Mountain Stage: Carrie Rodriguez, Brooke Waggoner, Trixie Whitley, Iris Dement, Bruce Cockburn

Last night’s Mountain Stage featured Carrie Rodriguez, Brooke Waggoner, Trixie Whitley, Iris Dement and Bruce Cockburn. With such a powerhouse lineup, it’s no surprise the show sold out before the doors even opened.

Carrie Rodriguez’ 2008 Mountain Stage set was one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended, so I was excited to see her return to my beloved venue. No one woman should be as pretty and gifted as Carrie Rodriguez. Her face and voice are equally gorgeous, her songwriting is top-notch and she’s a multi-instrumental virtuoso. She was accompanied last night by a single guitarist, Luke Jacobs.

Carrie opened with the high energy “Devil in Mind,” playing her violin like a rock guitar. She followed that with the mellow, swaying song “Lake Harriet,” which she called her “ode to the Minnesota man.” The beautiful love song “Get Back in Love,” a tribute to her guitarist’s parents, was the highlight of her set. Carrie asked the Mountain Stage band to join her for her new single, “I Cry For Love,” and ended with the sweet ballad “I Don’t Mind Waiting.”

Carrie Rodriguez’ fifth full-length solo album, Give Me All You Got, will be released January 22, 2013. You can download the new single, “Lake Harriet,” by signing up for Carrie’s email list at her website and watch the video below.

Carrie Rodriguez Official Site

Buy Carrie’s Music @ Amazon

Julie Adams and the Mountain Stage band took a turn covering Ron Sexsmith’s lovely “Speaking With The Angel.”

Brooke Waggoner, a striking redhead in a bright red dress and black boots, took the stage and piano next. I loved Brooke’s sophomore album, Go Easy Little Doves, but had never seen the classically trained singer-pianist in concert before. I had tickets to see her at Mountain Stage in the winter of 2010, but a snow storm canceled the show. I’m so glad Brooke chose to visit earlier in the season this time.

Brooke has one of those rare, flawless voices that sounds exactly the same live as it does recorded. Her voice and melodies have an unusually haunting and delicate quality to them, yet she’s not afraid to add a dark edge to certain songs.

Brooke and her band blasted the stage like it was a rock arena. This girl is going to be a huge star. At least, she should be. She played all new songs from her upcoming album, each more astounding than the last. It was like someone put the best, most impressive elements of Little Earthquakes-era Tori Amos and The Dresden Dolls-era Amanda Palmer into a blender. She was my favorite act of the night and I wish she’d played an extended set.

Brooke Waggoner’s next album, Originator, will be released in early 2013. You can download the first single, “Ink Slinger, at Rolling Stone.

Brooke Waggoner Official Site

Buy Brooke’s Music @ Amazon

Belgian singer Trixie Whitley had no difficulty following in Brooke’s wake. Trixie is a jack-all-trades kind of artist, having been an actor, dancer, DJ and musician. Her recording resume reads like a Who’s Who of the music industry, with names like Me’shell Ndegeocello, Robert Plant and Marianne Faithfull. Trixie was by far the most entertaining member of Black Dub when I saw them perform at Mountain Stage in 2010 and one of the standout covers on the recent Fleetwood Mac tribute.

Trixie opened with an atmospheric piano melody before picking up an electric guitar for the harder “Gradual Return,” a rock song with almost psychedelic riffs. She switched to an acoustic guitar for a bluesy ballad about a Mexican town, then slid back behind the piano for the love song finale, “I Breath You in My Dreams.” Every song was completely different, yet equally captivating. Trixie’s soulful, versatile voice rivals Adele.

As I posted last month, Trixie is offering a free, legal EP download via Noisetrade (see the end of this review) and her solo debut, Fourth Corner, will be released January 29, 2013.

Trixie Whitley Official Site

Buy Trixie’s Music @ Amazon

Strangely, Grammy-winning folk singer Iris Dement was probably the most famous of the performers and the one whose music I was least familiar with. She counts among her fans and collaborators Merle Haggard, John Prine, David Byrne, Natalie Merchant and the Coen Brothers. Her songs have been featured in various television shows and movies, and she herself played a small role in the film Songcatcher. But, to put it politely, her lengthy, dry banter and high pitched whine were not my cup of tea. The older folks in the audience seemed to like it, but I wasn’t the only younger person in the crowd yawning and checking my watch.

