Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

The Greatest Rock Photographer of All Time Passes On

March 25, 2010

... Just a fly on the wall

Yes, folks, sad news today. Jim Marshall passed away yesterday at the ripe old age of 74 (read about it here). This was particularly devastating news to me, as I had a chance to sit down with Jim at the bar on a couple of separate occasions and talk about some of the amazing people he worked with and knew as friends, particularly Jimi Hendrix (described as a “shy loner”), Otis Redding (sex god), Duane Allman (friendly and loveable), and Waylon Jennings (son of a bitch). He spoke of all these people as you would any friend who had long since passed away – with respect, admiration, and bittersweet sadness at their passing. To have been in the presence of so many amazing people was a true honor for Jim – and his photographs tell the story of his reverence with much greater proficiency than my words will allow.

He always carried his Leica camera around with him wherever he went, and he told me, “With guitars you have Gibson or Fender. With cameras, there is only Leica.” He also revealed that he had been using the same film developer for most of his career, which had a lot to do with why his images are so timeless. He never adapted to digital technology, unlike almost all of his peers. Mr. Marshall was extremely genuine and you could tell just by talking to him that he was a real artist who had mastered his craft very early on. I grew up idolizing his images, and was lucky enough to get to thank him for providing the visual documentation that created my rock n’ roll fantasy. His photographs allow you to know something personal about about the subject, and Jim was an expert at capturing candid moments. It’s true that half of his magic was just being in the right place at the right time (more about that in a minute), but he was also a technical master and really knew his stuff. He has a unique feeling of composition and lighting that really frames his subjects perfectly without actually being perfect.

 We’ll see you on down the line, Jim.

Growing Up is Hard to Do

February 3, 2010

This blog has been released to the hounds for the last two months while I attempt to simplify my life and move forward into adulthood after nearly 15 years of living like a viking. Ever since I finished playing my last show in December, I’ve felt that it’s time to take a step back and re-examine what it is I’m actually doing so that I don’t look back 10 years later and wonder, “What the hell happened?”.

It’s not necessary to go into all of the details of the process. Let’s just say it involves a lot of time fixing up my room, watching HBO OnDemand, and recording. For the first time in several years I’ve gone an entire month without playing a single show or making a public appearance at someone else’s gig. No more smoking cigarettes and drinking regularly, and as a result I feel more centered and stable. Without all these sinful delights to waste money on, I find myself able to pay off nearly all of a 10-year debt, which is a nice thing to be able to do in this economy.

When asking myself why this is all happening, I discover it’s because I’m tired of partying and running around living a child-like dream that obviously isn’t coming true. I love performing and hanging out with friends, but no longer acquire pleasure from getting wasted and playing seedy joints without appreciation (or pay). Maybe I’m growing up, or maybe I’m just becoming a big pussy, but either way I am naturally tending towards moving on to something different. I think it’s called being realistic.

In the last year I’ve had to be honest with myself and admit that a music career isn’t necessarily going to provide me with everything I need in life – forget about the things I want! At 31 I still don’t have health insurance, haven’t seen a dentist in 7 years, and possess no savings or investments. I work part-time because it allows the freedom to tour and work on music, but it’s simply a holding pattern and I’m always a step behind financially. I’m not saying I don’t want to play music any more or quit my job, I just need to focus my energy and achieve higher goals than I have in the past.

I’ve had some amazing adventures and done things that most would never dream of trying, so I don’t feel unfilfilled in the slightest. I’m still inspired by music every day and am more prolific than ever, but the desire to be a rock star is completely gone. It’s no longer fulfilling to play every night unless the music, audience and venue is respectable. No more playing covers in a bar band, now it is about creating art for its own sake.

I never thought I would say this, but eventually I want to have a wife and children, and I want to support them doing what I love. A greater purpose calls me and even if I’m never successful as a musician, I’ll always be able to record and perform music in some capacity. I can die happy knowing this. It’s been my dream for the past 10 years to be successful, and at this point it is my best interest to seriously evaluate exactly what that means. A very exciting new phase in my life is just beginning, and as hard as it is to admit, I’m finally growing up. I know it’s the right time because growing up no longer means sacrificing what I love. Now it’s about continuing to create music with class and integrity, doing away with the excesses, and focusing all of my energy on being a good person. Not because there are material or financial rewards involved, but because it makes the world a better place to live in when you treat others with kindness and respect.

Lil’ Ol’ Record Release Party @ Make-Out Room SF 11/29

December 7, 2009

Interstellar Lounge Music   

The Lil’ Old Record Release Party for “Interstellar Lounge Music” turned out to be a success, and I have all of my faithful friends and fans to thank for it. It was amazing to see so many people from so many places in the past mixed with new ones, reminding me of that Kinks song, “All of My Friends Were There”. I have many people to thank for their support. First off, Loretta Lynch and The Bang are both awesome bands that I have played a few shows with before, and their music just plain rocks! Not only that, but everyone was wonderful to work with, and brought such a positive attitude to the table. I wish more bands could learn to be friendly with one another, it really does make everything more pleasant and meaningful for everyone involved. I love working with people who get that shows are about entertaining everyone by having a good time.

I also must thank Bunny Whiskers for her amazing album artwork and support at the show, and my roommate Mike for his conceptual contributions towards creating the gift bags with all the fun crap inside, and running the merch table with amazing persistence. He helped bring a fresh perspective to the stale concept of a record release party, and added to the fun. The plastic saphires were an especially big hit! Then I have to thank Charlie and Brian for working so hard to make the music the best it could be and support me, despite the fact that I am a little scatterbrained. Charlie has given me the courage to try new material and always has great ideas on the drums that add something extra to the song. Brian really came through on his first gig with me, and it’s been a long time since I’ve played with a new bassist since parting ways with Bill Cramer. He also fixed my dad’s guitars and is just a really great person to work with.

