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>Lyrically Speaking: For the Turnstiles

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  I’m not sure how I ended up with the album “Decade.” I think I bought it from a used record store on one of the many excursions into Cambridge as a teen. My friends and I, or even sometimes me on my own, would drive into Harvard Square and spend hours walking the streets from used record store to used record store looking for cool albums or even just checking out the album covers… something today’s teens probably don’t get to experience. That album cover, with Neil’s arms and head sticking out from his guitar case, is one of the classics.

  Sure, I had heard of Neil Young, and knew all his hits: “Hurricane,” “Southern Man,” etc. And of course had followed him into Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young territory. I think “Rust Never Sleeps” had just come out, which may have propeled me into a search for older, more obscure Neil. The best thing about “Decade” is that it isn’t so much a greatest hits album as a look back at a young career, mixing the hits with cool songs that hadn’t made the radio.
  When I first heard “For the Turnstiles,” which was originally released on the album “On the Beach,” it wasn’t like anything I had heard before. Neil plucks out a haunting, almost sad bluegrassy melody on banjo and Ben Keith adds nifty Dobro over the pair’s harmonizing. Being a big baseball fan, the lyrics “All the bushleague batters/Are left to die on the diamond/In the stands the home crowd scatters/For the turnstiles” really threw me as I tried to figure out what was going on.
  To this day, the sailors, the explorers and the ballplayers kind of haunt me. What is Neil trying to say? Here is one explanation, though I do not know its origin: The song was “inspired by the stadium tour he had just completed with Crosby, Stills & Nash. Mr. Young was clearly disturbed by the fact that big business was starting to take over rock and roll and art was suffering for commerce. The song foretells of the selling out of musicians and the forming of corporate rock.”
  OK, I guess if you dig really deeply into the lyrics you can come up with that. I’d also say this is what’s missing from Neil’s music today… a little subtlety, mystery.
  In the past couple of years there have been some nifty covers of the song: The Be Good Tanyas do a great version on their album, “Hello Love” and Redbird recently released a slowed-down version on their album “Live at Cafe Carpe.” Check them out.

For the Turnstiles
All the sailors
with their seasick mamas
Hear the sirens on the shore,
Singin’ songs
for pimps with tailors
Who charge ten dollars
at the door.

You can really
learn a lot that way
It will change you
in the middle of the day.
Though your confidence
may be shattered,
It doesn’t matter.

All the great explorers
Are now in granite laid,
Under white sheets
for the great unveiling
At the big parade.

You can really
learn a lot that way
It will change you
in the middle of the day.
Though your confidence
may be shattered,
It doesn’t matter.

All the bushleague batters
Are left to die
on the diamond.
In the stands
the home crowd scatters
For the turnstiles,
For the turnstiles,
For the turnstiles.

A rare electric version by Neil in 2008

Posted in lyrically speaking, neil young | Leave a comment

>KINK-FM in Portland, a radio station worth watching

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I recently ran across KINK-FM (101.9) , a radio station out of Portland, Oregon. Since I live on the East Coast I had never heard of them before. But a recent video post of a Josh Ritter song on Facebook led me on a search for the station and possibly more video. I believe the host is one of the station’s DJs, Steve Pringle. He brings in a great variety of indie acts including Ray Lamontagne,  Justin Townes Earle and Grace Potter to name a few. Anyway, check out the videos and interviews HERE. You can also stream the radio station live, which I have not done yet, but hope to soon. Here are some vids I really liked.

Josh Ritter, “Change of Time”

Jackie Greene, “1961”

Bob Schneider, “Big Blue Sea”

The Avetts, “Kick Drum Heart”

Posted in avett brothers, bob schneider, jackie greene, josh ritter, radio | Leave a comment

>Josh Ritter in Philadelphia and Boston, Feb. 10 and 11

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Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band, opening night in Philly

  What should one expect from a Valentine’s Day Brawl? Love, roses,  a nice slow-dance sax solo, and of course some heartache because this ain’t no Hallmark celebration. This was Josh Ritter’s tell-it-like-it-is idea of Valentine’s Day, and it was quite a party.
  I was lucky enough to catch the first two of four of these events — in Philly and Boston. Josh not only brought his crack band but also a three-piece horn section, and set the mood with roses draped on all the mikes.

