Tag Archives: Tim Newby

A Band With No Drums: Greensky Bluegrass and If Sorrows Swim

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Words and photos by Tim Newby

A band with no drums,” says Paul Hoffman, mandolinist, singer, and songwriter in Greensky Bluegrass. Hoffman had been trying to best explain his band’s sound, which is a mix of traditional style bluegrass and a more adventurous brand of roots-rock. “I used to say that we are not a bluegrass band and try to convince people that there is more involved,” says Hoffman, “but we absolutely are a bluegrass band and can play the shit out of some bluegrass. We just don’t do it all day. It is not all we do.” With a taste of the humor the gives the band much of its personality and makes them so much fun to see live, Hoffman continues with tongue firmly in cheek, “Besides the pun wouldn’t make any sense without the second word in our name.”

Hoffman is right though; bluegrass is not all they do. They are so much more than that. While their music is built firmly up the traditional bluegrass sound with their line-up of banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar, Dobro, and upright bass, the way in which they reinterpret that traditional sound is miles away from what Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs first played so many years ago. While they have those elements that one would expect to find in traditional bluegrass – acoustic instruments, fast virtuosic playing, tight vocal harmonies, and instrumental solo breakdowns – it is what they do with those simple elements that sets the band apart from the past and points towards the future.   DSCN1704

Greensky Bluegrass have always tread the line between the old and the new, moving easily from traditional tunes such as “Working on a Building,” or “Pig in a Pen,” to Bruce Hornsby’s “King of the Hill,” or Traffic’s “Light up or Leave me Alone,”  throughout the course of their high-energy live shows.  This chameleon-like ability is shown fully on their song “All Four” from their 2011 album Handguns. The song starts with what seemingly seems to be a simple finger picked banjo led-lament that quickly dissolves into a lengthy, adventurous jam the likes of which would be completely foreign to those only reared in traditional bluegrass. In concert “All Four” is even more of a beast, regularly stretching past the fifteen minute-mark. And let’s be honest your parent’s bluegrass does not regularly include fifteen-minute spacey jams that jockey for position on the interstellar overdrive highway.   It is this mix of the old and the new that has enabled Greensky Bluegrass to explode over the past couple of years and establish themselves as leaders of the new jam-grass movement.

Since forming in 2000 in Kalamazoo, Michigan around the trio of banjo-picker Michael Arlen Bont, guitarist Dave Bruzza, and mandolinist Paul Hoffman, the band has seen a steady, rapid growth.  They added bassist Mike Devol in 2004 which was soon followed by a win at the prestigious band contest at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2006. Shortly after, 2007, they rounded out their line-up when they added Dobroist Anders Beck.  The addition of Beck helped solidify the band’s progressive take on bluegrass. DSCN2452edited

In 2010 at the annual Delfest the band had a coming-out-party of sorts. They played three sets over the course of the weekend and with each set seemed to see their audience increase in size each time. The three sets also served to showcase all the far-ranging aspects of Greensky’s diverse musical personality. They started the weekend playing along with Del McCoury and host of guests when their main stage set was rained out and they moved inside to the Music Hall and played as part of the songwriter showcase.  Their set inside ended up being more a showcase for Greensky and their traditional chops as they played a set that was nothing but old covers and bluegrass songs. The following morning the band started the day again inside the Music Hall playing a set list that was entirely made up of rock covers that do not normally rear their heads in the bluegrass world, which allowed the band to exhibit their unmatched ability to meld completely diverse styles of music into something wholly unique. Greensky’s final set of the weekend was to a packed field at the side stage during which they played nothing but original material. It was the perfect capstone to the weekend as the band had shown all facets of their vast musical spectrum over their three sets and defined what truly makes up the music of Greensky Bluegrass, a mix that Hoffman describes as “our material, bluegrass, and those weird covers and other things we bring to bluegrass or we bring bluegrass too.”   2014-09-07_12-16-01

This diversity of the band’s musical persona is perfectly captured on the band’s latest album, the stunning If Sorrows Swim. The album, like the band, veers from style to style, yet does so while maintaining an identity that is wholly Greensky. The album was built around the skeleton of twelve songs written by the band’s primary songwriters Hoffman and guitarist Bruzza, yet arranged by the whole band. Hoffman says the band’s approach this time was different than on previous albums. “We had worked on the songs some before we got into the studio, but this time more than any other album it was undecided what the shape of it would be until we got into the studio. It was pretty drastic sometimes. We would say, ‘Let’s play this song bluegrassy, let’s try it halftime, folky, swingy,’ there was a lot of freedom and possibilities.” The songs slowly developed and took shape both on stage and in the studio. For Hoffman one of the toughest things was finally saying a song was finished, “Each song morphed and changed and that is one of the hard things of making a record, that commitment to the song and the final draft of it.”

The final draft of If Sorrows Swim is a schizophrenic mix, bouncing from the heartfelt lament of album opener “Windshield,” toGSBG the classic banjo roll on “Letter to Seymour,” to the rocking one-two punch of “Kerosene,” and “Demons,” but a schizophrenic mix that has a unifying, cohesive feel to it. “Working song arrangement and order was a challenge with this record,” explains Hoffman, “This is not a concept album where clearly this song goes before this one and leads into this one like Dark Side of the Moon that is all in the key of A and B and all relative pitch wise and it just goes the way it goes because that’s how it goes.” To help with the sequencing of the album, Hoffman says the band thought of it like one of their lives shows and paced it like they would a set list. “When we write a set list we pay attention to how it’s going to flow and where to put the fast ones in and where to put the spacey ones in. So I think the album flows like that.” This approach to pacing and song-order was born from the band’s desire to always keep things interesting on stage. “Early on we didn’t want to just play bluegrass all night long because that would be boring to just go chucka-chucka all night,” says Hoffman, “Sometimes we want to go boom-boom!” This live set list approach to the sequencing of the album rewards a long attention span, as it moves and peaks like a concert and takes the listener on a sonic, emotional journey.   DSCN2458edited

The album opens with the slow-burning build-up of “Windshield.” “Windshield” is a powerful opener Hoffman describes as a “real four-on-the-floor, downbeat, back chop which is sorta the opposite of what we are supposed to do.” It is precisely the kind of huge song U2 would have written in the eighties if they had decided to ditch their pretentious rock-leanings and grab acoustic instruments and pick some bluegrass. The song is a compelling statement from Greensky about what they are capable of and where they are going musically. While it hints at the band’s bluegrass roots, it highlights their ability to take those roots and push them all over the musical map. The rest of the album follows this exploratory template laid down in the first song. Over the course of If Sorrows Swim Greensky uses inventive song structures, tasteful melodic phrasing, and unique sonic textures to create an album that pushes the limits and boundaries of bluegrass-inspired music into the stratosphere, going to realms never visited by the banjo and mandolin before.

The dynamics of having two primary songwriters, with Hoffman’s more rock-styled tunes and Bruzza’s elegantly traditional sounding songs, help create a contrast of themes and styles that work to flesh out the personality of the album. Hoffman DSCN1483editedmentions some of the new ideas and chances he has been taking in his songwriting and how they have been influenced by some unlikely musicians:

I like to listen to something that I can get an idea about song structure and melodic tendencies from because folk and bluegrass stays pretty formulaic. What’s great about our band is I can write great songs that stand alone with me singing and playing guitar, but we are also a rock band that does all this exploratory stuff and can open it up and explore every night and there is a real balance between the two.

I listen to an album by a band like Alt-J and it is all about textures and I love the feel and mood of the music. Then I will listen to Jason Isabell’s new record and be like, man, this guy can write some friggin’ lyrics and I am inspired by both things in a different way.

DSCN1736editedGreensky Bluegrass has been on a steady trajectory upward since their first days as a band. They have seen half-full venues become packed the next time they visit, they have seen early-afternoon side-stage timeslots grow into main stage headlining slots at festivals, and they have seen their fan base organically grow as Hoffman proudly declares, “a handful of fans at a time.” With the release of If Sorrows Swim and the way it will appeal to a broad spectrum of fans, those fans will most likely grow at a rate much greater rate than a handful at a time. If Sorrows Swim seems to herald broad, new horizons for the band; Hoffman says that while they are excited they look took to keep things in perspective. “I hope this record gets as much attention as it can get, but we don’t want anything we don’t deserve. I would love to see some more of that crossover to fans of something like Jason Isabell who didn’t think they liked bluegrass, but they really like one of our songs or a fan of Alt-J who can listen and think ‘Wow, these guys can make some nice textures.’ Just like I cross over in my tastes, I want people to not be afraid that we are a bluegrass band, so that they will actually sink in and realize they like it. And that seems to happen more and more every year and the more that happens the prouder I am,” Hoffman pauses before finishing his thought, “It is all about good music. It is either good or it is not.”

Hot August Music Festival: Short lines, long sets, stellar tunes

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Words and Images by Tim Newby

When Hot August Music Festival founder Brad Selko hopped on stage with headliners Old Crow Medicine Show during their show closing version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” to blow some harmonica it proved the perfect way to close the day’s festivities. From its start twenty-two years ago with two acts, to its three stage, thirteen band line-up that it sports now, Hot August Music Festival has established itself as one of the premiere one-day events of the busy Festival season.

Since its beginning in the cozy confines of Selko’s backyard for a couple hundred fans, to its sold-out present day location at Oregon Ridge Park, the Hot August Music Festival has stayed true to Selko’s vision of a creating a high-quality, intimate fan-friendly festival. With only a minor tweak to its name, changing from Hot August Blues to Hot August Music this year – to reflect the growing diversity of bands that fills the line-up each year, Hot August Music Fest has for the last twenty-two years been exactly what Selko hoped it would be.

Topped by Old Crow Medicine Show and Nickel Creek, this year’s line-up was one of the most diverse ever. Over the three stages fans saw everyone from blues-master Tab Benoit, to indie-rockers Dr. Dog, to Brooklyn funksters Turkuaz, to roots-rockers DSCN6048editedCabinet, to electronica-based ELM, to singer songwriter Jordan August. It was a line-up that had something for everyone. Selko’s attention to detail and focus on fan-comfort shows all over the festival as he brings in extra-food vendors, more bathrooms, and has more beer staff all which help to eliminate lines to almost nothing, which in turn leads to happy festival goers who can spend more time watching the stellar music they came for not waiting for their beer and lunch.

