Portland Shows I Want to See

It’s not even February and there’s already a slew of winter/spring 2013 shows I feel I must see. Oh, call center job, how you fail me.

Dave Alvin and the Guilty Ones at the Aladdin – Wednesday Feb 27th, $25 


Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band at the Crystal  – Thursday March 21st, $30 *tickets in hand*


Bob Seger and Joe Walsh at the Rose Garden – Saturday March 30th, $73 and up


Shovels and Rope with Denver at the Doug Fir Saturday April 6th, $12 (!!!!) 


Jeff Bridges and the Abiders at the Aladdin – Sunday April 7th, $69.50


Jim James at the Crystal – Tuesday May 14th, $25.


Which is the best deal? Honestly, if the only show I get to see is Josh Ritter, I’ll count it a good spring.


February Music Preview

Now that we’ve *finally* almost made it through the slog of January, time to get excited about February. We’ve got a Super Bowl, the Grammys, the Oscars, and lots of good music on the way. Here are the three releases I’m most excited about.

Jim James –  Regions of Light and Sound of God.

With a vibe that hearkens back to something between the Who’s Quadrophenia  and Traffic’s Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys, the versatile Jim James is about to release his second impressive release in less than a year, this one on the heels of New Multitudes, the brilliant collaboration of Woody Guthrie covers.  Howling like a wolf at times and whispering a hushed prayer at others, his style here is ethereal, electronic, building-to-climax, staccato funky, danceable, snycopated. I would love to see him late night under the stars at a big festival. Check it out on First Listen this week until its release on Feb 5th.


Holly Williams – Highway

Yes, she is the granddaughter of Hank Williams. THE Hank Williams. Yes there are high expectations. And yes she more than lives up to them. Judging from yesterday’s Daytrotter session, this is going to pack a serious punch. Belt-it-out ballads, shout-outs to Jack Kerouac, sad laments and the sense that she has finally found what’s she’s looking for; I am excited for the transcendence I hear in her lyrics and the passion in her voice.  I look forward to a slow country melancholy mood laced with optimism and love. In stores and available for download on the 5th.

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell – Old Yellow Moon –

If this is anything like the collaboration Emmylou did with Mark Knopfler, it’s going to be timeless. In addition to that, judging from the video below,’ it will be playful, peppy, and just a lot of fun – a nice counterweight to Holly Williams’ intensity. Looking forward to hearing the rest on the 26th.


It goes without saying that Neil Young’s two finest hours were his roles in Buffalo Springfield and The Last Waltz (I cry like a “Helpless” baby when I get to that part of the concert.) But what has he done for us lately, you ask?

October’s Psychedelic Pill and May’s Americana. And a sweet autobiography called Waging Heavy Peace . And by sweet I mean rambling. And old mannish. And, from the little I’ve heard read aloud from my wife, impossible to put down or dismiss.

But the inspiration for this post comes entirely from Psychedelic Pill. It is a mammoth undertaking, and after the very ill-conceived Americana (Oh Susanna done to the chord progression of Venus? Really?) it packs a wallop I wasn’t expecting. The first thing you have to notice is how he sounds now exactly the way he did in the early 70s. Virtually no change. From the amount of drugs and rock and roll antics chronicled in his book, this is a welcome surprise. It’s a wonder how he didn’t end up like one of those California Raisins from London. Or just dead.

Anyway, when you’ve got a double-LP in which 4 songs clock in at over 8, 16, and 27 minutes, and you add the overdrive power that Crazy Horse brings, you have the most sprawling-in-a-good-way, legitimate rock-jam album of the past decade.

But then there’s also 2003’s concept album Greendale which a new friend recently loaned me. It was the last thing Young did before Americana, and for any naysayers that say Young hasn’t offered anything exciting or new since “Rockin’ in the Free World,” you’ve got to get ahold of this one. A musical novella about a coastal California town called Greendale, I think it’s what the Killers were striking at with Sam’s Town, but this precedes it and is more complex (as you would imagine; all due respect to Brandon Flowers.) It also mimics Thornton Wilder’s classic Our Town.

