Archive for October, 2008

Friday Top 5: Blog Finds

Posted in Andrew Bird, Let's Active, Matt Pond PA, Okkervil River, The National, The Weepies, Top 5 on October 31, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

There’s been a lot of talk around the blogosphere lately about the rash of takedown notices that were issued to several mp3 blogs last week. It seems as though certain labels have targeted blogs, and hosting sites such as Blogger have been removing entire posts without the knowledge or consent of their authors. At least one of my favorite blogs has called it quits over this… and others seem ready to follow suit.

Paul at Setting the Woods on Fire said it best when he said he always assumed he was doing the music industry a small favor by serving as an avenue of exposure for music and artists that might not otherwise have that exposure. I agree with that logic. I know that I have purchased music from artists that I would not have known simply because I found their music on one of the many blogs that I now enjoy. I also have anecdotal evidence to support the fact that people are going out and buying music that I feature here on A Fifty Cent Lighter and a Whiskey Buzz. The pie chart posted above (I have no idea where it came from or how statistically significant or valid it is) would seem to support the argument that responsible mp3 music blogging can be beneficial to the music industry and its artists. Some labels, obviously, don’t see things that way.

This week for the Friday Top 5, I thought it would be nice to take a look at five bands/artists that I have discovered through music blogs over the past year. These are all acts that I heard for the very first time after reading about them on-line and downloading a track or two from the blog where they were featured. I have since supported all of these artists by buying, either through itunes or at an actual music store, one or more of their records. I don’t think I would have bought any of their music had I not sampled it first through the efforts of my fellow bloggers.

Before I begin the Top 5, however, I feel the need to mention once again the band, The National.

I did not discover The National through music blogs. Rather, I discovered music blogs through The National. When Paste Magazine named The National’s Boxer as their top album of 2007, I had never heard their music before. My wife and I decided to do a quick google search to see what we could find. We found the blogs, and we found a whole new world of music.

The National: Slow Show (Buy Album)

Now… on to the Top 5. The time of year that I discovered mp3 blogs was the time of year when a lot of people were posting their “Best of” lists for 2007. Consequently, most of these acts are artists who appeared on multiple 2007 lists. For all of these artists, I will post one of the first tracks that I found online and one track that I purchased after the fact.

We’ll start with Andrew Bird. Andrew’s Armchair Apocrypha was seemingly on everyone’s list for 2007, and I was eventually tempted to test him out. As I mentioned last week, Apocrypha is a nuanced album that reveals something new on every listen. A dip into Bird’s back catalogue uncovers an artist who isn’t afraid to draw from a myriad of influences such as swing, jazz, folk, pop, and even ragtime. He is a former member of The Squirrel Nut Zippers and also teaches classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. Here’s one track from Armchair Apocrypha and one from 2001’s The Swimming Hour.

Andrew Bird: Imitosis (Buy Album)
Andrew Bird: Core and Rind (Buy Album)

Next are Austin, TX based alt-rockers Okkervil River. Led by songwriter Will Sheff, Okkervil River is another group that just kept showing up on year end list after list with their sprawling 2007 effort The Stage Names. Unlike the “fake masterpiece” referenced in the first song I’m offering here, The Stage Names quickly became one of my favorites as well. It was a no brainer when the band released their follow up/companion album, The Stand Ins, in September of 2008… I had to have it.

Okkervil River: Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe (Buy Album)
Okkervil River: Pop Lie (Buy Album)

From there, we move on to Philadelphia’s Matt Pond PA, a band with a sound that infuses a healthy dose of pop into its indie-rock base. I was introduced to Matt Pond PA through the 2007 release Last Light and was instantly drawn to the buoyant sound and bouncy melodies on tunes like “Giving it All Away.” I later picked up a used copy of the 2005 effort, Several Arrows Later and found more of the same. From that album I’m offering an appropriate song for today… one called “Halloween.”

Matt Pond PA: Giving it All Away (Buy Album)
Matt Pond PA: Halloween (Buy Album)

On the more sensitive side of the spectrum is a husband and wife songwriting pair called The Weepies. I didn’t know it when I first found a few songs from their 2008 album Hideaway, but I had actually heard The Weepies before. It seems their music had been featured in television adds for The Gap and JC Penny as well as one of my favorite TV shows, How I Met Your Mother. The Weepies aren’t anything fancy, but I find myself comforted by their catchy folk-pop arrangements.