The setting of Oregon Ridge also helps to create an extremely fan-friendly environment. The main stage is set at the base of a large hill and is surrounded by a picturesque array of trees which helps create a natural amphitheater and ensures that no matter where you are you have a great, unobstructed view of the stage. The two smaller stages are a short walk away, enabling one to bounce from stage to stage and catch as many acts as possible without missing much action.

Selko’s other over-riding philosophy each year is his willingness to schedule bands with the idea of quality over quantity. He prefers to give each band enough time on stage to really get warmed up and stretch their legs as opposed to the brief forty-five-minute sets that seem to be the norm at too many festivals that instance on shoehorning as many possible bands on stage. Selko gives each band more than ample time to get up and stretch their musical legs.   The main stage’s second act, alt-country rockers Houndmouth, made mention of this during their ninety-minute set when they remarked that it was the longest show they had ever played. Their raucous set saw them blasting through almost all the tunes off of their debut-album, From the Hills Below the City, before wrapping up with a spirited take on Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.”DSCN6122edited

Following Houndmouth was one of the day’s unquestionable highlights Dr. Dog. The six-piece band from Philly played an eighteen song set that pulled equally from their last four albums with the rarity “Alaska” thrown in to keep the old school fans happy. They also featured a sit-in from festival opener Bosley on “Ain’t It Strange.” Their set was a rocking, high-energy outbreak of fun that had everyone perched on the hillside at Oregon Ridge Park up and grooving.

DSCN6073editedAfter Dr. Dog attention was focused on the two side stages, as bluegrass-themed Cabinet packed the smaller stage that was tucked away in the woods for a rollicking, rambling trip through Americana highlighted by an adventurous version of “Diamond Joe.” As Cabinet wrapped up they gave way to Brooklyn funk-machine, Turkuaz, who were on the larger second stage and started their show via an introduction from the infamous Dr. Rich Barnstein. Turkuaz set was an ass-shaking explosion of funk.

One of the day’s most highly anticipated sets followed, as the reunited Nickel Creek is touring again for the first time since their farewell tour of 2007. As Nickel Creek took the stage it seemed as if everyone in attendance surged toward the main stage creating arguably the largest crowd of the day. The band’s set was a tour through their extensive archive and a strong reminder of what made them such a special band.

DSCN6206editedDespite the absence of blues in the festival’s name, Tab Benoit made sure the blues were not forgotten with a blistering set on the second stage that followed Nickel Creek. His set was a stunning affirmation of the power of New Orleans flavored blues through his mind-bending guitar work. Benoit’s set seemed to almost seamlessly segue from song to song before giving way to the day’s headliner’s Old Crow Medicine Show on the main stage.

Old Crow’s shows are rowdy affairs with band members bouncing around stage, swapping instruments, and throwing out devilishly gorgeous licks. An early guest spot by Baltimore’s unofficial mascot the Natty Boh Man who danced along with the band got things heated up right away. The band, as they always do maintained that peak of energy for their two hour set, blasting through all facets of their vast repertoire, including a boisterous “Humdinger,” a sublime “Take’em Away,” and unsurprisingly “Wagon Wheel.” They wrapped up their headlining spot with a string of covers to close the day starting with a melody of Sam Cooke and Smokey Robinson tunes, before breaking out the perfectly placed “Streets of Baltimore,” which then lead into their common take on Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” The night was brought to a close with a handful of guests as all of Houndmounth, Cabinet, and Selko hit the stage for Bob Dylan’s “Ain’t Going Nowhere,” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” The joyous celebration onstage was only matched by the joyous celebration and dancing from those in the crowd and was the perfect ending to a perfect festival.

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Greensky Bluegrass to Release New Album If Sorrows Swim Sept 9

DSCN1717Since their founding at the turn of the millenium, the five members of Greensky Bluegrass have fashioned a dynamic, intoxicating sound rooted in classic stringband Americana while branching outward to effortlessly encompass an array of styles and techniques. Their fifth studio album, If Sorrows Swim, is to be released on September 9, 2014 and distributed nationally by Thirty Tigers.

Featuring twelve new original compositions, If Sorrows Swim is a compelling snapshot of the evocative songwriting and fluid instrumental interplay that has made Greensky Bluegrass a word-of-mouth underground sensation.

“There’s this great duality to what we do,” explains Greensky mandolinist, vocalist, and songwriter Paul Hoffman. “We’re existing in a few different places at once: we’re a bluegrass band and a rock band, we’re song-driven and interested in extended improvisation.” Based in Kalamazoo, Michigan (home of the original Gibson Guitar-Mandolin factory), Greensky – which also includes dobro player Anders Beck, banjoist Michael Arlen Bont, guitarist and songwriter David Bruzza, and bassist Michael Devol – came to acoustic music after a thorough immersion in improv-fueled rock, giving them a uniquely open-ended perspective on the genre.

“While some may see potential limitations because of our instrumentation,” Beck reflects, “a really big part of what is Greensky Bluegrass is about is to essentially ignore those limitations.” If Sorrows Swim finds the band exploring the full range of their potential, from classically hard-driving bluegrass to more expansive, exploratory passages. At the heart of it all are a set of poetic, yearning pop songs – several of which have already been introduced to the groups growing legion of diehard followers in concert.

Tireless road warriors, Greensky have emerged as a club and festival favorite, earning spots on such illustrious stages as Bonnaroo, the Austin City Limits Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. An extensive, coast-to-coast tour to support the release of If Sorrows Swim will be announced in the weeks ahead.

Track Listing
1. Windshield (P. Hoffman)
2. Burn Them (P. Hoffman)
3. A Letter to Seymour (D. Bruzza)
4. In Control (P. Hoffman)
5. The Four (P. Hoffman)
6. Worried About the Weather
7. Forget Everything (P. Hoffman)
8. Kerosene (D. Bruzza)
9. Demons (P. Hoffman)
10. Wings for Wheels (D. Bruzza)
11. Leap Year (P. Hoffman)
12. Just Listening (P. Hoffman)

www.GreenskyBluegrass.com
www.Facebook.com/GreenskyBluegrass
www.twitter.com/campgreensky

Nels Cline: Polyglot Tendencies

 

Nels1From his work with seminal-alt-rockers Wilco, to his work with his solo band the Nels Cline Singer, to collaborations with a diverse roster of musicians including Julian Lage, Mike Watt, and Thurston Moore, Nels Cline has quietly established himself as one of the most versatile, inventive guitarist around today.  Since first picking up the guitar at age 12, Cline has created a sound that is wholly unique and like no other but that still has the ability to meld and mesh seamlessly into any environment in which he plays, yet at the same time retaining that distinct style that sounds like no other.

 

 In anticipation of his brand new album, MACROSCOPE, due out April 29, Cline checked in with Honest Tune Magazine to discuss his latest album, his collaboration with Medeski, Martin, and Wood, his musical tool box, and much more.  To help us with this, Honest Tune recruited Felix Lighter guitarist/ singer and noted audio gear /effects head Paul Skozilas to help us dig deep with Cline.

 

Honest Tune:  I think there’s a lot of personality to the way you play guitar, more so, than most contemporary guitar players. Can you attribute that to any aspects of how you learned to play?

 Nels Cline:  Good question! I have no clue, actually. Maybe it has something to do with all the various interests/directions that have attracted and inspired me over the years coupled with what I didn’t learn. I had no significant guitar instruction coming up and absolutely no training in guitar technique. I have had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about this most of my life. But at times I have been able to see the value of being able to embrace my so-called primitive tendencies. My playing may in some way embrace certain degrees of sophistication combined with a love of rawness and the emotional potential of that. So perhaps this explains some degree of musical personality that you are hearing? My ultimate goal is just to keep up with and participate fully in whatever is happening when I am playing.

 

Nels3HT:  Has it always been that way? Was there a maturation process?

 NC:  Absolutely. I was certainly not a prodigy, (have you listened to me on recordings?) and I still find music to be challenging and generally difficult. I have now been trying to play the guitar for over 40 years and I am still daunted by what I perceive of as my shortcomings, yet I have so many wonderful opportunities to play with so many gifted individuals I just keep pressing forward and try not to let insecurities derail me. I think that the long haul has been a sort of automatic maturing process. I am not very disciplined when it comes to studying and practicing, and as stated before, I was never instructed in technique.

 

HT:  As a musician involved in multiple projects do you cater your tonal palette to each project, mentally assigning and/or potentially excluding certain styles, modes etc. before you show up?

 NC:  In some instances yes. For example, playing with Wilco I tend to eschew “flashy” playing even though my head is usually buzzing with 16th notes. Learning economy in playing has been valuable and not all that easy for me! Another example for you might be tone choices with different music’s. With Wilco and with, say – Joan Osborne, with whom I recently recorded, the brighter sound of true bridge pickup is often what the music seems to be asking for. I tend to shy away from trebly sounds in my own music in spite of all that strident distortion you may associate with me. Using these other tones is also a challenge at times, and these parameters tend to affect how I play, not just the tone with which I am playing. In the duo I play in with guitarist Julian Lage, we specifically chose to limit our palette to effect-less electric and acoustic guitars, and this can be freeing – not confining. It then becomes all about note choices, dynamics, and articulation in very direct yet subtle ways. I like all of the above! The guitar – particularly the electric guitar – is a malleable instrument, perhaps more than any other. This is may be why someone like me with such polyglot tendencies loves it so much.

 

Macroscope_LP_front-webHT:  What did you assign or exclude on MACROSCOPE?

 NC:  When writing and structuring music for my own band (The Singers), I tend to follow what the compositions seem to require. Nothing is excluded except what I deem unnecessary to make the composition sound right. If you listen to all of our records over the years, I think you may come across virtually every guitar style and sound except for maybe ragtime and bluegrass. This is not intentional. The songs exist to both create moods and feelings as well as to explore the musical languages and relationships between the band members (and our periodic guests). So really anything goes except for what doesn’t work in a particular moment on a particular song. Sorry if that’s vague.

 

HT:  On the tech side I think a similar question could be asked. Any intentional limiting or reconfiguring to your arsenal between projects or is more like bring the whole tool box to every job?