Young gives his characters true-to-life flesh and warmth while chronicling their celebrations and struggles. And really it’s the kind of town where nothing ever happens, so every event is simultaneously commonplace and infinitely unique – meaningless in the wider realm and all-important to those who are living it. Ol’ Neil Young captures that in such a way that one assumes Garrison Keillor must have been a collaborator on the album. Its basic mood is melancholy, deep, poignant; at its conclusion one is left with a fond sadness for the characters and an acknowledgment that this is masterful creation.

I’ve yet to see the accompanying movie, and I hear that the graphic novel is worth a gander as well. I feel blessed to live in a time when an old folkie from the summer of love days is still pouring such richness and depth into our increasingly shallow world.

Thanks, Neil

Review: The Lone Bellow


This blog has only existed for three weeks and I think I’ve written about these guys at least twice. It is the first album I’m super excited about in 2013. It has gotten a good deal of buzz due to their huge sound coming from humble R&B/country roots. And their story is beautiful – majestic songs coming from a place of suffering and redemption. Check out their pre-release promos on NYT and NPR

Now, the album:

Green Eyes and a heart of gold. First track and I’m hooked. Very anthemic. I’m trying to place exactly what vibes I’m getting… definitely a U2 feel, and maybe O.A.R. (their less rootsy later stuff). I totally expect to hear this song on the radio. It kind of makes my heart melt and gets my blood pressure up at the same time. Continuing on through the second track, a sprawling midnight-drive-worthy ballad, I notice WOW this music really makes me FEEL. It is not cerebral. It is warm, so warm. Love it.

Track 3 – Two Sides of Lonely – The one I know and already love. Exceptionally mournful and gorgeous. “Two sides of lonely / One is heart, one is duty / two sides of lonely / one’s in the grave and the other should be.” The subject matter is raw, about the near-death of his wife and the aftermath (she ultimately recovered). But honestly he could be singing about  polka dots and posies and I would still scrunch my face and feel like I could get to that deep, soulful place he’s accessing.

#4 You Never Need Nobody – Total Elton John piano intro. I’m pretty sure it was Rocket Man. Or Daniel. Or Tiny Dancer. Then the lyrics came. Please, more of this. You could even slow it down a little more to squeeze every last drop out of those notes. And I must do some reading to find out if there is not actually a choir live for the recording. There has to be.

#5 You Can Be All Kinds of Emotional – Nice shout-out to Man of Constant Sorrow. At this point I did start to wonder if they picked the title of the song before they wrote it and then built the song around the title-saturated chorus. But then again I might be okay with that because the dynamics and explosive harmonies they throw in are so intense, you know they’re not just phoning it in.

#6  You Don’t Love Me Like you Used To – Has to be right out of a Shania Twain throw away (it was too good for Nashville). Whose Bed Have your Boots Been Under? has the same swagger but not the same inspiration or instrumentation.

As I get through tracks 7 and 8,  I get the sense that this trio composes each song as a score. So many tracks have that majestic, orchestral quality. I would definitely listen to the Lone Bellow instrumental and imagine western vistas and endless night skies. Beautiful mandolin on “Fire Red Horse.” And like others have said, you definitely get a Mumford and Sons and Civil Wars feel throughout the album up to this point. “Bleeding Out” comes in as the “lone” yet-to-impress track on the album; it doesn’t quite gel, maybe trying to do accomplish too much, though it doesn’t want for intensity.

#9 – Looking for You – I am sure that this must have been cut from the Once soundtrack. And aha! THAT is the vibe I’ve been getting. Swell Season. All the way. Swell Season with a gospel choir and an occasional mandolin or banjo. That’s the Lone Bellow. And it really works. Really really works.

#10 Teach me to Know – This is my favorite one lyrically and rhythmically. I would love to hear a more prominent accordion. It’s there, but too subtle. Let the vocals blend with the accordion instead of washing over it.

#11 – The One You Should’ve Let Go – Definitely cool to close the album with a balls-out rocker.

9/10 overall. This one definitely lives up to its expectations. Check ’em out.


