Monday, November 30, 2009

20 Days in November - Day 20: Skyla Burrell

Our last stop of seeing 20 days of live music was at our favorite South Florida music venue: Boston’s on the Beach. Located just across the beach in Delray Beach hosts live music every day - throughout the day. A typical pastime for us is to spend part of the morning on the beach, and then lunch and music at the restaurant. Plus, they are extremely kid friendly - a free Boston's Frisbee goes farther than the kids meal it holds. This evening we headed straight to Boston's from the airport in order to see at least one set from a rising blues act, The Skyla Burrell Blues Band. This is one hard working band that came to our attention playing annually at the Adams County Winery. It also helps that the band was a semi-finalist in the 22nd Annual International Blues Challenge. Tonight the band was smoking. band co-founder Mark Tomlinson and Burrell are terrors on the guitar - their styles are similar to Tinsley Ellis. With family in tow - I didn't bother recording the song titles - but we enjoyed every second. What more do you want - sitting on a deck, a cool breeze, and great music. I might have to return for a few Damon Fowler shows next year.

Monday, November 23, 2009

20 Days in November - Day 18: Chris Knight

Regular readers already know how fanatic we've become regarding Chris Knight, so it was no surprise how much we have been anticipating his show at IOTA Club since its announcement. Some artists are worth a road trip and we've taken a couple to see Knight. This summer I slept in the Armory in Harrisonburg with my two dogs in order to see an outdoors hows and about twelve months ago we drove 6 hours to see him play at the The Evening Muse in Charlotte, North Carolina. All worth it. Yet it was a relief only having to drive a few miles to see him this evening in Arlington.

We arrived in time as opening act, Milton, took stage. He is a New York City based singer/songwriter and is apparently quite popular in the city - and why not. He has an interesting deep, raspy voice that commands your attention. I really liked his song "Booker", a tribute to the legendary New Orleans pianist, James Booker and his self-inspection in "Just a Man". And early the following morning I visited his website and listened to his jukebox. "Everybody Loves You", "Grand Hotel", "All the Time" - all good songs. Maybe worth a road trip to the big city.

Knight was eager to get started and quickly took over once the stage cleared, once again, accompanied by Chris Clark. That meant we were going to hear some mandolin. But Knight was in rare form this evening - usually he takes a low key attitude - yet when a few customers walked out early - Knight's sarcastic humor took over. I've never seen this side - and it continued the rest of the night. Ironically, the customers were simply friends of Milton and had exited the venue in order to greet the musician. But between the "rants" - Knight gave a great musical performance - about 100 minutes of continuous music.

Now when I claim to be a Chris Knight fanatic, it exposes itself every morning when I walk my dogs and for whatever reason I cycle through a selection of his songs - the number of songs dependent on how far my oldest dog wants to go. It starts with It Ain't Easy Being Me; Dirt;
House And 90 Acres; Enough Rope, Devil Behind the Wheel, Long Black Highway, and Oil Patch Town. Don't ask me why these. I don't know. And he obliged me with almost all these songs - yet I've never heard him play "Long Black Highway" live. And "Crooked Road" is quickly being added to this list; this is just such a powerful song and exemplifies how Knight can take a basic concept and force his audience to personally feel as if they were the subject. Driving to the show, we took a right on Danville street and wondered out loud if we'd hear that one from Heart of Stone. Yep, along with "Hell Ain't Half Full". He showed his comic side introducing this last song by stating the the customers leaving must be atheists or drug dealers - the antagonists in the song. Although he abruptly changed his mind and said that these groups are welcome at his shows - as long as they buy a tee shirt, or hat, or key chain.

