Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

White Shoes and Landmark (or, 1982 was a good year)

Forget what I said here, White Shoes (1982) is Jack Hardy’s best album. It’s hard for me to say now why my first couple of efforts at appreciating it didn’t do the job. It just sounded like a busted extension of Landmark’s (1982) production values to me. But the more I’ve listened to it, the less easy it is for it to fade into the background. The songs are on average better than Landmark’s, the title track is one of his best-ever ballads, and the hooky production combined with some unusually ambitious singing (relative to this period in his career, not to Omens (2000), which contains his greatest vocal performances), and even some rock and roll howling, generates some fantastic heat, especially on the tracks that bookend the CD, “Broken Heart” and “The Subway.” The former is a nasty folk-rock song, hooked around the line “I like you far better with a broken heart” and featuring some beautifully chiming chords and slow rock beat. The latter sounds like one of the Byrds’ (or even the Beatles’) more psychedelic numbers, combined with some Dylanesque fancy and Elvis Costello-ish bile in the lyrics, whose refrain sounds like a mockery of the Arthurian stories whose gentility and courtly romance Hardy has drawn from throughout his career: “get off your high horse / and who the hell knighted you anyway?” In between, there are blues-rock, country, and folk songs that rank among his best.

I compare White Shoes to its predecessor, Landmark, because, as noted above, the production style is quite similar. Never before or since these two albums has Jack Hardy put so much effort into making his songs come to life, or at least that’s the illusion that they invoke. The signature sound of the album is the male harmony singing, which is something that appears now and then on all the early Hardy albums, but never more often or more effectively than on Landmark and White Shoes. Short of the Roches, Jack’s bassist brother Jeff is my favorite Hardy harmonist. On Landmark, in particular, the male harmonies are all over the album, and they give the album a strangely warm feel, like mariners’ hymns, like folk-rock Schooner Fare. The two albums were recorded with a lot of the same musicians, including Jeff Hardy on bass and Frank Christian on lead electric guitar. The drummer on White Shoes isn’t noted, but it sure sounds like Howie Wyeth, who played on Landmark. A lot of the heat on both these records is due in no small part to Wyeth and to Christian, whose lead guitar work, especially on Landmark, sounds a little like Mark Knopfler or maybe Robbie Robertson from The Band. Christian is a great songwriter himself; check out Nanci Griffith’s version of “Three Flights Up” or his own recording of “Where Were You Last Night?” The drumming is some of the best I’ve heard on Jack’s albums. Listen to the way Howie Wyeth’s power drumming, along with some choice guitar playing, works against the slowly sung, harmonized refrain on “Citizens,” a song that argues that, not only are the migrant illegal workers not citizens, but neither are the farmers who employ them and, just maybe, the rest of us aren’t either. I’m not entirely convinced by that, but Wyeth and Christian help him make a pretty strong (musical) case.

Even by this man’s high standards, I think White Shoes is among his best collections of songs; I’d put it in the top 5, maybe top 3. Thematic coherence is provided by a familiar idea—anger, if not outright hostility, toward a member of the opposite sex—turned a few different ways. There are clever turns of phrase, aphoristic snaps and crackles, and some creativity and detail in the one narrative song, “Incident at Ebeneezer Creek.” With its blues-rock stomp and political lyrics, “The Circus” makes me think of Dylan’s “Lonesome Day Blues." “The High Line” is countryish and fun. There’s some great wordplay throughout “Femme Fatale.” As already mentioned, "Broken Heart" and "The Subway" rock. And the title track. Did I mention the title track? I’ve joined audiences at the Postcrypt Coffeehouse to sing quietly along with this song several times, including once a couple of years ago, as mentioned here.

Landmark is real good, maybe my second favorite Hardy album, or third after Omens or Civil Wars (1994). The opening track, “The Inner Man,” inspired by a story about Hardy’s favorite Irish poet, Clarence Mangen, features a hooky acoustic guitar part and solid drumming. “Citizens” comes next and, with its steady, rocking pulse (not something I usually associate with Jack Hardy) and Mark Knopfler-esque lead guitar part, it is reminiscent of early Dire Straits, a band that was pretty popular in the early 1980s. After that comes “Nobody Home,” and it may just be the best thing on the album in terms of how the production works with the song and the singing. The hissing wind that blows through the song sounds hauntingly close to Jack Hardy’s voice, and it echoes the sadness in the words, especially when the harmonies call out, “adieu, mon ami.” Later comes one of the man’s greatest moments, “The Tinker’s Coin,” with its tin whistle melody, slowly strident drumming, and flourishes on the fiddle and electric guitar. And “Wheelbarrow Johnny” tells the story of a 49er who winds up without any gold, but still makes good by building wheelbarrows for the other gold-seekers. There’s a good guitar lick to that one, usually played with the fiddle duplicating the melody, and those male harmonies again.

