Thursday
Aug182016

Eaux Claires Music Festival 2016

The second Eaux Claires festival (Eaux Claires "Deux") really got underway back in February. Fans who preordered tickets to the festival without knowing who would be on the lineup were rewarded with a literal cassette mixtape of songs handpicked by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Aaron Dessner of The National. This genius marketing move announced the lineup in a clever way and helped build buzz through word of mouth as the follow-up to last year's inaugural Eaux Claires approached. Patrons who attended last years festival (myself included) looked forward to this iteration with anticipation. And, a few hiccups aside, the second Eaux Claires really exceeded expectations.
Aaron Dessner of The NationalBon Iver
    There were some big name headliners, to be sure, and we'll get to those in a bit. But this festival was really the year of experimentation for many artists. A few members of The National and Beirut teamed up as LNZNDRF, Aaron Dessner performed with Lisa Hannigan (no National this year), and a powerhouse combination of The National, PhosphorescentLNZNDRF, Lisa Hannigan and Richard Parry of Arcade Fire, and more paid tribute to The Grateful Dead.

    No experiment was bigger than Bon Iver's revealing, and subsequent performance of, their new album 22, A Million. A clear departure from their previous efforts, the new album replaces many of the building horns and percussion with synths and saxes, Vernon's vocals less ethereal falsetto than staccato and synthesized. Technical sound problems aside, this was a soaring unveiling. Each song on the new album is brief and succinct, ending almost mid-stride. It will be interesting to hear how this translates to the headphones.
Phosphorescent
    The rain soaked day one of the festival had many highlights before Bon Iver's closing. Phosphorescent Vince Staplespeppering old material with new, as a cover of This Land Is Your Land led seamlessly into the showstopping Song for Zula. Vince Staples mixed tracks from his Summertime '06 and Hell Can Wait projects, successfully igniting the crowd with energy before ending his set with a mashup of Summertime and Blue Suede Park. LNZNDRF took to one of the side stages to introduce many newcomers to songs from their self-titled effort, and James Blake's somber keys served as a perfect soundtrack as the day gave way to night and the rain kept falling.

    While one could argue that day two of the festival was lighter on star power, it'd be tough to convince anyone that it didn't match the highlights of the first day. Case in point: Mavis Staples. Just as Charles Bradley in the first year, Mavis delivered perhaps the most energy of any performer despite being one of the oldest. She had the crowd eating out of her hand, and by the time Lucius joined her on stage, it was game over.
Mavis Staples
    Jenny LewisElsewhere, Jenny Lewis (also joined by Lucius - man they really earned their paycheck at the festival) effortlessly delivered a beautiful set, Lucius continued to show why they are one of the most in demand bands in the world right now by putting on a typically flawless show, and Har Mar Superstar had a crowd of thousands dancing happily to his infectious melodies. (Editor's Note: we were able to sit down with Har Mar at the festival for an interview, which will be forthcoming). Seattle was represented, too, as Shabazz Palaces packed The Dells stage to max capacity, the crowd eating up their bass-heavy, spaced out blend of hip hop.

    Perhaps the biggest letdown of the festival was Erykah Badu's heavily, heavily truncated set. Scheduled to start at 8:45, fans grew restless as 9 approached with no sign of her. Then 9:10. Then 9:20. It wasn't until 9:25 that she finally took the stage, to the clear dismay of many in the audience. Scheduled to end at 10:15, she sort of just…disappeared from the stage right before 10. No doubt about it: when she sings, she's one of the most transcendent voices alive, and an impeccable performer. The roughly 30 minutes she did manage to perform were quite special. But when folks are expecting well over an hour set, performing for less time than practically everyone else at the festival can't help but end up being a colossal disappointment.

    Still, the festival ended on a high note as Chance the Rapper saved the day by making a surprise appearance for Francis and the Lights' festival closing set. (What can't that guy do?) Couple that with the many phenomenal aforementioned performances, copious delicious food vendors, bathrooms and water stations aplenty, and abundance of community, camaraderie, and charm, and Eaux Claires has something special going on. Maybe there's something in the water, but if there is indeed a third Eaux Claires, you and everyone you know would be highly encouraged to return to the river.

