Sunday, May 30, 2010

Review of Recent Crooked Still Show

Over on his blog, A Sunday Kind of Love, our friend Nick has posted a great review of a recent Crooked Still show in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.

He repeats a few of the band's humorous anecdotes and talks a bit about their new disc.

Good stuff!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Artie Shaw as Pronunciation Police Officer

Stephen Holden's review of a Tuesday evening tribute concert to the great jazz bandleader Artie Shaw (whose 100th birth anniversary was last Sunday) concluded with this terrific little anecdote:
In a revealing anecdote about Shaw’s notorious perfectionism, Ms. [Daryl] Sherman recalled his telling her after a performance that it was “divine,” and at first thinking he had paid her an undeserved compliment. She was right. It was criticism of her pronunciation of a word in a song: it should be “divine,” not “dee-vine,” he told her sharply.

Stephen Malkmus Solo Acoustic Show in an Elevator

(HT: Joseph Kim.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What Happened to Folk Mags?

Folk mags, like all print periodicals, are suffering these days. Advertising is down, expenses are going up, and fewer people are spending money subscribing and buying hard copy issues when they can get much of their music news online. First was No Depression (still alive and well in the blogosphere, as you can see here), then industry stalwart Performing Songwriter closed up shop and now Dirty Linen could be next. As you can read in this blog posting "What Happened to Dirty Linen?" the founding editors Paul & Sue Hartman have left the helm. Although I'm not sure if the Dirty Linen radio show will remain on XM/Sirius, Paul will continue to host his show on WTMD in Towson, MD.

Although the quarterly mag Sing Out! missed its winter issue, it seems to still be holding on, and they just released a beautiful 60th anniversary issue. If you are a fan of the old-school magazine that is high on content and true to its folk roots, I recommend buying a copy and keeping such publications alive.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Review of Lucy Wainwright Roche's Last CD, 8 More

I've just returned from 10 days in Indonesia. On the two-and-a-half-hour drive from Urbana up to O'Hare, I listened several times to Lucy Wainwright Roche's EP 8 More, the successor to her first CD, 8 Songs. It's rare that I let a disc spin for a second time -- I'm usually eager to move on to something new. But with 8 More, I was ready to give it three listens in a row, as I was enjoying it so much. Not having ever loaded the disc onto my computer, I wasn't going to have it with me in Indonesia. But the songs were still with me -- going around in my head there in the land of nasi goreng and Bluebird taxis.

I had seen Lucy do her two-song showcase set at Falcon Ridge two years ago (as mentioned and photographed here) and then saw her do a great opening set for Over the Rhine back in December at the Old Town School of Folk Music (as described here). (Ellen plays her music regularly and also mentioned her strong showing at the 2009 Folk Alliance Conference here.) I had listened to 8 More after the Chicago show but sort of set it aside. Now I can't get enough of it. It was the first thing on the stereo when I landed at O'Hare two days ago.

Why is it such a good disc?

Overall, the production is pleasantly sparse, letting Lucy's voice and lyrics shine through, yet it is not so sparse as to feel empty -- there is a lot of warmth in the sound throughout the album.

The disc opens with a rhythmic acoustic guitar line putting down the beat. Lucy starts singing: "They're breaking up; / I'm breaking down, / Leaving town in the rain / This place has needed for a while / Needed for a while." Add electric guitar for the second stanza. Add bass when the bridge section comes around. Add some pleasant soft-picked guitar at the end of the bridge. Turn up the reverb on Lucy's voice to increase the richness and warmth of the tone. Perfect build -- it never overwhelms but instead draws you in; the song never becomes larger than Lucy's voice, making sure that all the lyrics are clear, so that you don't miss the subtle change to "They're breaking up; / I'm breaking out," for instance.

The second song "Snare Drum" is a brilliant snapshot of Middle America. Addressed to a boy, who is told at the end of each verse "And you'll play a snare drum solo in the Friday football light," the song describes economic decay, the toll of war on local communities and the stress of parental warfare. Add in a nice soaring chorus, and this CD already has its second winner.

