Archive for August, 2008

Spencer Bohren and New Orleans

Posted in Spencer Bohren on August 31, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Three years ago this weekend, New Orleans and the Gulf Coast were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Now New Orleans is being evacuated as the city once again finds itself in the path of another storm. As of this writing, Hurricane Gustav is a category 4 storm just over a day away from making landfall in Louisiana.

Friday night, as I was leaving the radio station after my air shift, I was listening to the blues show that follows me on Friday Nights (Johnny Mac’s Friday Night Blues Attack). Johnny Mac was playing music by artists from the New Orleans area who had been affected by Katrina. The first song he played that night was “The Long Black Line” by Spencer Bohren.

Bohren (pictured above) is a native of New Orleans. He is a multi-talented individual who creates shadowbox artwork, does educational presentations on the history of blues music, and is a respected blues musician who has appeared on A Prairie Home Companion and toured with The Blind Boys of Alabama. In 2005, Spencer Bohren lost his home to Hurricane Katrina.

The song “The Long Black Line” was his account of post Katrina New Orleans. The title refers to the line of waste and debris left behind on the city in the wake of receding flood waters. The lines marked the highest points the water reached during the flood. I wish I had a copy of that song to share with you, but I do not. Friday night was the first time I ever heard it.

It did remind me of a conversation I had with Spencer Bohren back in November of 2005 when I was host of Americana Crossroads at Morehead State Public Radio. The interview took place just a few short months after Katrina had ravaged his hometown, and Bohren was obviously shaken by some of the things he had seen. On the air that night, he shared some of his experiences with me about trying to rebuild his home and his hometown.

The following is an excerpt from my interview with Spencer Bohren from November 2005. This is a piece I put together to air on a daily news magazine show that I produced at the the time. I actually uncovered it earlier this week when I found my old radio audition reel.

Interview with Spencer Bohren

You can find out more about Bohren at his website… www.spencerbohren.com. He wrote several letters and essays about his experiences with Katrina and his love for New Orleans. You can find them here. I certainly hope that Bohren and the people of New Orleans don’t have to tell these same stories over again in the wake of Gustav.

So this post isn’t a total downer… here is a sample of Bohren’s music. This is my favorite Bohren track. It’s one called “Born in a Biscayne” from the CD Vintage.

Spencer Bohren: Born in a Biscayne (Buy Album)

Friday Top 5: Kathleen Edwards

Posted in Kathleen Edwards, Top 5 on August 29, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

It’s time to introduce a new feature here at AFCLAAWB. The Friday Top 5.

Every time my wife and I take a long car trip together, we inevitably end up playing a game we like to call “Top 5.” The rules are simple. One of us comes up with a category and the other has to name their five favorite things that fall under that category. She may start by asking me my five favorite Cincinnati Reds (E. Davis, B. Larkin, J. Rijo, S. Casey, T. Browning). I’ll counter by asking her to name her five favorite Washington Redskins (M. Rypien, D. Green, A. Monk, G. Clark, C. Portis), and we go on from there.

Eventually, the topics will always turn to music… and that’s when things get tough. Ask me to pick my five favorite R.E.M. albums, and I’ll agonize over the decision for hours. Ask me to pick my five favorite R.E.M. songs? It may take weeks… months even.

The point is that picking my five favorite songs from any artist isn’t always easy, but I’m willing to make the tough choices here every Friday. R.E.M. will have to wait a few weeks after I’ve actually narrowed things down to my top 50.

Today… it’s Kathleen Edwards.

Kathleen Edwards is a Canadian singer songwriter who now has three albums under her belt: 2003’s Failer, 2005’s Back to Me, and 2008’s Asking for Flowers. Probably the best way I could describe Edwards’ music to someone who had never heard it would be to tell them to imagine what Lucinda Willams’ and Tom Petty’s daughter might sound like if she grew up listening to Neil Young records.

In chronological order… My five favorite Kathleen Edwards songs are “Six O’Clock News” from Failer, “In State,” “Back to Me,” and “What are You Waiting For?” from Back to Me, and “Asking for Flowers” from Asking for Flowers.

“Six O’Clock News” was the first Kathleen Edwards song I ever heard, and the one that drew me in to her music.

“In State” is a sort of prequel to “Six O’Clock News”… Edwards’ failed attempt to avert the impending tragedy.

“Back to Me” was an immediate favorite of mine for the veiled sexual innuendo in the chorus and the Petty-style guitar solo.

“What Are You Waiting For?” delivers the quintessential Kathleen Edwards lyric roughly 1:45 into the song. If you wondered why she publishes her songs under the name Potty Mouth Music… wonder no more.