 NC:  I bring the whole tool box to recording sessions when possible, but “live” with my own band and with the various improvisers I play with I must limit the repertoire to pieces that are played on one guitar (my Jazzmaster) because of traveling limitations. This said, I use electric 12-string on much of MACROSCOPE – more than usual – and I think I may have been intentionally creating the necessity to include it on my travels. So I am going to just suck it up and pay the overage and bring a 12-string on future Singers gigs. Also, I have “an electric guitar in decent working order” on my equipment rider, which is to open up the possibility of playing songs in open tunings like “Thurston County”. If we are traveling in a van with no flights, I can bring 2 or 3 guitars easily, but that happens less and less these days. As for pedals, though I own zillions at this point, I have a fairly consistent compliment that I bring out for everything. The only variation is wah-wah or no wah-wah – the new Singers material requires it, and I also brought it out for the recent gigs with Medeski, Martin, & Wood – plus I have decided to bring a Univibe-type pedal for The Singers even though it is rather cumbersome size-wise. I usually have a size limit on what I bring out so it can all break down into my not-so-big road case. Oh well, this new Singers stuff is asking for that sound, I feel.

 

Nels5HT:  With that how did you approach your latest album MACROSCOPE?  What was the process as you began working on it?

 NC:  Hmmm…there is no really interesting or singular “process”. I have some songs. I am bad at self-editing. I write them out, the band learns them. We record them. Then we see what works but usually include pretty much everything! On MACROSCOPE, as with much of Initiate, there was a deliberate attempt on my part to sort of “warm things up” mood-wise, use a lot of percussion, refer to or reflect my love of certain sonorities and harmonies that could be identified as relating to the music of places like Brazil and/or West Africa. I knew that I wanted Yuka (C. Honda) to play some electric piano, and since we were recording most of the record at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, CA, I could get Zeena Parkins to come play on some things – a dream team! I had written a massive, dark, troubling piece for Zeena called “Ghost Ship” which in no way fit on the record mood-wise or length-wise, so it’s not there, but we recorded it and I may mix it and throw it out there as a download possibility. But almost everything else we recorded is there on the record, from fuzzed-out garage rock to ethereal balladry. Making musical sense may not be my strength. Whether this is a “process” I do not know.

 

HT:  How did the “process” this time compare to your previous albums?

 NC:  It’s always pretty much the same. The earlier Singers records took so little time to record – we always ended up with extra time, and when we recorded Draw Breath we had so much time left we recorded a whole other improvised record that I wanted to dedicate to the late great Howard Roberts (never released). Initiate was really different in that I had the fewest number of finished songs, I had a desire to play some new/different styles and moods than usual (trying to dial down the whiteboy angst factor a bit), and I wanted Devin and Scott to really weigh in and help with the arranging/direction, but this seemed to ultimately make things a bit more arduous. So even though we worked/rehearsed for about five days leading up to the recording session (a record amount of rehearsal time for us), that session took every minute of the allotted three days to finish and it was pretty stressful. I attribute this more to my own rather scattered leadership than to the material, actually. MACROSCOPE is our first record with Trevor Dunn, and it was really relaxed. The only glitch for me was how hard it was for me to relax when soloing. Sometimes my neuroses get the better of me, and also playing in headphones seems to be getting harder instead of easier for some reason. But the process was basically the same as always with the difference that Josh Jones and Zeena came in on the first sessions, which was really fun.

 

HT:  Where do you draw your inspiration from musically?  What are you listening to right now that may have impacted your music?

 NC:  Inspiration is everywhere. But for the last couple of years or more I keep finding myself drifting back to my beloved early Weather Report jams, Herbie Hancock Septet, and the Tony Williams Lifetime. The latter band had a later iteration after the legendary first trio with John McLaughlin and Larry Young and before the fusion god version with Alan Holdsworth that made a record in 1971 called “Ego”. My brother and high school friend Michael Preussner and I used to listen to this record religiously, and it is criminally underrated to my mind. Anyway, the emergence of vintage footage of live gigs by these bands on YouTube has been blowing my mind for years now, so there’s that. Check it out.  But also I am currently inspired by the newest record by the band my wife is in called Cibo Matto – the record is Hotel Valentine, and I just love it. When the going gets rough I can always put on a Deerhoof record to cheer me up, or play something like “Canto de Iemanja” by Baden Powell. When I want have my mind quietly blown I can also listen to Jim Hall, Paul Desmond, Jimmy Giuffre. Frankly though, I don’t listen as much as I did when I was younger (and I don’t listen in ear buds like many who trade as much as I). I feel like I need to get back to more attentive listening.

 

HT:  What does MACROSCOPE say about you as a musician, and how does it fit into your large body of work?

 NC:  I think I will let others decide that one.

 

 Nels4HT:  Does you solo work impact what you bring to the table with Wilco, and if so how do you see MACROSCOPE impacting what you do with Wilco?

 NC:  I really am not sure. I play in various situations. I strive to be prepared, articulate, to not suck! How these various music’s cross-pollinate may be subtle and/or beyond me. I really find that I try to play and develop ideas that come out of my head/ears and wonder where it came from or how it all fits together later. Would I have ever written something like the ending section of “The Wedding Band” had I not played with Wilco? I don’t know. That simple melody/progression came to me one morning while half asleep and I got out of bed and wrote it down. My feeling about it was simply that it expresses happiness and/or celebration. The repetition is meant to induce a bit of trance, like a happy ritual. But the content and the inclusion of lap steel on it has already been called “Americana”. Ultimately, such distinctions are of no interest to me. And when I go back to playing with Wilco, I play Wilco music. I feel no need to interpolate some aspect of my improviser brain/style on that music. As such, MACROSCOPE may have no impact at all on what I do with Wilco, or it may be happening and I won’t know it!

 

HT:  What was it like to get together with Medeski, Martin, & Wood and create an album’s worth of music and improvisation live in front of audience?

 NC:  Playing and improvising (and later, touring) with those gentlemen was and is so natural and almost effortless. They understand how to play and listen, and it’s really like we all find ourselves on the same odd and wondrous planet as soon as we convene. In short, it was a blast and an honor.  

 

HT:  What’s on the horizon for you over the next couple of months?

 NC:  After this mini-tour with The Singers – and I must mention that Cyro Baptista is coming out with Scott, Trevor and me – I have duo gigs with Julian Lage at Canadian jazz festivals (our duo record is finished and will be out on Mack Ave. in the Fall), some recording in New York City with Mike Watt and Greg Saunier and a guitarist friend of Watt’s named Nick, recording with Anthony Braxton, a concert in Japan with Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band at Fuji Rock, my week in August at The Stone (NYC) wherein I play two shows per night with many different musicians to sort of re-tell my musical story in composition and improvisation, I have a few gigs here and in Austria with Ben Goldberg/Unfold Ordinary Mind, and a duo set in Austria (Saalfelden) with Marc Ribot.  That’s all I can think of at the moment.

Railroad Earth & Last of the Outlaws: Elusive Characters, Impressive Music

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It’s an elusive character, explains Railroad Earth mandolinst John Skehan. He has been talking about the band’s new album and that live moment when the beauty of music is revealed; that moment when everything clicks in a song, the good, the bad, the bum notes, and all.  It is that place that allows things in a song to free up, when everyone in the band is on the same wavelength and true musical bliss is found.  It is at that moment when a little spark ignites.  Skehan says it happens in that little place in between knowing the song just enough, but not quite enough. On their latest album, Last of the Outlaws, Railroad Earth found that elusive character over and over, crafting one of the strongest studio albums of their career.  It is an album that finds the band showcasing their strengths, the always glorious songwriting of singer/ guitarist Todd Shaeffer and the live powers and improvisational chops of bassist Andrew Altman, fiddler Tim Carbone, multi-instrumentalist Andy Goessling, drummer Carey Harmon, and Skehan.  Railroad Earth are quite simply the closest current thing we have to The Band today with the way they tap into the soul of Americana music and their ability to subtly infuse all that they do with a bluegrass inspired, mountain born, folksy-twang, and rocking heart all at once.  And Last of the Outlaws is the perfect representation of that musically inclusive, Americana soul.

 

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The band entered the studio in October of 2012 during some down time from the road.  They found a studio near their western New Jersey home that suited their needs.  That combined with the knowledge that they were going to be releasing the album on their own label helped ease some of the pressure of working under a deadline and allowed the band the freedom to find a space where we could all play at the same time and record everything closer to the live environment.  They imposed a rough end date of January (which is when they would be getting back out on the road) and spent the fall months of 2012 holed up in the studio working on Last of the Outlaws.

Whereas on their previous self-titled album in which they begin with an extensive pre-production process, this time around Skeehan says they started out just bouncing ideas around, just going in and playing, trying things out and recording them. This approach allowed songs to grow organically and has given the album an extremely live feel. Skehan said that throughout the process songs morphed and changed many times as the band worked out the original riffs and melodies of each tune as they combined new ideas with old and created brand new tunes every time they were 6221173596_a067b8816d_zhe mentions the brooding, piano driven, title track, “Last of the Outlaws, “as a song that evolved drastically over their time in the studio.  He said it became something “very, very different from the original fills and riffs they were playing around on.”  After jamming on some of the ideas and musical themes they had originally worked up for the song, they set it aside for few days until singer and guitarist Shaeffer came into the studio with a brand new song he had worked up with the ideas they had been fooling around with. This new song while rooted in the basic ideas they had been toying with, was something completely different and now had the familiar slow, jazzy feel that would become “Last of the Outlaws.”

 

Skehan says that it was the ability to just play, and get into each song that truly shaped the album and gave it its personality. “We would spend a couple of hours each day experimenting, just playing,” he says.  “We had a couple of free-wheeling weeks like that where we did not know where exactly what was going to be on the record and it was pretty liberating.  We were just playing and not thinking is this the take? Is this the song? What will this become next week? Instead it was just this jam that we were working through.”

This free-wheeling nature led to the band relaxing and stretching their exploratory legs out and allowing each song to try on many musical guises before finally taking shape.  The throbbing, joyous beat of “Monkey” was original recorded with the entire band crowded around a single microphone in an old-time jug-band style.  The rambling stripped down approach never fully took hold.  They redid it with the regular full-band line-up and an entirely different character of the song emerged.

 

7291359788_01f1fb8e50_z“Grandfather Mountain” was what Skehan called “very different” for them as a slow ballad. Originally the band did not intend for the track to have the lengthy, improvised section on the end of the song, but Skehan remembers that Shaeffer came into the studio with the arrangement of the song fully finished and the band just let [themselves] run with the end, and then sat back and said well, it’s kind of long, but realized [they] were digging into it the same way [they] would live and thought ‘this has some moments happening here, let’s just keep them . For Skehan it was just a reflection of what the band was up to that particular day, and they were just enjoying them moment and seeing where it would go. The lengthy, improvised section also gave the band the courage to pursue another idea they had been toying around with.

