Delta Spirit on Austin City Limits / “Vivian”

Poster by Justin Helton

Austin City Limits is amazing week in and week out as it is, but when one of my favorites hits the stage for the 30 minute showcase, it always seems to capture something special that gives me a brand new appreciation for the music and the artists I admire (one previous example: John Prine’s 2006 appearance when he introduced me to Blaze Foley’s “Clay Pigeons.”

This weekend’s premier episode with Delta Spirit and Bob Mould brought that same type of moment for me when Matt Vasquez (of Delta Spirit) introduced and sang the song “Vivian.” Matt wrote the song about his grandparents Vivian and Jerry. It’s written from Jerry’s perspective after he’s passed away. He’s up in Heaven and plaintively lamenting the loneliness of it without Vivian. With each chorus, he’s moving closer and closer to her. He moves from “above the clouds” to “below the clouds” to “above your house” and finally, to “beside your bed.” It’s such a moving and heartfelt declaration of love – “not separate even in death.”

I’ve heard and enjoyed the song many times on DS’s History From Below, but seeing it introduced and performed this way, with Matt’s parents in the ACL audience, in the town that he grew up.. well, it hits me in that sensitive sweet spot (where music so often does).

Some moments propel me to this chair & keyboard to share with like-minded music-loving folks. This is one of those moments.

ACL is streaming the full episode right now. The intro of “Vivian” starts at 39:00 (and it goes without saying you should watch the entire episode). Here’s the studio version, followed by the ACL episode.

Delta SpiritVivian (mp3) – from History From Below

Watch Bob Mould / Delta Spirit on PBS. See more from Austin City Limits.

Parliament’s 1970 Debut, ‘Osmium’

osmiumI’m not sure if it was seeing old school funk n’ R&B masters Cameo on Friday night that launched me into the frame of mind (probably is), but I’m knee deep into that sound, and in the middle of a Parliament and Funkadelic listen-a-thon the last couple of days. Particularly, I’m hooked in to the early stuff for both of George Clinton’s sister acts. The debuts for both bands came the year I was born: 1970.

I’ve been really digging on Osmium, the debut from Parliament. What a wild, psychedelic, completely unexpected ride where you have no clue what strange and funky sounds are lurking around the next corner. The album has a lot more to do with the guitar-oriented psychedelic soul sound of Funkadelic than the 70’s Parliament funk / Bernie Worrell synth sound they came to be known for (with songs like “P. Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)”, “Flashlight”, “Up For The Down Stroke”, etc.).

Indeed, it’s the guitar work of Eddie Hazel and Tawl Ross that shines strongest on Osmium – amid the cacophony of unique sounds. There’s soul, Hendrix-inspired rock psychedelia, gospel flavors, and hell, even a country-inspired tune called “Little Ole Country Boy”, which was written by British-born Ruth Copeland. She was married to Motown producer Jeffrey Bowen. When Bowen started producing for the upstart Invictus Label, and Parliament became one of its first signings, Ruth Copeland ended up co-producing the Osmium album with George Clinton, and wrote a couple of the tracks (“The Silent Boatman” being the other).

“Little Ole Country Boy” has a very infectious chorus that will have you singing along after repeating 3-4 times, which you will do because it’s so – out there… I mean, this is Parliament? Awesome!

Oh, and De La Soul fans, you’ll recognize this yodel in “Potholes In My Lawn” from their debut, 3 Feet High & Rising.

Buy Osmium

The Power and Mystique Of Minneapolis


On the fourth song into their set in the Main Room at First Avenue last night, Tom Chapman, lead singer of Battle, East Sussex’s Keane, realized he was going to have a personally transformative evening. It was during the devastating and tender track from their 2004 debut, Hopes and Fears, entitled “We Might As Well Be Strangers.” I saw him look out into the audience during the peak of the song and his face visibly changed.

