Tuesday
Apr282015

Brown Bird - "Axis Mundi" The Point Where Heaven & Earth Connect *Album Review*

It was one year ago this month that the music community mourned the loss of David Lamb, the talented and thoughtful multi-instrumentalist who made up one half of Brown Bird, due to leukemia. Now Lamb’s life and musical partner MorganEve Swain is releasing the final chapter in the band’s compelling story, Axis Mundi, a lyric she found in his notebook that refers to the point where heaven and earth connect.

The album begins with the harrowing opener “Focus”, as Lamb’s voice hovers like a spectre. “Tethered to the cure, I focus on the pain,” he laments. “Transformation comes, tempered by the flame./ And if my flesh should fail, devour me within. / May then my soul prevail, free to roam again.”

By the time the song ends, listeners are absorbed into Lamb and Swain’s antiphonal singing, its resounding resilience, and we are mostly just glad to be able to share a few more moments with them. And when you lose someone or something you care about, that’s all you can ask for - just a few more moments.

Thankfully, there are many great moments on the record. There are ample dashes of the Middle Eastern influence that came to characterize the band’s later works. Take “Bannerman”, a song that was written just before Lamb fell ill, which features a swirling sandstorm of hypnotic harmonies and tightly interlocked riffs. The track is followed by a surf-rock informed “Aloha Senor Mano” and it’s clear the group never stopped stretching and growing.

Both musically and philosophically, Lamb was certainly a seeker. The son of a preacher, he applied an academic zeal to his spirituality, simultaneously digging into deep thinkers like Thomas Paine and Omar Khayyam. Musically, they expanded early pigeonholing from a “folk” group (really meaning “American folk instruments”) to a much more global definition of the word.

They were also big metal fans. When one hears polished rock songs like “Pale and Paralyzed” and “Ephraim”, it’s tempting to dream of an alternate ending to the story where the band is playing large rock festivals. The former features spellbinding imagery, with some of the band’s best lyrical storytelling. The latter incorporates an anthemic accordion and seeks to find “paradise in the midst of this hell, if we tilt our heads just right, and let our shackles go.”

Putting the record together quickly following David’s passing, Swain found catharsis in the process. It does not sound like “letting go”, but giving back - sharing their last musical moments and solidifying the band’s already-impressive place in our collective hearts. To that end, there are tender tunes here, too. The album’s penultimate track is “Tortured Boy”, a song Swain wrote in their first moments of dating, now impressed with new meaning to her lithe lyrics.

Finally, the album comes to rest with “Avalon”, a 46-second song Dave wrote for MorganEve and presented to her in December. Amid other compliments, the final verse rings, “You’re a huntress, and a healer, and a holder of hands./ And your heart is the Avalon that I seek for my end.” To state the obvious, it makes for an emotional end to the listening experience.

The record was originally conceived as a victory record, an album Brown Bird would tour on once Lamb was in better health. And in a way, Axis Mundi still makes for a fitting final coda. Lamb and Swain found their counterpoints in each other, and shared their connection with us through Brown Bird, making their spiritual bond manifest through their music. Now, no longer tethered, the songs, Brown Bird, and Lamb are free to roam again, their mythos fading into the brightness of an infinite horizon.

 

 

 

 

Words by Brian Hodge of Visible Voice

Saturday
Mar282015

Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith Reawaken Songs for a New Generation

 We had the pleasure of seeing "Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith” live at the Neptune Theater Thursday night. Avett and Mayfield played to a completely sold out and (although seated) a very enthusiastic crowd. 

It's a humbling experience to watch musicians of a higher caliber completely dedicate an album and performance to another musician. There is no doubt that Smith’s songs were performed with the respect and sincere admiration that it deserved. This tour seems to be a theriputic release as the two musicians find solace and kinship through a great artist that has come before them. 

