Archive for July, 2009

Notes for the End of a Vacation

Posted in Ben Gibbard, Jay Farrar, John Hartford, R.E.M., Those Darlins on July 30, 2009 by AmericanaPulse
Unfortunately, my vacation has come to an end. I am, however, happy to be back home in Knoxville after having some fun in Cooperstown, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. last week. We went to the Baseball Hall of Fame, several of the Smithsonian museums, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, a brewery, a cider mill, and a handful of wineries. All in all, a fun and relaxing trip.

Oddly, it was the first vacation I’ve taken in quite some time that didn’t have some sort of musical bent to it. My wife and I usually plan our vacations around some concert or another, but we couldn’t seem to find anything this time. Unless you count the piano bar insanity at The Howl at the Moon Saloon in Baltimore. If you’ve never been to one of these fine establishments, just picture two guys playing piano and taking requests from a room full of revelers who are all partaking of their favorite alcoholic beverages. They played everything from Garth Brooks to Weezer to Vanilla Ice in the couple of hours I was there. Needless to say, I sang along with every song and had a pretty darn good time. It’s not the kind of place I usually frequent… but it was certainly fun.

Anyway… some musical notes from things that happened while I was gone…

***The coolest thing I read about this past week was the upcoming collaboration between Jay Farrar of Son Volt and Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie. The collaboration holds a great deal of interest for me since the two artists seem to come to their music from different starting points. Farrar is much more the Cosmic-American troubadour while Gibbard mostly plays the role of the navel-gazing indie popster. Regardless… they are two of my favorites, and I can’t wait to see what their pairing yields. You can read all about it over at Paste’s website.

I should also say that I’ve been slowly absorbing Son Volt’s latest release American Central Dust over the last few weeks. It didn’t really grab me on the first few listens (nothing here really has the raw power of something like “Drown”), but has started worming its way into my ear a bit more and more. Jay’s steel guitar has settled down a bit on this release, and he seems to play more in the country than the rock on this effort. Give it a second listen if you have to.

***Paste also had a great conversation starter that went up on their site Monday. Editor Josh Jackson listed his Top 20 R.E.M. Songs of All Time. The top two from my Top Five didn’t make the cut, but it’s still a strong list overall. The greatest thing about it is that you can listen to all twenty songs on Paste’s website. It’s a great R.E.M. primer if you’ve never explored their music before.

***I should also mention that I first came across each of those two links over at USA Today’s Pop Candy Blog. Whitney Matheson, the blog’s author, is a former Knoxvillian (current New Yorker) who posts several daily updates on anything and everything pop culture related from music to movies to comic books to an almost unhealthy obsession with moustaches. My wife turned me on to her site about a year ago, and her daily “Morning Buzz” posts have become required reading in our house ever since.

Music only makes up a small portion of what Pop Candy covers, but I do have to give Whitney credit for introducing me to Those Darlins a few months ago when they played SXSW in Austin. I probably wouldn’t even have opened the recent email I got from the band if I hadn’t read the positive reviews from Pop Candy. I accepted their invitation to attend a Darlin’s show in Knoxville back in May, started playing their music on WDVX shortly thereafter, blogged about them, and started pushing our Music Director to listen to their album. Now, Those Darlins are in heavy rotation at WDVX and will be featured on August’s Tennessee Shines concert broadcast along with Vienna Teng, Shawn Camp, and Guy Clark.

Check out Pop Candy if you get a chance. Whitney also weighed in on the R.E.M. debate with her personal Top Ten.

***By now you’re probably wondering what the picture at the top of today’s post has to do with anything.

As I mentioned earlier, I spent a good deal of last week in Washington D.C. taking in the sights of our nation’s capitol. On Wednesday, my wife and I toured the National Gallery, The Smithsonian Museum of American History, and The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

The Air and Space Museum had a rather large exhibit dedicated to Orville and Wilbur Wright, the brothers from Ohio who designed and built the world’s first successful airplane. The exhibit had a replica of their famous aircraft that took that first flight in Kitty Hawk, NC, design models from some of their earlier attempts, and a bevy of other artifacts.

Included in one of the displays was the mandolin pictured above. It seems that Orville Wright was known to pick a little from time to time, and that particular mandolin was his instrument of choice. I don’t know why that instrument struck me so… but I like the idea of Orville and Wilbur sitting around a campfire at the end of the day and picking out a tune.

As a tribute to Orville & Wilbur Wright… here is a tune from John Hartford that would not have been possible without their contributions.
John Hartford: Steam Powered Aereo Plane (Buy Album)

Random Saturday: Camera Obscura

Posted in Camera Obscura, youtube on July 25, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Still on vacation… so just another quickie today.

Don’t be surprised when this album ends up on my Top 10 list for 2009. This is Camera Obscura with “French Navy” from the album My Maudlin Career.