For whatever reason, he played more songs from his self titled CD, Chris Knight than any other CD: "Love And A .45", "Framed", "House And 90 Acres", "The River's Own", and his signature song "It Ain't Easy Being Me". I just love Clark's mandolin in that song. A Pretty Good Guy was well represented with "Becky's Bible", "Oil Patch Town", and "If I Were You". The first and last are another two songs where Knight gets the audience immersed into a story. The only complaint, besides "Devil Behind the Wheel", I think The Jealous Kind has fallen out of his repertoire. My favorite album. But what can I say; this show was as good as expected. Come back soon.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

20 Days in November - Day 17: Robbie Fulks

One of the pioneers of the anti-contemporary Nashville pop sound - that attempts not to offend anyone - has been Robbie Fulks - who instead writes songs that are witty, sometimes offensive, but always thought provoking. You won't hear songs like "Let's Kill Saturday Night" or "I Told Her Lies" or "She Took A Lot of Pills [and Died]" on your average country radio station. And probably not "F**k this Town." - his tribute to Nashville executives. Fulks is based out of Chicago, where he was a member of that city's most popular bluegrass band, Special Consensus, and has taught at the Old Town School of Folk Music for over 12 years. And on the old XM Radio I used to be able to listen to him host various at this establishment such as Tift Merritt and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Can't find it now after the merger.

And when touring through the D.C. area, Fulks has made Jammin' Java a regular stop - and even better - scheduled an early show for us old folks. Robbie Gjersoe - who we saw leading the
The Flatlanders band was appearing with him, which gave us, not only a more personal look at this artist, but also his mastery of acoustic guitars. This guy can play. As for Fulks, he's not too shabby himself - particularly when he played one of my favorite songs of the evening, "We Live a Long Time to Get Old". This song was originally written by Jimmy Murphy in the 1930's and Fulks performed it using Murphy's unique style of playing. This is also another entertaining aspect of Robbie Folks, he is a music historian - and likes to promote music from the forgotten and\or "anti-heroes" of country music.

I first heard of Fulks through his popular songs listed previously: "Let's Kill Saturday Night" or "I Told Her Lies" or "She Took A Lot of Pills [and Died]". And this evening, we were fortunate to hear these songs. But before that, he played several new songs, and besides the "Worse Song Ever Written", there were some gems. "In Bristol Town One Bright Day" reminded me of the local performers who perform at that town's Rhythm & Roots Reunion. And "Waitin' On These New Things to Go" is a clever song of a country boy letting technology pass him by. I particularly like the line, which I'm paraphrasing, "I don't have to worry about getting mail from strangers". Amongst these news songs, he also performed older material such as "Rock Bottom, Population 1", "Goodbye Virginia", and "Cigarette State".

Since this how ended by 8:30, I headed to JV's Restaurant to hear a set from local artists Little Red & the Renegades and their new Orleans inspired zydeco, blues, and funk. And this evening the and was joined by Alan MacEwen - better known for his work with The Grandsons. I arrived to hear the first of two Professor Longhair songs "Tipitina" & "Big Chief" - followed by another hour plus of zydeco, Texas swing, and a waltz. This is one entertaining assortment of players with Little Red alternating between the piano and accordion.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Black Friday Music Options

For those living in Virginia and who want to avoid thinking of shopping on Black Friday, we recommend two must see shows. The first occurs at our favorite Arlington venue, the IOTA Club, with American artists Mark Stuart and the Bastard Sons and Wink Keziah routing through. Formerly The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, Stuart changed the band's name to "more accurately reflects the tone of Stuart’s music and the direction of his expressive and confident songwriting". And his songwriting has me hooked - whether the songs are influenced by his native Californian Blasters or from his new home - Austin. I totally relate to his song "Austin Nights" which expresses his introduction into this town's music scene:

They played a song from "Letter to Laredo"
Just like it was nothing at all
And I had to stop right there in my tracks and wonder
'Cause they don't play Joe Ely where I'm from
My whole life had changed. I'd never be the same....

That ever happened to any of you? Opening for Stuart is Wink Keziah, a self professed "urban hillbilly" that plays any combination of Honky Tonk country or alt-country rock. Regardless of genre, you will find this guy entertaining.

The second show takes place in Charlottesville with the grand opening of the Jefferson Theater. To celebrate the inaugural show, the promoters planned a winner - a co-bill between the Sons of Bill and Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit. And as an added bonus, local artist - Peyton Tochterman - opens. It doesn't get any better than this except at Rhythm & Roots - but at a fraction of the cost: $15.00 in advance; $17.00 day of show. We reviewed the Sons of Bill's latest CD One Town Away earlier this month and saw two show of Jason Isbell and this year's Rhythm & Roots Reunion. See for yourself why several groups are organizing road trips to C-Ville.