Josh and Zack rockin’ the Troc

  The Trocadero in Philadelphia, known locally as just the Troc, is nice old theater with a lot of history and some beautiful architecture, including swooping balconies and detailed columns. It made for an interesting contrast to the sort of cookie-cutter House of Blues in Boston the next night. Both venues had their advantages, the Troc’s was the intimacy of its building. The House of Blues is a bigger venue (2,400 patrons to the Troc’s 1,200) with impeccable sound so the HOB show really felt like a rock SHOW. At both places the crowd was right there for Josh as he led them through love’s travails.
  The set lists for the two nights were similar though not the same (see below), and there was plenty of individuality to make them special. For one, Josh, at two points in each show, read out valentine dedications sent in by fans who were going to those shows. The dedications were hilarious, ranging from sweet to bawdy. One person in Boston even proposed through a dedication (and was accepted!).
Since the shows followed similar set lists, I’ll go through the shows together, pointing out the highlights and differences as I go.
  Both shows opened with Josh bounding on stage — dressed nattily in a vest over a red shirt with a rose in his lapel and even red socks! — for one of his ultimate love songs (how many of these does he have?), “Bright Smile.” It’s amazing how he grabs the audience’s attention right away… they see him out there alone and they immediately quiet down to hear him. At the Troc, the crowd sang along unobtrusively (mostly, more on this later) to every song. Josh’s voice rang out but underneath you could hear the audience basking in the love of his lyrics.
  The band took the stage to roars from the crowds for the next tune. In Philly it was “Long Shadows” followed by “Lillian,” in Boston the order was swapped, and seemed to fit better. “Lillian,” played with rockin’ delight by Josh’s great band is a treat. At HOB, it just roared, a great piano solo by Sam Kassirer, and guitarist Austin Nevins was just on fire all night.
  “Southern Pacific” and “The Curse” were next. Beautiful renditions — Josh waltzing by himself to the beautiful piano and bass lines of “The Curse.” This led into the first set of dedications back by the still waltzing music of band. At the Troc, the last one read “Roses are red, violets are blue, hopefully not my balls”… something like that. The crowd was in hysterics.
  “Empty Hearts” followed, and then the highlight of both nights: the three-song killer of “Real Long Distance,” “Rattling Locks” and “Harrisburg.” A three-member horn section (trumpet and two saxes) torched these songs, rocking both venues to their core. This is where the HOB shined. Despite the volume and the number of players on stage, you could hear every instrument, crystal-clear. On “Rattling Locks,” bassist Zack Hickman led the charge of musicians, including the horn players, cracking drumsticks together in percussive bliss. If Josh is the emotional leader of the band, Zack is the physical leader, making sure the show runs smoothly, and an incredibly talented musician. “Harrisburg,” one of my all-time favorite tunes, including a very funny Josh story-song interlude that led in and out of the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.”
  The band then brought the crowd down with a beautiful “Folk Bloodbath” before leaving the stage for Josh to work his magic again.
  At both shows, Josh opened the solo portion of the sets with “You Don’t Make It Easy, Babe.” In Philly, he dedicated the song to Sarah Palin, Queen of Alaska. He followed this with an acoustic “Thin Blue Flame,” which he didn’t play in Boston. The crowd was hushed as Josh worked his lyrical magic. The two shows continued with “Temptation of Adam” and a “Naked as a Window/Girl in the War” pairing that was amazing. In Boston, he poignantly dedicated “Girl in the War” to the people of Egypt. These songs, to me, really showed the difference in the intimacy of the crowds. In Philly, fans sang along with every word. In fact, they sang beautifully on “Girl in the War” except for one dude who kept shouting the lyrics before they were sung. It was funny at first, annoying by the end and then he was shut down. In Boston, the crowd really came to party. They were polite and sang along with the quiet songs, but lived for the rock.
  The band returned to the stage, but not to their instruments for the next song, a lush cover of Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes.” Sam, Zack, Austin and drummer Liam Hurley stepped up to a side mike to sing harmonies on the chorus. They returned to their instruments for the next set of dedications, backing them with Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” In Boston, this is where the proposal was made. It was pretty cool.

Matt Douglas’ slow-dance sax solo on “Kathleen”