Avett is best known for his punchy, alt. folk band with brother Scott, The Avett Brothers, and Mayfield
drips 90s despair rock like a candle with a flame that burns too hot. It's an odd pairing on paper, not 
Avett and Mayfield, but Avett, Mayfield and Smith. Mayfield comes closest to Smith lyrically in her 
own right, and as Avett sings some of the more painful of Smith's lyrics, there is still that familiar 
bouncy feel in his voice that has made his main act a success.
But there is beauty on this record. Mayfield's voice on "Angel in the Snow" is starkly beautiful, distant 
and haunting. Avett's arrangements, stripping down Smith's more orchestrated tracks, leaving Avett 
alone with his guitar, allows him to embody the loneliness Smith thrived in creatively. If there is a fault 
with the record is that it seems that Avett can't get out from behind that Avett Brothers sound. "Baby 
Britain" comes across like one of the brother's more mellow numbers as Avett plucks and strums, his 
voice carrying the familiar North Carolinian melody. Not that he shouldn't be allowed to put his own 
spin on Smith's back catalogue of notable hits and fan favorites. In fact, it's a good problem to have. 
For the listener who doesn't know Smith's work, but puts on anything featuring an Avett singing, this 
album of covers serves as a good introduction to an artist whose career ended far too soon.
It's hard to judge an album of covers from an artist with a following and reverence as strong as Smith's. 
Recording the album is a bold move, one that has taken Mayfield and Avett three years to complete. 
The premise alone may have some critics balk at the idea. However, it's a pleasure to hear Smith's 
lyrics in a fresh medium. Avett and Mayfield took Smith's work down more of a folk path and the 
songs fit the genre well. "Pitseleh" has both Mayfield and Avett taking lead vocals accompanied by a 
lonely guitar, banjo and piano. "Let's Get Lost," a fan favorite, stays close to its source material, but 
Mayfield's vocal accompaniment makes the track. Her voice, low and sultry on this record, is hard 
to ignore. Smith's songs operate in a type of vacuum of singer-songwriter genius; many have tried 
to capture Smith's brilliance in their own music and come up short. Avett and Mayfield, on the other 
hand, play the songs they love to listen to and perform them as they would one of their own. It's nice to 
give the songs a chance to breathe.
"Memory Lane" is a fitting choice to close out the record. It features some the most orchestrated 
arrangements. Avett's voice gives the isolating lyrics an uplifting feel and its evident Avett feels some 
kinship to the words. One could argue, with his new found fame, Avett would rather be back, settled 
into that little house, strumming a guitar and playing the songs that move him. The album is a good 
listen for the Smith fan-base and a great companion record to one's Avett collection. But its greatest 
achievement is reawakening Smith's songs from a long slumber.

 

Words by Craig Brown

Photos//words by Adam Richert

Saturday
Mar142015

Tweedy - at the Neptune Theater - Seattle WA

I am the biggest Jeff Tweedy/ Wilco fan... But aren’t we all? He is the most accessible musician with catchy, radio friendly songs that seems to avoid mainstream radio. If for some reason you have missed out (since the late 80’s) on Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, and now Tweedy I would begin to go down that magical rabbit hole right about now.

Jeff Tweedy of Wilco played to a sold out Neptune Theater with his side project “Tweedy” consisting of Jeff and his son Spencer, along with some of their amazingly talented friends. When you go see an artists’ side project you generally can expect experimental songs that nobody knows and are just hoping that they will play a hit or two. But with Jeff Tweedy…. The man is going to kill it with some new jams, bring it home with some classic Wilco and a few “dad” jokes that may or may not embarrass his son Spencer Tweety sprinkled throughout.


Sunday
Feb222015

Willie Watson - Seattle -Tractor Tavern

Old Crow Medicine Show who? 

Willie Watson knows exactly what the people want when it comes to good ol' folk music. Watson played nearly every tune from his solo album The Folk Singer at the Tractor Tavern last Sunday. He also threw in a couple of gospel numbers for the Sabbath's sake. The album is an entertaining blend of old folk songs that still hold up today. Songs about women, workin'... and a poor cat.

Watson is one of the few who really "sings"! He had everyone in the place begging for more songs, more banjo, and more of that very recognizable hat. (He was spotted strolling Ballard before the show from a mile away). No one seems to get tired of Willie Watson and we for one cannot wait for him to come back.

 

See Willie on tour!

 http://www.williewatson.com/

 

Photo//Video by Adam Richert

Words by Vanessa Roberts Richert

Friday
Jan302015

Joe Fletcher - Tractor Tavern -Seattle, WA

Joe Fletcher is ordinary. By that I mean, he’s an everyman, a troubador that blends into the background (at least until he’s called up to stage - at that point, he usually steals the show). His Instagram feed is essentially a travelogue that highlights the human condition, reflecting an essence of Americana that cannot help but bleed into his music.

 We caught Joe before his show at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle. He treated us to the Townes Van Zandt song, “Blaze’s Blues”, a song written about his close friend Blaze Foley. Fletcher faithfully replicates Van Zandt’s urgency, with the added effect of his own earthy affectations.

 There’s a line in there that says “I ain’t headed down this highway all alone.” Thankfully with Fletcher, we’re all along for the ride.

Monday
Jan122015

Phosphorescent - "Nothing Was Stolen" (Live)

We've emerged from our winter hibernation and look forward to a merry and musical 2015. Although much of the country is currently braced in cold, we're warmed by the news that Newport Folk Festival tickets are again on sale. And again, it will sell out, so act quickly and enjoy this magical weekend.

