Vienna Teng: New Musical Album “The Fourth Messenger”

Vienna Teng lent her masterful singing and songwriting to a new musical, The Fourth Messenger, and the album is now available for streaming and purchase via Bandcamp below. The Fourth Messenger tells the story of a modern, female spiritual teacher (Vienna) who claims to be Buddha and the journalist determined to expose her as a fraud. The standout tracks are those that feature Vienna’s gorgeous voice, especially the lovely ballads “Pebble in a Lake” and “As Long as I am Living.”

Vienna Teng Official Site

Vienna Teng: Ain’t No Sunshine / Lose Yourself Video

You can finally see Vienna Teng’s mesmeric cover/mashup of “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers and Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” in this newly released video of her live performance on Mountain Stage last year. And in case you missed my rave review of that concert, you can read it in this post.

Muruch’s Top 50 Songs of 2013

Following are the fifty favorite songs of the year that I submitted to Contrast Podcast‘s forthcoming Festive 50. I have to add an honorable mention to “Cassiopeia” by Sara Bareilles. I adore the song but only heard The Blessed Unrest album this week – long after having scheduled my Top Songs and Top Albums lists and it’s impossible to cut anyone from either list to make room for Sara.

Muruch’s Top 50 Songs of 2013:

50 Ylvis: The Fox
49 Rykarda Parasol: Take Only What You Can Carry
48 Tyler Lyle: Medusa
47 Little Red Lung: 50 Fingers
46 Lizabett Russo: Tonight
45 Broken Tempo: You
44 Boardwalk: I’m To Blame
43 Banditos: No Good
42 Ivan & Alyosha: The Fold
41 Black City Lights: Give It Up
40 Icona Pop: I Love It
39 One Republic: Counting Stars
38 Katy Perry: Roar
37 Joshua Burnside: Black Dog Sin
36 Dayna Kurtz: Reconsider Me
35 Valerie June: You Can’t Be Told
34 Foxygen: San Francisco
33 Valerie June: Shotgun
32 Imagine Dragons: Demons
31 Trent Dabbs: A Thousand Nights
30 Janelle Monae (feat. Miguel): Primetime
29 Molly Drake: I Remember
28 Allison Crowe: Skipper Billy’s Wake
27 Janelle Monae (feat. Prince): Giving Em What They Love
26 Hem: Walking Past the Graveyard, Not Breathing
25 Melissa Ferrick: Overboard
24 MS MR: Bones
23 Trent Dabbs: Mountain Song
22 Lucy Schwartz: Time Will Tell
21 One Mile an Hour: Sunken Ships
20 Foxygen: Shuggie
19 Lorde: Team
18 Allison Crowe: The Men Who Die for a Living
17 Lorde: White Teeth Teens
16 Trent Dabbs: The Last of Its Kind
15 Hem: Departure and Farewell
14 MS MR: Hurricane
13 Lorde: Tennis Court
12 Allison Crowe: The Black Velvet Band
11 Hem: Gently Down the Stream

10 Lorde: Glory and Gore


9 Janelle Monae (feat. Erykah Badu): Q.U.E.E.N.


8 MS MR: Dark Doo Wop


7 Imagine Dragons: Radioactive


6 Foxygen: We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic


5 Vienna Teng: The Hymn of Acxiom


4 Lorde: Royals


3 Trent Dabbs: The Way We Look at Horses


2 Alice Boman: Waiting


1 Allison Crowe: Words

Buy Music @ Amazon

Vienna Teng: Aims

Vienna Teng is the kind of musical genius who can really do no wrong. I own and love all of her albums and had the privilege of witnessing two of her astounding live performances at Mountain Stage. Unfortunately, I think my opinion of her new album, Aims, suffers (only partially) from falling in the shadow of the brillance that preceded it. There are still flashes of genius, just not as many as I expected.

I love the first half of the album – especially the soaring pop opener “Level Up,” the claphappy, quasi-rap “In The 99” and the exquisite, electro-choral masterpiece “The Hymn of Acxiom.” I also like the finale “Goodnight New York.”

The rest of the album, though, is far too slick, stylized, radio-friendly, mostly computerized pop for my taste and seems a waste for such a talented singer-songwriter. The fault lies in the production and mixing, not the songs themselves. “Landsailor,” for example, was beautiful when Vienna recently performed it at Mountain Stage, but is flattened down on the recording. “The Hymn of Acxiom” is also smoothed out more than necessary (Vienna’s voice is best when unrestrained), but is a strong and interesting enough song to withstand the extra studio polish.

Other than the four tracks mentioned above, Aims just doesn’t captivate me as intensely as its predecessors did – particularly the moody Dreaming Through the Noise and the ethereal, elegant, astonishingly excellent Inland Territory. Though perhaps comparing Vienna to herself is unfair, she still outshines the rest of the music industry.