Let’s hear it for the Birds

Gotta love a dapper man in a vest.

Has anyone noticed the amazing amount of artists with “bird” or “birds” in their name? And that they’re all pretty darn good? Bowerbirds.  Brown bird. Birds of Chicago. Futurebirds. Mynabirds. Release the Sunbird. And that doesn’t even take into account the best bird of them all, Andrew Bird (the vest-donning devil). It makes me think that I could just pick a name at random, use the word bird somewhere in there, and I’d have a gold record overnight. Or maybe some marketing exec decided that birds are the next big thing, and I’ve just been duped by it all. (Nah, I have more faith in humanity than that. Most of the time).

Anyway, here’s a selection of new-to-me tunes that I like a lot.

Bowerbirds – “Teeth” from Upper Air (2009). I love the accordion and the fact that the harmonies remain throughout the song, not just in the chorus. I think that’s unique.

Brown bird – “Nothing Left” – from Salt for Salt (2011). Kinda sounds like a pirate drinking song. Like they should be singing about grog and mermaids. I dig that. And I like the grittiness of the vocals paired with the elegant cello. This selection is live in Eugene.

. Birds of Chicago – Cannonball – Birds of Chicago (2012). Mmm mmm mmm. This cut is just dripping with soul and passion.SO nice. And props for figuring out the simple song while twining together some pretty complex duets.

Futurebirds – “Sam Jones” from Hampton’s Lullaby (2010) – Whimsical yet rooted.  Kind of like techified country. Like if the Flaming Lips met Robert Earl Keen. They also do a very faithful cover of Chris Isaak’s classic “Wicked Game” which is not an easy feat.

Mynabirds. “Mightier than the Sword” Generals (2012)Totally sounds like Jewel, the Cranberries, Polyphonic Spree, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir  ALL got together and had a love baby with Brian Eno.  And it actually didn’t turn out that bad.

***And now, a pause, while we all try rid ourselves of that mental picture***

Release the Sunbird – “On your Own” – I had higher hopes for these guys the first time I heard them, but this song still comes up pretty often and I don’t hate it. I think as a group their sound lacks a strong low-end presence, and the vocals are generally a bit too thin, but they do pretty good island-y max-y relax-y songs. And it’s hard to do that wrong.


The Simple Life – Why I love standalone stereos and record players.

Since moving back to America after four years in Africa, I have been seeking a low-tech approach to life. Not that this is a holier-than-thou pursuit. My wife will tell you that I spent the better part of August glued to my computer just pawing through Spotify and its wares. But as time passes the binge-seasons wane, and I’m becoming a more balanced individual (if you ignore my new obsession, this blog!). And I’m constantly seeking ways to decompress, and get my head out of “the cloud” as it were. My stereo and record player sitting humbly in the corner of our 12×12 living space help me to do exactly that. Here’s why:

— You have to actually get up and change the disc. It is not possible to get sucked into the techie vortex by just mindlessly doing word fragment boolean searches and scrolling endlessly.

— The disc cannot go on for days – 2 weeks of music in my iTunes? Really?

— Ambiance

–It’s the dedicated shrine to music in our living space. If not one in every room then every home should have at least one. Like once upon a time the jukebox was the musical shrine in bar.

–One cannot instantly download material and play it from a stereo system, and there is no such thing as live streaming.

–It is still possible to record directly from radio to make a mix tape. Which is awesome if you have time and focus in this digi-fied age.

–There are stores that sell this and only this. Where is the computer store that sells only computers? But even in 2013 at the height of digital culture you can still go into a car stereo/home stereo and speakers store.

–You can actually assess the sound quality before you buy, which is not so easy with computer speakers.

— Longevity – When was the last time you heard of a stereo, receiver, radio, tape deck, record player, etc going obsolete? These things were made to last. I just got mine out of storage after 4 years in Rwanda, and it was purchased in 2001. It stills works like new. Conversely in that same time period I have gone through 4 laptops, and numerous flash disks, mp3 CDs, and hard drives.

Here’s to simple living, saving money, and spending quality time with quality music.