High As A Kite


Marty Willson-Piper's Acres of Space, with HuDost and Christine Lenee
Blood:Water, Nashville, TN
Friday, May 13, 2016

So it's been two weeks since this show happened, and I'm still buzzing from it like it was last night. I don't think I've been this affected by a show since I saw The Pogues ten years ago. It was simply a phenomenal night of music. And like a lot of great nights, this one has a back story.

Marty Willson-Piper is one of my all time favorite guitarists. He spent 33 years as one of the twin guitar pillars of The Church, along with releasing nine solo albums, three more albums as Noctorum, and countless side projects and collaborations along the way. I spent hours upon hours listening to his first three solo albums in my college dorms and apartments, and his second album Art Attack is pretty much the reason I bought a 12 string acoustic guitar. So I was crushed when I got a Facebook message on Thursday from a friend that Marty had played the previous night at Music City Roots in Franklin, TN, a mere half hour drive from my house. I'd seen him half a dozen times with The Church over the years, but I'd never gotten the chance to catch one of his solo shows. And it looked liked I'd missed a prime opportunity to do so in my backyard. My disappointment was blessedly short lived however. About a half an hour later I got another message from the same friend, with a link that Marty would be playing the following night at Blood:Water here in Nashville.

Blood:Water is not a venue, it's the offices of the organization founded by members Jars of Clay to fight HIV/AIDS and water crises in Africa. It is however a beautiful space, and it made for an intimate venue for an amazing night of music. The musicians were set up in a semi-circle, and chairs and couches were arranged facing them, so that both the band and the audience were in a unbroken circle facing each other. The night served a a low key start up for their tour (Music City Roots had actually been the band's very first performance).

Christie Lenee started the night off with a solo set of folky pop songs highlighted by an impressive display of acoustic guitar tapping. After a brief break, HuDost took the stage. Over the years, I've discovered some of my favorite bands when they opened for someone else. HuDost has now joined that list. They describe themselves as "Neo Folk World Rock," and while that is certainly and accurate description, it would be more succinct to simply call them magical. They seamlessly blend world music, atmospheric guitar rock, and beautiful harmonies into a whole that is definitely more than the sum of its parts. And as if their own songs weren't amazing enough, they brought up the evening's host Dan Haseltine for a gorgeous duet on Jars Of Clay's "Inland."

After a brief break and a switch of bass players, HuDost became Acres of Space and backed up Willson-Piper for an incredible set that pulled from his solo albums, Noctorum songs, and even a trio of Church classics ("She'll Come Back For You Tomorrow," "Tristesse," and "Spark"). And as if it wasn't great enough hearing these songs live that were such a part of my musically formative years, the band really brought them to life. Harmonies that were only hinted at on the albums swam through the room and firmly embedded themselves in our ears. They managed to faithfully reproduce the arrangements and add new nuances at the same time. Marty told whimsical stories (ie bold faced lies) between songs. The fact that a band could sounds this amazing after only a couple of rehearsals and three shows was awe inspiring. It was simply an incredible evening, one that you didn't really want to come to an end.

The remaining tour dates for the Acres Of Space/HuDost shows are listed below. If they come anywhere near you, I'd highly recommend you make it out. Additional dates are currently in the works, so check out the tour's Facebook page for details.

June 8 - Tin Angel, Philadelphia, PA

June 10 - Whitney Center for the Arts, Pittsfield, MA
June 12 - CoSM, Wappingers Falls, NY
June 21 - The Cutting Room, New York, NY
June 25 - ONCE, Somerville, MA

HuDost will also be returning to Nashville on their own for a show at Liberation Yoga on Friday, June 3.


Little Broken Hearts

Norah Jones - Little Broken Hearts

What is it about breakup albums that inspires artists to reach their greatest artistic achievements? From Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, or more recent examples like Spiritualized’s Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space or Adele’s 21, the history of popular music is filled with singer/songwriters who reach their greatest creative heights when they are at their worst emotional lows. With Little Broken Hearts, we can now add Norah Jones to that list.

