Scott Alarick: Revival

Scott Alarick’s Revival is a beautifully crafted, eloquent, heartfelt novel about folk music, the enduring bonds of love and friendship, and the equally heavy burdens of doubtful youth and regret-filled age.

There are undeniable elements of Crazy Heart in the romance between the novel’s washed up, alcoholic, folk curmudgeon and his feisty, young, female protégé. There are also parallels to the tv show Nashville in its juxtaposition of the country music industry’s dark, greedy, business side with the ragtag group of struggling unknowns at a local open mic night. Though the publication date indicates the book predates the tv show.

Beyond those plot threads lies a rich tapestry of folk music history, a sincere and delightfully gushing love for the art and struggle of making music, and a championing of folk artists both classic and current. Alarik delves back into the origins and traditions of folk music, its evolutions and international travels and transformations, and philosophizes on the pros and cons of songwriting techniques and credits.

There’s also a very passionate, somewhat crusty folk critic character I found myself relating to a bit. Considering Alarik’s past as a folk critic for The Boston Globe, I wonder how much of the character is autobiographical. Alarik was the first Boston critic to write about Ani DiFranco, Alison Krauss, Dar Williams, Kate Rusby, Shemekia Copeland,and Crooked Still. He’s also a coffeehouse-frequenting folk musician, so I’m also curious about what else in the novel may have been taken from his own life.

The novel references several well known names in the folk community – everyone from Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to Emmylou Harris and Dar Williams to Utah Phillips and Ani DiFranco. Alarik even incorporated Dar Williams’ song, “February,” into the story by changing the title and making it a song written by one of the protagonists.

Yet all the folk music namedropping, like everything else about this exquisite novel, is completely organic in placement and pace. The characters are at times overly starry eyed and sentimental, but it fits with the novel’s overall hopeful, jubilant mood. It’s very much a love story, but it’s also very much a story about loving music.

It’s also a lovely book in the literal, physical sense. The paperback is as large as a hardback, but not heavy. The gorgeous cover art shows the intertwined bodies of a fiddle and guitar.

Revival is a beautiful book inside and out.

I actually hugged the book when I finished it, happily sighed “Now that’s a book!” and handed it to Brendan, who is reading it as I type this review. He just said: “This book is awesome! How does someone create such lovable characters within a few pages?”

So there you go, two very enthusiastic endorsements from the Muruch household. Oh, and we did not get a free review copy if that matters. It was worth every penny we paid. Revival is now one of my new favorite books of all time, and possibly my favorite book about music.

You can sample the first pages of the novel at Amazon and if you like them, you’ll probably love the book as much as we do. You can also hear free audio readings from the book by the author himself here.

Buy @ Amazon

Scott Alarik Official Site

Interview with Man of Steel Singer Allison Crowe

We here at Muruch first broke the news of Canadian singer-songwriter Allison Crowe’s involvement in the new Superman movie, Man of Steel, last month and, since the movie’s release, were able to reveal a few more details about her role. Allison Crowe took a break from her increasingly busy schedule to follow up our 2008 interview with her and share her thoughts on her Man of Steel experience as well as her upcoming album…

So….what was it like appearing in your first film?!

“It was amazing – unlike anything I’ve ever experienced – and the some of the most fun I’ve ever had!”

Did you get to meet any of the other actors? If so, any anecdotes to share?

“Close-up, I got to meet everyone in the bar scene I was in that day of filming on Vancouver Island – and everyone was fantastic! Zack and Debbie, (the Snyders, director and producer, respectively), are just amazing people and Henry (Cavill aka Superman), is a lovely and down-to-earth guy. It was a ton of fun. Many cast and crew members were from Vancouver, Canada and worked together before. Howard Siegel, Carmen Lavigne, Nicole Rockmann and others in the scene are the nicest people as well as talents. Ian Tracey is just right in his role and very funny. Juniper Watters in the sound dept. is also a great musician. Co-producer Wes Coller, Misha Bukowski, assistant director, alongside all the production coordinators, assistants – how they work is inspiring. Actors, wardrobe, make-up, props people, directors, producers… each individual in every aspect of the production – they are all remarkable. Together, they’re super. True pros!

My Mom and I also got to visit the movie set on the mainland and met actors there, fabulous costume designer Michael Wilkinson – and so many people I could also mention. We were treated so well by publicist Lee Anne Muldoon. And on!

Then at the recent movie premiere/ after-party in NYC I met so many people as well from the US side of things – Hans Zimmer, Michael Kelly, everyone was great. 🙂

Myself and Hans Zimmer even took a selfie! hehe Relaxing with Karyn and Michael Kelly, meeting Debbie’s parents… truly special.”

How did you first get involved in the movie?

“Well, Zack and Debbie had wanted to use my version of “Hallelujah” in the Watchmen, (they had seen it on YouTube!), and then didn’t end up using it, (Zack said it was too beautiful, which is a pretty fantastic thing to say, if you ask me!). A couple of years later, they were in touch again to possibly have a song by me in Sucker Punch. That movie, too, went in a different direction. Then, they actually asked to have me physically singing in this movie – Man of Steel – and it was so much fun.”

