World Away

Jeff Tweedy and his son Spencer, who plays the drums, recently released a 20 song album, Sukierae. I just gave it a full listen last week. First reaction: much of it is awesome. I didn’t expect to enjoy it for the drumming, but I found myself extremely impressed with Spencer. Particularly World Away and Diamond Light Pt. 1:

Some of that is reminiscent of Bonham. Great rhythms. By about two thirds of the way through though, it seemed as though a handful of songs didn’t need to make the cut. They’re all good, but they simply reminded me of older Wilco or solo Tweedy, or even Mermaid Avenue without the Guthrie lyrics. And while I welcome new material, I’d enjoy the “whole album” experience a bit more if it were a bit more concise, focused only on what makes this new family collaboration different from Jeff’s prior work. That said, I definitely recommend checking the whole thing out.

Andrew Combs’ Rainy Day Song

I discovered Andrew Combs about a year and a half ago when he opened for Shovels and Rope at the Sinclair in Cambridge. He’s got a really nice country/folk/americana thing going on, and if you like that sort of sound, I recommend checking out his album Worried Man on Spotify, and his earlier EP Tennessee Time.

I recently saw him a second time at Atwood’s Tavern in Cambridge, and he opened the set with a folk song off his upcoming second album which brought the noisy bar room to silence. I just found a recording of it, and thought I’d share. Doesn’t quite compare to how it sounded live, but beautiful nonetheless:

Some Nice Americana: Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis

Our YearI just discovered and really enjoyed Our Year by Austin-based Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis. The album came out late last month, and has a nice mix of Texas country and folk. The pace varies a good amount as well, with some upbeat tunes and plenty of mellow ones. And there’s some great harmonica and pedal steel work. The whole album’s on Spotify.

Here’s a blurb from All Music: “On their sophomore duet outing, this husband and wife deliver a soulful take on traditional (not retro) country music”

And here are a few tracks:

1969 Reviews of Led Zeppelin

Magazine writers in the 1960’s probably didn’t think their content would be easily accessible, searchable in fact,  more than 40 years later. The internet is an amazing thing. My good friend Ed recently sent along a fairly negative 1969 review of Led Zeppelin I that was written by John Mendelsohn and published in Rolling Stone magazine:

“The latest of the British blues groups so conceived offers little that its twin, the Jeff Beck Group, didn’t say as well or better three months ago, and the excesses of the Beck group’s Truth album (most notably its self-indulgence and restrictedness), are fully in evidence on Led Zeppelin’s debut album.

Jimmy Page, around whom the Zeppelin revolves, is, admittedly, an extraordinarily proficient blues guitarist and explorer of his instrument’s electronic capabilities. Unfortunately, he is also a very limited producer and a writer of weak, unimaginative songs, and the Zeppelin album suffers from his having both produced it and written most of it (alone or in combination with his accomplices in the group).”

With hindsight, it’s mildly amusing given Zeppelin’s subsequent recognition and fame, but not all that surprising — innovative music takes some time to catch. And there are plenty of stories of early critics predicting Zeppelin’s downfall (tangentially related — this Radiolab episode has a good historical anecdote about an audience rioting after hearing some innovative classical music).

But out of curiosity, I immediately searched to see if John had reviewed Led Zeppelin II, which in fact he had. Eight months later here’s what he had to say about the album and Jimmy Page:

“Hey, man, I take it all back! This is one fucking heavyweight of the album! OK — I’ll concede that until you’ve listened to the album eight hundred times, as I have, it seems as if it’s just one especially heavy song extended over the space of two whole sides. But, hey! you’ve got to admit that the Zeppelin has their distinctive and enchanting formula down stone-cold, man. Like you get the impression they could do it in their sleep.

And who can deny that Jimmy Page is the absolute number-one heaviest white blues guitarist between 5’4″ and 5’8″ in the world?? Shit, man, on this album he further demonstrates that he could absolutely fucking shut down any whitebluesman alive, and with one fucking hand tied behind his back too.”

The review goes on, and if anything, becomes even more over the top. Looks like he came around.

