Apr 082010

I don’t know why sometimes the electronic, new-wave, Brit-pop type sound appeals to me, but it does.  Maybe it’s a reminder to me of the 80’s.  (Should I have written that??)


Deluka has been stirring it up in the UK for awhile, but with their newly-released self-titled EP they are getting attention here in the US as well. What’s really interesting is that with the tracks I posted below, I actually heard the acoustic version first, and that’s what caught my attention.  It wasn’t till I listened to the second, electro-Brit version that I realized what kind of band they actually are.  Obviously, I still like ’em. :) Try it yourself; listen to the acoustic version first. See whatcha think.

Deluka: “Cascade” (acoustic)
Deluka: “Cascade”

Download the Deluka EP on Amazon

Apr 022010

This post complements my article on Examiner.com.

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 282010

When LnZ Kade of A Melodic Daydream sent me their latest project, A Little Weird, I wasn’t quite sure how to describe what I was hearing.

Oh, I can’t help it.  The pun is just sitting there waiting to be used. It was a little weird. :)

Not that the music itself is weird, or the record, or even LnZ Kade and Chris Newton, the duo-couple who call themselves A Melodic Daydream.  It was weird because I’m used to indie music being a different sort of vibe–esoteric, postmodern, experimental, coffeehouse, that kind of thing.  Instead, while this record probably fits into the adult-alternative genre, it also has this almost ’70s pop/rock sensibility that reminds me vaguely of classic Fleetwood Mac-meets-Olivia Newton John.  Not the dated kind of 70’s rock; the timeless kind.  (People still listen to Fleetwood Mac, in case you didn’t know.)

And yet, A Melodic Daydream is decidedly indie by all accounts. Kade and Newton are self-published, releasing their own material with their own publishing company and label, along with several other creative efforts. Definitely indie spirits–but their vibe and sound are their own, and based on their own influences.  They are being who they are–and that’s what being indie is all about.  And the music itself?  Quality.  Hook-laden songs, solid arrangements, and Kade’s memorable girl-rock voice over the top of it all.

So after finally having time to give their record a decent spin, the phrase that came to me is “indie for grownups”–a style, a vibe that will appeal to more than just the younger coffeehouse crowd.

A Melodic Daydream: “In The Middle”

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

Mar 082010
John Common

Photo: Lucia De Giovanni (www.luciadegiovanni.com)

There’s been a lot of buzz about Beautiful Empty, the new record by John Common & Blinding Flashes of Light, since its release in January.  I attended the release party at Casselman’s in Denver, and wrote about it here and here.  Since then, JC& BFL have continued to play and promote the record, and will be playing at the Walnut Room in Denver Saturday night, March 13–a show that’s expected to sell out.  (More info on that show below.)

I recently caught up with John Common and had a conversation about how the record is doing.  What follows is a transcript of that interview.  I love this conversation, because I think as John shares some of the creative processes that birthed this record, we really get a glimpse of the uncommon artist inside, and the creative passions that drive him.  As a musical artist myself, I was inspired, and I think you will be, too.  It’s partly edited for unncessary content, but I tried to keep it as true to the heart of the conversation as possible.

OOMPH:  How is the new record doing since it was released?  What kind of a response are you getting from it?

JOHN:  Oh, man, people are really loving it.  We purposely released it in January only in Denver–we’ll start promoting it nationally this summer, and that stuff is all being planned right now–but so many of our Colorado fans and friends wanted the record that it just felt increasingly unfair not to release it locally.  And what we’re hearing from people is that they put the record in, and the more they listen to it, the more they want to listen to it—which is exactly what I was hoping for. I think they’re hearing it as an entire record, rather than a bunch of single, unrelated songs.  I think it’s the kind of record that unfolds the more you listen to it. 

OOMPH:  It seems to me like after the kind of stuff you’ve released in the past that doing a more acoustic, downtempo-style record to some might seem like a little bit of a risk. What was the inspiration behind going with a more downtempo style as opposed to your previous stuff?

