Tag Archives: country music

RiverRoots 2016 lineup delivers

RiverRoots 2016 is the fourth straight year I’ve attended the festival, and I expect to be back next year. The music lineup is always solid, and there’s nothing like listening to bluegrass, country, soul, folk and more while drinking Indiana craft beer on the beautiful banks of the Ohio River.

Saturday’s lineup was solid. Asleep at the Wheel and Donna the Buffalo rocked like the vets that they are, and acts such as Parker Millsap, Jake Book, Blair Crimmins and the Hookers and Bridge 19 all put on good shows. Billy Strings stole the show, bringing heavy metal-like intensity and speed to their rootsy set.

But for me, it was a quartet of acts on Friday that brought down the house. Battling wet weather and playing to smaller crowds, these four elevated their games and made a fan out of me.

Darlingside – This quartet out of Boston was moved from the main stage to the second stage because of the rain. It turned out fortune was smiling upon them, because the River Stage gave the set an intimacy that wouldn’t have happened on the main stage. The above performance doesn’t quite do them justice, but it’s a pretty good example of what they have to offer. Think if Simon and Garfunkel fronted the Punch Brothers covering Avett Brothers songs.

Sarah Jarosz – In four years, I’ve never seen the River Stage so crowded. It wasn’t just standing room only; there really wasn’t even room left to stand. Her voice is as amazing live as it is on wax.

Lindi Ortega – Ortega’s old-school country sound, her band’s tight groove and her effortless stage presence are a unique combination. I’d like to see her at a smaller, indoor venue, because I think a crowded room might provide more energy for the band to feed off of, elevating the intensity a bit.

Brothers Comatose – I didn’t know they made bluegrass music in San Francisco, at least not after Jerry Garcia died. These fellas blazed out of the gate and never looked back, effortlessly mixing traditional music with moments like their Cake cover. I will see these West Coasters again, hopefully soon.

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Taylor Swift always comes out on top

If you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, you probably wouldn’t know that Taylor Swift’s 1989 is the album that defies everything we know about the modern music industry in that the album actually sold and continues to sell. And, of course, since Swift is the biggest international music star since the heyday of Madonna and Michael Jackson, the Bad Blood and Shake It Off singles have been pumped relentlessly by radio.

What you might not know is singer-songwriter Ryan Adams released a 1989 cover album this week. Yup, from Welcome to New York to Clean, Adams took on Swift’s hot tracks. He tweeted frequently throughout the process, even garnering support from Swift as the recording went on.

So how was it? To me, what was interesting was that, as Adams recorded, he talked about a Morrissey-Smiths feel to what he was doing. I, on the other hand, found that Adams’ 1989 sounded much more like a Bruce Springsteen album, maybe not so much lyrically, but the music and Adams’ voice are very much early 1980’s Boss. What I found more surprising is how well it worked for the course of the entire album. Shake It Off goes from being a privileged pop star’s girl-power anthem to the battle cry of a down-on-her-luck working class woman. Out of the Woods is low-key gorgeous, and How You Get the Girl feels like it has more depth. Adams deserves credit for making this gimmick not all that gimmicky.

The one low (or possibly less-than-high) note: Bad Blood, well, it still sounds like Bad Blood. It was the lone track that I knew exactly what it was from the opening tones, and it ended up being the only track where Adams couldn’t seem to shake Swift off. It works, but it’s probably the least interesting of the 13 songs on the album.

No matter what, Swift wins. She already had a hit album and critical kudos with 1989. She’ll probably walk away with a semi load of Grammys next year. Plus, Adams has given her some cred with the indie crowd. I won’t say it’s what Nirvana did with Unplugged way back in the day – because that was pretty big for Kurt & Co. and most of Swift’s fans will never hear Adams’ album – but it could definitely change a few minds and draw new listeners to Swift that previously wouldn’t have given her the time of day.

Plus, with Swift taking all of her digital catalog to Apple, those who use apps such as Spotify – like yours truly – will still get to hear 1989. Just not Swift’s 1989. Sort of.

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The Avett Brothers: 04/17/15 at Elliott Music Hall

Thou shalt not doubt the Avett Brothers. And yet I did.

This was the fifth time my wife and I had seen the Avetts live. Last time we saw them, summer of 2014 at the Lawn at White River State Park in Indianapolis, was the first time I wasn’t absolutely blown away by them. It was the first time we’d seen them with a full band, and it didn’t seem as if they were as tight as usual. Plus, one of my favorite things about these guys is when it’s just Seth, Scott and “the third Avett brother,” bassist Bob Crawford. The trio did some stuff by itself, but the new, full band was clearly the focus of the performance. Also, the crowd was easily 500 people or more larger than the previous two times we’d seen them at the same venue. The place was elbow-to-elbow, and, in an odd turn, a lot of people were there with very young children. The energy we were accustomed to was sucked out of the venue, added to that an element of claustrophobia. It wasn’t as much fun as out previous Avett experiences, and I was left with doubts.

