For those among us who lament the cookie-cutter direction folk-tinged Americana has taken in the current decade’s “pop folk” era — that of the Lumineers or Mumford’s Babel – you may now rejoice in that which is The Muse. The fourth album from Boulder’s the Wood Brothers revels in everything blues, jazz, gospel and, yes, folk. The opener, “Wastin’ My Mind,” will stun fans of the Band who are likely to marvel that this song wasn’t produced forty years ago, and from there it’s a great ride through track after track of genre-bending songs which prove to be more than folk revivalism or obsessive attempts at recreation.
Any album with the one-two-three punch of “Wastin’ My Mind,” “Neon Tombstone” and “Sing About It” is already worth a listen. But the album’s boozy, horn-soaked finale “Firewater” wins the day, that slow-burn melancholy certain to fuel many a full-album restart or furious clicks to repeat the track itself. The rest of the album more than lives up to the gauntlet the band has thrown down, proof that there’s still room in today’s musical landscape for albums which challenge the listener. With three months to go, the Wood Brothers have produced this year’s best Americana album by far.
Full disclosure: Matt Sanderlin has posted reviews at “Hear! Hear!” This new song, however, was too good to ignore. Off his upcoming The Homemade EP, “The Order” merges the songwriter’s deep-seeded love of Fountains of Wayne’s melodic structures with a folk arrangement deeply focused on its varied layers. Opening with bare guitar, the song builds to include lightly picked banjo along with mandolin and harmonized vocals, all tied together to make something akin to Bon Iver if he’d come up playing the seventies Bakersfield scene.
What do you think? Is this song ready for a mainstream push? Follow the band on Facebook for regular updates.
“In the cracks there’s beauty,” sings Vance Kotrla, and taken in context with the rest of Sci-Fi Romance‘s latest album that’s quite the apt statement. This band isn’t the most fine-tuned machine you’ll ever hear. But this is honest folk-pop music in its rawest glory, and there’s a lot to be said for being willing to present the music in this version rather than polish away everything interesting in a studio setting.
I’ve been following this band since their last album, And Surrender My Body To The Flames, and their upcoming album The Ghost of John Henry continues to push the envelope creatively. The musicians fight to keep up with the concept, and at times the individual songs, divorced from the remainder of the album, don’t have the same impact as they have when heard as a complete song cycle.
Still, even if Sci-Fi Romance falls short of giving John Henry’s legend a deep emotional core through folk music, at least they’re out there swinging that hammer for all its worth. When John Henry beat the steam-drill it killed him. They’ll be around for another go, and there’s plenty to be glad for about that.
Like a cross between early John Mayer and the seasoned songwriting chops of Josh Rouse, Russell Howard’s “Home Sweet Home” is one of those rare folk tracks which immediately sinks in and demands further exploration of an artist’s songwriting in general. It’s astounding that this songwriter, who fully embraces the vintage folk roots which inspire his music, hasn’t gotten more widespread press for his latest album City Heart. This is folk music with enough pop edge to ensure fans will keep coming back for more — the hook in the chorus is impossible to deny. “Home sweet home is in your arms,” Howard sings. “I did not ask to cross my stars with you.” We may not have known to ask for music from Russell Howard, but one listen is enough to guarantee he’ll have an audience for life. This is the kind of music internet word of mouth was made for!
Dare Dukes – which stands as both the name of the band and the lead singer who fronts said band – plays music which challenges listeners from just about every angle. These are songs with detailed, often bordering on convoluted, lyrics which are anchored to earth by deft arrangements which require repeated listens to fully sink in. But that’s really the crux of what he’s going for in the first place. Dukes, who hails from Savannah, Ga., says he strives to find the beautiful moments in the everyday, pulling from the margins the eccentric characters and bizarre events which form the heart of his adventurous blend of folk and pop. Put that music on stage and it’s a veritable powderkeg of creativity which, even when playing as the opening act for a Louisville native the crowd’s itching to see, is fully capable of getting a small crowd of early birds to sit up and take notice.
I got the opportunity to talk to Dukes face to face when he finished playing his band’s January 28th set at Headliners Music Hall in Louisville,. He spoke of meaningful music, his quest to write a great pop song, and why “it’s really fucking hard to write songs with really good hooks.”
What would you say is “meaningful” music for you?