 

Tim CarboneThe highlight of the album is the twenty-one minute multi-part suite, “All that;’s Dead May Live Again/ Face with a Hole.”  The seven parts of this majestic, long-form, musical suite is the most ambitious, inspiring piece of music Railroad Earth has ever put down in the studio.  “There was a notion of saying let’s see if we can work on a long, openly composed piece, but that still contains some elements of improvisation that connect all these different ideas and w they can all hang together and work,” says Skehan.

 

There was some skepticism among the band that something that complex may not work in the realm of the rest of the album, but after the success of the lengthy section in “Grandfather Mountain,” the band realized, “the longer piece was more likely going to work and fit in with everything.  It did have some of those more experimental elements and orchestral elements, but there is also some rock ‘n’ roll happening as you get to the end of ‘Face with a Hole.'”  The piece does more than simply work; it helps define the entire character of the album.  In its twenty-one minutes it provides a deep introduction into who Railroad Earth is a band.  From the simple penny-whistle intro through the piano-led conclusion of “All thatss Dead May Live” that gives way to the raging intensity of “Face with a Hole,” before settling back down with the lush, sparse outro “In Paradisum,” all facets of the band are revealed, the lyrical dexterity of Shaeffer, the multi-instrumental prowess of Goessling, the tight rhythm section of drummer Harmon and bassist Altman, the dashing flourishes of Carbone’s fiddle, and the adventurous hand of John Skehan on the mandolin and piano.

 

6221173596_a067b8816d_zThe multi-part opus is also one of the only times in recording history that the benefit of CD will be ever touted over vinyl.  With the space limitations on vinyl, one can only imagine the twenty-minute suite being segregated to one side of the album, or even worse being neutered and split into two halves.  But by being able to keep it as one whole piece, and better yet, by being able to perfectly place it in the middle of the album, the piece serves to hold the whole album together.  It gives the album an almost live show feel which is perfect.  [Author’s note:  This will be the last time I praise the benefits of CDs over vinyl. Ever.]

 

The process of recording live as a group was one that appealed to Skehan, and one that he felt brought out the best in the band.  “I have always enjoyed what the ensemble does together when recording,” he says.  “To me that is always the most interesting when you can go home and listen to the rough mixes of things, to hear us working out new stuff and capturing it in the moment that is sometimes when we get our best results.”

 

7294865938_db23568608_zThere was no better example of this then while recording the title track.  After figuring out the arrangement the band went in and blasted through a couple of takes.  On their way back into the control room engineer Dean Rickard commented to the band, “That’s an impressive piece of music.”  Skehan and the rest of the band quickly recognized Rickard was right.  “We all realized that we shouldn’t try again as we will try too hard and didn’t think we needed to add any overdubs.  We decided to just leave it along, and with the exception of some bass clarinet added by Goessling that is the take that appears on the album.”

 

Last of the Outlaws is a high-water mark for Railroad Earth, an album that exemplifies what it is that makes the band up musically, and a strong statement where they are going from here.  It was an album that was created where the band is most comfortable, which is together, instruments in hand, just playing live with each other.

 

It is this dynamic that truly gives them their power and it is what made this such a special album for Skehan to be a part of.  “To me my favorite part of the process is while we are in it, while we are doing it.  Hearing the songs coming out of Todd and hearing not quite finished lyrics and thinking, ‘Wow, where is he going with this.’ And then when I hear it finished the next day it is always ‘Wow, I hear where he is it.’  It is the most exciting when you are doing it.  It is what is then.  I don’t worry about thinking about what I could change.”

Pontiak’s INNOCENCE: Thoughtful Intensity

Pontiak2Few bands play with the thoughtful intensity of Pontiak.  Built around the three Carney brothers, Jennings (bass), Lain (drums), and Van (guitar) from rural Virginia, Pontiak’s music is hard to pin down.  It is glides effortlessly from a sludgey stoner-rock feel to a swirling psychedelic rumble.  Their music is loud, complex, unsettling, and utterly intriguing. Quite simply it is the perfect music for a serious bout of headphone exploration.  But beneath all of that are gorgeously crafted songs that can exist just as easily in a wall of noise as they can in a simple acoustic strum.

First formed in 2004, Ponitak have released six full-length albums and three EPs.  Satisfying the wanderlust spirit of the three brothers who originally got their start in Baltimore, MD before moving back to their home in rural Virginia, each of their albums has been an adventurous approach to recording with the band always looking to shake up their artistic process to see what happens. Their latest album, INNOCENCE continues this trend.  Focusing, as guitarist and lead singer Van says, on the melodies and vocal lines of each song as opposed to the noise, textures, and ambient stuff, Pontiak have crafted their most accessible album yet, but one that stays true to murky, sludgy, soul-baring sound that is their music.

While navigating the mud-covered roads on the farm where they live, Van checked in with Honest Tune to talk about INNOCENCE.

 

Honest Tune:  The new album is due out January 28, what’s the feeling among you guys in anticipation of the release?

Van Carney:  We are definitely excited.  It has been quite a process and a long time coming.  I think we spent more time working on this album than any other record we have done.  I think it is just more excitement to have it out and be able to sell it at shows.

 

Pontiak INNONCENCE

HT:  Was it a plan to spend more time working on this one or is that just how things happened?

VC:  It was definitely a plan.  We worked on this album very differently.  We have had many different set-ups for our studio. This time we moved the studio out of the house where it used to be into a barn. We built that first and that took us like four or five months.  We planned on once we got in there on taking a whole new approach to writing the record.  We wrote it using melodies and vocal lines for the tracks and then writing music on top of it.  So it was something we wanted to give ourselves enough time with so we could have some reflection and meditate on it.

 

HT:  Was there a reason for that change in process?  Was it just time to shake things up?

VC: It was definitely that.  It was just part of the artistic process.  It is just listening to your gut and figuring out how are we going to navigate this and looking at the stars and going for it.  It was a case of if it feels right let’s do it this way.

The funny thing is that my brothers and I were just having a meeting and we were talking about the next record already which we have been talking about for a while already, and won’t come out for years – but it is one of those things we are constantly working on.  If I am not working on it I go nuts.  It’s just something I am constantly doing.

 

HT:  Did you enjoy this process more, less, or indifferent?

VC:  It was definitely different.  It was a great process.  It was hard work.  It was working through some scar tissue artistically.  Working with other people is a skill and talent.  Being able to collaborate and listen and go in a new direction when no one really knows where you are going is tough.  But you feel like let’s try this and see where it goes.  It’s like the old adage about too many cooks spoil the pot, but the thing is with us we always have three cooks all the time.  For us it is like, Ok, I am going to put on the salt, everyone come over here and taste it.  How does it taste? So for us it’s a lot of by committee.

 

photo by PJ Sykes

HT:  I always think the dynamic of brothers in a band can make things very interesting.  How does the dynamic of you guys being brothers impact your writing process?

VC: It’s a lot easier to fire someone you are not related to.  At the same time it is always probably easier to work with someone you are not related to.  I think what it has given us is the ability to not be able to run away from things and to have to work through issues.  But it can be really intense. A lot of bands go through line-up changes and figure out what will work and what won’t.  But with us that is not a possibility, so we have to work on things.  If you are stuck on something, you really have to work through that artistic difference in a way that is like, I trust you, you trust me, and we both want the fucking world for our band. We are both going for the same thing.  So we just have to recognize that. Once you can do that it’s pretty intense.  I think siblings can also go the other way where they want to kill each other or never speak to each again.

 

HT:  That seems to be the way lots of brothers in bands go, The Davies in The Kinks, The Gallaghers in Oasis, The Robinsons in the Black Crowes.  I am sure Christmas must be a nightmare at their houses.

VC:  [laughs] Yeah exactly.  To me that seems super depressing.

 

HT:  How do you feel about this new process?  Is it a continuation of what you have done before?  Is it a natural evolution for you guys as a band?

Pontiak - Photo by Lino Brunetti - Lino Brunetti BW

VC: It was a really cool process.  For all the previous albums, everything before [2012’s] Echo Ono, everything up to [2010’s] Living we had written in a really specific way.  We had written and recorded it in a first take.  We would go in with an idea and basically know where we are going to go.  It is not improve, but the whole point was to capture the spontaneity and immediacy of the artistic creation.  You are just looking at each other and playing, and you are not fucking around, you’re not noodling, you’re not wanking, you are just literally on the edge of can we keep this together.  All the albums up to Living were like that. It was just so much fun. It was something you were hanging on to that at any point could go widely out of control.  When we got to Living we thought we wanted to try something different after this.

I write a lot of songs by myself, which are more song orientated.  With Echo Ono we thought we would do it a little differently and focus on the song structure more and be a little more conventional and not just go for noise, textures, and ambient stuff.  With this album we said let’s just take that idea even further, let’s just keep on going.  On this album there were three songs I wrote, “Wildfires,” “Noble Head,” and the “Darkness is Coming” in my living room, months before and I brought them into the studio and we arranged them and used them.  We approached the other songs like that.  We said let’s cut out all the bullshit that is kind of cool, but is stuff that might be minimally engaging to someone not fully committed.  We wanted to know how can we do what we do with an audience and make it better.  We figured out what we think we do pretty well and we just minimized it to that.  We have this thing we do where we practice our songs acappella when we are in the van on tour.  We have problems with our stage sound sometimes because we are so loud and our vocals get lost.  That’s our fault because we are just playing to loud.  But when you practice these loud songs we have acappella everything becomes transparent.  And then you play them on an electric guitar not plugged in and Lain is just playing a little bit of snare and Jennings has his bass just barely turned up and you do your whole set like that when practicing it is kind of incredible.  You can see where everything is and what the song is really doing.  So that is how we wrote this album.  We stripped it down and saw what we were really doing.

 

HT:  Do we dare say we might see an acoustic tour?

VC: [laughs] An acoustic tour!  We actually have talked about that. We have a lot of acoustic songs and we are just waiting for the right opportunity to put an acoustic set together.  I love playing the acoustic guitar.  That is how I started.  I didn’t even own an electric guitar until I was like twenty.

 

HT:  With your past on the acoustic guitar, any influences or bands you really like that may shock people given the kind of music you make?