Next up is all the musicians who came to support that night with their presence. Eric and Paul from the Careless Hearts, TV Mike from the Scarecrowes, Evan from Monsters Are Not Myths, and Rusty from Jackpot were all doing what so many musicians don’t do often enough (myself included) by coming out and supporting their friends with smiles on their faces. I couldn’t want or ask for anything more.I’d also like to throw a shout-out to the newlyweds. Gerry and Carla Thomas tied the knot in October. Strangefeather played its final gig at their wedding (it was at Bimbo’s!). Ryan and Stephanie Vaughan have been great supporters of me for a long time, and I had the privilege of performing with Ryan at their wedding as well, also in October. In this crazy world it is great to see such wonderful people teaming up together, and it’s great to have them in my life. Now, how about some grandchildren already!I want to thank all of the people who worked that night – Chris did an amazing job on sound, and the people at the Make-Out are always easy to deal with, that’s why I love playing there! Thanks to James and Deb and La Bartendress Extraordanaire. And finally, I want to thank all the people who just came out to enjoy the show and got a CD. It’s always wonderful to see so many friendly faces in the crowd, and it’s such a great feeling to feed off the energy of the audience and give it back. For the musician, it’s like being spun on a gyroscope that exponentially goes faster and faster, and then – BLAST OFF! Into the realm of the Interstellar we go. I hope you all enjoyed the lounge music. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much;)A couple of other things. One, I am leaving to play a few shows in the Pacific Northwest next week with my friends Rives and Jesse, and I can’t wait to get back to that cool mountain air. Second, I wanted to let you know that the recordings I’m working on in LA are coming along nicely, and it won’t be long before we are in the mixing stage. Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving, it was awesome to see so many old friends during this special holiday. See ya soon!

   

Interstellar Lounge Music 

Interstellar Lounge Music

NOW is the Craziest Time of Year

December 1, 2009

Sometimes when dreams come true, it's not a good thing

Now is always the craziest time of year for me. I even have the numbers to prove it. My website stats are through the roof, my email box is full of frantic interactions, and now my blog is getting more action than ever. In the past, I have barely survived the mayhem, only to become ill afterwards and burn out for the rest of the year and months afterword. Last November was a great example. I was working 2 jobs, playing in 4 bands, releasing a record (which involved flying people into town and many rehearsals), and playing way too many shows back-to-back. I remember sometimes hopping from one gig to the next, calling people to ask them to turn on my amp for me. 

I’ve gotten pretty tired of overburdening myself and not sleeping right for weeks. It seems every time I burn out it takes 3 months just to get back on my feet. I could see how being a musician working for a record label that keeps pushing them when they’re burned out probably contributed to the demise of many a great talent (and Britney Spears). This year was no exception in the busy department. I released yet another album and had a great record release party at the Make-Out Room. All the cd’s and their packaging was hand-constructed, and I had to organize the entire night of 3 bands (it’s hard enough to organize one band!). Now I find myself embarking on a short 1-week tour (my third of the year), only to be faced with the daunting task of booking a longer one in March (tours book 2-3 months in advance). Meanwhile, I’ve been bouncing back and forth between SF and LA in what spare time I have to record new material and am still in the process of moving all my stuff next door, getting two new roommates, and dealing with the insanity of the remaining roomie.

But this year I made myself a promise:  I Shall Not Burn Out. I know it’s like saying that I won’t get old and die, but I’ve prepared as much as possible to avoid the inevitable. After having gone through this routine a few times, I’m able to anticipate the onslaught of insanity and avoid stress by eliminating things that aren’t important. I have taken as much time to get good rest and lay off the booze a little. I’ve taken on less work for money in exchange for the things I really love, and spent time socializing with good people and eating good food. I walk at least a couple of miles every day, and I try to focus on the most overwhelming tasks first and deal with the less important details later because most things come together at the last minute in my life anyway.

So far I am doing ok, although I can already sense the inevitable overwhelming sensation that follows accomplishing so many tasks and makes me wonder if I’ll want to do anything else ever again after surviving the experience. Accomplishing so many goals in such a short time is a wonderful feeling. It’s as if the entire year has built up to one maelstrom of events, and it’s all very climatic. I’ve had some great moments recently that I will remember for the rest of my life. But with the feeling of accomplishment comes a vacancy of inspiration, and it always takes time to realize new dreams and think them through enough to gain the confidence to enact them and following through. I plan on taking some time off in the second half of December to recover, but not for very long. I hope I make it through to the other side this time with a positive attitude and desire to keep moving forward. I don’t want to take another step back like I have so many times before. I’ll see you on the other side and let you know how it goes.

New Album, New World

November 12, 2009

Interstellar Lounge Music

The last few months have been dizzying. After surviving the not-so-cool breakup of Strangefeather in August (the day before our tour, might I add), I set out to reinvent my solo thing which I had kind of left on the backburner to tour with a rock band, which has always been a dream of mine. Luckily, I already had a solo record finished since March ’09 called Interstellar Lounge Music (it’s about the Summer of Two-Thousand and Great!), and so I am just now getting around to putting it out on a limited-run basis, and it will eventually be available for download, too. I’ve decided to create a few handmade copies of the CD and give them out at my upcoming record release party (Nov. 29th @ Make-Out Room) – so come and get yours! Charlie Note is still in the band, and I’m happy to announce that Brian Michael, from San Jose band Careless Hearts will be playing bass for this show.

The breakup of a band is always hard, especially when the people in it are your friends that you have spent years working, sleeping, travelling, and partying with. The worst part for me has been explaining to all the fans of our music that we are no longer playing shows. But the good news is that I have grown and learned so much from my experiences that I am now ready to go out there and apply all that energy to my own music. A brief Pacific Northwest tour has been planned, and I’ll be visiting Portland, Seattle and Roslyn around December 9-15th. I will be playing some shows with Power of County (Portland) and Rives, the band’s guitarist, will accompany me on the tour. I’ll post more details as they become available.

I’m very excited about the new direction my music is taking. In 2009 I have played 90 gigs (so far), will have done 3 tours, and released an album, all while keeping my job and some sanity to boot. I’ve got tons of great material in the works, and am recording four songs with Jenni Alpert and Eric Boulanger in LA. I hope to have another album ready this time next year and tour the southern states of the US in March (I’ve already got a SXSW date lined up, too). A lot of changes always bring new beginnings, and it’s all a part of the growth process. I’m not giving up on playing music any time soon, so look out for me somewhere on down the line.