Wow, that’s a hard question. I definitely prefer arrangments that, whether it’s hardcore or light folk, are “thoughful” arrangments. I enjoy arrangements that are surprising, so people who use weird instrumentation, stuff like that, is really enjoyable to me.
We saw a lot of that tonight, with all the instruments your band was working in. Is it harder to put all that onto a CD and then work it into your live show?
Yes, it’s very hard. There’s a ton of horns on the record (Thugs and China Dolls) and of course we don’t have any with us now. I wish we could, but that would mean two more people to bring with you. But the accordion can make up for a lot of that stuff.
The new album, Thugs and China Dolls – where’d that title come from?
I don’t know … sometimes music really pops out for me without me thinking about much, and the lyrics are harder to come by. But often when I have a melody and a chord progression that I like, I tend to mumble-sing to it while I’m working out the melody, and lyrics will just pop up. I’m pretty sure “thugs and china dolls” came out that way. So I built the song around that. People ask me what that song is about, and all I can tell you is that it’s a song about innocence: “watch out for these bad things in the world.” Thugs and china dolls are descriptions of people who are going to take advantage of you in one way or another.
I know I’ve compared you to John Darnielle and the Mountain Goats, but who are your other influences?
I like the Mountain Goats, but I wouldn’t call them an influence. There are a lot of musicians I realized I had an affinity with after I’d already found my sound. I’d say Laura Veirs is one of them. You may not hear Laura Veirs when you listen to my music, but particularly the way she and her producer, Tucker Martine, arrange her songs – that’s a huge influence because they are very thoughtful arrangers. But I totally love the Mountain Goats. He’s an influence in that he makes it okay to be as wordy as I want to be.
I got so sick of having to “score” music after a while; I was wondering if you think it is possible to quantify what is “good” music. Is there actually such a thing as good or bad art?
That’s another extraordinarily difficult question. My wife is a cultural anthropologist, and that’s been one of her subjects recently, the art market and how art is valued. There’s fancy-schmancy high falutin’ New York art, versus art that is considered crap by the people who decide these things. Not “found art,” because that’s got its own niche. But I would say, to a certain extent, I think the listener has to have a lot to do with saying whether music is good or bad. However, I do believe that there are people who work hard at their craft and make little miracles happen. By that, I mean they open up connections to things which move them past the daily world. It’s hard to talk about this without sounding pretentious, but I mean it.
And then you see sites like Pitchfork with the 0.0 review, which implies there’s no artistic or social merit to a piece of music.
The media does work really hard to push buttons. I’d say ninety percent of what the mainstream media does is decide who’s on the top of the hill this week. That’s what Pitchfork is doing – they’re not really serious reviewers. They’re just tagging. They’re saying who won the Superbowl of Music this week. And then there’s always amazing stuff which flies under the radar. You can’t get around it though, because I’m influenced by stuff like that all the time. But what can I say?
For people who haven’t heard your music, how would you describe your music? What should listeners expect from you the first time around?
They should expect songs about subjects which are kind of out of the box for pop music. Weird characters, weird moments – I like writing about weird people, not in a derrogatory way, but weird in the sense that people are surprising. People who resist the forces that want to homogenize or disenfranchize those of us who are strange. Because they’re strange, they represent that miracle I was talking about, those meaningful art moments. And even though the subject of my songs may be atypical when it comes to pop music, I really do love pop music. I’ve done art forms which are strange and I’m into that too, but I find it phenomenally challenging to write a good pop song. I love the challenge of trying to write a good pop song. I want to write songs with really good hooks because I love songs with really good hooks. But it’s really fucking hard to write songs with really good hooks!
There’s something overtly ballsy about covering “Head Over Heels” by Tears For Fears, but Hannah Peel takes it to new levels of indie folk awesomeness by bringing the Pin-Barrel Harp (Sharpsichord) one step closer to mainstream acceptance, creating a haunting, original cover in the process. It’s positively mindblowing that fewer than 2,000 people have to date seen this video on YouTube, because Peel is an artist with theatrical vision and a willingness to push the folk-pop envelope in ways music fans in 2012 would be smart to quickly and vehemently embrace. The cover is a great way to get your feet wet, but her original songs are just as ready for global consumption. Just try “Song For The Sea” on for size and tell me there’s nothing here worth shouting from the rooftops.
