>Lissie at the Paradise, Boston


  The second show of my weekend concert extravaganza was quite different than the first. Instead of the sold out large-theater setting of the House of Blues for the Decemberists, I was a mile or so up Comm. Ave. at the more intimate and comfortably crowded Paradise Rock Club, where a heavily college-age crowd eagerly anticipated the singer-songwriter known only as Lissie.
  If you haven’t heard of her, you probably will soon. If you know her already, either you were there at the show or you at least thought about going. I first heard about her early last year from a work colleague who is always ahead of the curve on these things. Once I listened to her “Why You Runnin’” EP, she quickly became one of my “6 Artists to Watch” (in the March issue of Modern Acoustic; click HERE to read the issue).
  For those who haven’t heard of her, Lissie’s sort of a hippie chick in the sense that she doesn’t wear any makeup, doesn’t shave her armpits or legs (her own admission on stage!), and doles out advice about living in the moment and “not letting shit bother you” (also her quote).
  As stated, the crowd at the Paradise was mostly college-age kids and heavily female in gender, who exuberently screamed out “WE LOVE YOU” and “YOU’RE SO HOT” with regularity. And the singer, in turn, spread The Word of Lissie, happily doling out advice (Lissie’s in her late 20s, so she’s got a lifetime of wisdom to impart): “Don’t get STDs,” “Don’t get pregnant, unless you want to,” and the best one, “Don’t get drunk and end up in the back seat of some dude’s car. Make sure you get yourself home… and then you can hurl.”) She said this all in a very loving way. She really cares.
  Now on to the show… On record, Lissie sports a soulful voice, singing material that ranges from country to bluesy, and the songs themselves tend to live in that same country, gospel range. In concert, she becomes a powerhouse. The music is amped up with a more danceable beat behind her. You might think Lissie would get lost in all that, but you really haven’t heard the best of her until you see her live. That soulful voice booms. It rises and falls easily with the music. She uses her arms, specifically her guitar-strumming hand as an exclamation point to her lyrics. Her head sways back, forth, left and right with feeling, her long, blond hair ending up covering her face, until she gently brushes it away in the quiet of a moment.
  She opened with a cover, “Wedding Bells,” by Hank Williams, and ended with another, the Kid Cudi tune “Pursuit of Happiness,” which is a staple of her shows and had the crowd in full frenzy.
  In between, while I don’t have complete setlist at this time, she played a number of the tunes from her two recordings. “Little Lovin’,” the bluesy “Oh Mississippi” (which she called an “ode to death”!), and “Everywhere I Go” from “Why You Runnin'” were superb. “When I’m Alone,” “Bully,” and “In Sleep,” from “Catching a Tiger,” could all make pop radio if they were given the dance beat they were given in concert.
   To me, Lissie has potential to be whatever she wants. Would she put up with being polished and primped up to make it as a pop artist? Is she happy being a soulful singer-songwriter outside the mainstream? We’ll have to wait to see where she goes from here.
To view my pics from the show, click HERE

Lissie doing Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness” (not from Paradise show)

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>The Decemberists at the House of Blues, Boston, Jan. 28, 2011