I just wrote an entire paragraph about a Jack Hardy album that barely touched on the lyrics. With the possible exception of Omens, I don’t think I could do that convincingly about any of his other records. I would pay money to hear Jack Hardy sing his songs in front of an audience in full confidence that I would be moved. But when it comes to listening to his albums, I’m more discriminating. And Landmark and White Shoes are at the top of the stack, with their careful arrangements accenting the great songwriting that, with this guy, is a given. Omens and Civil Wars are close behind those two, along with The Cauldron (1984) and his two most recent ones, Noir (2007) and Rye Grass (2009).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Danny Schmidt at 318 Cafe

Several weeks back, I went to the 318 Cafe to see Austin artist Danny Schmidt play. (Sound of Blackbirds readers might remember I blogged about a show I did with him in 2009 at this same venue.) One of my favorite listening rooms in the Twin Cities metro, the 318 is a bit of a haul from Minneapolis but totally worth it. And although I play there a lot, I don't go out there often enough to hear music. But the promise of hearing a whole evening of Danny's new songs provided quite the incentive. I enjoyed a lovely evening with friends and ate a delicious meal accompanied by nice wine and incredible music.

Following a brief opening set by local Zachary Scot Johnson, Danny played a full two sets. He played a bunch of songs from his upcoming album Man of Many Moons, his second on Red House Records. Here were the highlights of the evening:

- Better Off Broke
- This Too Shall Pass
- Houses Sing*
- Man of Many Moons*
- Guilty By Association Blues*
- Stained Glass
- Southland Street
- Beggars and Mules
- Stained Glass (don't know how many times I've heard this song but it gets me every time)
- Company of Friends (this one too...damn Danny's great songwriting!)

*coming out on the new album

Becky Schelgel & Brian Fessler Back in MN

Photo by Elli Rader.

Last night I drove out to St. Paul suburb Maplewood to hear folk/country singer-songwriter Becky Schlegel and banjo player/guitarist Brian Fesler play at the Performing Arts Center. Now in Nashville full-time, they returned to their old stomping grounds in fine form, putting on a lovely 2-set concert. There were a lot of old fans and friends in the audience, including some of Becky's old nursing colleagues from Hennepin County Medical Center. No doubt happy to see her old friends, Becky was more chatty than normal, playing special requests for people. Despite the warm vibe in the room, the audience was extremely quiet--maybe partially due to the slower songs they played in the first set. The second set had a little more energy to it...and a lot more banjo! They were celebrating the release of their new album Dandelion (charting at #1 on the Roots Country Chart) so they played a lot of new songs as well as old favorites. Here are the highlights from the show:

- So Embarrassing
- Red Leaf (probably my favorite autumn song of all time)
- I Never Needed You (the first song that caused Brian to break out his banjo, much to the delight of me and my friend Elli)
- Anna (about her grandmother)
- Underneath the Influence of Merle (a new song, paying tribute to Merle Haggard)
- Cheyenne (a song I requested!)
- No Angel
- Alabama Sun
- Drifter Like Me (a request)
- California Night (a song they played for the banjo fans--whoo!)
- Early (her great cover of the Greg Brown tune)
- Don't Cheat In Our Hometown (Stanley Brothers cover--very nice!)

Playlists: Womenfolk (9/14, 9/7 & 8/31)

Here are the last few weeks of Womenfolk playlists, including interviews with Anais Mitchell, an in-studio performance by Joanna Jahn and a special show hosted by Liz Olds. As you'll see, this week on Womenfolk we highlighted this weekend's jam-packed Twin Cities Women's Calendar and also gave away tickets to the September 20th Michelle Shocked show at the Dakota and Keri Noble's CD release concert at the Guthrie Theater.

This Tuesday Keri performs as part of my 8th Womenfolk anniversary special. If there's anything you would like to hear on next week's show, email me your requests through the Womenfolk web page.

Thanks for listening and for supporting women's folk/acoustic music!