For fans of Alexi Murdoch and Josh Ritter, it’s only necessary to go as far as the music of Chris Bathgate to find your next big fix. Recently named one of 2011’s “Best of What’s Next” artists by Paste Magazine, this Michigander’s surprisingly evocative sonic portraits of what was one of the darkest periods of his life will dig their way into your soul and refuse to let go. This is folk-pop of the highest order. Bathgate poured every dollar he had into the recording of his latest effort Choking Down A Salt Year, but recording the album took a toll emotionally as well. Consider it a concept twin with Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, which proved cathartic for Justin Vernon. Regardless of how it came to exist, one thing is crystal clear: Choking Down A Salt Year is an album you have to hear — it will quickly prove to be one of the most memorable folk-pop albums of 2011.
If anyone was worried success would spoil what made Mumford and Sons such a special band, you needn’t have worried. They revealed “The Ghosts That We Knew” during a recent radio performance, and it’s like we jumped in on a lost session from the band’s Sigh No More. This studio version is Mumford at its finest, an exercise in controlled sonic expansion … the song builds from bare acoustic guitar and vocals as Marcus Mumford lays his emotions bare. “You saw no fault, no cracks in my heart,” he sings mournfully. “But the ghosts that we knew will flicker from view and will live a longer life.” The song builds as the rest of the band gets in on the harmonies, and by the end Mumford’s voice becomes so threadbare and broken it’s heart-wrenching. This is passionate proof that, when the new LP finally sees the light of day, it’s going to be among the must hears of 2012.
Those of you who have been long-time readers of Hear! Hear! know I’m a huge fan of Only Son, the solo front for Jack Dishel, formerly of Mouldy Peaches fame. His album Searchlight, which came out back in January, remains among my picks for the top albums of 2011, but he’s still bubbling under the radar. Below you can read previous articles from this site regarding the album and its various video singles, but you may also behold his latest video, this time for “You Stayed At Home,” one of the album’s least assuming tracks. It’s a beautiful melody-based acoustic track featuring the lyrics / vocals up front in a way which makes one wonder how huge a hit this could have been in the 60s if covered by a duo like Simon and Garfunkel. That’s Searchlight in a nutshell; this is an album which covers so many genres and moments in time it becomes all but timeless itself. Too bad so few people have had the chance to fall under its spell.
But it’s never too late …
From the opening moments of “This Town” I was convinced that I’ve stumbled upon the next artist ready to carry the torch of Tom Waits to a new generation of music listeners not yet too jaded to appreciate the touch of sinister imagery he brings to bear. With an eye for pop hooks to match someone like Duke Special, who has made his name with similar cabaret-pop experimentation in Belfast, Don Ryan knows he has to win listeners from the very first moments … which makes “This Town” even more impressive, since the smothering sense of doom is present instantly, yet manages to build as the song progresses. “This town is burning down,” he sings, his vocals providing hits of desperate hope even as all the music around him floats like flotsam upon the oily black bilge water below.
In other words, this is music for those of us who like our pop music with enough edge to make it worthwhile. And you can trust me on this or rely on the video below, but what Don Ryan brings to the table here is nothing short of deliciously twisted.
Ryan’s album Tangle Town comes out officially next week. Queue up!
Josh Garrels has released his latest magnificent effort, Love & War & The Sea In Between, and for a limited time you can hear the entire thing as a free download via Noisetrade! If you pass this chance by, you’re officially ready to retire from music-listening … like a mad hybrid of Brett Dennen, Antony & The Johnsons and Ray Lamontagne, Garrels is a free-flowing poet on his latest effort, a mind-blowing 18 tracks of astounding folk-pop tinged with elements of neo-soul and raw singer-songwriter innovation. It’s his finest album yet, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around just how much creativity is expressed here.
If you haven’t heard of Garrels yet, trust me … he’s worth knowing! Download this album and make a donation if you’ve got the means. Whatever you do, at least listen. This is one of those leaps forward in a creative sense which defy words. This album is simply sublime. And Garrels deserves to be a household name beyond the confines of the Pacific Northwest.
Check out “Farther Along,” off the new album, below via YouTube:
You almost certainly haven’t had the pleasure of hearing Milo Greene before, but once you do, that first tantalizing hint won’t be nearly enough. With suggestions of a more upbeat Wilderness of Manitoba meets L’Altra, the trio of UC-Irvine alums (named after a fake PR flack they used to send promotional emails on their own behalf) has built its music the hard way, working the bay area’s concert venues while trading demos back and forth until they were able to get the sounds right.
