Oct 052010
Laura Brehm

Singer/songwriter Laura Brehm. (Photo: Parker Rice)

For a young singer/songwriter barely 20 years old, Denver local artist Laura Brehm is already somewhat of a veteran in the indie music field.  With two full-length recordings already to her credit, Brehm has been playing the Denver local music scene for nearly four years now.  Growing up in a musical family, she says she knew by age six that she wanted to be a musician, but didn’t really “go public” until age 16 when some friends encouraged her to record some songs she’d written. Her latest CD, Dreams, came out this summer.

Besides playing at this summer’s Underground Music Showcase, a personal high point for Brehm came when she landed the opening slot for the Heart concert at Denver’s Paramount Theater in August. “I’m not exactly sure how that happened, but I’m glad it did,”  says Brehm, smiling.

Her booking agent tells her that he was approached with a request from Heart for an acoustic opening set by a local songwriter, and that Heart personally selected Brehm out of a number of artists whose demos the booking agent sent them.  Although Brehm’s acoustic pop style is dramatically different from Heart, she grabbed the attention of the crowd with the first song and quickly won them over.

With Brehm’s permission, I’ve included a couple of the songs from her latest release below.  Both her albums are available on iTunes. See what you think.

Laura Brehm: “Fall In Love”

Laura Brehm: “The Sunrise”


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. :)


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:

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”

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?


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!

Jul 252010

The Rouge at the UMS 2010.

Day 3 of the UMS started off with some panel discussions in a church basement. I caught the last few minutes of a discussion with three members of local bands who have had some experience with record labels. I learned more in those few minutes than any of a number of books I’ve read.

Today was just a great, not-too-hot Denver day for walking Broadway and hearing the streets filled with music. One band I saw literally had set up their gear on the sidewalk and were playing to a gathering crowd of passers-by. Quite good, actually.

Acts I caught today:

  • The Rouge–alternative rock
  • The Yes We Cans–punk
  • Angela Jane–indie rock
  • Kal Cahoone & the Dirty Pretty–acoustic alternative
  • Annie Lynch–folk
  • Varlet (with Lilly Scott)–indie
  • Megan Burtt–acoustic country/rock
  • Andrea Ball–indie
  • Ayo Awosika–jazz/soul
  • Dan Craig Band–indie rock
  • Science Partner–folk
  • Churchill–acoustic rock

So many acts, I actually have two favorite picks for today, followed by some honorable mentions:

PICK ONE:  Dan Craig Band
I first heard Dan Craig opening for John Common.  Dan was quite sick at the time, and his voice reflected it–although he was a good sport.  Tonight I could hear the band without the handicap.  Great songs, powerful sound.  Be looking  for a review of the band’s upcoming CD.

PICK TWO: Annie Lynch
I happened on Annie quite by accident. She heads a folk band from Brooklyn called Annie and the Beekeepers, but is playing solo at the UMS. The church building where I started the afternoon also happens to be one of the venues, and she was playing there. Simple, pure vocals with acoustic guitar, set in the live acoustics of the church–it was one of those moments. (Annie gave me permission to share a song from her band’s latest EP–you can find it at the end of this post.  If you are local, you can catch her at the UMS again Sunday night at 7PM at the Irish Rover on S. Broadway.)

HONORABLE MENTIONS: I can always count on Megan Burtt and Churchill to give solid performances. I was also pleased to see the way Churchill is gaining momentum as a band. Their 11PM set packed out Moe’s Bar-B-Q.  Another shout-out goes to Science Partner, just for being quirky and entertaining.

We’re still not done yet…

Annie & the Beekeepers: “Again and Again”

Jul 242010

The UMS got into full swing Friday as more bands played in more venues. If you’re into this kind of thing (like me), it’s akin to being a kid in a whole row of candy stores.  All you have to do is walk down South Broadway, and music of many different kinds pours out into the streets from the various indoor (and outdoor) stages.

