Sunday, February 17, 2008

New Music for February 2008

New music this month from: Kym Tuvim, Kristy Hanson, Sarah Borges, Jennifer Niceley, Shivaree, Johnette Napolitano, Nicole Atkins, Abra Moore, Linda Thompson, Willy Mason and The Cowboy Junkies.

Kristy Hanson - Already Gone (2007)
What really makes this a wonderful CD is that the woman with a beautiful voice is playing behind some of the best and most interesting players in Los Angeles. Jay Bellerose always find a unique way to give us a beat. Patrick Warren knows how to add the keyboards without overpowering. Mike Chiaburu's bass playing gives the whole thing a live jazz club feel. And Kristy sure can sing. Add to it some good songwriting, and you have a CD worth owning. You can get more info here:
Kym Tuvim - Nothing Sweet Nothing (2008)
A mix of jazz, blues and folk, I guarantee you will be hooked within 2 minutes into the first song of this excellent CD. She sings in a lower register not unlike Tracy Chapman or Joan Armatrading and it just sounds so good in front of her solid backing band. This jumps out to a big lead for best indie artist of 2008.
Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles - Diamonds in the Dark (2007)
Wow, what a CD. Someone was bugging me to check her last CD out and I never got around to it. But this was staring at me during my last visit to Amoeba Records and I picked it up. Every type of Americana you can think of seems to be here. It's a rockin' country CD with not a bad song on it. One of the best from 2007.
Jennifer Niceley - Luminous (2007)
Smokey, sexy, beautiful. This describes not only Jennifer but her music too. A jazzy and cool CD, I was really taken by it. And it didn't hurt that when I close my eyes I can see her subtly sultry performance from last year's ACL festival.
ONXRT 10 (2007)
Maybe the second best compilation on the planet, last year's disk is a best of disk. And there is lots to love with performances from: The Pretenders, Death Cab, Melissa,Decemberists, Chris Cornell, Warren Zevon, Joan Armatrading and more.
Shivaree - Tainted Love: Mating Calls and Fight Songs (2007)
Ambrosia Parsley and her band do a cover CD. What a unique idea. This must be the 20th cover CD I've listened to in the last year. Luckily, Ambrosia has a voice that can charm the beast while ripping him to shreds. These are not faithful covers, but love and lust songs turned inside out as only Shivaree can do. If you like Shivaree, you will love this quirky, cabaret like cover CD.
A Tribute to Joni Mitchell (2007)
This is a truly inspired lineup for a tribute CD. Some of the artists give it their own spin, from the Bjork version of Boho Dance to the dreamy Cassandra Wilson singing For the Roses. Sarah's version of Blue is heavenly.
Johnette Napolitano - Scarred (2007)
This is an emotional, painful, powerful CD from the leader of Concrete Blonde. There is almost a cinematic style to the lyrics. It has an interesting mix of singing and talk-singing that adds to the mood. Throw in some loud guitar (remember Concrete Blonde was influenced by Thin Lizzy) and you have a captivating CD.
Nicole Atkins - Bleeding Diamonds (2006)
Only 6 songs here, but she is someone to keep an eye on.
Abra Moore - On the Way (2007)
What a mature release from Abra. The songs are so well crafted and each has its own inner beauty. I could listen to this CD all day.
Linda Thompson - Versatile Heart (2007)
Richard's ex, puts out a solid piece of folk rock. And her son helped produce. How sweet is that? Seriously, check this one out. She deserves so much more fame. One of the best unknown singer/songwriters.
Willy Mason - If The Ocean Gets Rough (2007)
Willy just keeps getting better and better. I've been watching this kid grow up over the last several years. His performance at ACL last year made it clear that this boy is now a man. This is a more straightforward CD than the last one, and that should translate into more fans.
Cowboy Junkies - Trinity Revisited (2007)
A wonderful recreation of a special CD. The Junkies go back to church, sharing the stage with Ryan Adams, Vic Chesnutt, Natalie Merchant and Jeff Bird. Maybe not as good as the original, but the CD/DVD combo is still special.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


Oops. I forgot to post about our day in Jamaica...

