The Mountain Stage Podcast recently released an mp3 of July’s Mountain Stage concert featuring Over the Rhine, Brendan James, Vienna Teng and The Black Lillies. You can download that mp3 and several others at the link below…
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.
The Floyd Country Store Radio Show is a variety program unlike any you’ll hear on radio. It’s like a Mountain Stage/Prairie Home Companion crossover but more fun. Down home fiddle music, great Country voices, comedy skits and a whole lot more. Attending a taping is at the top of my wish-list. Here are just a couple of West Virginia-related highlights…
Old Crow Medicine Show’s Chance McCoy used to be in a band called Old Sledge with Floyd Country Store Radio co-host Anna Roberts-Gevalt. It’s a small world after all. McCoy was featured on the show in February 2012.
That’s all folks. Take it easy, but take it.
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
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.
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.”
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.”
Brendan James will play Charleston, WV’s Mountain Stage on July 21st. You can download his free, legal Now & Before Noisetrade album sampler and watch the official video for his song “Nightlife” below…
Vienna Teng will release her new album, Aims, in September and perform live at Charleston, WV’s Mountain Stage on June 21st. You can stream three songs from the new album below. “The Hymn of Acxiom” is also available as free, legal mp3 download here (just enter $0 as your price).
Buy @ Amazon (Available in Sept.)
Stephen Kellogg, scheduled for the June 30th show back in Charleston, WV, has many live recordings available on Archive.org. This one includes “Hearts of Pain,” which was featured on the TV show, One Tree Hill. Kellogg’s previous Mountain Stage performances are available to stream at NPR.
Over the Rhine will perform at Mountain Stage on July 21st. They have similarly permitted several live shows to be posted on Archive.org. This one is a favorite because it kicks off with “Laugh of Recognition” and includes a “Hallelujah” cover.
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down will appear at Mountain Stage on July 28th – you can stream or download a 2009 concert by the group here.
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.
Lyle Lovett will visit The Clay Center on Friday, May 10th.
Comedian Lewis Black will hit The Clay Center on Thursday, May 16th.
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.
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 wrote an extensive post about Richie Havens back in 2006, having become somewhat obsessed with him after seeing him perform on PBS’ Carry It On: A Musical Legacy and reading his biography They Can’t Hide Us Anymore, so I won’t rehash the details here. I especially loved his song “The Great Mandala (The Wheel Of Life),” which was featured on his 2008 album, Nobody Left to Crown.
You can hear that album’s title track at Mountain Stage’s Song of the Week, and this week’s radio episode of Mountain Stage will feature a live performance by Havens’ from 1995.
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.