Like you, a once up and coming singer named Madonna made a cameo as a bar singer in a movie (Vision Quest) that turned out to be one of the launching pads to her mainstream fame. Did you have that kind of catapult to fame in mind when you took the role? If so, did it cause you to feel any hesitation before you said yes or was it a motivating factor?

“You know, I think all of that crosses your mind – this is a huge movie, and tons of people who haven’t seen me before will, and that’s really really amazing – but really, just working on the movie itself is an exciting thing. Anything else that comes with it is sort of like the proverbial icing on the cake. I’ve always wanted to do something like this – and I was given this wonderful opportunity – and that is awesome. I would do it again in a heart-beat.”

Man of Steel was a huge box office success its opening weekend alone. Is it affecting your career yet?

“It’s definitely been a very busy time, so I think I’d have to say yes, for sure. I do know a lot of people have been tremendously supportive and enthusiastic and kind to me this whole time – and it does seem as though more people are starting to find me online and listen to my music – and that’s pretty fantastic!”

Do you plan to act in the future? If so, do you have any dream (or even reality-based:) projects in mind?

“I would absolutely love to act in film and theatre in the future. I’d be happy to be in anything Zack makes – I am a huge fan of his anyways, and he was so amazing to work with, I’d jump at the chance to do this again!

I’m also a huge fan of a lot of very varied TV shows (Sons of Anarchy would be an awesome show to be on!! ) (just putting that out there). And I know Battlestar Gallactica isn’t being made anymore, but… that would be a dream project! I love that show.

I also love comedy, and I like to hope, (not think, but hope), that I can be pretty hilarious sometimes – if regularly laughing at your own jokes counts. Which it probably doesn’t. But I try.

I’m also a huge fan of video games, and I’d love to voice one one day – ie. in Bioshock Infinite there were some amazing parts for singing, too! And they had different versions of all these songs throughout different eras… it’s so cool. I found myself singing along to a lot of it. (there’s a version of “Fortunate Son” that is SO GOOD)

Also if they ever did a re-make of the original The Little Mermaid, I’d love to be Ariel. hehe

Essentially – I am open to any possibilities! I love creating and I love art and performance – and I love watching TV and Movies and playing video games.”

Did you have a hand in selecting “Ring of Fire” for your performance in the film?

“We knew the song would be a Johnny Cash song for sure, then it was just a task of figuring out which one! As part of my process, I went through and listened to every song in his repertoire – from early recordings like “Cry,Cry, Cry” to his last. We’re all Trent Reznor fans, so, even, “Hurt,” a song with strong associations, came up as an idea. In the end, Zack and his creative team decided on “Ring of Fire” – and we decided on guitar (rather than piano) for the scene – and I then recorded a few different versions with varying tempos and approaches so that we could settle on one version. We sent them back and forth and I found what feels most natural to me for the song. Zack felt the same way as me, and that’s what ends up in the filmed performance.”

Johnny Cash is one of many legendary artists whose songs you have covered. Were you intimidated taking on the Man in Black?

“I think it’s always a little intimidating taking on the songs of such iconic artists – but that’s half the fun of it – trying to find a way to pay homage to the artist and the song respectfully while being able to put your own spin on things.”

Since the cover doesn’t appear on the movie’s soundtrack, do you plan to include it on a future release of your own?

“There are no plans as of yet – but you never know what the future holds! :)”

Tell us about your upcoming album, Newfoundland Vinyl. Will it be a big departure stylistically from your previous releases?

“This actually will be a lot different to previous releases! First off, this will be my first Vinyl release. (It will also be released digitally/online.) This is also my first album that is ALL guitar – and that’s pretty exciting! Finally, this will be the first time I’ve done an album of Newfoundland music – and I find the songs to be so real and the stories within them to be so brilliantly told. From the heart-wrenching to the hilarious – there is such a wealth of beautiful music to come out of NL.

The idea for this album comes from a musical theatre production I worked on last Summer. The title comes from Jeff Pitcher, the writer and director of that show – Newfoundland Vinyl. It’s a collection of songs that are part of peoples’ lives in this region, and that all gained popularity in days when vinyl records were the main format for music. This Summer I’m working on a sequel, Newfoundland Vinyl: The Flipside, again as musical director, and production begins on the same day as the LP’s release (June 25). I can’t wait to get started working with the extremely talented and fun people in TNL (Theatre Newfoundland and Labrador).

Due to possible ADR or other work on Man of Steel, there was a chance I may not have been able to make it to the Gros Morne Theatre Festival to be musical director this year, or that I may have to miss a day or two here or there – so I decided to record what ends up being basically half of the songs in this year’s show, just so that there’d be arrangements in case I wasn’t able to physically make it to rehearsal!