No word yet on the band’s future debut, though they told LA’s Buzz Bands that they’ve got more than a dozen songs written and in various stages of development. But in what has to be a good sign, at least now their official website lists an honest-to-God management and legal team … so they’re definitely on the way up from doing all the legwork themselves.
Hopefully we’ll hear more from these talented musicians in the months to come. Until then, check out their song “1957,” recorded live at the Downtown Loft:
I stumbled on these guys by complete accident, but if American music execs are smart about it, they’ll make signing Boat to Row no accident. This Midlands, England folk-pop quintet has the chops to create addictive hybrids that stick in your head while being quite unlike anything else you’ve heard lately … except maybe for a more restrained Mumford & Sons if you’re desperate for comparisons. More important, they’ve got the live chops many young bands never take the time to develop. Check out a few of their live YouTube clips below and decide for yourselves.
What blows my mind is that this is supposedly a mere “side project” for lead singer Michael King, who’s better known in the region for his band YOUVES. And if the distinct difference in styles between the two (dance-punk vs. folk-pop) suggest anything, it’s that King could be Britain’s next Dustin Kensrue, capable of moving at will from the metal world of Thrice (“The Abolition Of Man”) to that of his solo country work (“Pistol”) without breaking a sweat.
Trust me, American listeners are ready for a lot more of that kind of thing!
For a guy previously best known for his drumming for the likes of Rilo Kiley, Bright Eyes and The Elected, Jason Boesel makes a convincing turn as a solo folk-rock songwriter. His debut album, Hustler’s Son, comes off as a surprisingly hook-filled effort, something you’d imagine might come from Conor Oberst if he’d hooked up with Dustin Kensrue to form a country band.
It’s a laid-back affair, and Boesel is smart to keep it low-key, focusing on making sure the songs are solid enough to make the lack of pre-release press irrelevant. “French Kissing,” one of the album’s standout tracks, even manages to sound like something Fleetwood Mac might have recorded in their heyday, something owed as much to Boesel’s sense of mood as it is to the band’s cohesive but unobtrusive arrangement.
This isn’t an album that’s going to make a lot of waves – in fact, it’s flown completely under the radar since its release early this year. But if this is what he’s got to offer, maybe Boesel needs to step out from behind the drums more often. We’d all benefit from hearing more of this kind of pop music.
Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.
With a husky voice very much akin to David Gray, Chris Pureka hits us full-tilt with “Wrecking Ball,” a cover of the Bob Dylan/Ketch Secor original, assuring the uninitiated listener through her impressive arrangement that her third album, How I Learned To See In The Dark, is the real deal. Pureka’s been working the fringes of the folk scene since her debut EP in 2001, but she’s shown a remarkable willingness to develop her sound incrementally on her subsequent two albums and an EP, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that this third effort is a multi-layered Americana album to rival anything you’ve heard in the Americana vein this year.
Beyond the opening cover, which is certainly impressively developed, Pureka varies her musical brush strokes as she fills this aural canvas with originals in the same vein, focusing on stories of relationships and interactions between people trying to make a living and stake their claim on the American dream. “Hangman” speaks for itself lyrically, so she arranges the musical backdrop to be a bare-bones guitar melody, which allows the mournful vocals to shine even as light strings accent the story of a relationship in tatters. And “Lowlands” features a more upbeat arrangement as she sings of living life on a ledge, looking for a way to survive as a world unravels, somewhat echoing (at least musically) Langhorne Slim’s “In The Midnight.”
For fans of everything from Brandi Carlile to Langhorne Slim, Pureka’s take on folk music is one that deserves wider exposure. She’s never going to be a pop songwriter, but there’s definitely a niche beyond the Boston scene for an album this varied and addictive.
Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.
Listening to the surreal celtic-folk-inspired sound of London’s Mumford & Sons for any significant period of time, it’s hard not to hear echoes of Canada’s nearest equivalent, Arcade Fire. Even though the two bands don’t share a genre, and Arcade Fire is decidedly more indie-rock friendly, the huge, wild-and-weaving full band arrangements of Marcus Mumford and company have the same balls-to-the-wall intensity of the Canadian band, as though this could be what Arcade Fire would sound like in an alternate dimension in which Win Butler was musically born in Eire rather than Québec.
