May is going to be a spectacular month for concerts in Charleston, WV…
Country star and former American Idol winner Carrie Underwood will be at the Charleston Civic Center, with opener Hunter Hayes, on Wednesday, May 8th. Look for my review of that concert in next Thursday’s edition of The Charleston Gazette.
Singer-songwriters Shawn Colvin and Mary Chapin Carpenter will perform as a duo during an extended set at a special Mountain Stage at The Clay Center on Sunday, May 19th. Crooked Still’s Aoife O’Donovan is also on the lineup. As an almost lifelong fan of Shawn Colvin, I’m very excited to be reviewing the show for Muruch.
The free Live on the Levee summer concert series will return to Charleston on May 24th. The acts haven’t been announced yet, but I do know Kathy Mattea will perform in June during Festivall week.
Just when you think it can’t get any better, Old Crow Medicine Show will put on a full concert at The Clay Center on Friday, May 24th! OCMS is one of my favorite modern bands, so reviewing their concert for Muruch is also cause for much excitement.
We here at Muruch were very sad to hear of Richie Havens‘ death from a heart attack earlier this week at the age of 72. The legendary folk singer – best known for opening the original Woodstock festival – had one of the most distinctive and lovely voices in all of music history.
I first posted about Seattle folk-pop ensemble Ivan & Alyosha two months ago when they were recommended to me based on my affection for their labelmates, The Lumineers. Having now heard Ivan & Alyosha’s entire debut full-length album, All The Times We Had, I’d say that the comparison to The Lumineers is still fairly accurate. The two bands definitely share a certain multi-instrumental, melodic sensibility, but Ivan & Alyosha’s music is distinctively different enough to stand on its own merit. And you have to love any band named after characters in a Dostoyevsky novel.
The opener “Be Your Man” is a catchy, buoyant folk-pop number.
“Fathers Be Kind” has a similar lyrical theme to John Mayer’s “Daughters,” but a much cooler execution. You can stream “Fathers Be Kind” below.
“Easy to Love” is a sweet, mellow, feel good kinda love song. You can stream the song at NPR.
The album’s first single, “Running for Cover,” begins as a gently rolling, tinkling melody but the energy and tempo build with every note. You can watch the video below.
The standout track “The Fold” is a cinematic pop-folk song as lovely, comforting and encouraging as an old friend.
The Americana anthem “Don’t Want To Die Anymore” is somewhere between Ryan Adams and The Low Anthem. Which actually describes most of the album.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
In case you missed my rave review of Grace Pettis’ 2009 debut, Grace was well deserving of the Mountain Stage New Song Festival award she won that year. She just released her sophomore album, Two Birds, and you can download a free, legal mp3 sampler by entering your email address into the Noisetrade widget below…
A Church that fits our Needs is the new album by folk orchestra Lost in the Trees. In late 2010, I was privileged to be in the audience when the band performed at Mountain Stage. Their far too brief set featured gorgeous, lushly orchestrated songs passionately performed by lead singer, Ari Picker, with Emma Nadeau’s seraphic backing vocals. It was an intoxicating and melancholy mix. I quickly sought out more of their work, and was happy to discover they’ve been heavily covered by NPR’s All Songs Considered. Those live recordings sustained me as I eagerly awaited their next album, which was teased as being “more Stravinsky and less Vivaldi.” Picker’s affection for that composer’s work is evident in his 12-track song cycle, A Church That Fits Our Needs.
The album is a tribute to his mother, who took her own life in 2009. Only ten of the tracks are actual songs, while the other two are essentially sound effects of walking in the woods mingled with a dissonant piano. It is a profoundly moving experience that’s so difficult to put into words, I can’t help but think that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” There are so many symbolic references to sounds, images and elements in these songs, I wish Picker had provided a schema for the album as Joyce did for Ulysses.
Standout tracks for me include “Red,” “Golden Eyelids,” and “Icy River,” but this is an album that really needs to be appreciated as a whole, and one which deserves repeated listens to peel away its layers.
A Church That Fits Our Needs culminates in “Vines,” which demonstrates the album’s deeply submerged symbolism. Picker has said he’s not a poet, but these lyrics belie that claim:
“Follow your shadow down to the ocean and get swept up by the sea. You are weeping, you are weeping all that I’ve done to you was once done to me. Such a wicked, wicked house we’re on rounding your memories. And all your words can try, you words can try but there are things that words can’t say, I’ll watch you fall away, fall away as you cower under our graves. I swore I saw her in her golden armor float up around the house, was so glorious, was so glorious, she came down and put her song into my mouth. Her voice lights up the darkest staircase, I’m home when you’re around. And my song will try, my songs can try but there are things that songs can’t say, so watch me fall away, fall away as I cower under your grace. Am I hopeless, am I hopeless, I trust you but where are we walking to?”
Joan Osborne will return on March 27th with her seventh studio recording, Bring It On Home. A collection of classic blues covers, the album features songs originally made famous by Allen Toussaint (who appears on the album), Muddy Waters, Ray Charles, Otis Redding and Al Green among many others. Though she is probably best known for the pop hit “One of Us” from her studio debut Relish, Joan’s gritty voice has always been better suited to the blues – from her live NYC blues bar Early Recordings to her cover of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” on the Rosetta Tharpe tribute, Shout, Sister, Shout!. Bring It On Home finally gives Joan the opportunity to fully immerse herself in the blues and it’s a wild and very enjoyable ride.