If it’s Friday, it must be Jamaica “mahn”. Deb and Linda literally climbed up a waterfall while we watched. And then we hung out on a nice beach while the locals served us rum punch and Jamaican beer. Overall, I wasn’t too impressed. There was a certain attitude in Jamaica that we didn’t see in either Mexico or Grand Cayman. But it was so nice to just sit out on the beach and relax.
We got back on the ship and after a short nap we ran out to the pool area for Buddy Miller’s show. I can’t believe Deb missed it because it was easily one of the highlights of the week. There was smoke on the deck, so Maria left early and that left me with a “standing option”. And there was just enough room in the pit for one more guy, and that was me. Buddy came out and well, you can see right away why Patty, Shawn and Emmylou love him. He is just such a likeable guy, who looked out and pretty much assumed everyone was there to hear the ladies. And so, after a couple of great country type rockers, he brought out Shawn to sing (as she put it) a woosy song. Shawn was really enjoying him rockin’ and playing his guitar. One of the things that makes Buddy great (besides his guitar work) is his ability to see great songwriting. Every song he performed just seemed like a classic. And being the guy he is, every songwriter got his due, before he played their song. After a few songs, Shawn left the stage and Buddy started playing “I Worry Too much”. Well, the hook in the chorus was just too much for Shawn and Patty so as Buddy started the second verse, they leaped up on stage to help. 10 seconds later Emmylou decided to join them. This is why we came on the cruise. To see performers wanting to be on stage with their friends. No real script to follow. They were just doing what was in their hearts. As the ladies started to leave the stage, Buddy stopped Patty and kept her up there with him for awhile. At one point, as Buddy was tuning his guitar, Patty said to the audience, “We love playing with Buddy”, and Buddy without missing a beat responded, “I am the luckiest guy on this ship”. We all applauded, because we knew he was right. Patty finally left the stage and after a song or two, Emmylou did her time on the state with Buddy. What was supposed to be an hour set stretched out to nearly an hour and a half. Buddy, being the good guy that he is, asked the staff if it was okay if he ran long. After getting the okay, he looked at us and said, “Hey, there are rules and we have to follow them. I don’t know why”. Standing out in the sun watching great performers play great music, surrounded by people who love music: Does it get any better than this? I don’t think so.

With all the great shows every night, how was Brandi Carlile going to compete. We saw her a couple of years ago opening for Shawn Colvin at the Coach House. I loved the show and bought her current CD. Maria enjoyed her, but liked the third act even more (wish I could remember who that was). But Brandi at 26 (I believe) has really started to grow up. Maria called this her favorite show of the cruise. Opening with Elton John’s Sixty Years, she served notice that this was going to be a powerful show. Her voice, which really belongs in Nashville (she is from Seattle), echoed throughout the hall, sending chills to those who had never heard her before. Her country based falsetto shows up at the most interesting times. I really believe that she needs to move to Austin or Nashville to complete her education. The big question on my mind was: How is she going to fill an hour and a half set. There were some excellent choices for covers, including Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice” and a fun sing-a-long on piano (she is starting to play piano) with the first half of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Shawn Colvin came out for a couple of songs including a beautiful version of “Calling all Angles”. She closed with a stunning version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Brandi Carlile is a growing performer, but at only 26, she easily fits in with this esteemed group of singer/songwriters.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Cayamo Cruise - The last day

It is our final day on the boat and boy is it going to be hard getting back to the real world. After sleeping in we did the gym thing and then headed to the dining room to wait for our bonus show; which was Patty Griffin.

Because we signed up early, we were placed in the first group. Everything about the way this festival on water has been run has been first class. Even waiting in line was so much better than the real world. They took over the dining room and we just sat at a table with other die hard fans chatting about Patty and the other shows. We have met so many nice people on this cruise. And there is always something to talk about. Unlike other cruises we have been on, we have so much in common with so many of these people. We must have sat at that table for a good hour and a half, but it felt like 20 minutes. After being escorted into the lounge, I did a quick move to the left and ended up front and center for the show. With Patty’s voice still suffering from her cold, she decided to do an interview and only play a few songs. The interview was nice because Patty saves her opening up for her songs. It was really good to hear an extended conversation with her. Her 3 songs were a portion of the first song she ever wrote, Up to the Mountain and the little French number she has been doing on tour over the last year. A little disappointing (not her performance, just the lack of songs), but hey, I can’t complain: I was only a few feet away from one of my favorites.

With shows being moved around we were able to arrange our schedule to see Ari Hest. Playing in a small club on the ship, Ari was one of the few artists with no hint of a country background. His easygoing rock approach was actually a nice change of pace. Deb is a big fan of his. I had seen him a few years back as an opening act and wasn’t as impressed. But on this night he really shined. He opened with just himself on guitar and a borrowed cello player from Brandi Carlile, but then brought on his band (bass, electric guitar and drums) for the rest of the set. About half way through the set, he surprised the crowd by leaving and was replaced by Edwin McCain. Actually, they were playing in adjacent rooms and decided to swap rooms for one song. It actually worked out very well, with Edwin telling a few jokes about being able to play a song about an ex-girlfriend since his wife was in the other room. I think I may have to pick up an Ari CD. You all may be interested in his current project: 52 songs in 52 weeks. Each week he emails a new to you. I think he is charging $20 for a whole year of songs. You can’t beat that.