20 Days in November - Day 16: The Flying Cows of Ventry Bay

I wanted to take it easy tonight - since I crashed pretty hard last night - I wanted to stay close to home. Not far from us, in Great Falls Virginia, lies a popular Irish bar: The Old Brogue. The restaurant has a formal dining area - plus a pub - and in the pub they host live music four nights a week. Tonight they had scheduled The Flying Cows of Ventry Bay, a band that plays traditional Irish folk music while dabbling into "related musical pastures such as bluegrass, country and western swing". And when you see that they incorporate the banjo and fiddle into repertoire, its not a far stretch to imagine them playing these "related musical pastures". The pub was packed - the smoke and conversation overwhelming the senses. Eventually I was able to squeeze into an opening at the bar and enjoy an Old Speckled Hen and the band. They played tradition Irish fare this evening - some ballads as well as some sing-a-longs. It's been awhile since I ventured into this atmosphere and it brought back pleasant memories of Saint Patrick's Days of yesteryear. I really like the band's composition - acoustic guitar, banjo, and fiddle - it provides an authentic folksy sound. Eventually the smoke in the corner drove me out - but I look forward to seeing The Flying Cows of Ventry Bay - perhaps the beginning of December at The Auld Shebeen in Fairfax.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

20 Days in November - Day14: PinkJams

Over the past few weeks both Justin Trawick and the members of Memphis 59 have been reminding us of their benefit concert, PinkJams, held at The Clarendon Ballroom. The benefit was designed to raise money to promote breast cancer awareness and was a timely event with regards to this week's new examination guidelines. Memphis 59 has a history of promoting charity goals since currently A portion of all proceeds from their CD sales are donated to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Since we had seen this band a couple times the last few weeks and plan to attend their CD release show at Jammin' Java on December 4th - I wasn't overly disappointing that I missed their set. I arrived in time for Trawick and his full band - which is always quite an experience. Not only is the music tight - but you never know what you're hear. Maybe some rock, or a 20 minute rap extravaganza, a sax solo from Ken Wenzel, or California surf guitar from Josh Himmelsbach, or a funky bass riff by Jean Finstad - or even a Viennese waltz. Who knows. Because of this versatility and hard work - playing virtually every other night - they have developed a nice fan base.

It was a nice turnout for the evening. The attendance was a bit misleading because the venue is so large - but we hear the organizers met their goals. A good cause and good music - a win win.

20 Days in November - Day 14: Uncle Dave Huber

While reviewing the previous 13 consecutive days of live music I realized that a blues artist failed to appear in the itinerary - so I was determined to rectify that omission. The usual suspects for Blues, Bangkok Blues and The Zoo Bar had a swing band and an open mic night - that didn't seem appealing - but I then noticed at that Uncle Dave Huber was playing at the 9th Lounge at Evening Star Cafe. The 9th Lounge is merely the top floor of the establishment. I've seen Huber scheduled over the last few months playing at wineries - and he's playing at both Black Ankle Vineyards and Frederick Cellars in the next few weeks. Huber is a Baltimore native and plays front porch style blues - inspired by early Dylan, Tom Waits, and Leonard Cohen, plus the trailblazing artists that influenced them: Woodie Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and more importantly Mississippi John Hurt.

In fact, from what I've read about Hurt and saw this evening, Huber mimics Hurt's soft vocals. Or that impression was merely the result of playing at a venue where many patrons were more concerned conversing than listening. I guess that is one hazard when playing at bars; having to concentrate and perform when so few are actually listening. But there were a few attentive souls; and I liked what we heard. He played mostly originals, with a collection of covers from Robert Johnson ("Me and the Devil Blues"), Mississippi John Hurt, and Lead Belly("Midnight Special" and "In the Pines") - although I guess the later is considered a traditional American folk song made famous by Lead Belly.

