Favorite Waitress, The Felice Brothers

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If Celebration, Florida (2011) was The Felice Brothers taking a hard left out of Americana into a dark, strange corner of indie rock, Favorite Waitress is them – to mix a metaphor somewhat – doubling down on that murky weirdness and swinging for the fences. It begins with Bird on a Broken Wing, which I had to listen to a couple of times before I really started to like it. In many ways it extends a thread back to River Jordan, the last song on Celebration, Florida, and, as it happens, one of my favorite Felice Brothers songs. River Jordan is a slow burning geyser of hurt and rage; the last time I saw them perform it live was a transcendent experience, but also made me almost certain they were about ready to call it quits on being a band. They didn’t, though, and Bird on a Broken Wing is the resolution, and, perhaps, ending, of that pain. The narrator has had a moment to breathe and reflect (and heal?) and also, perhaps, find some peace. Continuing through the tracklist, some of the songs have country roots: Katie Cruel is a slow-burn country-blues stomper; Cherry Licorice contains echoes of a … Continue reading

The Sharrows, Days of Yore

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The Sharrows are: Matt Smith (guitar), Phil Sharrow (lead vocals, bass), Joe Hermanson (keyboards), Sylvia Janicki (cello) and Jacob Bicknase (drums). They are from Madison, Wisconsin. Days of Yore, their second release, was recorded at Zebra Ranch, the North Mississippi Allstars’ home studio. It’s got a little bit of fuzz and a little bit of shimmy-shake; mostly it’s good company on a slow summer afternoon. The first song, Yours and Mine, is a slice of solid country blues: Days of Yore by The Sharrows But my favorite is Echo, because it has a little more rock and roll in it, and also because I love the idea of heart echoes calling to one another: Days of Yore by The Sharrows And as an additional enticement, here they are with Sometimes, from their first record, Starting at the End: For more, check out their bandcamp page!

Dolly Parton, Blue Smoke

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Blue Smoke, due out May 20, 2014, is Dolly Parton‘s 42nd studio album. Sit back and let that sink in, y’all. It’s vintage Dolly Parton, in the sense that it might not break any new ground, sonically, but yet contains multitudes. No matter which Dolly Parton you like – sassy, sexy, silly, sweet, or bent on saving you – there is something here for you. My Favorites: Unlikely Angel and From Here to the Moon and Back (with Willie Nelson) On the other side of the I Will Always Love You coin is this song about a love that arrives late and unexpectedly, after all hope had been thought lost. The chorus has wormed it’s way into my brain and refused to leave. I suspect it will become the go-to wedding song for people who never expected to be able to be married either at all or ever again. From Here To the Moon and Back, which she shares with Willie Nelson (and originally appeared on To All The Girls . . . (2013), wherein he sang duets with some of the finest ladies in country music today) is probably also destined to be a popular wedding song. This is … Continue reading

Guest Post: Joy Goes to SXSW, pt. VI: Saturday, March 15

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The sixth and final installment, in which our intrepid reporter won a prize, enjoyed some fine audio engineering and also photographed a clean and tidy toilet. It was apparently that kind of day. Last post I wrote about youthful energy and the fact that SXSW will truly kick your ass. Despite the fact that I’m somewhere just south of 30 myself, I was well and truly dragging by that Saturday. Forget making it downtown by noon: I called it a success that I was out of bed and dressed in real clothes, much less getting coffee near the day’s first venue, by 1pm. Though it helped to know I was on my last day of festivities, it helped even more that I was seeing Kan Wakan again. As much as I’d liked the band before SXSW, I grew to like them expontentially more after seeing them a few times. That’s something I find hard to say about many bands, much less fairly new bands which have been thrown into the pressure cooker of a festival. Like most performers, Kristianne Bautista is appreciative of as much support as fans can offer and will openly admit to stage jitters, but she puts … Continue reading

Hauschka, Abandoned City

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All but one of the songs on Abandoned City, the latest release from master of the prepared piano1 Hauschka (Volker Bertelmann), were composed in a 10 day period following the birth of his first son. The result is a collection of tunes bursting with life and movement and packed with complex rhythms. This is perhaps ironic, given that all of the songs are named for and/or inspired by by abandoned cities. Or, I should say, cities abandoned by humans; wind and waves and sun and sand and the creatures of the earth have asserted their dominion instead.2 The one song not named for a specific city is Who Lived Here. It is the most mellow track, and while it is specifically inspired by abandoned desert towns, it both evokes and reflects the combination of curiosity and dread felt by anyone, anywhere who comes across places that humans once lived, but have since fled. All of the tracks are strong, and picking favorites is hard, but I did particularly like Pripyat (creepy and menacing, like a haunted house), Bakerville (rollicks like an old-time saloon) and Sanzhi Pod City (sounds like the thrill of the discovery of the otherworldly feels). As an … Continue reading