VC:  Good question. Nothing shocking, really standard stuff.  My dad was really into Leo Kotke’s first album.  I grew up listening to that.  I am into all kinds of old country music, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Hank and all those kind of people.  I can’t get away from Chuck Berry.  You have Elvis, but everything that came after that was informed by Chuck Berry.

 

HT:  The album is coming out the end of this month what are your plans?

VC:  We are basically going to be on tour the end of January through the end of June.  We will be at SXSW and a few other festivals after that.  Then we head over to Europe.  It is always a pleasure for us. Touring is definitely work but it is the easiest part of it.  Once you have your shit together and you have rehearsed and you have it down, you just go out and have fun. And that’s the thing we try and stay focused on is just having a good time.

Strings & Sol 2013: All About The Music

Strings & Sol When writing reviews you are always advised to not write in the first person as you are supposed to be objective and not let personal feelings interfere with the critique of the event, album, or music at hand. But sometimes the best way to truly express how special something was is through your own personal feelings. Strings & Sol 2013 was one of those events.

The past decade has seen an explosion in the number of music related festivals; seemingly every plot of land with the room to throw up a stage and let people camp has hosted a festival at some point in the past ten years. The new hot-trend lately has been the advent of the destination festival.  Group a couple of like-minded bands together and find some exotic location at a resort that is willing to host a horde of music fans looking to get away from the cold-weather of the winter months and boogie their butts off on the beach.  Then give it some kind of nifty play-on words name like Mayan Holidaze, Strings & Sol, or One Big Holiday – and viola you have a destination festival.  Now with that being said, one would be a fool to think that is all that it takes to start one of these festivals. The logistics and planning that goes into an event like Strings & Sols must be staggering.  And to pull it off as flawlessly as the folks at Strings & Sol did is even that much more impressive.  But it is not simply great planning, cool locations, and good weather that make people drop $1000s and head out of the country for a week.  There has to be something more.

DSCN2539editedIt would be easy to sum up how amazing an experience Strings & Sol 2013 was in a few sentences.  It was in Mexico.  The resort was unbelievable. The stage was set-up on the beach which allowed bare-foot dancing in the white sand while the waves gently rolled in next to you.  Leftover Salmon, as did the other four bands that were present – Yonder Mountain String Band, Railroad Earth, Greensky Bluegrass, and Keller Williams & the Traveling McCourys – killed it all weekend with help from Little Feat’s Billy Payne who was a surprise guest for the festival.  But that would not do justice to the personal experience it was.  For people to make such a trip there is something more that draws people.

My wife and I got married a few months back.  Strings & Sol ended up being a belated honeymoon for us. One our favorite songs is Yonder Mountain String Band’s “Midwest Gospel Radio.”  It is a beautiful piece of music that meant so much to us we used it extensively at our wedding.  It is a song that no matter when we hear it brings goose-bumps and the memory of the wedding rushing back. Needless to say it is a bit special to us.  On the flight down from our home in Baltimore to Mexico my wife asked me if she thought Yonder might play “Midwest Gospel Radio,” at some point. With the confidence of the set list coinsurer that I think I am, I answered, “I don’t know, they don’t play it that much so I would not count on it.”  Friday afternoon during Yonder’s sunset show, I had left to grab a couple of drinks by the pool bar.  I know what you are thinking, “Why would you leave?”  In my defense the pool was mere steps away from the beach, you could still hear the music from the stage, and I couldn’t find a waiter on the beach (yes, there were waiters on the beach delivering drinks during the music.  I know how awesome).  As I waited for my cerveza and wife’s DSCN2677editedmudslide, I heard the first few simple gorgeous notes of “Midwest Gospel Radio.”  I grabbed my drinks and sprinted back towards the beach not wanting to miss this moment.  With drinks in hand I hurdled the small set of bushes between the pool and the walkway to the beach. I shimmed my way through the crowd and made it to my wife whose smile was lighting up the whole beach.  She reminded me of my doubt in hearing this song, and then added “this just made my trip.”  The addition of Billy Payne on keys and Railroad Earth’s Andy Goessling on saxophone only served to bring the song to life that much more.  And it was in that moment, as we stood there with goose-bumps on arms, that the real reason that people travel such lengths to go to events like this; the music.  It is the music and the deep connections we build with the bands and songs.  It is the power to hear a song and be instantly transported back to some living changing event. It is ability to have every memory you have flood back through the simple sound of a couple of chords.

DSCN2292editedIt would probably be safe to say that not everyone on the beach during “Midwest Gospel Radio” had the same reaction as us.  But it can probably be said that all who attended Strings & Sol found their own personal moment of music that reminded them why they came all this way to see some bands play some tunes.  And at Strings & Sol this year there were plenty of them.  It might have been getting to hear Leftover Salmon blast through a couple of Little Feat tunes, in “Fat Man in the Bathtub” and “Dixie Chicken,” as Billy Payne sat in with the band. It could have the appropriate festival opener of James Taylor’s “Mexico” by Greensky Bluegrass.  It could have been the way Keller Williams and the Traveling McCourys played through a raging rainstorm that cut short their set to then quickly move inside to the lobby bar and pick up exactly where they had left off in “Mullet Cut.”  Maybe it was the simpler things that stirred your soul like the playful afternoon session of Name That Tune Bingo at the pool with Keller Williams, Vince Herman, and his son Silas or the quiet intensity of the afternoon picking clinic with Ronnie McCoury and Railroad Earth’s Andy Goessling and John Skehan.  Maybe it was the way your favorite band seemed to be enjoying the music being played even more than you.  Looking over and catching Leftover Salmon’s Drew Emmitt grooving on the beach during Yonder Mountain String Band’s afternoon set.  Or seeing the guys from Greensky getting-down when every they were not on stageDSCN2184edited including a Mexican wrestling mask adorned Dave Bruzza holding court at the pool bar during the raging beauty of Railroad Earth’s transcendent headlining Friday night set that was a true highlight of the entire fest.  Over the four days of music there were limitless moments that stood out.  Some obvious for all to see, some like “Midwest Gospel Radio,” more personal and less obvious.  But regardless of what your highlight was, Strings & Sol provided plenty of them.

The beauty of live music is the unexpectedness of it. The twist and turns a familiar song can take live on stage that grow even more hair-raising when a band brings guests on stage and allow them to do their own unique thing.  Every festival seems to feature sit-ins, but at an event like Strings & Sol with the tightknit relationship’s that many of the band’s share when combined with the loose relaxed atmosphere lead to an abundance of guest appearances.  There was the ubiquitous presence of unannounced guest Billy Payne who lent his touch to every band through the weekend.  A surprise sit-in from Umphrey’s McGee’s Joel Cummins with Greensky Bluegrass during “Lose My Way” made it seem like anything was possible.  It was a common occurrence to look to the stage and see fiddler Jason Carter, Ronnie McCoury, and Greensky’s Anders Beck jumping onstage to provide a couple of tasty links to the DSCN2482editedproceedings.  There was the guest laden “Franklin’s Tower” during Leftover Salmon’s headlining set which included Billy Payne, Keller Williams, Ronnie McCoury, and Jason Carter which was a fifteen minute sensory overload.  While it seemed everyone got in on the sit-in vibe of the event, the true MVP of the sit-in’s was Railroad Earth’s fiddler Tim Carbone who seemingly never left the stage throughout the entire festival.  He was with Keller and the McCourys as they blasted through John Hartford’s “Vamp in the Middle,” just as he was onstage through most of Leftover Salmon’s shows.  He also joined Yonder for a number of songs during their three shows including a healthy “Traffic Jam” > “Rag Doll” > “Traffic Jam.”  He was even there late-night at the lobby bar as an impromptu picking-session sprang up with band mate Skehan and some of the contestants from the picking contest held early that day.

Regardless of what your moment was, you were sure to find one.  And when you did, and you got those goose-bumps and youDSCN2604edited danced with your feet in the ocean and your smile lit up the beach you knew why you had come.  It was not for the sun-kissed pool, or the all you could eat food, or all inclusive bar.  No, it was none of that, it was quite simply for The music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Band’s Eye View 2013

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As 2013 comes to a close and year-end Best of Lists start popping up highlighting all the great music that was made this year, we at Honest Tune, wanted to find out what all those musicians who appear on all these best of lists were listening to this year.  So we asked some of our favorite bands what albums moved them this year and what were their memorable moments from a year full of great live shows.  Their answers provide a wide sampling of some of the great music that was made this year.  Some of it familiar, some of it not, but all of it well worth checking out.  Read on and hopefully discover some great, new music from 2013.

 

 

 

 

The four questions we asked each musician were:

1.) What were your 3 favorite albums of 2013?

2.) What was your favorite live moment of the year?

3.) What album or band were you most excited to discover in 2013?

4.) What are you looking forward to most in 2014?

 

 

DSCN8505editedKeller Williams

1.)  1. Bob Marley & The Wailers, Legend Remixed. Fresh spins on a universal music.

2. Pretty Lights, A Color Map of the Sun. It’s interesting how a DJ/producer will have humans play his ideas on instruments, record them on tape, press them to vinyl, then load it all in to the computer. That’s going above and beyond the call of duty.

3. White Denim’s, Corsicana Lemonade.  Super cool rock that rocks hard.

2.) Summer Camp in Chillicothe, Illinois.  Victor Wooten sat in with me the entire set.  It was tasty and the band was thrilled to be in the presence of the such musical greatness as Victor Wooten.  I  also enjoyed  the Bassnectar show at The Fillmore in Maryland.  I was dead center on the dance floor and my sternum was rattled. The energy went through the roof, it was powerful sh**t.

3.)  Breastfist, Tickly Shimmers. So funky. So complex. So funny. So weird. So good. Key track?  “Talk to the Fist”.

4.)  Looking forward to two huge bus tours with my new side project, More Than A Little.

(To hear more about Keller’s thoughts on Breastfist and his busy 2013, check out Honest Tune’s recent interview with him. Keller Williams with more than a little, its funky )

 

 

DSCN1473editedPaul Hoffman – Greensky Bluegrass

1.)  This is always tough.  I ask myself, “Did they have to be released in 2013 or did I just need to dig them in 2013?”

1.  Jason Isbell Southeastern.  Anders [Beck] said, “Listen to it and try not to love it.”  He was right.  This guy is freakin’ brilliant.

