I still have a bad taste in my mouth from this week’s Radio Daze piece, so I’ve been doing my best to reverse the damage with – ya know – real music. And it gets no more genuine than Steve Earle. I finally dug out this CD a couple of months ago after a few years of accidental hibernation. In 1998, Steve joined forces with bluegrass icons The Del McCoury Band to release The Mountain, a fantastic collection of bluegrass tunes that range from down & dirty songs about life in the mines, the Civil War and train ridin’, to the downright sublime.
The album wraps up with “Pilgrim”, which falls into the latter category: 5 minutes and 28 seconds of beauty, affirmation, and faith. The surrounding cast of characters in this tune ain’t too shabby either. Joining Steve on harmonies in this song: Emmylou Harris, Sam Bush, Kathy Chiavola, Tim O’Brien, Gillian Welch, and Dave Rawlings (who I just featured a couple weeks ago). On mandolin? Sam Bush. Dobro? Jerry Douglas.
Busy studio in Nashville that day. Anyhow, this is just a work of beauty. Not to mention the whole album is tremendous. So here…
Glen Phillips’ brand of Southern California folk-rock has always flirted on the edge of its bluegrass and country and western roots. In the years since Toad the Wet Sprocket closed up shop, his songwriting has danced closer and closer to those roots, and with 2000’s Mutual Admiration Society – pairing Phillips with members of Nickel Creek – it seemed to come to the forefront. Taking that collaborative spirit to the next level, Works Progress Administration consists of Phillips and his MAS cohorts Sean and Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek, Fiction Family) with Luke Bulla (Jerry Douglas Band, Lyle Lovett), Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Greg Leisz (Joni Mitchell, Bill Frisell), Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher (Elvis Costello and the Imposters).
The group’s debut record, WPA, is a slice of modern Americana with strong pop sensibilities. Recorded over the course of five days, the recording itself feels very alive and immediate thanks to the production of Jim Scott (Wilco, Tom Petty). There is a dynamic that showcases the collective beautifully and shines a light on the real star of the show: the 12 well crafted songs that make up the album.
”Always Have My Love” is easily one of the strongest tunes that Phillips has written in the past 10 years. It’s followed by the equally stellar “Good as Ever”, with Sara Watkins providing her angelic voice to bolster Glen’s vocal. Sara takes the lead for the gut-wrenching cover of Ray Davies’ “I Go to Sleep”. As strong as these songs are, “I Could End This Now” (mp3) is easily my favorite track of the bunch. It manages to take the bluegrass mélange and adds just a touch of soul resulting in a stormy mid-tempo ballad.
WPA is not without its faults. The rave-up of “Paralyzed” and the hoedown of “Wedding or a Wake” seem awkward by comparison to the rest of the material. The record’s lowest moments come at the plodding “Who’s Gonna Cry for You” and “Remember Well”. Despite these small missteps, this record is a must for fans of the group’s respective origins.
The music collective known as Works Progress Administration is heading out on tour to support their self-titled debut, which is to be released on September 15th.
At the core of Works Progress Administration (or WPA, for short) is the trio of ‘Founding Directors’Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket), Sean Watkins (Nickel Creek, Fiction Family) and Luke Bulla (Jerry Douglas Band, Lyle Lovett). In addition to the base is the group of ‘Executive Board Members’ consisting of Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek), Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Greg Leisz (Joni Mitchell, Bill Frizell), Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher (Elvis Costello and the Imposters). The collective explains the origin of their name…
Works Progress Administration takes its name from FDR’s 1939 New Deal initiative, which put millions to work making buildings, bridges, theater, art and music. The original WPA was rooted in the values of community and creativity, and helped to keep the fire of human dignity burning through the darkest years of the Great Imposters.
Eschewing the usual “supergroup” clichés, WPA appears to be a truly community driven project with collaboration at every level. Vocal duties are shared across the board with each core member contributing lead vocals. The lead-off track “Always Have My Love” is an catchy uptempo number featuring Phillips lead vocals and layers upon layers of fiddles and pedal steel that give the track a depth that can sometimes be lacking in modern Bluegrass / Alt-Country recordings.
You can download “Always Have My Love” at the groups official site for the price of an email address (link)
You can count Old Crow Medicine Show among those bands that I like more and more each time I hear them. They may have the “old timey” label affixed to them, but it’s only one facet. The guys play quintessential American music – folk, rock, bluegrass – and they have a hell of a lot of fun doing it.
On August 18th, OCMS will release their first live DVD, Live at the Orange Peel and Tennessee Theatre. I’ll soon have a copy to give away to one of you fine folks. In the meantime, see this excellent clip from the DVD. Talk about a loose band having a good time together. This is live music…
And get this, they’re launching the Big Surprise Tour on August 4th, along with The Felice Brothers, Justin Townes Earle, and the Dave Rawlings Machine (feat. Gillian Welch). Now that’s a traveling show. These are the dates so far. Hopefully they’ll creep their way west…
04 – Hampton Beach, NH @ Casino Ballroom
05 – Boston, MA @ House Of Blues
06 – New York, NY @ Beacon Theatre
07 – Philadelphia, PA @ Electric Factory
09 – Charlottesville, VA @ Charlottesville Pavilion
10 – Cary, NC @ Koka Booth Amphitheatre
12 – Louisville, KY @ Waterfront Park
13 – Nashville, TN @ Riverfront Park
14 – Knoxville, TN @ World’s Fair Park
You can also catch them later this month opening for the Dave Matthews Band along the Eastern seaboard.