  Then it was back to rock. “Rumors” and “Right Moves” were blistering. The band was in high gear. The horns reappeared and took these songs to a new level. In Boston, the horn players were totally in to it, dancing and goofing in time to the music.
  And then there was “Kathleen,” ever the crowd-pleaser. This time it was intro’d by the band, slow and quiet, as Josh worked the crowd into a lather. First, regaling the crowd with tales of love — from a pigeon’s standpoint. A male pigeon flies down, puffs himself for the females, who basically ignore them. He then warned the crowd there would be slow dance mid-song and promised it wouldn’t be too awkward. Boom. Liam hits the kit and away the band sails into “Kathleen” full-on… and then mid-song the band quiets and Matt Douglas on baritone sax, steps to the front and delivers a jazzy slow-dance solo.
  You think you’ve come to the end of the night. There were peaks and breaks and peaks again. But the band played on. “Lantern,” “Change of Time,” and “To the Dogs” in different order (this is Boston’s, and seemed to work best.) On “Lantern,” folks swayed glowsticks to the beat. “To the Dogs” simply rocked, the crowd trying to keep up with the breakneck-speed lyrics.
  With that the band left the stage, but of course would be back.
In Boston, Josh unveiled a new song, “Galahad” (there’s an animated video of the song HERE). He didn’t play it in Philly (I think he ran out of time). Scott Hutchison of the band Frightened Rabbit, who was a great opener (need to hear more!), came out to perform an Everly Brothers cover “Stories We Could Tell,” with Josh. Hutchison left, the band came back and ripped through “Snow Is Gone,” a wishful, final valentine to their fans.  More than two hours of music finally over, the crowd left jubilantly into the chilly night.

Check out my pics HERE

“Temptation of Adam” at The Troc

“Pale Blue Eyes” at the House of Blues”



Setlists for the two shows
The Trocadero, Philadelphia, Feb. 10
Bright Smile (solo)
Long Shadows (band joins in)
Lillian
Southern Pacific
The Curse
(Valentine dedications)
Empty Hearts
Real Long Distance
Rattling Locks –>
Harrisburg (with Talking Heads’ Once in A Lifetime interlude)
Folk Bloodbath
You Don’t Make It Easy Babe (solo)
Thin Blue Flame (solo)
Temptation of Adam (solo)
Naked as a Window (solo) –>
Girl in the War (solo)
Pale Blue Eyes (Velvet Underground cover; band joins in)
(more valentine dedications)
Rumors
Right Moves
Kathleen
To the Dogs
Lantern
Change of Time
Stories We Could Tell (Everly Brothers cover w/Scott Hutchison)
Snow Is Gone (full band)
House of Blues, Boston, Feb. 11
Bright Smile (solo)
Lillian (full band)
Long Shadows
Southern Pacific
The Curse 
(Valentines dedications)
Empty Hearts
Real Long Distance
Rattling Locks –>
Harrisburg (with Talking Heads’ Once in A Lifetime interlude)
Folk Bloodbath
You Don’t Make It Easy Babe (solo)
Temptation of Adam (solo)
Naked as a Window (solo) –>
Girl in the War
Pale Blue Eyes (Velvet Underground cover; full band joins in)
(Valentines dedications)
Rumors
Right Moves
Kathleen
Lantern
Change of Time
To the Dogs 
Galahad (new song; solo)
Stories We Could Tell (Everly Brothers cover w/Scott Hutchison)
Snow Is Gone (full band)
Posted in boston, concert review, house of blues, josh ritter, philadelphia, the royal city band | 1 Comment

>Lyrically Speaking: Charlie Darwin

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With a new album, “Smart Flesh,” ready to hit the streets on Feb. 22, I figured it would be nice to give some kudos to Low Anthem’s surely most popular song from its 2009 album, “Oh My God Charlie Darwin.” It’s a song that despite how many times you hear it, it still sends chills down your spine.
  The Rhode Island band of Ben Knox Miller, Jeff Prystowsky and Jocie Adams provide some of the most beautiful high harmonies and ethereal moody instrumentation to back lyrics of a world in turmoil. Are they about the past or the present?: “And who could heed the words of Charlie Darwin/The lords of war just profit from decay/And trade their children’s promise for the jingle/The way we trade our hard earned time for pay.” Adams’ sparse bowing of her instrument called a crotales as well as a beautiful clarinet solo adds to ghostly atmosphere of the tune.
  We can’t wait to hear what the band has in store on the new album.

Charlie Darwin
Set the sails I feel the winds a’stirring
Toward the bright horizon set the way
Cast your wreckless dreams upon our Mayflower
Haven from the world and her decay

And who could heed the words of Charlie Darwin
Fighting for a system built to fail
Spooning water from their broken vessels
As far as I can see there is no land

Oh my god, the water’s all around us
Oh my god, it’s all around

And who could heed the words of Charlie Darwin
The lords of war just profit from decay
And trade their children’s promise for the jingle
The way we trade our hard earned time for pay

Oh my god, the water’s cold and shapeless
Oh my god, it’s all around
Oh my god, life is cold and formless
Oh my god, it’s all around

Posted in low anthem, lyrically speaking | Leave a comment

>David Wax Museum CD release party at Oberon

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  When a CD release party is billed as an Extravaganza, you expect just a little bit more than a band onstage running through their new songs. And so it was that the alt-Mex-folk act David Wax Museum — essentially the duo of guitarist David Wax and his violin and donkey-jawbone-playing partner Suz Slezak — brought not only their music, but a musically theatrical show to the funky confines of Oberon on Feb. 3 for the unveiling of their hip and spirited new CD, “Everything Is Saved.”