The Weepies: Hideaway (Buy Album)
The Weepies: Gotta Have You (Buy Album)

Finally, the only band on this list that is no longer active… jangle popsters Let’s Active. This is a band I’ve been aware of for some time due to lead singer Mitch Easter’s work with R.E.M. as the producer of some of their early albums. I had just never heard them before. Thank God for Setting the Woods on Fire‘s series on jangly music from the 80’s. I’m still searching for a copy of the 1983 EP Afoot that contains “Every Word Means No,” but I have found two of Let’s Active’s other albums. They’re both full of jangly goodness.

Let’s Active: Every Word Means No (Buy Album)
Let’s Active: Every Dog Has Its Day (Buy Album)

Again… this is just a small list of artists I’ve discovered through this wonderful community of music bloggers that I’ve recently become a part of. On the right hand side of this page you’ll find a blogroll with a list of other blogs that I enjoy reading. Each blog on that list has exposed me to something new or helped me learn something new about an artist I already enjoyed. Please take the time to check some of them out.

Bloggers are music lovers who simply want others to enjoy and experience the songs and artists they love. We aren’t out to wreck the system or destroy the artists we love. We just want to spread the word and spread the music. As always… If you like what you hear, please find some way to support the artists you’re finding on these blogs.

To help me support my earlier theory about people actually buying music they find out about from mp3 blogs, please leave a list of some of your favorite “blog finds” in the comments section. If you’ve purchased any albums you found out about on this site… that’s even better.

MTVMusic.com

Posted in Hindu Love Gods, R.E.M., Son Volt on October 28, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Interesting heads up on something I learned about yesterday from USA Today’s Pop Candy blog

MTV has just launched a website that lets you watch all the videos you used to be able to watch on the network itself. You can find the site at http://www.mtvmusic.com/.

Here are a couple of samples of what you might find there…

Son Volt: Drown
http://media.mtvnservices.com/mgid:uma:video:mtvmusic.com:58850

Son Volt MTV Music

R.E.M.: Orange Crush
http://media.mtvnservices.com/mgid:uma:video:mtvmusic.com:9797

R.E.M. MTV Music

Hindu Love Gods: Raspberry Beret
http://media.mtvnservices.com/mgid:uma:video:mtvmusic.com:58573

Hindu Love Gods MTV Music

Tennessee Shines: October 29th

Posted in Carrie Rodruguez, Cherryholmes, Steep Canyon Rangers, Tennessee Shines on October 27, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

The latest installment of the new Tennessee Shines concert series takes place tomorrow night at the Bijou Theatre in Knoxville. This month, the show will feature music from Ben Sollee, Shannon Whitworth, Julie Lee, The Steep Canyon Rangers, Cherryholmes, and Carrie Rodriguez. Once again, the whole thing will be held together by our Grammy winning host Jim Lauderdale.

You can find out more about all the artists on this month’s show by visiting http://www.tennesseeshines.com/, but I wanted to highlight a couple of them here as well. I’ll start with Carrie Rodriguez.

I’ve written about Carrie before… but that post was deleted by Blogger due to a song by another artist that was included in the post. What I said then, and what I’ll say again now, is that her new album, She Ain’t Me, is quite a departure from her collaborations with Chip Taylor that helped her launch her career. Carrie has mostly put away her fiddle for this record in favor of a more textured sound that really takes her music to a place it has never really visited before. She was able to reach those places with help from collaborators Gary Louris, Jim Boquist, Dan Wilson, Mary Gauthier, and Lucinda Williams.

Here’s one from Carrie’s new album along with one from her days recording with Chip Taylor.

Carrie Rodriguez: Infinite Night (Buy Album)
Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez: Sweet Tequila Blues (Buy Album)

On the singer-songwriter front… Carrie Rodriguez will be joined by cellist Ben Solle, former Biscuit Burner Shannon Whitworth, and former sculptor Julie Lee. In addition to spending time as a visual artist, Julie Lee also spent two years as an English teacher in Budapest, Hungary before moving to Nashville to pursue songwriting as a career. Lee has toured with Alison Krauss and placed two songs on Alison’s 2007 release A Hundred Miles or More. Here is the title track from Julie Lee’s 2004 album Stillhouse Road featuring Vince Gill.