"University Drive" is about leaving town and leaving a man behind. It gets the sights and sounds right and has a catchy numerical hook in the first line of the chorus: "One, two, three / Two, two, three, one: / Count out the dishes, / They're almost done."

Then we get a spare electric guitar riff as Lucy asks us, "Isn't it funny?" Soon some percussion clicks and some synthesized chords come in low. After asking again, "Isn't it funny?" Lucy asks, "Isn't it simple after all?" and then starts singing the great chorus for the city of Chicago: "Goodnight, Chicago, / You have skies as red as any summer. / Goodnight, Chicago, / You are mine, / Tonight / Goodnight, Chicago, / You have eyes as bright as any child. / Goodnight, Chicago, / You are mine, / Tonight." Thanks to the beauty of multitracking, Lucy harmonizes with herself, but the production gets this just right, and the chorus just sucks you in, leaving you flying above the Chicago skyline. The second verse has newly playful instrumentation. And by the end of the song, you can just imagine that chorus coming around again and again. This one was great live (with just an acoustic guitar) back in December and is great on the album, too. (I also want it mashed-up with the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" if someone wants to get to work on that.)

Batting four-for-four, Lucy keeps going with "Superman," a song by the Crash Test Dummies that features a comparison of the barbaric Tarzan to the "real gent" Clark Kent and reminding us in another catchy chorus that "Superman never made any money / From saving the world from Solomon Grundy. / Sometimes I despair the world will never see / Another man / Like him."

"Spring Song" rolls along in a pleasant fashion, continuing the moving-on theme of "Awhile" and "University Drive" with its message that "It's spring when the year ends, / And I'm not coming back."

An acoustic guitar strum and a new travel destination -- "Coming into London twilight blue" -- welcome us to "Poison." The chorus on this one gets a little thicker with the layering of Lucy's voice, and the imagery in the song is darker: "Nothing like a sister / To break your heart; / Nothing like a spider / To drain it." I haven't quite figured it all out yet, but it seems fairly bleak: "Like ice in the morning / There's nothing much left here / To hold or to have."

The CD ends with Martha Plimpton joining Lucy for a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Hungry Heart." (And be sure to ask Lucy sometime for the story of being too shy to give her CD to The Boss.)

So why do I say that this is a review of her last CD? Because according to Ellen's playlist from last Sunday -- not yet posted here -- Lucy's new full-length disc is out. Well, I, for one, am looking forward to hearing it!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Proportional Non-Dominance of American Music

In a paper called "Pop Internationalism: Has A Half Century of World Music Trade Displaced Local Culture?" Wharton Business School professors Fernando Ferreira and Joel Waldfogel inform us that "trade shares [in music] are roughly proportional to country GDP shares; and relative to GDP, the US music share is substantially below the shares of other smaller countries," which is to say that the U.S. is not disproportionately dominant in the music industry.

The authors also "find no evidence that new communications channels – such as the growth of country-specific MTV channels and Internet penetration – reduce the consumption of domestic music." And they argue, "National policies aimed at preventing the death of local culture, such as radio airplay quotas, may explain part of the increasing consumption of local music."

The figure below shows that most countries export music proportional to their GDP. None of the countries in the data seriously over-export music, whereas a handful -- Japan, Portugal and Argentina, for instance -- do seriously underexport music. (That is, the size of their economies predicts that they would export significantly more music.)

This figure, on the other hand, shows that the U.K. has really taken a nose-dive in terms of cultural relevance. (In fact, to an extent that I find hard to believe.) It portrays the share of the global music trade over time.

(HT: Chris Blattman.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

King of Spain vs. King of Spain

David calls our attention to the latest video from The Tallest Man on Earth -- I've described my and David's adventures with the not-really-so-tall Swede here -- which is for his song "King of Spain":

"But wait!" you say, "Isn't that song name taken already?"


Whoa those guys are young there...

Monday, May 10, 2010

All the Single Ladies Should Go to Business School

Columbia Business School students are well known for their excellent music video parodies that come out as part of the spring Follies each year -- the classics are "Dean, Dean Baby" and "Every Rate You Change," dedicated to Glenn Hubbard and Ben Bernanke respectively.