Jones has spent the past several years trying to branch out from the jazz/pop/country/folk hybrid sound that made her both a star and a millionaire. From her art project/joke band El Madmo to her collaborations with Outkast, Belle And Sebastian, Q-Tip, and Foo Fighters, she’s shown that there aren’t too many genre’s she’s not interested in. Her last album, The Fall, steered her artistic course in a much more pop oriented direction. And on her newest record, producer/collaborator/co-writer Brian Burton (aka Dangermouse) has guided her further down that path and helped her create the best album of her career. Lyrically, the album is filled with the kind of regret, sorrow, confusion, longing and bitterness that generally accompanies failed romances and infidelity. Several of the songs talk about moving on, but in a way that you know there is a whole lot of baggage going along on the journey. Highlights include “Take It Back,” “Good Morning,” and “Miriam,” a straight up murder ballad made even more creepy by the fact that it’s sung in such a honey sweet voice. It’s definitely a late night, turn off the lights and drink away your sorrows kind of album.



The Wedding Present - Valentina

David Gedge is one of my all-time favorite songwriters. The way the guy can turn a phrase would make most indie screenwriters green with envy, and his skewed take on (mostly failed) relationships has made for a catalog filled to the brim with brilliant pop gems. So it’s a bit disappointing that this album just isn’t grabbing me. Sonically The Wedding Present seem to be aiming for the kind of sparse production that Steve Albini provided for their seminal 1991 album Sea Monsters, but the songs simply don’t have the hooks that we’ve become accustomed to. It’s like when you make one of your favorite dishes but it doesn’t turn out right… all the ingredients are the same, you prepare it the same way you always do, but when it comes out of the oven it’s just not good as it usually is. Whether that’s the result of the band’s lineup changes (apart from Gedge, the entire roster has turned over since their last album, 2008’s El Rey ), or it’s just the kind of inevitable down cycle that comes during a 27 year career, I’m having to file Valentina under D for disappointment.


All Together Now

All For The Hall
Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, TN
Tuesday, April 10, 2012

There are some concerts you go to that simply couldn’t happen anywhere else. Keith Urban and Vince Gill’s annual “All For the Hall” benefit for the Country Music Hall of Fame is definitely one of those “only in Nashville” kind of events. They’ve become a kind of annual tradition for my wife and I. She has been to all three of the events, and while last year was my first, it’s turned into a show that I wouldn’t miss. I wouldn’t exactly call myself a huge country fan, but I’m definitely well versed enough to appreciate the history and reverence that these concerts promote. But you don’t have to be a music nerd to enjoy it. With a dozen plus acts and a pre-Ticketmaster ripoff… err, fees price of $35, the entertainment value would be a bargain at twice the price.

The theme of this year’s concert was “All Together Now,” and the advertised lineup featured all duos and groups. The mix of old(er) and new groups meant that there was no need for last year’s hook, when each performer did one of their own songs and then followed up with a cover from a hall of famer that they admired. There was plenty of history just with each performer doing two of their own songs. As usual, Urban kicked off the show with a brief set from his band, and then Gill took the mic and paid tribute to the groups concept of the evening by playing “Amie” from his Pure Prairie League days, and then gave a plug.

The newer groups on the bill were represented by Thompson Square, Little Big Town, The Band Perry, and Rascall Flatts, and though all were well received, they were definitely outshined by Lady Antebellum and Pistol Annies. In general though, the “old timers” got the biggest applause of the night. Diamond Rio were the first out of the gate, and though their set was well received, they simply got blown out of the water when the Oak Ridge Boys took the stage. You wouldn’t have expected four guys who are pushing 70 (William Lee Golden actually past that birthday three years ago) to have brought so much energy to the stage. Simply put, they killed with “Elvira” and “Bobbie Sue.” Alabama went in the exact opposite direction energy wise, though their “unplugged” style takes on “Feels So Right” and “Lady Down on Love” were every bit as magical. Their harmonies sounded amazing.

Two of the advertised groups, Exile and Allison Kraus and Union Stations, were no shows, but in their place we got two special guests that more than made up for it. Midway through the show Don Williams came out to do “Imagine That” and “Tulsa Time.” But the hands down highlight of the evening was when Keith and crew brought out Merle Haggard. Being that he is The Hag, his set wasn't constrained to just two songs, and after tearing through "I'll Just Stay Here And Drink," "Today I Started Loving You Again," and "Working Man Blues," Urban staged a one man encore chant, and Haggard obliged with "Silver Wings."

