Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - at Fete in Providence, Plus Album Review

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - photo (c) Neil Krug
Fete Music Hall, Providence, RI. Thurs. 7-28-16, 7pm. $17, $20 door.
(Also at Sinclair in Boston , 7-27-16 - SOLD OUT)

This month as been CRAZY with music, just absolutely rotten with it, and we'd been wondering how we're going to catch up on Unknown Mortal Orchestra now that they've made their presences known in lil' Rhody (and now that they're officially on our radar, finally). But wonder no more: we're going. This quartet of electronic musicians balance the eclectic with the outright poppy, driving their choruses straight into your ear, all while taking the most circuitous routes through every crevice of electronica. What is that supposed to mean? We're not quite sure, but basically these guys invent their own groove, fashioned from some of those weirder "pet sounds" you might expect from dudes with an electronic ear. We are super excited to catch them in a couple days. And here's our review of their 2015 release.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Multi-Love
- out now
3.5 / 5

We're not going to lie: this is probably the lowest grade we've given to an album that we've spun up over a dozen times. Maybe even two dozen, in the less-than-month we've had it. Let's get straight to it, then: Unknown Mortal Orchestra's third studio album is just one [bleeping] groove. It really is. But we do have a few issues with it, which we'll get to.

But first...

Go listen to "Necessary Evil." It's the quietest song on this album of grooves, but it's also the best-written. It's got its own svelte horn hook, and isn't as flashy as their single "I Can't Keep Checking My Phone," but "Necessary Evil" is a highlight to our snobbish cultured ear. That single, "Phone," is a blast to listen to, but (and here's where we get critical) the chorus wears on quite a bit longer than it needs to. Other songs on this album also suffer from chronic-chorus-overuse, especially "Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty," and we feel that with a bit of a brush-up just lyrically, this could be an absolutely stunning album. As it is, it's incredibly fun, and a far different direction than on their previous full-length. Which is definitely something we like to see.

Go pick up this album, we're probably rating it a bit too low, and if you're in Providence (or have already scored tickets in Boston) check them out. And say "hi." Worth your money, and recommended.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Green River Festival, Sunday: And Still the Rain

Welcome back! It's been quite a while, hasn't it? This past week has been personally busy... blah blah blah, like y'all really care. You're here for the Green River Fest wrap-up, right?

Good. The right place, this is.

We're going to start at the campsite for Sunday. This conjunto was quite a pleasant morning surprise (photos (C) Matthew Keefer):

There's too many of them! Upstate Rubdown giving folks the low-down.
Upstate Rubdown outta New York State gave the campers a good wakey-wakey on Sunday. There were eight of them, and if you count real carefully, you'll notice we missed their acoustic guitarist (who would be way off to photo-left). This group had lovely harmonies that woke us up from our too-short sleep stupor, and was certainly a pleasant surprise. How sweet of them to serenade us!

The official start of the festival came at the folksy hands of Sonya Kitchell. We enjoyed her strong voice on the second stage, and more than appreciated the fact that her band sported a female bassist. Le sigh!

Sonya Kitchell plus bassist.
Speaking of lady-bassists, we've gotta cut through another act to get to someone we wanted to talk about. So, Kitchell: folksy lady. Winterpills: alt rock with a trumpet (not pictured).

Philip Price of Winterpills...
... and Winterpills' Flora Reed.
We're rushing through, we know. Apologies, regrets and profuse... apologies... that we don't have a whole lot to say about this little Northampton indie group, who've been around a bit more than a decade. We have important ground to cover. Very important. Vital, in fact, to our apparent obsession with talented female bassists, such as...

Kearney and Davis. Note: Kearney, avec no bass.
Bridget Kearney, bassist and songwriter of Lake Street Dive fame, came upon the Green River Fest with her fellow New England Conservatory alum Benjamin Lazar Davis. Their duo, which, if you're familiar with Lake Street Dive's new album (or previous album) might make you extremely excited, left us in a different place. Here's what we were thinking.
The duo of Kearney and Davis tended toward more cryptic songwriting. They were very low-key, quiet, and certainly a total change from the funk-disco-infused songs of Side Pony. It's not for everyone. We suspect it's not going to appeal to many people, quite frankly. But what we liked and appreciated about it was the vast depth and songwriting flexibility that both musicians displayed. This project, we're not going to shout and applaud from the rooftops (yet) but the musicians, we're expecting something deep and truly grand from them in the future. A total shift of gears that betokens deep curiosity about music. Here's a stream of their EP.
And speaking of curiosity, apparently Davis holds his cash in his guitar pickup rather than a wallet. A fifty, no less. Seriously, check our photo. It gave the guitar part of their otherworldly (or third-worldly, perhaps) twang.