His original songs are named such that the artist is at least cognizant of the traditions of wandering folk artists: "When The Water Rises", "Ramblin Gamblin'", and "Old Man Blues #6". And I wonder if his "Before The Devil Knows Your Dead" is a take off of the saying, "May you be in Heaven three days before the Devil knows you're dead". In his songs, I really appreciated the musical arrangements. I can't explain it - its just that his guitar playing just flowed nicely with the lyrics. Maybe its something to do with Huber's classical guitar playing. It just sounded good - even with the noise obstructions at the bar. I only heard the first set since I wanted to make the PinkJams fundraiser - but I'll be sure to visit one of his winery performances...or maybe two.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

20 Days in November - Day 13: Langhorne Slim

This evening I left the confines of suburbia and pretending I was much younger, entered the dynamic environment of Washington D.C.'s H Street "Atlas" shopping district. Located in the northeast section of the street this area is home to several music venues and restaurants - including the Rock & Roll Hotel and The Red and the Black - as well as loads of road construction. This area is ready to explode. Why venture into the farthest area of the city from our residence? Langhorne Slim. I first heard this artist from his Daytrotter session - these songs I still listen to at least weekly - "Collette", "Diamonds and Gold", "Nobody But You, "Rebel Side of Heaven", and "We Love the Animals". The basic theme to all these songs is enjoy life now - its too short not to. There's a bit of blues, gospel, alt-country, and folk in the arrangements and Langhorne's bluesy vocals capture the spirit of each song.

I arrived at the Rock & Roll Hotel a little late after taking the venue's directions at face value. If riding in from the west - take 395 and not E Street->H Street completely across the city. The venue was packed - and I mean packed - a great crowd for any night, but extraordinary for a Tuesday. The opening act, Dawes was just coming onstage and lead singer Taylor Goldsmith also commented about the high attendance. Evidently they received a much lower response their last trip through. And Dawes was a good opening act. They have a similar style as Langhorne Slim - basically a blend of different genres. The band is named after the Goldsmiths' grandfather - brother Griffin plays the drums. The songwriting was way too mature for a group that young - that was a pleasant surprise - as was the basic stage presence of Goldsmith. They guy can sing plus he understands the business side - encouraging attendees to visit the merchandise table and that the songs the were applauding were contained in North Hills. A nice start to the evening.

Shortly afterward Langhorne Slim and his band came onstage - and they basically had me by seeing an upright bass and a banjo. Getting down to the roots. Within the first half dozen songs he met and exceeded all my expectations in terms of charisma, stage presence, and plain ol' music. Plus, during that time he played "Collette", "Diamonds and Gold", and "Rebel Side of Heaven" - all songs I could sing along to along with everyone else. I was also told at the merch table that they were available on Langhorne Slim. He also has a new CD out, Be Set Free; but most of the long time fans I conversed with still think of When the Sun's Gone Down as his best. Apparently it had the same gospel feel as tonight's performance. I liked the band's versatility. At times they were soft and soulful as for "Collette" and "Diamonds and Gold" - but then raising a raucous such as with the "Rebel Side of Heaven". A true showman. Apparently they just finished another Daytrotter session - so I look forward to downloading more music to see what's on the horizon for these guys. Thanks for making the venture into D.C. worthwhile.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

20 Days in November - Day 12: The Flatlanders

Long before the success of the contemporary wave of Texas alt-country acts - many that we have seen the last couple weeks - a troika of talented Texas troubadours toiled for decades - at times under the radar - to finally attain great success in their later years. I am referring, of course, to The Flatlanders: Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, and Butch Hancock. Since the early 1970's these artists have been performing together - singing each others song's or those by the legends of roots music. See Live '72 for samples of their early work together. Eventually they migrated into separate directions - all the while maintaining a kinship - exposed in their solo recordings. Both Gilmore and Hancock provided some of the best material for Joe Ely - specifically "If I Were A Bluebird", "Dallas", "Tonight I Think I'm Gonna Go Downtown", "Standin' At The Big Hotel", "Fools Fall In Love", "She Never Spoke Spanish to Me"..... The list is long. In 1992, the trio regrouped to re-release More a Legend Than a Band - originally recorded in Nashville in 1971 - which included both "Dallas" and "Tonight I Think I'm Gonna Go Downtown". But it wasn't until Now Again that the Flatlanders started generating more and more buzz that continued two years later with the release of Wheels of Fortune. This CD easily supplanted The Best of Joe Ely as my favorite CD from any of these artists. And this year they took time off from successful solo careers to release Hills & Valleys.