For me, Friday evening  for some reason was mainly retro night.  I even Tweeted about the irony that indie music is supposed to be progressive, but most of what I heard sounded like it had come from 4 to 8 decades ago. 

Forget 60’s retro–that’s so ’90s. No, this stuff sounded like it comes out of the Dust Bowl.  (One of my Facebook friends joked about the recession stirring the collective memory.)

Forget electric guitar; that’s so early 2000’s.  The bands that are truly chic today use string basses, banjos and mandolins. (I’m surprised no one has thought to throw in some washboard.)

My tongue is in my cheek, of course. Not all the indie bands are doing this, though the ones who are doing so are actually pretty good. The beauty of indie music is you’re free to play what inspires you, and there is a lot of diversity (I just happened upon a slew of acoustic acts tonight).  I just couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought of these twenty-somethings writing and playing music my grandparents would have liked.

The acts I caught all or part of tonight were:

  • Natural and the Disasters–indie folk/rock/something-or-other
  • Speakeasy Tiger–pop/rock with a retro ’80s glam vibe
  • Tim Bruns (frontman for Churchill)–country
  • Paper Bird–acoustic indie/folk with a bit of doo-wop thrown in
  • The Beaten Sea–alt-country/folk
  • The Centennial (formerly Meese)–atmospheric pop? (I covered this one for Examiner.com here.)
  • Carbon Choir–indie-rock

And my pick for the evening:  Tim Bruns of Churchill.

Admittedly, I had some bias here; Churchill is my current favorite local band. But left to himself, Tim has a country-leaning style all his own, and his lyrics are intelligent, emotional and thought provoking.

Carbon Choir ran a close second–but I could only catch the last few minutes of their act.

More to come…

Jul 232010

So this weekend in Denver, over 300 indie bands (both locals and passers-thru) are gracing 20-plus stages along South Broadway in the Underground Music Showcase. Often billed as Denver’s version of SXSW, it’s a great deal for music lovers.  Forty bucks for four days of music.  Not bad. :)  I have a lot of friends playing the showcase this year, so between showing them some love and catching new bands I haven’t seen yet, I’ve got my boat loaded.

So what am I doing in my few minutes of down time?  Blogging about it. :)

Seriously, I thought I’d keep a running diary through the four days, giving a few of my impressions, and a “top pick” for my favorite act each night.  So here goes…

DAY 1 (Thursday, July 22)

The UMS box office is in a vacant lot next to one of the many venues on S. Broadway.  I pick up my wristband, and discover that it’s one of those small plastic you-can-drink-in-the-bars kind of bands that is NOT refastenable, so if you take it off, you ruin it.  And it’s good for all four days, and you HAVE to wear it, not just carry it around.  This means I have to either keep it on for four days, or figure a way to re-fasten it day to day.  I choose option 2.

Opening night is the slowest, with only a few venues and artists starting off.  Still, I’m able to catch all or part of the sets of five acts, and I’m already impressed with the diversity just within the music I heard.  These are the acts I caught, and the best genre that describes them for me:

  • Alan Baird Project–indie rock
  • Chella Negro–Americana
  • Sarah Slaton–indie/acoustic
  • Paean–experimental/atmopheric
  • Jeremy Messersmith–indie/acoustic

My pick of the night: Paean

I had some prior experience with Paean, having reviewed their record. The down side of their set was that they are a larger band and were packed onto a tiny stage like so many sardines, and some of the bandmates had to have their backs to the crowd just to fit onstage.  Also, the vocals were too low in the mix, and when I could hear the lead singer, it was that strange, half-singing-half-screaming, I-am-in-great-pain kind of sound I’ve talked about before.  But there is a passion and vibe in the music of this band that is absolutely captivating, with songs that tend to start minimalistically, and crescendo to a fever pitch.  Once again, I found myself forgiving the vocals in favor of the music.

More to come!

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