We just have a couple more stops to the end. An exciting end we want to get to. We've got a quick stop at these massive shredders, first:

Danielle Nicole plus gent Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars.

We enjoyed the Allstars live, and though we're not too familiar with their studio discography (not familiar at all, to be quite frank) we had a blast watching Luther and Nicole shred the bejesus out of their instruments. She's also on a bass... sigh... just noticed that now. Could do a quick stop, a Trucks stop even, but we've got to be wrapping this up right soon. So let's just do that quick stop, though really, this never seems to stop the music...

Let it rain, let it rain...
Rain made an on-again, off-again, wait-on-again appearance throughout the day. It drenched us and made our under-prepared arse grumpy and disgruntled enough to call it an early day yesterday. But with rain, add a bit of funk (Big Sam's brand (TM)) and now you have a recipe for something truly great.

One soakin' good time, c.o. Big Sam.

We stopped by the second stage... actually, we were invited over by a fellow photographer, Andrzej Pilarczyk. Being of fair cheer and nearing the end of the festival, we came down (almost half-dragged) to Big Sam's Funky Nation and... well... the rest is history. More like memory - memorable. Big Sam knows his crowds, and knows that soaking wet, cold crowds need some hot funk in their bellies to warm them up. And we'll admit, the extended cover of "Uptown Funk" hit the spot, yes it did. But it wasn't one song, it wasn't a whole set even, it was just... the right moment for us. It was perhaps the one moment we're going to take away from this festival.

And likely these people will take it away, too:

Drenched and lovin' it.
That was the magic moment for us. The right music, the right ambiance (rain, that is) = the right moment. One of those moments that you'll take with you. Big Sam's Funky Nation... that one goes up on the wall.

Our takeaway of this festival? It'd be wrong to say we were disappointed with it, and yet, there were some disappointing things about it. One - Saturday went on scheduled until 11pm. If you want to catch anything at that hour, we strongly suggest either camping out overnight (get a camping pass!) or just living very, very nearby. Add to the lateness the rain factor, and we were certainly exhausted and grumpykins.

Two - we felt there was a good balance of acts, between new and established groups, but that they could've been spread through the schedule a bit more. Example? Everyone we came in contact with who liked music - and a few who couldn't give a care about music - we suggested they catch the Saturday of the Festival. With Dawes and Shakey Graves alone, these two hot, new acts were certainly a draw of that day among others (The Suffers, Shovels and Rope). It was a stacked, great day, even if we didn't stay for Dawes (who came on at 10 pm!) - but given our tastes, we felt it was a pretty hefty day, relative to the other two.

Those are our main criticisms. But look at this: the three stages are close enough together to foot to them, but far enough that none of the stages overwhelm the others. Good positioning. Also, compared to Newport (which we'll cover next week, we swear!) this is a small festival. It's got a great, more personal feel to it, and even from the audience you could get close enough to see the stage regardless of the act. We loved that closer, tight-knit feel of the Green River Festival. And don't forget, it was a fantastic price - a bargain for three days of music at $120 - half the price of Newport and not sold out within a few hours. So, if you're looking for a great, intimate and still outdoor festival, we advise you keep your eyes on Green River in '17. Happy Thirtieth, GRF! And many more returns. Catch you next year,

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Green River Festival, Saturday: And the Rain

Hello y'all and everyones.
So we're going to continue our Green River Festival review today, a day later than planned, but a day earlier than what was likely going to happen (due to procrastination). Sorry for the delay! When we last encountered our festival-going hero, the clouds were in the sky on a Friday night, threatening the sanctity of a good set of funk. The threat receded, and now we're back to catch a whole new day, a whole new set of photos (all (C) Matthew Keefer) and wholly new acts (to us) such as:

Lula Wiles, way before the rain.

This trio of young ladies, very recently graduated from Berklee, have a debut album out only a couple months ago. As many of you may tell, Lula Wiles are an acoustic string trio, and as you may surmise, they're deeply rooted in the Americana and Country genres. We're going to quickly wish them a fruitful sendoff, to wherever their fiddles may take them.

After these openers on the main stage,we have a quick little anecdote to relate about this guy:

You're still a #1 in our sexy list.
Gent's name is Anthony D'Amato, and he had a little story to relate to the audience (which we shall relate to y'all). Pandora, the internet radio service, has a complex algorithm for judging how to string along related songs - each song is rated 1-5 on different aspects, weird aspects, like vibrato vocals, or tinniness of strings, or what have you. His original (which we cannot recall, sadly) scored a paltry 1 of 5 points on the "sexy" meter, apparently.