My Favorite Songwriters of all Time

October 21, 2009

Ok, I hate “Best Of” lists just as much as you do. That’s why I’m just calling this my “favorite” list so there isn’t the feeling of who is better than who. I like to write songs when I’m not writing this blog or herding cattle on the range, and have delved into many a great one and pulled it apart to discover what lies within. Most of the time I’m left with nothing but a bunch of words that sound cool together, but are meaningless and shallow. A great song is like a children’s book – when the story is over and the pages are closed, the world created by the author continues to exist within the reader’s head, and echo of the tale lingers and develops a life of its own.

Great songwriters are capable of creating a world we can live in beyond the limits of the song’s duration. Their words toss and turn in our dreams, their melodies drift in our minds and out of our mouths on the elevator to work, and by the end of the day we can’t wait to get back to our record player, put that needle down and relive the moment one more time. A great song lives and breathes and has a personality all its own. The greatest writers have entire albums full of these songs that actually exist as characters in our minds. If you let them, these writers may climb into your conscience too, and you may feel as if you know them. But you cannot really know this person, no matter how you long to, because their existence is a fabrication of their own design, just like their songs. Even those who are related or married to a songwriter cannot claim to know them. They are the modern shapeshifters of society, taking on forms of different characters and moods, living in different times and places all at once. I bet few songwriters would even claim to know themselves.

Now to the list. These are people that I have wanted to meet and thank for making the world more bearable. Another part of me doesn’t want to ruin the fantasy of who I think they are, and I also wouldn’t want to bother them. But if they ever happen to sit down next to me at a bar, I’d treat them as if they were an old friend, because in my mind that’s what they are.

THE BEST OF EACH DECADE:

50’s – Hank Williams – The original “Songwriter”, and one of the greatest of all time. Before this you have the Tin Pan Alley scene, but no one man could cut to the chase the way Hank did, and no one has come close since. “Cold, Cold Heart” is one of the saddest songs ever written. Definitely the greatest songwriter of the 50’s.

60’s – Bob Dylan – What a bastard. How can you be such an anemic prick, sneering and jeering your way via lies into people’s hearts and minds, first with a fake smile, then behind dark darting sunglasses, only to tell them all to go fuck themselves? You write nimble poetry that connects far-off distant memories in our minds and make us thing we know what’s going on, then leave us in the dust like all your forgotten lovers. I hope you can forgive yourself what you’ve done to us, Dylan – I definitely have. You’re still the greatest songwriter to come out of the 60’s, and you’ve done pretty well for yourself in the 70’s and 2000’s, too.

70’s – Neil Young – Neil is friendlier, furrier, and more rustic than Dylan. If Dylan is New York, Neil is Half Moon Bay. Still, a darkness underlies every word the man has written, and sadness is ultimately the subject of most of his greatest songs. What makes Mr. Young so great must be the same thing that makes Steinbeck great – everything is simple, straightforward, and seemingly contemplative of the human spirit, which is treated with reverence and fear. Very few songwriters can put so much of themselves in their songs without it coming out pretentious. Neil’s got my vote for the best songwriter in the 70’s, moving from After the Gold Rush and Harvest through Tonight’s the Night, On the Beach, all the way to Rust Never Sleeps.

80’s – Bruce Springsteen – He is both seductive and honest in his approach to songwriting. Never mind that his voice sounds like warm leftovers after about the fifth song, no one can write a song for the workin’ man like the Boss. His stories appeal to the most basic needs of humans, to be loved, to honor brotherhood, to make quick money and go to Atlantic City. If only judged by Nebraska, he would still come out on top as the greatest songwriter of the 80’s.

90’s – Elliot Smith – Yes, I know he was kind of pathetic and whiny. So was Dylan and Hank Williams. Songwriters are like little brothers – they always get beat up, and instead of fighting back they brood in their rooms for days to perform some act of genius that makes you feel like a jerk for picking on them in the first place. Mr. Smith must have spent weeks in his room, shooting up and drinking vodka in a mad depression, in order to create the incredibly fragile ballads that he is known for. I am aware that most of his songs are about dope and suicide, but no one writes such brilliantly bitter pop melodies that leave you wondering whether heroin is such a bad thing after all (except maybe John Lennon, Elliot’s idol). I guess it was, considering it’s elemental in Smith’s suicide stabbing(!?!). Definitely my favorite songwriter from the 90’s.

00’s – Ryan Adams – Jesus Christ, not again. Another twitchy genius with big mouth and bad hair making snarky comments that cause discomfort. It’s like Dylan all over again, isn’t it? Well, not exactly. Adams is by far the most prolific artist of his  generation, releasing so many albums in the past 10 years it’s ridiculous, starting with the indespensable Heartbreaker. The good news is that he is now “retired” from songwriting after cleaning up off drugs and alcohol, and spends his time writing novels, recording joke heavy metal albums, sleeping with new wife Mandy Moore, painting, and writing blogs about arcade games. What a delightful twist! Actually, I really wish he would get back to writing songs again, because no one can tell lyrical tales of pain and heartbreak in late-night diners over coffee and cigarettes like ol’ Ryan Adams. This decade isn’t over yet, but I’m calling it now:  best songwriter of the 00’s.

OTHER FAVORITES:

Gram Parsons – It took me a little while to forgive him for singing out of tune on most everything he did, but it actually accentuates the earnest sense of urgency that makes his music so endearing. Gram is not the “Golden Prophet” that he is often revered as, rather he was a lost young man with a difficult emotional past that he channeled into great songs. Most interesting is that his concept of “Cosmic Country” is right on – his music inspires a humanitarian empathy that can’t be ignored.

John Lennon – Definitely not Paul McCartney, Lennon was the antithesis of happy safe pop music. This is one is so obvious, but I really like his post-Beatle catalog the most, as he delves deeper into the personal darkness that made him so such a tragic figure (even if he wasn’t murdered, he was still a tragedy). The most loveable basketcase I can think of, Lennon proved that being a genius songwriter doesn’t change the world, but it definitely makes it more bearable to live in.

Kris Kristofferson – Most people don’t know that Kristofferson wrote hits like, “Me  Bobby McGee”, “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, and “Help Me Make it Through the Night”. Plus, he was in the Highwaymen and is a great actor (which has nothing to do with his songwriting, I know). He evokes feelings of the best of times, along with the worst of times. Without sounding too much like a Dickens novel, I can’t live without him.