WOMENFOLK (September 14, 2010)
Hosted by Ellen Stanley
Fresh Air Community Radio, KFAI 90.3 FM Minneapolis/106.7 FM St. Paul
Every Tuesday, 2-4 pm
*New Releases
**Womenfolk Theme Song

**Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem - Cocktail Swing
album: Cocktail Swing; label: Signature Sounds

Antje Duvekot - Long Way
album: The Near Demise of the Highwire Dancer; label: Black Wolf

*Lucy Wainwright Roche - Early Train
album: Lucy; label: Self (not yet released)

Dar Williams - End of the Summer
album: Out There Live; label: Razor & Tie

*Mindy Smith - Love Lost
album: Stupid Love; label: Vanguard

*Nikki Lang - Feel Better
album: Feel Better; label: Self

Womenfolk Find: Darcie Deaville - Who Needs You
album: Tornado in Slo Mo; label: Redwing Music

*Dawn Landes - Romeo
album: Sweet Heart Rodeo; label: Cooking Vinyl

Keri Noble - Go Proud
album: Keri Noble; label: Telarc

*Anais Mitchell - Flowers (Eurydice's Song)
album: Hadestown; label: Righteous Babe

*Red Horse (featuring Lucy Kaplansky) - Sanctuary
album: Red Horse; label: Red House

Behind Women's Calendar: *Lissa Schneckenburger - Rory O'More/Jamie Allen
album: Dance; label: Footprint Records

Laura MacKenzie - The House on the Corner
album: Evidence; label: Self

*Ellis - Coming Home to You
album: Right on Time; label: Rubberneck Records

Nanci Griffith - Spin on a Red Brick Floor
album: One Fair Summer Evening; label: MCA

Vicky Emerson - Long Ride
album: Long Ride; label: Self

*Becky Schlegel - Anna
album: Dandelion; label: Self

*Meg Hutchinson - Travel In
album: The Living Side; label: Red House

Michelle Shocked - Looks Like Mona Lisa
album: Captain Swing; label: Mercury

Aimee Mann - It's Not
album: Lost in Space; label: SuperEgo

*The Weepies - Please Speak Well of Me
album: Be My Thrill; label: Nettwerk

*Annie Fitzgerald - Hero
album: In Good Time; label: Self

*Mavis Staples - You Are Not Alone
album: You Are Not Alone; label: Anti

**Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem - Cocktail Swing
album: Cocktail Swing; label: Signature Sounds


WOMENFOLK (September 7, 2010)
Hosted by Liz Olds
Fresh Air Community Radio, KFAI 90.3 FM Minneapolis/106.7 FM St. Paul
Every Tuesday, 2-4 pm
*New Releases
**Womenfolk Theme Song

**Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem - Cocktail Swing
album: Cocktail Swing; label: Signature Sound

Mother Maybelle Carter - Storms Are On the Ocean
album: Friends of Old Time Music; label: Smithsonian Folkways

Mother Maybelle Carter - Foggy Mountain Top
album: Friends of Old Time Music; label: Smithsonian Folkways

The Carter Family - Single Girl, Married Girl
album: Can the Circle Be Unbroken; label: Columbia

June Carter Cash - Ring of Fire
album: Press On; label: Risk

June Carter Cash - Wildwood Flower
album: Ring of Fire; label: Dualtone

June Carter Cash - Hold Fast to the Right
album: Ring of Fire; label: Dualtone

Ola Belle Reed - High on a Mountain
album: My Epitaph; label: Folkways

Ola Belle Reed - I've Endured
album: My Epitaph; label: Folkways

Ramona Jones - Whiskey Before Breakfast
album: Wolrd's Greatest Country Fiddlers; label: CMH

Teresa Morrison - Inganess Medly
album: The Art of Traditional Fiddle; label: Rounder

Jean Ritchie - None But One
album: None But One; label: Gateways

Mary Z. Cox - Shenandoah Falls
album: Florida Banjo; label: Self

Molly Tenenbaum - Cotton-Eyed Joe
album: Instead of a Pony; label: Self

Cathy Fink - Cider Mill
album: Banjo Haiku; label: Community Music

Mary Z. Cox - Elzic's Farewell
album: Vibtage Banjo; label: Self

Cathy Fink - Sandy River Belle
album: Banjo Haiku; label: Community Music

Mary Z. Cox - Sandy River Belle
album: Vintage Banjo; label: Self

Vicki Genfan - Atomic Reshuffle
album: Upclose and Personal; label: Harmonic Touch