Now it turns out I’ll be there in Gros Morne the entire time of the show rehearsals – and I have an album to release!”

Allison’s manager, Adrian, adds the following:

“What’s it like? A dream come true, honestly.

Since the release of Man of Steel we’ve experienced the highest-ever number of daily visitors to Allison’s own music website. That’s one response – from the audience. What I see as a profound impact of working with Zack and Debbie Snyder and everyone on the Superman movie, right now, (and, earlier, Watchmen and Sucker Punch), is the inspiration and motivation it brings Allison, as an artist and person, to grow. When people you respect are doing great things, and they feel the same about you and what you do, this is fuel. It feeds body and mind and fires the soul.

With respect to “Ring of Fire,” naturally, only a segment of Allison’s performance appears in MoS. We’ll learn over coming months whatever Warner Bros. and partners have in mind for any fuller audio/video. I’m grateful to Darren Higman, WB’s Executive VP of Music, and his assistant, Kari Miazek, for facilitating so much over the years.

And, like Alley, there’s many, many, people I’d mention as being so good to us personally and professionally. Together with the Snyders, there’s co-producer Wesley Coller, producer Chuck Roven and… well, a look at the IMDb credits tells how long should be this list :)”

Editor’s Note: At this point, I feel I should be honest: I have not seen Man of Steel myself yet and don’t know that I will since so many reviews describe it as “grim and violent*” (exactly what I don’t want in a movie) and Allison’s role was cut to a cameo. My intention, as always, is to support Allison Crowe, not to endorse the film. Nevertheless, I still hope the success of the movie brings more attention to Allison’s music. Allison Crowe is such an extraordinarily talented artist, everyone in the world should hear her music any way they can.

Old Crow Medicine Show: Live at The Clay Center, 5/24/13

Old Crow Medicine Show has long been one of our favorite bands here at Muruch, so I was thrilled to see them in concert at The Clay Center tonight.

The stage was lit with what appeared to be vintage glass baubles hanging from the ceiling and a ghostly mist rolled through as opening act Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys took the stage. They gave a peppy, old-fashioned set. I loved their retro Spaghetti Western vibe and harmonies. Mead’s croons and yodels are from another era. They elicited a standing ovation from the crowd with a twisted song about The Andy Griffith show featuring a pot smokin’, moonshine drinkin’ Opie.

Old Crow Medicine Show then took the stage, launching into the title track from their 2012 album, Carry Me Back. From the opening notes they had members of the audience on their feet dancing in the aisles.

They ripped through “Alabama High Test” with flashing lights and roadies switching out guitars for harmonicas mid-lyric.

Lead singer Ketch Secor threw out a lot of love to “the Charleston skyline,” “the Mountaineer state,” “the KRT bus terminal,” “the Kanawha Valley” and “where hillbilly music comes home to roost, West-by-God Virginia,” which earned him a lot of love in return from the exuberant local crowd. It also helped they have local boy Chance McCoy in the band.

There’s no greater musical sight to this country gal than a string band huddled together jammin’. And it must be said Secor plays his fiddle like Eddie Van Halen plays his electric guitar.

The concert was comprised of newer material from the Carry Me Back album as well as some gems from their earlier works.

Most notable was the rousing fan favorite “Wagon Wheel” from their debut, O.C.M.S..The song was written with a co-authoring deal with Bob Dylan, and it is by far OCMS’ best known, beloved and oft covered tune. The entire audience was on their feet cheering and singing along for the duration of the song and the band seemed to pause after it to stare, soak in and appreciate the adoration of the crowd.

Despite my disappointment with 2008’s Tennessee Pusher album, Old Crow’s “Methamphetamine” was one of the most powerful live performances I’ve witnessed.

I had hoped to hear more from 2006’s brilliant Big Iron World (#2 on my Best of the Decade list and one of my all-time favorite albums), but they did play “Cocaine Habit,” “Union Maid” and a soul-stirring, harmonious mashup of “I Hear Them All” and “This Land is Your Land.”

Other highlights were “Mississippi Saturday Night,” “Humdinger,” “CC Rider” and “Big Time in the Jungle,” but it was really a fantastic concert from beginning to end. One of the best I’ve ever attended.

Old Crow Medicine Show have a rare mix of chemistry, energy and artistry. They masterfully bridge the gap between the downhome bluegrass (and blues) past and rowdy rocked up modern Americana. They built the multi-instrumental, multi-genre stage groups like The Low Anthem, The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons now play upon.

OCMS’ sweet backwoods harmonies and barn burning instrumentation made for a very lively, impressive and thoroughly entertaining show.

Though it must be said the true star of the show was the Grassy Knoll Boy I believe Mead called “Reverend Dan,” who popped back on stage to “buck dance” during Old Crow’s set. That dude had pizazz.

Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys joined Old Crow on stage for encore duets of Mead’s old BR549 hit “Cherokee Boogie” and a concluding cover of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”