Lefty Frizzell – A lesser-known contemporary of Hank Williams, Lefty wrote some incredible songs in his short career, most notably the ones covered by Willie Nelson. “If You’ve Got the Money” is the #1 sugar mama track, and that was waaaayyy before it was cool to have one.

Leonard Cohen – If Gram Parsons is the loveable boy-child of songwriting, then Cohen is definitely the Ice King. His lyrical content is seductive without frills, and while Parsons will sing about the Armaggedon with cautionary hope, Cohen will sing as if it has already happened and he is the product of the fallout, mourning the loss of innocence in a land ravaged by sin and overconsumption. It’s no wonder that his adult themes of cheating wives and fallen kings resonate so well with the Hollywood crowd and strip clubs. His voice is the last shred of humanity left standing in Babylon, and it’s like we’re listening to the folk music of the future. I’m guessing that this bard would have fared well in the world of “Total Recall”.

Loretta Lynn – People give Taylor Swift so much credit for being so young and writing her own songs. They forget it’s happened before, and it was done better in the past. Loretta’s about the same as Swift, except she had already had a couple of kids and was married to a no-count drunk which gave her much more interesting things to sing about. She was also poor and uneducated, but that didn’t stop her from becoming one of the fiercest female voices to ever stick up for the forgotten housewives in America. With song titles like, “The Pill” and “Fist City” Loretta could be considered one of the first feminist songwriters. If she isn’t the first, she most certainly is the best of the lot. A special place in my heart is reserved only for this strong woman.

Lou Reed – Inspiring generations of noisy garage bands is easily forgiveable when you write a song like “Heroin”, which has never  before or since been matched in meniachal intensity. The voice of the urban New York underground, Reed has never played it safe lyrically, and almost always delivers in creating the paranoid, zonked-out feeling of hanging out with a tranny, midget twins, and a drug dealer at one of Warhol’s parties. Even Nico could sing his songs and they sounded cool.  Not to mention that his solo exploits, while often scattered, continue to display his mastery of the language of filthy human resiliency.

Lucinda Williams – The queen of modern country, or Americana, as it is now referred to. She has the wail and moan of Hank Williams in her leathery voice, but what makes her so amazing is that she is poetic without being flowery. Much of the themes in her music (especially the more recent “West”) are biographical in nature, conjuring images of single mothers driving buicks in the desert. The forlorn sadness captured in her stark imagery reflects both spiritual and existensial realities, and her writing abilities continue to stretch outward successfully. Definitely the strongest and most responsible female voice of modern songwriting, Williams just keeps getting better and better. I can’t wait to see what she does next. 

Merle Haggard – Never before has the voice of the prisoner been so well emoted as with Merle Haggard. If it just came down to songs about leaving behind mama and getting into trouble, then Merle would be well ahead of the game It just so happens that he also wrote some of the best ramblin’ train songs of all time, too. Try to understand the humor and irony in songs like “Okie From Muskogee”, “Workin’ Man Blues” and “Fightin’ Side of Me”, and you’ll find yourself a happier person. You can’t play a single juke joint from here to Texas without knowing some Merle Haggard.

Townes Van Zandt – The most depressing human on Earth. Seriously, why do you have to do this to us, Townes? What I like best about his music is that for a second you think things are looking up, and then he swoops in like a bird of death and kills all hope. I can’t listen to him too much, but his music fills an irreplaceable void in my life – the depressed space. “Waitin’ Around to Die” pretty much tops the charts of all-time biggest downers, and makes Neil Young sound like Bob Marley. He also writes great story songs like “Pancho and Lefty”, too.

Willie Nelson – He definitely is a beloved country icon, but before Willie was famous for being Willie, he wrote “Hello Walls”, “Mr. Record Man”, and Patsy Cline’s best song, “Crazy”, and sold the rights to them all for less than a bag of weed. Of course, he’s written hundreds of great songs since then, and continues to pump out one great tune after another to this day. The best part about Willie is his sense of humor, and when I heard “Cowboys are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other” I nearly died laughing. Please ignore the fact that he lets people like Toby Keith and Kid Rock sing on his albums. Please at least try.

Great songwriters who should be on this list but aren’t (with excuses):

Alejandro Escovedo – I must confess, I only own one album (Boxing Mirror), but the words are awesome!
Beck – If humor were the main criteria for a great songwriter, he would be #1.
Brian Wilson – He loses points for writing songs about surfing. No one wonder he went insane.
Buddy Holly – I love Buddy Holly, he wrote perfect pop songs. But Carole King isn’t on this list either.
Cat Power – Sometimes her words are gibberish, other times fantastic. Keep writing, Cat!
Curtis Mayfield – Songs for the ghetto, I guess. Curtis is a political spokesman, but he isn’t a lyrical genius.
David Bowie – I’m also tempted to add him now, but his words don’t quite carry the power of some of the other cats.
George Jones – A great songwriter indeed, but his songs never sound as good when someone else sings them.
Jim Morrison – Really more of a poet than a songwriter, don’t you think?
Keith Richards/Mick Jagger – Rock n’ Roll isn’t supposed to have good lyrics. These guys do it for me, but I’m not taking the words to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” with me to the grave.
Neil Diamond – The man did write some amazing songs, but the schmaltz aspect of his act has always detracted from his genius.
Nick Drake – Neil Young and Townes are depressing enough. I can’t take it any more!
PJ Harvey – She is fun to listen to, and her lyrics aren’t burdened with depression and sadness. I need those in my songs.
Ralph and Carter Stanley – Bluegrass couldn’t exist without these cats. But cautionary religous tales about drinking too much just don’t resonate much with me. I never knew why:)
Robert Hunter – I love his lyrics, they have important life lessons in them. But clever they are not.
Roy Orbison – He definitely wrote great songs, though I can’t exactly admit that he is one of my favorites.
Tom Waits – Awesome lyrics, hideous, overwraught voice. I can’t stand his music.
Stevie Wonder – What a fantastic writer, especially his melodies. But one of my favorites? I gotta say close, but no cigar.
Willie Dixon – The greatest blues songwriter ever, to be sure. But seriously, how hard is it to write a blues song?
Win Butler – Pretty good, pretty good. I’ll make the decision when more albums are released.
Woody Guthrie – Ok, I know he’s great. I’m just not educated enough on his music to make a valuable assesment. Maybe when I finally get enough cash together to get some of his records…

New Music for the Culturally Clueless

October 5, 2009

Good music is hard enough to find, but it’s even harder sifting through the malaise of more recent, over-hyped offerings of current artists whose reviews and exposure usually have nothing to do with how good their records are. If you’re like me, you probably stick to new releases from those you know will deliver (Dylan, Beck, Ryan Adams, etc.), and perhaps only download single mp3’s of songs you have heard that you liked. But buying single mp3’s of an artist is limiting in that it only gives you a slice of what the album really encompasses, and taken out of context can leave the listener short of the full experience they deserve and crave. It’s like getting to second base with someone really hot, and never finding out what they’re like in bed. I want the whole enchilada!