Emmylou Harris is our final concert of the week. I went in expecting to get a little itchy after a half hour or so, but was really captured by not only her variety of songs but also her spirit. She did lots of older tunes (a couple from her duet album with Linda Ronstadt, as well as some songs from the 50’s), but ultimately the most inspiring aspect of her show was her songs. Emmylou was a recording star for some 15 years before she started writing her own songs. She admitted to us that it was tough in the beginning because she loved to sing sad depressing songs and she had a very happy childhood, “Darn”. Buddy Miller was her main band member, singing all of the duets with her and once again leaving us with lots of tasty licks from his guitars. Patty Griffin did show up for a quick harmony on one song. Otherwise it was all Emmylou and Buddy. What a wonderful end to a fantastic week.

Andy, the owner of Sixthman, the company that put on the cruise, came out before the show and thanked us all for coming. He promised us an even better event next year. Deb had a chance to talk to him earlier in the day. He told her that all of the artists wanted to come back but that he could only take half of them. What a great experience this was. Sixthman staff did a great job at almost ever turn of the boat. The only issue was a bit of confusion about the bonus shows. But the staff was there for us throughout the week and all of the shows went on without a hitch. The sound in the main room was excellent every night (except for Shawn Mullins show which was too loud) and the other rooms all sounded great too. The shows by the pool were just a blast and… well, I could go on and on. I hope to be onboard next year when Cayamo sails again. Meanwhile, please check all of my blog entries over the next week. I will be posting pictures and videos as quickly as I can.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Patty Griffin at Cayamo

Today’s stop is Grand Cayman and we are all going out to feed the fishes. Okay, not all of us. Actually, I was the only one with enough nerve to feed the stingrays. You know, the fish that killed the alligator guy. But these guys were so cute and cuddly. It was like touching wet mushrooms. They would just swim up to you and rub against you. Just don’t step on one or you’re gonna be in a world of pain. We all got in the water, some longer than others, and just had a blast. Speaking of water, the pictures will come later, but it was a beautiful emerald green and crystal clear. After feeding the stingrays, we went over to a coral reef and did some snorkeling. It was all pretty amazing with the fish swimming by and the coral all around. What a special day it was. And it needed to be, because it is going to take a lot to beat Patty Griffin on a boat. That’s up next.

We had dinner with the members of the Mad Mission discussion group. It was fun putting faces and voices to names. Each of us in the group has a very different view of music, which was so interesting. But what we did have in common was that we were all there to see Patty.

Patty has been fighting a cold/flu for the last week, and although she has recovered and her voice was fine, the energy just wasn’t there. But hey, it’s Patty and that means, energy or not, it is always a special show. The set was also a bit short; maybe running an hour and 10 minutes. Patty, as always, was fabulous. Like most of the performers on the ship, she played with a scaled down band with just percussion and guitar (and the occasional Buddy Miller on whatever). Emmylou and Shawn showed up for some background harmonies. One of my favorite moments was a reworked version of Tony. Apparently she wanted to take it back to the original version before it got rearranged on Flaming Red. I waited too long to write this though and the songs have started to blur into all of the other music. But there will be several songs on Youtube soon (and not just from me I’m guessing. I saw a few other people videoing the shows). Patty wasn’t the highlight of the week for me, but I loved the show. We had a shore excursion the next day at 8am, so we all called it a night and prepared for Jamaica.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Cayamo Cruise with Lyle, Shawn, John and Shawn

We touched down in Mexico today; the island of Cozumel. Deb and Linda took off early for some snorkeling and ATV riding. Maria and I decided to sleep in and wander the port area. We found some real Mexican food in a restaurant a few blocks off the main strip. It was a bit hard ordering though. No, not because of the language barrier, since Maria speaks Spanish. Everything seem to have either pork or was cooked in lard; neither of which Maria wanted anything to do with. We ended up with some pretty good chicken fajitas. Down the street we found a little museum that was… little. Later (not much later) we stuck our feet in the crystal clear water just past the main strip. Maria had bought a cute t-shirt in Miami and wrote Obama on it. All day, the hawkers in front of the stores where commenting on it. One guy said, “If Obama wins, he is moving to the U.S.”. All in all a fun day.