And though I noted that Mumford & Sons isn’t as indie-pop “friendly” as many of their contemporaries, including London’s Noah and the Whale, they’ve definitely got the balls to make it in the music world, having dared to release the insanely catchy, profanity-laced “Little Lion Man” as Sigh No More’s first single. And that’s helped them find success which, while it may not be truly mainstream, is certainly popular on the fringes, including with David Letterman, who had them play the song on his show back in February.
But the music’s where it’s all made or broken, and there’s not a thing “broken” about this music, even when the songs are about the most broken down of men. The arrangements are all epic and intense, frequently dropping back to quiet acoustics and vocals, only to develop into a wild bar stomp with an intense chorus surrounded by fiddles and frenetic bass, coupled with sounds like an entire pub of drunken patrons handling background vocals. In that regard the album reminds me of one of my favorites from 2009, upstate New York’s Auld Lang Syne, whose album Midnight Folly did the same thing with country that Mumford & Sons is doing with Irish Folk. These songs are meant to be heard in all their full-volumed glory, rising each listener falling and falling with each song’s intensity until they own your soul.
In the end, Sigh No More is one of those albums you have to experience in order to really understand their sound and its power. It’s an album that rewards patience and attention, but when you do fall under its spell you’re destined to be a fan for good, hoping for a wild and racous American tour to tide us over until the band gets back into the studio for another round. It’s already my favorite new album of 2010, hands down.
Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.
Katie Herzig has perhaps gotten more mileage out of television music placement than any other independent musician. The Grammy-nominated Colorado-native songwriter got her start as a member of the folk-grass collective Newcomer’s Home in the late ’90s, but she’s garnered more recent attention via her solo material. Over the space of three albums, Herzig has managed to blend folk and pop music in a way few other artists are able to imitate, drawing comparisons to the likes of Devon Sproule and Neko Case.
Herzig has also championed online distribution, penning original material released through socially-aware music site Brite Revolution for the past six months. She’s also had her music featured everywhere from ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy to Fox’s crime-procedural Bones. Her most recent album, a live album recorded with her touring band, is available until November 1st through Noisetrade as a “name-your-own-price” issue.
Herzig recently sat down to talk to Stereo Subversion about being a die-hard independent, the differences between writing as a solo artist and as a songwriting partner, and the craziness involved in placing a song on television only weeks after writing and recording it.
SSv: How did it feel to be named “an artist to avoid at your own peril” by Paste?
Katie: I thought it was quite nice of them to say that. It was clever, and I definitely appreciated that they said it.
SSv: Billboard wrote of your music: “Herzig’s gifts as a songwriter have stood out due to the fully produced nature of her songs, recorded with care and a bigness that transcends the potentially damning status of just being another girl in Nashville with a guitar.”
Katie: That threw me a bit – I wasn’t quite sure for a minute if they were saying good things or bad things with that, because I’ve had good experiences with the Nashville music scene.
SSv: What do you feel your role is as a songwriter and a producer? Do you feel remaining independent has freed you up to be more original as an artist?
Katie: Production is just as important as songwriting in my opinion. As an independent musician I don’t have to worry about other peoples’ expectations of what my music should sound like, so I can focus on what pleases me as a musician. It’s the only world I’ve known as a musician. I’ve always been able to produce music that works on my terms.
SSv: You’ve written songs for other artists, including “Heaven’s My Home,” which got The Duhks nominated for a Grammy. Does the songwriting process tend to work differently when you’re working on something for another musician?
Katie: Really, there’s more of a difference when I’m writing songs with other people, as a co-writer, because in those cases it can become less personal and more collaboratively focused. On my own I go with my guts and write based on what’s happening with me. It’s interesting though that you mention songs I write for others, because many of those songs weren’t songs written specifically “for” another person. I wrote the songs for myself and eventually they became songs which others found meaningful enough to them to record. I usually focus on writing a song which I would feel proud to record.
SSv: What makes music meaningful to you?
Katie: It’s the music, the songs, which gravitate into my life. The music becomes part of my experience and becomes connected with the way I’ve lived my life. I’m always thrilled to hear how my music has affected fans on an individual level. Creating a meaningful experience between myself and my listeners is what music’s all about.
SSv: How did you get involved with Brite Revolution?
