Titus Andronicus!

Once in a while, a song comes along, lifts me up by the collar and slams me up against the wall. I had one of those moments with “A More Perfect Union”, the opener on the The Monitor, the latest record by New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus. The album/song start with a spoken word excerpt from an 1838 speech given by Abraham Lincoln – and when the guitars & drums crash in powerfully after the words “If destruction be our lot, we ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we will live forever, or die by suicide”, it’s off to the races.

The band clearly comes from the same school of raw, raucous power as the Clash, Bruce Springsteen, the Pogues, and the like. And singer Patrick Stickles has an irreverent, raging vocal delivery that reminds me of Conor Oberst – and I like Conor a lot when he’s pissed off.

The official video of “A More Perfect Union” skips the opening Lincoln intro, which is a shame, because it’s an integral piece of kicking the song into overdrive – from zero to sixty in a second. But you’ll get the vibe.

The Monitor comes highly recommended. Buy it for $5 on Amazon. I did. If you’re with me here in Arizona, I’ll see you April 18th for their show at the Rhythm Room.

[Ick’s Pick] Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine

I discovered the treasure trove that is the music of John Prine back in the early 90’s, during my last year of college. The Missing Years about knocked me on my butt, with its witty wordplay, catchy cadences, and gorgeous melodies. The album led me directly to Great Days: The John Prine Anthology, which gave me a crash course in this American treasure, the postman turned folk singer from Maywood, Illinois.

In reading the liner notes of the new tribute album, Broken Hearts &Dirty Windows – Songs of John Prine, I found out that Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) had the same experience – growing up in Wisconsin and happening across the Anthology; getting to know John Prine through classics like “Sam Stone”, “Paradise”, “That’s The Way That The World Goes Round”, and “Hello In There.”

With the release of this fantastic new tribute album, it’s clear that Prine has had a similar impact on a host of younger artists – and it’s interesting that the artists on this record rank among some of my current favorites: Conor Oberst, My Morning Jacket, Old Crow Medicine Show, Deer Tick, Drive-By Truckers… it makes sense now: we’re all rooted in Prine’s music, and as they’ve matured and made music of their own, its these same roots that have pulled me into their music.

The common theme is humble, genuine, gritty, homegrown American music.

The standouts for me on this record include Deer Tick’s “Unwed Fathers”, featuring the sandpaper vocals of John McCauley and the sweet accompaniment of Liz Isenberg; Josh Ritter does “Mexican Home” from 1973’s Sweet Revenge. Ritter takes Prine’s uptempo version. and slows it way down – exposing the song’s melancholy core:

“My father died on the porch outside
On an August afternoon
I sipped bourbon and cried
With a friend by the light of the moon
So its hurry! hurry! Step right up
It’s a matter of life or death
The sun is going down
And the moon is just holding its breath.

Drive-By Truckers do their thing, taking The Missing Year‘s “Daddy’s Little Pumpkin” and shifting it into overdrive; My Morning Jacket also do a Missing Years tune, “All The Best”, which Jim James and Prine recently performed on Letterman (worth a look); the Avett Brothers pick what I think is the perfect song for them: “Spanish Pipedream”; and Old Crow Medicine Show take the beautiful “Angel from Montgomery” and add their old timey flavor to it.

The big surprise for me was the album’s finale – “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian” as performed by Those Darlins, a female trio from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. First off, it’s one of Prine’s most hilarious songs, the innuendos flying left & right. And then you add a sexy rhythm, an island feel, and the sensual and sassy singing of Those Darlins. Play this at a BBQ this summer, it’ll be a guaranteed hit. It’s such a fun ride, and a fitting finale to what amounts to a great tribute to good ol’ John Prine.

With eyes that burn so bright they make me pure

I’ve had a nice 3 day weekend: a hike near Canyon Lake in the Superstition Wilderness, an outing to the zoo with the family, BBQ and wine with the neighbors… but as all good things come to an end, it’s time to face the work week ahead (albeit a  shortened one).

Tonight, the music of Conor Oberst makes a damn fine accompaniment.

I didn’t hear about Bright Eyes until Conor released the great album I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning in 2005 and grabbed my attention. So I didn’t hear this great track until this past summer while I was in Telluride. It’s from their second album, Letting Off The Happiness, released in 1998.

Bright Eyes – June On The West Coast (mp3)

Conor’s most recent project and release is Outer South, by Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band. This is one of my favorites. You can see I like the more introspective tunes…which Conor’s music spilleth over with…

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band – I Got The Reason (mp3)

Visit ConorOberst.com.

Bolero!: Conor Oberst at the Marquee Theater in Tempe

Thanks to a last minute ticket offer (gotta love Twitter), I headed out to see Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band last night at the Marquee Theater in Tempe. They played the ACL Festival last September, but I missed ’em there. I’ve been an admirer of Conor’s since I heard the Bright Eyes album ‘I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning‘. Brilliant record. Conor’s self-titled solo debut last year is also top notch, “Sausalito” being my favorite.

With the venue located in the heart of Arizona State University, the college set was out in full force. I was one of the old folks in the crowd, and I’m only 38. Props to the older 50 something who was accompanying his teenage daughter. I’ll be doing the same down the road. I love seeing that.

Conor, his new wide-brimmed black bolero hat, and the band strolled out at around 9:20pm, and launched into a track called “Spoiled” from the MVB’s forthcoming album, ‘Outer South‘. The 90 minutes of music focused exclusively on music from that album, and from Conor’s record.

I was back by the soundboard, and my only complaint of the evening was the occasional muddiness in the mix in some of the louder full band songs – especially “Sausalito”. An exception though was a tune that the lead guitarist sang about a half hour into the show. It was a short, sweet blast of rock n roll – sort of like when Keith Richards steps to the mic for one of his uptempo tunes. I was taken aback. I’ll be keeping an eye out for this tune on the new record. I tried to get some lyrics down, but pretty much failed. All I got was “I still get…” and “with you”. That helps, huh?

What surprised me too was hearing the Conor songs live, and the way it breathed new life into them. “Eagle on a Pole” was explosive and spirited; “Get Well Cards” and “Moab” were also great.

The true magic for me though came when things slowed down, namely in the opening and closing songs of the encore. The first song of the encore was just Conor and his acoustic, singing “White Shoes” (from the new MVB album). It was just gorgeous, centered around the chorus: “Anything you wanna do. Lover, anything you wanna do.” Intimate and intense. You can hear it right here.

The closer of the evening was “Milk Thistle”, which also closes Conor’s record. Apparently I hadn’t taken the time to focus on this song when listening to the album, because the lyrics blew me away…

I’m not scared of nothing / I’ll go pound for pound
I keep death on my mind / Like a heavy crown
If I go to heaven / I’ll be bored as hell
Like a little baby / At the bottom of a well


And I’m not pretending / That it’s all okay
Just let me have my coffee / Before you take away the day

I was really impressed by Oberst and the band. Conor couldn’t have been more genuine and personable in his interaction with the 700 or so people in the crowd. He seemed to be in a great mood, and the crowd fed off that, enjoying every song, even the new unfamiliar ones.

Except for those few who felt like chatting away during “White Shoes”. I am not fond of people like you.

Conor Oberst Milk Thistle (mp3) – from Conor Oberst


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