And then came the evening… and the music. But first, how can we talk about a cruise without talking about the food? Tonight was the best dinner yet with most of us having either the prime rib or the lobster. I went with the lobster only because it came with risotto. Yum. The shrimp that came with it was actually better than the lobster. But the cherry’s jubilee left something to be desired. So far, the food as been only okay. We’ve had much better on the Royal Caribbean cruise line. We also met up with most of the onboard members of the Mad Mission group (Patty Griffin fanatics). Thursday night we will all be getting together for dinner.

I think the artists are having more fun than us. Maybe too much fun. It appears that Josh Rouse may have missed the boat when we were in Cozumel. I think he did it on purpose though, so that he wouldn’t have to play the casino later this week. Later this week? Oh my God, the cruise is half over already! Sorry, I got off track. Fun. We were talking about fun. So, each of the artists we have seen has gone on and on about how much fun the cruise has been. Shawn Colvin talked about getting to hang with her friend Lyle and Lyle talked about getting to hang with his friend Shawn Colvin. And Shawn Mullins talked about hanging with all of his heroes. Ya think they are going to do this again?

Lyle Lovett was our main attraction tonight. He put on a great show with his six piece band. Hmmm, let me count… Guitar, mandolin, drums, percussion, electric standup bass and cello. Yep, six. When we saw him in Austin a couple of years ago, he had that Large Band. He doesn’t need them. Not with the material he has to pick from. Not being a regular at his shows this felt like a greatest hits selection. But maybe he just has so many great songs that it was just a normal show. Every song sparkled as if it were brand new. For the man who acts like he’s afraid of the dark, he plays with the confidence of someone who’s been in the business for 20 years. Oh wait, he has. His chats with the audience were engaging and humorous and just a whole lot of fun. About half way through the show, he brought on Shawn Colvin who sang backup on several songs. The harmonies were absolutely beautiful. As the show got closer to the finale, Lyle brought out another good friend, John Hiatt. He hung for a few songs also, singing and playing guitar. And speaking of guitar, I love John. He is a great songwriter and a powerful singer. But I didn’t realize how big his cojones were. John went toe to toe with Mitch Watkins trading solos back and forth. If you’ve never seen Mitch Watkins play guitar, the only word to use is, “wow”. He can rip out a solo as easily as most of us breath. Like I said, John Hiatt is a great songwriter. Another great show for the Cayamo cruise.

Deb and I hung around for the late late show which was Shawn Mullins. This is another performer I’ve only heard a few things from of but have wanted to see live. He also put on an excellent show. A storyteller in the Kris Kristofferson style, Shawn sang and talked his way through a fascinating hour and a half set. His stories before the songs were just as interesting. He told the real story behind Lullaby (it wasn’t anyone famous) and even played a murder ballad for us (okay, it wasn’t really a ballad). There were also about 4 or 5 new songs, each with introductions that made the songs even more interesting. No stars joined him on stage, but his guitar/mandolin player (sorry can’t remember his name) was really really good; playing some great leads on electric guitar as well. Shawn finished off the set with a killer version of Steve Earle’s Cooperhead Road. And that was about all we could handle for one evening. Up next, feeding the stingrays!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Shawn Colvin at Sea

Yesterday was a day at sea, which means music from early afternoon till early morning. With 4 days in front of us, Maria and I decided to have a relaxing day today. We hit the gym, which was packed, walked around a bit onboard and took a midday nap. Late afternoon I headed out to the pool area to see Gaelic Storm; an Irish rock band out of Los Angeles.

Standing out in the sun with the wind blowing and the beer flowing, there is no better setting for an Irish drinking band. I was tapping my feet and singing along to songs about… well pretty much all of the songs seemed to be about drinking. Deb and Linda found me about half way through and we watched some classic fiddle playing along with an electric bagpipe (wasn’t really impressed with the sound of it… he mainly played a standard bagpipe) power this 5 or 6 piece band (remember the part about the beer flowing?).

There was a tacky Mardi Gras parade immediately following the show. The only highlight from this was that they played Dr. John over the sound system as necklaces were raining down on us from the upper deck. About half way through, several streamers were shot into the air and the colored paper was swirling around the deck as the wind picked it up.