Katie: A couple of my friends are involved in the site, and they asked me if I’d like to get involved. They’re trying to get as many musicians involved as they can, because the idea is to generate constant new content for their subscribers, from independent artists who actually have the freedom to continually create new content. I’ve done it now for about six months, but starting in October I’m likely done with it, because with my touring schedule it’s been difficult to find the time to keep up with the new material. It’s definitely cool what they’re doing, and I’m glad people have been able to enjoy the music.
Noisetrade has been big for me, though. Starting in October, for the first month it’s available, they’ll have my new live-in-studio acoustic album with Claire [Indie] and Jordan [Brooke Hamlin] and I attempting to capture our touring sound from the last couple years together. After that it will be up on Itunes and the like, but I think you get as much value from people forwarding your music to their friends, even if they don’t pay anything. You’re reaching a wider audience.
SSv: Are music fans getting more involved with charitable causes because of sites like Brite Revolution?
Katie: I’ve asked people to join up with Mocha Club before, and that’s been really awesome that people have actually wanted to get involved in things like that. More artists are realizing they can focus on these wider ideas to help others, even while still getting our own music across to an audience. My fans have really gotten involved in things like that.
SSv: British musician David Ford has actually made his MySpace page his only official web presence, saying that life is too short to maintain the many websites musicians are supposed to have as proactive marketers. How important do you think social networking is for musicians today? Do sites like Twitter, Facebook and others actually help, or are they time wasters?
Katie: I’ve found that Twitter can work wonders. It’s become popular quickly, and it feeds into Facebook, which really helps a lot to create a wide online network of fans. Myspace is still a place for people to find the basics, whether to hear the songs or find out about tour dates, but unfortunately everyone prefers their own personal network. So it can eat up a lot of time staying up on all of them. Twitter is the most direct, since there’s no lag between what you say and when people see it. It’s been cool on tour, getting people involved in the moment. Fans are really into it, but it does get a bit exhausting.
SSv: You’ve spoken of musical community as being important in artist development. Does online social networking affect how artists network with other artists in the real world?
Katie: I think it does affect it, especially in artist communities if you follow a specific group of musicians. It can be a good way to stay up on what is happening in that group, but you’re following what you want to follow. I see online social networking as a great resource beyond the usual email list. People who want to follow you online on these networks want to know what you’re doing as a musician all the time, and it’s a solid way to get your music out to this dedicated group quickly. It’s something independents are able to easily take advantage of, but which major label artists aren’t always able to do as well from a personal standpoint.
SSv: What about programs like Grey’s Anatomy? Your music’s been used on many shows over the years. How important is it to market your music to television? Do you ever worry your song will become permanently associated with a scene that ultimately changes the way the music is perceived?
Katie: I have noticed that people discover new music based on how it’s positioned on these shows. But there’s definitely a connection made when a song is used, and usually if they want to use your song you at least get some input in how it’s going to be used. But I know what you’re saying, because I have had a song of mine played over a car crash, so you do have to be aware of how the song’s going to be used.
Chances are, though, if someone’s going to find your music via a TV show and they hunt down more information about you, it probably means they liked it. That’s always a good thing. And when it comes to getting your music out around the world to the right audience, there’s no better way right now for indies to be discovered. There’s always going to be a fine line between being heard for the music and being heard in a commercial setting, and I usually move back and forth between the two.
SSv: Speaking of Grey’s Anatomy, your song with Matthew Perryman Jones made it onto last year’s final episode, supposedly weeks after you finished writing it. Even in the digital age that seems pretty quick, there’s got to be a story there.
Katie: Actually, Grey’s Anatomy had been asking me for material for their final two episodes that hadn’t been available elsewhere. Matthew and I had been trying to finish that song, “Where The Road Meets The Sun,” for a film soundtrack, but the song really fit what they were looking for at Grey’s Anatomy. So we pitched it to them and they loved it.
That’s what’s great about today’s music world – you can write something one day, record it the next and have it on TV in a matter of weeks. Still, it did catch me off guard just how quickly everything came together on this one.
SSv: You’ve released several songs since your last album, Apple Tree. Are you currently dabbling with new material, or do you already know what you want to do with a future album?
Katie: I will be recording a new album next year, but I’m not really deeply into new material for it yet, so I’m not sure what the new album’s going to be. I’m still too involved in touring the material from Apple Tree to think much about that kind of thing yet.
SSv: How would you describe the state of today’s music world? Has online availability made it easier or more difficult to find meaningful music?
