Tag Archives: bluegrass

#MondayMixtape – Songs to Get You Out-of-Doors

take on the worldThis past weekend was glorious. Saturday was particularly so. A few of us headed up to Stage Fort Park in Gloucester for a midday barbecue and the conditions were perfect. Not too warm,  not too cold, with blue skies all around and nary a cloud in the sky.

After a nice leisurely lunch, we headed down to the beach and took a walk along the rocky shoreline. It was incredibly therapeutic to see everything in such vibrant, brilliant color and so full of life after all those months of cold. The leaves on the trees looked fuller and greener, the water in the bay looked even fresher and even bluer, and the whitewashed seaside chapels further off in the distance seemed to give off a warm, radiant glow. And to think all this lay just one hour from Boston. Beautiful. Gorgeous. Excellent.

It got me thinking about songs that sing lovingly of the great outdoors. Songs whose verses could compel even the laziest of Johns to get outside and smell the roses. Songs that speak fondly of good times had out in nature and of the promise of more good times ahead.

These are a few such songs, summarized in five lines or less (because hey, this list isn’t about you sinking in more to your seat– it’s about getting you outside to enjoy everything the great outdoors has to offer!).

1. John Denver – Rocky Mountain High

Ask anyone– if you’re making a list of songs made for exploring and extolling the wonders of the natural world, this song is going to be on it. It’s one of John Denver’s greatest hits, and for good reason: feel that leisurely, zen-like tempo, dig that lightly twangy, tangy flatpicking– that gentle, buttery voice!– it’s no wonder this song recently became one of Colorado’s official state songs. And with its underlying message of man’s responsibility to be good, mindful stewards of the earth’s natural treasures, it’s not just an ode to the Rockies– it’s a song of love and appreciate of the great outdoors everywhere.

2. James Taylor – Copperline

From a song that looks with immense fondness and love at all natural palaces and sanctuaries to song that focuses on a fondness and love of one place in particular: the strange, wonderful parkland just a short distance from the narrator’s boyhood home. It was the sort of place that would have always captured his imagination even if he hadn’t spied his father dancing in a drunken display of bliss and inhibition or got the  “first kiss I ever took” there. But ah, so it was, and so it is, and so it shall ever be. “Day breaks and the boy wakes up and the / Dog barks and the bird sings / And the sap rises– and the angel sighs..” Such powerful, lasting memories can be made out there, even just a few miles from home.

3. Jakob Dylan – Something Good This Way Comes

As it happens, four of the five songs selected this week are written in the key of E. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that, on the guitar, an open E chord is one of the lucky few that uses all six strings. It gives the chord a particularly fresh and open tone, a quality that each song really embodies. And this one, from the Wallflowers frontman, is no different. A talented, prolific songwriter in his own right, the younger Dylan also knows how to take it easy and play a simple, breezy tune, and this is a great example of that. A good tune to accompany you on any adventure  you so choose.

4. Nickel Creek – Ode to a Butterfly

Continuing on our secondary theme of Songs in the Key of E, here’s one to really get you up and at’em. The title lends itself beautifully to the sort of imagery that it conjures up: a butterfly flitting and floating about a wide open field with corn and buckwheat swaying in the breeze. But it’s just as suitable for getting you up the side of a mountain, exploring the hidden spaces of a forest, or simply sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows. It’s a reminder that even the smallest things are full of some of the coolest, most intricate and wondrous stuff in the world.

5. Special Consensus – Carolina in the Pines

Our little tour of song and nature now complete, we return east to the land of green Appalachian hills (and whaddayaknow– there’s a key change too!). It’s the perfect mix of sweeping instrumental breakdowns and simple but deeply affectionate lines about the comfort that comes from just being out there among the mountains, the forests, and all of nature’s splendor. “There’s no guesswork in the clockwork / On the world’s part or mine / There are nights I only feel right / With Carolina in the pines.” With all the uncertainty in life, it’s nice to know that whatever happens, we can always find time to get back to basics, with earth, wind, and sky.

