Gravity/Run to You Mashup Cover

By: Brn

We in the Muruch household have been long-time fans of the Sara Bareilles song “Gravity” and her acapella Sonos duet. So I was excited about this new cover of the song arranged as a mashup with “Run to You” by Pentatonix. The impeccable vocal of Natalie Weiss makes this one of my favorite performances of the year. Arranger Jonathan Reid Gealt has assembled some of Boadway’s best voices to assist and the blend is glorious. The group consists of Weiss, Gealt, Zak Resnik, James Bilodeau, Jason Gotay and Laura Osnes – I hope this is the first of many offerings from them.

Muruch’s Top 15 Albums of 2009

It’s that time of year again! Following are my Top 15 Albums of 2009. As usual, I tried to balance the order of the list between what I personally perceive as artistic merit (quality of songwriting, vocals, and instrumentation) and basic listenability (how many times I played the album throughout the year). I’ve included some new commentary and brief quotes from the original reviews. Click on the album titles to read the full reviews, purchase the albums, and in some cases download mp3s…

Muruch’s Top 15 Albums of 2009

15. Joshua James: Build Me This

…all dusty roads and sunsets buoyed by rock guitar and drum crashes that eventually give way to sprawling piano and mournful strings” – As his previous release did on 2008’s list, Joshua’s album pushed its way onto this list at the last minute. I suppose it’s the subtlety of his music that prevents it from being more prominent in my memory, but it wasn’t until I listened to the album again that I remembered its excellence.

14. Rykarda Parasol: For Blood and Wine

…noirish rock sound with lyrics that alternate between whiskey-splashed cabaret and blood-soaked Gothic poetry” – I haven’t had much time to get to know this new release, but it’s already a favorite. I hope more people pay attention to Rykarda’s unique talent.

13. Sharon Isbin: Journey to the New World

… elegant, Medieval chamber-folk instrumentals and haunting traditional vocal pieces ” – This was a surprise. My enjoyment of instrumental music has grown tremendously this year, but I usually place a higher value on vocals. But this lovely album has been one that I’ve returned to and enjoyed many times over the year.

12. Maura O’Connell: Naked With Friends

…Maura O’Connell’s unparalleled vocal power is beautifully displayed in her impressive new album” – This one was sabotaged by the amount of emotion Maura’s voice rips out of me. It’s a gorgeous album from beginning to end, I just have to be in a particular mood to listen to it.

11. Luminescent Orchestrii: Neptune’s Daughter

…filled to the brim with the kind of warped traditional Eastern European music that made me love Luminescent Orchestrii in the first place” – I really expected this to be #1 when I first reviewed it and the stand out tracks are absolutely stunning, but overall I don’t listen to it nearly as much as the albums below.

10. White Lies: To Lose My Life

…dark, catchy synth-rock with a slight retro Goth feel…think “Blue Monday” by New Order” – This ominously infectious little album worked its way up the list throughout the year. The title track in particular is one that echoes in my head long after the music has stopped.

9. The Decemberists: Hazards of Love

…The Decemberists transformed themselves into the hard rock progeny of Led Zeppelin for portions of the album” – This magnificent concept album may be #1 when it comes to artistic merit, but it lacks the overall listenability of others on the list. Still, it’s one of the more impressive projects of the year.

8. Morrissey: Years of Refusal

…finally puts his pipes to good use over soaring rock arrangements” – I loved this album when I first reviewed it and put it on heavy rotation last winter, but hadn’t listened to it much since then. Playing it again made me wonder why I neglected it for so long. If albums have personalities, it has the strongest of the year.

7. Sonos: Sonosings

…whether humming in such hushed tones or belting to the rafters as in latter tracks, there’s an elegance to each note the sextet sings” – This was another release that faded in my memory until I dug it out again and rediscovered how wonderful it is. Now I love it even more than I did when I reviewed it. The duet with Sara Bareilles on “Gravity” is very moving, and their a cappella cover of “White Winter Hymnal” is one of the loveliest recordings I’ve ever heard.