The mystique that is the club First Avenue wrote its fire in the sky long ago, even before Purple Rain. It used to be a cool place to hang out even when it was a Greyhound Bus Station back in the 1930s, with its art deco vibe, air conditioning and floor checked terrazzo (which is still there today and serves as foundation of the pit). In 1970, the club opened with a two set performance by Joe Cocker and his Mad Dog Englishmen. Fitting, really, that a Brit Rocker should christen what was to become the musical mecca of the Midwest.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOver the years and as seen by the many stars painted on the exterior of the building, god-like geniuses from rock mythology have played the Main Room and the glorified closet known as 7th Street Entry, located in the same building. Clearly, the weight of this history overwhelmed Chapman, keyboard player Tim Rice Oxley, drummer Richard Hughes and bass player Jesse Quin. But they didn’t fail under the weight of it all. Instead, they rose to the occasion played a 21 song set that heated up the hearts of the 1500 strong audience in from the below-zero temperatures outside.

After each song, I turned to my show companion, Todd (an Essex man, born and bred for musical mythology just like me) and found that his jaw was nearer to the floor than mine. We were bearing witness to yet another legendary performance at First Avenue being born. It was a shovel to the head stunning show with Chapman’s choir boy voice at the center of it all. Keane prides itself on being flawless during performances and last night was no exception. They were greatly aided by the addition of a new sound system (and a wider pit area…so long, spirally staircase with forbidden step!) and the magnificent crowd that became immediately connected to the band early in the evening.


It was this synergy that created something quite magical last night and the emotion was evident on Tom’s face, growing stronger with each song. The set list  was a nice collection of their now 10 year history. Highlights for me were “My Shadow,” “She Has No Time,” and, of course, “Bedshaped,” one of the top ten most romantic songs of all time. Their new album, Strangeland, is a return to the feel of their debut and contains many fantastic songs, the title track being one of my favorites. The first cut on the record, “You Are Young,” is a wonderful testament from parent to child and has now become the show opener. I recommend picking up the deluxe edition as it has four extra tracks.

With each song, I gazed around and looked at the denizens of the Ave and saw it all wash over and comfort them. Lovers snuggled, arms were raised, several thousand photos were taken and every word was sung by a chorus. Before the traditional show closer, “Crystal Ball,” Tom let his feelings on the evening be known. He was humbled by the connection that was made between band, venue and audience. He struggled to find the words to describe the nature of the relationship between music and Minneapolis and it was in this moment that I realized how deeply honest he was being.

Words don’t come easily when the power of the heart and soul drives the light that is within all of us.

Here are the rest of Keane’s tour dates in the United States. Here is the link to my photos of the evening.

Recap: Cameo at the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix

Everyone’s allowed a pure and simple nostalgia trip from time to time, right? For me tonight, it was the funk/soul/R&B of Cameo that brought me back to simpler days. Crazy to think that the last time I saw Cameo in concert, Ronald Reagan was president and I was a junior in high school.


After discovering Prince in ’84, I threw myself into all the funky sounds I could get my hands on. Cameo was a huge part of that mid-80’s funk explosion in my life. Sitting in my room, cranking up the volume on “Flirt”, “I Just Want To Be”, “Candy”… and taping all the videos on BET’s Video Soul and New York Hot Tracks – “Attack Me With Your Love”, Single Life”, and of course “Word Up.”

So when I saw that Cameo was stopping through Phoenix in this year 2013, I jumped all over it.

The wife and I headed down to the Celebrity Theater, an old school theater-in-the-round room in Phoenix (Bruce Springsteen played there in 1974). It was around 9:30 when the house lights went down and out walked the familiar faces of Tomi Jenkins, Charlie Singleton (covered in a space-age silver Mardi-Gras mask), and of course the one and only Larry Blackmon.

Larry’s put on a few pounds, shall we say, and can’t jump around with his bandmates like he used to, but the big ol’ red codpiece was still on display, and he was still busting out his signature moves… The rest of the band were fit as could be. They looked great. They busted out all the familiar moves, shaking it to “Candy”, “Single Life”, “Attack Me With Your Love”… slowing it down for “Why Have I Lost You” and “Sparkle”… and laying down the old school funk with “Flirt” and “Keep It Hot.”

The crowd participation during “Candy” was a crowd favorite – with the ladies and the fellas trading off the line “It’s like Candy” one after another. Overall, the crowd was full of energy, and showed some serious love to the veterans of Cameo, now in their 34th year as a band.

