Let this be my annual reminder: I need to get out to more shows. It’s easy to forget what a transformative experience a tight band in a small club can create. Craig Finn knows this. He exudes pure joy on stage. The crowd internalizes this joy and amplifies it back to the stage, generating a loop of enthusiasm that increases exponentially until we all explode in a blast of fist pumps and cheers and raised tallboys of PBR.
The Hold Steady is America’s greatest rock and roll band right now.
At least they were last night at the Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids. The venue has a capacity of 420 and even though the show wasn’t sold out it seemed pretty full. This was at least my fourth time seeing this band but the previous times had all been at big outdoor fests (Lolla 2006, 2007, and one or more Pitchfork). But these guys need to be seen in a bar.
I have a soft spot for dreamy pop songs. As noted many, many times here in the past, I am a nostalgic sort so it should come as no surprise that anything that is at once contemporary and referential of hazy memories and half-dreams would be my jam. I bought the Julie Cruz album, for heaven’s sake!
David Vandervelde’s new LP Shadow Sides has those elements. It’s warbly and wobbly and a bit out of focus, but the colors come through vibrant and rich. Yes, like a Polaroid. I am guessing that’s by design because his aural style is so clearly defined and consistently applied it can’t be by mistake.
Dig this track, “One More Time” and lament your 8th grade break up all over again.
Stream the whole album here.
Spooky, moody, space-y jams with more than a hint of impending doom? Count me in. Blackburn Hall is the new outfit from Pete Hall, formerly of A Northern Chorus. There are echoes of all your favorite echo-laden precursors but there’s something different deep down. Maybe all is not well on the Canadian plains? Maybe?
The debut album covers a bit more ground than you might expect with some melodies you might find sitting as comfortably in Ben Gibbard’s mind as in Bobby Hecksher’s. “Echoes Beat Louder Than Drums” is my favorite so far and the video of old timey toy commercials adds an extra layer of darkness.
Stream the album now
Blackburn Hall on Facebook
Video: Conor Oberst – “Common Knowledge”
Watch Conor Oberst tool around the Nonesuch Records offices in a bad wig in his latest video from Upside Down Mountain. He reads the Bible, pounds a bottle of water, and trims his wig. The video is a little goofy, but the song is good: a character study of a classic fuckup. We all know the type. “Washed up, bitter, broken, busted / backstabbed everyone he trusted.”
It’s a sequel to the “Zigzagging Toward the Light” video, which was released back in May and concluded with a promise to be continued. Both were directed by David Altobelli.
I kinda laughed when I got the email from their publicist asking if we’d be interested in interviewing “veteran psych-rock band, The Asteroid No.4” I mean, veterans? How old could they be? That was until I realized that we last spoke to them in 2002–yes, 12 years ago.
A lot has happened in the psych-rock scene in the last decade-plus: Dawes got everyone all crazy for Laurel Canyon again and related 60s and 70s west coast culture; the rise of festivals, especially those catering to niche musical genres like garage rock and psychedelic music; and a movie called Dig! raised the profiles of two of the flagship acts of the scene with The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. And while in economics it may be a bit of a misnomer, in rock and roll a rising tide does in fact lift all boats. Twelve years on, The Asteroid No.4 are floating along nicely.
We jumped on the phone with founding member, songwriter and guitarist, Scott Vitt to talk about the changing scene and his band’s move from Philadelphia to Northern California.
Full disclosure: I played a set with Crow Moses’ Mike Musikanto last fall here in Portland. But if I recused myself from writing about the music of people I actually know then you all would miss out on SOOOO MUCH.
Crow Moses has a familiar feel to it, without being same-y or derivative. It has some lovely melodies and lilting vocals that open into impressionistic lyrics about people and places you might recognize, but not quite remember. Produced by The Jayhawks’ Gary Louris, the sound of the album is warm and home-y. There are pedal steel guitars peeking in an out, jangly guitars waft through.
Title track, “Horse Heaven Hills” is lush without being overwrought. It sounds like a lovely place to sit and watch the sun set over your hometown.
As a longtime Americana and folk fan I am pretty stoked to see the recent resurgence in interest around this style of music. The best examples are American stories told through the lyrics as well as the instruments. There’s the gentle crying of a fiddle, the slow moan of a Dobro, the pecking of a banjo…the atmosphere of the story is set and is as important as the substance of the tale.
With increased interest can also come increased posing. This is a music that has a low tolerance for inauthenticity (even if it tends to attract more than its fair share of pretenders and false accents). The good stuff comes through. The cream rises and well…the rest sinks.
And so when I see a quote of praise from none other than Emmylou Harris, I take notice:
“Alice Gerrard has one of those voices that harkens back to the likes of Sara and Maybelle. She is the real deal with the right stuff and hasn’t forgotten where country music came from.”
–Emmylou Harris (June, 2014)
Indeed. Gerrard’s take on “Boll Weevil” hits all the right notes—literally and figuratively. From the new album Follow the Music, produced by M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger, this is how we welcome autumn around here.
Well known in folk circles for decades, it’s great to see Alice Gerrard getting some attention from the younger generation.