6. Muse: The Resistance

…Integrating classical and opera music into their theatrical electro-rock sound, Muse have created one of the most exciting song cycles I’ve ever heard” – The brilliance and complexity of Muse’s album still surprises me every time I listen to it. Not only do I love this album, but it’s the one that everyone I know immediately asks about when I play it.

5. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears: Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is

…the kind of guttural, robust, bluesy soul of James Brown and Screaming Jay Hawkins” – I’ve played this countless times and it’s probably the most fun listen of the year.

4. Gaba Kulka: Hat, Meet Rabbit

…marries foreboding metal guitar and militant drums to pretty piano and angelic backing vocals, reminding us of Gaba’s fondness for Iron Maiden” – The Top 4 albums on this list are pretty much interchangeable. This is probably the most unusual and creative album on my list. I’ve known Gaba for almost a decade now, and I was happy to see her popularity in Poland skyrocket this year. I think she’s going to be a huge international star someday.

3. Vienna Teng: Inland Territory

…a breathtaking blend of militant beats and orchestral strings” – I loved this album from the beginning, but it also turned out to be a grower as repeated listens revealed even more layers to its beauty. It is definitely the most beautiful release of the year, but there are two albums I’ve listened to more…

2. Great Northern – Remind Me Where The Light Is

…Ominous instrumentation is barely restrained as Stolte’s sultry croon initially floats in” – If the order of this list was based solely on the number of times I’ve listened to an album this year, Great Northern would’ve been #1 by a landslide since I’ve played the album nearly every day since March. It may not be the innovative recording on this list, but it is certainly the most addictive. Only one man could keep it from the top spot…

1. Kurt Vonnegut & Dave Soldier: Ice-9 Ballads

…I can’t imagine a more perfect score for my favorite novel of all time” – The quote says it all. This album had an edge since it was based on my favorite book (Cat’s Cradle) and featured my favorite author (Vonnegut), but Soldier’s innovative compositions helped push it to the top of the list. If my imagination had a soundtrack, this would be it.

Sonos: SonoSings

Six-piece vocal ensemble Sonos perform a cappella covers of songs by popular indie artists. But this is no bland choir. Thanks to the presence of human beatbox Ben McLain and the innovative way their male and female harmonies are arranged, their covers are often more interesting than the originals. I was introduced to the group last April when they performed live at Mountain Stage. Their debut full-length SonoSings will be released by Verve Records on September 15th.

The album quietly begins with the Bon Iver cover “Re: Stacks.” I think a stronger song may have been a better choice for the opener. But whether humming in such hushed tones or belting to the rafters as in latter tracks, there’s an elegance to each note the sextet sings.

The cool, vibrating rendition of Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place” that follows is more impressive, and Sara Bareilles herself joins Sonos for a rhythmic a capella recording of her song “Gravity.” I personally prefer both of these covers over the originals.

However, the studio version of “Again and Again” (originally by The Bird & The Bee) doesn’t translate as well as it did in their live performance. Sadly, this is somewhat true of the album in general. The fault obviously lies in the smooth production, which dampens the dynamics of the individual vocals. I know from hearing them sing unaccompanied in concert that these six voices need no such help or effects.

Still, the studio polish is only a minor irritation in most cases. The delicately atmospheric takes on Imogen Heap’s “Come Here Boy” and Bjork’s “Joga” are much more successful.

Sonos save their most stunning cover for last. To say their vocals on Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal” are gorgeous and chill-producing may be cliché, but it’s true.

Sonos – Everything In Its Right Place (mp3 expired) *

*mp3 posted for a limited time w/ permission of ThinkPress PR on behalf of Verve Records

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Mountain Stage: Neko Case, Crooked Fingers, Vic Chesnutt, Greg Brown, Sonos

NPR’s Mountain Stage had a rare mid-week concert Wednesday night, and temporarily switched venues for the occasion. Scheduled to perform were Neko Case, Crooked Fingers, Vic Chesnutt, Greg Brown, and Sonos.