“Asking for Flowers” is, I think, one of the best songs Edwards has written. It chronicles a relationship gone south through the eyes of a woman who is tired of having to ask her man to be nice to her.

So many songs could have gone here… but there is only room for five. I stand by these choices.

Kathleen Edwards: Six O’Clock News (Buy Album)
Kathleen Edwards: In State (Buy Album)
Kathleen Edwards: Back to Me (Buy Album)
Kathleen Edwards: What Are You Waiting For? (Buy Album)
Kathleen Edwards: Asking for Flowers (Buy Album)

Friendly Reminder: Tennessee Shines

Posted in Jim Lauderdale, Tennessee Shines on August 27, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

The man pictured above is Grammy winner Jim Lauderdale. He is the host of Tennessee Shines, a new monthly concert series hosted by WDVX Radio and AC Entertainment here in Knoxville.

This is just a reminder to everyone that you can listen to the inaugural edition of Tennessee Shines tonight (Wednesday) beginning at 7:00 Eastern Time. Just go to http://www.wdvx.com/ and click on the listen online feature on the top left of the page.

Tonight’s show will feature performances from the everybodyfields, Shawn Camp, The Steeldrivers, and Darrell Scott. Should be a heck of a show. You can find out more about the show and hear samples from the artists at a previous post I made here. There’s also more at http://www.tennesseeshines.com/.

Here’s a track from Jim Lauderdale to tide you over until tonight…

Jim Lauderdale: Goodbye Song (Buy Album)

On the Side: Peter Buck

Posted in Hindu Love Gods, Peter Buck, R.E.M., The Baseball Project, The Minus 5, Tuatara, Uncle Tupelo on August 26, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Last week, over at the Star Maker Machine blog, I posted about a band called Tuatara that features R.E.M.’s Peter Buck

That got me thinking about Buck and his seemingly endless work on side projects outside of his main work with R.E.M. Today I’m going to take a closer look at Peter Buck and some of the work he’s done on the side

First, though, we have to start with R.E.M. The band from Athens, GA is my favorite of all time, and that will never change. I love Michael Stipe’s murky lyrics on those early IRS Records releases. Bill Berry and Mike Mills form a tight rhythm section on those releases as well, all while providing some beautiful harmonies and counter-melodies for Stipe to sing over. Of course, the foundation for all of this comes from Buck’s chiming Rickenbacker guitar.

Two of the best examples of Buck’s guitar sound are found on “Pretty Persuasion” from 1984’s Reckoning and “These Days” from 1986’s Life’s Rich Pageant (my favorite R.E.M. album).

R.E.M.: Pretty Persuasion (Buy Album)
R.E.M.: These Days (Buy Album)

In 1984, Buck, Berry, and Mills from R.E.M. hooked up with songwriter Warren Zevon (“Werewolves of London”) to form an underground supergroup called The Hindu Love Gods. The ad hoc quartet released one single in 1985 and then reconvened in 1987 to work on Zevon’s solo album, Sentimental Hygiene. One night during the Hygiene sessions the musicians stayed late in the studio. With the aid of a little alcohol, they recorded an album that would finally be issued in 1990 as a self-titled Hindu Love Gods release. The album mostly is made up of boozy electric covers of classic blues songs… and an interesting take on Prince’s “Raspberry Beret.” This album will be re-issued by Rhino Records August 26th.

Here is that Prince cover and a raucous version of Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle.”

Hindu Love Gods: Raspberry Beret (Buy Album)
Hindu Love Gods: Wang Dang Doodle (Buy Album)

In 1992, Buck stepped into the studio with Uncle Tupelo as producer of their album March 16-20, 1992, an acoustic album named after the dates it was recorded. The members of Uncle Tupelo lived at Buck’s home in Athens during the recording sessions and would arrange material with Buck at night so they could have songs ready to go for the studio during the day. The mandolin played by Tupelo sideman Brian Henneman on the record is the same one played by Buck on R.E.M.’s mega-hit “Losing My Religion.”

Presented here are the instrumental, “Sandusky,” and the bootlegger’s anthem, “Moonshiner.”

Uncle Tupelo: Sandusky (Buy Album)
Uncle Tupelo: Moonshiner (Buy Album)

In 1996, Buck joined his friends drummer Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees, bassist Justin Harwood from Luna, and horn player Skerik from Garage a Trois to form the band Tuatara. Tuatara plays instrumental music that blends elements of jazz and rock into a type of world music that often has a decidedly Eastern feel. Again, I posted more on Tuatara over at Star Maker Machine.