 

 

Photos // Words by Alexander Hallett

Thursday
Jul282016

Newport Folk Festival 2016

      

2016 had everything we folk would expect; on stage collaborations, secret guests and up and coming artists.

But this year was the year of country! As time goes on, we lose more and more music legends. Kris Kristofferson was a "must see" on our list. As you have heard by now, the man himself played a surprise 3 song set as part of the "Texas Gentleman." Margo Price played a memorable Janis Joplin during "Me and Bobby McGee" before her own set on the Quad Stage. "If it sounds country, man, that's what it is, it's a country song" Kris Kristofferson (re: Me and Bobby McGee).
Mr. Kristofferson gave everyone warm fuzzies when he commented "it takes me back."

Other notable country acts included: JP Harris, John Moreland, Margo Price, and Ian Fitzgerald - all of which played the smaller Museum Stage last year. 2016 probably had more pedal steel than we've seen before at the festival. JP HarrisIan FitzgeraldThe type of acts you would definitely see in darker honky tonks, (I'm looking at you Tractor Tavern, Seattle) but out and about in broad daylight. Ian Fitzgerald was definitely a favorite this year, with a poker face, the best hair at Newport and a train-like sound reminiscent of Johnny Cash and Whiskeytown. "We had big plans to bathe ourselves in denim but it's real hot." Hot it was! Our sunburns have sunburns.

Margo Price threatened everyone with "shit kicking country" and she did deliver, reminiscent of country greats Emmylou Harris with the feisty lyrics of Loretta Lynn. Margo PriceA rather entertaining set with fast guitar playing, many reference to crooked Nashville and whiskey. No NFF set would be complete without a cover song to pay tribute to those that came before. Margo did a fitting cover of Gram Parsons' Las Vegas to round out the show.

First timers the Cactus Blossom were a refreshing sound on the hottest year we can recall. The brothers, complete with a full band, have a sound that is reminiscent of something old yet hard to pinpoint. Was that a cowbell?

The lesser known Museum stage is where we at VV can often be found. Never disappointing, we caught Shovels and Rope testing out some new material, and doing some real life talk about becoming parents and caring for aging parents with Alzheimer's. On becoming a mom, Carrie Ann said "it is so mundane and happens to everyone" but obviously in awe of recent happenings. We also caught a few Newport alum onstage including Elvis Perkins and Langhorne Slim.

Matthew Logan Vasquez, of Delta Spirit, Middle Brother, and generally known as Newport royalty brought it solo this year. Not one who generally plays alone, MLV brought on stage collaborations from Fruit Bats and also the Parkington sisters of Cape Cod to do a cover of "Angel from Montgomery" and also threw in a Dwight Yoakam cover, because, why not?
PS- his wife made that bedazzled jacket
Matthew Logan Vasquez
Later, joined onstage by the rest of Middle Brother, at one point MLV sported a homemade hat that read "Dad," a reminder that the Newport family is growing.

Middle Brother
Ryan Adams graced us with his presence again this year, and brought along backing band The Infamous String Dusters with Nicki Bluhm. Adams played his hits with a country/bluegrass twang. This set was exactly what we were craving after the alternative 2014 set which featured newer, harder tracks with a couple of the songs we all know and love mixed in.

Just walking around the festival, one might catch memorable bits here and there of other sets. We happened to catch River Weiss' cover of Airline to Heaven by Woody Guthrie via Wilco. By chance we also heard Graham Nash doing Our House.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros was the Sunday finale for us at VV. After getting a late start, they put on a flawless show with all of the songs and energy one would expect.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

 

Tuesday
Jul192016

Indie acts invade Providence

As team Visible Voice gears up for the Newport Folk Festival, we'd be remiss if we didn't highlight a few Providence shows worthy of your attention.

On Wednesda July 20, Boston-based Marissa Nadler re-visits Providence, bringing both a new record and a full band. Her eerie, gothic folk will ring like a church bell through Aurora. Expect large swaths from her excellent new album and a sizeable crowd. Arrive early if you would like to see the stage, but no doubt Nadler's voice will fill the room. Tickets at the door. 