It wasn’t a long show – only 12 songs with no encore, lasting about 70-75 minutes. But we didn’t mind. Sure, we all wanted more, but we were happy just to forget about the day to day for part of a Friday night; to listen to the sounds that bring back those good memories, and be just fine with letting the nostalgia wash over for a little while. Music, sweet music…

~~~ Set List ~~~ 

January 18, 2013
Celebrity Theater
Phoenix, AZ

She’s Strange
Single Life
Attack Me With Your Love
I’ve Got Your Image
Why Have I Lost You
Hangin Downtown
I Just Want To Be
Keep It Hot
Word Up

Here’s a little bit of “Flirt” from the show…

The Return of the Thin White Duke (finally!)

It’s been ten years since David Bowie has released any new music and most of us were beginning to think that he packed it in. He just turned 66 so no one would blame him, right? Yet here is…back with a corker of a new track called “Where are We Now?” It’s sort of a cross between Young Americans mellow Bowie and the Berlin Era. The new album, entitled The Next Day will be out March 11th in the UK and March 12th in the USA.

Here’s the new single:

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Christopher Owens’ new album, Lysandre (and a giveaway)

“Don’t try to get me down. Don’t try to harsh my mellow, man!”

Because after multiple listens over the last 24 hours, the short & sweet Lysandre album, brand new from former Girls frontman Christopher Owens, is doing the trick. And yes, Owens does indeed use the “harsh my mellow” line in “Here We Go Again.”

So for anyone who doesn’t know, I am enamored with the Girls catalog – the two albums and one EP. Christopher dissolved the band in mid 2012 to move on to some solo work. The first fruits of his solo labors is the concept album Lysandre, which has been kicking around in his head since the first Girls tour in 2008. For on that tour, while in France, he met a fair French maiden named Lysandre, and they fell hard for each other. Love ensued, but so did separation, as Chris returned to his home in San Francisco. Most of us know how difficult it is to maintain a long distance relationship, and theirs was no different than most of us – it fell apart.

Lysandre tells that story from A to Z in a sweet, sad, fun, beautiful little 28 minute package. My one and only complaint is the abbreviated EP-like length. It leaves me thirsting for more.

Tops for me so far is “New York City”, which is catchy as hell with that cool neo-Brian Wilson vibe, and juxtaposes tales of his pre-band days in Texas (dime bags, guns & knives, making a quick hundred bucks in the back of a pickup truck) with playing to a crowd for the first time in New York City: “But look at us in New York City, everybody’s listening to me.” Oh, and Saxophone warning! There is Saxophone on this track, which some may find over the top or cheesy at parts. I like Chris’s attitude about it though – put it in there, and make it loud! This, folks, is a fun song…

Another highlight is “Love Is In The Ear Of The Listener,”  an endearing song about self doubt, the naysayers and critics, and an affirmation that “beauty’s in the eye of the beholder, love is in the ear of the listener.”

All in all, I admire the way this album is put together. As I’ve prattled on about before, any artist who is out there creating something fresh and unpredictable every time out has my respect. It’s one story told over 28 minutes. “Lysandre’s theme” / interlude makes appearances throughout, and ties the songs together. It never leaves the key of A. There’s saxes. There’s Renn-faire flutes. There’s bang-bang beach rock n roll… It’s a half hour journey through California, NYC and France – an enjoyable one that I look forward to riding along to in the months and years to come.

MP3 Download Giveaway – I bought a vinyl copy of Lysandre, and they included a couple of extra download codes for the digital album in MP3 format. If you’re interested in getting a hold of the digital album, leave a comment below. I’ll pick a couple of people in a few days (or – if there’s only two of you, lucky you!).

If you’re bent on grabbing that record here and now (which I heartily recommend), here are some links for you:

Buy Lysandre On: Fat Possum Records | Amazon

Song for Zula, new from Phosphorescent

“Some songs just feel like home.”