The Broken Spoke

I spent the Thanksgiving break with my girlfriend’s family in Austin, and finally made it out to The Broken Spoke, a country venue known for some of the best honky tonk in the area. We had tried to go almost a year ago, after it was recommended to me by a friend who lived in Austin for a number of years, only to find out it was closed the day after Christmas. We went back this time and made it in. It’s a pretty interesting place, that from my limited experience, at least appears to capture the Austin country scene well.

Inside there are a number of tables surrounding a large dance floor, with a stage in the far back. On stage was Gary P. Nunn, an apparently well known Texas country musician, who started out in the 60’s and was big through the 80’s. He played with a simple band — just a drummer, an upwright bassist, and a pedal steel guitar player — and Gary sang and played the guitar. I wasn’t blown away. They were good, but I’ve enjoyed even some of the countryesque bands at Toad, or even some of the music we saw at White Horse in Austin a year ago, much more. But it was fun, and the atmosphere was unique.

The best part was the people watching. The crowd varied from young people in their 20’s to some who seemed as though they’d been coming for 40+ years. Many on the dance floor killed it — showing off some impressive swing on other something-step dance skills that I struggled to fake. I definitely recommend checking it out, although if I were to go back, I’d make sure to look up the band in advance.

Here’s the place from the outside:


And here’s my girlfriend and her brother showing off their moves:


Andrew Combs

Last weekend I went to see Shovels & Rope at the Sinclair in Cambridge. A few things to quickly note.

1. I can’t really describe Shovels & Rope well, but if you haven’t heard of them, check them out. A recent NYT article actually gets it pretty close: “They like to say they are “making as much noise as they can” with two old guitars, a kick drum, snare, harmonica, tambourine and occasional keyboard. I dare to match them with the couple that set the standard for country duets, Johnny Cash and June Carter. Both couples share Southern roots and that music-from-the-back porch country sound.” They were great live too, although they didn’t quite meet my (very high) expectations.

2. I liked the Sinclair a lot. It’s a new music venue right behind Harvard Square. They seem to have a good line-up of artists coming through, the sound is great, and the layout’s well-done. A nice addition to Cambridge.

3. The opening artist, Andrew Combs, completely blew me away. And I almost skipped his set. He’s a Tennessee-based guitar player and singer, and performed an acoustic set with just a pedal steel player backing him up. Reminded me a bit of Ryan Adams, but he’s definitely got his own thing going on. Here are a clip I shot.  The quality’s not great, and it doesn’t do his set justice, but it’s something:

Thanks to Ed and Cress for the tickets.

Glenn Yoder & The Western States

I had a great time last night at the CD release party for Glenn Yoder & The Western States at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge. They put on a great all-around performance, and Jeff Katz, the guitar player and a friend of mine from BU, tore it up on his tele. Here’s a clip I shot:

Check out their CD, Javelina, here:

Top Songs From 2012

Inspired by a friend’s post of his favorite 2012 songs, I thought I’d put my own list together. My favorites from this past year definitely span a wide range of genres – I can’t quite pin down whether my tastes moved in any particular direction. I wouldn’t say it was even close to the best year for music in recent memory, but there were definitely plenty of releases worth a listen.

Here’s a link to listen to a playlist with my top songs in Spotify.

And here’s my list with Spotify links, in no particular order:

1. Zeus – Are You Gonna Waste My Time

2. Andrew Bird – Orpheo Looks Back

3. Alabama Shakes – Be Mine

4. Hot Chip – Motion Sickness

5. Japandroids – The Night of Wine And Roses

6. Muse – Madness

7. Dirty Ghosts – Pretty Face

8. Miniature Tigers – Afternoons With David Hockney

9. Metric – Speed the Collaspe

10. Mumford & Sons – Whispers in the Dark

11. The Goat Rodeo Sessions – Quarter Chicken Dark

12. Neil Young – Driftin’ Back

And here’s a shameless personal plug — my favorite song off the EP I played guitar on with a great group of musicians as part of Vanessa Kafka & The Sunday Spins. The EP’s called Bend When the Sun Moves, and the song is Even Gray Skies Can Be Beautiful. It was just released earlier this month.

Happy new year.