The radio concert series is usually taped live in front of an audience at the Cultural Center auditorium in Charleston’s Capital Complex. But for this night, the show was held at the Civic Center’s Little Theater – the same venue where the Irish boys played last May. I prefer the comfy atmosphere of the Cultural Center, but I’ll take Mountain Stage wherever I can get it.

Though I do wish they had not booked the program for the same time and venue as Ringling Bros. Circus. While Mountain Stage was held in the Little Theater, the circus was going on in the main coliseum of the Civic Center. I do enjoy a circus, but not the crowd that goes with it. I arrived early enough that it didn’t affect me much, but I heard several complaints from others both before and after the show about the parking problems and cramped space for the line at the Little Theater’s door. Charleston isn’t exactly a boomtown of entertainment, so I can only assume the double booking was due to the artist’s schedules.

Once we all filed in to find our seats, though, the grumbles died down. The lobby of the Little Theater may be too tiny to house such a large crowd, but the auditorium is very nice. All Mountain Stage shows are general admission seating, but it’s always an orderly affair. Say what you will about West Virginians, we are typically polite. Lots of friendly “excuse me”s and “thank you”s in the air as I walked to the sixth row back from the stage.

I was surprised to see video cameras positioned in various places around the stage, and one on a large crane near my seat. Though the show was taped and broadcast on PBS for a short time, it had been a while since a new concert was taped for television. As Assistant Producer Adam Harris explained during his introduction, they were taping a pilot to be shopped around to cable networks. Anything that gives Mountain Stage positive attention and helps the show survive is a good thing to me, so I hope it gets picked up.

I felt a bit nostalgic as the house band took their places and host Larry Groce once again dueted with singer Julie Adams on the show’s theme song. Like many people across the nation, I’ve watched the tragic state of the economy rob my hometown (which isn’t really big enough to be called a town) and surrounding cities like Charleston of many of their staple businesses. Almost all of the Mom and Pop grocery stores, restaurants, and other small businesses that populated my life have crumbled beneath the weight of this recession. Except Mountain Stage, which has miraculously managed to maintain its rural roots while still progressing with the modern age. So you can listen to the show online and they occasionally book the hot “indie” artists making the blog rounds, but the show itself is as genuine and substantial as the first time I attended in high school.

First up were Sonos, a six-piece vocal ensemble from Southern California that performs a cappella covers of songs by popular indie artists. Sonos are Paul Peglar, Ben McLain, Rachel Bearer, Jessica Freedman, Katharine Anne Hoye, and Christopher Given Harrison. I was unfamiliar with them before the concert, but they can count me among their fans now. I was particularly impressed with human beatbox Ben McLain and the vocals of Jessica Freedman, whose seraphic voice sounds similar to that of The Bird & The Bee‘s Inara George. Among the re-imagined a cappella covers they performed at the concert were Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place”, Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal”, and “Oh What A World” by Rufus Wainwright.

Mountain Stage singer Julie Adams gave her rendition of “These Days” before the incomparable, brilliant, amazing Vic Chesnutt took the stage. I think it was in 2002 when I first saw Vic at Mountain Stage, shortly before he released Silver Lake. The best word I can use to describe his set back then is transcendent. His performance of “In My Way, Yes” was particularly moving. His recent collaboration with Elf Power, Dark Developments, has a slightly harder sound, so I didn’t expect him to duplicate the magic of his past performance. But he did.

After some lighthearted banter with host Larry Groce, Vic sang “Mystery”. The Mountain Stage band joined him for the song, and it made me wish pianist Bob Thompson would branch out into rock more often. Thompson’s beautiful piano playing was the perfect complement for Vic’s voice.

If you readers ever wonder why I’m cynical about certain other performers (see below), all you have to do is see Vic Chesnutt in concert. After witnessing live sets by artists like Vic Chesnutt, Odetta, Joan Baez, Amy Correia, and more recently Rachael Yamagata (all singers whose voices seem to wrestle with their own bodies before ripping out into the air full force), it’s difficult to ignore what I personally feel are weaker performances. And not only does Vic Chesnutt possess such an awe-inspiring voice, but his lyrics and melodies are just as powerful. I wish he had been asked to do an encore.

