Tuesday, May 27, 2008

We Get Out: Kate Walsh

I don’t always get to attend the shows I write about, nor do I always want to, but when I wrote a Post preview about the 3-act all female Amoeba Music tour, sponsored by the hip west coast retailer, I was anxious to make it happen.
It wasn’t Brandi Shearer’s bluesy rock, nor Quincy Coleman’s jazzy, quirky arrangements that called to me, but the sheer simple beauty of Kate Walsh’s new CD.
1. KATE WALSH – Tim’s House (Verve)
The CD is a quiet joy, as was the show. Though the crowd was sparse (30 people would be a most generous guess), it was a fiercely devoted one, many choosing to sit on the floor and all in rapt attention. Which meant a lot, as Walsh’s sweet, often sad material is the fragile sort that wouldn’t hold up well to lots of crowd murmuring and glass clanking. You could have heard the proverbial pin drop as she sang of love found, and generally lost. And though she chatted amiably between numbers, the melancholy vibe led one of our friends, after the set, to say that he wanted to give her a hug and tell her everything would be OK.

I chatted briefly with Walsh shortly thereafter, told her honestly that “Your Song” kills me (it’s the heartbreakingly poignant lead track on the CD) and said we all hoped she was happy. She laughed and said she’s been in a great mood recently – and hasn’t written much as a result! I hope she stays happy and finds inspiration to match it.

2. QUINCY COLEMAN – Come Closer (self-released)
The bad news was, we missed Coleman’s opening set (I thought she was going on second in the bill). The good news was, when hubby and I got to the club, we ran into friends of ours and spent time sitting on the back deck, chatting, drinking and catching up.

My other Post preview last week was for Louisiana swamp stomper
Tab Benoit

While I’m on the subject of live shows, I’ll O/CD tally up a few CDs based on who’s coming to town…
3. HOLLY COLE – S/T (KOCH Records)
The album was released in January and Cole was set to tour at that time, but the date here in Virginia was cancelled. She’s now set to perform at the Birchmere on June 1st. I can’t say that the CD appeals to me – it’s so smooth and pretty as to feel sterile.
4. The GIBSON BROTHERS - Iron & Diamonds (Sugar Hill)
At IOTA on June 1
5. JULIE OCEAN – Long Gone and Nearly There (Transit of Venus)
Bright and shiny power pop that puts me in mind of Fountains of Wayne and Weezer.
At the IOTA Club on June 6th.
6. REM – Accelerate CD/DVD set (Warner Bros.)
Here’s one I spent my own cash money on. I didn’t intend to get the deluxe package, since Hubby said he didn’t care about the DVD extra, but when I went to Target to pick it up, encouraged by the tunes I’d heard on radio and the Colbert Report (hysterical interview), there were no regular versions left. And the packaging – including a thick, cheap paperback insert marked “This book will fall apart” looks pretty nifty - so I didn’t mind shelling out the $17.
Yes, it appears on first few listens that the band has redeemed itself and thank god it’s true, since Hubby now has the CD in heavy kitchen rotation (I made him a “sloppy copy”). We watched the DVD, too, which divides into fine live footage, fairly illuminating interview bits and some of that insufferable B&W shaky camera crap that passes for Art Film.
We have tickets to see the band at Merriweather Post on June 11th, with a faboo triple bill including the National and Modest Mouse.
And that reminds me, in anticipation of the new R.E.M. hubby purchased:
7. R.E.M. – And I Feel Fine: The Best of the I.R.S. Years (I.R.S./EMI)
8. GEORGE MICHAEL – Twenty-Five (SONY)
29 songs over two CDs, including duets with Paul McCartney (when did that one slip by?) and Mary J. Blige, plus solo and Wham! Hits.
I’m going to edit this down to a killer, single disc compilation.
Playing July 29th at Verizon Center

And a few from shows I missed:
9. The MYRIAD – With Arrows, With Poise (KOCH Entertainment)
10. The B-52s – Funplex (Astralwerks)
Is it just happy coincidence that the B-52s have returned (with their first studio album in 16 years!) within weeks of the new R.E.M. CD? The bands function as a yin/yang team of the original indie rock scene, both Athens, GA-based bands who made it big by playing against the type of “southern rawk,” both quirky and danceable but the B’s choosing a goofy, party vibe while R.E.M. hinted at Big Thoughts. I’ve always had a warm spot for both bands, though I doubt Michael Stipe would ever deign to attend a dance club party dressed in a gorilla suit, as Fred Schneider once did, god bless him. The band sounds as good as ever, with the knowing wink of elder statesmen toward those who’ve followed in their grooves (such as The Rapture, Scissor Sisters and Daft Punk, whose very name is a description of the B’s sound). Producer Steve Osborne has worked with Happy Mondays, Doves, Kt Tunstall and New Order, all of whom, in some way, can also pay psychic royalties to the B-52s. So nice to have old friends back.