I'm not sure when I first heard Joe Ely - but he's been at the top of my favorite artist list for quite a while. Eventually I was introduced to the music of Gilmore at an ACL festival and loved his laid-back style and unique vocals. His performance of "Saginaw, Michigan" earned him several new fans that day. As for Hancock, I've heard him participate in several Ely songs and knew about his success as a songwriter - but never saw him live until the Flatlanders started touring seriously a few years ago. What I like most of his songs, and this also extends to the other two, is that not only do they tell a meaningful story - they also trumpet the dignity of the individual person. Their current CD is filled with samples: “After The Storm”, “Homeland Refugee”, “Love’s Own Chains”....

Tonight was the second time I got to see The Flatlanders at The Birchmere. The first show, they came out for a six song-singer-songwriter routine - where they alternated playing their own material. Then they brought the full band onstage for a raucous evening. Tonight they ditched the songwriter routine and went directly with a full band. What I like best about this approach (the full band) is how easily each artist contributes vocals to a particular song. Sometimes one artist will sing lead and the others contribute harmonies. They started this way with Hancock singing "Hopes Up High" and "Julia", Gilmore "Wildest Dreams" and "Going Away", and Ely a soulful "Neon of Nashville". But they shine when all three alternate singing a verse. This style started with "Homeland Refugee", their timely tale of Californians returning to the dust bowl and "Borderless Love" - which describes their not-surprising view of border fences.

The trend continued for most of the night - interrupted on occasion with Gilmore singing "Wishin' For You" and his son Colin's contribution to Hills & Valleys: "The Way We Are". One of the last songs was a rockn' rendition of "Dallas" - where each artist could preform that song in their sleep - it was effortless. For the final song - they brought opening act Ryan Bingham onstage as well as a surprise guest, local legend Bill Kirchen. They jumped immediately into Townes van Zandt's "White-Freight Liner". This wasn't a surprise since Bingham appeared in Ely's Live Cactus! for this song. Once again each artist sand a verse, with Ely motioning Bingham several times to take lead. Typical Ely unassuming style. Simultaneously, Kirchen and his Telecaster dueled Flatlander guitarist Robbie Gjersoe throughout - a friendly competition that continued into the encore. I thought I could hear shades of "Hot Rod Lincoln". (I am really looking forward to the Bill Kirchen Holiday Show at Jammin' Java on Friday, December 18.) It was a rousing finale. They switched gears during the encore starting with Hancock's "If I Were A Bluebird". Once again, each Flatlander took a verse - that was a special performance. I was hoping to hear Terry Allen's "Gimme a Ride to Heaven" - which they performed at the previous show - but that would have just been extra gravy. Tonight's show is evident that The Flatlanders are still an integral part of the Texas music scene. Fortunately they travel far and wide to spread the word; sometimes even by train.

As stated previously, Ryan Bingham has been touring with the band as the opening act. Rumor has it he met Joe Ely at a July 4th festival and spent the remainder of that evening shooting off fireworks. A friendship was born. I only caught his last three songs but from what I saw, this one time bull rider has musical talent. On the first song - he just cranked away on the acoustic guitar - playing a bit of slide. He followed with "Weary Kind" and finished with Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" - with his gruff voice sounding extremely similar to the original. This is one artist on the rise and I love that he releases his music on vinyl. Way to go. Its time to dig out the record player.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

20 Days in November - Day 11: The Randy Rogers Band

We returned to our alt-country roots this evening at the The State Theatre for ladies night - actually for a performance by The Randy Rogers Band. But with all the ladies in attendance - if this is what Austin is like every evening it's time to relocate. Randy Rogers is all Texas - as are his fans - heckling each other on which Big 12 school they attended. The band's formation is an interesting tale. Kent Finlay, songwriter and owner of Cheatham Street Warehouse pulled Rogers over after a regular gig in a singer-songwriter circle and told him if he formed his own band - he get's a night all to himself. Two month later, the The Randy Rogers Band was born. I first heard the band on XCountry satellite radio a number of year's back and saw the band live at an Austin City Limits Festival around the same time. At the festival I purchased Just a Matter of Time and that has been my favorite CD from the group. Why? The offer songs with meaning combined with hard driving music - part rock and part what country should sound like. No polished Nashville pop here - just true grit. And wait to you see a live show.

