Tag Archives: new music

#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.

#FridayFinds – Pakistani-Brooklyn World Fusion and Facing the Music

(credits clockwise from top left: sandaraa.com, nickburkaotm, somervilleartscouncil.org, pondly.com
(credits clockwise from top left: sandaraa.com, nickburkaotm, somervilleartscouncil.org, pondly.com

This week started slowly, but then picked up quickly like that first ascent on a roller coaster, and then came down the other side zooming like an eagle possessed, stopping in mid-flight to rock a 25 minute guitar solo that melted so many faces off, before finally leaving us at the corner of Friday night and Saturday morning wondering “what the heck was that?” and amazed that we never once lost our lunch.

Here are a few of the things that made the adventure all the more excellent this week.

1. Tickled Pink on BlogBetterBoston’s {hub}Links

Once a week local Boston Blogger meetup BlogBetterBoston picks a theme and then selects five recent posts from its members to promote in a weekly roundup they call {hub}Links. This week the theme was spring colors, and my recent post on the colors, sights, and sounds of the season was among the posts selected. It’s a cool network to be a part of, full of wonderfully talented writers and doers in the community, and I’m thrilled to represent them this week. I sincerely recommend you check out the work of each featured writer as well. They’re lovely. And they sure know how to take a lot of pretty pictures. I wonder if they give lessons.

  • Around the World “L” shows us some colorful architecture you won’t want to miss.
  • Holly Dolly DIYed and dyed a dress and looks fabulous, of course.
  • Everyday Starlet gives advice on finding your best colors for fashion, hair and makeup…in video form.
  • Cuppajyo models a colorful spring look from local boutique Ku De Ta.

Want to be featured in the next edition? Sign up for the {hub}LINKS newsletter and submit your posts!

2. A Whole New World of Music with Sandaraa

When I’m not writing about music, talking about music, seeing shows, or working, I’m often volunteering at Vilna Shul, a historic synagogue in downtown Boston. It’s a beautiful building with lots of history, and for the last nearly 95 contiguous years there’s been an active Jewish presence there. The main sanctuary is particularly impressive with simple, stained glass windows and a high, vaulted ceiling. Suffice to say it’s got the right acoustics for a choir or chamber orchestra to perform, and I’ve had the chance to see a few groups of that sort perform there. Absolutely beautiful.

But I’d never seen anything like this.

Last night they hosted Sandaraa, a seven-piece outfit from Brooklyn that specializes in music from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the northwestern regions of India, and man did they hit it out of the park.

It was incredible. It’s fronted by vocalist and Pakistani native Zeb Bangash and backed by a band of multi-talented expert musicians from all over the country including clarinetist Michael Winograd and percussionist Richie Barshay. Each musician was a wonder unto themselves, and a few, including Michael, studied music just down the road at the New England Conservatory.

I loved how they used their western instruments to creat a haunting, eastern sound that you could have sworn was completely authentic if you didn’t see the bass, accordion, or clarinet.

And the band looked like they were having a blast up there. They fed off each other’s energy and rhythm beautifully. Even though this was only the second time they’d performed in months, they played as though they’d been doing it for years. Check them out if ever they’re in your neck of the woods (NYC friends, that means tomorrow night!).

3. Covering Up and Saving Face

Another wonderful thing about vinyl records is seeing cover art the way it was meant to be seen. CD and cassette tapes are lovely and portable, but you lose the scope and detail of the canvas that vinyl record covers provide. Some of these covers even have a bit of an “interactive” component as well that makes them particularly unique. Case in point is the cover sleeve for the Rolling Stone’s classic 1978 album Some Girls. The top layer features colorful and gaudy wigs superimposed on a bottom layer of faces that appear to belong to a host of your run-of-the-mill Hollywood starlets. Sliding the bottom layer out, however, reveals that the faces are actually just the members of the band done up in drag.

And speaking of faces, have you noticed how many album covers are just that? Happy faces, sad faces, red, white, and blue faces. Album covers depict the full spectrum of human emotion. This fact is not lost on the savvy social media-using, vinyl-loving masses, and they’ve brought a little extra pizazz to the fold with their hashtag #sleeveface.

The idea is simple: people take pictures of themselves holding these covers in front of them so that they become a piece of the scene. The results are often quite enjoyable and sometimes particularly inventive and impressive in their staging. I’m looking forward to making my own soon enough. Any good covers I should definitely use?

my first attempt at a #sleeveface. it's a work in progress.
my first attempt at #sleeveface. it’s a work in progress.

4. Pickin’ on the Front Porch

One of my favorite local music event of the year takes place tomorrow afternoon in Somerville: Porchfest.  Over a hundred bands from all over the Boston area will be performing on porches and in parks across the town beginning in the Union Square area tomorrow at noon and finishing up near Tufts by 6pm. Some of my favorites from last year like Black Marmot, Sheboom, and Somerville Symphony Orkestar are back again, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else is around.

