Good handful of new (to me) stuff these last few weeks. Hope you find a few new gems to polish on your own, either from this recap or from elsewhere. (And share with the class, please!)
I’ll start with some great new finds, and end with a recent live show that was totally transformative.
Amy Helm is probably tired of being the main, first reference when describing the collective of which she’s a part. Or maybe she isn’t. Ollabelle’s newest, Neon Blue Bird, is fantastic with or without that lineage. Songs like “Be Your Woman,” “Wait for the Sun,” and an inspired and interesting rendition of “Swanee River” made this one a staple on my high-rotation list after the first listen. Their Daytrotter session is outstanding, as well. Do yourself a favor and check that out first- if necessary, as proof enough that you need to buy their other stuff post-haste.
Feist’s Metals album is another very pleasant surprise. I don’t know that I had an opinion about her or her work prior to seeing her on Stephen Colbert’s Christmas special a few years ago, but she got points in my book for that appearance, for sure. This album, tho, positions her well for a lasting and valuable contribution to the thoughtful performer zeitgeist. More than a few songs channel my (admittedly limited) memories of Tori Amos, mainly but not exclusively with Metals‘ “Graveyard.” That’s far from a criticism, tho: those reminiscences coupled with such strong outings as opener “The Bad in Each Other,” “Anti-Pioneer,” and “Comfort Me” leave me with the impression that she is most definitely someone who simply (Ha!) gets it- always an important barometer in my estimation.
The Morning After Girls renew my faith in heavy guitar rock. That’s not all they do, of course, but all too often the power chords can be all that’s there. I was first aware of them via a Paste sampler, I think, where “shadows evolve” (lower case intended) gripped me from the opening bars. Nothing for a few years and then I come across Alone, and everything I loved about “shadows…” is there again, a dozen times stronger. If all I’d heard was “Death Processions” I’d have felt more than justified in buying the whole effort, but the rest is just as visceral, just as crank-it-up-NOW, as anything I’ve heard in years.
I was completely entranced by School of Seven Bells’ last album, start to finish. From the derivation of their name (from a pickpocket academy in South America) to the Elfin nature of nearly every tune- I could picture the twins wandering through New Zealand forests just out of frame as Liv Tyler slo-moed away from the stately procession leaving Middle-earth. So when I heard that one of those twins had departed, I was skeptical as to how that might affect the sound, the feel of any future work. I’m a bit mystified to find that I really can’t tell a difference between the individual tunes from the new Ghostory and those from Disconnect from Desire. Still as ethereal, as wispy, as dream-like and trance-inducing as ever, I’ve actually rated more songs from the new one higher than those from the previous work. I’m interested to find out what caused the split, what the departed twin is up to, and how everyone’s coping with such a division.
Two singles bear mention this time round, both from recent Paste Magazine mPlayers: Grace Woodruffe’s “Battles” and “I Think I Like It” from The London Souls (which has apparently been around since 2008, so VERY late to the party here.) Embarrassingly, I know next to nothing about either of these artists, just that each had enough to grab my ear and make me want to know more.
Next to last, Zach Rogue’s Release the Sunbird sneaked up on me with an EP release fairly recently called Imaginary Summer. I was completely enthralled by their debut disc, so much so that I’ve evangelized about it to anyone and everyone that seemed remotely interested in hearing great new music (a smaller population than you might think.) This EP is even better than that initial collection. There’s a completely different vibe to it, which I might have normally have seen as a downside, a detriment to what they’d built so lovingly with the first experience. But it feels logical, a natural progression from that first batch. “Sunburn” was the first one to grab me- easily my favorite song of the year so far- followed quickly by “I Will Walk” and each of the remaining three. Not to be missed.
Which brings me to the live show I mentioned at the beginning.
I’ve been trying to see Girlyman since a good friend/work colleague turned me onto them over 5 years ago. I’d only been exposed to their chilling cover of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” but I could tell there was something magical there.
I added them to the growing list of artists to track- where and when they were playing live, when they had any new releases, the usual.
Turns out whenever they were playing in Atlanta, I was in Seattle. Whenever they were in the PNW I was back in Atlanta. On at least two separate occasions I’d already bought tickets to shows in Atlanta when one of their shows there was announced. I was convinced that I was just not destined to ever see them live.
Cut to February of 2012. Finding out I have a business trip that will take me to both NJ and Denver in March I begin combing the Interwebs for good shows in or near those cities on those dates. I find Bombay Bicycle Club at the Bowery Ballroom in NY- YES!- sold out. No! Jane’s Addiction- new album is VERY good- in Jersey! My flight leaves just before showtime. Wait- there’s an interesting-looking venue about an hour outside of Denver, way up in the mountains, and it looks like they have a show scheduled for the Friday I wrap up there.
I immediately snag a ticket, and within a day of that discovery I find that they’re also scheduled for Eddie’s Attic in May. Snag, round two.
When talking with fellow music fanatics I’ve always described Girlyman’s harmonies as being other-worldly, but they’re really not. They’re definitely borne of the human experience, and so utterly real and tangible as to peel back any cynicism and ennui that we may have layered up over the course of our lives. At the show at the Wildflower Pavilion in Lyons, CO (part of Planet Bluegrass’ stable of outstanding rustic venues, Telluride included) I was constantly amazed by the light and familiar banter between songs, the silly cabaret they’re so deftly weaving between such heart-wrenching and truth-baring odes to life, and love, and all that really matters.
They relied heavily on their latest recordings in the show, and rightly so. Supernova is deep and heavy and yet those harmonies and that sweetness- no matter who’s doing the driving- combine to form a delivery system that never misses its target. Ty’s “Break Me Slow” is one of the most moving songs I’ve ever heard live. Hearing Doris on the new release’s title track, written without her recent medical travails in mind but meshing seamlessly with them, brings such reality home like nothing I’ve ever heard. Nate may be the most obviously enigmatic of the bunch- silly and broadly slapstick between each song, and so adroitly capable of spontaneous “tuning song” ramblings that are near perfect creations of topicality- yet once the songs start there can be no doubting that they spring from a deeply personal space. There’s nothing frivolous about any of their work once they get into it, and the sounds they conjure with those unorthodox vocal chords slice right through all the other detritus in their- and our- lives.
In buying their newest disc, and one other, I also got a collection of those “tuning songs,” and listened to it on the way back from a road trip into the Rockies today. Uber-funny and unfairly clever, they make for a perfect counterpoint to the beautiful weight of the rest of the Girlyman canon. (I also got all three discs signed by everyone, awesome drummer JJ included, and addressed to my daughters, to boot.)
See them if you can. They exemplify all that’s good and important about the live music experience.
Until next time-