Julie Lee: Stillhouse Road (Buy Album)

For the bluegrass portion of the show this month, we get a pair of high-energy, award-winning groups who are among my favorites currently working in the genre. I’m talking about Grammy nominees and 2005 IBMA Entertainers of the Year, Cherryholmes, and 2006 IBMA Emerging Artists of the Year, The Steep Canyon Rangers.

Cherryholmes is a family band in the grand country music tradition. Parents Jere and Sandy Lee Cherryholmes play and sing alongside their four children Cia Leigh, Molly Kate, B.J., and Skip. All six members of the family write, play, and sing to form a real powerhouse sound that honors the traditions of bluegrass music while keeping it fresh for a new generation.

The Steep Canyon Rangers formed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the late 1990’s and have played the part of the hard-playing, hard-touring bluegrass band ever since. This is another band that helps keep bluegrass music fresh by fusing the music with a rock and roll energy and enthusiasm.

Here are a couple of tracks from both bands that highlight their award winning talents. File all these songs under “love gone wrong.”

Cherryholmes: Don’t Give Your Heart to a Knoxville Girl (Buy Album)
Cherryholmes: You Don’t Know What Love is (Buy Album)
Steep Canyon Rangers: A Ramblin’ Man is a Ramblin’ Man (Buy Album)
Steep Canyon Rangers: Pick Up the Blues (Buy Album)

Tennessee Shines takes place Wednesday night at the Bijou Theatre in Knoxville. If you can’t make it to the show, I’ll be in the WDVX studios making sure the whole thing is broadcast live on WDVX and wdvx.com.

Jenny Lewis: Acid Tongue

Posted in jenny lewis on October 26, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

If you’ve been reading lately, then you know that I’ve been a little obsessed with Rilo Kiley lately. Of course, to be obsessed with Rilo Kiley is to also be obsessed with Jenny Lewis. Well… last month, Lewis released her second solo album outside of Rilo Kiley, Acid Tongue. There’s an awful lot to like about this release, and it stands toe to toe with Jenny Lewis’ first solo effort, Rabbit Fur Coat, and her best work with Rilo Kiley.

For the recording of her new album, Jenny enlisted the help of a few of her friends and tried to recreate the feel of weekend jam sessions that she attended at the Laurel Canyon home of musician Jonathan Wilson. Wilson would host house parties featuring session musicians from the Canyon’s musical glory days of The Byrds, Zappa, and The Mamas & The Papas. Lewis and some of her contemporaries would also sit in on these sessions and fell in love with the communal aspect of the music and the immediacy of the live sound.

When she went into the studio, Jenny tried to recreate that sound by inviting Wilson along for the proceedings. She also extended invitations to her boyfriend Johnathan Rice and friends like M. Ward, Zooey Deschanel, Benji Hughes, Chris Robinson, Rilo Kiley bandmate Jason Boesel, and the ambiguous album credit of “Jenny’s Birthday Party Patrons.” With such a large cast, she definitely had the communal feel. Could she nail the live sound in the studio?

Listen to this track for your answer…

Jenny Lewis: The Next Messiah (Buy Album)

That track you just heard… all 8:45 of it… is actually three songs in one and was tracked completely live in the studio. Lewis calls it the most exciting experience she’s ever had while cutting a record. There are bands out there who could spend a month in the studio trying to record something as dynamic and intricate as “The Next Messiah.” Lewis completed her entire album in less than three weeks. The “live in the studio” approach brings a sense of immediacy to tracks like this one and other up tempo tunes such as the celebratory “See Fernando,” the slightly creepy “Jack Killed Mom,” and the sexually charged (it’s Jenny Lewis… there have to be a few sexually charged lyrics on the album) duet with Elvis Costello “Carpetbaggers.”