Here are two tracks that were co-written by Peter Buck. “Land of Apples” comes from the 1997 debut album Breaking the Ethers, while “L’Espionnage Pomme de Terre” is from 1998’s Trading with the Enemy.

Tuatara: Land of Apples (Buy Album)
Tuatara: L’Espionnage Pomme de Terre (Buy Album)

One of Buck’s longest running side projects is a band called The Minus 5. Formed in 1995, The Minus 5 is fronted by Scott McCaughey of The Young Fresh Fellows and features a rotating cast of musicians, almost always including Peter Buck. McCaughey has long toured with R.E.M. as an extra musician, so the pairing with Buck seems natural. In 2003, McCaughey and Buck collaborated the band Wilco for a Minus 5 album called Down with Wilco.

The album draws heavily from 60’s pop acts like The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Two fine examples are the bouncy “Retrieval of You” and the more sombre “Daggers Drawn.”

The Minus 5: Retrieval of You (Buy Album)
The Minus 5: Daggers Drawn (Buy Album)

Buck’s most recent collaboration with McCaughey was released earlier this year on Yep Roc under the name, The Baseball Project. For this project, McCaughey joined with Steve Wynn of The Dream Syndicate to pen a collection of songs about our national past time. Buck was enlisted to play guitar on the album. The song posted here, “Past Time,” pays tribute to several fondly remembered characters and events of baseball lore. “Past Time” recalls Oscar Gamble’s afro, Pete Rose’s collision with Ray Fosse, and Denny McClain’s short-lived recording career.

The Baseball Project: Past Time (Buy Album)

This is by no means an exhaustive or complete list of Buck’s work over the last 25 years, but I think it’s a nice place to start. Buck’s primary band R.E.M. released Accelerate earlier this year, a collection of rocking, politically conscious songs that has been hailed as a return to form for the band. And although R.E.M. is still going strong… I’m sure we’ll see some more side projects from Peter Buck in the future.

Death Cab for Cutie: Plans

Posted in Death Cab for Cutie on August 25, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

We’re straying a little off the Americana path again today to focus on an album that I’ve been revisiting lately and have learned to like quite a bit. It’s the 2005 release from Death Cab for Cutie, Plans.

I first became aware of Death Cab for Cutie after reading all of the buzz and glowing reviews that surrounded their 2003 release, Transatlanticism. I purchased that album and listened to it a couple of times, but it didn’t seem to have the same effect on me that it did on the music press. I put the disc on the shelf and chalked Death Cab up as another one of those bands that would be critical darlings but never one of my favorites.

For that reason, I didn’t really pay much attention to the fawning reviews when Plans was released two years later. My wife (who eventually wound up with my copy of Transatlanticism and was converted) bought Plans and tried to tell me how much she liked it. Again… I didn’t really pay attention.

Then I heard the lead single from the album, “Soul Meets Body.”

Death Cab for Cutie: Soul Meets Body (Buy Album)

Just a great, bouncy, indie-pop tune that instantly had me hooked and drew me into the album. On the surface, it’s a catchy, sing-along love song. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll discover the same theme of loss and loneliness that permeates the whole album. Death Cab frontman Ben Gibbard once said he is stuck by the feeling that even the strongest love will one day end in death and heartbreak. While this is a love song, it acknowledges that love will someday die and he wishes to die along with it. Gibbard manages to reign in the hopelessness that his thought brings him and vow to hold to his love close and savor every second of his time with her. The chorus:

“I do believe it’s true
That there are miles left in both of our shoes,
But if the silence takes you then I hope it takes me too.
So brown eyes I’ll hold you near.
‘Cause you’re the only song I want to hear.
A melody softly floating through my atmosphere.”

Much of the same sentiment is echoed in “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.”

Death Cab for Cutie: I Will Follow You Into the Dark (Buy Album)

This is another love song that uses death as the ultimate expression of love. Again, Gibbard vows to follow his love into the silence when their days together are through. He makes the same promise he made in “Soul Meets Body” to hold her tight even until they go toward the blinding light together.

“Love of Mine, someday you will die.
But I’ll be close behind.
I’ll follow you into the dark.
No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white.
Just our hands clasped tight
Waiting for the hint of a spark.”

If the first two songs I’ve mentioned share the promise to love each other until the end, then “What Sarah Said” makes good on those promises.

Death Cab for Cutie: What Sarah Said (Buy Album)

“What Sarah Said” is the most moving track on the album… a piano driven ballad that takes place in a hospital waiting room. Someone, it seems, is slipping away from Gibbard and he paints the picture beautifully. From the TV that no one can bear to watch, to the smell of ammonia, to the nervous pacing of the loved ones who are waiting for news… the listener is drawn into the room as well. Finally, the nurse comes in to deliver the news, but we never get to hear it. The narrator is too preocupied with what it actually was that Sarah said to hear the nurse at all.