Iris Dement Official Site

Buy Iris’ Music @ Amazon

Thankfully, Mountain Stage pianist Bob Thompson soothed my frayed nerves with “Stardust.”

Finally, Bruce Cockburn. I’ve seen the Canadian folk master perform at Mountain Stage so many times over the years, I’ve lost count (last night was his 13th time at the venue). But it’s never enough.

As quiet and unassuming as the man is, there is no question that Bruce Cockburn and his music are legendary. I often wonder why Cockburnesque isn’t as overused a musical adjective as Dylanesque, but then I can’t think of any artist that can be compared to Bruce Cockburn. His live performances are even better than his recordings. There’s just something so likable about his humble demeanor and so captivating about his folk songs.

Bruce started with an older instrumental, then played “Call Me Rose” from his most recent album, Small Source of Comfort. He closed with the quaking, gut-renching “Put it in Your Heart.”

Bruce Cockburn Official Site

Buy Bruce’s Music @ Amazon

Brooke Waggonor and Trixie Whitley were the only performers of the night who didn’t stick around for the group finale. Carrie Rodriguez, Iris Dement and Bruce Cockburn joined host Larry Groce and the Mountain Stage band for a cover of “If I Prove False To Thee.”

Brooke Waggoner – Ink Slinger (mp3 download page)

Mountain Stage: Carrie Rodriguez, Vienna Teng, Crooked Still, The Rescues, Mike Gordon

I’d been eagerly anticipating the August 10th Mountain Stage show for months, ever since I saw Vienna Teng and Carrie Rodriguez listed among the performers. My excitement grew even more when Crooked Still and The Rescues were added to the lineup. Though I enjoy discovering new artists at Mountain Stage, it seems my favorite concerts are those that feature artists I’m already familiar with – such as last year’s Eleni, Sylvie, & Anaïs girlie fest, May’s Paddy Casey & Bell X1 Irish boy extravaganza, and the more recent Amos Lee, Sharon Little, Peter Bradley Adams show.

Last night’s concert was even better than I hoped. I had a front row center seat, all of the performances were excellent, the entire lineup was friendly and enthusiastic, the audience was excited, and host Larry Groce was in a very humorous mood – from threatening the sarcastic crowd warmer with a giant hook to jokingly responding to The Rescues’ good natured jibes at the local hillbilly culture. It all made for a fun night.

Carrie Rodriguez impressed me straight away by coming out to tune up her instruments long before the show was scheduled to begin. One of the usual prices to pay to enjoy a Mountain Stage show is enduring the switching out of instruments between bands and the continual tuning of guitars during each set. So I appreciated Carrie’s proactive approach to the show. It not only saved her time at the beginning of her performance, but resulted in an almost seamless set.

It must be said that Carrie Rodriguez is strikingly beautiful. With a voice like that, she pretty much has to be a singer. But she has the looks to be a model or actress. She had a large white flower in her curly hair, and a pink blouse and black skirt ensemble that could’ve been plucked from the 1920s. But it would still have been a stunning performance even if she’d been dressed in a burlap sack with a paper bag over her head. Not only is Carrie’s voice much stronger live than it sounds on her studio recordings, but it was truly a marvel to witness her “multi-instrumentalist” talents. That girl sure can play the life out of a fiddle.

Rodriguez opened with “Infinite Night” before Crooked Still’s Aoife O’Donovan joined her on stage for a rousing duet of “Absence” – featuring a barnburning fiddle solo by Carrie. She then played the title track from She Ain’t Me and “El Salvador” (co-written by Gary Louris), then finished off with a blistering rendition of “Never Gonna Be Your Bride” from her debut Seven Angels on a Bicycle. Whether you like Carrie’s albums or not, I recommend seeing her in concert if you ever have the opportunity.