Commenters on YouTube (and the internet in general) can be a wicked, often ignorable bunch – but in this case, Youtube user RMBRKFLD is spot on. Phosphorescent’s brand new single, “Song For Zula” latches on instantly with its entrancing, dreamy rhythm and Matthew Houck’s fragile vocals.

The song’s first verse lets you know immediately where Matthew’s going, and it isn’t that bright, sunny nirvana called Love Land. Instead, he takes us into the deep, dark depths, where love will, well, tear you apart. Houck references “Ring of Fire” in the very first line, and goes on to detail his despair:

Some say love is a burning thing
That it makes a fiery ring
Oh but I know love as a fading beam
Just as fickle as a feather in a stream
See, honey, I saw love. You see, it came to me
It put its face up to my face so I could see
Yeah then I saw love disfigure me
Into something I am not recognizing

The song is shattering and beautiful, and exactly what I wanted to hear from Matthew/Phosphorescent after falling hard for their 2010 album, Here’s to Taking It Easy.

The new album is called ‘Muchacho‘, and is due out March 19th. The title is no doubt inspired by his stay in Tulum, Mexico (on the Yucatan Peninsula), where he kicked up his feet in a hut on the beach and penned the album’s songs (apparently in one week’s time).  The jury’s out on the source of the album cover photo, but it very well could have Mexican origins, and appears, quite frankly, like a recipe for a damn good time!

You can pre-order Muchacho on Amazon.

Muchacho Track Listing:

1. Sun, Arise! (An Invocation, An Introduction)
2. Song for Zula
3. Ride On/Right On
4. Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master)
5. A Charm/ A Blade
6. Muchacho’s Tune
7. A New Anhedonia
8. The Quotidian Beasts
9. Down to Go
10. Sun’s Arising (A Koan, An Exit)

Cock’d Gunns and Nick Rose’s “Wintersong”

A simultaneous tip of the hat, high five and hearty kudos to whoever’s responsible for bringing the hilarious Canadian “rockumentary” Cock’d Gunns to the Fuse music channel. First of all,  it’s  one of the funniest music spoof/comedies I’ve ever seen (seriously, it’s right up there with Flight of the Conchords and Spinal Tap in my opinion).


I’ve already watched all 13 episodes detailing the adventures of Reggie Van Gunn (guitar), Dick Van Gunn (bass), Barry Cicarelli (drums) and Keith Horvak (manager) in their quest for a record deal, riches and fame. Unfortunately, the 13 episodes (shot in 2008-2009) are all that currently exist.  One thing is clear – Cock’d Gunns must return for more seasons. So Fuse, thanks for getting the ball rolling, and for introducing me to these insanely funny (and delightfully vulgar) people. I’ve fallen hard for these north of the border misfits.

Morgan Waters, the comedic genius who plays Reggie, is currently part of Toronto pop/rock band Sweet Thing. His bandmate is Nick Rose, who I discovered on Episode 8 as background music during the final scene (Reggie and Becky walking into the motel room together for a night of _?_. You’ll need to watch it…).

With the help of Shazam, I discovered Nick’s tune, “Wintersong” –  a melancholy, yearning vibe which reminds me of those slower Ryan Adams tunes I love so much. Just a beautifully crafted song. His entire album, Oxbow Lake, is an equally impressive 38 minutes of rootsy folk.

I’ve always got my ears to the ground, listening for that next great song. It can be found anywhere, even in a show like this – amongst the Cock’d Gunns classics like “Piss Helmet” and “Party Eyes.”

Great show. Great album. Listen & watch.

Nick RoseWintersong (mp3)

OXBOW LAKE: On Amazon | Rdio | Spotify

Here, I’ll get you started:

Cock’d Gunns: Episode 1, Part 1

Cock’d Gunns: Episode 1, Part 2

On Discovering Butch Walker

Regardless of how tuned in you think you are to the popular music scene, there’s always something good slipping under the radar. One of the most recent examples for me is Butch Walker. The Georgia-born musician and producer has been making waves since his early hair metal days with Southgang. He moved on to the Marvelous 3 in the late 90’s, and, and over the last decade, he’s found success as a pop/rock solo artist and producer (Pink, Weezer, Fall Out Boy).

Butch Walker and Daryl Hall
Butch Walker & Daryl Hall (photo: Mark Maglio)