So go. See. Enjoy and imbibe with all the wonderful, whimsical sights and sounds of this truly Somervillian spectacle. Though you might also want to bring a raincoat too… it’s supposed to be a bit wet. The event isn’t rain or shine though, so if it gets too wet things will take place on Sunday instead. Should be a lot of fun.

#FridayFinds: Crowdsourcing 2.0, Female Folk-Rockers, and West Coast Chamber Pop

Up and Coming Folk-Rock Coolgal Sarah Dooley
photo courtesy of sarahdooley.com

It’s been a good week. Birds are singing in the trees, Sunsets are getting more golden by the day, and temperatures have been agreeably, consistently springy in nature. Perfect for excellent adventures in the outdoors, long, rambling walks around parks, and spur-of-the-moment exploration and discovery. Here are the three things I found that added just the right extra dose of summer sun into the overall ambience of the week.

1. It’s the Jelly that Holds the Internet Together

And that jelly is crowdsourcing. Some questions you can Google and some questions you can ask your friends and mere acquaintances on Facebook. No doubt you’ve seen an awful lot of silly questions pop up over time: what shirt to wear, what movie to go see, or perhaps what albums make for an excellent road trip (what silly person does does that?). That’s all well and good, but what if you want to ask your question your way and get some quick, mostly-accurate answers?

Enter Jelly, a new crowdsourcing app launched by cofounder of Twitter Biz Stone. It allows you to ask questions and gain answers and consensus from other users on the internet using your connections on various social media platforms. Simply open the app, ask a question, and wait for the responses to pour in. You’re encouraged, of course, to answer questions as well as ask them, and it’s neat to see the range of questions people are asking. It’s a cool concept and a fun way to learn about things you didn’t even know you had questions about.

So far I’ve used it to get some ideas on where to see free shows in Boston and how to infuse more female folk rock into my playlists. Which brings me to…

2. Artist to Watch: Sarah Dooley

Another point for the internet and the wondrous ways it introduces us to cool new things. She’s midwest born and Columbia University educated, but the sonic product is otherworldly. It’s a sound that’s Regina Spektor vocals and instrumentation over Leonard Cohenesque / Tom Waitsian storytelling. They’re lovely, whimsical melodies and stories that at once disarm you and then hit you in the gut with a two-punch count of driving drums and sarcastic wit– and that’s just in the first 30 seconds of the first and title track of her debut Stupid Things that was released earlier this spring. The whole album moves that way like some beautiful, undiscovered broadway show, so it’s no surprise she studied theatre and playwriting at school. Achingly honest story lines brought to life. That’s the gift she brings.

Speaking of magnificent story telling meant for the stage…

3. Have you heard of… Ages and Ages?

Last weekend I saw Lake Street Dive at the Royale in downtown Boston. Naturally they did not disappoint, playing a fantastic hour-and-a-half-long set of selections from their two current full length records and one or two additional even newer tunes (both of which will be available in participating stores on a limited edition 7″ record during next weekend’s Record Store Day festivities). But the tip of the hat for me goes to the opening band, Ages and Ages, a six-piece folk-rock outfit from good old Portland, Oregon. Tremendously talented and endlessly entertaining. Trying to guess just which piece of equipment Ms. Sarah Riddle was going to choose was entertaining enough, but that’s only the beginning. They back it up with fantastic vocals and story lines on top of enthusiastic and exultant chamber rock. By now it’s obvious that I’m a sucker for good stories and well-placed harmonies and these guys deliver both and more. Check’em out ASAP.

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.

 

New Music Tuesday: Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits

lake street dive - bad self portraits

Seven weeks into the new year and already I’ve started compiling my Top 5 Albums of 2014 starting with these lovely folks and their excellent, brand new album Bad Self Portraits. Call it premature if you will, but then again this was the same band that made me totally reconsider my top concert picks of 2013 only moments before the end of the year, so it’s probably worth proactively saving them a spot this time around.

These guys are something special and you don’t have to look at their upcoming tour of sold out shows to know it.

The album is their second full-length record and is, at its simplest, a testament to what this band does so well: blending the sounds of 60’s Motown and early 70’s rock and roll with modern arrangements and sensibilities.

Suffice it to say this album is a treat. It’s a house party wrapped up and neatly delivered in a 40-minute package that’s vibrant and playful but won’t leave a mess, eat up all your food, or require you to power wash the premises when it’s over.