Next Thursday, Unknown Mortal Orchestra cruise into Providence's Fete Lounge. The band's multi-instrumentalist front man Ruban Nielson could very easily have replicated the sounds (and successes) of their earlier works, but his constant tinkering - and newfound appreciation of synthesizers - made Multi-Love (Jagjaguwar) one of the best records of 2015. The band's danceable disco rhythms belie the complicated subject matter of co-existing in a relationsihp. but something tells me that won't matter on July 28. It will be a party. Get your tickets here

Looking a bit further ahead, Big Thief comes to the Columbus Theatre for an intimate and most likely excellent show. The Brooklyn band's Masterpiece has raced to the top of my Spotify playlist, as singer Adrianne Lenker's lithe voice and personal lyrics weave seamlessly with the band's full breadth. Here's to hearing gems like "Paul" in person. Cop tickets here.  

 

Thursday
Jul142016

Capitol Hill Block Party’s 20th anniversary July 22-24 

If you haven’t heard, it’s almost time for the Capitol Hill Block Party in Seattle!

Every year people swarm the streets of Capitol Hill filling all the nooks, crannies, venues and dives for a common cause...sweat, beer, and good music.

Dont miss out on the festivities.

Get your tickets Here!

 

Saturday
Jun182016

The Felice Brothers - "Life in the Dark" ***Album Release*** ***Visible Voice Session***

With the way things are going in the world these days, we can at least take solace in the fact there’s a new Felice Brothers record. Life in the Dark, out June 24 on Yep Roc records, is Americana music perfect for today’s fitful America. The band sounds cynical, weary, but wise - and mostly grinning through it all.

The record springs to life with “Aerosol Ball”, a lively tune that sounds positive if it were not dripping with dystopian lines. And even if things are dire, the band seems to point out silver lining. On the album’s title track for example, Ian Felice uncoils lines like “They’re burning the heretics again / it’s awfully bright.”

Felice’s forked tongue is still in cheek on “Jack at the Asylum” when he toasts the country for all of it’s grandeur but also it’s ugliness.  “I’ve seen your pastures of green / the crack whores. The wars on the silver screens.” But things get more earnest on the album’s standout track “Triumph ‘73”, a four minute goodbye to a lost lover with a town in the rearview mirror, told from a solitary rider on a speeding motorcycle.

Which is not to say the album is devoid of fun. Throughout the record, the band’s snide smiles and perky instrumentation keep the whole affair afloat. “Dancing on the Wing” is a jam, even if the plane happens to be going down. “Sally” is a 90-second (mostly) instrumental stomper.

On the whole, the record is a keeper. Its lyrics reward repeat listens and the tunes rattle around between the ears after the album stops. It’s a poignant reminder that our time is running out, which sucks, but all the more reason to have fun along the way.

PreOrder "Life in the Dark" and Catch the Felice Brothers on  tour!

 

 

Words by Brian Hodge

Video by Adam Richert & Maurice Morales

Thursday
Jun092016

The Cactus Blossoms - Album Review & Visible Voice Session

***Newport Folk Festival Preview***

We met up with The Cactus Blossoms before their show with Pokey Lafarge at the Tractor Tavern for a session. With sea planes overhead and the smell of the sea air on a Seattle afternoon, you could not ask for more. I personally can't wait to see them at the Newport Folk Festival this summer!

One thing you'll notice when you listen to “You're Dreaming” by The Cactus Blossoms is that there isn't one second of wasted space. Songs are played out from beginning to end with a confident assurance that belies the ages of Jack and Page, the two Minneapolis-born brothers. With the songwriting sensibilities of Dolly Parton meets Bob Dylan, and pitch-perfect harmonizing that's reminiscent of brother duets like The Everly Brothers, The Cactus Blossoms are sure to be a household name in a small matter of time. “You're Dreaming” is their first big foray into the public sphere (touring aside), and it positions them well for future releases and a growing fan base.

“Stoplight Kisses” kicks off the album on a nostalgically upbeat note, and sounds like it could easily have fit into the catalog of Bob Dylan with a little Beach Boys influence. The lyrics are straightforward, but this song is about the vibe, and it makes me want to experience the place they create in this 2-minute track.

