Friday, June 17, 2005

Musical Miscellany


(Eddie-torial Note: I Eddie-ted this post and the one that follows on 6/18 and 6/19 to add links and fix some typos.)

When my dad took ill, Keith and I already had tickets to three concerts: two in Nashville and one in Louisville. My brother convinced me to go ahead and go to the concerts, since we had paid for them. We also went to a couple smaller shows here in town, just to take a small break. Music is one of those things that really comforts me, so I’m glad we ended up doing this. It’s one of the few routines that didn’t get disrupted.

Anyway, I haven’t been able to blog much through the whole ordeal, so here are some belated thoughts about these shows, and a whole bunch of other musical stuff. Some of it is a little old, but I still wanted to include it. I’m going to catch up on musical blogging tonight, then tackle comics and other subjects in the next couple of days.

Speaking of comics, from time to time, Warren Ellis creates a podcast of music that he finds on the web—usually from new and unsigned bands. He lets folks on his Bad Signal mailing list know about them after he uploads them. They’re always interesting, and frequently very, very good. I know that many of the songs have intrigued me to find out more about the artists. You can find the archive of past SuperBurst Mixes here.

We saw The Duhks do an in-store at Ear X-tacy in May. They're another one of these young bands with old souls who are taking traditional tunes and older music and newer sounds and melding it all into something new that strikes the same kind of vibe as the older music did (usually dark and almost gothic) and honors the old traditions. Some of the groups are good enough to raise the hairs on the back of my arm-the Duhks are one of them. At the end of their performance, after they had talked to folks and signed stuff, they all went shopping, which I thought was pretty cool. And it was serious shopping too! I love to see folks supporting our independent music store!

You know, I really need to stay away from places where the CD's are a dollar or less.

We also went to Nashville in May to see Patty Griffin at the Ryman. Great show. I did not realize the level of rabid, cult, sing-along fans she has, nor how diverse her audience really is. There were heavy pockets of LGBT folks (that were heavy on the L), along with young female aspiring sensitive singer-songwriter types (who seemed to most like her earliest stuff-which is cut from that mold), their sensitive male boyfriends, and a large contingent of folks who have discovered her through AAA radio (where her last release got a lot of play) or through other artists who support her. It was a broad, eclectic sea of people and it packed the house.

She's gotten to the point now that she has too much material to possibly play everything one would want to hear. So, I didn't get the Rowing Song, or Mother of God, or Mary, but I did get Useless Desires, Making Pies, Icicles, Silver Bell, Top of the World, and more than enough other stuff to make up for their loss. And you just have to adore anyone who starts her show sitting alone at the piano and singing in French!

Her band is truly phenomenal, especially her percussion player, who pulls the most amazing rhythms from all kinds of materials, while never staying in one place too long. He was fascinating to watch. The opening act, Charanga Cakewalk, recruited the band to play a fun set of upbeat latin dance music. It was probably easy, since Michael Ramos, the mind behind Charanga, spent a decade playing for Patty himself. His material takes traditional musical forms, like the cumbia, mixes in enough electronic stuff to perk things up, but not enough to overpower anything and keeps the focus on traditional instruments like the trumpet and the accordion. It's a hard mix to pull off well, but they did it.

The only real glitch in the show was the real disparity between Griffin's music and the opener. I am eclectic enough to appreciate and enjoy both, but so many of Griffin's fans are locked into one style or taste of music that they just couldn't relate. One of my pet peeves is people who sit and talk during the opening act, and there was a lot of that going on. Luckily, since the songs were largely instrumentals, the band was able to overpower them pretty easily. Still, it's kind of funny how everyone managed to pay attention when Griffin joined them for their closing number. The same folks have probably forgotten that she's spent more than her share of nights as the opener trying to deal with people like them.

Has anyone bought to Ryan Adams’ new CD? You can stream the whole thing here. I like most of it a lot, but it feels to me an awful lot like one good solid album’s worth of songs blown up into a double disc set for no good reason.

I’m enjoying the hell out of the Ditty Bops CD. It’s just the right amount of whimsy to be clever and charming but not cloying and the old timey pseudo-vaudeville styling works well for the songs. It’s now part of my short list of best releases of 2005…

…Along with Fair and Square, the first new John Prine CD in ages and ages. It’s full of prime Prine insights on love, life, human relations, along with a kick ass cover the an old Carter Family tune, Bear Creek Blues. Awesome!

Keith and I saw Prine at the Louisville Palace at the end of April and it just amazed me how well the new material fits in with all the Prine standards that one expects to hear him play live. He sprinkled the new stuff throughout the set, doing some solo and some with his band, giving everyone a good taste of the new work, while depriving no one of the classics, some of which never sounded better. They slowed Angel from Montgomery down just enough to let it sink deep down inside every listener. The result was the most powerful and moving version of the song I have ever heard. They took the same approach with Prine’s standard encore, Muhlenberg County, which is typically a raucous affair. A slightly slower tempo and a more low-key approach helped re-focus the song’s energy back to the loss of childhood memories and environmental devastation, which made it much more powerful than I have ever heard it. All in all, it was an evening not to be missed.

We also had the pleasure of attending our first concert at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville and seeing Guy Clark with Slaid Cleaves. We hadn’t seen Slaid before. In fact, Keith was not that familiar with his music, but that changed really quickly. He did a great set of his hard luck stories and songs and left everyone wanting more.

Guy Clark is an incredible songwriter and a darn good guitar player, but what impresses me most every time I see him is his graciousness and wit. As usual, Verlon Thompson played with Clark, and Shawn Camp was there to add a fiddle to the mix as well. Twice during the evening, Clark ceded the stage to allow each of them to perform, which was a real treat. Thompson is a helluva songwriter in his own right, and watching him and Camp trade licks back and forth on guitar and fiddle was amazing.

Everyone in the audience had the dubious pleasure of being entertained by a drunk in the second row who kept shouting to Clark. (And this guy was totally waster, during the intermission, he stumbled past Keith and I and nearly fell in our laps!) Clark bore the interruptions patiently, using his sly sense of humor as a buffer to both quiet the guy for a bit and calm the audience.

Keith bought the new Robert Earl Keen CD in May and is, of course, in heaven right now. Between a new Prine and a new Keen, he’s a pretty happy camper at the moment.

The Americana Music Award noms are out now. I wouldn't want to be the one to have to make any of these decisions. Someone is going to have to make some tough choices. I mean Steve Earle, Buddy Miller, and Mary Gauthier are all nominated for Album of the Year. I wouldn't be able to decide who to vote for!

Has anyone tried this service? Their selection doesn't seem too deep in the areas I am interested in, but I still think I could create a queue with them that would last me at least a year. I pay six bucks for used CD's all the time, so getting a new one for that price, plus free shipping, doesn't sound bad at all to me. Oh dear! More online shopping!

And, finally, one of the world's coolest music stores shares the way one of its customers celebrates his birthday. I wanna be one of this dude's friends, too!


Lefty said...

You hit the nail on the head witht he Ryan Adams CD. It's a good album overall, but he suffers from Ani Difanco disease, in which they think everything they do needs to be heard...some songs a great, and some songs just clunk.

EM said...

Cool! An actual comment! Thanks Chris. I still haven't got the Adams CD. I've about decided now to either download the tracks I really want or else wait and get the thing used and rip what I want.