Sep 152010
 

The cool thing about the Internet and indie music is that you’re not limited by distance as to what you can find.  So here’s a spin on music you don’t see every day: a band in Germany, playing Americanized alt-folk, with a space theme.

I don’t make this stuff up, folks.

Their name is The Moonband. The name of their record is Songs We Like To Listen To While Traveling Through Space. They sing in English and play American folk. They wear space suits on their album art. (Don’t ask me where they got the space suits, but I’m guessing they didn’t come from NASA.)

Gimmicky? Perhaps. But the music isn’t.  If you listen to the record without all that space stuff in your brain, it’s just normal alt-folk, kind of quiet and reflective.  Whether you’re into the space theme or not, if you’re a fan of bands like bands like Iron and Wine, chance are you’ll be into this vibe.

The Moonband: “We Don’t Care”

Sep 112010
 

There seem to be two distinct camps these days for the Americana/folk genre, with very little middle ground.  There is no basic “current” form of it; if it’s modern, it’s “alt-country,” and if it’s just regular Americana, it sounds almost retro, pretty much the same as it has for decades.  And today’s country? Fuggedaboutit. Today’s country is basically rock with a twang. Not saying that’s bad or anything; just saying.

Listening to The Starlings new record Bright Light, released this past summer, I’d have to place them in the second category, the “old school” brand of Americana/folk.  Again, not saying that’s bad, because what they do, they actually do quite well.  This 14-song CD is well-produced and well-played–about as good a recording as any indie project could be without the financial backing of a major label.

At first glance, it might seem a bit unlikely that this band is playing this kind of music.  First of all, we’re not talking about the deep south or the dusty western plains; this band is from Seattle.  (However, two of the bandmates migrated there from Iowa, so that might explain things a bit.) Second, Joy Mills, the band’s main songwriter and vocalist, has a voice reminiscent of Neko Case–which, of course, suggests perhaps a leaning toward the alt-country category.  But no; this band is solid old-school Americana/folk, with a sound that is more “country” than even modern “country” has become.  And like I said–they are good at it.  Their sound conveys you to a different place, maybe even a different time when things weren’t quite so hectic.  It’s the kind of sound that makes you want to sit on the back porch with a beer and just watch the sun go down.

Of the fourteen songs on the record, two are standouts for me–and they represent the two emotional poles of the record. “Blue Dog”, sung by Tom Parker (the only male in the four-piece band), is a fun, tongue-in-cheek singalong tune, while “Aloysius” sung by Joy Mills is a haunting ballad. I’ve included both below for you to sample.

If you like their stuff and want to hear more, you can buy their record from their website, or below through iTunes.  If you live in the Denver area, you can check them out live as they come through town this weekend on tour. They’ll be joining locals The Hollyfelds at the Hi-Dive on South Broadway on Thursday, Sept. 16, starting at 9:00 PM.

The Starlings: “Blue Dog”

The Starlings: “Aloysius”

Bright

Sep 082010
 

The Thin of Thick Things.  Say that five times fast.

No, don’t.

Boulder pop-folk singer/songwriter Eric Forsyth is releasing his second project on September 21, a six-song EP called The Thin of Thick Things.  My advance copy has been in my ipod shuffle rotation for a few weeks now, and when one of Forsyth’s songs comes up, it is one of those moments when I go, “Wait…what song is that??”  Eric Forsyth’s sound is comprised of an intriguing blend of impressive acoustic-roots-folk guitar work underneath, overlaid with Forsyth’s surprisingly smooth, soulful vocals.  It isn’t what I’d call groundbreaking, but it’s just plain good music.

So…is it thick, or is it thin?

Well, both, actually. 

On the arrangement side, it’s thin–meaning sparse, not substance-less.  The tracks are mostly acoustic guitar and vocals, with the occasional bit of mandolin–and while it would do just as well with bass and drums, the sparse instrumentation carries it off just fine.

On the emotional and lyrical side, it’s a little more thick–but not too thick.  Sometimes whimsical, occasionally reflective–autobiographical, even–Forsyth has drawn from both positive and negative recent life experiences to craft the lyrics of the record.  His honest writing gives the recording a decent amount of depth for a six-song effort.

So, yeah, it’s both thick and thin.  A pretty good balance, actually.

