Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sarah Jaffe

I'm a sucker for girls with guitars. Denton, Texas born singer-songwriter Sarah Jaffe is most definitely a girl with a guitar. But there's also something more brewing behind those piercing green eyes. Her captivating stage presence, a wonderfully aged voice that brings to mind the stylings and inflections of Emily Haines, Missy Higgins and New Buffalo and beautifully simple folk songs that effortlessly work their way into your gut.

Ever Born Again [from 2008's Ever Born Again EP] Right-Click, Save as...

Sarah's full-length Kirtland Records debut, Suburban Nature, will be out in May. In the mean time she'll be flexing her vocal chords as she opens for Norah Jones on six upcoming tour dates.

Clementine [from the forthcoming album Suburban Nature]Right-Click, Save as...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mouse Fire

Lakeland, Fla. based Mouse Fire had it all going on with their 2007 Lujo Records debut Wooden Teeth. Critics poured superlatives over them like a chunky oatmeal bath. Their strong sense of self as a band was applauded. They were the local band to watch. And then their front man decided he wanted out.

Instead of curling up in paralysis, the three remaining members forged ahead with conviction. They toured relentlessly--opening for, among others, Margot and The Nuclear So and So's, Colour Revolt, win win Winter, Matt Pond PA and Inkwell in just a few short years. Now's their time to shine as a refined trio--their sophomore album hits shelves this May and they're currently touring the country to support its release.

The biggest difference that immediately strikes me through the headphones is current front man Shane Schuch's buoyant vocals in comparison to Joey Bruce's hushed, velvety tone. It's almost as if a plug has been tucked into a socket. That's not to discredit Bruce's contributions to the band, but Schuch brings such vivid life to the new batch of songs. "Hungry Like A Teen Wolf" has one of those jangly tambourine synth-beats that is begging to be heard in a crowd of drunken fans.

In fact, most of these dance floor-ready songs posses that intrinsic quality of being aided by a live performance. Check out for yourself when Mouse Fire storms through New World Brewery in Ybor on March 6.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Get out your hair brushes

Kelly Clarkson's fourth (and likely final) single from 2009's All I Ever Wanted was finally sent to radio today. "All I Ever Wanted" sees its release nearly six months after "Already Gone," her third single which spent eight weeks at #1 on Billboard's Adult Pop Chart, was first premiered. The new single, the album's title track produced by Louis Biancaniello and Color Me Badd's Sam Watters, is a whopper of a pop anthem with a thumping bass line ala Spoon and funked up electric guitars.

The real powerhouse here is Clarkson's layered pipes--feisty, husky and thirsty to plow the field of label suits that lay in her path. This was an immediate favorite of mine when I heard the album and, for the record, I'm partial to candle sticks when belting out my favorite pop tunes.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Concert review: Blind Man

The lack of uploading is based on a number of things--Brandi Carlile rocking my world Thursday night would be one of them--and the following review is another. Help a blogger out? My first published review is available at Creative Loafing now. Follow the link!

Concert review: Blind Man’s Colour, Sons of Hippies and MillionYoung at New World Brewery (with pics)

Posted using ShareThis

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Ana Egge

For an artist that's received such fervent critcal adoration and praise from artists as revered as Rox Sexsmith, Buddy Miller and Lucinda Williams, North Daktoa born singer-songwriter Ana Egge is surprisingly low-key. It's probably safe to say that's been largely by choice--Ana's been releasing music since 1994 to stellar reviews. Now based out of New York, her blend of folk-rock is a mix of social commentary songwriting and lush, velvetly vocals that have a remarkable comparison to one of my favorite Aussie gals, Butterfly Boucher, and a sweeter Gillian Welch.

With seven albums under her belt--includng 2009's Road to My Love--Ana has flexed her folk sensibilities on the Loretta Lynn-inspired ("Farmer's Daughter") to pop/rock ("Storm Comin'") and Sunday-morning soul complete with "(Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay" whistlin' ("New Tattoo.")

Oh, and she built her own guitar. You know, just your average chick.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Aleshea Harris

A few weeks ago I attended a demo listening paty as part of my first official assignment as an intern at Tampa's Creative Loafing magazine. There were three budding groups/musicians that shared the best of their demos with a group of CL editors and local music buffs.