  “Apparently, we ruined indie,” declared the Decemberists enigmatic lead singer Colin Meloy, in the middle of a small run of new songs off their new latest album, “The King Is Dead” early in the show. Meloy was referring to a recent, hilarious article in the Boston Phoenix blaming Meloy and his merry band of misfits for ruining “music doesn’t mean anything” indie rock with their influential and wildly popular brand of  “trying too hard” prog-folk. The article goes on to accuse the Decemberists of spawning bands like Fleet Foxes, the National and Blitzen Trapper. (Read the Phoenix article HERE.)
  Whether you think the article is funny or just stupid, may depend on your sense of humor and your love for the band’s “British”-sounding tales of long ago and its dramatic flair. In fact, the new album drops much of that for a more stripped-sound and alt-country feel of harmonicas, 12-string guitars and beautiful harmonies.
  Which brings us to Saturday night’s show at the House of Blues, where Meloy led the small band version of the group through a too-short (72 minutes, to be exact), but fun-filled night of music that spanned their 10-year career. (Ed. note: I learned after the fact that Meloy reportedly had the stomach flu, causing the show to be cut short.)
   After opening with “July, July,” from one of their earliest albums, the group romped through  three new tunes off the new album, beginning with the single “Down By the Water,” “Rox in the Box” and “Rise to Me.” It was amazing how well this new sound fit the band live. Sara Watkins, who became a star with the band Nickel Creek,” is a powerhouse and a good sport (more about this later) and provided the Gillian-Welch-sung backup vocals on “King Is Dead” songs as well as some great violin solos.
   Not to be locked in on the new album, the Decemberists then launched into two of their great story-songs, “The Engine Driver” and “The Soldiering Life.”
  After another new tune, “All Arise!,” much of the band traded their instruments for drums and rocked the house on the highlight of the night, “The Rake’s Song” from “Hazards of Love.” The huge percussion sound rung out through the venue.  This was followed by more fun tunes, “Valencia” and “The Chimbley Sweep,” which got the crowd singing along “For I am a poor and a wretched boy!” Watkins was goaded by Meloy into multiple violin solos, and of course, the high-end woman’s voice mid-song.
  Then they left the stage waving… It seemed like a little too soon. Maybe they’d be back for a bunch of encores?
  They did come back, for two songs: A fun “A Cautionary Tale” (see video below) had three members of the band (including the poor Watkins) parading into the crowd to perform a “tableaux of the wonders of the world.” It was very goofy; and “June Hymn,” an ode to summer during a nonstop horrendous New England winter.
  Then the lights came on and the show was over. A fun night that should have gone on a little longer.
To view my pics from the show, click HERE.

July, July!
Down By the Water
Rox in the Box
Rise to Me
Won’t Want For Love (Margaret in the Taiga)
The Engine Driver
The Soldiering Life
All Arise!
This Is Why We Fight
The Rake’s Song
O Valencia!
The Chimbley Sweep
A Cautionary Song
June Hymn

A Cautionary Song from the show (not my video):

Posted in boston, concert review, decemberists, house of blues | 3 Comments

>Lyrically Speaking: April the 14th, Part 1


Pity us poor Gillian Welch fans!  We keep tapping our toes, checking our watches, paging through our calendars waiting for the next album to drop. I mean, she’s got plenty of time to help her partner David Rawlings put out a nifty album, fly ‘cross country to Portland to sing back-up on nearly every song on the new Decemberists album… But she can’t piece together enough songs over the past, whatever, seven years for her own new album? We’ve even heard some of the new songs — “Throw Me a Rope,” “Knuckleball Catcher” — and we love them. So please, Gillian…
  In the meantime, here’s an old song of hers I love.
  Off of the still-amazing “Time (The Revelator)” album, from 2001, “April the 14th, Part 1” is part history lesson, part story of a band on the run.
  Gillian details what she terms “Ruination Day,” April 14th, a day in history that includes the Lincoln assassination (1865), the sinking of the Titanic (1912) and “Black Sunday,” one of the worst Dust Bowl storms in Oklahoma (1935).
  Over haunting minor-chord acoustic guitars, the first lines of the song set the tone: “When the iceberg hit/Oh they must have known/God moves on the water/Like Casey Jones.”
  Gillian sings about an anonymous young band playing a nowheresville Idaho festival presumably on that same grave April Day: “They looked sick and stoned/And strangely dressed/No one showed/From the local press.”
  Is she comparing the band’s experience to the date’s other tragic events? The lyrics do read like a disaster: “And the girl passed out/In the backseat trash/There were no way they’d make/Even a half a tank of gas.”
  The bleakness of the lyrics, sung in Gillian’s aching yet beautiful voice meld beautifully with her strummed chords and Rawlings haunting plucked notes.
  A second part to the song, “Ruination Day, Part 2” is a two-minute, 37-second epilogue repeating the same disaster themes and bringing the whole thing to a close, counting down the miles, like counting down the years: “That’s the day…/The day that is ruination day./They were one/They were two/They were three/They were four/They were five hundred miles from their home…”

April the 14th, Part 1
When the iceberg hit,
Oh they must have known,
God moves on the water
Like Casey Jones.

So I walked downtown
On my telephone,
And took a lazy turn
Through the redeye zone.

It was a five-band bill,
A two-dollar show.
I saw the van out in front
From Idaho,

And the girl passed out
In the backseat trash.
There were no way they’d make
Even a half a tank of gas.

They looked sick and stoned
And strangely dressed.
No one showed
From the local press.

But I watched them walk
Through the bottom land,
And I wished that I played
In a rock & roll band.

Hey, hey,
It was the fourteenth day of April.