Vacation: Cooperstown

Posted in Billy Bragg and Wilco, Chuck Brodsky on July 21, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Quick update from the road today…

My wife and I are vacationing in our nation’s capitol this week, but we took a little side trip up to Cooperstown, NY on Sunday to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Personal highlights for me at the HOF included seeing the Cincinnati Reds’ 1976 World Series Trophy, a Reds’ World Series ring from 1990, and the shoes Pete Rose wore when he got hit number 4,192 to break Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record. I’m a die hard Cincinnati fan, if you can’t tell.

We also saw a replica of Joe Dimaggio’s locker and a copy of a letter written to the Major League office by the umpire who made the famous out call when Fred Merkle failed to touch second base and cost the Giants the pennant in 1908. Here are songs about both of those players.

Billy Bragg & Wilco: Joe Dimaggio Done it Again (Buy Album)
Chuck Brodsky: Bonehead Merkle (Buy Album)

Random Weekend Post: Clare Burson & Kathleen Edwards

Posted in Clare Burson, Kathleen Edwards, youtube on July 18, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

On vacation this week… but I’ll try to throw up a quick post or two if I have the time.

Here’s another weekend quickie for ya.

This one features Kathleen Edwards playing the violin with singer/songwriter Clare Burson on Burson’s “Boat of Leaves.” It’s from the show the two played together in Knoxville back in March.

I emailed back and forth a bit with Clare last week, and you’ll be pleased to know that her new album, Silver & Ash should be released in early 2010. Until then… enjoy this.

Essential Album: Arkansas Traveler by Michelle Shocked

Posted in Essential Albums, Michelle Shocked on July 14, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Been on a bit of a Michelle Shocked kick lately, and I thought I’d share this often overlooked gem with you.

Arkansas Traveler was released in 1991 by Mercury Records and was quite an ambitious and far reaching effort for the folkie Shocked. The album reads as a survey of several forms of American music that have been adapted and updated by an amazing roster of guests. In fact, Shocked traveled around the country and the world to record with many different artists and lend a strong sense of authenticity to each track.
For the opening track, Michelle went Chicago to have Pops Staples lay down some of his signature guitar licks on the soulful “33 RPM Soul.” Next, it was off to L.A. to record with an all-star group of session players including Mickey Rafael, Brian Berline, and Mark Goldenberg for the driving folk-rocker “Come a Long Way.” Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, and Albert Lee brought Shocked to Woodstock, NY for the accordion and keyboard (both by Hudson) driven “Secret to a Long Life.”
More traditional fare is explored on the nest stretch of songs as Shocked recorded with the Red Clay Ramblers in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (“Contest Coming”), Irish folk/rockers The Hothouse Flowers in Dublin, Ireland (“Over the Waterfall”) and Alt-Country royalty Uncle Tupelo on a riverboat in St. Charles, Missouri. On the latter song, “Shaking Hands (Soldier’s Joy),” Shocked, Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy, and Mike Heidorn bring a great deal of fire and grit to this reworked tale of a Civil War soldier’s battle with a bullet and his own conscience.
Blues legends dot the next few tracks as Shocked is joined by Taj Mahal in L.A. for the minstrel number “Jump Jim Crow/Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.” Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and Bernie Leadon signed on in Memphis for a rambling retelling of the traditional song “Frankie and Johnny.” Shocked’s version, “Hold Me Back (Frankie & Johnny),” is told from Frankie’s point of view as she begs for someone to stop her from doing what she feels must be done to the two-timing Johnny.
Folk and bluegrass roots are explored once again as Shocked takes the stage with Doc Watson, Jerry Douglas, and Mark O’Conner at Merlefest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina for the live track, “Strawberry Jam.” Alison Krauss and the original Union Station line up join in for the bluegrass romp “Prodigal Daughter (Cotton Eyed Joe)” while Norman and Nancy Blake pick a bit in Georgia on “Blackberry Blossom.”
For the last few tracks, Shocked traveled to Australia to record with Paul Kelly’s backing band, The Messengers (“Weaving Way”), Arkansas for some Hee Haw style pickin’ and jokin’ with Jimmy Driftwood (“Arkansas Traveler”), and finally Texas with Leadon once again for the album closing “Woody’s Rag.”
At the time of its release, the album was not received as well as Shocked’s previous efforts. This was due in large part to her admission that a large portion of the album was inspired by an interest in the music of minstrel shows… a form of entertainment that was popular in the 1800’s and featured white entertainers dressed in black face make up. Today, the shows are widely considered as having contributed to many negative stereotypes of black cultre, and the mention of minstrel shows still carries strong racist connotations.
Shocked, of course, was inspired by the music of the era… not the racial overtones some of the songs represent. However, the presence of prominent black artists such as Pops Staples, “Gatemouth” Brown, and Taj Mahal as part of the project was not enough to silence some of Shocked’s stronger critics, and the album was a commercial failure.
I was unaware of this aspect of the recording when I started listening to this album a few years back. All I heard was the music… and that’s all I hear today. It still sounds good to my ears as a fine collection of traditional tunes updated to suit a modern (in 1991) audience with many strong originals from Michelle Shocked mixed in for good measure. Check it out if you get the chance.
Michelle Shocked w/Uncle Tupelo: Shaking Hands (Buy Album)
Michelle Shocked w/Alison Krauss & Union Station: Prodigal Daughter (Cotton Eyed Joe) (Buy Album)
Bonus: Here is the video for “Come a Long Way” from Arkansas Traveler.

