Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Linda Ronstadt Y Mariachi Los Camperos

I wasn't going to write about this show at the Gibson/Universal Amphitheater last Sunday because this isn't music I really know about: But I just had to. We went because a) Linda Ronstadt, at 63, still has that power in her voice and b) Maria, being from Colombia, loves this music. And so there I was, knowing that I wouldn't really know any lyrics (although on the real mushy ones, Maria would translate to me... very lovingly) and having to focus on the music. For those of you who think those trios at your local Mexican restaurant (yes, they are not actually mariachis, but trios usually) is what I was in for, are greatly mistaken. The band, which consisted of 5 violin players, 2 trumpeters, a full sized (although light apparently) harp and a 3 guitar rhythm section (and maybe I'm missing one or two) was amazing. The melodies are not as simple as you might expect. There are time changes in the middle of songs and the melodies go well beyond the sweet and sappy stuff you may hear from that local trio. It was just fascinating to listen to these men perform. The band played on their own for about a half hour or more and then introduced Linda. She sang solo and also shared vocals with three of the violin players who were also excellent singers. The entire evening fell a little short of 2 hours. Watching near perfection in every aspect of the show made it go by so much faster than I ever realized. I think I will do this again some day. As for Linda, wow, that voice can sing in any language. And unlike her show of classics a year or so ago, you could just see the joy and passion in her face as she sang songs derived from all over Mexico. You don't need to understand the words to see it.

Joan Osborne, The Holmes Brothers and Paul Thorn

I was in Glendale last Friday for a concert. I know, that just sounds weird. Glendale CA isn't known for rock and roll. Never the less, there we were at the Alex Theater to see Joan Osborne and Paul Thorn. And what a wonderful night it was.

Paul opened the show with a 30 minute set (way too short for him) and had us all laughing from the opening song. His down home southern humor is infectious and he easily won over plenty of people (many of whom stood in line after his set to buy his latest live CD/DVD).

The Holmes Brothers then came out and presented us with a diverse set of rock and soul. It wasn't nearly as engaging as Paul Thorn, but for a trio of grey haired rockers they did a great job.

After an intermission, Joan came out with her keyboardist and a percussionist and did a wonderful job on "St. Theresa". The percussionist was then replaced by The Holmes Brothers, who, along with her keyboard player, backed her for the rest of the set. Joan did a few songs from Relish, a couple of new songs and did some great covers; pretty much tearing up the place with her powerful voice. She is as sexy today as she was when we first discovered her back in the mid 90's. It isn't just the body, it is her attitude and singing style that drives men, and plenty of women in the audience, wild. It is still amazing to me that a women with this much talent leaves so many seats empty. She was only out there for about an hour, but it was worth every penny we spent to see an artist who truly loves singing, doing what she does best. You'll find a couple of poorly shot videos of the show at www.youtube.com/infomas or click on the pictures down below.

Monday, October 26, 2009

New Music October 2009

I know. I know. These always start with, "I've been so busy" and "There is so much to catch up on". No excuses. We'll just get right in to it.