Vienna Teng was probably the artist that I was most looking forward to seeing at the show. She was accompanied only by her producer and friend Alex Wong, but he had enough instruments to make up two bands. I was a little disappointed that she didn’t play any songs from her most recent release Dreaming Through The Noise, as my love of the album grows with each listen. But she played a nice selection of older songs from her two previous albums as well as some new tunes that will be on her forthcoming collaboration with Wong – tentatively set for release in February, 2009.

Vienna began with a sparse “re-imagining” of “Gravity” from Waking Hour before introducing a new song called “In Another Life”, which mentions West Virginia in its opening verse. Though I recognized most of the instruments that Alex played – including the glockenspiel – and have heard a melodica on many recordings, I had never seen one in person until last night and had to ask Vienna (more on that later) what it was.

Vienna’s voice was particularly flawless when singing “Harbour” from Warm Strangers. Most singers would need a heavy dose of Auto-Tune to reach that kind of vocal perfection. She was then generous enough to allow Wong to play a song from his own band The Paper Raincoat. “Brooklyn Blurs” is featured on the Safe In the Sound EP. They closed with an almost a capella and very bluesy version of “Grandmother Song” from Teng’s upcoming album. Vienna clapped the beat on her thighs and wailed like Bessie Smith. Though I always enjoy her signature serene piano style, I would love for her to record a blues album after that jawdropping performance.

The Rescues followed and more than held their own in the daunting shadows cast by Carrie Rodriguez and Vienna Teng. The singer-songwriter trio seemed even more thrilled to be at Mountain Stage than those of us in the audience were. Gabriel Mann took pictures from the stage and joked about encountering some local Appalachian folk who introduced themselves by what county they were from and said they were visiting Charleston just to shop at the mall. And people wonder why I hid my location for the first seven years of this blog…

They launched into a soaring unified vocal on “Lost Along The Way”, then Kyler England sang a beautiful rendition of “Matter of Time”. Gabriel took lead on “California Rain”, and Adrianne finally got the more prominent vocal on their cover of The Outfield’s “I Don’t Want To Lose Your Love Tonight” – in which they incorporated part of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way”. Their mesmeric finale was the a cappella “vampire pirate ballad” “My Heart With You”. The Rescues proved without a doubt that the beautiful harmony heard on their Crazy Ever After album is no mere studio creation.

I think I would have liked Crooked Still’s set even more if they had gone first. Their genteel bluegrass sound initially seemed a little pale in comparison to the three powerhouse performers that preceded them. However, their instrumentation is absolutely brilliant and Aoife O’Donovan’s voice is timelessly angelic…albeit difficult to hear at times. I was very pleased that they played my two favorite tracks from their new album Still Crooked: the haunting “Undone in Sorrow” and “Captain, Captain”, during which Carrie Rodriguez returned to the stage to lend backing vocals. They also covered “When First Unto This Country”, then played “Did You Sleep Well”, “Little Sadie” from Shaken By A Low Sound, and “The Absentee”.

The saxophonist from Carrie Rodriguez’ band joined Mountain Stage piano player Bob Thompson for a Thelonious Monk interlude. Though Thompson’s piano playing is always impeccable during his solos, the saxophone accompaniment greatly complimented and enhanced his sound.

Former Phish bassist Mike Gordon was the last to perform, and I really hadn’t intended to say much about his set. Other than my undying affection for Grateful Dead’s American Beauty album, I tend to intensely dislike jam bands. Also contributing to my dread was the fact that I neither liked nor hated Gordon’s The Green Sparrow CD enough to bother reviewing it. So I thought that Gordon’s set would be long and tedious. It was long and the first song was boring for a non-jammy fan like me. But I have to give Gordon due credit, as he is definitely great at what he does. He was so warm and friendly with the audience, obviously enjoyed playing, and his band was so good that they even had my feet tappin’ by the last song. That is the mark of a truly good performer, to even engage people who normally dislike their genre of choice.

All of the acts returned to the stage for the group finale of “Everything’s Broken”. It was a rare finale in which every performer either sang a verse or played an instrument. I was reminded of the very first Mountain Stage show I ever attended in 1997 when Joan Baez, Laura Love, Dar Williams, and Sinead Lohan amicably played together during each other’s sets and joined in for the finale. That kind of eager, synergetic participation adds so much to the atmosphere of the entire concert.