2.  Dawes Stories Don’t End.  I also think Taylor Goldsmith is a great writer.  If I dig the lyrics, I can latch on to a record in an unhealthy-listen-everyday kinda way.  I played this one a lot while we were flying this summer.

3.  Fruition Just One of Them Nights.  We just did 30+ shows with this band this fall.  I came home and listened to the album right away.  That’s got to say something.  Three amazing writers in this band.  Five incredible musicians.  Boy can they sing pretty too.

I did it.  All released in 2013.  I checked.

2.) In Chicago or Detroit I don’t know, we do so many shows in a row.” Checks calendar for a visual memory of the year, this is tough too.  I’m going with a recent memory.  It’s accessible and different.  I saw a lot of amazing music this year and (think) I played a great deal as well.  A piece that I will hold on to though is the emotion after our 9 week tour.  It’s sort of a sum-of-musical-moments. We worked so hard to keep it fresh every night and musically challenge ourselves and the listeners. The last show was hard but somehow we pulled it off.  I expected to be relieved (and certainly was) but I was struck with this nostalgia like never before.  I’ve already confronted this truth that there will never be another tour like that one.  I cried a little and it shocked me.  I was really surprised.  That’s a memory.

3.)  Jason Isbell.  The others above I was already familiar with.  Glad to be following him through future projects as well as looking back at his previous catalog. 

4.)   We’ve been working all year on a new album and it’s going to be released early in the year.  I’m anxious for people to hear it and there are some songs I’m excited to play.  Greensky is also going to play some amazing festivals in 2014.  I can’t say which but I can admit being stoked!

 

 

Mike DevolMike Devol – Greensky Bluegrass

1.)  1.  Jason Isbell, Southeastern. For someone who is generally so chipper, I’m a sucker for heartbreak. Not to say that it’s all sad- each song is just really poignant, and what Isbell says, he says really beautifully. I’m not yet incredibly familiar with his work with the Drive by Truckers, but this solo album is stripped down so charmingly, each arrangement in awesome service to its message. I listen to it almost every day.

2.  Frightened Rabbit, Pedestrian Verse. This Scottish band has released several albums, but their newest, Pedestrian Verse, is the one that has hooked me. It’s a study in texture, each band member contributing to a truly creative composite sound, that results in an album full of anthems. I find myself drumming on random objects and singing along at the top of my lungs.

3.  Lorde The Love Club EP. This is the prequel release to this fall’s super blockbuster pop sensation, Pure Heroine, which I also love. I know this is a jam publication- don’t judge me, but this 16-year old girl from New Zealand has created something pretty awesome in a world where Miley Cyrus and Toby Keith are the types to usually sell a ton of albums. She has a beautiful and unique voice, and the electronic accompaniment is just so damn sonically pleasing. Can’t stop listening.

2.)  Is it arrogant to choose a Greensky moment? Truth is, I play a hell of a lot more shows than I see, and I can’t think of any concert experience of this year that can hold a candle to the feeling I get when onstage with my boys. We finished a 47(?) show tour in mid-November with two sold-out nights at the Gothic Theater in Denver. That second night was some of the best fun I’ve had. We took the stage with a sense of victory that took us through that whole show, all relishing in the joy of playing, the pride of what we’d just accomplished, and the energy of perhaps our greatest fans of all.

3.)  Fruition. Didn’t discover them in 2013, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t discover just how awesome they are over the course of touring with them this year. If you haven’t heard of this 5-piece from Portland, OR, go buy all of their albums. When I first met Fruition, they had this charming string band sound, but with the addition of drums and the resulting growth in their songwriting styles, they’ve really come into an amazing, unique rock sound that is only theirs. I’m just getting started- They have three solid songwriters who can also sing stellar lead. Perhaps the most prolific of these is Jacob Anderson, who is also one of the best guitarists I know. Just plain shreds. Their three and sometimes four-part harmonies and vocal arrangements are some of the best in the business. And they’re just a bunch of solid, badass folks. Thankful that this year saw so many Greensky shows with Fruition as support. Next year, they’ll be too big to come out with us!

4.)  Sky’s the limit for 2014. First of all, I am just stoked for the release of our new album, If Sorrows Swim. We’ve been working on it all year, and I can’t wait to share it with our people, and hopefully some people who aren’t already “ours” in February or March. More great songs from Hoffman and Bruzza, self-produced and recorded with Glenn Brown in Michigan, like our last studio effort Handguns.

In true Greensky form, we’ll also be touring a lot. Festival season is already shaping up, and although I’m not allowed to talk about a lot of it yet, there is plenty to be excited about. What am I most excited about in 2014? The unknown. With all the exciting stuff that is happening for us, I’m gonna take the the optimist’s path and say that what I’m most excited about is all the cool stuff that isn’t planned yet. Who knows what the year will bring in terms of life and music-making experience, and I think that’s what keeps Greensky ticking in this often restless world of the touring musician- the people we meet, the scenes out the window of the bus, the crowds we play for, the spontaneous ontage pop-song teases. We have a lot of fun, and that’s what’s keeping us sane, and that’s what keeps us going from year to year. Come out and share in the revelry.

 

 

Patrick Rainey1Patrick Rainey – The Bridge, Freedom Enterprise

1.)  1.  Anders Osborne Peace – From the guy who brought us Three Free Amigos comes a full-length album that is brewed thick with soul and grit. Peace adds to a collection of songs that sticks with the listener like a heroin addiction. Anders’ guitar playing drips with good intention, but is over-driven to the point of dissonant overtones, yet somehow reaches the light at the end of the tunnel. This simple three piece band brings New Orleans Swamp to distortion levels, adding saxophone and the Hammond B3 along the way.

2. Lorde Pure Heroine – Intimate and fantastic, Pure Heroine is perfect for road trips and fornication. Consistent thumping bass lines and up-close vocals lend to a soothing and hypnotic experience. Nothing too complicated here, just good songs, perfectly executed with easy production. Albums like this usually make their way to my playlist because it’s clean and relaxing.

3.  Arcade Fire Reflektor – In contradiction to the previous two albums, Reflektor, has an uncanny abundance of density. The album itself has a live feel only because there is people clapping and cheering like there is a live audience, but the album ideally could not be more over-produced. This is one of the most expensive, collaborative, intense, and imaginative journeys one could expect out of listening to a bunch of invisible wave “sounds.”

2.)  David Byrne and St. Vincent (Baltimore, MD 6/13/13). – My buddy Cris Jacobs had won two tickets from WTMD the night of the show, and he asked me to go. I couldn’t be more excited because I really wanted to see David Bryne. I had never seen a show at the Myerhoff and it took my breath away from the moment I took my required seat. The band started, laying on the floor playing to the suspended honeycomb sound diffusing apparatus, that reflected the sound out to the mass of rather boisterous people. When David Byrne came out the crowd erupted, and I think I cried a little but I was soon brought back by his candor and personality. He said he had spent the day biking around Druid Hill Park, but it sounded more like “Droodle Pork” as he was demonstrating his best Bawlmer accent. He’s one of us, I thought. I soon realized that his counter part in the show, St. Vincent, was from another planet. She glided and pulsed so fluidly with the music, her presence was unmistakable, all while absolutely killing her vocal melodies and shredding a mean black shiny guitar. The accompanying marching horn section used every square foot of the stage and everyone played at least three instruments. Each song ended with a hard stop and the sound reverberated through the hall and through the bones of every person there. Acoustically perfect for that space, the band ended the show playing a few Talking Heads tunes, then laid back down on the hard symphony floor and played to that crazy ceiling.

3.)  Daft Punk – I was most excited for Random Access Memories because I remember jumping up and down on my futon listening to Discovery in my dorm room. This duo of robots produces the finest French disco in all the land. Throw a pile of synthesizers and vocoders at Pharrell and add a little Nile Rodgers and you got yourself a hit. Though after one listen, I did realize that I’m not in college anymore.

4.)  Next year I’m looking forward to playing lots of festivals with my new band Freedom Enterprise and this winter with The Bridge in Jamaica. 2013 has been a good year for music as the industry’s misfortunes have started to trimming out the grizzle. On behalf of all the musicians out there, I would like to thank the fans for their continued support. We’re the lucky ones.

 

 

Karl DensonKarl Denson – Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Greyboy All-Stars

1.)  1.  Justin Timberlake “20/20 Experience: I feel like this record kind of came out of nowhere. There is no real hip-hop being played on the radio anymore,  and the pop songs are monotone and terrible. I like the fact that a real R&B crooner record was able to make such a statement. I also like that all the songs are long.

2.  Fat Freddy’s Drop: I happened upon this record listening to public radio and I couldn’t take it off my playlist for a few months. Just a great sound, Nice mix of influences and A strangely familiar voice.

3.  Danger Mouse and Danielle Luppi “Rome”: just a beautiful album. The harmonies are way more interesting than I expected.

2.) Last Christmas I finally got to see Jack White live. ‘Nuff said.

 3.)   I can’t say a specific band. I discovered a lot of music this year. There’s a lot going on and a lot of things are changing.

4.)  This year I’m looking forward to making lots of music. The Tiny Universe has been going well and has a new album, New Ammo, dropping in February. I’m also taking my son to Costa Rica.

 

 

John Ginty 8x10John Ginty

1.)  1.  Amelita by Court Yard Hounds. Yes, I played on it, but it really is an amazing record. This is the second record from Emily and Martie of the Dixie Chicks, with Martin Strayer co-writing the songs and playing guitar. Great listen top to bottom, great traveling record.

2.  Made Up Mind by Tedeschi Trucks Band. They make GREAT records, that sound amazing thanks to Jim Scott, and have you seen them live?  Make that happen if you haven’t, one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Old school.

3.  Shout! by Govt. Mule. Always a fan of the band and their records, this was a cool idea to do the second disc with special guests on vocals. My favorite treatment is “Funny Little Tragedy” with Elvis Costello.

2.)  Playing the first notes of “Not Ready to Make Nice” with the Dixie Chicks on the “Long Time Gone Tour” in Canada. The power of song is incredible. You could light up a city with that energy.

3.)  Samantha Fish. She rocks. She released her new record Black Wind Howlin’ on the same day my new record came out, and I started seeing her name all over the place. Really dig her playing, energy, and songwriting.

4.)  I’m looking forward to summer, honestly. Touring in this crappy cold weather is for the birds.