  After some brief comments from an emcee (who was also a super fan of the band) and some unusual merch hawking (including some shirtless male body posing), the pair took the stage along with Wax’s accordion-playing cousin and a percussionist for the opening number “That’s Not True.” It was about halfway through that first number that the crowd realized why this venue was chosen for this party, as a procession of horns, percussionists and accordionist snaked its way from atop the theater’s balcony, parted the standing crowd joined the group on stage.
  In all, 12 musicians would come and go during the set, playing a variety of instruments. At one point there were six or seven donkey jawbones simultaneously being whacked to the beat. The tunes, such as “Born With a Broken Heart,” already played with enthusiasm on the album, were ramped up to foot-stomping, hand-clapping, audience-participatory levels by a group of musicians (and obviously good friends of the band), who couldn’t stop from emitting smiles and laughter as they were playing.
  As for the carnival atmosphere of the show, well, let’s see… there were two people on stage who had string pulled out of their mouths, there were crepe-paper streamers tossed from the corners of the theater into the crowd, shiny confetti fell from the ceiling. Oh, and did I mention the trapeze aerialist? Yes, there she was, about a third of the way into the crowd, doing her thing while two accordions and a percussionist serenaded her from the balcony.
  The highlight of the show (no, I haven’t mentioned it yet) was around midway though the night when the musicians broke off into groups, with the horn section performing in the balcony stage right, followed by Wax and Slezak on the catwalk behind the crowd, then down to the floor where an acoustic bass backed a solo singer, then to the center of the crowd where Wax and Slezak performed a very acoustic gospel number that had the whole crowd foot-stomping the beat. It was mesmerizing music and theater.
  The night finished up with multiple encores: their very popular “Yes, Maria, Yes” brought the band out in full force. It was followed by a beautiful duet of just Wax and Slezak side by side on a single microphone for a final tune.
For more pics, click HERE

My video clip from the show

Posted in concert review, david wax museum, oberon | Leave a comment

>CD review: Iron and Wine, "Kiss Each Other Clean"

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  In our last CD review, of the new Decemberists album, I wondered how the band’s longtime fans would react to their new sound. Well, I can ask the same question here, with Iron and Wine’s latest release, “Kiss Each Other
Clean.”
   Originally, Iron and Wine was Sam Beam, solo acoustic folkster. He built a fanbase around his hushed vocals and soft sound. Band members were added and world beat flavorings were introduced for the next pair of albums, “Woman King” and “The Shepard’s Dog.” The hushed vocals were now enveloped by a swirling, churning beats. Iron and Wine became critic darlings and the fanbase grew and grew. In fact, this is where I came in. “Woman King,” to me, was dazzling.
  And that brings us to “Kiss Each Other Clean,” in which the band, and especially its leader Beam breaks out and offers some new surprises.
  The first surprise is that I can finally understand his lyrics. I loved “Woman King” mostly for the music and mostly because I couldn’t make out what Beam was whispering. On the new album, the vocals are out front. On the opener, “Walking Far From Home,” he sings: I was walking far from home/And I found your face mingled in the crowd/Saw a boat-full of believers/Sail off talking too loud, talking too loud.” I didn’t have to look those lyrics up; I could actually hear them!
  The other surprise is that the songs are a lot more accessible. I wouldn’t call them pop songs, but they are certainly more catchy than his past works. He still is offering up his takes on love and faith, and some of the lyrics are actually quite dark. But then there’s “Tree By the River,” which opens with the line “Marianne, do you remember the tree by the river when we were 17.” It almost sounds like a line from a Beach Boys song!
  The tunes continue to have a world of influences. Touches of gospel, blues, world beat are weaved through the songs. On “Monkeys Uptown,” percussion, electronic sounds, echoing guitar and marimba percolate under Beam’s lyrics. A toy flute wanders amid blasts of heavy fuzz of electric guitar in the haunting “Rabbit Will Run.” Blasts of clarinet punch through the funk beat of “Big Burned Hand.” Beam litters the album with ear candy — fuzzed-out vocals, funked-up bass lines, organs, wind instruments, and electronica of all sorts.
  It all sounds interesting, if not memorable. But by album’s end, I start to grow weary. I really am wishing the band would play one song without the bells and whistles. I just kind of need a break.
  I don’t long for the good old days, but a reminder every once in while wouldn’t hurt.

NPR concert of new album

Posted in cd review, iron and wine | 2 Comments