This is a BAND - not a solo artist with a supporting cast. Several members participate in songwriting and often Rogers moves to the back and let's the band take over. Sometimes its bassist Jon Richardson carrying vocals, lead guitarist Geoffrey Hill blaring away, and fiddler Brady Black, everywhere at once. That's one charismatic dude. Along with drummer Les Lawless, the group has been performing with this lineup since 2003 - playing over 200 shows annually. At the end of this night's performance - the band is taking a tour break and heading into the studio to record a new CD. As a result we heard several new songs - "Interstate" will be a good one. Rogers did explain that the band needed to play the new tunes in order to practice - but be patient - the old favorites would come. And he didn't disappoint. They played "Kiss Me In The Dark" and "One More Goodbye" as well as songs from their latest Randy Rogers Band and Rollercoaster: "Lonely Too Long", "Lay It All On The Line", "This Time Around".... Their hard core fans sang every verse to every old song while dancing in the front. I'm really going to look forward to their next release.

Local rock band, Memphis 59 opened the show - and this has allowed me to catch these guys twice in the past month - for they opened for Sons of Bill at the State previously. Like that performance, they can rock - with songs like "Me, Myself, and I" and Girl at the End of the Bar". I hope to catch them this week (November 18th) as they team with Justin Trawick for Pink Jams - The Clarendon Ballroom for a fund raiser for breast cancer awareness.

20 Days in November - Day 10: The Gibson Brothers

Last week I noted in a review of the Steep Canyon Rangers that modern bluegrass music is experiencing a renaissance; however I failed to include in the groups responsible - a major contributor: The Gibson Brothers. I had come late to the party regarding this act - having never heard their music until early last spring with the release of Ring the Bell. Now I'm hooked and trying to make up for lost time in respect to their eight previous releases. In fact, the title track to their previous release, Iron and Diamonds was nominated in the 2009 IBMA Song of the Year category. What makes the Gibson Brothers special is the entire package: strong instrumentals, complementary lead vocals, great songwriting, and most of all, fabulous harmonies.

Since receiving Ring the Bell and watching the band's single performance at Merlefest - I have listened to the CD at least once a week. Its that good. And tonight courtesy of the DC Bluegrass Union and the James Lee Community Center, I was able to not only hear a majority of songs from the CD, but also hear an explanation about each song. For instance I learned that two of the songs, "I Know Whose Tears" and "Jericho" were written by North Carolina singer-songwriter Joe Newberry. One of my favorite tracks, "The Wishing Well" was written by Shawn Camp. See, another positive trait, the know how to select great songs written bu other artists. Tonight they also performed Steve Earle's "The Other Side of Town" which is also in Iron and Diamonds as well as the Band's "Ophelia" - released in Long Way Back Home.

Now, Eric and Leigh Gibson grew up in upstate New York and I mean upstate - as in north of the Adirondacks. Their parents owned a dairy farm near the Canadian border which Eric describes in "Farm of Yesterday" as "our backs against the border - staring at the mountains to the south". And most of the original material in their music reflects life within that community. "Farm of Yesterday" is a tribute to their parents and should be the signature song for campaigns against factory farming. My favorite song in Ring the Bell, "Bottomland", which they didn't play this evening echos the struggles of farming. Leigh gave us a history lesson when describing "Iron and Diamonds" and how the iron ore mined just south of their farm was used to make the steel in the Golden Gate bridge and several bridges in NY City. The song is a powerful reminder of the dangers of mining and how the miners coped through their love of baseball. By request they performed the "Barn Song" from Red Letter Day which reminds us how we are losing our family farms. Leigh eloquently states how "town grew up and ate it's farm - all was left was the big ol' barn". And not only are these powerful songs , but Eric and Leigh have surrounded themselves with an excellent supporting cast of Mike Barber (upright bass), Clayton Campbell (fiddle), and Joe Walsh (mandolin). Leigh is the ringleader offering subtle encouragement and praise as he nodded for each to take center stage.And throughout the evening Eric and Leigh maintain that sibling chemistry which allows them to kid the other - as in Eric having " high nasally vocals" - or being proud of the others accomplishments and talents. What a terrific show.

