Veronica Mars the Movie!

Sadly, the Veronica Mars movie isn’t playing in my local theater. Thankfully, though, its unusual theatrical release was accompanied by a simultaneous On Demand release, so we were able to watch the film its opening weekend from the comfort of the Muruch home. And it did not disappoint.

The cool opening sequence gives a quick but interesting summary of the tv series that’s beneficial for those who didn’t watch the show and nostalgic for those of us who did.

The movie is speckled with what may be the best, most eclectic collection of cameos ever. I don’t want to spoil things, but let’s just say if you like NPR and a certain alt-rocker on the movie soundtrack you’ll squeal in delight at the first two non-character cameos. There are also brief appearances by former cast members of Freaks & Geeks, New Girl and The State. In fact, Freaks & Geeks fans will be almost as giddy as “Marshamallows” (a.k.a. Veronica Mars fans).

And, of course, Marshmallows will be even more happy with the character cameos, questions answers (Did she choose Piz or Logan?!) and plethora of in-jokes – which include references to the tv show, the movie’s Kickstarter campaign, Buffy, The O.C. and a lot of great music.

It may not quite live up to the superhuman hype it’s received, but it comes pretty darn close and leaves welcome room and a lot of potential for sequels. And I suspect it’d be even better on the big screen.

Rent Veronica Mars @ Amazon On Demand

Pre-order Veronica Mars DVD @ Amazon

Mountain Stage: Lost in the Trees, Alejandro Escovedo, and The Felice Brothers

Mountain Stage’s October 17th concert featured Adam Haworth Stephens of Two Gallants, Lost in the Trees, Mollie O’Brien and Rich Moore, Alejandro Escovedo, and The Felice Brothers. I reviewed the show for a local newspaper, so I initially didn’t intend to write about it here. But I do enjoy rambling about good music, so here’s an expanded review with more details that pesky newspaper word count wouldn’t allow me to include…

A small but very enthusiastic crowd greeted Sunday night’s Mountain Stage performers.

During the standard pre-show announcements and applause rehearsal, host Larry Groce jokingly blamed the controversial John Raese ad for his casual attire.

For the first time in the show’s history, Mountain Stage engineer Francis Fisher didn’t condemn the audience’s first attempt at cued “spontaneous applause.” He actually said it was “ok.” Groce look visibly disturbed and I know I was! Thankfully, Fisher still requested the usual second practice session and all was well with the world again.

Two Gallants singer Adam Haworth Stephens gave the show a solid start with chiming, harmonica-accented songs from his folk-rock solo debut, We Live on Cliffs. The album features members of My Morning Jacket, Blood Brothers and Vetiver.

Stephens’ voice is similar to labelmate Bright Eyes and to be honest, he sometimes sounded like he was being strangled. But that didn’t matter, because his songs and particularly his Sufjanesque arrangements were grand. He promised at the beginning of his set that he was “gonna get gradually louder as the night proceeds” and he stayed true to his word. For a lil blonde indie guy, Adam Haworth Stephens sure put on a good rock concert.

Wheeling native Mollie O’Brien dueted with Mountain Stage singer Julie Adams on a Robert Randolph tune, and Adams later joined O’Brien and her guitarist husband Rich Moore on stage for their set.

Mollie O’Brien and Rich Moore were a big hit with the locals. After twenty-seven years of marriage, the folk duo has finally released their debut studio recording, Saints & Sinners. The album includes a wide range of genres, instrumentation, and musical styles. Whether singing their own original songs or covering classics by Tom Waits, Jesse Winchester, Harry Nilsson, and George Harrison, the supercouple liven things up with splashes of jazz, blues, gospel, and cabaret.

However, it was North Carolina folk orchestra Lost in the Trees that dazzled the crowd during the first hour with their enchanting, multi-instrumental circus. Their latest release All Alone in An Empty House blends folk and acoustic pop melodies with lush orchestral arrangements.

Larry Groce called the band “a cast of thousands” and not since The Low Anthem have I seen so many instruments on one stage. Horns, strings, an accordion…Lost in the Trees had it all.

Singer and accordion player Emma Nadeau’s haunting wail melted beautifully with the band’s string section and drove the quiet melody of their first song up to chill-producing heights. Other songs made fuller, more rhythmic use of the entire orchestra.

Composer Ari Picker charmed the audience by temporarily abandoning the radio microphone to “connect” with them before leading them in a pretty sing-a-long. Theirs was probably my favorite set of the night, which was quiet a feat considering the rest of the lineup. I urge everyone to see Lost in the Trees live if you have the opportunity.

Texan singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo and his band, The Sensitive Boys, kicked off the second hour. Alejandro Escovedo is a favorite in my household and I’ve reviewed several of his albums over the years.

A legend in the folk community, he was named “Artist of the Decade” by No Depression magazine and deemed “his own genre” by Rolling Stone. He counts among his more famous fans Ryan Adams, Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson, Calexico, director Jonathan Demme and, to Escovedo’s consternation, former president George W. Bush.

Escovedo began his musical career as a punk-rock guitarist in the 1970s and his band The Nuns once opened for The Sex Pistols. He gradually moved through rock and country during the decades that followed before experimenting with a mixture of Americana, folk, and rock in the 1990s. Embellishing thunderous rock arrangements with delicate classical instrumentation, poignantly personal lyricism, and a heartfelt vocal style, Escovedo created his own beautifully distinctive sound.

