Sep 222010

Just so you know…I’m not really intending to focus all my attention on just indie-folk or Americana  country projects.  It’s just that those are the titles that have been accumulating on my submissions list. :)

Anywho…I got a listen yesterday to Darden Smith’s latest project Marathon, due to be released in the states on September 28. Actually, “project” really is a good description for it; according to Smith’s website, Marathon is also a theatrical work in progress (which totally makes sense when you listen to the record), and soon to be a book/music project, as well.  The title is appropriate, as well–although named after a town in west Texas, Smith says the concept for Marathon has been around for a decade.

What I found most striking about the record is that it sounds more old “western” than most country/Americana efforts these days.  Really.  You can almost feel the dust in your eyes, or see the tumbleweeds rolling by–or perhaps imagine a couple of gunslingers facing each other down at high noon.  Definitely a concept record, the main tracks are punctuated by several instrumental breathers.  In fact, I must say that the instrumentals are the strongest parts of the record–every time I heard one, I was disappointed when it ended.  Additionally, props are due for the instrumentation throughout the project–very professional, very well done.

So that’s the good stuff.  In my view, the album’s weakness  is found in the songwriting–in particular, bland melody lines (something that seems to plague many indie projects).  Darden Smith’s raspy voice is memorable in itself (reminds me of the late Rich Mullins, if any CCM fans are reading this).  But with the exception of the ending track “No One Gets Out of Here,” I had a hard time identifying any strong melodies.  I found myself toiling through the regular songs, waiting for the amazing interludes in between them.  Just saying.

That said, Marathon is at the least a very respectable project, the product of a great deal of work and thought. To give you a sense for the record’s thematic feel, I’d recommend listening to the sample tracks below in order.

Local Denver folk will get the chance to hear Darden Smith soon–he’ll be making a stop at Swallow Hill on October 2.

Darden Smith: “Marathon”
Darden Smith: “Sierra Diablo”

Sep 012010

Denver indie artist Elin Palmer is a multi-instrumentalist, which is becoming a common term, especially in indie circles.  However, “multi-instrumentalist” doesn’t do justice to what kinds of instruments are being played.  Palmer, for example, plays mostly violin and nyckelharpa (a traditional Swedish instrument similar to the hurdy gurdy).  If you can name five people who play a nyckelharpa–you’re probably Swedish.

Elin Palmer, by the way, is also a native of Sweden, and loves the music of her homeland–and she has created a distinct sound on her record Postcard by weaving Swedish folk elements into her music.  I attended the CD release show last fall, and I was impressed with Elin’s talent and her music–but I didn’t get a copy of the record until just a few weeks ago.  I finally got to review the record front to back yesterday while hiking in the mountains, and the record somehow provided a great soundtrack.  It isn’t that there was any one song that just blew me away; it’s that the record itself is an experience, not just a grouping of songs. Airy, layered vocals, repetitive strings, accordians, guitars (and of course, the nyckelharpa) transported me to another place.  It’s as if the record itself is a postcard from Sweden.  It’s worth checking out.

Since releasing the record, Elin has been spending the past few months in Sweden.  Apparently, she sent us a Postcard ahead of time. :)


Aug 212010

Dan Craig Band

Maybe you’ve heard of Dan Craig, or maybe not.  If you are into the Denver local music scene, chances are you have.  He’s been building a following the past several years here in Denver with his indie blend of folk-rock that is reminiscent of Josh Ritter, or maybe Ryan Adams with slightly less twang.

Last night at the Bluebird Theater, Dan Craig and his Band played a show to release what is quite possibly their best studio project to date: Alchemy.

I’ve been playing my advance copy of the record for several weeks now, and have had to proverbially bite my tongue to keep from sharing a track or two with readers here until I had permission to do so.  Dan’s got a gift for both lyric and music, in my opinion, and with his gravelly voice and jangly guitar (and a solid band to back him up), the “alchemy” of this record just works for me. The whole record is strong, from the collection of songs to the instrumentation–but for me the songwriting is what puts it over the top.  Dan Craig has conclusively proven that it is possible to write alt-indie-folk songs with a clearly identifiable hook.