Before the Gibson Brothers took stage, regional bluegrass artist, the Chester River Runoff entertained us with similar song topics. For this band hales from Chestertown Maryland, on the eastern shore and have also seen the demise of farms - sold to accommodate housing developments. Ben Armiger (guitar) and Sam Guthridge (banjo) are the backbone of the quartet and what is readily apparent is that they can write interesting songs. "Too Many Sunny Days" describes their ill fated pumpkin growing enterprise and "getting skinny off the fat of the land". "Plastic Houses" describes the trading of land and development. I really liked Guthridge's song of being a little awkward with the opposite sex in "Until Then" - love the lyric "I'll meet you in the morning, down by the fountain square, sounds good to me, but not as good as staying here". Obviously not as polished as the main act - these guys have a lot of potential - just need a little more established stage presence. But I'll be following them closely - maybe even this Wednesday at the Lion & Bull.

Thanks to the DC Bluegrass Union for a great evening. And as usual, more pictures are available at the MyJoog Gallery.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

20 Days in November - Day 9: Bad Luck Blue Eyes and Practically Einstein

The rock flavor continued as I ventured downtown to the Hard Rock Cafe to see a buddy's new band, Bad Luck Blue Eyes open for local rock band Practically Einstein. You would think that a venue like the Hard Rock would provide regularly scheduled live music - but this practice has just really started. One reason is that the restaurant doesn't have a logical area for a band to play - so they clear out the upstairs bar - gets a little crowded but its better than no music. Now Bad Luck Blue Eyes is a relatively new band that is influenced by artists ranging from The Black Crowes to Ryan Adams. Tonight they played a few original tunes as well as recognizable covers - including a surprising version on "Folsom County Blues". Surprising in that it was unexpected - but I loved the change in sound. I'm a bit biased on any coverage - so check out the video to form your own opinion.

Practically Einstein was short a guitar player - but still managed to entertain the audience with some powerful rock and roll. They were a pleasant surprise - frontman Brad Radish made up for the absence with his own guitar playing. I was only able to listen to a few songs - before finding it necessary to start the long trek home - but I plan to follow up with them very soon. And from what I heard from others - the band found some new fans.

Next, The Gibson Brothers / Chester River Runoff at the James Lee Community Center.

Friday, November 13, 2009

20 Days in November - Day 8: Reckless Kelly

A few weeks back I saw that Reckless Kelly was scheduled to play at the The State Theatre along with Scott Miller and I immediately purchased tickets. I would have made this decision even if Miller was the headliner - but to have both in the same building - a no brainer. I arrived just at showtime and the venue was already full - evidently a lot of people had similar views in waiting to listen to both acts. Miller is touring with Reckless Kelly as a solo act - so The Commonwealth had stayed home. The acoustics at the theater were perfect for him solo, each distinct note was crystal clear - even at the back bar. Miller and I have something in common in the sense that he hails from Augusta County Virginia just like out dog Augusta, who hails from the Augusta County SPCA. Many of his songs reflect living in the region or traveling to neighboring West Virginia. See "Appalachian Refugee" and "Indiana Sin". His best songs: "Drunk Around Town" and "Amtrak Crescent"; most of which are available on For Crying Out Loud and Reconstruction. Highly recommended.

The venue became even more crowded when Reckless Kelly took stage - with a sudden rush to the front. We've been following this band for several years after seeing a fleeting glance of their talent at an Austin City Limits festival. I immediately purchased Under the Table and Above the Sun with "Let's Just Fall", "Nobody's Girl", and "Vancouver" becoming instant favorites. And to my luck - the band performed each one this evening. Reckless Kelly's nucleus are brothers Cody and Willy Braun - Cody on fiddle, harmonica, and mandolin and Willy the singer, songwriter, and as Robert Earl Keen says: "...and hurricane force guitar slinger". The brothers grew up in Idaho, and first played in their fathers swing band with younger brothers Micky and Gary - who eventually formed Micky & the Motorcars. Talking about a musical family; wow - what a musical family. After playing a few years based out of Oregon, Cody and Willy relocated to Austin and have been one of the most popular alt-country bands in the state.