Well they closed it down,
With the sails in rags.
And I swept up the fags
And the local mags.

I threw the plastic cups
In the plastic bags,
And the cooks cleaned the kitchen
With the staggers and the jags.

Ruination day,
And the sky was red.
I went back to work,
And back to bed.

And the iceberg broke,
And the Okies fled,
And the Great Emancipator
Took a bullet in the back of the head…

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>CD review: the Decemberists, "The King Is Dead"


   My 17-year-old daughter and I both love the Decemberists, but I suspect for different reasons. She loves their wildly dramatic flair, their old-world story songs, and that British tone. I love all that too, but what gets me is the band’s sound — rock guitars mixing with banjo and other assorted cachophony-inducing instruments, the minor-chord melodies.
  It will be interesting to see how some Decemberists fans will take to “The King Is Dead,” the band’s superb sixth studio album, because it literally drops all the fancy pretensions of the recent past and really gets back to its stripped-down Americana roots.
  The album falls somewhere between early Neil Young-era folk-rock and a ’90s REM jangle (Peter Buck actually plays on some cuts). Throw in some Gillian Welch backing vocals on eight of 10 songs and you’ve got an album with an alt-country feel.
  “Don’t Carry It Off,” the first song, showcases the new (old) sound: Hard-strummed acoustic guitar, strong drumbeat and harmonica, and Buck adds some tasty mandolin. The song could have right at home on Young’s “Harvest” album. Gillian’s voice blends beautifully with Colin Meloy’s, which in this context loses that “British” accent.
  On “Calamity Song,” Buck’s 12-string rings out, bringing the REM feel to the forefront. A pedal steel and harmonica ring out in “Rise to Me.” The Neil Young references keep coming back to me. “Rox in the Box” may be the closest thing to a Decemberists story song, about the toil of old-time miners: “And you won’t make a dime/On this gray Granite Mountain Mine/Of dirt you’re made and to dirt you will return.” The songs are creative and feel very true to their sound.
  The album’s single, “Down By the Water” is probably the most rocking tune here. It’s got that REM feel and the Colin/Gillian vocals adds a great tension. “June Hymn” is a nice, acoustic ballad as is “Dear Avery,” which closes the album.
  It will be interesting to see how this album is received by true fans of the band and where the Decemberists will go next. But for this listener, “The King Is Dead” is a playlist keeper.

The Decemberists with Gillian Welch on Conan

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>Lyrically Speaking: For No One


   It almost feels like cheating to pick a Beatles song for this feature.  I mean, just because everyone knows every note, every lyric by heart — does that mean I shouldn’t be able to share my thoughts? I say no.
  Yes, I could have pretty much picked any song from their epic discography, but “For No One,” off of arguably the best Beatles album ever, “Revolver,” is an amazing song.
  What gets me the is the depths of the heartache in each stanza: “She wakes up/ she makes up/ she takes her time and doesn’t feel she has to hurry/ she no longer needs you.” The horrible emptiness of a guy whose lover has psychologically left him.
  And the chorus — “And in her eyes you see nothing/ no sign of love behind the tears cried for no one/ A love that should have lasted years” — is broken-hearted poetry.
  The music too is sparse and sad, just Paul and Ringo on this cut. Paul reportedly plays a clavichord (a medieval stringed keyboard), as well as piano and bass. A French horn takes the solo, adding to the mood.
  From Wikipedia: McCartney recalls writing “For No One” in the bathroom of a ski resort in the Swiss Alps while on holiday with his then girlfriend Jane Asher. He said, “I suspect it was about another argument.” (To read the whole entry, click HERE)
  For some reason, when I think of the Beatles and how they broke up in 1969, this song always comes to mind…

For No One
Your day breaks,
your mind aches,
you find that all her words of kindness linger on
when she no longer needs you.

She wakes up,
she makes up,
she takes her time and doesn’t feel she has to hurry;
she no longer needs you.

And in her eyes you see nothing,
no sign of love behind the tears cried for no one.
A love that should have lasted years.

You want her
you need her,
and yet you don’t believe her when she says her love is dead;
you think she needs you.

And in her eyes you see nothing,
no sign of love behind the tears cried for no one.
A love that should have lasted years.

You stay home,
she goes out,
she says that long ago she knew someone but now he’s gone;
she doesn’t need him.

Your day breaks,
your mind aches,
there will be times when all the things she said will fill your head;
you won’t forget her.