On quieter numbers, the immediacy turns to intimacy and warmth. “Sing a Song for Them” is an uplifting number that lilts along over a restrained but bouncy bass line from Jason Leder, soaring strings, and subtle piano fills from Lewis herself before all of Jenny’s birthday party guests join in for the final chorus. “Pretty Bird” also just oozes warmth from the speakers as Lewis’ vocal is caressed by M. Ward’s beautifully textured electric guitar.

To my mind, music works best when it is a shared experience. That’s why I enjoy being a dj and a blogger. It’s all about sharing the music and being a part of helping others experience something that I enjoy. Jenny turned the making of this album into a shared experience with her friends and colleagues. Now she’s sharing it with us. That’s a very good thing.

Jenny Lewis: Carpetbaggers (Buy Album)
Jenny Lewis: Pretty Bird (Buy Album)

Friday Top 5: Top Five Most Listened to Songs on My I-Tunes

Posted in Andrew Bird, Josh Ritter, Rilo Kiley, The National, Tift Merritt, Top 5 on October 24, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

You’ve seen the commercials on TV where the straight-laced nerdy guy argues with the hip young guy about the merits of PC’s versus Macs? Well… for the record, I’m the straight-laced nerdy guy. I’m a PC. I’ve always had issues with Macs and Mac related programs.

I think that’s why I resisted I-tunes for so long. I had always used Windows Media Player to play any music I had on my PC, and it had always worked out fine. I didn’t feel the need to switch to anything else… no matter how much “easier” or “better” it was. I didn’t have that much music on my computer anyway.

About a year ago, something changed. I finally got my first I-pod and began the process of transferring my entire music library to my hard drive. Of course, the use of an I-pod necessitates the use of I-tunes. I was reluctant to use it at first, but now I can’t live without it. I have roughly 13,000 songs at my fingertips now anywhere I go. I can listen to them all randomly, make playlists, and do just about a billion other things with just one simple program. I’m converted.

One of my favorite features of I-tunes is the “play count” feature. It keeps track of everything you listen to on your I-pod and on I-tunes and counts how many times each song has been played all the way through. Since I first started adding songs to I-tunes roughly a year ago, I thought it would be fun to take a look at my play count numbers to see what I have listened to the most over this past year.

Here then, are the five songs that have been played the most over the past year on my I-tunes, my I-pod, and my wife’s I-pod. That means that most of these songs are ones that my wife and I both enjoy, and her extra listens have put them over the top. Most of these songs also appear on albums that got a lot of play around these parts in the last year. A few of these artists have more than one song in the Top 10. Anyway… here we go…

#1.) “Broken” by Tift Merritt
This one leads the count by a large margin. My wife and I both love Tift’s new album Another Country, and we saw her perform live three time in the last twelve months or so. This track was also nominated for Song of the Year at the Americana Music Awards, and I listened to it a lot when I was working on that post… and when I was working on my Tift Merritt profile post. There isn’t really a whole lot else I can say about this one that I didn’t say in those two previous posts. If you haven’t discovered Tift Merritt by now… I don’t know what else I can do.

Tift Merritt: Broken (Buy Album)

#2) “Squalor Victoria” by The National
This is another song that I’ve hosted here before from the band that really opened my eyes to the world of mp3 blogging (more on that next week). This is a track from the band’s 2007 album Boxer that highlights my favorite aspect of The National’s sound… the work of drummer Bryan Devendorf. Devendorf propels the song along with a complex beat that reminds me of a military march sped up to ten times its normal speed. Matt Berninger’s vocals are icing on the cake. Three songs from Boxer were in the Top 10… one of my favorite discoveries of the past year.

The National: Squalor Victoria (Buy Album)

#3) “Plasticities” by Andrew Bird
I can say without fear of hyperbole that Andrew Bird is my favorite whistling violinist working in the world of indie-pop today. His Armchair Apocrypha album is another that I seem to return to time and time again with each listen revealing a new layer of sound. The gentle pluckings of strings and lightly struck chimes in the verses give way to an anthemic chorus filled with brushed drums and fuzzy guitars. This is the one song that made the list almost solely through my listens. I put this on almost every playlist and mix CD I made over the past year. I wanted everyone I knew to hear this song.