(Check out Honest Tune’s interview with John Ginty about his new album Bad News Travels.  John Ginty: They can’t take the organ away from me)

 

 

Chris Pandolfi1Chris Pandolfi – Infamous Stringdusters

1.) 1.  The BandLive at the Academy of Music 1971.  Everybody loves the Band, myself included. I was so excited when this came out, even though I’ve heard most of this stuff a million times before. But that’s the beauty of the Band–their music is the realest real deal, and it only gets better with time. Even though they are known for their songs/recordings, the live performance is magical. The horn arrangements at this show are so regal and perfect, the Dylan stuff is amazing, and the setlist is something to behold. Imagine having that many incredible songs? Thank God for the Band.

2.  Washed Out – Paracosm.  I discovered Washed Out’s Life of Leisure EP a few years back and it had a huge impact on me right away. His sound is beautiful–dreamy and heavily textured but totally accessible. He’s got great simple songs and a truly unique sound, something I really admire as an artist. His follow up to Life of Leisure (Within and Without) was good but Paracosm is absolutely great. I feel like the sound is much more his own, versus the production on Within and Without. It’s as if he got back to his roots, and I love it. He also has a legit live band (I saw them in Boulder in September) that combines elements of electronic synth-pop with real instruments and lots of vocals. It was a big step forward from earlier iterations of the performance. I hope the Washed Out albums keep on coming.

3.  Phoenix – Bankrupt.  I’m a big Phoenix fan. I loved their last album, and in many ways this record is an extension of that sound. It’s all very consistent–pop hooks framed by really creative production. When Bankrupt dropped I couldn’t turn it off, and that’s the sign of a great album. There’s some conceptual stuff in there, and just a bunch of catchy songs. They also included a cool mashup of ‘sketches,’ entitled the Bankrupt Diaries, which looks at different early impressions of the music. You hear snippets of working versions which gives a cool glimpse into the evolution of the music for this album.

2.)  I went out of my way to see some great bands that I follow this past year, which always reminds me of how great true fandom feels. We lose touch with that feeling as professional musicians, but it’s so important and I’m more into it than ever. But far and away my most memorable musical moment this year was playing with John Scofield at The Festy Experience (our annual festival in central VA). Sco is my absolute improvising hero. His playing is just pure feeling, something I aspire to every time I get on stage–it’s the only thing the untrained ear really relates to and thus your greatest responsibility as a performer. It helps to be good, but it’s essential to be real, and Scofield is the best at both. He sat in with the Stringdusters for two songs, one of his, “Kelpers,” and one of ours, “Fire.”  We took a solo together, trading ideas and flowing with the music. Though the fan side of me was just freaking out, he was so cool through the whole experience that the music really came to life. I can never remember being more inspired on stage. Thank you John Scofield, you are a musical God.

3.)  I recently got into a great new album called Kittyhawk by Ki:Theory (aka Joel Burleson). He’s managed by a friend, and I’ve been aware of him for a while, but this album is just sick, a huge step forward in both writing and production. Ki:Theory doesn’t tour much, so the recording is kind of the thing. His early stuff was more vibey songwriter stuff, but the album is so thick with creative production, but not just for production’s sake. The sounds bring the music to life in just the right way, and they range all over the sonic map. It’s really impressive and great sounding–a big inspiration for me in my solo endeavors. I could see his music being much much more popular.

4.)  I’m looking forward to working on my solo stuff this coming year (TradPlus). The Stringdusters is such a dream come true musical outlet, but it’s also all about the art of compromise. I’ve been into lots of different sounds/styles for a long time and I’m finally gearing up to release some music and perform solo. The concept has evolved a lot over the past few years as I have learned the world of programming, worked on playing new instruments and discovered new influences. This is my vision, and I don’t have to compromise anything–it’s daunting but also totally liberating. I work a lot in my home studio, which is tailored pretty specifically for producing my own stuff–lots of software, VSTs, but also lots of instruments. It’s about new and different sonic textures, but it’s mostly about songs.

 

 

robert-walterRobert Walter – Robert Walter’s 20th Congress,  The Greyboy Allstars

1.)  It’s a little embarrassing, but I don’t really know very much about albums from 2013.  Mostly I’ve been listening to old records.  Lots of Prince and The Time lately, also Cymande and Black Sabbath.  I got a cassette player and have been enjoying shopping at the thrift store for tapes.

2.)  Greyboy Allstars late night at High Sierra Music Festival was one of my favorite gigs this year.  We also did three nights this summer in NYC with Houston Person, James Carter and Gary Bartz, one each night.  It was fun to play with those guys and hear them up close. Very inspiring.

3.)  I love The Mike Dillon Band.

4.)  More touring, writing and recording.  I enjoy making music.

 

 

Tom-Hamilton-3Tom Hamilton – American Babies

1.) 1.  Arcade Fire – Reflektor.  These guys are batting 1000 when it comes to making records. With a sound that is unique and always evolving. I look forward to their releases with the same excitement that I have for Radiohead albums.

2.  Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle.  Don’t sleep on this. She is part Nick Drake, part Leonard Cohen, and all woman. Her songs are devastating, her voice like a ghost in a dream.

3.  Atoms For Peace – Amok.  Four words: Thom Yorke and Flea.

2.)  I did a show in January with a bunch of my friends called “Joe Russo’s Almost Dead.” It was one of those nights that you never forget. We all clicked right from the first note.

3.)  Laura Marling. She’s is an absolute delight.

4.)  Touring the country a couple times over with American Babies. We’re coming for ya…

(Read our recent interview with Tom Hamilton on the making of his latest album, Knives & Teeth. Tom Hamilton & American Babies get their Knives and Teeth out)

 

 

JenningsJennings Carney – Pontiak

1.)  1.  Portal Vexovoid because it is super interesting and textured.

2. Cass McCombs Big Wheel and Others because it just is.
3. Rediscovered “Dreaming My Dreams”, by Waylon Jennings.

2.)  We played Hopscotch festival in Raleigh and participated in Seth Olinsky’s Band Dialogue. It was awesome. A bunch of bands set up in a closed off street and played one long big droning piece of music.

3.)  I don’t know.

4.)  Going on tour in the US and Europe in support of our new album.  Making more music videos with remote controlled apparatus.

 

 

GC-PR JPEG color _1Carol Young – The Greencards

1.)  1.  Paul Kelly – Spring and Fall.  Honest songwriting. Paul is in a class of his own.

2. Sarah Jarosz – Build Me Up From Bones.  Sarah’s an outstanding musician and songwriter. Sonically this album is on a whole other level.

3. Mark Knopfler – Privateering. Has two of the best songs I’ve heard all year, “Seattle” and “Redbud Tree”.

2.)  Paul Kelly at The Mercy Lounge during the Americana Conference, Nashville TN, Sept 2013.

3.)  Austin band, Sons of Fathers.

4.)  Heading back to Australia to play CMC Rocks The Hunter Festival in March 2014.  It’s going to be great to take our new album home.

 

 

Brian HaasBrian Haas – Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey

1.) 1. Samuel Jackson Five – Samuel Jackson Five

2. Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus

3. All Hail Bright Futures – And So I Watch You From Afar

Because I love new, unique, good, mostly instrumental rock and roll.

 2.)  My favorite live music moment was playing my new album Frames with Johnny Vidacovich at Snug Harbor in NOLA.

3.)  I was most excited to rediscover the Fuck Buttons, awesome album.

4.)  I am looking forward to Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey’s 20th Anniversary Tour !

 

 

Garrett7Garrett Anderson

1.) 1. Ben Folds Five – Live.  So glad those three got back together for “The Sound of the Life of the Mind” in 2012.  This live release was icing on the cake, especially since I didn’t make it out to see them on tour.

2.  Jack Johnson – From Here to Now to You.  Music video footage made me a little jealous I wasn’t in Hawaii making albums.  I’m a huge Zach Gill (ALO) fan and am glad those two teamed up.  Jack’s music is simple, but when I let it, it amplifies how much I love my life and the wonderful people in it.

3.  Anders Osborne – Peace.  I’ve only recently been turned onto Anders and I’m so glad I did.  His music resonates with me in a deep dark beautiful place.  He’s became a huge musical inspiration for me bridging the singer-songwriter and jamband worlds.  I’m still getting into the nitty-gritty of Peace, but a few casual listens and it sounds to me like he’s on top of his game.

2.)  Can I pick one of each? Being 2nd row Paige-side for Phish in Reading, PA for a great 2nd set (thanks Marc).  We were so close that the camera guy would intermittently block our view of Trey to get footage of guitar solos.  For me, I finally got to visit my wife’s family in Texas this year.  At my next gig back home, I sang a lyric of mine “we’ve yet to cross off visiting Texas” and got a huge smile on my face because we finally did cross it off the list.  What used to be a bittersweet lyric evolved into a reminder of a great family trip.

3.)  Snarky Puppy – I noticed some social-media buzz for their show in Baltimore so I checked them out online and was hooked.  They nurture music to get the maximum smoothness and groove out of each tune.  I wish I had the focus and chops to compose like them.  Just cool, quality, wonderfully executed stuff.

4.)  Seeing Umphreys McGee in town for my 30th birthday – you gotta get old but you don’t haveta grow up.  Also, my bassist buddy Paul has a nice home-studio and I’m excited to hunker down and work on new recordings with him.

 

 

seth walkerSeth Walker

1.)  1.  Wood Brothers – The Muse.  Creative, soulful, uncluttered music. it takes me back to the old Band recordings with a brand new/old thang slung from their hip.

2.  Tedeschi/Trucks Band – Made Up Mind.  Good songs and great tones performed by actual musicians.

3.  Justin Timberlake – 20/20.  “Pusher Love Girl” is a bad ass soul pop production.

2.)  Performing with Allen Toussaint in NYC and playing at Magnolia Festival Ampitheater to an amazing listening/dancing music loving crowd.

3.)  I discovered Rodriguez. The Sugar Man soundtrack. So damn hip and a great story!

4.)  Releasing my new album produced by Oliver Wood.

 

 

HowlingBros-ParkingLot-ByJoshuaBlackWilkinsIan Craft – Howlin’ Brothers

1.)  1.  Doc & Merle Watson – Down South

2.  John Hartford, Tony Rice and Vassar Clements – Hartford Rice & Clements

3.  Sanctified Grumblers – No Lie

2.)  Playing the banjo concert on The Shady Grove Stage at The Winnipeg Folk Festival in July.
Brother Jared Green joined me for some shuffle drum set adventures.  It was very silly and
fun.  Can’t beat that!