What an amazing day. All of the majesty, symbolism, and History behind today’s inauguration of Barack Obama was nothing short of breathtaking. Thanks to ABCNews.com, I was able to catch the Oath and the speech at work. It’s a very large corporation, with layers of security, firewalls, web filtering software and the like, so I was happy to see that at least one web site’s streaming video of the ceremony was working.
I must say though, I wasn’t impressed that: a) there was no acknowledgment by the company, no communication to its thousands upon thousands of employees, that addressed the magnitude and significance of the day.; and b) there was absolutely no enthusiasm, chatter – no nothin’ – from my co-workers. Sure, the economy sucks, everyone has a job to do, work work work, focus focus focus, blah blah. But to go the entire day at work with no one (around me, at least) even opening their mouth to talk about this historic day? Well, I was a little disheartened and disappointed. I figured my enthusiasm for the day would be matched at least by some people. Maybe they were out there, but they sure weren’t verbal about it.
But let my rant end there, and let me sum up by saying how refreshing it will be to wake up tomorrow with President Obama at the helm. I’m proud of my country, and I have the utmost confidence that this President will be a great leader through these very tough times.
My main way of staying somewhat in tune with the jam band scene is by listening to Sirius-XM’s Jam_On channel. In rotation these days is this fun tune by Al & the Transamericans. They’re a supergroup of sorts: moe‘s Al Schnier is joined by members of Strangefolk, Okemah, and the Gordon Stone Trio. Okay, well supergroup to some, since I’ve only heard moe’s music.
The tune is a bluegrass / roots tune with a banjo leading the way. A fast paced knee-shaker. The crowning moments for me come during the guitar/banjo solo, where the band’s jam background sneaks in for some nice atmospheric playing.
I ask you, what’s not to like about a band with a member named Shinyribs Russell? It’s the Gourds out of Austin, Texas. You may have heard a funny bluegrass version of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” several years back (in the free Napster-era when we were all pinching ourselves – “holy shit, I can find any song I want!”). Many folks wrongly tagged the song as coming from Phish, but nope, it was the Gourds.
They released their latest, Noble Creatures, back in July. I just picked it up on eMusic after hearing “The Gyroscopic” on Sirius. Nice earthy feel. I recommend.
Deep in the Heaaart of Texaaas…. And so listening to an Austin band segues quite conveniently into my much anticipated maiden voyage to Austin for the Austin City Limits Music Festival. For those that can’t make it, you can check out a live webcast all weekend at the AT&T Blue Room. See y’all on the other side!!
Bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe’s “Uncle Pen” has been covered by a multitude of artists, from the Flying Burrito Brothers to Buck Owens. But had you any idea, dear reader, that fair-haired 70’s hottie Goldie Hawn sang it on her 1972 debut album? Goldie covered Dylan, Van Morrison, and Joni Mitchell on the album, among others. And she sweetly sung this Monroe classic…
Also taking on “Uncle Pen” quite frequently throughout their history was Phish. I haven’t really touched on my fondness for Phish over the brief 2.5 year history of Ickmusic, but they’ll always rank up there as a favorite. During my four years at Colorado College (88-92), they dropped in 3 times: an Earth Day ’90 afternoon show with Pike’s Peak in the background, and two killer Halloween shows in ’90 and ’91 (I was dressed as Josey Wales one year, and I completely forget the other – imagine that).
So I had a unique introduction to the boys from Phish. Over the 90’s I got to see them a bunch of times here in Arizona, Vegas, Alpine Valley, Wisc., and at Shepherds Bush Empire in London. So allow me to get a little – *sniff sniff* – nostalgic as I listen to Mike Gordon sing “Uncle Pen” as Trey plays the fiddle part with his guitar at breakneck speed.
Lost in the shuffle (to me) this week was the release of the Greencards‘ new album. Rank Carol Young’s voice right up there with my favorite female singers (e.g. Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin). Her singing is effortless and sweet to the ears.
The new album, Viridian, is a great mix of pure American music as performed by the trio – two Aussies and a Brit – who live in Austin, Texas. The trio lay it down with a mandolin, a fiddle, and an electric bass. Yeah, bluegrass instruments, but the Greencards can’t be nailed down as a bluegrass band. They veer into a rootsy territory too. Probably a lot to do with their hometown of Austin.
The album opener shows what the Greencards are all about. A laid back feel, great vocals / harmonies, and talented musicianship. Dig it!
In my recent explorations through the latest and the greatest bluegrass, it was only a matter of time until I found the Greencards. They’re a trio from Nashville. Well, they call Nashville home now. Before Nashville, they made their mark over the last few years in Austin, Texas. But originally, Kym Warner is from Adelaide, Australia; Carol Young is from Coffs Harbour, Australia; and Eamon McLoughlin is from South London, England. The music they play is billed as “high-energy acoustic music with deep roots in bluegrass.” Though they all grew up outside the U.S., they spent their time absorbing inherently American music. Before they knew it, they were on tour with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson!
While I wait for my new month of 40 eMusic downloads to pick up their latest album (for $9.99 – quite a deal! – click the eMusic thingie on my sidebar to find out more), I zipped on over to Archive.org, and found their performance from this year’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival. It’s a great sunny day accompaniment, music rich with great harmonies, amazing playing, and just a nice overall vibe.
For those of you who have not seen Archive.org before, check out the Greencards performance on this page. You can listen to the whole show streaming, and it has flac and mp3 downloads of the whole show.
Here are a couple I selected from the show. The first one demonstrates their “high energy”-ness. By the end, bass player Carol is yelling for oxygen (Telluride sits at 8,745 feet, folks). The second tune shows their affinity for slowing it down, and showcases Carol’s great vocals.
The Greencards, live at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival – June 16, 2006: