Friday, March 27, 2009

Paul Thorn @ The Barns of Wolf Trap

The beauty of satellite radio is that it exposes us to a wider variety of music that we normally an not hear using traditional media sources. One of the first artists we heard on XM Radio X Country was Paul Thorn and his "800 Pound Jesus". This was instant classic in our household and eventually led us to Hammer & Nail, his debut CD and Mission Temple Fireworks Stand. Two great CDs. When Thorn released A Long Way from Tupelo last year, we immediately purchased it, and talking about a CD I can relate to. See Thorn and I are nearly the same age, and this CD expresses his version of a mid life crisis. Its not the standard fare wishing he was younger, but instead a self examination of his life - is he doing the right thing - the Gospel according to Thorn: we are accountable about how we treat other people. The son of a Pentecostal preacher, Thorn knows how to preach; but its not the in your face your a sinner message. Instead its encouragement for listeners to reflect on their own lives. Just listen to "What Have You Done To Lift Somebody Up". But it also seems that Thorn has a bottle of bourbon in his hand at the same time; everyone has their vices.

Thorn is a great storyteller and coming from Mississippi his music reflects blues, gospel, country, R&B, and Sun records classic rock n' roll. Not surprising the later since he was raised in Tupelo - the birthplace of Elvis. He's traveled a long road to his current situation. He learned to play the guitar at an early age and started writing songs almost immediately. He has had some interesting professions before becoming a professional musician; he was a professional boxer for awhile and even boxed Roberto Duran on national television. But eventually some smart people appreciated his talent and he slowly rose through the record label hierarchy.

We normally think of Thorn playing solo with his acoustic guitar, but for this tour, Thorn is traveling with a full band. This gives him a more rock n' roll sound and when you utilize outstanding musicians, you can't go wrong. Where did he find Bill Hinds. Tonight at Wolf Trap - The Barns he started with the full band, opening with "Mood Ring" and then following with songs from A Long Way from Tupelo. The audience sung along with "I'm Still Here", which includes our favorite line: "Father Time is undefeated". They also played the title track, "What Have You Done To Lift Somebody Up" and "Stavin' For Your Kisses". Halfway though, the band left the stage and Thorn played solo for a few songs. Here is when you can really appreciate his unique gritty voice and song writing skills. While he was playing "800 Pound Jesus", the band slowly returned each member joining in when ready. It was a nice touch. After several more songs they finished with a tent revival encore. Thorn called for the audience to rush the stage and eventually hopped down to walk through the crowd. All the while the Paul Thorn Band jammed on. An appropriate ending for a great evening.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Crooked Still & Railroad Earth at The Birchmere

On Thursday April 19th we skipped March Madness and saw an awesome show at The Birchmere by two acts we have really come to admire: Crooked Still and Railroad Earth. This was also the first opportunity to see each act at an actual venue and not a festival.

Crooked Still opened the night and in our opinion, they could have been the headliner. The band is finishing a quick Spring Break Tour! as fiddler Brittany Haas gets a week off from Princeton and her thesis. Their set solidified in our minds that the lineup transformation that occurred last year has really improved their sound. The band was always solid with the nucleus of Aoife O'Donovan, banjo player Greg Liszt, and Corey DiMario on the bass cello. But the addition of Hass and cellist Tristan Clarridge has expanded their sound - and Haas is something else on the fiddle. We also enjoy watching Liszt; he grooves more like a bass player, and with his 4 fingered style can pick with the best. And Ms. O'Donovan was her bluesy, sultry self. Most of the songs were from their latest two CDs Still Crooked and Shaken by a Low Sound including Undone In Sorrow; Captain, Captain; Tell Her To Come Back Home; Oh, Agamemnon; Can't You Hear Me Callin'; and the ever popular Oxford Town. They also sprinkled in a couple new originals (Cold Mountains was one) as well as covers from Robert Johnson, Gillian Welch and Neil Young. This was a great show, given to a large, sold out audience; we can't wait for festival season.

As much as we liked Crooked Still, it was apparent throughout the night, who the crowd was there to see. When the doors opened, the first row of tables were immediately filled with Railroad Earth fans - many who regularly follow the band. A mini Grateful Dead fanbase. This tour is still in support of their latest CD, Amen Corner, which we think is their best effort since Bird in a House. And this performance they played some of our favorite songs from the album: Been Down This Road; Crossing The Gap; and Bringin' My Baby Back Home. But it was finally hearing them at an indoor venue that really opened my eyes - and ears. Each artist in the band is an amazing musician and this is easily overlooked at festivals when the music just spreads out. But indoors, close you eyes and within the bands overall sound you can hear each distinct contributer: John Skehan (mandolin), Tim Carbone (violin), Johnny Grubb (upright bass), Carey Harmon (drums), and Andy Goessling on everything (acoustic guitar, banjo, dobro, lap slide guitar, pennywhistle). The overall sound is orchestrated by frontman Todd Sheaffer whose unassuming style allows the other band members to take center stage. But make no mistake, Sheaffer is in control - here and there he will give a subtle indication and Skehan start improving on the madolin, or Carbone on the violin. All the while, he retains a constant grin showing that he enjoys his job and appreciates his band mates.