Second bonus: A quick story about how Michelle was involved in one of my favorite concert moments… even though I’ve never seen her perform.
The first time I ever saw the Avett Brothers was during the 2004 Americana Music Conference in Nashville. There were tons of artists in town, and it seemed as though there were always a few musicians in every crowd at every showcase that weekend. The Avetts were on stage at the Station Inn, a bluegrass landmark that was hosting several showcases during the conference. About halfway through their set, I noticed two women had jumped out of their seats in the front row and started dancing together right in front of the stage.
Those two women? Adrienne Young and Michelle Shocked. It was the kind of thing that could only happen in Nashville at the Americana Music Conference.

Charlie Robison: Beautiful Day (Repost)

Posted in Charlie Robison on July 14, 2009 by AmericanaPulse
Turns out this post got deleted a while back. I got no notification from blogger… so I didn’t know it was missing. The Euro blog-police seem to be out in full force lately.

Since I know I was granted the full permission of Dualtone Records to post mp3s from this album, I am putting this up as a repost. I do this because I really like the album and want people who are interested in it to be able to read the review.

I am not re-posting the files, because I don’t want to go through all of this again. If you want to hear some of Charlie’s music… check out his myspace page.
With all due apologies to Bruce… Charlie has always been my favorite Robison brother.

Bruce Robison has had more commercial success than his brother as the writer of such hits as Tim McGraw’s “Angry All the Time,” the Dixie Chicks’ “Traveling Soldier,” and George Strait’s “Wrapped” among others. He’s also had a great deal of success writing for, and performing with, his wife Kelly Willis (her version of “Wrapped” puts Strait’s to shame), and has released several solo albums as well.

For me though, I’ve just always enjoyed Charlie Robison’s work a little more. His songwriting probably isn’t as polished as his younger brother’s, but there has always been an edge to Charlie’s music that I’ve never found in Bruce’s. If Bruce was the sensitive songwriter with songs of love and loss… then Charlie was the carefree playboy with tunes of whiskey, women, and good times with the occasional murder ballad thrown in for good measure.

On his new release Beautiful Day, however, Charlie finds a reason to explore some more personal material. Last August, Charlie, who had for years been married to Emily Erwin of The Dixie Chicks, finalized his divorce. Robison describes the split as “amicable,” but says the process was still extremely hard to deal with. Consequently, themes of loss permeate the album.

In “Down Again,” Robison laments that even though his love is gone, she still shows up in all his songs. That’s mostly true as there seems to be some reference to Emily in almost all of the album’s nine original tunes* (the album’s tenth tune is a subdued cover of Springsteen’s “Racing in the Streets”). Most noticeably, she appears in the album’s centerpiece “Reconsider,” a song that reads as a last ditch plea to reclaim what he once had.

In spite of the overarching themes of divorce and loss that hang over most of the album… there is a silver lining. Charlie Robison acknowledges that his world has been turned around, but also realizes that sometimes there’s nothing as promising as a fresh start and a blank canvas. In the wake of loss, comes new beginnings, and after several listens to this album… that’s what sticks. A man that has been through tough times but comes out smiling with an eye on the future.

Musically, most of the album is uptempo and upbeat… especially the title track, which Charlie says is his way of poking a little fun at his ex. He takes some good natured jabs at her politics and lifestyle while also illustrating some of the reasons for the couple’s split. In all, it’s a very sunny song that sets the tone for the rest of the album. Charlie says he and Emily remain friends, and she loved the song the from first time she heard it.

Beautiful Day is Charlie Robison’s first album in five years… and one of his best. It’s a shame he and his family had to go through what they did to make this album possible. But this album, born out of a marriage ending, presents many new beginnings and hope for more beautiful days to come.

Songs removed

*EDIT: Looks like I goofed on the songwriting credits a bit. Keith Gattis wrote one song and co-wrote another with Charles Brocc. Another was penned by Bobby Bare Jr.

Random Weekend Post: Jenny Lewis & Triumph the Dog

Posted in jenny lewis, youtube on July 11, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Here’s something new I’m going to try to start doing. Just a quick post with a random song or YouTube vid to get through the weekend. I don’t always have much time to post during the weekend… so these will just be quick posts with little commentary to highlight old songs that are running through my head or just something different I want to share.

We’ll start today by continuing this week’s Jenny Lewis theme. I give you Jenny and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog… live from Bonnaroo.