While everyone delivered great performances--17-year-old Dominique Pecchio (who goes under the music moniker of The Sepia Sound) absolutely charmed me when she dropped her pick and bashfully bent down to get it--Aleshea Harris' thought-provoking poetry and honey-drenched vocals were enough to make me melt into my seat.

Aleshea's demo, "Back Roads," was clearly an anti-war sentiment, but it never came off as preachy. The room fell silent as she effortlessly sang a three-song set of spoken-word soul. Aleshea earned her degree in theatre from the University of Southern Mississippi and has spent most of her adult life working as an actress, poet and songwriter. She recently began incorpoating guitar in her performances to more effectively promote herself as an artist. She's a perfectly adept guitar player, but her presence as a live performer lies in her voice. Her husky alto reminded me of a young Odetta and, truthfully, the subtle way she bent her notes was pure bliss to my ears.

Aleshea also devotes her time to music education. She founded Bag of Beans Productions-- an endeavor to foster creativity in young minds by holding various workshops in classrooms and organizations.

Head over to Aleshea's MySpace to purchase he EP Back Roads or her most recent release No Gun--a mix of poetry and song.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Edie Carey

Vermont born singer-songwriter Edie Carey didn't always have her sights set on music. It all changed during her freshman year at Barnard College when she spent her evenings listening to Jeff Buckley, Ani DiFranco and Lisa Loeb play in The Postcrypt Coffeehouse. Then, during a year spent studying abroad in Italy she taught herself how to play the guitar and spent her spare time performing in the street. Just that small taste of being a musician gave Edie the push she needed to pursue a career in music.

Her first album, The Falling Places, was a subdued acoustic offering. Three albums later and she's found a comfortable ground between simplicity and production--the songs that comprise her 2006 record Another Kind of Fire are propelled by her earnest singing and heartfelt songwriting.

Edie returns to the jam-packed Cayamo Cruise for a second time in a matter of weeks, but before she departs for sea she'll be in St. Pete on Feb. 19 at the Craftsman House Gallery.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sarah Bettens

K's Choice lead singer Sarah Bettens has been doing it on her own since 2003 when the Belgium-based band, started by Sarah and brother Gert, decided to temporarily split (they're returning with an album this spring, according to their Web site). I stumbled upon her video for the song "Stay" and immediately became transfixed by her voice (the charming animated video didn't hurt either).

Eager to learn more about her, I took her 2007 album "Shine" for a spin and was pleasantly surprised at the amount of guilt-free ear candy. Sarah's trademark raspy vocals evoke hints of what Tegan and Sara would sound like if they sang Shawn Colvin's catalog. Sarah's familiar style is anything but tired, however--there's something comforting about listening to this seasoned 37-year-old woman ruminate on love and life.

Perhaps it's her innate ear for melodies or producer Brad Wood's smart interpretations of her songs. Either way, I found myself feeling remarkably energized as I stood over the stove at 11:30 last night and threw together a pot of tomato sauce. The aroma of garlic, onion and basil with the sweet sounds of Sarah wafting from the other room...can't ask for a better weeknight.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

More miles than money

In the previous entry I posted an old acoustic performance from Patty Griffin taped at Austin's beloved Cactus Cafe. The 31-year-old venue has become as much a staple of the University of Texas as the Austin City Limits studios--which is traversing its way through a $300 million relocation to downtown Austin in 2011. Last week the student body was outraged to learn the Cafe would 'close' in August.

In the days since the announcement was made the administration has clarified that the venue would remain open, but it's management and inner-workings would be changed to accommodate for the $66,000 a year the venue loses. Alternative plans have been proposed--including one that increases tuition four percent for the next two years-- but as of now the administration is going ahead with their plans.

Upon reading some of the heated Web comments toward the administration it was clear these students had a strong emotional attachment to a place they thought belonged to them. One person recalled an evening spent at the cafe a mere feet from Austin based musician Alejandro Escovedo as he played "Last to Know" from his 1992 solo debut "Gravity." As I listened to this gorgeous song I thought about how I would feel if a place I saw, say, Patty Griffin were to close down. Music venues are like churches in a way--they hold a rich, deep-seated history within their walls for all who enter their doors.