If you’re in the Denver/Boulder area, you’ll get the chance to experience the thin and thick for yourself. Forsyth will be doing a CD release show on Saturday, September 25, at The Laughing Goat on Pearl Street in Boulder.  Helping him out will be the new duo formed by Megan Burtt and Ayo Awosika, Travel | By | Skylark.

Eric Forsyth: “Good Days”

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. :)

Postcard

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:
Alchemy

Aug 162010
 

I recently shared some music from Denver indie-rock band Carbon Choir’s recent full-length record High Beams.  It turns out the band thought four songs originally considered for that record would do better on their own–so this week they are releasing a new EP called Cut from the Cloth.  This record, though, is anything but a set of B-sides.  The band’s lead singer Joel Van Horne tells me that they saved these tunes purposely because of their strengths, not their weaknesses. 

Listening to the songs, I can understand what he means. This band is growing on me the more I sit with their music.  I’m not a huge fan of experimental rock in general, but I really like the emotion these guys are able to bring to their complex arrangements.  I think they’re going someplace.

With the band’s permission, I’ve posted one of the EP tracks below. If you like what you hear, check the band’s website in a few days to see how to get a copy of the EP–or, if you’re in the Denver/Boulder area, you can attend a CD release show this Friday night at the Fox Theatre in Boulder and get a copy there.  In fact, if you’re there early enough, you might get it free!  (First 100 in the door get a free copy.)

Carbon Choir: “Bird with Broken Wings”

Aug 142010
 

So apparently, I’m not music festivaled out yet.  Although I’m getting close.

After hitting the Denver Underground Music Showcase last month, and Vans Warped Tour last weekend, I am writing this from the press tent at the Mile High Music Festival–Denver’s biggest annual music event.  My first time attending this event–and very impressed with everything so far.

Lots of local bands get to hit these stages during the early afternoon both days.  I just finished hearing Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, a great upcoming band here in Denver, do an awesome set.  While finding my bearings, I also caught the opening of OneEskimO.  Looking to catch Keane, Phoenix and Jack Johnson play later today.

Give a shout out if you’re attending MHMF–let us know what your favorites have been.

Aug 122010
 

Gabrielle Louise is a best-kept-secret kind of singer/songwriter: not widely known, but when you hear her, you wonder why more people don’t know her. A young artist with an old soul, her jazz-infused folk style reveals a maturity that belies her years. Coming from a musical family, and with several DIY recordings already to her credit, she has the confidence of a seasoned pro.

Gabrielle’s latest latest effort, Mirror the Branches (due to release later this month), lives up to the standard of excellence those of us who know Gabrielle’s work have come to expect. At times light and airy, at other times low, jazzy and smoky, her vocals throughout the twelve-song collection are expressive and nearly flawless. The record covers a range of emotional ground, from the melencholy of “Desiree” to the tongue-in-cheek whimsy of “I’ll Turn Myself In Tomorrow”. Led by acoustic guitars, the instrumentation is understated, the overall tone reflective.

For me, the strongest songs are the folk-heavy tunes–and I admit a bit of bias here, as I prefer folk to jazz. The simple melody of “Strange Summer Snow” embeds itself deep in your brain (in a good way), and “Midnight Molasses” (a cover tune borrowed from Gabrielle’s partner-in-crime David Rynhart, who also contributes vocal and guitar on the record) is a deeply haunting tune that leaves me breathless each time I hear it.

Gabrielle is currently raising funds for the final printing of the CD, and for a minimum $25 contribution she will give an immediate download of the full recording, plus a hard copy of the CD when it is officially released.  You can get your exclusive download copy at Gabrielle’s website.  And for those of you in driving distance, Gabrielle Louise is having a CD release and social tango party (again, you have to know her) on Friday, August 27, 7:30 PM, at Aron Johnson’s Architectural Antiques Warehouse, 389 S. Lipan St. in Denver.

Gabrielle Louise: “Strange Summer Snow”

Aug 032010
 

D.B. Rielly is an American roots music artist with a two-sided approach to his art.  On one hand, he is quite tongue-in-cheek (or maybe just “cheeky”) in his approach, and on the other–well, it’s apparent he holds a deep respect for the Americana genre.  Both sides of Reilly’s nature are evident on his latest record, Love Potions and Snake Oil, a CD that pledges to be an “instantaneous cure for all afflictions.” (It says so–right on the label.)  The question, of course, is this:  does the record do what it claims?