Here is this year's entry, which contains a few Columbia-area landmarks, too:

Friday, May 7, 2010

Analog Wins But Does Not Defy Death

I learned a whole bunch from the New York Times obituary for Walter Sear.

First, all sorts of people have been recording at his all-analog studio on 48th Street in Manhattan: Norah Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Steely Dan, Wilco, Lou Reed, Joanna Newsom and Bjork among them.

Second, that Bono and the Edge from U2 are providing the music for a new Julie Taymor Spider-Man musical. (I totally have missed the boat on this one! From reading Edge's biography on the site, I even learned that he has written music for a Royal Shakespeare Company production of A Clockwork Orange. Crazy!)

Third, that Sonic Youth must not be raking in the dollars these days:
[Lee] Ranaldo said it has gotten harder and harder to book at Sear Sound. “We’re priced out of the place,” he said.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Storyhill/Mother Banjo MT Tour in Pictures

I still have yet to post my adventures from Day 4 of the Storyhill/Mother Banjo tour of Montana, but in the meanwhile, enjoy these photos from the road!

I arrived at the Bozeman airport around 10 am last Wednesday and enjoyed the wildlife statues in baggage claim, like these birds...

...and this bear!

My opening set at Yellowstone Brewery in Billings

Storyhill joined me on "Wide"

And Chris brought out his harp on "Revival Train"

Then Storyhill did a sweet set in front a large crowd of fans

And they got an enthusiastic encore!

Snowy view outside my window in Bozeman

Storyhill getting ready to do live performance at instrument shop Music Villa in Bozeman. You can check out their performance here.

Music Villa's impressive collection of Gibsons...

...and banjos!

Mural behind the counter at The Leaf and Bean in Bozeman, where Chris and Johnny played when they were younger.

Chris' sister Jennifer, Storyhill's agent Renee and me outside the historic Ellen Theatre in Bozeman

Catching up with KGLT DJ Paul Oliver during pre-show cocktail hour at the Ellen

Johnny soundchecks at the Ellen Theatre, singing Danny Schmidt's "Swing Me Down."

Renee, KGLT's Ron Craig and me doing some serious music industry work at Plonk, the hip bar down the street from the Ellen

On the road to Kalispell

Hilarious bathroom graffiti in Butte

The water in Flathead Lake was a beautiful green that day...

...and despite the cloud cover, we still got some nice views of the mountains.

Playing a sold-out show at the KM Theatre in Kalispell

Stopping for gas on the way to Missoula

Outside Missoula's legendary Top Hat, where Leon Redbone recently played!

I talked with singer/rapper Keegan Smith (who played a late show at the Top Hat), and it turns out he's a big banjo fan.

Promoter-musician extraordinaire John Floridis and my new friend Julie Walker, who handled our merch at the Top Hat.

With the boys after our final show together. What a blast we had!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Robbie Fulks at Cowboy Monkey

Back on April 18th -- two weeks ago today -- I went to Cowboy Monkey in downtown Champaign to see Robbie Fulks play. As I detailed here, I had seen Robbie put on an absolutely killer show at the C-U Folk and Roots Festival at the end of September. Having just gotten back from Indonesia, the Cowboy Monkey show was not on my radar, and in fact, I learned about it the morning of when WKCR country DJ Ellen Walkington posted a note about it on my Facebook wall.

I'm very glad that she did because it was another excellent show.

Robbie was excited to be back in Champaign-Urbana. He talked about having dinner at Jim Gould's and getting swept up in the beauty of the prairie sky at dusk. He texted his son, who had studied at the University of Illinois, to tell him about the moment that he was having. His son texted back, "'Tis better whilst drunk!" I gained some insight into the average U of I undergrad from that exchange, I think.

Some other great lines from the night included: "This one's about -- well, whatever: it's in English; you guys can figure it out... Two, three, four!" and, in introducing "Monroe's Hornpipe," "Even jazz guys and guys from Pakistan know Bill Monroe's music!"