And now, in an effort to begin catching up to the scads of scattered CDs still to be tallied, I resort to the Goldilocks method, meaning I will simply say…
This music is too soft:
11. THOMAS & FRIENDS – Thomas’ Train Yard Friends (KOCH)
12. THOMAS & FRIENDS – Thomas’ Songs & Roundhouse Rhythms (KOCH)
13. The WIGGLES – Pop Go the Wiggles (KOCH)
No, not pop tunes, but nursery rhymes.
14. DEBORAH HIGHTOWER – Her Name is Deborah (Highest High Records)

This music is too rough:
15. ARCHITECTS – Vice (Anodyne Records)
16. GREELEY ESTATES – Go West Young Man, Let the Evil Go East (Science)
Post hardcore is not my thing, but I’ll give the band credit for a few choice song titles like“If We’re Going Out, Let’s Go Out in Style” and, my choice for title of the month, “Desperate Times Call for Desperate Housewives.”
17. COIN OPERA – What Went Wrong with the Right? (Umbrella Etiquette)
Comes out June 15th.
18. WHITE LION – Return of the Pride (Airline Records LLC)
A 12-track collection, two of them live. And yet, just when I was about to dismiss the entire package as second rate Big Hair/Sorta-Hard Rock, I get snagged on the hook of “Finally See the Light,” and have to admit that this arena guitar god posing can still offer some fun - and great riffs to sing in mock-parody with Matt Nathanson,

And this music is just right:
13. BON IVER – For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)
Bon Iver, A.K.A. Justin Vernon, has created a lovely, intimate album that creeps up softly, whispers in your ear and makes you smile and sigh.
14. LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO – Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu (Heads Up International)
Tha harmonies are as good as they ever were back in the “Graceland” days.
15. BILLY BRAGG – Mr. Love & Justice (Anti-)
A class act, still classy.

Year to Date O/CD Tally: 101

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Treasure Hunting in NYC

My Own Cash Money - and worth every penny!

The family drove up to NYC to celebrate College Girl's graduation. And, as she noted, it may be time to give her another name. Post-Grad Girl? Smarty Pants? (She graduated with honors, boasted the proud mommy.)

Anyhoo, half the family had to return to Virginia for work/school obligations but, as all I had to deal with was a pair of Post previews, I stayed to enjoy a few extra days of Big Apple playtime and attend the second grad ceremony - in Yankee Stadium! (NYU does everything, including charge tuition, on a grand scale.)

The trip’s fine musical adventure began when I walked into the Strand bookstore, Fulton Street annex, to pick up a carry bag for CG, who wanted to replace one that was worn out from its long service. Meandering through the store, I glanced at a table of jumbled CDs to see what kind of stuff was offered. At first, I was unimpressed; it seemed to be cast-offs from in-store play, some in rather funky condition, and some promo singles. But since I saw a few recent, if relatively obscure, releases and every disc was only $4.oo, I kept sifting through the shoddy display.

1. GENE KRUPA - Big Band CD 10 (NA)
This was the first disc I put in my keeper pile. A single disc in a generic cardboard jacket, it looks to be part of some larger set. Since I don’t have any Krupa in the collection, this was a good chance to start things up.

And then magic started to happen!
2. JOHNNY FLYNN – A Larum (Lost Highway)
If anyone had been watching me at the point I discovered the generic black slimline case holding this CD, they would have thought I’d found some Holy Grail. And in a way, it was. Ever since returning from England, (Post)College Girl has been singing the praises of said Johnny Flynn, a young Brit who also acts in an all-male Shakespearean troupe called Propeller. She’s seen the theatre group about eight times and Flynn in concert once. She’s collected all his tunes from his myspace page (there are two free downloads there now) and had me order beautifully designed 7’ vinyl singles from ebay. A multi-instrumentalist with a singing style that puts me in mind of Richard Thompson, Flynn tills the rich earth of British folk tradition, writing original songs that sound like obscure classics from dusty songbooks of times past. Drinking songs and wenches abound.

Anyway, I have been hearing about this guy for over a year now and was put on warning that his debut American CD is due this summer. Finding two advance copies of his CD in the Strand pile was the musical equivalent of panning for gold and getting a nugget the size of your fist. I got a huge, happy reaction from (P)CG, and from a fellow student who’s also a big fan and got the dupe. The album is out in the UK on March 26.

So now, like a fish who had been half-heartedly nibbling at a worm, I was hooked! What other cool stuff was buried in these racks? I paid particular attention to those slimline and cardboard cases, and was paid off with…
3.AIMEE MANN - @#%&! Smilers (SuperEgo)
Still-sealed in its cardboard cover, it will make a pleasant surprise for the huge Mann fans who fed the tortoise while we were away.
4. STEVE REICH – Three Tales (Nonesuch)
A CD/DVD advance, the latter being a video by Beryl Korot, for which Reich did the music, plus an audio-only version.

I also found some new/recent releases for the bargain 4 buck price:
5. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular (Columbia)
Just before leaving Virginia, I heard a track from this on KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic” and found it intriguing in the same way I did Battles’ “Atlas.” In the latter case, the full CD didn’t live up to the promise of that lead track, but again, it’s just a few bucks to take the chance. BTW, the table had both an advance and a commercial copy of the CD, but I took the formal edition, with enhanced content.
6. PUNCH BROTHERS – Punch (Nonesuch)
Brand-new, still-sealed commercial copy of the latest from bluegrass wizard Chris Thile, for whom I’ve harbored a little thing every since I saw him cover Nirvana in a musical documentary.