That being said, I would like to offer my most recent discoveries in new(er) music, and since I am a musician and serious music-lover who is very skeptical of anything new, I hope you will appreciate the fact that I am not easily swayed by public opinion and advertisements that too easily cry, “the Next Big Thing”. My inspiration for finding new music comes from my local public library and a blog called dk presents, and am much indebted to dk for opening my mind to contemporary music that doesn’t make my ears bleed. And so now I am passing my findings along in hopes of inspiring someone else to revise their stale music collection. Without further ado, here’s a list of albums I think you will like (and ones to avoid):

*Disclaimer* – This list is not intended for people who read Blender and/or  are avid followers of the current music scene. Most of these records have come out in the past 2-3 years. It is more intended for the person who is admittedly unaware of modern culture and probably hasn’t bought a new CD in the past couple years (but wants t0).

1. Madeleine Peyroux – Half the Perfect World

Peyroux croons like Billie Holiday and this album delivers with great modern song selections, stylish session players, and wonderful engineering/production. Just when you think jazz is dead, along comes a new surprise…

2. Iron and Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days

Apparently, folk is coming back in a big way, and it’s partly due to Sam Beam, the wizard behind Iron & Wine. Soft vocals with female harmonies create a great subtle mood throughout the album, but it is the songwriting that ultimately carries this record, with clear and introspective lyrics that evoke visceral images of children and the South. This is your lazy morning chillout record.

3. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

This one is idiosyncratic because no one will be able to replicate the atmosphere and conditions under which it was recorded. Not even Justin Vernon, who did most of it himself on a home recording setup in the woods, and it’s a miracle that it turned out as well as it did. Whiny singing and meager drumming over acoustic guitars never sounded so good. I wouldn’t expect the follow-up to be close to this, but you never know. A great listen, especially if you are going through a breakup.

4. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

SubPop is a great record label, probably the best around today (with the exception of ATO). They continue to discover great underground acts and give them enough exposure to become successful. This album is on most music critics’ list of greatest records in 2008, and it does sound great, mostly because the reverb on the vocals is so moody and entrancing, and the playing is so tastefully complementary to that. The songwriting isn’t so important as the ambience, which makes it a great listen from start to finish.

5. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

Funeral was a wonderfully inspired and solid first record from this Canadian indie band , and I was thoroughly impressed when I heard the equally solid followup. Win Butler clearly shines as the main songwriter, and his passionate singing about religion and loss perfectly complement his mostly positive, and sometimes sentimental, dirges. Beautiful melodies throughout make this a great hum-along disc. As a band, Arcade Fire rocks kind of like Crazy Horse with violins and humming girl backup singers.

6. Calexico – Carried to Dust

Ok, at first I was skeptical. When someone tells me to listen to a band from Arizona that blends Mexican folk music with American pop, I am immediately thinking this is going to be a cheesy train wreck, like a cross between Sublime and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, or something like that. Not so. White people canwrite songs with Mariachi horns behind them, and the results are definitely cinematic. This album offers a lot more than just the aformentioned desctiption entails, and I think it’s to the band’s credit that they can cover so many styles without seeming unfocused. Probably the best goup you’ve never heard of that’s been doing it for 10+ years, they just keep cutting their little niche in modern music deeper and deeper. You’ll have to pay attention sooner or later, why not start now? (By the way, Feast of Wire isn’t as good as this record is).

7. Cold War Kids – Loyalty to Loyalty

With a name like this I expected something between Dashboard Confessional and Bright Eyes. Instead I got a cd full of great songs (some are better than others, admittedly), with interesting arrangements over singing that conjures thoughts of Jeff Buckley. There is a soulfulness to the record that is vacant on most of the “indie” discs I’ve listened to, and I’m looking forward to checking out their debut album as well.

8. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

I’m still kind of on the fence about this one to be honest. On one hand, you have really great arrangements featuring awesome musicians (everybody loves Garth Hudson from the Band), and unique songwriting that is more Victorian than anything else. The words and concept of the album are a little inaccessible and pretentious, although ornate and beautiful, and Neko’s voice, while sultry, at times sounds a little sharp and dissonant to my ears. I keep listening hard to see if the songs will start to make sense. The main reason I put it on this list is because it’s so unique and at random moments will catch me off guard with bursts of eloquenence, which leads me to believe that the music will continue to grow on me.

9. The Black Crowes – Warpaint

I’m an old-school Black Crowes fan from their very first single (Atlanta represent!), but most people probably thought this band was way past its prime, especially after Marc Ford quit forever ago. I myself had kind of swept them under the sentimental rug, along with the likes of Pearl Jam and Portishead, but this album seriously blew my mind upon first listen. Seriously, folks, you really owe it to yourself to check it out. The Crowes sound like a well-worn version of themselves that doesn’t try too hard, and the album is so comfortable to listen to that I made it all the way through without stopping the first time I heard it. It really gets great around the sixth song, and I felt like I was listening to Pink Floyd, the vibe was so heady. Admittedly, Luther Dickenson isn’t the virtuoso that Marc Ford is, but he plays the hell out of the slide guitar and actually fits in with the band’s sound better than Ford. I’m thoroughly impressed by this effort, and am looking forward to the day I can afford their newest double-length with Levon Helm, entitled Before the Frost/Until the Freeze.