“‘Cause there’s no comfort in the waiting room.
Just nervous paces bracing for bad news.
Then the nurse comes around and everyone lifts their heads,
But I’m thinking of what Sarah said.
That love is watching someone die.”

I know this all seems very depressing, and Plans is the album that my wife says makes her want to kill herself. In fact, my first plan for this post was to simply list every track on the album along with the most depressing lyric in each song. There are lines on this disc about sorrow dripping through your heart like a leaky faucet, builiding a house for someone in your heart made out of rotten wood, and being aimless and filled with crippling doubt.

But then I realized there’s a little more here. The sadness faced by the characters in these songs is bred from their love and devotion. There will be sadness in life. That’s a fact. The key is to find that one person to hold near that will keep that sweet melody floating along.

Incidentally, I’ve since been turned around on Transatlanticism as well.

Americana Music Awards: Lifetime Achievement Award for an Executive

Posted in Americana Music Awards, Austin City Limits, Dave Alvin, Steve Earle on August 23, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

This week, we’ve been focusing on the Lifetime Achievement Award winners at this year’s Americana Music Honors & Awards. The honors will be handed out less than a month from now at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

This year, the Lifetime Achievement Award for an Executive goes to Terry Lickonia from the long-running television series Austin City Limits. Lickonia took over ACL in 1978 and has produced more than 800 episodes of the show in the last thirty years. Under Lickonia’s guidance, ACL became the only television program to ever be honored with the National Medal Arts.

For those who don’t know, Austin City Limits is television’s longest running live concert program and, in my house, is must see viewing on Saturday nights. Since I’ve started watching regularly over the past few years, ACL has brought a wide variety of artists into my living room. Nickel Creek, Robert Randolph, My Morning Jacket, Tift Merritt, Patty Griffin, Rilo Kiley, Alejandro Escovedo, and R.E.M. just to name a few. Some were old favorites I’ve seen again and again. Others were artists new to the scene or just new to me.

A few years ago, Austin City Limits and New West Records began releasing a series of CDs and DVD from the ACL archives. You can find out more about them at http://www.acldvd.com/

Here are a couple of tracks from the live Austin City Limits CD series.

Steve Earle: Guitar Town (Buy Album)
Dave Alvin: Dry River (Buy Album)

LeRoi Moore: 1961–2008

Posted in Dave Matthews Band, LeRoi Moore on August 21, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

I wasn’t planning on posting anything today, but last night I heard the news of the passing of LeRoi Moore of the Dave Matthews Band. Moore was injured in an ATV accident in June on his farm near Charlottesville, VA. He died Tuesday in a Los Angeles hospital from complications stemming from his injuries.

Admittedly, I’ve lost track of the Dave Matthews Band over the last couple of years, but their music was an ever present part of my college experience. I traded recordings of live shows with other fans, spent too much time on the message boards at (the now defunct) nancies.org, and drove from state to state to attend show after show. The DMB, and Moore’s saxophones, made up a large part of my music listening during those years. I’ve been revisiting some of that music today.

On stage and off, LeRoi Moore was the quiet one of the group. He didn’t dance around like front man Dave Matthews. He wasn’t demonstrative like fiddle player Boyd Tinsley. He wasn’t outspoken like bass player Stefan Lessard. He wasn’t a blur of motion like drummer Carter Beauford. Moore stood on the side of the stage with his shades and his sax and he played. And I listened.

Here are a few tracks that highlight LeRoi Moore and his playing. The first comes from the oft-bootlegged “Lillywhite Sessions,” a collection of songs recorded with producer Steve Lillywhite in 1999 and 2000 that were never officially released. This version of “Bartender” is, I believe, LeRoi’s strongest moment as he plays dueling saxophones during the song’s extended outro. The “buy album” link for this song will take you to the 2002 release Busted Stuff which contains a different version of the song.

The second track, “Lie in Our Graves,” comes from the DMB’s 1997 release, Live at Red Rocks. Dave Matthews said recently that he first fell in love with LeRoi’s playing after hearing his rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at a jazz club in Charlottesville. This version of “Lie in Our Graves” features an extended jam from LeRoi in the middle of the song… as well as a snippet of the tune that first brought him to Matthews’ attention.

Here’s to LeRoi Moore, who today is sittin’ on top of the world with his legs hanging free. He’ll be missed.

Dave Matthews Band: Bartender (Buy Album)
Dave Matthews Band: Lie in Our Graves (Buy Album)