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#NewMusicTuesday (on a Wednesday) – Summer 2014 New Music Preview

Clockwise from Top Left: Neil Young, Felice Bros, Allen Stone, Common, and The First Aid Kit
Clockwise from Top Left: Neil Young, The Felice Brothers, Allen Stone, Common, and The First Aid Kit

(photo credits clockwise from top left: theguardian.com, americansongwriter.com, hipstervrealworld.wordpress.com, houstonpress.com, vogue.com)

Summer’s upon us, and though the memorable, sure-to-delight summer blockbusters of old have been on their way out for quite a while, summer music releases never fail to delight. These may not be on any big, honkin’ billboard list, but these are a few of the titles I’m most looking forward to hearing this season.

1. Neil Young – A Letter Home (Released 5/27)

I’ve been listening to a lot of Crosby, Stills, Nash and this guy lately, and it’s fantastic stuff to use up an afternoon with. Each member of this iconic foursome found success in their respective solo careers, and Mr. Young was no different. His last few albums, however, left much to be desired. Call me a stubborn traditionalist, but I preferred his songs more when the political jabs and searing social commentary was folded in like good metaphors ought to be, not just piled on like some over-sugared meringue.

That said, lately Young has been getting back to basics, though not necessarily of the original lyrical sort. Instead he’s turned his attention to the basics of sound production and the impact it has, good or bad, on our listening experience. One way he’s done this is by becoming something of a sonic evangelist, making sure everyone can hear music properly. That is, high quality (192 kHz). “The way it was meant to be heard” (As opposed to the compressed versions of the tracks heard on CDs or MP3s– less than 40 kHz– that sound as good as if you were, as Neil puts it “underwater”). The result is Pono, a new music service that gives listeners the ability to purchase and play high quality sound versions of their favorite songs.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s his new album, A Letter Home, which features a decidedly more low-fi– but not low quality– sound. The album features 12 covers of popular folk, country, and rock tunes from the last 70 years, all performed by Young himself and recorded using a 1947 Voice-O-Graph Recording Booth. Once a staple of carnivals and county fairs nationwide, Young recorded the album on one of the few remaining models, owned by fellow sound enthusiast and music nostalgist in the best way Jack White and his Third Man Records label in Tennessee.

It’s just Young, his guitar, sometimes a harmonica, and the sparse, warbly sounds of an old vinyl record machine making beautiful music. Sounds good to me.

2. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold (6/10)

The Swedish folk duo that brought you the 2012 sleeper hit “Emmylou” is back with another round of spooky, mysterious late-60s-era psychedelia folkie stuff. Expect more beautifully haunting vocal harmonies, sweeping, arpeggiated strings, and stories of estranged lovers getting their just rewards. If you’re still unsure of what to expect, think She and Him minus the Him part or Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros minus Edward and the other boys of that posse. Or just take a peak at the advert for their new disc / homage to 70s B-movie wonderment.

3. The Felice Brothers – Favorite Waitress (6/17)

Now take the male half of the bands previously mentioned, add to the mix the raucous bluegrassy, folksy stylings of The Lumineers or the roots-rock vibe of Kingsley Flood, and you’ll have these guys, The Felice Brothers. They are to bluegrass and roots what deviled eggs and turkey bacon are to brunch: slightly updated standards, but still satisfying. These guys are also a ton of fun live. They opened for Josh Ritter during his spring tour last year and got the crowd plenty ready for a long evening of good tunes and good times. Go see them when they come by this summer.

4. Common – Nobody Smiling (TBD)

I’d lost track of this guy for a time, so I was excited to learn that there’re plans on the table for a new full length release sometime this year. A Chicago-based MC, this album is inspired by and dedicated to the young people of the hometown he loves so much. It reflects its troubles while also celebrating its successes. In the artist’s own words it’s meant to be a “wake-up call” for those who haven’t been part of the positive solution. It has been some time since anything else was mentioned about this project, though he has been awful busy supporting his nonprofit’s community events and initiatives around town. Can’t be mad at an MC with a track record of doing good in his community. No doubt it’ll be worth the wait.

5. Allen Stone – Title TBD (TBD)

Talk about much anticipated releases. Back in November of 2013, this golden-voiced soul singer announced plans to drop his next record sometime this year and soon thereafter released the first single from that album “Million.” Since then, however, it’s been relatively quiet. Like Common he’s also been rather busy with a world tour, spreading the love and good vibes through his music, his Instagram account, and his ridiculously wide grin, so it’s understandable that he may not have had the time to let the people know when to expect his next release. Still, with pipes like that, it’s surprising that he wouldn’t have had things ready to go by now. He’s got the sort of voice that’s made for summer beach mixes.