Yes.  And no. (A two-sided answer–how appropriate of me.) :)

While the musicianship and songwriting on the record are definitely on target, in all honesty I feel that the record has three distinct shortcomings.  First of all, the dual nature of the record itself seems to work against it.  At times Reilly’s songs are heartfelt and sincere (“Save All Your Kisses”, “Love Me Today”), and at other times satrical and irreverent (“We’re All Going Straight to Hell”). And the twisted humor in the song “I Got a Girlfriend” borrows a page straight from “Weird” Al Yancovic’s playbook.  It seems to be intended as diversity, but instead it feels more like several violent mood swings.

Second, roots music spans several genres, and this record apparently tries to span all of them–from zydeco to blues, and everything in between. Granted, all genres are done well enough, but the overall voice of Love Potions is inconsistent at best. Listening to the album through, Rielly doesn’t stay in a genre long enough even to help the listener get used to it.

Third, as far as the music itself, while it certainly pays homage to the historic roots of American music, it doesn’t break any new ground. It sounds more like the music of yesteryear, not like a record made this year.

These three issues I have with the record all share a common thread: the music is good, but the dual theme doesn’t work.  This record feels like it travels all over the place, and doesn’t seem to know what it is, or what it wants to be.  It covers plenty of ground, but lacks focus.

Having said that, imho, the album’s strongest suit is actually its bluesy acoustic tracks just beyond the halfway mark.  Stark, raw and honest, these tracks represent the best of D.B. Rielly.  (I’ve included these as a sample below.) If the rest of the record sounded like this, it would be a classic.

If Love Potions and Snake Oil is inconsistent as a stand-alone record, at the very least it demonstrates Rielly’s range and talent–a sample of what he’s capable of.  And despite its shortcomings, the one message that comes through clearly on the record is his love for roots music.  It will be interesting to see where Rielly’s journey takes him next.

D.B. Rielly: “Changed My Mind”

D.B. Rielly “Got a Mind”

Jul 262010
 

Well, I suppose it was bound to happen.

I commented here on Friday about all the roots-acoustic-indie bands at the UMS, and quipped how I was surprised nobody pulled out a washboard. 

You know what’s coming, don’t you?

During Ayo Awosika’s solo set Saturday night, she announced that she and singer/songwriter Megan Burtt had started a duo called Travel By Skylark and were having their debut performance Sunday night–and among the instruments she said they’d be playing?

Yup. 

Obviously I had to go and see this spectacle.  So on this Sunday, I swapped out some of my scheduled stops at the UMS to watch the official launch of Travel By Skylark at The Irish Rover.  Sure enough, they pulled out a washboard for one of the songs.  They even dedicated the song to me.

Yeah, I went and told Megan about my snide bloggy remark.  Me and my big mouth. :)

Fun and games aside, though–Travel By Skylark’s debut performance went very well.  They won over the crowd from the first song, and the response remained enthusiastic throughout. Their sound together is folky, but not retro–even with the washboard, which Ayo played quite well, BTW. It was a great experience to see these two young women, both highly talented artists in their own right, coming together for the fun of it to play new material, just because they enjoy playing together.  Travel by Skylark gets my mark as Sunday’s highlight of the day–and not just because they dedicated the song to me.  (Believe what you want.  My vote can’t be bought with song dedications–only with cold, hard cash.)

That was a joke, too.  You’ll just have to get used to that.  Can you tell I’m a little loopy this morning?

I was moving a lot slower Sunday, so I didn’t catch as many acts as the other days. But I did manage to catch most of an informative panel discussion on indie bands and recording studios, and I also managed to stop in and see:

  • Rachel James and Brighton Boulevard (pop/rock)
  • Maudlin (indie-rock)
  • Annie Lynch (folk)
  • Josh Novak (pop/rock)

I tried to catch Hello Kavita, but apparently illness prevented the band from playing.  Their replacement was The Photo Atlas, whom I’d seen before, so I chose to move on and try to catch someone I hadn’t seen.

Before wrapping up my journal of this year’s UMS, an honorable mention also goes to Rachel James and Brighton Boulevard, who played in a small venue to a sparse crowd, but did a great job.

Looking forward to next year!