Doubts effectively shattered and discarded. The Avetts I saw at Purdue University were tight, having fun, belting it out for the cheap seats. The new band members are now much more effectively part of the show. When Scott, Bob and cellist Joe Kwon jammed, it was more classical trio than bluegrass stomp. Violinist Tania Elizabeth soloed and sang, a standout performance on the night. The full band allowed the Avetts to take on some blues and more straight-ahead rock, something absent from previous outings. And the original three spent more time alone on stage, including a soul-stirring rendition of one of my favorite hymns, Alone in the Garden. Had they ended the show with their cover of the Grateful Dead’s The Race Is On, it would have been the perfect Avett performance.

But if I can’t have it all, that was more than good enough. Can’t wait to see the Avetts again, where ever my wife and I may find them.

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Fave songs from 2014, so far: The 3Q wrap-up

Avant Gardner, Courtney Barnett – Smart, jangley, singer-songwriter cut. It’s worth it just to hear her use “emphysema” as a verb.

Change My Ways, Tony Molina – If you’re into the whole brevity thing, as well as enjoying melodic punk, Tony Molina is your man.

China, BRONCHO – I’m guessing, but these guys probably own The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine albums. Broody, distortion heavy rock.

Come Back Home, Trampled By Turtles – I love me some light-speed Turtles, and Come Back Home is that musical comfort food.

Don’t Mess With Me, Brody Dalle – The former Distillers frontwoman and wife of QOTSA chief Josh Homme unleashes a blast of mad girl rawk.

Doses & Mimosas, Cherub – A cheeky and hedonistic electro-funk, kiss-off, come-down jam that my brother mistook for an Andre 3000 joint. If pressed to pick my favorite song of 2014 so far, this would be in the running.

D.R.E.A.M., Pharoahe Monch feat. Talib Kweli – Hip-hop vets crank out a cut that, if you don’t bob your head when you listen to it, just proves you have no soul.

Eye to Eye, Lee Bains & The Expressions – This might be my favorite song of 2014. I think this because I keep periodically singing the chorus to myself as I go about my daily business.

High & Wild, Angel Olsen – A swirling haze of distorted guitars wrapped around Angel’s easy, unique voice. From one of my favorite albums of the year, Burn Your Fire.

I Don’t Want to Go Home, Curtis Harding – My one big regret about Forecastle Fest this year was not catching Harding, who has gallons of boogie to go with pounds of woogie.

I Just Don’t Understand, Spoon – The grooviest band of the past decade releases what will likely be remembered as one of their finest albums. I Just Don’t Understand is the tip of the aural iceberg.

I Wanna Be a Yank, Fucked Up – Sometimes, being punk as fuck is enough.

Indie Cindy, The Pixies – The title track of the Pixies latest album nails their classic sound, which just never gets old.

Just Another Bullet, Young Fathers – Some of the eeriest production since the Geto Boys’ Mind Playing Tricks on Me. The sound of organized madness.

Legs, Chuck Inglish feat. Chromeo – Sexy, cool and not nearly as misogynistic as Blurred Lines.

Like a Mighty River, St. Paul & The Broken Bones – A sweet, smooth slice of soul music.

Little Monster, Royal Blood – To steal from Ron Burgundy, Royal Blood is “the balls.” Melodic, heavy rock with plenty of brains to go with the cajones.

Lonely Sunday, Reignwolf – Speaking of the balls … My greatest hope for 2015 is a full-length from these metalheads. Until then, this will have to do.

Longer Than You’ve Been Alive, Old 97’s – The ballad of the rock band that’s been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale.

Lost Boys, Sir Michael Rocks feat. Mac Miller and Trinidad Jam – I’ve heard a lot of good production from underground hip-hop acts this year, and Sir Michael Rocks and crew benefit from this here. Lyrically, young hoodlums try to figure out how to grow up.

Love You Forever, Jenny Lewis – Aaah, Jenny’s back and all is well. Articulate, funny and heartfelt pop rock by one of my favorite lyricists.

Mama Said Be Careful Where You Lay Your Head, The Wind and the Wave – I don’t love the album, but there’s a few fine tracks on From the Wreckage. This is the standout.

My Resignation, Besserbitch – Dedicated to anyone who has walked off the job with a middle finger flying high. High-energy punk pop with plenty of “screw you” built into it.

People Don’t Get What They Deserve, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – The title says it all.

Raw Milk, Parquet Courts – These guys are growing on me … in a good way, not in a “I have this fungus I can’t get rid of” way. When I hear them, I think of a lot of good ’90’s bands: Pavement, Sonic Youth, Slint, etc.