Katie: I feel there’s more to sift through, but that’s always a good thing. People find good music when they know what they’re looking for and where to dig for it. The key is there are more choices among “blue collar musicians,” a group there’d been no room for in the past. Now I think these musicians are going to become the majority, and it should stay that way for a long time.
SSv: Which do you prefer, writing music, recording music or performing music in a live setting?
Katie: I have always found a perfect balance among the three. I absolutely love recording, and writing always does it for me when I’m in that place. Still, touring and performing live has always felt harder for me and more rewarding. I had to overcome stage fright when I first played with Newcomers Home, but it now feels just so natural to me. And it’s great to be able to connect with fans for real feedback when playing in those rooms. That’s really where you get to finally hear what’s resulted from all the hard work writing and recording.
SSv: You’ve been alternating lately between solo headlining shows and supporting performances with the likes of Brandi Carlile and Over The Rhine. Does it ever get confusing to keep track of what kind of show you’re doing each night?
Katie: It definitely keeps you on your toes. The thing is, it’s a fun challenge when you’re opening for someone else and you have a shorter time to make an impression. You have to play the best material in a short amount of time and then let the headliner take over. Yet when you’re the headliner, you have so much leeway, since the fans there already are familiar with pretty much everything you could throw at them. That can be even more of a challenge.
SSv: Can you see yourself touring as relentlessly as you do now 10 years from now?
Katie: No, I would hope to be able to get the relentless touring done now and then shift to a more manageable schedule down the road. Most established artists eventually get to where there’s a time of the year when they write ad record, a time of the year for relaxing, and you have the fall tour, the spring tour. I love being at home in my own bed too much to be on the road all the time. It’s been a phase I’m in right now, being out on the road taking advantage of these opportunities that come around only so often.
Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.
There’s something great about an artist so comfortable in her own skin that she can be this confident on a record when she’s clearly most comfortable performing her music in a live setting. In fact, she told No Depression magazine, she often feels like a caged animal in the studio and had to force herself to record at odd hours to catch her voice in the perfect conditions to achieve that ethereal quality fans have come to know as her own distinct musical aura.
Give Up The Ghost, due out Tuesday on the Sony label, is her finest album yet … and as a huge fan of her sophomore album The Story that’s hard for me to say, considering how much I admired the music she crafted, often in single takes, with producer T-Bone Burnett. But she proves on this material that even with super-producer Rick Rubin behind the board and superstar contributions including Paul Buckmaster’s orchestra (“Pride And Joy”), Elton John’s piano (“Caroline”) and Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls’ lush vocals (“Looking Out”) she manages to keep this material sounding freshly original and, above all, creative.
Leadoff single “Dreams” may be the catchiest song she’s released to radio to date, and it’s the kind of song which could, and should, earn her a wider audience than even The Story‘s 325,000 copies sold and numerous TV show placements were able to provide. But the album plays exceptionally well as a whole, with what is becoming a trademark for Carlile — absolutely no filler whatsoever. She’s a smart songwriter and she’s surrounded herself with top guest musicians, but the true strength of these songs is the backing band she’s toured and recorded with for years: twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth and cellist Josh Neumann. There’s a strong sense of continuity here on Give Up The Ghost and it pays off in spades with what may be among the top five albums of 2009 when all we pretentious critics start making such lists.
More interestingly, the album decelerates from its most indulgent arrangements at the start to its barest, most elemental effort, the album’s closer “Oh Dear.” It’s a move which often fails, as today’s listeners are frequently victims of their short attention spans. However, with Carlile’s album the strategy lends the album a great deal more heft. Listeners are lured into the album by the strong songwriting and they stay for the whole ride despite the eventual stripping away of instruments from the various arrangements. The result is a great reward, one of the most Beatlesque songs not written by Lennon / McCartney. It’s almost as good as The Story‘s “Shadow On The Wall,” a personal favorite.
Get this album quickly, you won’t regret it. Buy it for yourself and get a few extra copies for friends. It’s the kind of album you’ll hear and immediately want to share with everyone you meet. But that’s Carlile’s music in a nutshell. She’s an aural bridge-builder and her music is destined to be heard by a wide audience even as she makes it abundantly clear on album three that she’s not going to succumb to pretension or excess. She plans to continue to write meaningful music, marketing be damned.
And that’s how it bloody should be.