I was expecting this type of sound, but unexpectedly was attending an all out rock concert. And I mean concert. There was no fooling around between songs - as soon as one finished they unleashed into the next. And they can play. Drummer Jay Nazz and Chris Schleke on bass set the background - but at times its David Abeyta on electric guitar that steals the show. The guy is awesome - yet unassuming and no grandstanding. And paired with Willy Braun on electric or acoustic - this was a rock band. Loved it - particularly the extended version of "Helter Skelter". They performed songs from most every album in their portfolio - which made most of the fans surrounding us very happy as they cheered the intro chords after recognizing a favorite. I only recognized one song from their latest CD, Bulletproof - "American Blood" - although I'm sure there were more. But during their encore they did play a song I've heard a few times on satellite radio - the entertaining "Wiggles and Ritalin". And they closed with a rockin' Alejandro Escovedo tune. After an evening of listening to the band - I'm itching for a trip to Austin. Fortunately The Randy Rogers Band comes to town Sunday. Thanks for a great show.

More photos are available at the MyJoog Gallery.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

20 Days in November - Day 7: WPA

Tonight I decided to skip Bob Dylan and instead attend a show at nearby Barns of WolfTrap featuring Works Progress Administration (WPA). WPA is composed of "superstars" Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket), Luke Bulla (Jerry Douglas Band), and Sean Watkins (Nickle Creek). Along with Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek), Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Greg Leisz (Joni Mitchell, Bill Frisell, Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello and the Imposters, Randy Newman), and Davey Faragher (Elvis Costello and the Imposters, Cracker), these artists recorded 17 songs together at recording engineer Jim Scott's L.A. studio. A dozen of these made it into their self titled CD, wpa, in which you can listen to tracks and purchase from the MyJoog home page. Because of other obligations, WPA did not perform this evening as a full band - instead by Quintet - with Phillips, Bulla, and Watkins joined by Sebastian Steinberg (bass) and Jerry Roe (drums).

The Barns is a great music venue; the acoustics are phenomenal and it has an interesting design. Phillips said that it reminded him of the Country Bear Jamboree, without the bears, but with a full bar. I lucked out with my seat, purchasing a ticket a showtime and receiving a front row, center seat. Got to like that. The Spring Standards opened and were a big hit as evident by the long line of CD buyers at intermission. This is one band that you need to view live in order to appreciate. During every song the trio play multiple instruments simultaneously. While singing, Heather can play the keyboards with one hand and maintain rhythm on a drum with the other - all without missing a beat. Both James play the guitar while using their feet to beat symbols or a bass drum. Or play the trumpet with one hand and whisk away on percussion with the other. They are generate interesting sound with the xylophone or drumming the rim of the drum. And despite the distraction of watching them play in this unusual style - they are really amazing musicians - go out and see this group.

WPA followed and what an entertaining show. Phillips, Bulla, and Watkins come off as friends playing in your basement - joking amongst themselves, taking responsibility for equipment problems, or when taking too long to tune an instrument. As for the music, the first impression is that you are among serious professionals. It actually starts with the rhythm section and Roe and Steinberg. The acoustics are so clear in the venue that the drums and bass are heard perfectly - subtle - but a necessary presence. I spent most of the night watching Roe effortlessly set the tone for each song. The second impression is that the amalgam of bluegrass and alt-rock works - and as Bulla and Watkins explained, they are pulling Phillips over to the Bluegrass side - or at least an alt-country\bluegrass combination. This is evident in Bulla's “Who’s Gonna Cry For You” and “Remember Well”; several of Watkin's songs including "Somebody More Like You", "Cherokee Shuffle", and “Not Sure” - sung by Bulla; a Del McCoury cover; as well as a "tragic" song about lesbians from the great bluegrass band Weezer. Bulla shines on the fiddle and Watkins can pick the guitar. He was probably mimicking the mandolin on several of these songs. But even these bluegrass styled tunes were not performed in the traditional bluegrass style - more of an alt-rock flavor - not surprising with the drums and electric bass on board. But this is also a result of Phillips influence. The opening song tonight as well as the CD was his "Always Have My Love" - closer to the Wet Sprocket sound; my favorite track. They also performed his "Good As Ever", the powerful "Rise Up", and a hilarious tale concerning a "dog drive-by shooting". But Phillips does get his country on in "A Wedding or a Wake" - this is a fun song to watch them play. Appropriately, for me, they finished the night with a Dylan cover - but a real treat watching three songwriters perform their trade. I look forward to Merlefest where hopefully, the full ensemble will appear.