Summer Dress, July Talk – Blues rock with a pop hook with a terrific one-two punch at lead singer.

Violent Shivers, Benjamin Booker – A track that falls somewhere between classic Chuck Berry and the Kings of Leon’s debut, Youth and Young Manhood. Unrestrained blues rock.

Watch You Change, Drowners – A Strokes-ian breakup song with one of my favorite lines of the year: “There’s not a shoulder cold enough for me to give her.”

Welcome to America, Lacrae – The perfect hip-hop track for the Michael Brown era, a look at what America is for those who can’t rely on white privelege.

Honorable mentions: 27, Passenger; Ain’t So Simple, Protomartyr; American Horror, Speedy Ortiz; Black and White, Parquet Courts; Blue Moon, Beck; Bobby Reid, Lucette; Brand New, Pharrell feat. Justin Timberlake; Brooklyn Baby, Lana Del Rey; Cedar Lane, First Aid Kit; Chaghaybou, Tinariwen; Creepin’ Jenny, The Pack a.d.; Different Days, The Men; Dog Bumped (Live), Tim Barry; Don’t Leave Me Dry, Spanish Gold; Down With the Monster, White Lung; Emerald Tuesday, Cibo Matto; Fall In Love, Phantogram; Frequencies, Katie Herzig; The Ghost of a Sabertooth Tiger, The Coast; God & Nature, Loudon Wainwright III; Guns + Ammunition, July Talk; I’ll Go To Sleep, BLUFFING; I’m Only Joking, Kongos; Interference Fits, Perfect Pussy; Jerk Ribs, Kelis; Life of Sin, Sturgill Simpson; The Littlest League Possible, Guided By Voices; Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, The Flaming Lips feat. Miley Cyrus and Moby; Native Korean Rock, Karen O; Never, The Roots feat. Patty Crash; Now Here In, Cloud Nothings; Other Lovers, Devan DuBois; Parade of Choosers, Centro-matic; Place Names, Cymbals Eat Guitars; Rollercoaster, Bleachers; Run Rabbit Run, Black Pistol Fire; Runners, Lacrae; Sexy Socialite, Chromeo; Sisters, The Raveonettes; Supernova, Ray LaMontagne; Take Away These Early Grave Blues, Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra; Tongues, Joywave feat. KOPPS; Top Notch, Manchester Orchestra; Uno, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib

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Fave albums of 2014, so far: The 3Q wrap-up

Benjamin Booker, Benjamin Booker – A powerful burst of blues rock, somewhere between the Black Keys and the Black Crowes.

Curtis Harding, Soul Power – Today’s R&B so frequently sounds like it’s made in a hermetically sealed studio with computers. Soul Power is so warm because Harding and the band at times sound like they’re performing live, not just cranking out the same riffs over and over until they get handed to the geek with Pro Tools to be cleansed and assembled for distribution.

July Talk, Guns + Ammunition – I’ll be seeing this group open for Rural Alberta Advantage in October, and I’m really looking forward to it. The songwriting is strong, and the one-two, male-female vocal combination creates a unique sound.

Jenny Lewis, Voyager – Do I love it as much as Rabbit Fur Coat or Acid Tongue? No. Voyager loses the country sound for a poppier sheen. Regardless, Ms. Lewis is still one of the smartest and funniest lyricists around, and that elevates her latest effort.

Tony Molina, Dissed & Dismissed – If Rivers Cuomo cut the cute shtick and just made hook-driven punk pop, the album would sound like Dissed & Dismissed.

Perfect Pussy, Say Yes to Love – This is one of those albums where not only do I like the collection for what it is, but I’m also excited about the potential it teases.

Pixies, Indie Cindy – It’s rare that an old band gets back together and makes a quality album (The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, etc.). The Pixies defy that expectation with a disc that stands with their best.

Royal Blood, Royal Blood – When you think of two-piece rock outfits, the Black Keys and the White Stripes tend to come to mind. But this bass-drums combo is much more No One Knows than Ball and a Biscuit.

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything – Prince once said, “Let’s get crazy.” Silver Mt. Zion took them up on that, making a sprawling, psychedelic punk album worthy of Sonic Youth.

St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Half the City – Another album that’s been on this list since the first quarter, Half the City is a well-made collection of Southern soul music. I can’t recommend these guys enough live.

Honorable mention: Cherub, Year of the Caprese; Courtney Barnett, The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas; First Aid Kit, Stay Gold; Lana Del Ray, Ultraviolence; Guided By Voices, Motivational Jumpsuit; Lecrae, Anomaly; Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal; Pharoahe Monch, PTSD – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; Pete Molinari, Theosophy; Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Give the People What They Want; Spoon, They Want My Soul; Spanish Gold, South of Nowhere; Trampled By Turtles, Wild Animals; Tweedy, Sukierae; Angel Wilson, Burn Your Fire For No Witness

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