuing battles are generally worthy of your time.

So, if you've got tickets, congrats! Hopefully we (and our unfortunately nightmared friend) shall see you there! And if not, don't fret, sometimes miracles happen. Especially at the after-party shows. We'll keep y'all up to date a bit, and hope you enjoyed your 4ths,

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Newport Folk Update

There will be a LOT of before/after 'Fest shows. And here's one we think you'll like (c.o. the Newport Mercury):

Do enjoy!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Talk in Tongues' Debut Nice, But Let's Be "Friends"

Talk in Tongues - Alone with a Friend
Fairfax Recordings
-out tomorrow
3 / 5

We're going to have to admit something: we're a bit stumped when it comes to reviewing the L.A. quartet's debut LP. Alone with a Friend is one of those psych-rock albums that is put together well, that is overall pretty good, that definitely has some singles in it, that...

Still merits only 3 stars from us. Here's why.

We've had this album on our listening shelf for almost a month. Ultimately, we spun it up only about four or five times in that length of time, and we're still feeling a bit on the fence about it. Why? Sure, there are great tracks like "While Everyone Was Waiting," which has an experienced, funktastical bassline; or the slick, smooth "Call For No One Else." These two are clear winners, and while the rest of the ten tracks aren't weak or anything, they kind of slip out of our musical mind. This album is the kind of album that we feel lasts a week, lasts really well, but doesn't have that particular hook (imagine a good ole carp caught, now) that keeps dragging us back. Some of the albums of the last year and a half - Lake Street Dive, Hozier - have, and we think this may be it, that kind of personality to them, that kind of recognition that comes up and makes us want to replay them. Without that here, Alone with a Friend feels something like a ghost in our music collection, unfortunately.

A polished, strong debut, but lacking in uniqueness. Take a pass, but keep your eyes peeled on their next one.

Check out those two singles on Soundcloud, though.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

No Pretending on Ivan and Alyosha's Sophomore

Ivan and Alyosha - It's All Just Pretend
Dualtone Records
-out now
3.5 / 5

Five-some Seattle-ites Ivan and Alyosha come with a strong sophomore album centered on singable melodies, earnestness, and rockin' simplicity. It's All Just Pretend is easy to get into, straightforward, and perhaps not as deep as we'd truly like. But what's here is pleasant and good, filling, and satisfying.

Our favorites come at opposite ends of the spectrum. First, "Modern Man." It's a 70s rocker laden with a bit of reverb, the kind of guitar hook way from left field out of an acoustic ensemble. It's gritty and good. The closer, "Don't Lose Your Love," is more where we imagine Ivan and Alyosha, acoustic and sweet, sincere and ambling. It's a quiet little solo from frontman Tim Wilson. Our complaints come in the form of two goofy tracks - "Let Me Go East," with a traditional bluesy rock strain, and "Oh This Love," upbeat and maybe a little over-accented with horns. They're not especially bad tracks, but don't quite blend in on this collection of eleven. (Neither does "Modern Man," but we can't complain there.) The whole of the album is a bit uneven, but still worth the time.

We're still digging those first two EPs, Fathers Be Kind and The Cabin Sessions, which we still feel are this group's apex. For now. Still, enjoy It's All Just Pretend until they come out with their next.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Newport Folk Fest Fifteen: Friday Picks

It's the time. The time of that season.
Whether you're a fan of the local music scene (see Deer Tick below)
McCauley, just a-rockin' (NFF 2012)
or a fan of Louisville, KY:

The art of Zen. Via Jim James (Also NFF 2012)
You're gonna want to beg, borrow, and steal your tickets to the Newport Folk Festival. Only Friday tics are up on the site, so hopefully you have a REALLY REALLY GOOD FRIEND to help you out with Saturday and Sunday. Here are our pics (so far) for the three-day music extravaganza.

Friday: Iron and Wine and Ben Bridwell
Having appeared on Calexico's latest album together, Sam Beam + the Band of Horses frontman is, from what little we've seen (erm, heard), a lovely, lovely match. Beam's voice is calm, full, confident and just... ahhh, just what you'll need on a hot July day.
-Recommended listening: The Creek Drank the Cradle (Iron and Wine)

Just check out that latest review. They're muy caliente, these gents, and have been giving their Tex-Mex flavor for nigh twenty years. The fact that they're still giving it good is remarkable in music terms, though we anticipate the crowd to be in-the-know on their music. They're complex songwriters, tougher to get than the silky Iron and Wine, but well worth the time.
-Recommended listening: Feast of Wire, Garden Ruin

Joe Pug
We're not sure what kind of crowd Mr. Pug might get this second NFF showing, but his latest Windfall has been getting good reviews, despite our own negativo. The fact of the matter is this: the Dylanesque singer/songwriter knows how to craft a story, set it to intricate guitar-work, and make you grow in the process. Yeah, we'll definitely be there.
(Maybe he'll resign our tee shirt!)
Recommended listening: Nation of Heat (EP), The Great Despiser