Bob Schneider - Lovely Creatures (2009)
This is Bob's best CD in years. Maybe his best since "Lonelyland". It is filled with hooks, has an optimistic up beat to it and yet somehow I love it. Seriously, it's a great sounding CD, closer to Lonelyland then the last few CDs, yet not at all like it. He decided to remake a couple of Scabs songs, and they are fine. But the treasures here are the new songs. I'm very happy knowing that I will be spinning most of this CD on The Promise. It has been way too long Bob. http://www.bobschneidermusic.com/
Suzanna Choffel - Shudders & Rings (2006)
While we're in Austin... If you read my blog post at ACL this year http://aclfestival.blogspot.com , you know that I fell for Suzanna's music live. And I am happy to report that the CD is really good also. There are some different players on this CD but the overall jazz/singer/songwriter sound is still intact. Suzanna sings like a sultry jazz singer. Her songs are sophisticated, surprising and yet familiar. This is a beautiful CD. It deserves your attention. http://www.suzannachoffel.com/
Sam Phillips - Hypnotists in Paris (2009)
For the first portion of Sam's "The Long Play" project we have 5 wonderful songs, including the brilliant revisiting of "I Don't Want To Fall In Love" from Sam's "Indescribable Wow". The project, a year long releasing of music, first on her web site and later on ITunes/Amazon/etc, should keep us Sam Phillips fans quite satisfied for some time to come. One of the 5 highlights (yes, I love every song on this EP), is Sam's love song to her daughter, "So Glad You're Here". Although there is a full band (Section Quartet) version of the song, she decided to release the piano version, which is so much more personal. For $52, you get 5 digital EP's and a digital CD over the next year (along with other fun stuff on her website). I highly recommend checking it out. http://samphillips.com/thelongplay/
Various Artists - The Best Is Yet To Come - The Songs of Cy Coleman (2009)
And speaking of Sam Phillips, she makes an appearance on this compilation of classics done in a modern style. The songs each have their singer's stamp on them, yet they remain true to the original versions. Besides Sam, there are excellent performances by Patty Griffin, Jill Sobule, Missy Higgins, Ambrosia Parsley, Madeleine Peyroux, Julianna Raye, Peria Batala, Sara Watkins, Nikka Costa, Sarabeth Tucek and two beautiful songs from Fiona Apple.
John Lefebvre - Psalngs (2009)
This would be really easy to dismiss, if it wasn't so darn interesting. John, who is awaiting trial in L.A. on gambling charges (he wrote payment programs for a gambling site), wrote a bunch of songs and then hired some of the best players in L.A. to create this CD. Actually, it is beyond a CD. It is all available for free download at http://www.psalngs.com/. The songs are actually pretty good. The singing is a little raw, but he has an interesting voice; one that you could get addicted to. The playing is top notch and this adds to the confusion. Did a great backup band make this more enjoyable or is it really the creation of a new exciting singer/songwriter. I'll leave it to you to decide. I will be playing a few of the songs on The Promise, so check him out.
Charlie Faye - Wilson St.
I saw Charlie Faye as an opening act at The Mint a couple of months ago. I didn't really hear any of it because of the crowd noise, but I heard enough to know there was something good going on here. I picked up her CD that night and have really enjoyed it. This CD can best be described as classic country rock with a solid rock edge and Charlie's sweet voice, making is as easy to swallow as a cold sweet tea on a hot Texas day. Songs like "Runaround" and "Jersey Pride" sound like they belong in another era. Actually, "Jersey Pride" reminds me a bit of Natalie Merchant. The songs will take you back without sounding old and dated. http://www.charliefaye.com
Mary Kastle - Another Swing (2008) / Fresh Air (2006)
These pair of EPs continue to show off the female/jazz/singer/songwriter in music today. It is an exciting area to watch as women such as Mary, with exciting voices and interesting arrangements challenge our rock and roll ideas. Songs like "Down the Wire", with the piano up front and a funky guitar in the background, make me glad I have the opportunity to get to share this music with you. Find out more about Mary Kastle at http://www.marykastle.com

More coming soon...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Decemberists at Royce Hall

It all became clear to me, last night, as I heard the sonar come from the speakers about 20 minutes before the show. There is only one song that starts that way, Pink Floyd's "Echoes". Even if I wasn't aware that The Decemberists have covered it before, it was an easy call. And as the song ended, I turned to my daughter and said, "And the house lights go down". And sure enough, the lights went out. Colin's love of everything rock and roll, even prog rock, became even clearer to me now. Their new CD, "Hazards of Love", is a suite of songs, not unlike things Pink Floyd has done. They've added female vocalists for this tour, not unlike what Pink Floyd did with "Dark Side of the Moon". They added an extra dimension to the show by having four animators create video for the new CD, similar to things Pink Floyd has done over the years. And then they came out and gave us the entire piece, non stop, just like The Wall.

I saw this performance in Austin a few weeks ago. But now, seated closer to the stage with no mud in site, and with the fascinating animation on a large screen behind the band, the first hour of the show flew by. Most of the animation did not represent the lyrics of the CD as much as the mood of the music. There were some very cool effects and other stuff that was just strange. Overall it was great way to watch the show. The only portion that seemed to echo the lyrics was during "The Rake", with skeletons and death all around. The band played with enthusiasm and it was just a fun ride. After playing "Hazards", they took a fifteen minute break then came back and played a more standard set that ran another seventy five minutes. They played their fan favorites, did a classic rock cover (Heart's "Crazy on You"), goofed around, had a weird guitar duel, did some strange dancing and played musical chairs with their instruments. Just another Decemberists set. We all walked out completely satisfied.

Kristy Hanson at the Hotel Cafe

About a week ago my wife and I visited the Hotel Cafe to see indie artist Kristy Hanson perform. I have been playing music from her last CD for some time, but had not had the opportunity to see her live yet. The Hotel Cafe is a small room that seats a handful and expects everyone else to stand. Getting there early, we had no problem grabbing a table at the front. I've run into Kristy several time over the last year or so; usually at Sam Phillips concerts. So when she saw me, she came over and we chatted for awhile. What I've always enjoyed about her when chatting is her sweet, almost innocent, small town aura. And it translates wonderfully on the stage. Kristy put on a 45 minute set singing lots of songs from her upcoming release, chatting about her songs and, of course, performing music from her last CD. So often, when you finally hear a singer live, the voice just isn't as good as the record. But Kristy's singing sounded just as good, if not better. I really enjoyed the new songs, which, on first listen, sound even better than the last batch. The highlight of the evening for me though, was a cover of Joni Mitchell's "The Last Time I saw Richard". I've seen seasoned performers like Natalie Merchant not be able to do justice to Joni's music. A powerful and sad song like this is always a risk (especially because you have the potential to bring the house way down), but Kristy pulled it off. Half way through the song I had that stupid grin on my face; the one I get when great music moves me. Thanks Kristy.

Music Hall Link - Alejandro Escovedo listen