Andrew Bird: Plasticities (Buy Album)

#4) “Kathleen” by Josh Ritter
All of the songs on this list were originally released in 2007 or 2008… except for this one. It comes from Josh Ritter’s 2003 release Hello Starling and contains what may be the greatest opening lyric ever commited to tape. When Josh sings “All the other girls here are stars/You are the Northern Lights,” he immediately sets the tone for the song and makes my wife upset that I’ve never said anything that poetic to her. I went on a huge Josh Ritter kick following the release of his 2007 album The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter (my favorite album of ’07), and I’m a little surprised that track got more listens than a few of the songs on Conquests.

Josh Ritter: Kathleen (Buy Album)

#5) “The Moneymaker” by Rilo Kiley
I mentioned this song briefly in last week’s Top 5 and provided a link to the video. This song is simply a boozy swagger through the world of adult entertainment. Blake Sennett’s guitar sets the mood for the song perfectly and provides the perfect playground for Jenny Lewis’ sex-soaked vocals.

Rilo Kiley: The Moneymaker (Buy Album)

So there you go… the five songs I’ve heard the most over the past year. On January first, I think I’ll reset the play counter and keep track of this all again next year.

Happy Birthday Dwight Yoakam & Weird Al

Posted in Dwight Yoakam, Weird Al Yankovic on October 23, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Sometimes you just have to bust out a birthday post. Today we honor two of my favorites… Dwight Yoakam and Weird Al Yankovic.

Dwight Yoakam was born in Pikeville, Kentucky in 1956. And although he was raised mostly in Ohio, I will still gladly claim him as a fellow Eastern Kentuckian.

At his finest, Dwight was one of the few commercial acts who could actually keep the Country in Country Music. Early in his career, Dwight was shunned musically when he first moved to Nashville in the late 70s. His traditionalist take didn’t fit in with a city that was, at the time, dominated by the urban cowboy movement of pop-flavored country. It wasn’t until Dwight moved to Los Angeles with producer Pete Anderson that he began to find a true audience for his work. That seems especially odd until you realize that LA is just about one hundred miles south of Bakersfield, CA, birthplace of The Bakersfield Sound pioneered by artists such as Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.

Yoakam had a healthy respect for those artists (especially Owens) and honored his heroes by railing against Nashville with his own honky tonkin’ traditionalist sound in much the same way Haggard and the Buckaroo did in the 50’s and 60’s. Yoakam’s debut album, 1986’s Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc,. went platinum, topped the Country Album Chart, and spawned two Top 5 Country singles. He would later score a #1 hit with “Streets of Bakersfield”… a duet with is friend and idol Buck Owens.

Here are three songs from Dwight Yoakam. The first is a duet with Maria McKee from his debut album that reminds me of my hometown on the banks of the Big Sandy River. The second is the duet with Buck Owens. Third is the title track from Yoakam’s 2005 effort Blame the Vain. That album was Yoakam’s first without the guiding hand of producer and guitarist Pete Anderson and proved that he could still deliver some two decades after his debut.

Dwight Yoakam: Bury Me (Buy Album)
Dwight Yoakam: Streets of Bakersfield (Buy Album)
Dwight Yoakam: Blame the Vain (Buy Album)

Of course, it’s only natural to pair Dwight Yoakam with today’s other birthday artist, Weird Al Yankovic. I devoured Al’s music as a child in the 80’s, and… even though I’m now 30… I’m not ashamed to say I haven’t outgrown his unique brand of musical humor.

Multiple Grammy winner Alfred Matthew Yankovic was born in Lynwood, California in 1959 and learned to play the accordion at a young age. As a teen, Al began writing comedy songs and eventually caught the ear of syndicated novelty radio host Dr. Demento. Al remained a staple of Demento play lists during his high school years, but his big break came in 1979 while he worked as a student dj at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Playing his accordion in the radio station bathroom, Al recorded a parody of The Knack’s hit song “My Sharona” entitled “My Bologna.” The song became a hit with Demento fans and… oddly enough… Knack lead singer Doug Fieger. Fieger took the song to Capitol Records and suggested they release it as a single. Weird Al was born.