For now, we’ll just have to wait like good boys and girls and let treats like these hold us over.

Spring Cleaning and that Fresh Feeling

do you have your ducks in a row?
are your ducks in a row? (photo courtesy coyotemercury.com)

Cleaning. It’s not just a way to help you find a quick, uninhibited pathway to the nearest exit in case of emergency. It’s a process that can inspire a renewed state of purpose, satisfaction, and accomplishment. It can be as mentally and psychologically refreshing an activity as it is a physically involved task.

It’s been a good few days of spring cleaning around here. Clearing out the mental cobwebs and making space and time to reassess, reorganize, and recommit to the people and things that are important. Like the physical upkeep of a home, it’s not so easy to get at every inch, crevice, and crag of the space at once, and somehow you tend to underestimate the amount of time you’ll need to complete the job. But eventually you make it.

Just like cleaning the house it’s good to check in with yourself from time to time as new furniture is added and new challenges arise. And just like cleaning a house, it’s important to have a few helpful tunes to give you some extra sage words of wisdom to carry you through the process.

1. Nickel Creek – Rest of My Life

Nothing like waking up the morning after a rocking good party to the sight of trashed couches and smell of stale beer to make you reassess what your priorities are. Often times, if you haven’t swabbed the deck recently– If you haven’t had that personal check-in for a while– you might feel like this too.

First things first: get yourself a fresh glass of water, assess the situation at hand, and then start picking up the place.

“It’s one of those endings / No one claps ’cause they’re sure that there’s more.” Turns out that life doesn’t stop or take breaks. Dreams and sleep aren’t even breaks: they’re more like connectors between conscious moments– and pretty active ones at that when you consider the sorts of complex situations they conjure up. The best thing we can do is roll with the punches. The blemishes and missteps are part of the continuum, and, if we’re smart, we might even learn something from them. “The battle is over / We lost but we’ll live to call off the war.” It’s not about sweeping up every speck of dust– it’s about getting to somewhere that feels like progress.

2. Father John Misty – I’m Writing A Novel

This one’ll definitely get you going. Heck you may find yourself even whistling while you work. Equal parts “Paperback Writer ” rockabilly sensibilities and “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”-esque mashup of images and metaphors this wild romp of a tune makes quite the statement about what’s really “normal” in this life. The world’s a spinning mess of curious, crazy creatures, and what’s normal to you might actually be ridiculous to someone else. Likewise, what’s crazy to you may be status quo for someone else. All we can do is accept the madness, be ourselves, and keep our own reality together. And keeping track of the stories that come about (read: keep a journal… maybe even a blog!) is a good way to do this. “I’ll never leave the canyon ’cause I’m surrounded on all sides / By people writing novels and living lives that look like mine.” Everybody’s got stories they’re trying to tell, but nobody can tell our own stories better than we can.

3. Leif Vollebekk – Cairo Blues

This song’s as airy and light as a breezy spring day making it a fitting companion for all manner of housekeeping. The story may focus on the careless indecision and the mounting insecurity of one unfortunate girl he left back in the sleepy midwest,  but he’s got a good head on his shoulders, preferring to look ahead to better, brighter days. She may not clean up well, but at least he can. Though he may not soon be able to completely let go– “it don’t drown out those Cairo blues for good”– he’ll ride on, kicking out the cobwebs bit by bit and making room for sunnier, more promising plans on the horizon.

And speaking of easy and breezy…

4. Earth, Wind & Fire – That’s The Way of the World

Oh yeah. Even when taking on the toughest tasks, the deepest stains, the hardest truths– turn this one on and see those troubles lessen just enough to make it manageable. How can you argue with these guys? Their musicianship and groove alone should be enough to take you to a higher place. But if that’s not enough: just remember: “Looking back we’ve touched on sorrowful days / Future pass, they disappear.” You’ll pull through. You’ll get there. “Plant your flower and you grow a pearl.”

5. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – We Get Along

And remember- you’re not alone. Taking the more straight-forward, narrative approach, the message here is plain: we’ll make it through. We will. We all have tough days, tough months– tough years even. But we’ll make it. We’ll muddle through somehow. And if we can find a way to muddle through together– actually working together to make things better for ourselves and for others– well then we’ll all benefit. Enough great visionaries, thinkers, and doers have said it, so there must be something to it: do well for others, be good to others, work with each other– and we’ll all succeed. Sounds good to me.

#Friday Finds: New Stuff From Nickel Creek, Big Stuff from Small Speakers, etc

Nickel Creek
photo courtesy Nonesuch Records

A little something to wrap up the week. It’s been a wild one to say the least, and I’m looking forward to the leisure and low key lounging that the weekend brings. As tough as this week was at times, here are three little musical moments that kept things moving along the right track.

1. New Album from Old Favorite = Bliss

This week Nickel Creek released A Dotted Linetheir first album in almost 10 years, and it’s fantastic. Surely they’ve all grown artistically and personally since their hiatus in 2005, and no doubt they’ve kept themselves busy in the intervening time in which each of the three bandmates taking on various solo and side projects that reflect of varying colors of folk, rockalternative, and even classical soundscapes. But a large part of what makes this album so refreshing is how, with perhaps the exception of the tune “Hayloft,” the album eschews those influences in favor of a more simple, crisp, and nonetheless rollicking bluegrass flavor. A Dotted Line is a lovely little ride and one that I plan to take over and over for a good long while.

2. Big Sound from a Little Speaker

You know that wonderful feeling you get when you find $20 in your pocket you didn’t know you had? Well multiply that 10 fold and instead of cash make it a Verizon Wireless giftcard. Okay so it’s not as gratifying as, say, winning the lottery, but it’s pretty cool nonetheless. Maybe you’re still not impressed, but it’s a lesser-known fact that Verizon has a decent assortment of fun audio accessories for the devices it offers, and one of those is the Logitech UE Mini Boom portable bluetooth speaker. When they say “mini,” take them at their word, and when they say “boom”– ditto. This thing packs a punch for its preciously diminutive size. It’s no longer or wider than your smartphone and no taller than a beanbag frog, but this thing rocks. I’m looking forward to getting some good mileage out of this thing this summer. And for the price, I might just go back and get a second one. Could be crazy.

3. Getting the Lead Out By Putting it in the Mix

One unexpected side-effect to all the silliness and craziness of the week: it seemed to be a lovely little boon to my creative side. I found myself writing more, playing guitar more, and making playlists for friends more. I love a good mixtape from friends and I love making’em. It’s great for starting and continuing conversations, setting the mood, and catching up with friends you’ve been meaning to get back in touch with. While these benefits may seem obvious, they’re worth recognizing. I’ve got a few more up my sleeve before the weekend’s out. Maybe there’s one in there for you if you ask nicely.

What are you guys listening to these days? What’s on your recent playlists?

Hope all’s well with you guys. Have a great weekend.

Friday Live Wire: Winter Concert Preview 2014

fine folk (& rock, & pop &...)
what  a bunch of fine folk (& rock, & pop &…)

On Monday it was cold, by Wednesday it was nearing 50, and now we’re looking at the chance of snow this weekend. And just when I was ready to talk about how things were “really heating up.”

Oh well. It’s better this way I suppose. More seasonal.

I don’t really mind the colder weather anyhow, though the uncontrollable shivering that starts from the moment I step out the door in the morning and lasts until I’m just minutes away from my destination is a little much. Perhaps that’s more a function of having an aging, rickety car… hmm…

One thing that definitely is heating up in spite of the strange, wintry weather is the schedule of awesome music festivals on tap for the first half of the year. Lineups have recently been announced for big name shows like South by Southwest in March, The New Orleans Jazz Fest in April, and The Governor’s Ball in June, as well as the smaller, not as widely known ones like the Sasquatch Music Festival in Washington state, Shakey Knees in Atlanta, or the Yonder Mountain String Band’s Harvest Music Festival in Ozark, Arkansas. Big or small, these shows all boast impressive lineups.

Of course, if you’re like me, you can’t necessarily afford to jet yourself to a different festival each weekend beginning in March (or, as in the case of the Ann Arbor Folk Festival, starting two weeks from now). Lucky for us there’s no shortage of great musical acts coming to towns near us this season, allowing us to save on hefty travel costs and protect us from the temptation of raiding hotel minibars the nation over.