Escovedo’s magnificent set was heavy on the noise, centering on songs from his recently released tenth solo album, Street Songs of Love. “Anchor” depicts love as a weight that may hold a person down, but also prevents them from drifting away. The instrumental “Fort Worth Blue” is a tribute to musician Stephen Bruton — a longtime collaborator of Kris Kristofferson and former Mountain Stage guest. Escovedo also played two songs co-written with Chuck Prophet: “Down in the Bowery,” which was affectionately inspired by Escovedo’s angry, punk-lovin’ teenage son, and “Always a Friend” from his previous release, Real Animal.

As the unofficial headliners of the evening, The Felice Brothers provided a fantastic finale. As I said in my review of their 2008 self-titled album, their music is “full of haunting beauty, wild tales, and eerie anachronism.” Their last two albums spanned American history from The Wild West to The Great Depression.

The band played several songs from The Felice Brothers album, including “Wonderful Life,” “Saint Stephen’s End,” “Love Me Tenderly,” and “Goddamn You, Jim” – during which James Felice played the hell out of his accordion.

They also played “Run Chicken Run” from 2009’s less impressive effort Yonder Is The Clock.

The Felice Brothers’ skilled musicianship, on-stage chemistry, and lead singer Ian Felice’s gritty, Dylanesque vocals made even the most somber of their songs an enthralling live experience.

Mp3 Menagerie: Alejandro Escovedo, Empires, Darker My Love

Alejandro Escovedo – Street Song (mp3)*

I’ve raved about Alejandro Escovedo‘s music here many times. This song has a slicker rock sound than his previous releases and is from his upcoming album Street Songs Of Love, to be released June 29th.

Buy @ Amazon

*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of artist’s PR rep

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Empires – Damn Things Over (mp3)*

To rev up interest in their summer tour, Chicago rock band Empires is offering this free, legal mp3 from their new EP Bang. Check out the recent review of Empires live show by Muruch freelancers Chelle & Coble here.

Buy @ Amazon

*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of band

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Darker My Love – Dear Arthur (mp3)*

*click for download page on label site, email address required to access mp3

Moody track from Darker My Love’s upcoming album Alive As You Are, to be released August 17th.

Buy @ Amazon

Alejandro Escovedo: Real Animal

Alejandro Escovedo’s ninth studio album Real Animal was my most anticipated release of 2008. I only discovered his music last year, but have since then obsessively devoured most of his previous releases and view him as one of the greatest living artists in any genre. I generally prefer Alejandro’s string embellished Americana ballads over his raucous punk-rock barnburners. So I was initially disappointed by this new release, which is heavy on the noise. There were no new “Baby’s Got New Plans” or “Rosalie” to immediately grab my heart in their gentle fist. But on the second listen, the album hit me full force and I felt like an absolute idiot for not recognizing the genius in it the first time around.


Nancy called up to our room, said: “come & help with Sid”
we went down & looked around, the dealer let us in
we thought he was hysterical, the knife it was a joke
don’t know if he did what they said he did, nobody really knows

Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme is another raving Alejandro fanatic and wrote the liner notes for the new album, which features guest guitarist Chuck Prophet. “Always A Friend” rips it open with a catchy beat and polished rock rhythm. “Chelsea Hotel ’78” – which revisits the singer’s stay at the infamous hotel during the Sid and Nancy mess – digs into a deeper grind on the verses and hints at Escovedo’s punk capabilities on the chorus squawk.

The intro of the stand out “Sister Lost Soul” takes a sudden dip into retro-pop, but the rest of the melody resurrects Alejandro’s signature string accented Americana sound. The pretty interlude is broken by the guitar cruncher “Smoke”, which sounds like it’s also possessed by a demonic violin. Once again, Alejandro brilliantly weaves folk and classical instrumentation into ear bludgeoning rock thunder.

Bluesy harmonica mingles with a touch of twang in the stunner “People (We’re Only Gonna Live So Long)”, followed by the melancholy haunt “Golden Bear”. The pristine beauty of the string intro of “Hollywood Hills” makes me wish Alejandro would record a classical instrumental album. Then the lovely ballad “Swallows of San Juan” and the finale “Slow Down” ultimately seized my heart during the second rotation.

I beg the universe, please send Alejandro Escovedo back to Mountain Stage. These songs must be awe-inspiring in concert.

Alejandro Escovedo Official Site

Buy @ Amazon

Alejandro Escovedo: A Man Under The Influence

In the near decade that passed between Alejandro Escovedo’s Thirteen Years and the 2001 release of his sixth solo album A Man Under The Influence, he had nearly perfected his sound and brought Ryan Adams along for the ride. Alejandro’s melting of Mexicana and Americana folk-rock styles with the lovely mix of classical string arrangements are even more polished and captivating on this disc.

A Man Under The Influence features almost all of my favourites from Alejandro’s catalogue, with the exception of Thirteen Years‘ “Baby’s Got New Plans”. Among the highlights are the haunting melody “Wave” and the beautiful love song “Rosalie”, both of which were inspired by the immigration of Alejandro’s father and were also featured in Escovedo’s play By The Hand Of The Father.

“Across The River” revisits Escovedo’s more melancholy mood, while “Wedding Day” has a sweeter sentimentality. Both songs are seasoned with weeping pedal steel and the mellifluous strings of cello and violin. Ryan Adams provided harmony vocals on “Don’t Need You” and “As I Fall”.

Also of note are “Castanets” and “Velvet Guitar”. Escovedo apparently refused to perform “Castanets” at concerts for two years after learning that it was on Dubya’s playlist. I guess there is such a thing as bad publicity. Thankfully he recently lifted his self-imposed ban on the song. I tend to prefer Alejandro’s softer side, but the upbeat rock tempo of “Castanets” is irresistibly catchy.

Alejandro Escovedo – Velvet Guitar (mp3)

Alejandro Escovedo Official Site
Alejandro on MySpace
Buy the CD