A couple of years ago, Phosphorescent played one of the weekend's most magical sets (You can hear it here, via NPR) and if that set was good, his latest release sounds even better. On February 17, Matthew Houck and his bandmates will warm up your winter with an epic 3xLP live album, Live From the Music Hall. Houck's tender tenor wobbles between warm and weary, but he never loses his verve, and his band absolutely smokes. Give a listen to "Nothing Was Stolen" below and pre-order the album here

Friday
Oct242014

Cass McCombs and the Meat Puppets Pair, Push Limits

On the surface, Cass McCombs and the Meat Puppets might sound like a strange pairing, but both acts frame their keen, outsider insights amid unique artistry. But it is a strange pairing and their upcoming tour together promises to be the best kind of weird.

Perhaps in a way to memorialize the unlikely pairing, Domino Records is producing a 7" album (out on 10/28) with two new cuts from McCombs and two new covers from the Meat Puppets.

Stream a sample of the 7" below and be sure to catch them if the tour rolls through your zipcode. 

Cass McCombs / Meat Puppets Upcoming Tour Dates:
Sat. Oct. 25 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Club Cafe 

Mon. Oct. 27 - Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts 
Tue. Oct. 28 - Pawtucket, RI @ The Met Cafe 
Wed. Oct. 29 - Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair 
Thu. Oct. 30 - South Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground Showcase Lounge 
Fri. Oct. 31 - Brooklyn, NY @ Rough Trade 
Sat. Nov. 1 - Brooklyn, NY @ Rough Trade 
Sun. Nov 2 - Washington, DC @ The Black Cat 
Tue. Nov. 4 - Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506 
Wed. Nov. 5 - Atlanta, GA @ Vinyl 
Fri. Nov. 7 - Houston, TX @ Fitzgerald’s Downstairs 
Fri. Nov. 28 - Phoenix, AZ @ The Crescent Ballroom 
Sat. Nov. 29 - San Diego, CA @ The Casbah 
Tue. Dec. 2 - West Hollywood, CA @ Troubadour 
Wed. Dec. 3 - San Francisco, CA @ The Independent 
Fri. Dec. 5 - Seattle, WA @ Neumos 
Sat. Dec. 6 - Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge


Friday
Oct172014

Quiet Life - Housebroken Man

Housebroken Man, the new EP from Quiet Life, doesn’t wait long to introduce itself. A plinking piano and a chugging rhythm guitar practically kick the bar room doors open, letting the lilting voices of Sean Spellman and Cary Ann Hearst (Shovels and Rope) do-si-do on top. The titular housebroken man is “laying off the bourbon and the weed” but there’s enough winking knowingness here to give the listener doubt about its sticking power. It makes for a rousing opener.

“Shaky Hand” is another cautionary tale, this form in a Brucean ballad, about the dangers of booze. The next track, “Messin’ Around”, covers what goes wrong when those cautions go unheeded. “If I don’t die before I get old, I’m going to quit messing around,” Spellman sings.

Clearly, Quiet Life are leading anything but a tranquil existence. Growing success as an up-and-coming act can do that to a group. The EP seems to grapple with how to be the best versions of themselves amid increasing expectations and temptations.

These songs were written when a lot of things were in flux,” Spellman told Esquire. “Lyrically, they came together at weird or rough times in certain relationships I was having. Housebroken Man is about trying to be a good boyfriend/husband/whatever and imagining and idealizing the perfect life.”

The EP concludes with a cover of Townes van Zandt’s “Waiting Around to Die”  - complete with an assist from Jim James - signifying that despite the ratcheting worries, Quiet Life is capable of turning gut checks to gold.

 

Quiet Life - Housebroken Man from Kitchen Sessions on Vimeo.

 

 

Quiet Life -Shaky Hand from Kitchen Sessions on Vimeo.

 

Words by Brian Hodge

Photo//Video by Adam Richert

Saturday
Sep202014

Strand of Oaks w/ Christopher Denny - Tractor Tavern - Seattle

Back in 2012 we reviewed the recording of Strand of Oaks "Spacestations" from the Dark Shores album which is the foreplay to to his latest explosive album "Heal." The Album "Heal" has a "radio friendly" quality to it due to its catchy and addictive nature. Make sure to grab this album, it is salty and sweet; you can rock out and dance all at the same time.

Seeing Timothy Showalter aka Strand of Oaks headlining for his first time in Seattle to a sold out crowd was a night that is hard to forget. Every band uses the stage as an outlet, a personal therapy session, and punching bag but this show was an exhalation of relief and contentment. Catch Strand of Oaks near you!

 

Theres nothing like going to a show to see one band and discovering a new artist. We had the pleasure of seeing Christopher Denny open up for Strand of Oaks! The unique vibrato in his voice and and oldschool charm take you to a different time when things were simple. Although he didnt have a backing band his voice filled the room and held the crowd. Check out Christopher Denny on tour with Strand of Oaks until September 20th.