Chesnutt proceeded to play “Stop The Horse”, a mesmeric ballad I didn’t recognize (with the lyrics “feast in the time of plague”), and a funny song about his grandmother. Vic said the latter song came to him in dream, but he forgot two of the verses when he awoke. Ever the audience charmer, he added (in a very high pitched voice): “they were killer!”

Crooked Fingers had to walk into Vic’s shadow, but they did an admirable job of it. Though I didn’t enjoy the band’s Forfeit / Fortune quite as much as I did lead singer Eric Bachmann’s solo effort To The Races, I figured they would put on a good show and they certainly did.

The announcement that Bachmann was a former member of Archers of Loaf drew a large roar from the crowd, but he seemed a humble fellow. He and the other two members of the band quickly launched into “Little Bird”. It must be said that studio recordings do not do justice to the band’s instrumentation, vocal harmony, or the rich tone of Eric’s voice. I especially liked their loud, passionate performance of the album’s title track.

I’d also seen singer-songwriter Greg Brown at Mountain Stage before, though I can’t remember when. I always hate to write anything negative about artists here. But I’ve been criticized for being too nice in my reviews in the past, so I do try to be honest when I don’t like something. So honestly, I was bored and annoyed with Brown’s pseudo intoxicated folk schtick. Leon Redbone (who I also saw at Mt. Stage years ago) can carry off that kind of routine because he is a strong singer and musician, and has the stage presence to match it. But Brown’s funny hat just wasn’t enough for me. I felt like I was watching my drunk uncle pluck a guitar at a family reunion.

However, Brown is always a crowd pleaser at Mountain Stage, and is obviously a respected and well liked artist in general. So maybe I just don’t get the joke? I did like the one blues song that he sang, which I thought was much better suited to his deep voice. And being sandwiched between two elegant piano performances by Bob Thompson (first the Mountain Stage theme, then a Bill Evans tune) didn’t help my perception of Brown’s comical set.

Last but not least was Neko Case, who seemed to be the artist that most of the crowd came to see. I’ve been a fan of Neko’s ever since I first heard her twangy wail on the title track of Furnace Room Lullaby in 2000. As expected, Case performed new material from her latest release Middle Cyclone (review forthcoming).

Neko and her bright red hair were accompanied only by a guitarist and a backup singer. After some tampon jokes, she and her band launched into a somewhat sedate version of “People Got A Lotta Nerve” – a song Neko described as a “circus killing spree” and dedicated to the circus next door. She followed that with the new album’s title track, then she and her singing partner revealed their “old lady crushes” (Neko, for example, likes Gene Hackman and Peter Falk) before their first performance of “The Pharoahs”.

I don’t know if Brown just killed my enthusiasm for the show or my expectations were too high, but I was a little disappointed by Case’s vocal restraint during the set. The new album has a much smoother veneer than her older releases, but I’d hoped she’d let those pipes lose on stage. But other than a few select notes (the effects of which were dampened by her moving away from the mic), her vocals were undeniably pretty but not nearly as powerful as she is obviously capable of. I wonder if she was sick or suffering from vocal strain, because she restarted and then abandoned a Buffy Sainte-Marie cover halfway through the song – simply saying “sorry, can’t do it” – and repeated “The Pharoahs” at the end of the set because she thought the first take sounded “underwater”.

The highlights of her set were “Vengeance Is Sleeping”, “I Wish I Was The Moon” (from Blacklisted), and her beautiful cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Don’t Forget Me”.

Neko opted out of the group finale, which was a song I didn’t recognize. I was feeling a little under the weather myself, so I didn’t stick around to see if the artists mingled with the crowd in the lobby afterwards. Which probably worked to my advantage, because I heard the traffic after the show (which ended precisely as the circus did) was horrendous. Oh well, it would have been worth it to see Vic Chesnutt.

Check out my friend (and NPR DJ) Mona Seghatoleslami’s review of the show at The Gazz.

Crooked Fingers – Phony Revolutions (mp3) *

*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of Toolshed Media