Al is best known for his parodies of popular songs. Over the years, he’s spoofed many of the giants of pop music including Michael Jackson, Madonna, Nirvana, Queen, Don McClean, Puff Daddy, and Michael Jackson. In 2006, Al scored a Top 10 hit with “White & Nerdy,” a parody of Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’ Dirty.” Many artists consider having one of their songs parodied by Al as a great honor. Dave Grohl of Nirvana said he knew the band had “made it” when Al parodied their hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Having Al re-work one of your songs is a sign that you have achieved cultural significance.

While Al is best known for his parodies, roughly half of his output is original material. Here are a few of Al’s original songs and on example of another of his staples… the polka medley. First is “Dare to be Stupid,” a song that describes Al’s philosophy perfectly and caused a minor sensation when it was included on the soundtrack for the animated hit, The Transformers: The Movie, in 1986. In keeping with the Americana feel of this blog, I’m also including a little country ditty from 1986’s Polka Party called “Good Enough for Now.” And… just for fun… how about a polka medley of Rolling Stones songs? Feel free to sing along.

Weird Al Yankovic: Dare to Be Stupid (Buy Album)
Weird Al Yankovic: Good Enough for Now (Buy Album)
Weird Al Yankovic: The Hot Rocks Polka (Buy Album)

Bonus Track: As a tribute to both Dwight Yoakam and Weird Al, here is a track from Al’s self-titled debut album from 1983.

Weird Al Yankovic: Happy Birthday (Buy Album)

Essential Albums: A.M. by Wilco

Posted in Essential Albums, Wilco on October 21, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

It’s been a while since I’ve done an essential album post. Today, I’ll be focusing on an album that I feel doesn’t always get the respect it deserves.

Wilco’s A.M. was originally released in March of 1995 as the highly anticipated first project by Jeff Tweedy after the dissolution of Uncle Tupelo. Inevitably, it would be compared to Jay Farrar’s first release with his first post-Tupelo project, Son Volt’s Trace. Of course, Trace (released in Sept. 1995) is one of my favorites albums of all-time and is widely regarded as Farrar’s greatest achievement and one of the seminal releases of the alt-country genre. It’s no surprise then that A.M. is often undervalued when compared to its 1995 counterpart.

The extra dilemma for A.M. is that it also seems to get lost in comparison to Wilco’s later output as well. The band earned “critical darling” status in 2002 with the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The praise for that album was earned as much for the rights battle surrounding the album’s release as it was for the album itself. Wilco’s label, Warner/Reprise, wanted the band to change the album to make it sound more commercial. Tweedy refused, bought the rights to the album, and released it on the indie-label, Nonesuch. In doing so, he was able to release the album he wanted with a sound that mixed deft pop sensibilities with wild sonic experimentation. There is also a large contingent of Wilco fans that prefer 1996’s double album Being There to A.M. due to its country flavored experiments and departures.

So… If A.M. isn’t a genre defining blueprint for the alt-country sound like Trace… and it isn’t a bold artistic statement that stretches the band’s sound into strange new places… Then what is it and why is it essential listening?

To me, A.M. is a sterling example of a straight forward country-rock album that doesn’t skimp on either the country or the rock. When Uncle Tupelo split, many of the group’s side players and road musicians stayed with Tweedy. Drummer Ken Coomer, multi-instrumentalist John Stirratt, and producer Brian Paulson are all holdovers from Tupelo’s final album Anodyne. Tweedy also enlisted steel guitar legend Lloyd Maines and Bottlerockets frontman Brian Henneman to join the party for the album. The result is a studio crew with the chops to blast out the muscular Stone-style riffs of rock flavored tracks like “Casino Queen,” the right amount of twang to pull off country numbers like “That’s Not the Issue,” and the plaintive restraint to bring the proper emotion to weepers like “I Thought I Held You.”

A.M. is nothing fancy, but what it does… it does very well. Again, it may not make the artistic statements or garner the indie cred of the band’s later work. It does, however, provide a very accessible jumping on point to Wilco, and one that can be approached by fans on either side of the rock/country spectrum.

Here are three songs that show off the stylistic range that the album achieves all while not straying too far from the roots of country-rock.

Wilco: I Must Be High (Buy Album)
Wilco: Pick Up the Change (Buy Album)
Wilco: Passenger Side (Buy Album)