10. Elliot Smith – New Moon

Not much needs to be said here if you already know who Elliot Smith is. If you don’t like him, you won’t like this, because he’s at his most whiny and softest acoustic peaks here, ala Elliot Smith and XOXO. But man, this guy could write wonderfully acerbic pop songs, and this double-disc posthumous release just proves that he had so much more left to give . If you like Smith, you won’t be disappointed by this one. If you aren’t sure, check out Figure 8 and Either/Or first.

11. Ryan Adams – Easy Tiger

This was my first record of Ryan Adam’s, and I admittedly had never really listened to any of his music before a couple of years ago. As a songwriter, it’s ridiculous that I discovered this guy right before he decided to call it quits and marry Mandy Moore (he’ll be back, I just know it). This is his first album recorded after his alleged sobriety, and many of the songs have to do with him grappling inner demons and recovery. There are some great tunes on here, and proves that you don’t have to be on high on speedballs to be the greatest songwriter of your generation (you were sober when you wrote those songs, weren’t you Ryan?). And trust me, Adams is undoubtedly the greatest songwriter of the 2000’s, just like I think Elliot Smith was in the 90’s and Dylan was in the 60’s and 70’s. The Boss gets stuck with the 80’s. Anyway, check this album out, and if you’re really brave and want to have your life changed, go out and buy Heartbreaker. I dare you.

12. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

It seems like everybody knows and loves Wilco these days, so it’s not a surprise that I picked this album as a winner. I just would like to say that while it’s not as good as A Ghost is Born, it has some shining moments, and Nels Cline continues to be tasteful and creative without stealing the show. My only complaint is that Jeff Tweedy still sounds pharmaceutical, for lack of a better word, and any songwriting he does that isn’t explaining why he’s such a grumpy old man doesn’t really mean much to an ordinary guy like me. That being said, there are songs on here that touch just slightly upon fusion and stay away from the experimental wastleland of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. “Impossible Germany” is possibly the best song to listen to while taking off in an airplane

13. Lucinda Williams – West

Lucinda Williams is a godsend to country music. I know she’s not straight country, but the subject matter of the songs on West is so earthy and personal, that you can’t help but feel like this woman is the sole inheritor of the Hank Williams legacy. Written shortly after her mother’s death, this album features songs that call to Momma throughout, and the mournful lonesomeness in her voice is like a coyote in the desert, sending chills down my spine every time. By far some of her most sophisticated and deepest songwriting yet, Lucinda elucidates souls of dead poets throughout, and for the most part avoids the man-hating sludge rock that she’s never really pulled off that well on past efforts. Also, the cheesy Nashville production and distorted guitars that showed up on World Without Tears have been toned down in favor of sonic layers that really complement the music. I think this is her finest record yet – be prepared to weep.

 14. Kelley Stoltz – Below the Branches

Kelley Stoltz is a San Francisco songwriter I have been following for many years. He’s not really well-known outside of the City, but is clearly a very gifted musician. I chose this record to share, even though it came out in 2006, over the more recent Circular Sounds, simply because it’s better. Stoltz always self-records with an eight-track tape machine, which creates the loose psychedelic warble that gives his records a well-worn glow. By far the best album I have ever heard by anyone from the Bay Area in the last 10 years, Below the Branches collects influences and jumbles them up into original music, courtesy of Stoltz’s ability to conjure the sounds and atmospheres of classic records. The songs are simple and fun, the music cheerful and effortless. In fact, Stoltz should put more effort into his music, because he has such a wonderful voice and an endless supply of talent to draw from that everyone should know about. This is a great summer album, my friends.

15. Alejandro Escovedo – The Boxing Mirror

Lots of people have probably thought to themselves, “I see his name everywhere, I wonder if that guy is any good”. Well, I can assure you that he is great, and once you become accustomed to his unique style, you will find yourself entranced by the moody and spiritual presence that shape-shifts throughout this record. The closest influence I can name is Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda, and hallucinations of animals in the desert appear often throughout songs that vary from folk rock to 80’s electro pop in instrumentation and feel. Escovedo sounds like no one you have heard before, and the indigenous loping of his enchanting lyrics will cast a spell on your soul and leave you wanting more. Oh yeah, and it’s produced by VU legend John Cale, if that helps.

CD’s that really didn’t do it for me:

1. Prince – Planet Earth

Just in case you are a Prince fan and thought that since he rocked “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and the Superbowl so hard that his most recent album must be a winner as well, I’m here to let you know that it’s not. Sorry, Prince, please don’t sue me.

2. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges

I’ve really liked this band ever since I heard It Still Moves. Since then they have moved further away from the reverb drenched Neil Young sound and more towards the Prince and whiteboy reggae sound. Ewww. Admittedly, there are some great moments on this record, and it’s worth buying some mp3’s, but please, for the love of God, stay away from “Highly Suspicious”. Z is a much better album, buy that instead.

3. The Black Keys – Catch and Release

Is it just me, or this band highly overrated? And is it just me, or is Dangermouse in that same category? Well, it makes perfect sense then that these two should be paired together to make what I consider to be a true dud of an album. Why buy the Black Keys when I can have the White Stripes? I caught and released this album as quickly as I could. Dan Auerbach’s solo effort is looking much more promising.

5. Grandaddy – Just Like the Fambly Cat

I really like Jackpot, and I thought this would kind of be in the same vein. It was, just not in a good way. If the synthesis of obnoxious synths and repetitive loops over folky acoustic guitars is your thing, check out Beck instead. I wanted to like it. I really did.

6. LCD Sound System – Sound of Silver

 I am guessing that James Murphy took all the money he made from his first record and blew it on coke, then decided to make something “genius”. In any case, I can’t get into this disc because I keep thinking that my CD player is skipping. After getting rid of this record, I am relieved to discover that my CD player is just fine.