To this end I’ve added a concert calendar page to the site so you can get a taste of what’s coming up on the Boston-area scene and what concerts I’ll be heading to. If you’ve got a concert you’d like to suggest, promote, or go to with someone– let me know, and we’ll be in touch.

In the meantime, here’s a sampling of the shows I’m most looking forward to seeing this season.

1. Swear & Shake – Friday, January 17 @ Great Scott in Allston, MA

I’m tremendously excited to see these guys tonight. They’re a fun little foursome out of Brooklyn whose brand of peppy, genre-bending indie rock has been pounding the pavement of the northeast for the last few years, gaining them a number of followers and admirers. It’s admiration that’s well placed as they’re wonderfully talented songwriters and versatile musicians, emulating, shifting, and combining musical formats from bluegrass to grunge to driving dance pop rock. The track above is from their forthcoming album Ain’t That Lovin’, due out sometime early this year.

2. A Great Big World (w/Secret Someones) – Tuesday, January 28 @ The Sinclair in Cambridge, MA

If 2012 and 2013 were any indication, these guys are on target to have a bang-up 2014 as well. The last two years have seen them playing some shows, putting out a few singles, and catching the interest of Ms. Christina Aguilera, who brought them on NBC’s The Voice to perform one such single, “Say Something,” with them. This subsequently catapulted both track and these two lovable, recent NYU grads into the hearts and minds of TV producers and loving public nationwide (not to mention adding thousands of views to their YouTube channel). They’re also releasing their first full-length album next week. Their music is nothing if not catchy and the messages are universal, making it understandable how their other song “This Is The New Year” got its share of national airtime as well (the track conveniently fits in perfect with a New Year / New Beginning theme, so if you’re still looking for that one last track to put on your New Year 2014 mix… I highly recommend it).

And if that all wasn’t enough to raise my excitement  and anticipation for this show, my friends from Secret Someones are supporting these guys, and I’m particularly looking forward to seeing them at a more big-time Boston venue. What a treat.

3. Josh Ritter – Wednesday, March 5 @ The Somerville Theatre

In March Ritter released The Beast In Its Tracks, arguably his most personal and reflective release to date, dealing as it  does with his recent divorce, the isolation that ensued, and the slow, bumpy road to normalcy, new beginnings, and new love. Then he went out and toured it mercilessly in true Josh Ritter fashion.

Ritter is the consummate performer, and his shows never fail to delight and entertain. I’ve seen him 5 times over the last 3 years— twice last year alone— and each time it’s like seeing him for the first time. Euphoria, love, and compassion— these are the hallmarks of his every show. Touring has always been profound catharsis for him, and is no doubt one of the big reasons that’s he’s now able to face 2014 with open, loving arms and continue sharing his stories with all who wish to be a part of the story with him.

4. Snarky Puppy – Friday, March 14 @ The Berklee Performing Arts Center

As much as I’m looking forward to these other shows, I might be most excited, if not most intrigued and downright curious, to see this group in action. This impressive crew of marvelously talented musicians is known to put on a show that is a full-on hyper-sensory experience. With that in mind, although you can probably get a decent taste of by listening to the track above, you really need to see it to believe it.

Just think: if they can fill your computer speakers with such beautiful grace and form— imagine it live. In my mind, I’m already at the show, cheering in uncontrollable gratitude and ovation.

5. Milk Carton Kids – Wednesday, April 30 @ Brighton Music Hall

Still want a little more? That can be arranged. Comparisons to Simon & Garfunkel and the Everly Brothers are well placed, even if the “Kids” themselves would have you believe they don’t know what you’re talking about. Comparisons aside, these guys are ridiculously talented flatpickers in their own right. Both of their albums are lovely stories, concise yet vivid tales accompanied by dueling arpeggios and galloping runs. Just two balladeers, their instruments, and their delicately wavering voices. It’s a performance that’s perfectly suited for the intimate atmosphere that a small venue like the Brighton Music Hall provides.

Still want a little more? Check out the full playlist of samples from the bands I’ll be seeing, and check out the calendar itself for a look at what else is coming to town.

above photos courtesy of (clockwise from top left): swearandshake.com, ianaxel.tumblr.com, joshritter.com, snarkypuppy.com, and glidemagazine.com.
photo collage courtesy of fotor.com