Universities will always think with their wallets(how else would they maintain operations?)but it would be refreshing to see a music-related program spared from the budget cuts one day.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

All Things Patty: Part Three

The four years between Patty Griffin's balls-to-the-wall "Flaming Red" and 2002's breakthrough "1000 Kisses" was rife with fuel for songwriting. A tour with the Dixie Chicks propelled her from playing modest gigs to arenas. She appeared on television shows to promote her album. She'd garnered a glimpse of notoriety only to have it swept out from under her during a label merge. When her third album (fourth, if you count the produced version of "Living With Ghosts" that was scrapped in favor of the demo) was shelved she negotiated her way out of a record deal. Determined to not let label politics get the best of her, Patty was at guitarist Doug Lancio's doorstep in Austin to record the songs that would eventually make up "1000 Kisses."

Recorded in five days, the 10-song collection
is a reintroduction of sorts. Up until then, Patty had shown she could craft songs that were brilliantly crafted to fit her voice and also push her vocals to their limits amidst a wall of sound. She exerts far more restraint here and it benefits the album substantially. Starting with the tranquil, sonically wet lullaby "Rain"--arguably her most popular single to date. Patty uses her voice to convey strength in the most fragile way.

"Kisses" is actually the only Patty album to receive multiple video treatments, and "Chief" was the second--it even earned airtime on CMT. But while the song reached substantial popularity, it was never a favorite when I first played the album. The pitter-pattering verses seemed like a rushed attempt to get to the bridge and then it was over. It took me several listens to wrap my mind around this tune, an when I finally did it revealed itself as the poignant, maddening, heart-swelling poem it is.

"Well I wish that you could see me when I'm flying in my dreams
The way I laugh there way up high, the way I look when I fly
The way I laugh, the way I fly..."

The funny thing about these songs is how they quietly creep into your subconscious. They can leave you completely flattened--like the desolate beauty of Springsteen's "Stolen Car"-- and they can also bring an odd cheerfulness to something as hard as losing a loved one ("Long Ride Home"--it's more hootenanny than hymnal.) But that's the beauty of Patty Griffin--she finds the lightness in even the darkest of places.

And then there is a different breed altogether with "Nobody's Crying." The minute that chord rings out the tone is dramatically set for a vocal tour-de-force. It is, I think, one of the finest examples of Patty's songwriting. There's a sense of loss conveyed that is also underlined with the hope for reconciliation. Maybe not today, but soon.

Patty Griffin "Nobody's Crying"
[Recorded on March 8, 1998 at the Cactus Cafe in Austin, Texas.]

Friday, February 5, 2010

Ode to...

Rachael Yamagata has one of those smoke-bred voices that grips you by the throat. She won't waste your time with petty pop songs once she's got your attention-- Rachael delves into the dark subconscious more than you might be able to stomach on first listen (particularly on her gorgeous 2009 double album Elephants...Teeth Sinking Into Heart.) But you can't fault a girl for wearing her heart on her sleeve. Especially when the songs are this good. Her lyrics are brimming with questions about love, grief, longing, heartbreak--and that's only disc one. On disc two guitarist Kevin Salem and producer Mike Mogis strap on the guitars for some devilishly-good steering wheel moxie-rock.

After a four year gap between her RCA debut Happenstance, Rachael toured the world, took a vacation, recorded her follow-up, changed labels, changed management, toured again, and finally released the aforementioned follow-up. That's a lot of waiting around if you're a fan. Good thing there were perfomances, like the following on Morning Becomes Eclectic, to tide us over. The new songs are quite different from their recorded counterparts, but hearing them in the early stages makes it that much more intimate. From delicate piano confessionals like "Parade" and Happenstance's "Quiet," to the slow build of the epic, crushing "Sunday Afternoon," these songs make for some soul-stirring poetry.

Rachael recently lent her voice to a duet on the soundtrack for the film adaption of Nicholas Sparks' "Dear John." Rachael co-wrote on the track "You Take My Troubles Away" with Dan Wilson. Rachael will be appearing on the upcoming Cayamo Cruise along with John Hiatt, Emmylou Harris and more. She's likely to perform some new material considering album three is currently in progress.

Rachael Yamagata on Morning Becomes Eclectic 2005
1. What If I Leave
2. Be Be Your Love
3. Parage
4. Quiet
5. Sunday Afternoon
6. Reason Why