The night ended on an odd note when all the performers returned to the stage for a ramshackle cover of The Beatle's "I Saw Her Standing There." Being that it was a benefit for the Country Music Hall of Fame, closing with a Brittish Invasion rock and roll hit seemed peculiar, but it captured the spirit of fun that these concerts are all about.

photo by Tonya Peacock


More Juice

Epic Ditch – 36 Hour EP

For their recond release, Nashville’s skate rock super group Epic Ditch have managed to dial up both their punk and pop elements. Opener “More Juice” is probably the most intense song they have released to date, and closer “Resistance Is Victory” isn’t too far behind. But in between those two hardcore jams, they are also covering the poppier terrain that brought the band leaders to prominence in the first place. Like on their first EP, Stewart Pack’s contributions tend to be a bit more melodic, but Superdrag fans who have been dismayed by John Davis’ straight up hardcore songs with this outfit will probably be pleased with “Unexploded Ordinance,” which is undoubtedly the catchiest song the band had released to date. You can stream the EP in it’s entirety on Bandcamp.

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Let's Go Eat The Factory

Guided By Voices - Let's Go Eat the Factory

Christmas came early for indie rock fans last year when Robert Pollard announced that after a year plus of reunion touring, the “classic” lineup for Guided By Voices had recorded a new album. And even though we had to wait until January to get our hands on it, I’m sure there more than a few hardcore fans that were as giddy as a kid on Christmas Eve waiting for old Saint Nick to arrive. The results are worth the wait. It’s easily one of the best albums Pollard has released since the classic GBV’s last album together, 1997’s Under the Bushes Under the Stars.

I’ve read descriptions of Let’s Go Eat The Factory that describe it as “every bit a classic GBV record,” and that it harkens back to their Bee Thousand/Alien Lanes days. I think that anyone who describes it like that is getting more caught up in the moment than they are being honest. To me, it sounds like they are picking up where the left off after the classic lineup’s contributions to Mag Earwhig!, with their hints of synthesizers and increased production quality, even by lo-fi standards. The ensuing years Pollard spent developing his craft and improving his songwriting also shows. The songs are generally more developed than they were during the band’s early days, and 30 second song fragments that used to litter their albums are in short supply. Luckily, the hooks are still abundant.

One of my biggest problems with Pollard’s post GBV solo output is that he had outsourced large parts of the creative process. He would basically have his collaborators create music and then he’d put lyrics and melodies over the top of them. Bob called it “delegating” in a recent interview, but I always just kind of viewed it as laziness, and I think the music suffered for it (with some notable exceptions; the albums he did this way with Tobin Sprout and Doug Gillard were every bit as good as their band collaborations). So for me the most welcome thing on this album is the return of Robert Pollard the guitar player. I think that, more so than the return of Toby, Mitch, Kevin and Greg (as well as Pollard’s brother Jim) is what really makes this sound like an old school GBV record.


Kisses On The Bottom

Paul McCartney - Kisses On The Bottom

OK, first things first. The album title. It's terrible. I'm sure Paul liked the cheekiness of it (pun intended), but he really should have thought better. In theory, it's a line from the album's opener "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter," but here's the thing; I've probably heard a couple of dozen versions of that song, and I've always heard it sung "kisses AT the bottom," so it's not even the right line. But I digress...

I’ll admit that despite being a fan of both McCartney (definitely my favorite Beatle) and what’s known as “The Great American Songbook,” I was only marginally interested in checking this album out when I first heard about it. For the last few years it seems like the CD section of your favorite discount store is littered with albums of aging rockers doing their interpretations of old standards. But my interest level shot up about one hundred percent when I learned that Macca had Diana Krall and her band backing him up on the project. Rather than the kind of milquetoast orchestral schmaltz that Rod Stewart has been releasing for the past decade, McCartney and company turn in an understated and elegant set of overlooked classics. While a handful of the songs do have orchestral arrangements, most of the record is just McCartney singing with Krall’s quartet. A few of the songs are hardly obscure, but he mostly stays away from the obvious choices, which makes the album seem a lot fresher than similar projects from other artists. And it’s a testament to his continued skill as a songwriter that unless you’re looking at the credits, you’d be hard pressed to pick out the two new originals (“My Valentine” and “Only Our Hearts”) from the songs that are older than he is (the deluxe edition of the album also includes a new take on “Baby’s Request” from the final Wings’ album, Back To The Egg).

It’s almost surprising that it took Paul so long to make an album like this. From the beginning of his career he’s written songs in this kind of style, so a project like this almost seemed inevitable. But the results were definitely worth the wait. It’s probably the most engaging solo album he’s made since he teamed up with Krall’s husband, one
Declan McManus, for 1989’s Flowers In The Dirt.


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