If you can’t attend this week’s Mountain Stage concert in person, you can watch the show live on the Mountain Stage Webcast this Sunday, February 16th at 7pm EST. Scheduled to perform are Lake Street Dive, Willie Sugarcapps, Shonna Tucker, The Steel Wheels, and Gregory Alan Isakov.
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.”
Brooke Waggoner – Ink Slinger (mp3 download page)
Matthew Sweet’s record label is offering the following free, legal download of the singer-songwriter’s latest single, “Late Nights With The Power Pop” from his new album, Modern Art. Locals can catch Matthew Sweet at Mountain Stage in Charleston, WV on October 23rd.
Matthew Sweet – Late Nights With The Power Pop (mp3 expired)*
*mp3 provided by & posted w/ permission of label
Listening to the self-titled debut album by singer-songwriter Grace Pettis, it’s no surprise to learn that she was recently awarded the “Best Song” prize in the Mountain Stage New Song Festival. Like last year’s winner Rose Polenzani, Grace is a very talented independent artist who plays and sings delicately beautiful songs.
Songs like the opener “The Gypsy’s Code” possess the dusky Western folk sound of Patty Griffin and Kate Rusby, and Grace’s voice has a warm lilt similar to Beth Nielson Chapman.
“Nine to Five Girl” is a melancholy blue collar anthem for all of the overworked, under tipped waitresses across America. It is the song that earned Grace the NewSong Festival award.
The album’s liner notes say Grace wrote the lovely ballad “A Bird May Love” when she was just fourteen years old. A duet with singer-guitarist Colin Brooks, it’s my personal favorite song on the album.
“What You Didn’t Want to Know” is a gentle communion between the performer and the heartbroken audience members that hear their lives reflected in her songs.
Also of note are the buoyant love ditty “Italy” and the fragile plea for affection “Speak Tenderly.”
Grace will graduate from college in May, and she wrote every beautiful song on her debut.
Grace Pettis – A Bird May Love (mp3 expired) *
*mp3 posted for limited time w/ permission of artist
Grace Pettis Official Site (Buy CD)
Buy @ Amazon (not yet available)
I was most excited about seeing Vagabond Opera, and they were fantastic! As expected, the kooky cabaret band put on a fun and dazzling set of songs from their new album, The Zeitgeist Beckons. Their colorful costumes and theatrics were fit for Vaudeville, and lead singer Eric Stern’s voice was astounding live. Their set was as entertaining for the eyes as it was the ears.
After the show, I introduced myself to saxophone player Robin Jackson and singer Ashia Grzesik. Ashia certainly is a multi-talented entertainer. She played the cello, sang a splendid rendition of “Ganef” (my favorite song from the album), and did a little Burlesque dancing during the other songs.
Considering the demented circus nature of their act, I was curious if they were fans of The Dresden Dolls. Jackson informed me that Vagabond Opera had performed with The Dresden Dolls and that Amanda Palmer was a big inspiration for them. No wonder I love them!
Scottish-Canadian duo Madison Violet followed with some melodic folk-country tunes from their new album No Fool for Trying. Their soft sound was a slight letdown after the sideshow act of Vagabond Opera, but their harmonies were even prettier live than on the album. The girls led the audience in a sing-a-long of “The Small of My Heart” and shared the tragic true story behind “The Woodshop.”
Eric Bibb was only recently added to the lineup before the show. I looked forward to seeing him perform live, since I loved his Get On Board album so much. Despite an audience member yelling a request for “Spirit I Am,” Bibb instead played songs from his upcoming album, Booker’s Guitar. The new songs were a mix of blues and soulful folk, and the highlight was his almost a capella (he was accompanied by a harmonica player) cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” Bibb’s voice was beautifully rich in person, and his guitar work called to mind classic blues musicians. He earned the first standing ovation of the night.
Brett Dennen was another artist I was interested in seeing. He played songs from his latest release Hope for the Hopeless, as well as one tune from his previous release So Much More (I’d hoped for “The One Who Loves You The Most,” but it didn’t happen). Dennen’s set was a straightforward presentation of his signature pop-folk acoustics, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. He was such a hit with the crowd that he was granted an encore, during which he sang “Heaven.”
I was unimpressed by the country-pop direction of Sister Hazel’s new album Release, but I liked them a lot in the 1990s (particularly their song “Your Winter” from the 10 Things I Hate About You soundtrack). So I really hoped they’d win me over at Mountain Stage. They didn’t.
From the beginning, the band seemed out of place at the venue to me. For one thing, they wheeled in their own big amplifiers and the extra loud volume just didn’t seem to mesh well with the Mt. Stage sound system. Also, I couldn’t tell if the lead singer was sick or if he simply couldn’t compete with those amplifiers, but his voice cracked painfully when he attempted the high notes of “Your Winter” and “All For You.” That was particularly disappointing since I actually like those two songs.
I’ve seen and enjoyed plenty of other rock bands at Mountain Stage, so my dissatisfaction with Sister Hazel’s performance had nothing to do with the style of their music. And it was certainly an example of how subjective musical taste can be. The majority of the audience responded enthusiastically to the band, while other rows emptied out before the end of their set.
I will say that, despite the weaknesses of their performance, the members of Sister Hazel were very personable and self-deprecating between songs. And I heard several people raving about them after the show (though many said Vagabond Opera and Brett Dennen were the best of the night), so to each their own…
All of the artists returned to the stage for the group finale, a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Lodi.”