Poor guy, but we can see why. He took about 10 minutes longer to tell this story than we did. Still a nice gent, but if he takes 15 minutes to tell a mildly amusing story on our date...

Actually, we fell head over heels for this lady, anyway. She's lovely, comes from a good musical lineage, and quite frankly knocked us off our feet. We're debating whether we should just put up a bunch of photos of her... well, here's one of Amy Helm.

Miss Amy Helm...
This lovely daughter of Levon was fantabulous. Absolutely amazing. We loved her strong vocals, her kinda country-ish twang to rock, her stage presence and... everything. Hers was the first act that really excited us, that got us into dancing mode. We've seen her around in Eastern Mass touring, and somewhat regretted not catching her. Now we definitely regret not catching her earlier.

She signed CDs, but didn't have records, alas... still, we got away with a brick-ton of photos of her. Good ones. We'd post more, but there are other acts to put up for y'all. Just one more, though, of her incredibly talented guitarist Daniel Littleton:

... and one of her Handsome Strangers, Mr. Littleton.
What a shredder. And now, moving on.

The next act on the main stage was an electric indie rock trio by the name of And The Kids. We caught them a little bit. They seemed to still be cutting their teeth on their instruments, to be quite honest, and didn't really get us going. A little too artsy, if you will. But the electric folk duo that came up next, we did like...

Never leave home without your Shovels and Rope.
Shovels and Rope were an incredibly passionate and energetic duo of Carry Hearst and Michael Trent. There were many times at the Newport Folk Festival that they'd performed, and we'd been elsewhere, and this was one of those times we were glad we didn't miss them. The stars finally aligned, we were able to stick around and catch some firey folk, and then...

As usual.
The skies, the skies are falling! It made like it wanted to rain... and then it rained. Of course. And we were ill-equipped for rain weather (tee shirt and shorts). Of course.

But it was still lovely weather for this Texan soul group. Lovely enough to get up and stay up.

We love Suffering in the rain, apparently.
After their group hurrah, the Texans got down to the boogie. Listening to their debut LP right now, we're convinced that you - yes YOU - should catch them live. That debut, as good as the songwriting is, really comes alive in person. There are some bands that rock the studio, some that rock the stage, and even though we like the self-titled debut, this 10-piece big band really knows their live crowds. Absolutely.

We have to give y'all a nice one of lead soul virtuoso Kam Franklin.

There's too much soul in this lady.
We had a tough, tough decision coming up. Being underprepared and overtired, there were three acts we still desperately wanted to catch: Shakey Graves, Sister Sparrow and the always enjoyable Dawes. But that would leave us off at about 11pm three hours from home and totally drenched and cold. So we stuck it out as far as we could - that is, for a few songs off the new Shakey Graves album. If we were that kind of blog, we'd go back and 4-Star the review - the album is a really fantastic example of a grower, easy to pass off, but hard to forget - but it's what we felt at the time. And though those feelings have certainly changed, certainly grown in admiration and appreciation, we could only stick it through about four (amazing) songs into the Graves' set.

Mr. Shakey Graves himself.
We'd met Alejandro Rose-Garcia backstage at Newport in 2014. He's a totally chill, congenial gent and signed our lovely shirt for us. And onstage, we'd forgotten how quirky and animated he could get. Joking with the crowd about lovers, self-lovers, giving off-the-cuff life advice, he's got a good rapport on stage. "They say music should be a solitary pursuit. Write on your own. But I think that's wrong, I think we can't be solitary creatures. The moment I realized that was an important and humbling one." This quote not actually quoted but totally paraphrased, except maybe for the last line.

Mr. Graves was our highlight of the day, except for Ms. Helm, who had a lucky set devoid of rain to boot. His indie rock is a la uber-indie: definitely an acquired taste. But we strongly suggest you check out that review we linked above, check out And the War Came, and then see him live to perform it. He and Helm were worth the price of admission for the day alone.

That's it (for Saturday)! We'll catch y'all tomorrow for the finisher. Thanks for stoppin' by *tilting cowboy hat*

Monday, July 11, 2016

Green River Festival, Friday: A Quick Recap

We're still recovering from the Green River Festival in Greenfield, MA this past weekend. Two and a half days and three stages of pure, unadulterated music at the Greenfield Community College. It was... draining, yes. But certainly worthwhile.

So as tired as this ragged body may be, we hope y'all give us some leeway with our first day of the GRF post-coverage. We're not going to be graceful, organized, or even coherent. But we will have pictures! (And all pictures (c) Matthew Keefer.)

Pictures like this one, of jazz/funk master Charles Neville.
Charles Neville, in "more cowbell" mode.
One of the covers he and his band played, we swear, it too us two hours to place it. Jazz? Yes definitely jazz. Freddie Hubbard? Gotta be, right? Not Miles "The Fusion" Davis... wait...