Playing with Robbie was Rob Gjersoe on a second guitar. The two of them had a ton of fun together. The atmosphere was relaxed and laid back, right up until the point where they started trading licks. On "Cigarette State," Robbie took a particularly strong break and then turned to Rob, who just looked at him, called him, "F*cker...," and played a single note. (And then he whipped out a real solo.) Rob also impressively smoked a cigarette in about three seconds outside of the club before the encore.

There was one point during the concert where Robbie was talking about life on the road, and he cited Brooklyn as an example of a place that is "not particularly hillbilly." I'd like to say that I stood up and said, "Now, wait a minute, Robbie! There is a vibrant hillbilly music community in Brooklyn! And there are great annual events like the Brooklyn Jamboree!" But instead I remained silent, afraid of ruining my credibility with the locals.

The best new song of the night for me was an old one -- a cover of Bill Anderson's song "Between Lust and Watching TV" (which Cal Smith recorded). A great exploration of the mundaneness of suburban marriage, Robbie introduced it by asserting that country music laid things like extra-marital sex much more out on the line during the 1970s and then looking around the room and saying, "Don't tell me that you guys have sex outside of marriage, too!"

It was another awesome evening of music. I'm almost ready to give up my day job in order to follow Robbie Fulks around the country. He's funny. He's got a great voice. And the guy can pick like a hedgehog operating a jigsaw -- by which I mean that he can pick like nobody's business.

The setlist looked like this:
  • Goodbye, Virginia

  • Push Right Over

  • Waiting on These New Things to Go - hot pickin' on this one

  • Georgia Hard

  • I Like Being Left Alone

  • Cigarette State - burnin'-like-a-Lucky-lit-with-a-flamethrower solos

  • Tears Only Run One Way

  • Guess I Got It Wrong

  • Monroe's Hornpipe/Ain't Nobody Gonna Miss Me

  • She Took a Lot of Pills (and Died)

  • I Told Her Lies

  • The Buck Starts Here

  • Between Lust and Watching TV

  • The World is Full of Pretty Girls (and Pretty Girls are Full of Themselves Too) - written for the late Jerry Reed

  • Billie Jean - from Robbie's brand new album, Happy: Robbie Fulks Plays the Music of Michael Jackson

  • Big Mon

  • Let's Kill Saturday Night

  • ENCORE: Country Boy Rock 'n' Roll - the Don Reno classic

  • Goodbye, Cruel Girl

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Storyhill's Big Sky Tour, Day 3

Yesterday we loaded up the car with instruments, CDs and large coffees, leaving Bozeman around noon. Thankfully the snow eased up as we got out of town so that I could see more of the mountains. This was a new stretch of I-90 for me, and I enjoyed it immensely, going through Butte, through the Mission Mountains and by Flathead Lake.

We checked in at our hotel and then went to the KM Theatre in Kalispell for our soundcheck. We were greeted enthusiastically by the promoter Marshall, who had seen me a couple years ago at Storyhill's Bozeman festival. We had a quick and easy soundcheck and then grabbed some dinner downstairs at Red's Wine & Blues.

Local artist Sarston Noice opened up the sold-out show with a couple of her funky originals, accompanied by her electric guitar. Then Scott of Montana Radio Cafe introduced me as Marshall's favorite banjo player. I played a short opening set and had a great time. A small theater in the round, it has amazing sound and a cozy vibe. The crowd was a lot of fun and turned out to be full of great singers, when they joined me and Storyhill on my closer "Revival Train."

Highlights from Storyhill's set included "Full Circle," "Town Talks," "Caught in a Mess," "Well of Sorrow," "White Roses," and "Sacramento," the second of three songs they did during their encore.

I met lots of great folks after the show, including local musician Barbara Calm, a friend of Sound of Blackbirds contributor Jess Byers. Afterwards, we all had margaritas and fries at the North Bay Grill--a really fun time.

Got some decent sleep before heading out this morning to Whitefish to check out Amazing Crepes. Invited by owners Becky and Todd last night at the show, we were treated to some amazing savory and sweet crepes. (My favorites were the root vegetables/spinach/cheddar/locally raised ham and the apricot gruyere ones.) Definitely worth a trip if you find yourself in downtown Whitefish.

Now we're on the road to Missoula, where we will play tonight...8 pm at the Top Hat!