I had heard of Butch, but didn’t get a good quality introduction until I watched his appearance on the always great Live from Daryl’s House series. Musically, it was the performance of “Sweethearts” that reeled me in. But it’s also impossible not to appreciate the funny, genuine person he is (Daryl’s House seems to bring that out in its guests).

That brought me to The Spade album, his 2011 release by Butch Walker and the Black Widows – a wonderful collection of catchy hooks, fantastic harmonies and simply fun songs. The mid-album trio of “Sweethearts”, “Day Drunk”, and “Synthesizers” is my highlight.

Little did I also know that a great video for “Synthesizers” was released a year ago, featuring Matthew McConaughey reprising his role as his Dazed & Confused character Wooderson, a role that my colleague Mark has proclaimed his appreciation for.

The “Synthesizers” chorus has some advice that ties in well to the new year.

For once, once in your life
Won’t you do what feels right
Instead of waiting for the next big compromise
Stop running your mouth
Get out of the house
Get yourself downtown
And shake it all out tonight.

Add this song to your exercise playlist and tell me you don’t get a charge out of it.

Here’s the video, followed by the first segment from the Live From Daryl’s House episode with Butch, which I highly recommend taking the time to watch.

Watch the whole episode.

2013 McDowell Mountain Music Festival brings the Roots, the Shins, and lots more to Downtown Phoenix

2013 MMMF logoArizona’s own McDowell Mountain Music Festival marks its 10 year anniversary in just a couple of months (March 22-24) with a stellar lineup – arguably the strongest lineup in its decade long run.

I’ve made it very clear over the years that MMMF is hands-down my favorite music event in old AZ. I’ve attended every one of them since 2007, when I watched in awe as Aaron Neville and his brothers belted out “Tell It Like It Is.”

From its earlier years at Scottsdale’s spacious Westworld complex (2004-2009) to the intimate sod-laid parking lot outside of the (now defunct) Compound Grill in north Phoenix/Scottsdale (2010-2012), the all-for-charity festival has brought in the likes of Los Lobos, Gov’t Mule, the Flaming Lips, Matisyahu, Blues Traveler, Galactic, and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros – as well as a regular rotation of local artists like What Laura Says, Tramps & Thieves, and Endoplasmic.

2013 brings another new venue for MMMF – Margaret T. Hance Park in downtown Phoenix (aka “Deck Park” because of it’s locale over the Interstate 10 tunnel). It’s clearly a shift for the festival, moving from the far outskirts of the Phoenix metro area to smack dab in the middle of an urban center. This won’t be welcome news to those that enjoyed camping out under the stars during its first several years at Westworld, and were hoping for a return there. But any hesitation to attend should be squashed with this year’s announced lineup…

The Shins
The Roots
Umphrey’s McGee
Les Claypool’s Due de Twang
Deer Tick
Heartless Bastards
Dr. Dog
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros
Yonder Mountain String Band
and more…

Me? I’m most excited to catch the Shins for the first time, to see the Roots a second time, and to see Rhode Island’s crazy bastards, Deer Tick, for a fifth time. The afterhours Deer Tick party on Saturday at the nearby Crescent Ballroom should be a wild time too.

I’m also really looking forward to Sunday’s closer, Umphrey’s McGee – a prog-rock/jamband that has been making big waves in the jam scene for years.

There’s a little something for everyone, isn’t there? Sunday’s lineup is a jamband fan’s wet dream. Saturday is gritty and soulful. Friday leans to the Indie side. All in all, a killer lineup if you ask me.

So tickets just went on sale January 1st. 3-day passes are going for $120.

See you there on Friday, March 22nd, yeah?

Here’s the full lineup…

FRIDAY, MARCH 22, 2013

6:00 Balkan Beat Box
7:30 Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes
9:30 The Shins

11:30  ORGONE


12:00 LOCAL
1:00 LOCAL
3:00 Heartless Bastards
5:00 Deer Tick
7:00  Iration
9:00   The Roots

11:30   Deer Tick

SUNDAY, MARCH 24, 2013:

11:30 LOCAL
12:30 JGB BAND
2:00 Dr. Dog
4:00 Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang
6:00 Yonder Mountain String Band
8:00 Umphrey’s McGee


Official Site for the McDowell Mountain Music Festival