After the show, I didn’t recognize Aoife O’Donovan until after she had breezed past me in the lobby. Even after all of these years, it still seems odd to so easily mingle with the performers at Mountain Stage. After a failed attempt to talk to Alex Wong (I don’t like to interrupt the conversations of other fans, which usually results in me being pushed back by less polite enthusiasts), I did get a chance to talk briefly with Vienna Teng. She was very friendly, so I asked what instrument Alex had been playing during “In Another Life”. She said it was a melodica and seemed as fascinated by the strange looking instrument as I was.

Then I approached The Rescues, and for once introduced myself as the author of this blog. All three singers were so nice and thanked me for my review of their album. They signed my CD and sang a small ode to Kyler’s silver pen to the tune of “Silver Bells”. I hope they can hold on to that gracious humor when they achieve the big mainstream fame I think they’re headed toward.

As I was leaving the venue, I noticed that Mike Gordon was swarmed by a crowd of tye dye clad Phish fans in the lobby. I will gladly give away my copy of Mike’s CD if one of his true fans who attended the Mountain Stage show can comment with their email address and the color of the jeans Gordon was wearing last night.

Mountain Stage Official Site

Listen to Mt. Stage Sets on NPR

Carrie Rodriguez: She Ain’t Me

She Ain’t Me will be released on August 5th. The organic folk style of this sophomore release from singer-songwriter, classically trained violinist, and Chip Taylor collaborator Carrie Rodriguez is a slight departure from the twangier country sound of her debut Seven Angels on a Bicycle. Gary Louris of The Jayhawks co-wrote several songs on the album, which features guest vocals by Lucinda Williams and Aoife O’Donovan of Crooked Still.

don’t a murder of crows on a maple roost hungry at night?
don’t loose flocks soar over the rooftops in sorrowful flight?
don’t the winter crows gather together by the light of the moon?
don’t a heart beat heavy alone in a dark and empty room?

“Infinite Night” is a good start, a moody Western strummer that brings out an interestingly fierce tone in Carrie’s voice that was absent from her previous release. Gary Louris sings harmony on the track as well as on “El Salvador”, while Lucinda Williams provides backing vocals on “Mask of Moses”.

The spunky spitfire image portrayed in the album’s cover art is deceptive. “She Ain’t Me” could use a dose of the opener’s vocal gumption, but the woman scorned title track instead leans into a catchier pop rhythm. And Rodriguez reveals the more vulnerable side of her voice in the desperate verses of “Rag Doll”.

Carrie’s fiddle haunts the eerily rustic stand out track “Absence”, on which Crooked Still’s Aoife O’Donovan lends her voice. Other tracks melt into each other indistinctly until the attention is subtly absorbed once again by the austere arrangement and seductive lyrics of “Let Me In”.

Carrie till be touring with Alejandro Escovedo this autumn.

Carrie Rodriguez Official Site
Carrie Rodriguez MySpace

Buy @ Amazon

Carrie Rodriguez: Seven Angels On A Bicycle

I believe I first heard Carrie Rodriguez on Folk Alley, then read the post about her at The Late Greats, and later discovered that she played Mountain Stage. Carrie’s Southern keen at times calls to mind Kasey Chambers. She sings and plays fiddle on Seven Angels On A Bicycle, which also features Bill Frisell on electric guitar, Chip Taylor on acoustic guitar, and a blend of pedal steel, lap steel, Dobro, upright bass, saxophone, and banjo. The sound leans heavily into the country, but there also also hints of folk and jazz.

The opening title track and “’50s French Movie” have a steady, determined rhythm to them, and “Seven Angels On A Bicycle” mixes a surprising touch of brass in with the twang. Then the fiddle heavy “Never Gonna Be Your Bride” kicks it up into an Appalachian hootenanny whirl.

“Dirty Leather” and “I Don’t Want To Play House Anymore” deepen into a bluesier, steel-edged tone, and Carrie’s voice soars into a wail above the eerie fiddle of “Waterbound”. While tracks like “He’s Already Gone” and “St. Peter’s” slow and soften the music beneath Carrie’s sweet vocals.

Carrie Rodriguez Official Site
Carrie on MySpace

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