The title track, “You're Dreaming”, keeps the mood consistent, and the harmonizing between the two singers is excellent. The relaxed guitar and loose drums serve as the perfect bedrock for their voices, and the lyrics "I'm not sleeping, I'm not walking. And you can't hear my talking when your eyes are closed" help evoke the dreamlike atmosphere that permeates the beautifully concise 34-minute album.

The Cactus Blossoms - You're Dreaming

The instrumentation over the course of the 11 tracks is intentionally minimal - vintage guitars, upright bass, tight kit drums. It's a vehicle for the brothers' voices to glide effortlessly along from one song to the next. The album plays out as almost a full tale of love. From the upbeat beginning of the title track and “Clown Collector”, to the the darker territory of “Powder Blue” and “Change Your Ways Or Die”, and the catharsis of “No More Crying the Blues” and “Adios Maria”, the real star is the effortless vocal union between the two brothers.

The Cactus Blossoms - Clown Collector

By the time “Traveler's Paradise”, the album's final track, drops, the brothers sing, "Goodbye, sure is good to know you. I'm so thankful for you." It's the perfect close to a beautifully melancholic journey that floats along as easily as a summer breeze, and it's such a smooth listen that you'll be hard pressed not to press play again the moment it's over.

 

Words by Alexander Hallett

Video by Jorge Gonzalez

Video editing by Adam Richert

Sunday
May152016

Visible Voice Session with Lucius at the Neptune Theater

Anything that I could write here pales in comparison to the intense and chill inducing vocals of these two gals. Lucius graciously met up with us in the green room at the Neptune theater in Seattle for a session. Make sure you watch this video of "Dusty Trails" and catch them on their tour this summer!

Lucius - "Dusty Trails"

Video By Adam Richert

Photos by Alexander Hallett

 

Sunday
Apr102016

Matthew Logan Vasquez - Visible Voice Session 

***Newport Folk Festival Preview***

We met up with Matthew before his show at Barboza in Seattle for a very quick session that ended abruptly with an employee changing the bags in a trash can. Unpredictability is the beauty of doing impromptu, on site sessions. Matthew was very gracious and offered a bit of comedic relief during the songs “Personal” and “Halfcolt.”

The chorus for Matthew Logan Vasquez’s “Personal” sounds a bit like a Delta Spirit tune, with its sustained chords and thrashing guitars. But it’s chorus sounds, well, personal.

“Don’t you get it? It’s not personal. / I gotta strike out on my own,” he sings on his new record, Solicitor Returns (out now on Devil Duck Records).

Armchair psychiatrists could read into that as a portrait of an artist staking out a solo career in spite of popular success with his band. But as it turns out, the guy just writes a crazy amount of songs.

“We take Delta Spirit records really seriously, where we rebuild the wheel every time. We really want to make sure the next record is great,” he told NPR. “I’ve wrote all these other songs I’m extremely passionate about and had to release. The guys understood and they’re very nice to let me do it.”

With so much material to choose from, the album is surprisingly tight, nimble if a bit restless. The 10-track record is stacked with catchy tunes and crisp guitar, broaching a wide range of topics and timbre. “Everything I Do Is Out” is a grungy, sweaty stomp on what it means to be out of step with what’s cool. “I Bet It All” is a countrified Beatles B-side while “Bound to Her” smolders like a true-crime confession, sort of a sonic Nashville-meets-noir.

The constant amidst the swirling stacks of riffs remains Vasquez and his piercing voice. It might be his best instrument, which is saying something as Vasquez played nearly every instrument on the record. Passionate, fiery, with just the right amount of fray, it’s Vasquez’s voice that propels the records in its brightest moments like the eerie atmospheric album closer “Muerte Tranquila” and the aforementioned

“Personal”. Long a hallmark of Delta Spirit and Middle Brother’s finest moments, turns out it’s just as good on it’s own.

 

 

Photo/video by Adam Richert

Words by Brian Hodge

Sunday
Mar132016

The Wild Reeds - Visible Voice Sessions - At the Triple Door

We met up with these lovely gals right before their show in the green room at the Tripple Door in Seattle. The Wild Reeds are a thresome from Los Angeles that can really wail! They have beautiful harmonies, a banjo, and a vibrant stage presence that keep you wanting more, what else do you need!? On top of all of that they were gracious enough to sit down and play a few songs for us: