Monday, February 28, 2011

Suze Rotolo, 1943-2011

Suze Rotolo passed away on Friday. J. Hoberman's remembrances on the Village Voice website are worth reading (and not just because he notes that she "listened to jazz on WKCR").

Without knowing that Rotolo had died, I was listening to Another Side of Bob Dylan last night and having my usual semi-aghast reaction to "Ballad in Plain D," the whiny and vitriolic story of her and Dylan's breakup.

As Clinton Heylin recounts in Behind the Shades, Dylan did at least own up to the song's inappropriateness somewhat. In a 1985 interview, he said,
That one I look back at and say, 'I must have been a real schmuck to write that.' I look back at that particular one and say ... maybe I could have left that alone.
Indeed, Bob, indeed.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Live From Memphis: Red House Showcase

Saturday night I had the distinct pleasure of co-hosting a special broadcast of the Red House Records showcase at the Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis with DJ Mary Sue Twohy. Airing live on XM 15 The Village on Sirius/XM Radio, we got to introduce the acts and chat backstage between sets. Although I hosted a Womenfolk special on The Village a couple years ago, I had never gotten to be on the air live with Mary Sue, and we had a blast as you can see here.

The showcase itself went great with spectacular performances and a great live audience at the Memphis Marriott. Here's what everyone played...

ELIZA GILKYSON with John Inmon on guitar
Playing all new songs from her upcoming album Roses at the End of Time, coming out May 2011.
- Midnight on Raton
- A Place to Fall Apart
- Roses at the End of Time
- Slouching Toward Bethlehem (with Ray Bonneville on harmonica & Carol Young from The Greencards on harmony vocals)

CARRIE ELKIN with Danny Schmidt on harmony vocals
- Landeth By Sea
- Roots & Wings
- Lift Up the Anchor (with Storyhill's John Hermanson also on harmony vocals)

DANNY SCHMIDT with Carrie Elkin on harmony vocals
- Cries of Shadows
- Blue Railroad Train
- Company of Friends

- Blonde of Mine
- Nigh Walker
- Crow John

- Give Up the Ghost
- Paradise
- Better Angels
- Well of Sorrow

- Your Face (with Red Molly's Laurie MacAllister on harmony vocals)
- I Love Money
- Land of the Free (with Laurie MacAllister)
- The High Above and the Down Below

The whole thing wrapped up at 1 am, and everyone was beat, it being the last night of the conference. I joined Storyhill for a much needed glass of wine before heading up to participate in a late-night tribute round where we covered our friends' songs--a perfect way to end an amazing four days of music.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Elton John Wants Some Punch

We've had good things to say about the Punch Brothers here on Sound of Blackbirds (see here and, for notes on Chris Thile in particular, here and here).

Well, Sir Elton John has caught up with us.

From the latest Rolling Stone:
You keep up with new music, and recently said, "Songwriters today are pretty awful." There must be someone out there you like.

I like bands that have made their reputations by playing live. Real bands like Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire and the Black Keys. We played with a band on T Bone's revue, the Punch Brothers, and I want to make a record with them. They're astonishing, the best jam band I've ever seen. It's f*cking brilliant. Jon Brion's production is incredible. They, for me, are the exiting new thing. That's where I want to go.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Marshall Crenshaw w/ Frank Manzi @ The Iron Horse, February 11th, 2011

The last time I saw Marshall Crenshaw was two years ago, in Brooklyn. It was a solo guitar performance, and I wrote about it on my old blog. It was a great show, although something about Marshall Crenshaw’s music always cries out for a band. Of course, that may just be because the recordings of his greatest songs are all with a great, loud rock group backing him, and it’s hard for me to hear the songs any other way. The first time I ever saw him, at the Rodeo Bar in lower Manhattan, he was accompanied by a second guitar player and a drummer. I didn’t know his music that well at the time, but all of his songs resonated with me. In particular, I remember “What Do You Dream Of” and covers of Richard Thompson and Rolling Stones songs. When I bought a ticket to see him at the Iron Horse, I did so in the hope that he was touring with a band this time around; no such luck. His latest album, Jaggedland (2009), is full of fantastic guitar playing, some of the best I’ve ever heard from him.

Frank Manzi, a local performer, played a half and hour’s worth of songs on an acoustic guitar to open the show. I didn’t know his music, but I really enjoyed it. He played and sang with a lot of strength and confidence. Clearly, he’s been doing this for a long time.