Singles I’m Diggin’

1. The National – “Mistaken for Strangers”

2. M. Ward – “Helicopter” 

3. Slaid Cleaves – “I Feel the Blues Moving In”

4. Flight of the Conchords – “Bowie” & “Hiphopapotamus vs. Rhymenocerous”

5. Black Lips – “It Feels Alright”

6. Dan Auerbach – “My Last Mistake”

West Coast Summer Tour Memoirs

August 30, 2009
The last day of the tour = good times

The last day of the tour = good times

A couple of weeks ago I was getting ready to tour with one of the bands I’m in (Strangefeather), but there were all sorts of problems. First, we had access to a beautiful 1964 International Harvest school bus, but no one in the band felt capable of driving it. So I looked for a driver, but everyone we knew that could drive a bus was unable to do it. When our friend Randy heard this, he immediately decided to take 2 weeks off of work and volunteered to drive for the tour. Then, the day before we were set to leave, two of the band members sent separate emails explaining that they weren’t going to be able to make it! This of course sent me into emergency mode. On one hand I’m thinking there is no way I can put together another band in 24 hours, on the other hand, the tour is booked and there are people who were excited to see us perform that would be let down. I couldn’t do that, so I decided to do the tour on my own with help of my friend and painter, Jesse Mosher.

Awesome ride at the Eagle Creek car show

Awesome ride at the Eagle Creek car show

Thankfully, my friend Joe from Bad Assets and Dark Skies was one of the first people I called, and he immediately hooked me up with a friend of his in Portland named Rives who plays with Power of County. Finally, another friend of mine had agreed to play drums, and I thought everything was on. At the last minute the drummer wasn’t actually able to make it, we had no ride to Chico to meet Randy, and I almost had to cancel the tour again. Another reassuring phone call from my friend Randy was all it took to convince me that we must continue onward. After countless frantic phone calls to everyone I knew, it was decided that Jesse and I would rent a U-Haul in the morning and drive to Chico to meet Randy. I would play the first 4 shows by myself, and then we would meet up in Portland with Rives for the rest of the tour.

With my mind somewhat at ease, I went to a birthday jam for my friend Pat at Different Fur Studios, and began to unwind with some whiskey and beer. Next thing I knew, we were all jamming in the studio until about 3 in the morning. I stumbled home and packed my bags and prayed that tomorrow would go smoothly. After less than 3 hours of sleep I skated about 3 miles to the U-Haul place and picked up my ride. Somehow it ended up costing over $200 for a small truck, but I ate the cost and hoped that I would get lucky somewhere down the line. I picked up Jesse and we were out of the city by 8:30am just as planned, and trucked it on up to Chico. Randy met us with our ride there – it was an ’84 Ford Centrurion with a camper shell of the back. Truly a beautiful beater, though not as elegant as the bus, it did get over 15 miles to the gallon, and was reliable.

The command center of the Centurion

The command center of the Centurion

Randy trucked it straight up to Central Point, Oregon, just beyond the border with California. We pulled into the Touvelle Lounge just in time to set up and play for 4 hours straight. It was tough because I’m not used to playing solo for more than an hour or so, but I made it through the gig with only a few hours of sleep and no money for beer. Thankfully the bar let us sleep in a covered area on the outdoor stage for the night. Rising early, we headed out to get some breakfast and relax for the first time in several days. Prior to the tour, Randy had been up in the mountains around Chico delivering supplies and reinforcements by bus to the firefighters dealing with annual outbreaks of forest fires. It’s his busiest time of year, and Randy took the time off to hang out with us. God, I was thankful, because I’m not much of a driver or a mechanic. After breakfast we headed down to the river to relax some more, and then headed to Grants Pass to get ready for our gig at the Trove. This was an all-ages show, and when we got there we met 3 other bands of younger guys from Boise, Idaho who were headed up to Washington to play a festival. There weren’t many people to see the show, but these guys were all very supportive and sounded great. We hightailed it out a little early to spend the evening in Medford, which turned out to be a big mistake. The downtown was crawling with obnoxious college drunkards that made me feel like I was back in Davis CA. It took a while to find a decent bar, but the evening turned out to be fun. I would rather have gone to Ashland, but what can you do?

Outside the Touvelle Lounge

Outside the Touvelle Lounge

We spent a second night out behind the Touvelle Lounge, and Dave the owner pulled up in his truck the next morning and said, “You could have told me first”. Well, it wasn’t like we had a plan or anything, we were just kind of rambling. I played all day Sunday there on the outdoor stage, and met a lot of great people. It was my first electric guitar solo set ever, and I worked my ass off. Luckily, a saxaphonist and harmonica player stopped by and helped me out. I must say that the Touvelle has great food and a kind staff, and I’m glad we played there. After that, we headed straight for Eugene and stayed with our friend Liz Babbs for the evening. She provided hot showers and cozy comfort for us – thanks to you!

Northeast Portland hang sesh

Northeast Portland hang sesh

Next morning we headed up to Portland to check out the downtown (not good for busking, by the way), and Randy stopped into Powell Bookstore and got him some Beat literature. We met up in Northeast Portland with our new friend Rives. He brought us to his house where we got to meet Bruno and Winky, his cat and dog. Originally, the plan was to play at Music Head in Medford that night, but the show got cancelled, because we weren’t going to make money. This is the first tour I have ever done on my own, and it was a great learning process dealing with clubs one-on-one and trying to make the best of a bad situation. I learned a lot about the subtleties of communication and how to be diplomatic. Anyway, having our first (and only) night off we hit downtown Portland to have some drinks and blow off steam. Immediately Rives hit it off with everybody, and the next thing you know we were having a great time! Jesse met up with his new friend Didi, and the rest of us headed to our new temporary home with Rives.

The Oldsmobile at Rive's house

The Oldsmobile at Rives's house

The next day was spent rehearsing and preparing with Rives, and we headed up early to Pop Culture in Vancouver, Washington. There we met Kristen and the band she manages, Love Trucker. These guys are all very young and super-talented, and have a great vibe about them. I immediately was intrigued when we pulled up to the venue and they had a school bus parked out front! They are headed out for a US tour very soon, and I wish them the best of luck. Dan, the owner of Pop Culture, and Heidi, our lovely hostess, are awesome people who truly provide a great service for young musicians and fans of music. When I was under 21 it was very difficult to get bar gigs, and none of our friends could come anyway. I feel like young people need something like this to help them develop their talents and have a great time without having to throw renegade parties that get broken up by the police too soon (like we did when I was underage).