Guest Post: Joy Goes to SXSW, Pt. V: Friday, March 14

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In which our intrepid reporter finds out SXSW really is as exhausting as everyone says it is, but rallies to attend more shows. By day three, I had personally confirmed what we’ve all been told: SXSW kicks your ass. I managed to drag myself downtown before noon only by promising myself a cup of coffee at Mellow Johnny’s, where Wye Oak was playing a 12pm set. The band was already playing as I bought my coffee, but I couldn’t tell if they were playing an old song or a new one. Like mr. Gnome, Wye Oak hasn’t changed their sound very much between albums #3 and #4. Jenn Wasner has switched from electric guitar to electric bass, and Andy Stack has added an electronic drum-pad to his kit, but at SXSW they were quite recognizably the same band. Wasner even managed to make her bass sound light and silvery at times, which was the most unexpected thing to jump out at me from their performance. Ultimately this is unsurprising, considering the lyric-based character of Wye Oak’s previous records. Now as before, listeners should expect to make the music into a contemplative experience in order to really absorb it. Wasner — … Continue reading

Guest Post: Joy Goes to SXSW, pt. IV: Thursday, March 13

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Our intrepid reporter goes to see some (more) live music. Also a mechanical bull. On Thursday, I woke up to more than a dozen text messages asking if I was okay. Until I saw a news story about the night’s fatal accident, I had no idea why so many people would be concerned and wondered if I’d been sleeping for more than one day. Once I read about what had happened, I debated skipping the day’s festivities out of respect, but eventually came to a conclusion: those who could party should get on with the partying in honor of all those who cannot party. I waited for the downtown bus with a spirit of gratitude. That spirit started to fade after three city buses, from two different routes, passed our stop with partygoers packed inside to legal capacity. Everyone who could party definitely seemed to be partying, and I found myself wishing they had timed things a little more conveniently for us old people. The bus ride, when I finally got one, was appropriately interesting. I made it downtown just in time to miss several shows. While trying not to miss the final Doe Paoro show of SXSW 2014, I … Continue reading

Guest Post: Joy Goes to SXSW pt. III: Wednesday March 12

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Our intrepid reporter has been somewhat delayed by travel and technology, but has continued undaunted. Below is her report from her first show-filled day. After spending numerous protracted coffee breaks trying to figure out the SXSW schedule, I finally hiked deep into the heart of No-Man’s Land — past the endless blocks of band parking, through a sea of Econoline vans and long-haired skinny-jeaned men lugging instrument cases — to The Echoplex SXSW Throwdown at Red 7. The bill featured a number of up-and-coming Los Angeles bands, but I only had ears for my new musical supercrush: Kan Wakan. Determined to stake out a spot in front, I arrived early. But I needn’t have worried: Brandon the Swag Man still had a whole table full of free swag and the venue was far below capacity. Only a few hardcore festival-goers lingered in the courtyard, and I ran into singer Kristianne Bautista practically right away. She, too, was recovering from a fever and general travel fatigue, but was excited to meet a new fan. We chatted about her band’s rising fame while they set up, since a seven-piece act needs a little extra preparation. Unfortunately, that extra work cut into their … Continue reading

Gadgetry: Michael Forrest, Infinite Music Machine

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I’m filing this post under “gadgetry” because producer Michael Forrest has created something that fuses music and technology: an album that is also an app. Currently available for iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches, it is a collection of 1000 loops of electronic textures designed to run, as it says on the tin, infinitely and with endless recombinations of sounds. How It Works: I tested it on my iPhone. The interface is mercifully simple, clean and reasonably intuitive. The first time you use it you will need to let all the loops download, but that only takes a few minutes, and doesn’t impede play. To get started all you have to do is press the “play” button. You can then leave it to its own devices for as long as you like – if it gets stuck in a set of loops you don’t care for, give it a shake and it moves on – or you can press the stack of bars that will lead you to a more complex menu. The more complex menu is designed with six buttons, three across the top and three across the bottom, with eight slowly rotating discs between them. There are pop-up text … Continue reading