And so did the audience. We've never seen a more crowded show and almost immediately the concert hall was converted into a dance hall. These fans digg the music. And we dugg watching the musicians - which instrument would Goessling play next; how does Skehan play that on such a small neck; listen to that bass groove from Grubb. It was a constantly changing flow of sounds- awesome. Forget the festivals; we're following Railroad Earth to indoor venues. That's where we can really appreciate their music. Too bad popular culture doesn't; these guys should be the face of the Opry, not the latest non talented pretty face.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Music @ Wineries: Virginia & Maryland

While viewing winery events at WineCompass and MyJoog we have seen a literal explosion in the number of wineries that provide live music in Maryland and Virginia. In the past you could count on the summer concert series at Tarara Vineyard & Winery, Linganore Wine Cellars, and Chateau Morrisette as well as a few random shows at several wineries; but now there are good shows every weekend. Particularly in Loudoun County.

Notaviva Vineyards is the most appropriate place to start since the winery was specifically designed as a live music venue. The winery provides year round entertainment on weekends in this spring they are hosting several talented local and regional artists: Ken Wenzel, Luke Brindley, Todd Wright, David LaFleur, and Mary Ann Redmond. Neighboring Loudoun Valley Vineyards is also hosting Ken Wenzel a steady gig on Saturdays. And Bluemont Vineyards and Quattro Goomba’s Winery showcases local artists on weekends. Expect to see Lenny Burridge Saturdays at Bluemont and Dave Pepper and co-owner David Gaetani's band Swiftkick on Sundays or during special events at QCW.

For those living in other counties in northern Virginia, there are other options. In Fauquier County, Barrel Oak Winery provides live music on Friday nights and Saturdays which include our favorites Robbie Limon and farmDoubt. And nearby, Fox Meadow Vineyards hosts a few artists this spring. Along the 95 corridor, try Potomac Point Winery. Besides good wine and a incredible chateau, don't miss Dave Goodrich, who plays a few times this in the coming months.

In the rest of the state, Friday night Barren Ridge Vineyards hosts Jimmy O and look out in June when William Walter comes to the winery. You also don't want to miss Robyn Dobbyns at
Blue Ridge Vineyard or Eli Cook at Blue Mountain Brewery (yea, not a winery - but close to many).

Maryland does not provide as many options as Virginia, but there are still good opportunities particularly at Frederick Cellars. Their neighbors are trying to beat them down, but let's hope they fail. Otherwise where else could you sip award winning Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon while listening to Bo Weevil and Karyn Oliver. Besides their annual festivals, Linganore Wine Cellars opens its doors on Sunday's for local artists.

These are examples of regular scheduled music. There are even more opportunities to listen to live music at wineries when festivals are factored in. Plus you get to drink good wine.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fleetwood Mac

On Tuesday March 10th we attended the Verizon Center show for Fleetwood Mac's "Unleashed" tour - commemorating the 30th anniversary of the release of Rumours. Yes its been 30 years. One of my first concerts was a Fleetwood Mac show 30 years ago supporting the CD's release. We've seen the band numerous times since, we the last show probably 10 years ago. Since we had practically lost track of the band since, we were excited to see the new tour. Although we still feel the sticker shock when seeing the ticket prices. Also considering that the band is getting older, the Verizon Center is a lousy venue to hear music, and our knees were in our chins after sitting - we were beginning to second guess ourselves.

But as soon as they ripped into Monday Morning - all negative thoughts evaporated. The band can still play. The show seemed to revolve around Lindsey Buckingham and from previous shows I never really appreciated his talents. Youthful ignorance. But he can play - and he's relentless. I don't know how he had the energy. The same holds for Mick Fleetwood. All night he pounded away on drums as if he was n his 20s. John McVie was steady on bass - but since he never takes center stage - concert goers do not get a chance to appreciate his talents. Then there's Stevie Nicks. She looked great and just as youthful as when our friend Ron threw his shirt at her 20 years ago in Tallahassee. Her voice hasn't changed either, as sexy as ever. Her version of Landslide was great.

Another great part of the show is that the band isn't promoting a new CD, so all we heard were the classics: Second Hand News; Go Your Own Way; Don't Stop; Dreams; Rhiannon; Over My Head. They just kept coming. Just when we started thinking "there's nothing left to play", they'd crank out another hit - long forgotten. There were enough classics for two encores. This is a tour worth seeing. Yes the band is getting older. But they can play. We are already looking at the expanded schedule and will make a road trip to another venue.