3.)  outta Chicago.  They feel good to my soul.

4.)  Being a troubadour.

 

 

KennyRobyKenny Roby

1.)  1.  The National – Trouble Will Find Me.  I really like the National. They strike that dark nerve in me. They let me know everything might not be alright. Like a good Cormac McCarthy novel.

2.  Charles Bradley – Victim of Love.  Like with Ted Hawkins, its hard to separate the story from the songs. But both of them are the real deal. Putting their stories out there blood, piss and all.

3.  Chance The Rapper.  I guess he really hasn’t made an official record this year? Just mix tapes. But my son turned me onto him and he is one of the better MCs out their in my opinion. Really dig his style.

Honorable Mentions: Nick Cave, Ron Sexsmith, Paul McCartney (these are all good records but I haven’t truly sunk my teeth into them yet). These guys are so good though that it is like saying “which teams will do well this year…. besides the Yankees and Red Sox. ‘

And last I have to mention Snoop Lion. That movie and record are the most strange and in some ways “Rock ‘n’ Roll” releases in 2013. You almost can’t describe how weird the whole thing is. I love it.

2.)  Someone yelling “Seth Rogan” at me in front of a 1500 people opening for Citizen Cope. Us overweight curly haired guys gotta stick together.

3.)  Charles Bradley

4.)  Recording new songs with my old pals from Six String Drag in January. I have no idea what we will call it. It doesn’t matter. For now I am just going to bring in some songs and we’ll bang them out and see what happens on the tape machine. Also I plan on playing more shows in 2014 than I did in 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keller Williams with More Than A Little, It’s Funk

DSCN1498edited Keller Williams has released a new album, recorded live over several nights and billed as Keller Williams with More Than a Little (MTAL). Sticking with his monosyllabic motif, the album is called Funk. Honest Tune had a chance to chat with Keller about this album and the band behind it. He was home in Virginia, on a rare day off, and the excitement about the new project was evident in his voice.

 

In the past, when Keller has created a band, it has consisted of players that Keller fans already knew well. Not this time. Keller picked up a band of local Virginia players who spend more time playing churches than bars. The album is called Funk, but it is full of gospel, soul, disco, and R&B elements. It consists of ten songs, six of them covers, ranging from Rick James to the Grateful Dead, from Talking Heads to Flight of the Conchords.

 

More Than a Little consists of Keller on vocals and electric guitar, EJ Shaw on bass, Gerard Johnson on keys, Toby Fairchild on drums, and vocals from Tonya Lazenby Jackson and Sugah Davis.

DSCN8505edited

When speaking about the origins of MTAL, Keller expressed a deep sense of awe. “I think it’s a natural progression, going into deeper, soulful R&B, gospel type of funk. I mean this is not your ordinary group of guys trying to play funk music. These folks have allowed me into their world, man. I think these folks feel the funk and they understand the soulful R&B formula that has been foreign to me until now. Teaching them these songs and having them teach them back to me, it’s been a real, super inspiring experience and it continues to be.”

 

The name of the band is also the name of one of the originals on the album. Keller says this name came from the feelings he got the first time he played with this group. He was more than a little happy, more than a little inspired. And of course, the group is “more than a little funky.”

 

Keller was connected with this group of musicians through Fairchild, who played drums as a part of The Added Bonus, one of Keller’s New Year’s Eve run bands from the past couple of years. While his sense of amazement came through for the entire band, it was particularly prevalent when speaking about the awesome powers of Johnson. “If you ever listen to an African-American sermon – you know with the people cheering them on and there’s organ in the background – that’s Gerard. His ears are constantly open, he’s following everything. He’s an auditory genius.”

DSCN1510edited

 

 Keller’s brand is built on his one-of-a-kind, one-man looping show. When he is alone, he can go anywhere on a moment’s notice. He can change songs, switch tempos, drop out and start over; there are no rules. That is a special kind of freedom. But a band brings with it many advantages as well. Keller reflected on that freedom versus those constraints that playing with a band provides:

 “Oh my god. That’s the thing with these people. I can’t say enough how they allow me to be in their world, you know? There’s a certain kind of freedom playing solo where you can go anywhere at any time and that’s not always the case with a band. Except for this band. This band is so used to following different energies, whether it be a preacher or some kind of R&B thing. In R&B, at any time, the lead singer can say ‘break it down’ and then go into some kind of story. You know, it’s like, it’s almost as free as playing solo, playing with these folks, because they’re so in tune with what I’m doing, they’ll follow me anywhere and slip right in as if we rehearsed. There’s a certain element of improv that I didn’t expect going into this project, you know, is really unbelievable.”

 

 

When asked if his band with their gospel background have started calling him Reverend, Keller deadpans, “They call me a lot of things,” but Reverend is not one of them. But that does seem to be the role that he is playing in this band. He is the man in front, leading his people through their rites while his band follows him seamlessly from place to place. Close your eyes and you can almost see Keller running back and forth on stage, wireless mic strapped on, serving as the leader of less an audience than a congregation.

 

The album opens with a cover of the Flight of the Conchords, “I Told You I Was Freaky.”  Keller admits that the band was not DSCN1499editedfamiliar with that song or anything the Flight of ther Conchords has done.  In fact, he still doesn’t think they have ever heard the original. But they certainly bring their own unique approach to the song and it brings out a funk sensibility to the song that is certainly less prevalent in the original. Keller also admits the band had never played Grateful Dead songs before; this too was new to them. But you would never know it listening to their funked-up version of “West L.A. Fade Away.”

 

One of the most underrated, but most powerful parts of Keller’s new band his the strength of singers, Tonya Lazenby and Sugah Davis.  Since this band first started, Keller says his upfront singers have been “getting some love from other bands too and that’s really exciting.” And he likes to make clear that he does not see Lazenby and Davis as background singers, rather as upfront singers.  He feels their contributions and what they add to each song makes them more than just simple back-up singers. He compares what they do to the deep, powerful harmonies he heard in later day versions of the Jerry Garcia Band by vocalists Jaclyn Branch and Gloria Jones.

 

The band moves effortlessly from Talking Heads “Once in a Lifetime,” to Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” to Rick James’ “Mary Jane.” The latter is the only track on the album on which Keller is not singing lead, showcasing his upfront singers. These songs all come from very disparate traditions, but Keller and MTAL make them all work within one solid sound. The album closes with a mash-up entitled “Samson’s Wine,” which moves back and forth between “Wine,” by Danny Barnes and “Samson and Delilah.”  It’s a song that fits perfectly with the gospel-flavored tinge of the album. While most people associate “Samson and Delilah” with The Grateful Dead, Bob Weir initially learned the song from the Reverend Gary Davis (though Davis was not an actual Reverend he was very spiritual).

 

When asked what music he has been listening to lately Keller said he has been very excited about a band called Breastfist, that he says is, “a mix of Ween meets, super-funk, it’s like Ween, Zappa but with a real strong sense of groove and funk.”  He has been particular enamored with their song “Talk to the Fist.”  Given Keller’s always wandering musical-muse perhaps one day in the near future or even at his up-coming always raging New Year’s Eve bash you can hear Keller include the song his set and sing, “Momma’s got nothing but love/she’ll fuck you up if push comes to shove.”

 

Follow Josh Klemons  on Twitter @jlemonsk

Greensky Bluegrass winter/spring tour dates

GSBGRoad-warriors Greensky Bluegrass have announced srping tour dates, as well the first glimpse of some of the festivals they will be playing through out the summer.  February and March will find the band in the Mid-West and West, while April finds the band kicking things off at the Highline Ballroom in New York City before hitting up the East Coast the rest of the month.

The band have also announced a trio of Festivals they will be at this summer, Dark Star Jubliee in May, Electric Forest in June, and the Northwest String Summit in July.

Greensky Bluegrass was in the studio last month finishing up the recording of their follow album to 2011’s Handguns.

 

Winter Tour Dates

2/8-9 – Kalamazoo, MI – Bell’s Eccentric Cafe

2/19- Chicago, IL – City Winery *

2/20 – Madison, WI – Majestic Theatre *

2/21 – Davenport, IA – Redstone Room *

2/22 – Des Moines, IA – Wooly’s *

2/23 – Lincoln, NE – Bourbon Theater *

2/26 – Carbondale, CO -PAC 3

2/28 – Ft. Collins, CO -Aggie Theatre #

3/1&2 – Boulder, CO – Fox Theatre #

3/3 – Salt Lake City, UT – State Room #

3/5 – Missoula, MT – Badlander #

3/6 – Spokane, WA – Knitting Factory #

3/7 – Bellingham, WA – Wild Buffalo #

3/8 – Seattle, WA – Neptune Theater #

3/9 – Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom #

3/12 – Arcata, CA – Humboldt Brews #

3/13 – Chico, CA – El Rey Theatre # %

3/14 – Lake Tahoe, NV – Crystal Bay Club #

3/15 – San Francisco, CA – The Fillmore #

3/16 – Los Angeles, CA – The Troubadour #

3/17 – San Diego, CA – Porter’s Pub at UCSD #

 

Spring Tour Dates

4/17 – New York, NY – Highline Ballroom

4/18 – Philadelphia, PA – The Blockley

4/19 – Baltimore, MD – SoundStage

4/20 – Boston, MA – Middle East (Downstairs)

4/21 – Portland, ME – Port City Music Hall

4/23 – Burlington, VT – Higher Ground

4/24 – Syracuse, NY – Westcott Theater

4/25 – Pittsburgh, PA – Rex Theater

4/26 – Charlotte, NC – Visuilte Theater

4/27 – Moultrie, GA – Dogwood Music & Arts Festival

4/28 – New Orleans, LA – The Parish at House of Blues

4/30 – Birmingham, AL – WorkPlay

5/1 – Jackson, MS – Duling Hall

5/2 – Memphis, TN – 1884 Lounge at Minglewood Hall

5/3 – St. Louis, MO – 2720 Cherokee

5/4 – Bloomington, IL – Castle Theatre

5/24 Thornville, OH – Dark Star Jubilee

6/27-30 – Rothbury, MI – Electric Forest

7/27 – North Plains, OR – Northwest String Summit

 

* = The Deadly Gentlemen support

# = Ryan Montbleau Band support

% = special guest Sam Bush

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