The evening was set aside for Shawn Colvin. Deb and Linda saw her smaller show in the afternoon. It was a typical Shawn show with lots of laughs, screaming monkeys and a few guests. But the late night show was something special. Shawn was as focused as I’ve ever seen her. It looked like she had a set list taped to her guitar and was pretty much planning to stick to it. Part way through the show the requests started coming. And when the yelling died down (did I mention Shawn said tonight’s show was going to be about death and regret?) she told the crowd that she wanted to do things a bit different tonight. This meant no Polaroids and a few other classics were missing. But Shawn’s singing and guitar playing was right on and the show really seemed to have purpose. What a powerful show. Stories that you will probably never hear anywhere else showed up just for us. I don’t expect to hear the theme to the original Poseidon Adventure any time soon. Joining Shawn on stage were Lyle Lovett and Brandi Carlile. I hope to post videos of them when I get on dry land. And so, it just seemed a step down to sit and listen to anyone else this night, so after a bit of gambling and some ice cream, we called it a night. It’s Lyle Lovett tonight!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Day 1 - John Hiatt, Edwin McCain and Josh Rouse

You know this is a different cruise as soon as you step on board. They were playing a song from Bruce Springsteen’s latest CD, Magic, in the bar. And then when we went to meet up with Deb and Linda, they were playing a World Party song out by the pool. Musically, a cruise just can’t get any better than this. I believe I also heard some Tom Waits as I was leaving the pool area. Enough said.

Playing in one of the bars for the first couple of nights is a young man named Brandon Young. He has a sweet high voice that immediately reminds you of Jeff Buckley. There wasn’t a lot of room in the bar, so we hung back and enjoyed from a distance. I am going to have to check out more of this guy later.

Instead of trying to hit every show, we decided to get settled in and relax for a few hours. There is just so much music here. And after a few hours wait, the real shows began. And what an opening night!

Up first was John Hiatt. There is no surprise here when I say that John put on a great show. He always does. With just an assortment of guitars and his piano to accompany him, John entertained the crowd with a great mix of songs going back a good 20 years for some. One of the highlights was a slow but electric version of Perfectly Good Guitar. But if you’re a John Hiatt fan, I’m sure you would probably point out your favorite as the highlight. And there were many. Throughout the hour and a half show he slipped in boat related ad-libs before and during the songs. And typical of just who he is as a person, John offered himself up during the cruise saying that he was more than willing to sign autographs or whatever if you run into him. The crowd was very courteous (a good sign for the rest of the week), but a bit sedate (not a good sign for the artists).

So, after an hour and half it is time to go home, right? No, the night is just getting going. Maria and I are in the seventh row for the main event every night. Deb and Linda are in the third row. After the show, I moved up with Deb and Maria and Linda called it a night.

I have never seen Edwin McCain, and actually, other than one song, I really hadn’t heard his music. What a wonderful surprise he turned out to be. Reminding me of a soulful Marc Cohen, Edwin and his two piece band (Edwin on rhythm, a lead guitarist and a sax player) played some white southern soul with some jazz thrown in. It was at times like a cross between (again) Marc Cohen and Bruce Hornsby. Almost every song had a story and almost every story had a few laughs. We loved almost every song (there was a song that he thanked people for playing at their weddings which, being a song you play at weddings, had every cliché in the book. I could have missed that one). Another hour and a half of great music. Wow!

It was almost 1am so we slipped out just before the end of the show because we needed to get to the other side of the ship for Josh Rouse. Josh was playing in a cool little lounge with big couch-like booths. It was a very intimate show with Josh on acoustic guitar and harmonica. The last time I saw Josh it was at the ACL show with a thousand people watching him. I really think he does better in this kind of setting. After a couple of jovial people like John and Edwin, Josh was darn near serious. But he loosened up as the hour set moved along and near the end of the evening lead us in a sing-a-long from the TV show “Welcome Back Kotter”. The intimate setting and late hour (we were there until 2am) gave the songs a very delicate feel. In fact it felt like Josh was taking each song and examining it as he played; almost as if it were the first time. It was a memorable set that kept all but one person awake the entire hour (as we shuffled out a gentleman was sitting in a chair fast asleep).

So, the first evening was a major success. And we have 5 more of these coming? Tonight is Shawn Colvin. Can’t wait.

Oh, one more thing. The Internet connection is very slow. I’ve got videos I’ll be posting on Youtube, but they may not make it up until next week. I will at least have one John Hiatt song up (if it ever finishes). The pictures seem to be having problems too (but that may be because of the Youtube slowness).

Monday, February 04, 2008

Cayamo Singer/Songwriter Cruise

Well, we are out at sea on the Cayamo Singer/Songwriter Cruise. It has already been a whole lot of fun. Tonight the main attraction is John Hiatt. Tomorrow is Shawn Colvin. And as the week goes on we will be seeing, Shawn Mullins, Lyle Lovett, Patty Griffin, Brandi Carlile and Emmylou Harris. I hope to have pictures and maybe some video for you all, so stay tuned...

Music Hall Link - Alejandro Escovedo listen