Marshall Crenshaw took the stage at around 7:50. By this time, the Iron Horse had filled up quite nicely. Not a sellout crowd, I don’t think, but pretty packed nonetheless. He had two electric guitars onstage, a Guild and a Danelectro, and he alternated between the two of them all night long. My disappointment at not seeing a band vanished within seconds after the performance began. His guitar playing is excellent, very fast and tasty, full of unusual chords and, sometimes, fancy picking. The more intricate guitar parts, it seemed, appeared in his more recent material. When he played songs from his latest album, Jaggedtown, there was always some sharp solos played high up on the guitar neck. Jaggedtown is a very good album, by the way, and the ones he played from it, “Passing Through,” “Right on Time,” “Never Coming Down,” “Long Hard Road,” and “Live and Learn,” were among my favorites of the evening. By the time he finished the opening number, “There She Goes Again,” which is one of his very best songs, I had remembered how easily the solo electric guitar goes down once one’s ears adjust. “Dime a Dozen Guy” and “Fantastic Planet of Love” also had some great instrumental passages.

He didn’t speak too much in between songs. He mentioned his love of Indian food, his love for his daughter, and his love for old rock and roll music. He smiled a lot and looked like he was enjoying himself. After the first couple of songs, he noticed Ray Mason, standing at back of the Iron Horse, the same guy who I saw open for James McMurtry back in December. He introduced Mason as “my friend.” And from there, he went into “What Do You Dream Of,” one of my most favorite songs.

For his encore, he talked about the 30th anniversary of the release of his first album before playing “Something’s Gonna Happen,” and then “Better Back Off,” which has one of his subtlest, most sensitive lyrics. The studio recording of that one is also one of his hardest rocking songs. Live, I paid more attention to the singing and the lyrics, which I truly love. Other highlights included his version of Buddy Holly’s “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” and his own “Not for Me,” which is from his first album. I haven’t heard that album from beginning to end in years, and hearing that song, along with “Cynical Girl” and “Someday Someway” and “Mary Anne,” made me want to find a copy of it and listen to it over and over again.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Another Folk/Contemporary Classical Mash-Up

In a New York Times review of a concert that heavily featured hot young composer Nico Muhly, Zachary Woolfe writes,
In “Jerusalem,” he and the quietly charismatic folk singer and songwriter Sam Amidon adapted an eerily ecstatic 18th-century hymn. Once or twice Mr. Amidon vocalized on “da” for a few beats instead of singing words, and the accompaniment was jittery and changeable. It was as if singer and players were improvising, about to go off the rails, and it worked perfectly.

[It] was the only piece that felt consistently inspired, truly surprising.
That was a great paragraph because I had no idea how it was going to end -- that last word could have been "perfectly" or "terribly"; I didn't know which way it would go.

Two years ago here on Sound of Blackbirds, we provided a link to a cool Sam Amidon video.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Where Minimalism Meets the Mountain Dulcimer

Allan Kozinn has a nice piece in the New York Times about Bang on a Can composer Julia Wolfe vis-a-vis her Composer Portrait tomorrow night at Miller Theatre.

With references to her 2004 piece "Cruel Sister," which will be performed at that concert and also will be featured on a new recording, Kozinn traces Wolfe's interactions with folk music from her days in college to the present. "Cruel Sister" is based on the traditional English ballad of the same name (which Wolfe heard on Pentangle's 1970 album that uses it as its title track), although Wolfe, as Kozinn tells us, uses neither the lyrics nor the melody from the ballad but rather draws on it to create an original piece of programmatic music. Apparently, she also composed in 2009 a piece of music called "Steel Hammer," which draws on a variety of "John Henry" variants and was premiered at Carnegie Hall by the awesome Trio Medieval and the Bang on a Can All-Stars.

I had the pleasure of seeing the last Julia Wolfe Composer Portrait at Miller Theatre back in 2003 (where in my post-concert excitement to congratulate her, I, um, perhaps interrupted Steve Reich's conversation with her -- Reich was actually quite gracious about it). And we regularly featured her music and conducted at least one interview with her on the Live from Miller Theatre radio program.

I definitely wish I could be there tomorrow night for the show at Miller.

In the meantime, let's rock out on some of this:

(HT: Steve Winters.)