The opener, “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” is an uptempo, brass-embellished jazz number that was originally recorded by Ray Charles. It’s definitely a fun start for this excellent album, but I personally prefer bluesier tracks like the magnificent title track.
The Sonny Boy Williamson song “Bring It On Home” is pure, sultry, vintage blues and a perfect showcase for Joan’s fierce pipes.
Her gorgeous voice is also well matched with the seductive soul ballad covers of “I Want to Be Loved” (originally by Muddy Waters) and Otis Redding’s “Champagne and Wine.”
Allen Toussaint plays piano on Joan’s peppy and delightful cover of his song, “Shoorah! Shoorah!”
The standout track is the sexy, rumbling freight train of blues-rock “Shake Your Hips,” which was apparently the result of an impromptu in-studio performance.
That fact – along with my own experiences seeing Joan Osborne in concert in the past – seems to confirm my suspicion that these songs will be spectacular live. So I suggest West Virginians catch Joan Osborne at Mountain Stage in Morgantown on April 15th.
The radiant Anaïs Mitchell stole the show for me. This was the third Mountain Stage appearance by Anaïs that I’ve attended, so she’s tied with Amy Correia as the artist I’ve seen perform the most times at the venue. She never fails to deliver a captivating live performance, and her set at Mountain Stage last night was no exception. Sadly, I didn’t realize until the concert started that my camera’s batteries were dead. I don’t think you could capture that magic on film anyway.
As I said in my review of her superb new album, Young Man in America (click album title for my review), : “Anaïs Mitchell is like a modern day Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan. Her epic lyrical narratives echo Guthrie’s masterful talent for blending the literary with the ordinary, while her fierce and unique vocal phrasing as well as her intricately multi-layered arrangements take Dylanesque to a whole new realm.“
Anaïs’ dual role as singer and poet were on beautiful display on stage last night. She always had a charming stage presence, but her on-stage confidence seems to have blossomed over the years. Her “Young Man Band” – comprised of singer Rachel Ries (Anaïs’ Country EP partner), bassist Noah Hahn and multi-instrumentalist Ben Davis – provided worthy accompaniment. Davis’ banjo playing during “Dying Day,” which opened the set, was especially noteworthy.
“Dying Day” was the perfect way to introduce the audience to Anaïs and her new album. It was remarkable how her performance evoked a strong, positive reaction from everyone in the crowd, regardless of age – both the middle-aged man beside me and the little girl sitting in front of me nodded their heads along to the song.
Anaïs and her crew combined brief “Wilderland” and the title track from Young Man in America into one seamless, stellar medley. All of the songs sounded even better live than on the studio recording, but “Young Man in America ” was especially moving.
Anaïs’ plaintive call of “my daddy was a repo man, put me out onto the street, didn’t give a damn for me, did not give a damn!” brought tears to my eyes, and the haunting transition from the song’s final lyric “let me climb back in the bed you made me in” to the gorgeous instrument flourish that closes the song was absolutely hypnotic.
Anaïs’ set wasn’t heavy on banter, but she did talk a bit about her father when introducing the song “Shepherd,” which was inspired by his out-of-print novel The Souls of Lambs. It is her father’s face that adorns the cover of Young Man in America and Anaïs joked about his not wanting to cut his hair so people would recognize him from the picture.
During Anaïs’ emotive rendering of “Shepherd,” I noticed bassist Noah Hahn kneeling down on one knee with his eyes closed and his face turned up toward Anaïs. It seems her heartfelt vocals and musical narratives were as rapturous to the members of her band as to those of us in the audience.
“Tailor,” while not a favorite track of mine on the album, was incredibly powerful live – especially Anaïs’ breathy sighs of “Who Am I?” in the last verse. She then ended her spectacular set with “You Are Forgiven.”
After three brilliant albums and three magnificent live performances, Anaïs Mitchell has cemented herself as my favorite contemporary artist.
Anaïs Mitchell will perform a rare full concert in West Virginia at Lewisburg’s Carnegie Hall on April 14th. I hope to attend and review that show as well, so stay tuned.
Marc Broussard will perform songs from his recently released self-titled album live at Mountain Stage on February 12th. The Louisiana native successfully made the unusual move from the Delta-flavored country of 2004′s Carencro to a retro-soul influenced pop style with his recent releases. The stand out track of Marc Broussard by far is the bluesy “Eye On The Prize.” I’m surprised the song was placed toward the end of the album, it’s far superior to the softer pop tracks that precede it. Other highlights include the opening love song “Lucky,” the high energy “Only Everything,” the catchy “Bleeding Heart,” the soulful official finale “Let Me Do It Over” and the funky acoustic hidden track that truly closes the album.
I was not granted permission to share an mp3, but you can hear samples from the album at the links below…
Brendan here. Grace Weber’s debut album, Hope & Heart, is a soulful collection of old-fashioned love songs. The album opens strongly with “Stay or Leave,” available as a free download if you provide your email address at Grace Weber’s site. You can also download and stream several other tracks from the album via the widgets below.
The standout track for me is “Leave the Light On,” which is one of those songs that you love instantly and intensely and feels like it’s been around for decades. Grace was invited to perform that song at a 9/11 collaboration in Paris.