And in her eyes you see nothing,
no sign of love behind the tears cried for no one.
A love that should have lasted years

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>CD review: Lori McKenna, "Lorraine"


  It’s easy to hear the appeal of Lori McKenna’s songs to country music stars and fans: the trials and tribulations, thoughts and actions of her everyday characters are those that fill countless country songs.
 Yet I certainly didn’t come to her music from a country music angle. I first heard her singing “Fireflies” on the disc “Respond,” a compilation of songs by female folk singer-songwriters, and followed her with delight through the superlative “Bittertown.”
  That album is what caught the attention of country-music queen Faith Hill, and gave Lori her brief shot at stardom. Lori toured with Faith, appeared on “Oprah” with her, and garnered her a deal with Warner  Nashville which produced “Unglamorous,” a nice, if overly produced, group of country-leaning tunes. And while the attention was certainly warranted, it left me wanting my Lori back again.
  And, luckily for me, she came back.
  Her new album, “Lorraine,” is out Jan. 25 and it is everything I hoped for. According to her, the album is named after her mother, though she admits that her real name is Lorraine as well, so it may be just about as much about herself.
  And as with her songs of the past, you deeply feel the pain, the uncertainty, the love that her characters feel in her lyrics.
  She opens with “The Luxury of Knowing” (which Keith Urban actually sings as a bonus track on his new album), about the ups and downs of a couple’s relationship:

You know that I like to dance/ But only when I’m dancing with you/ You know I must be bad at lying/ Because I’ve only ever told you the truth.
Just when I think you’re a hurricane/ You freeze right over and all that rain/ Turns to ice and your whole world just starts snowing/ I don’t have the luxury of knowing
These lyrics just flow out of her. They could be about me, about you, about people we know. And her voice and delivery is so convincing of both the ache and love. It is why when you hear Faith Hill or Keith Urban sing her songs, well, it’s just not the same.
  The title track, “Lorraine,” may be the most personal song of all here as she sings about her relationship with her mother, who died when Lori was small. The opening lines are so descriptive and wonderful:

The kitchen smells like orange peels/ Her stomach turns like a spinning wheel/ She puts the baby down in a little seat/ You should rest now mama you should eat/ 
It ain’t right you’ve been working all day and all us kids getting in your way/ So she goes to bed as soon as the kitchen’s clean/ And that don’t mean a thing to you but it does to me.

 Other great songs include “You Get a Love Song,” which starts soft but turns into one of the few rocking songs on the album, and “Buy This Town,” which Lori described in concert as a song she wrote in her head while driving her kids back and forth through her town to school multiple times in the course of a day.
 There’s also a lot more piano on this album than on her past ones. “If He Tried” has with a delicate keyboard intro and “Rocket Science” is pretty much just her voice and the piano (there’s some atmospheric guitar and backing vocals that add to the song’s beauty).
My favorite song  on the album is “Sweet Disposition,” an incredibly soulful and sad tune about someone who has lost her way but trying to find their way back:

My mother left me a wedding band/ And impossible shoes to fill/ Something I’ve always tried to do/ But I know I never will.
If you ask my children about me/ I wish in their brief description/ They’d say I love them with a true heart and a sweet disposition.

Wow. If this stuff doesn’t make you cry, I don’t know what will. This is the Lori we know and love.

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>Album releases update

>January and February are usually pretty light when it comes to album releases. Many bands like to release their albums in time to take advantage of the holiday season or wait till spring. But not this year. There’s a ton of great music coming out early and I can’t wait. Instead of waiting until the next issue of my mag (March), I’ll be reviewing as many of these albums as I can here on my blog… so keep checking back. Since I’m waiting for the Decemberists and Gregg Allman’s album to hit my mailbox, I’ll start off with Lori McKenna’s album, “Lorriaine,” in the next couple of days. So stay tuned…

Here’s a list of albums I am eagerly awaiting.

The Decemberists, “The King Is Dead” – Jan. 18
Gregg Allman, “Low Country Blues” – Jan. 18
Iron & Wine, “Kiss Each Other Clean” – Jan. 25
Lori McKenna, “Lorraine” – Jan. 25
Dala, “Everyone Is Someone” – Jan. 25
Wailin Jennys, “Bright Morning Stars” – Feb. 8
Low Anthem, “Smart Flesh” – Feb. 22
Zoe Muth, title TBD – april (date TBD)
Lucinda Williams, “Blessed” – March 1

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