And then some miscellaneous fun:
7. VARIOUS ARTISTS - Live at KEXP Volume Three (KEXP)
Also still sealed, this benefit CD carries a sticker declaring that all proceeds from its sale will go to the deserving Seattle-based alternative station. I doubt that the station is getting any money from this particular sale, so I’m sorry ‘bout that, but I am delighted to get rare songs by the likes of Ghostland Observatory, The Long Winters, Cloud Cult, Grizzly Bear and more.
8. LITTLE ANNIE & Paul Wallfisch – When Good Things Happen to Bad Pianos (Southern Records)
I almost didn’t get this, knowing absolutely nothing about the act, the songs or the label, but the cover, the title and the track listing – “Private Dancer,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “All I Want for Christmas” and more for an odd mix of rock and pop favorites - leads me to believe/hope that these are cover tunes played by hideously out-of-tune pianos. The idea tickled me one grande latte with almond’s worth. And I’ll let you know how that works out.
9. VARIOUS ARTISTS – The Other Side: London: Damian Lazarus (TimeOut)
A sealed, double sided CD and DVD from the hipster travel company, this one offering a set of audio tracks including folktronica from Gruff Rhys,electronics from Nathan Fake, and tracks from the Magic Numbers and Yazoo amongst others. The interactive DVD gives insider tips on edgy shops, bars, restaurants and such. The booklet includes listings and a map of the city, so I can pass the set on to College Girl after I’ve checked it out (she’s off to England in the fall as a prelude to graduate school).

Year to Date O/CD Tally: 86

Coincidentally, just as I was working on this post, my desktop picture changed to a shot of the Raconteurs onstage at L.A.'s Amoeba Records. And just to remind us all of what a pleasure a well-stocked music shop can be, I place it here.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

elbow triumphant! (my Guy...!)

It was a little over a week ago when Hubby and I had a most delightful evening out with the Manchester UK band known as elbow. He had seen them open for Doves (I was sick that night) and said they “blew Doves off the stage.” I had seen the band do a short set at the CMJ daystage and watched another truncated show on a video screen later that night when the club they were playing was overcrowded.

This band has been around for many years, but has had a different label for nearly every one of its previous albums – Asleep in the Back, Cast of Thousands, Leaders of the Free World – and never got the traction it needed to break the American market.
Now, finally, the band has released an album, The Seldom Seen Kid, on a US major (Geffen) that appears willing and able to support a proper tour, and we were thoroughly psyched to see elbow do a full headliner set and to see it together. (This is a very romantic band.)

The show was a triumph on all counts. The venue – the Historic Sixth and I Synagogue – is a jewel. The audience sits in the pews of the sanctuary under a gorgeous domed roof while the musicians perform on the raised….altar? (I was rasied Catholic, so I don’t know if that’s the proper word). And any concerns we had about the sound were knocked out by the first number. We heard it all just fine.

The opening act was Jessca Hoop, a woman with that little bit of quirky edge that raises her above the usual singer/songwriter crowd. I knew one song from exposure on KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic” show (available via Internet stream every weekday from noon-3 EST) so I was pleased to get a chance to hear the rest.

Hoop wore an old-fashioned long print dress, the new hip matron look, and was barefoot. Her patter with the audience was a tad arch, but with a sense of humor to it, too. Her guitar playing stumbled some, but her voice and songs were intriguing and strong. Her set was maybe a half-dozen songs, and the audience was respectful-to-enthusiastic. She lingered in the small lobby during intermission and we were going to buy her CD (she and elbow were selling all their albums for a kind $10 each) but hers sold out before we got to the table.

And then came the main event. In trying to think of a single word to describe it, I decided on “majestic.”

Instead of simply walking onto the stage, the band strode down the center aisle, leader Guy Garvey being one of a few members carrying horns. Taking the stage, they opened with the beautiful blare of “Starlings” from the new CD. The audience’s ovation reflected hubby and my own sincere joy in finally getting to hear the band. The applause after every song was sustained and loud, as if we were trying to convey to the group our congratulations that they might finally break through and our delight in tasting victory with them.

Garvey – a burly, bearded man with the stature of a melancholy literature professor (the kind all the graduate student girls fall in love with and want to save) was in fine form. His voice soared to choirboy Kyrie heights with a rough vulnerability that resonates at the midpoint between Bono and The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan. And he seemed as happy to be with us as we were to be with him, frequently commenting on the beauty of the venue and the strength of the audience’s response. He taught us all the anthemic chorus of “One Day Like This” and sang the repeating coda of “Newborn” with an intensity that brought the audience cheers to a new decibel, and generally endeared himself all around with amusing asides and little stories between songs.

We left with big smiles and full hearts. A great night out.

As I type, with 92% of the vote in, Indiana is still too close to call. Unbelievable!