Rory Block - Guitar Ditty
album: La Guitarra; label: Vanguard

Jennifer Barton - Whammy Damage
album: La Guitarra; label: Vanguard

Elizabeth Cotton - Wilson Rag
album: La Guitarra; label: Vanguard

Wendy Grossman - Kemp's Gigue
album: Women's Guitar Workshop; label: SGGW

Laura Silverstein - All-American Medly
album: Auditory Allusions; label: Self

Jane Rothfield - Rock That Cradle Joe
album: In the Moment; label: Self

Notorious - Whiplash/Greasy Coat
album: Elkins; label: Black Socks

Laurie Lewis - Sleepy-Eyed John/Tom & Jerry
album: The Oak and the Laurel; label: Rounder

Rayna Gellert - Grey Eagle
album: Starch and Iron; label: Self

Rayna Gellert - Fall On My Knees
album: Starch and Iron; label: Self

Heartbeats - Cotton-Eyed Joen
album: Spinning World; label: Green Linnet

Buffalo Gals - Don't Fence Me In
album: Buffalo Moon; label: Self

DitchLillies - Sally In the Garden Sifting Sand/Catnip
album: Drifting; label: Self

*Carolina Choclate Drops - Hit 'Em Up Style
album: Geniune Negro Jig; label: Nonesuch

**Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem - Cocktail Swing
album: Cocktail Swing; label: Signature Sound


WOMENFOLK (August 31, 2010)
Hosted by Ellen Stanley
Fresh Air Community Radio, KFAI 90.3 FM Minneapolis/106.7 FM St. Paul
Every Tuesday, 2-4 pm
*New Releases
**Womenfolk Theme Song

**Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem - Cocktail Swing
album: Cocktail Swing; label: Signature Sound

Rosanne Cash - World Without Sound
album: Black Cadillac; label: Capitol

*Carrie Rodriguez - Big Love
album: Love and Circumstance; label: Ninth Street Opus

Keri Noble - Ooh-Oh
album: Keri Noble; label: Telarc

Eliza Gilkyson - Requiem (live)
album: Requiem (Single); label: Red House

*Sally Spring - Lake Pontchartrain
album: Made of Stars; label: Sniffinpup Records

Womenfolk Find: *The Flyin' A's (featuring Hilary Claire Adamson) - Killing Me
album: 'Til They Shut It Down; label: Flying-A Records (not yet released)

Anais Mitchell - Hades & Persephone
album: The Brightness; label: Righteous Babe

Anais Mitchell - Shenandoah
album: The Brightness; label: Righteous Babe

Anais Mitchell - Phone Interview
album: Live; label: KFAI

*Anais Mitchell - Flowers (Eurydice's Song)
album: Hadestown; label: Righteous Babe

Behind Women's Calendar: *Shannon Heaton - 99 High
album: The Blue Dress; label: Self

Harbor Collective - Till & Sow
album: The Monday EP; label: Super Solar

*Ashleigh Still & Nick Salisbury - Firefly
album: Firefly; label: Self

Joanna Jahn - What You Don't Know
album: Live in the Studio; label: KFAI

Joanna Jahn - Too Old
album: Live in the Studio; label: KFAI

*Chastity Brown - Push You Away
album: High Noon Teeth; label: Self

*Lucy Wainwright Roche - Open Season
album: Lucy; label: Self

Laurie Lewis - Blue Days, Sleepless Nights
album: Seeing Things; label: Rounder

**Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem - Cocktail Swing
album: Cocktail Swing; label: Signature Sounds

Friday, September 17, 2010

Griffin House w/ Tyler James @ The Iron Horse, September 16th, 2010

I hadn't known much about this guy and his band before last night. Only that they sounded a bit like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and that House himself looks a little like I'd imagine Dan Bern to look if he'd spent a couple of weeks living on the street. Looking for something to do that night, I noticed they were playing, and off I went to the ole' Iron Horse for the show, accompanied by my friend Merideth.

The opener was a guy named Tyler James. He played keyboards, guitar, and some trumpet, and he used his pedals to loop some guitar and keyboard parts to conjure a one-man band sound. He was good at it. I was struck my how young he looked and impressed that he went out of his way to joke about it: he's 28 but he looks 15, and that's what he told us. He played around 40 minutes of music altogether and, by the end, I'd become fond of his voice which, when we he really trying, sounded soulful. One song included the line "constance of becoming," which is something I like to think about, and I think my man Chris Smither thinks about too. "All I Got" used the keyboard sound that I associate with Creedence's "Long as I Can See the Light." What could have been his strongest song was a hymn that, after he looped a couple of trumpet parts and sat down at the keyboard, he announced he'd forgotten the words to. We laughed, and he eventually remembered and sang the song. Beyond that, he was basically a slightly above average song-poet. Good love songs well-sung.