It was actually by The Meters, "Cissy Strut." For those of you not in the know about The Meters, they're one of the most sampled bands EVER, and basically no one (but musicians) know who they are. Mega props to Mr. Charles Neville for starting off the festival with some classic New Orleans funk. Much appreciated (even though it took forever to remember who wrote it).

We spent most of our day at the main stage, and have to give our hats off to another fantastic cover, "Up on Cripple Creek." This one we recognized right away, The Band, and those hats off our over-hatted head go off to Dustbowl Revival, straight out of sunny ole Venice, CA. Actually, we didn't wear a hat that day.

Liz Beebe and...

...Zach Lupetin of Dustbowl Revival.


Dustbowl Revival is a fairly large bluegrass band - eight-piece - and we have to say, they really enjoy their fans. They played Friday and Saturday, and always seemed to be around the Merch' tent signing CDs and records both days.You can't be a band without fans, y'know.

Next up on the main stage was NRBQ - aka New Rhythm and Blues Quintet - aka New Rhythm and Blues really-Sextet - there were six of them, alright. We felt keyboardist and original founding member Terry Adams was the most fun to photograph:

Terry Adams of NRBQ.
They play a honky-tonk style of rock, and date themselves back to the 60s. They opened for the first Green River Festival thirty years ago, and it's certainly impressive (and good luck) to get them back again on the festival's big Anniversary. NRBQ was fun, enjoyable, and fresh.

But the night drew on, and we found ourselves waiting for the final main-stage act. It was getting late - past 9pm already - and we were definitely fading. But thankfully we stuck it out, for as enjoyable as it was to watch Terry Adams tickle those (electronic) ivories, the definite winner of the festival for the "Most Enjoyable to Photograph" award goes to Peter Wolf, with his Midnight Travelers. Here's a more visual reason for it:

Peter Wolf. Not Peter and the Wolf, just one person.
Mr. Wolf, in addition to having a ridiculously cool name, has a ridiculously cool stage presence. Which is to say: he's all over the stage. A definitely showman, Wolf oozes the kind of stamina and dance moves (one can ooze those, right?) that you wouldn't expect from an old man, except maybe from Mick Jagger. He's got the moves, too. Here, we've got to offer one more photo (he was too fun to photograph):

...and another of Peter Wolf.
And while we didn't catch the whole of his performance - which was scheduled to past 10 - we did appreciate the fun and joy he brought to that late-night audience. Bravo, congrats, and balloons to you, sir.

Specifically, this kind of balloon:

The mainstay of the GRF.
The original Green River Festival started off as a Hot Air Balloon festival (we chatted up an old fogey driving the bus), and while the weather wasn't wholly conducive to hot air ballooning on Friday - or Saturday, or definitely not Sunday - a few people were able to get their rides in.

We thought that history interesting to a now-music festival that brings in the like of Dawes and Shakey Graves and other indies and locals, and while we were strapped for cash (and no, did not partake of the ballooning), here's to hoping next year's weather will allow a bit more of the original intention, though we certainly did appreciate the groovy folk music about.

We'll catch you a little later for this week for Saturday, a ridiculous and tiring and long (and awesome) Saturday of music and Amy Helm and rain.


Monday, July 4, 2016

Do It Yourself-er Nigel Thomas Does It Well on Travelling Man

Nigel Thomas - Travelling Man
Keo Records
- out now
3.5 / 5

Nigel Thomas has come by our blog a few times, previously in the form of The Foxes. And while he's haunted about in the background, we've finally gotten unlazy and decided to review this Londoner's solo album Travelling Man. How best to describe? Perhaps this way: a Ben Folds-ish vocal range and color minus Folds-ian cheekyness. Slant it a little more pop, a dash more supporting guitar. The sum result? A good (not quite great) album that you'll enjoy sitting down with in the car.

Giving Travelling Man a current listen while writing this up, we're not quite sure where to steer you; each track of the ten is polished, well put-together, well-balanced and pretty good stuff. We think we should start with the instrumentally heavier "Ghosthunter," which swaggers with a confident rock groove. Our main criticism of this track, and many others, is that these songs lyrically don't quite stick in the mind the way the melodies do. So while we have quite a handful of well-crafted tracks, we don't quite find ourselves singing along entranced. Nonetheless, songs like "Drift" and "5476 Miles" hit us pleasantly, and even without us backing up on Mr. Thomas' vocals, these songs come and, yes, drift by well.

A strong step in a good direction; a solid, though not quite brilliant listen. Recommended.

Stream his new album on Soundcloud. And then stream it again.