Jesse in Eugene at Liz Babb's

Jesse in Eugene at Liz Babb's

Next, we headed back to Eugene. We got some dinner at Papa’s, an amazing sould food place with good corn bread, fried okra, collard greens, and (my favorite) pulled pork! Stuffed to the brim, we headed over to Luckey’s. Strangefeather played a successful show there on our previous tour, and some people who came back to see us were thoroughly confused (some of them also showed up late and missed the show). It was difficult to explain to everyone that I was playing without the band because a couple of the members had dropped out last minute. I just told everyone that we had a family medical emergency and they had to leave the tour early. This was just enough to keep most people happy, and we had a good show anyway. We headed back to Portland for the night, and it wasn’t until the next day that I realized I lost my sunglasses, some CD’s and mailing list there! Darn, I’m an idiot sometimes…

Rockin' at the East End (Rives on the right)

Rockin' at the East End (Rives on the right)

The next day was spent relaxing and recovering, and then we headed over to the East End in the Burnside district of Portland. This is an awesome club that Strangefeather has already played a couple of times, and Gabe (the owner) is one of the nicest, most considerate people I have met in the club business ever. He was understanding of my situation, and already was friends with Rives to boot. My friends Dave, Renee, Chelsea and Eric all showed up, and it was great to spend time with them and catch up. I only wish I had more time to give. The show went very well, the best by far of the tour up until that point, and I met so many wonderful people from the scene. Playing after me were the Hang-Ups, a group that features Charlie and Rob from Dark Skies. They are awesome, check them out!

Jesse leaves his mark

Jesse leaves his mark

Rives and I talked about the gig the next night at the Eagle Creek Inn. He introduced me to his fellow drummer named Andy Bacon from Power of County, and we decided to have him come along for the gig and just wing it. Unfortunately, the bar was empty and there never seemed to be a real crowd, even though it was Friday night in a small town. We still played our asses off, and a few people showed up at the very end to catch the best part of our set. Luckily, I was still paid my guarantee, and we headed back to our home base with a sigh of relief. The next night Rives had another gig with Power of County, so he and his drummer weren’t able to make the second show in Eagle Creek. I had to come up with something quick, so I called the owner of the club and gave him the option to cancel the show on Saturday night. He agreed, so instead I went with Rives to Forest Grove and played at the Half Moon Bar as an opener for his band. First we stopped into his band mate Matt Stark’s farm and met his family, and I saw the most amazing thing there. Loudly squawking starlings from all around the area had come to roost in a group of about 5 trees in the back yard. Along came one of the neighbors with his gun and fired multiple times into the air. When he did, the entire sky turned black with escaping birds. It looked like locusts, and as soon as they flew away, they swarmed and swirled in beautiful patterns, landing back into the trees again. This time they were all completely silent – I wish I could have caught that on camera. The gig turned out to be a great night of music, with some important lessons learned. Talking with people from the audience has been very helpful for me because I’m learning how to present my music better and appeal to a wider audience. Both criticism and praise have helped me grow so much already. Don’t be afraid to tell musicians that you like what you think and ways they could do it better – we need your input to develop!

Jesse on tambourine at the Pastime

Jesse on tambourine at the Pastime

As soon as the show was over we headed back to Portland to sleep for a couple of hours, only to rise again at 7am to pick up Jesse and drive straight to Roslyn, Washington. It was our friend Sarah Stahl’s birthday, and she had set up a show at the Pastime Tavern downtown for Strangefeather. She seemed very concerned when I told her the band couldn’t make it, but was enthusiastic nonetheless. We got into town in time to play the farmer’s market, which turned out to be a great experience and many CD’s were sold. Thanks to Jonine for organizing the market! As a surprise, Josh Cook from Strangefeather came up for the show with his new drummer, Ryan. They opened the set up with a bunch of his new songs, and I was thoroughly impressed. Sometimes when bands break up, it forces the survivors to try things that they were afraid to do before, and it’s always great to see growth come out of change. The crowd was really having a good time that night, and they danced all the way through Josh’s set and mine, too (even though I didn’t have a drummer). After this all passed, we took a break and came back united, with Jesse live painting (he sold 7 pieces that night!), Ryan on the drums, Rives on guitar, Josh on guitar and I played acoustic. Rives started playing the riff from “Bitch” by the Rolling Stones, and from there the rest is a blur. We had the greatest time jamming for hours until the bar closed, and it was by far the greatest experience of the tour. Thanks to Sarah for putting together such a great musical night together with so many wonderful people. Also thanks to Angie for the pictures, Marci on paintbrush, Dan on harp, Tammy and Stan and John and Alan, and most of all, Sonny, for showing us a good time. Sarah’s family is so awesome, we don’t know what we would do without people like you to support our music.

Our friend Dan on the harp, Ryan on the drums, and Rives on guitar

Dan on the harp, Ryan on the drums, and Rives on guitar

Left to right: Randy, Josh, Me, Ryan, Random Beauty, Rives, and Sarah Stahl

Left to right: Randy, Josh, Me, Ryan, Random Beauty, and Rives

Totally burned out, we stopped back by the Pastime around noon for breakfast, hung with Sarah’s other son Sky who is already a great guitarist at such a young age, and hopped in the truck. We drove all the way to Portland, dropped off Rives, said our goodbyes, and made it almost all the way to Grants Pass before crashing at a rest stop for the night. Keep in mind that the only driver on this tour was Randy, and the only reason I haven’t mentioned him more is that I already dedicated my first entry in “Legends, the Series” to him. The whole time he pretty much drove his ass off and was reliable, friendly, and a great person to be on the road with. Jesse had a great time, and it was also great to have him on the road. Our final day was spent driving all the way to San Francisco where Randy dropped us off at Jesse’s. I spent the night there and headed home the next day to sleep off the post-tour blues. Now I’m back on top of things and looking forward to hitting the road again soon. I love the feeling of the open highway and all the great personalities and places I get to interact with. It helps a lot to play every night and develop my solo show. I need the confidence that touring gives me to continue onward alone since it is pretty uncertain at this time whether Strangefeather is still a band. I can’t wait to get back out there and see more friends. Until then, stay tuned.

L to R: Randy, Sarah, Josh, Jesse, Stan, Alan, John, Myself, Rives, and Ryan

L to R: Randy, Sarah, Josh, Jesse, Stan, Alan, John, Myself, Rives, and Ryan