If you don’t know the Dan Craig Band, you really should. The alchemy of this record is too good for just one town to enjoy.

Dan Craig Band: “Alchemy”

Buy the whole album at iTunes:

Jun 302010

Ft. Collins indie singer/songwriter Danielle Ate the Sandwich has gotten a lot of national attention from her quirky YouTube videos, her witty stage presence and her ukulele-folky sound.

Tuesday, July 6 is the official release of her third self-released record Two Bedroom Apartment. It’s a definite expansion for Danielle, especially with the addition of several studio musicians for the project. In a recent conversation, Danielle told me the experience grew her musically: “They opened my eyes to what my songs COULD BE with the assistance of others. I usually shut people out of the process and have a hard time trusting people enough or a hard time with sharing the credit.  Working with the other musicians made me talk about the songs and think about them and hear them in new ways and let go a little bit.”

This is especially true of the song “Silver and Gold”, Danielle’s personal favorite on the record. “That’s one of the songs that CAME ALIVE with the other instruments on the track.  When I play it solo, it’s so empty–knowing what it sounds like on the record, it’s hard to even play it when it’s just me.”

Two Bedroom Apartment is available for pre-order now at Danielle’s website.

Danielle Ate the Sandwich: Silver and Gold

May 032010

Okay, show of hands…how many of you hundreds dozens ten readers knows who Sam Phillips is?

Hint: It’s not the guy from Sun Records.  He’s been dead for years.

No, Sam Phillips is a girl.  To be more specific, she’s an eclectic singer/songwriter in a sub-genre some call “lo-fidelity”, kind of a raw, sparse sound that almost sounds like something out of Sun Records.  Sam Phillips was once married to T-Bone Burnett, who did the music for Walk the Line and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, as well as his own recordings.  (If you’re familiar with his music, you get an idea what Sam Phillips sounds like; heck, you probably already know Sam.  I’m rambling now…)

Anyhow, I’ve been a distant fan of Sam Phillips for years, and followed her journey ever since she renounced her previous work as contemporary Christian artist Leslie Phillips in the late 1980s.  As Sam Phillips, she’s continued to write and record out of the mainstream,  gained a loyal following over time, and even played a role in Die Hard With a Vengeance.  And more recently, she’s taken on a whole new experiment–which is the purpose for this post.

As I’ve said before, the musical landscape is in a huge transition right now, the main catalysts being the rise of indie music and the easy access to digital downloads.  More and more artists are realizing that they must find other ways to make a living than just selling their music (since it’s so easy to download and share it now).  I’m always intrigued to find out what artists are doing to adapt, and Sam Phillips has been trying something totally different. 

She’s dropped her record label, gone “indie”, and started a music subscription service on her website called “LongPlay.” For 52 dollars a year (that’s a dollar a week, for you people counting on your fingers and toes), subscribers get five freshly recorded EPs throughout the year, a full-length CD at the end of the year, and access to other interesting materials along the way as Sam gives her fans a window into her ongoing creative process.  I personally like the idea because it’s more than just marketing music–it creates a living dialogue between the artist and her fans.  It will be the most recorded material in one year that Sam has ever done, and it’s a true experiment.

But it seems to be working.

The latest EP, Magic for Everyone, has garnered such a huge response that on April 20, Sam put it up for public release as a download for sale to the public. You can sample it and buy it on Amazon or itunes.

Whether or not you dig Sam’s lo-fidelity vibe, this is a creative venture for a highly creative artist.  It will be interesting to see what comes next.

Buy “Magic For Everybody” from Amazon

Download from itunes:
Sam Phillips - Magic for Everybody - EP

This YouTube vid is not from the EP–I just think it’s a cool song.

Apr 022010

This post complements my article on

Denver-based singer/songwriter Gabrielle Louise is an indie musician; but whatever sound or image that classification puts in your mind, don’t trust it.  Even if you’re correct in your assumptions about her music, you probably won’t be correct for long.