Buy @ Amazon

Vienna Teng Official Site

Mountain Stage: Brendan James, Vienna Teng, Mark Bates, The Black Lillies & Over the Rhine

Last night’s Mountain Stage featured Brendan James, Vienna Teng, Mark Bates, The Black Lillies and Over the Rhine. Susan Werner was originally scheduled to perform, but was forced to cancel when Sunday’s storms delayed her flight. Local musician Mark Bates was subsequently booked as her replacement.

Brendan James opened the concert and I was very pleasantly surprised by how good he was. His voice and music are even better and stronger live than on his recordings. His poetic, heartfelt folk-pop style falls somewhere between James Taylor, Paddy Casey and Rufus Wainwright.

Brendan played piano and was accompanied only by a drummer and a guitarist, but the trio at times sounded like a full, orchestral band. I especially liked the song “Constellations” and the soaring title track from Brendan’s upcoming album, Simplify, both of which you can stream below. And you can also still nab his Noisetrade sampler with tracks from Simplify below. The album will be released on August 6th.

Buy Brendan James Music @ Amazon (new album available Aug. 6)

I was most excited to see Vienna Teng’s set. I first saw Vienna perform at Mountain Stage in 2008 right before her astounding last album, Inland Territory, was released. Her set then, particularly her bluesy wail of “Grandmother Song,” remains one of the best in my many Mountain Stage memories.

This time around Vienna was previewing songs from her upcoming album, Aims, which will be released in September. You can stream three of the songs below, which I first posted last week.

Vienna began by live looping (recording her own voice for use as background vocals) on her keyboard, then launched into “Whatever You Want” from 2006’s Dreaming Through the Noise. It was the only older song in her set, but fit very well with the new, electro-focused material.

She briefly switched to the Mountain Stage piano for the new songs “Goodnight New York” and “Landsailor.”

After discussing her post-graduate school difficulty in balancing grandiose, global themes with personal stories in her songwriting, Vienna returned to her keyboard for more live looping and the high concept tune “The Hymn of Acxiom.” Musically inspired by choral music and lyrically written from the point of view of a marketing database, the electro-choir style of “The Hymn of Acxiom” was even more haunting and remarkable in person.

Vienna ended her set with an even more impressive feat – a briliant mashup of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” complete with live looping beatbox. It was truly amazing and left no doubt that Vienna Teng is indeed a genius. The audience responded with a very enthusiastic standing ovation.

Vienna Teng’s last performance at Mountain Stage left me wanting her to record a blues album, now I’m waiting for her choral and soul-rap albums. I hope someday Vienna will perform a full concert in Charleston, perhaps at The Clay Center. As wonderful as her Mountain Stage sets always are, they are just too brief for so much talent.

Buy Vienna Teng’s Music @ Amazon (new album available in Sept.)

Hurricane, WV singer-songwriter Mark Bates followed in Vienna’s substantial wake with only his voice and guitar, but held his own very well. I especially like his ballads “Lucinda” and “West Virginia and You,” which you can stream below.

Buy Mark Bates Music @ Amazon

The Black Lillies really set the place on fire. It’s easy to understand why the Knoxville, Tennessee ensemble has appeared on the Grand Ole Opry twenty times to date. They sure are entertain’.

Their sound amps up classic country steel guitar and harmonies with modern Americana rhythm and unexpected punches of psychedelic rock and even a bit of soul. Depending on the song (or sometimes the individual note), they ran the genre gamut from Johnny Cash & June Carter to Ike & Tina Turner, with some Janis Joplin and Jerry Lee Lewis in between.

The highlights of their set were the moving, melodic and melancholy war anthem “Goodbye Charlie” and the high-energy, fast-paced, blues-rock wailer “Smokestack Lady.”

The Black Lillies earned the second standing ovation of the evening. They could easily have played a full concert and left the audience wanting more. As the band left the stage, I saw a couple of audience members rush out to the lobby’s merch table, waving their freshly purchased Black Lillies CDs upon their return.

Buy The Black Lillies Music @ Amazon

After Mountain Stage Bob Thompson pianist played an instrumental cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Over the Rhine took the stage as the final act of the night. Had they played earlier in the evening, I think I would have enjoyed their set much more. But as it was, the banter-happy Ohio husband and wife folk duo were somewhat of a letdown after the exhilarating, magnificent sets by Vienna Teng and The Black Lillies. They weren’t bad at all, just misplaced in such a powerhouse lineup. The highlights of their set were the lilting ballad “I Want You” and the foot tappin’ rumination on transatlantic jetlag, “Gonna Let My Soul Catch My Body.”

Buy Over the Rhine Music @ Amazon

All of the acts joined the Mountain Stage band on stage for the group finale of the murder ballad “On the Banks of the Ohio.”