Griffin House are a good band. The lead singer does sound a bit like Tom Petty. And he looks how I'd imagine Dan Bern to look after a night of drinking and several nights spent in a ditch. They are basically a country-ish rock band. Their lead guitarist plays simple but effective solos, and the rhythm section is solid. They veered close enough to old-school rockabilly that I was not surprised when they whipped out "I Fought the Law" and "Folsom Prison Blues" and even less surprised that they both sounded great. They also did some quiet ballads, one of which, "The Guy That Says Goodbye," I found genuinely touching. They did a murder ballad, which they have yet to record, that's based on the singer's high school recollection of having his girlfriend stolen by the school's basketball star. Many of their songs reminded me a little of Tyler James' in fact. More so than James, GH relies on simple lyrics, often-repeated, taking on the feel of a mantra.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Rock and Roll Promoter Goes Broadway

As I mentioned off-handedly back in May, Bono and the Edge have composed music for the new Spider-Man musical that is set to open on Broadway.

The Times has a story today that describes how Bono called in Michael Cohl, who has helped U2 and the Rolling Stones launch some of their huge concert tours, to take over the production duties when it looked like the show might not come to fruition. (Bono and the Edge and Michael Cohl all have apparently chipped in some cash to what has become the most expensive Broadway musical ever, as well.)

The story of Cohl's ascent from high school dropout to all-star producer is, um, inspiring, maybe:
A Toronto native, Mr. Cohl left high school and took jobs as a taxi driver and parking lot manager before becoming a partner in an Ottawa strip club. He developed an early love for playing banjo and folk music, and fell hard for rock ’n’ roll at his first concert, a Grateful Dead-Jefferson Airplane double bill. (He could not remember the year; his memory of long-ago concerts has, not surprisingly, a haze about it.)

His first outing as a rock promoter in 1970 was a big flop: he booked the 17,000-seat Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto for Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, but sold so few tickets that he didn’t have the money to pay the band. As Mr. Cohl recalled, Mr. Owens sat in protest in his dressing room until Mr. Cohl borrowed $25,000 on the spot from the arena’s owner so the act could go on.

An all-night New Year’s Eve concert during that period netted enough money for Mr. Cohl to repay the debt, but the boom-and-bust cycle continued; he once had to borrow $30,000 from his Uncle Murray to keep going. Over time, Mr. Cohl became the pre-eminent Canadian rock promoter, and his involvement in Rolling Stones shows there led to a career breakthrough when he became the chief promoter on the band’s worldwide “Steel Wheels” tour that began in 1989.
Once again, without risk, there is no reward, I guess...

Steve Martin Writes Atheist Hymn

Steve Martin has been on tour with the Steep Canyon Rangers for a lot of the year. Here is an original tune that he wrote to fill the void in the world of atheist hymns:

(HT: Nick Novia.)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

U2 Goalie Mask

That's Martin Prusek from Dynamo Riga in Russia’s KHL hockey league. From this post.

(HT: Neil Baer.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Bob Dylan on Guitar

Well, it was 45 years ago this year that Bob Dylan plugged in at Newport (although I recently embarrassed myself by insisting that it had been 1964), but the more noteworthy item is perhaps the fact that Bob is back to picking up the guitar again these days.

The last few years, Dylan has spent his shows behind a keyboard. Whether because he doesn't have the strumming dexterity that he used to have or because it's easier to read the lyrics while standing at a synthesizer, Dylan has been pounding the 88s rather than strumming the six.

According to Andy Greene's review in Rolling Stone of Dylan's August 4th kickoff of his fall U.S. tour in Austin, Texas, he spent half the night either on guitar or else "gripping the mic and prowling the stage Frank Sinatra-style." The keyboard is still his resting place for the other half of the night, but that is still a pretty impressive change.

I did some spot checking over at BobLinks' list of 2010 setlists, and it seems that this trend started much earlier in 2010 -- shows in Japan and Eastern Europe featured Bob on guitar or standing centerstage.

This all sounds very cool to me!

Bonus: Bill Pagel over at BobLinks also has organized a list of what songs were played on what dates -- what fun!