Although Gabrielle has a distinct sense of identity as a folk/Americana musician, she doesn’t stay corralled there.  Her songs also carry pop and jazz sensibilities, and even a Latin vibe on occasion (she’s been known to include tango dancers in her live performances). She’s performed solo and with several band configurations, and always seems to be reinventing herself.  I don’t mean she reinvents herself in the sense that U2 reinvented themselves after 10 years; I mean Gabrielle is still young, has released 4 indie records since 2006 (and is beginning work on a fifth), and has ventured into more diverse musical territory in that time than most artists do in an entire career. 

When you peer into Gabrielle’s history, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that she is so prone to wander.  Music and wanderlust are both inherent in her background; her parents were “musical gypsies” who, in her words, “were playing gigs six nights a week right up until the evening of my birth, so I suppose I was hearing all sorts of messages from the womb that said something like ‘in the future you will suck at math, have ugly calloused fingers and hum incessantly.”‘ 

That gypsy spirit not only carries over into Gabrielle’s chosen career as a musical troubadour–it also explains the wanderings of her musical style.  She has a definite artistic “center”, but locking into one form of musical expression for too long–that’s something her insatiable curiosity just can’t allow.  She’s a musical gypsy–not in the sense that she plays gypsy music (yet), but in the sense that she’s as much a musical wanderer as she is a traveling musician.

To some, this might be a negative, as though Gabrielle doesn’t know who she is, and needs to “find herself.” Gabrielle possesses a songwriting depth and vocal abilities that could easily land her a record deal–but knowing the industry, they’d want her to pin her down into a predictable genre.  The irony is, if she did that, she would actually lose herself, rather than find herself–because musical wanderlust is part of who she is. The gypsy spirit is the very thing that keeps her fresh as a musician; without it, she’d likely lose the creative spark that makes us want to listen in the first place. 

The beauty of being an indie musician, though, is that it gives Gabrielle the freedom to keep exploring, to keep expanding her horizons. And so she continues to make her music, to keep wandering–and to keep inviting us into her journey.

If you’re in the Denver area this weekend and want to hear for yourself, Gabrielle Louise will be doing a show Sunday, April 4, at Dazzle Restaurant and Loungeat 930 Lincoln, beginning at 6:45 PM. Cover charge is $7.  During part of the evening, she’ll be playing the entire tracklist planned for her next recording (she goes into the studio this month).

Gabrielle Louise: “Strange Summer Snow”

Mar 312010
City and Colour

City and Colour: Bring Me Your Love

I love when a song so stirs (haunts?) me that I’m compelled to play it over and over.

City and Colour is the solo moniker for Dallas Green, lead singer for Canadian band Alexisonfire.  The song below, “Sleeping Sickness”, is off the solo effort Bring Me Your Love.  I first heard it as background music in a venue, waiting for a live act to start, and I was so taken with the melody I had to go ask the sound guy who it was. I love the strong acoustic guitar, raw rhythm and passionate chorus.  The whole record is worth a spin–great artistry.

City and Colour: “Sleeping Sickness”

Mar 232010
Andrea Ball

Photo: Christopher Kuehl.

I first heard Andrea Ball play as one of the opening acts for Elin Palmer during her CD release party.  Now, she’s got a CD release party of her own.

Dial Tone–both the record and the title track–carry the distinction to me of being both eclectic and catchy, a feat not easily attained. The album drops today, and is already available on iTunes.  The CD release party is Friday at the Hi-Dive in Denver.  Click here for more details.  And check out the title track below.

Andrea Ball: “Dial Tone”

Buy the record on Andrea Ball - Dial Tone

Feb 192010


I’d been planning for a solid month to catch this guy live in Denver.  Joe Pug.  He’s opening tonight for Justin Townes Earle, and weather and circumstances prevented me from going.

So I guess the next best thing is to share some of his stuff with you.

The first song below, “The Sharpest Crown”, is from Joe’s first full-length CD, available this week.  The second, “Black-Eyed Susan”, is from a free EP he made available on his site.

Actually, Joe Pug is notorious for giving songs away, at You just need to sign up for his email list.  But if you like his stuff, support this artist.  Buy his new record at the links below.

Maybe next time, Joe.

Joe Pug — The Sharpest Crown
Joe Pug–Black Eyed Susan

Buy Joe Pug’s CD “Messenger” from Amazon.