Producer Sam Kassirer’s contributions are nothing if not complimentary to the group’s talents, wonderfully extending the depth of every moment, both sunny and somber (of which there are a few– life’s not all fun and games, after all). On the track “Better Than,” for example, the steady dose electric piano and added light reverb on Rachel Price’s voice beautifully illustrate the isolation and sorrow felt by the song’s protagonist. On the flipside, the combination of layered horns and just a touch of extra electric distortion gives the driving, bluesy anthem “You Go Down Smooth” the juice it needs to take it soaring straight out of the stratosphere.

Most of the time, however, it’s not about studio enhanced wizardry or soundboard tricks– it’s about letting the band do what it does best: kicking the jams and having a good time. Nowhere is this more apparent than it is on the track “Seventeen,” in which the rich vocal work of Rachel Price, the explosive bass lines of Bridget Kearney, the cool guitar riffs of Mike Olson, and the deft percussive stylings of Mike Calabrese all share center stage. Add to that solid foundation some honeyed vocal harmonies, a clever application of syncopated hand claps, and even a breezy little vocal solo by drummer Calabrese, and you’ve got one serious groove machine that deserves every bit of its burgeoning following. Playful and flirtatious– that’s this band to a T.

At the end of the day, this band of fun-loving, talented musicians is first and foremost a band of friends: a group of individuals who met nearly a decade ago at the New England Conservatory in Boston and nearly immediately started working and playing together. Over the years their sound has changed (they originally formed as an alt-country/jazz band— who knew?), but their love of each other has not. It’s this love and friendship that shines through on every track of their album and in every performance and every show.

Whether charming audiences nationwide with a totally awwwshucks adorable interview on their network television debut, dressing up and paying homage to the 2-guy/2-gal bands that came before on Halloween, or just sharing their goofy moments with their fans in the in between time, this is one band who’s talents, chemistry, and energy will keep giving for years to come. I’d bet on it.

Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits
Signature Sounds Recordings, 2014
Grade: A+
Listen Now: “Stop Your Crying”, “You Go Down Smooth”, “Bobby Tanqueray”, “What About Me”

New Music Tuesday: Dietrich Strause – Little Stones to Break the Giant’s Heart

dietrich strause - little stones to break the giant's heart

One look at Dietrich Strause and you know he’s got some terrific new story taking shape in that great big mind of his. It’s the eyes. Gentle, disarming, playful… ever on the look out for the next dash of inspiration.  The man has stories enough to fill his diminutive yet sturdy frame. All beautifully rendered, lovingly crafted vignettes. 

His 2011 first independent release, Laborsongs and Barkingdogs is a wonderful example of this sort of storycraft. As the the title suggests, the songs tell the tales of everyday workingmen and women of America. Many songs take place somewhere in the hills of Appalachia and rural Pennsylvania, paying homage to Strause’s boyhood home of Lancaster, PA. The settings may be pastoral or even remote, but the themes are universal.

For his second album, Little Stones to Break the Giant’s Heart, Strause continues this tradition of expertly crafted songs with vivid, expressive scenes that are at once simple in their structure and delivery.

Judging from the material covered on the album, Strause has been rather busy since 2011. While some tracks tread familiar territory, painting loving scenes of rural America and the people who live there (“Our Lady Ponderosa,” “Bootlegger”), many others take place on exotic even fantastical environs and show the extent of his growth as a storyteller.

There’s “Unsinkable,” which uses the classic folk song theme of an ill-fated seafaring adventure as the backdrop for the story of a man who pursues the object of his affection through three such doomed voyages– including The Titanic– even though his chances of winning his the favor of his beloved are probably only as good as his chances of making it safely to port on the same ship he sailed out on. And there’s the playful reimagining of the story of David and Goliath (“Sling & Stone”), which suggests that David’s motives for taking on the giant might not have been as selfless and virtuous as first thought (read: boys will do anything for a pretty face).

Taking well-known stories and blending them with contemporary perspective and humor. That’s where the album really shines.

In addition to Strause’s songwriting, the success of the album would not be possible without  Strause’s warm, steady tenor voice or the delicate blend of accompanying voices and sounds (tip of the hat to Strause’s fellow Boston-based producer Austin Nevins, who also provides some wonderful lead guitar riffs and flourishes to the album itself, for putting it all together).

In the sea of cacophonous, muddled noise that seems to comprise much of the popular and indie music scene these days, Dietrich Strause possesses a clear, consistent tone. In a desert of over-produced, cloying and often inauthentic story lines that are heard in these other genres of music, Strause represents an oasis of clarity and sincerity in song craft and delivery that refreshes and delights.

Dietrich Strause – Little Stones to Break the Giant’s Heart
Independent
Grade: A+
Listen Now: “Annie Dear”, “Our Lady Ponderosa”, “Tell Me Mary”, “Sling & Stone”