JOHN:  You know, when I started thinking about this record, and I started thinking about the songs, it came at a point in time in my life when I was less and less interested with being in a “rock band.”  I’ve spent my whole life onstage, standing in front of a tube amp playing electric guitar–my whole musical career I’ve been that guy.  And honestly, it just started being less interesting to me.  And the songs I was writing were lining up with a different kind of a sound as well. 

Every time I make a record, I kind of see it as a chance to take new chances, and explore a different side of my art, you know?  And so I started playing around with this idea–and it sounds really simple on the surface, but it kind of had a lot of consequences–what if I made a rule for this record that the record would have no electric guitar, not one single second of electric guitar?  Which seems like, “big deal.” But when you’re doing the kind of music that I’ve done, it opens the entire game up.  Because it was like, “Okay, if you’re not going to have electric guitar”–all of a sudden there’s all of this sonic space that had opened up.  And when I combined it with some of the songs that I was writing, like “Turnaround”, “Walter Whitman”, and “Wide Open World”, all of a sudden, when I removed electric guitar from the palatte, I immediately started thinking about orchestral sounds–layered, lush string sounds and organ sounds.  And that actually connected to how I put my current band together, because…I didn’t want to just do the same things I used to on the electric guitar on the acoustic guitar, you know what I mean? I just saw it as an opportunity to grow as a writer and a singer, and almost kind of as a producer and arranger.  So I started hearing string sound and key sounds and organ sounds, and all these other sounds that ended up on the record.  And then it was like, “Well…I don’t know how to play cello.” [laughter]

And another big piece of it was …for my whole life I’ve been wanting to find a female singer who I could work with. Technically I guess you could say “backing vocalist”, but I saw it as certainly more than…background vocals.  All of this stuff came togther…I’m bored with electric guitar, I’m interested in orchestral sounds, I met Jess and we started singing together, and then these songs that I started writing–it just kind of all happened at the right time. And, to [use] a painting analogy, once you have really amazing colors on your palatte, you don’t have to work as hard.  And to not speak metaphorically, once you have a great band, and if you’re really happy with the songs you’ve written and you’re proud of them, you just have to get everybody in the same room and then let the natural courses sort of happen. And that’s what we did.

OOMPH:  And you know, it kind of sounds like that–it sounds like an evolution, both on the record, and when I saw you play. It seems like that you can just tell what you described is a genuine article, that it just kind of happened.  it doesn’t seem contrived–it seems like it emerged.  That’s what it sounds like to me. Does that sound like a reasonable description?

JOHN:  Yeah, absolutely.  It was very organic, but it was also very thoughtful…everything you hear on the record was chosen. It wasn’t like a bunch of happy accidents, but the organic part was getting really good people together in a room who are every one of them artists, and then trusting their talent.

OOMPH: Right.  That might be a better way of putting it–a collaboration.

JOHN:  Yeah, a collaboration within a framework, if that makes any sense.  I sort of defined the framework, like “this is not a rock band.”  I think we get incredibly intense–I think we rock every bit as hard as any rock band, personally–but I don’t think we do it  with the same vernacular. And every song–we try to be very true to the songs, And every song serves as kind of a blueprint.  And when you’re working up a song and getting a sense of, what are its strengths, and what points in the song are we supposed to let it breathe versus press down, and when you do that, especially when you’re doing it with good people and it’s not your first record, you know when to let the song be the bandleader. 

[It’s] really a fascinating process for me, because I view my role as like I’m kind of two people.  First I’m a songwriter, and I think my job as a songwriter is to make a song–the phrase I use in my own head is “situation-proof”. Meaning like, I think if a song is good enough, you can play it on an out-of-tune guitar and you can destroy people’s hearts and minds with it.  A good-enough song doesn’t require an orchestra–it can be played solo and be really effective–but also I think a good song can blossom under the right production.  And so I think my job as a songwriter is to try my hardest to just make the best songs that I can make…just well-written songs.  And once that’s done, there’s a different person, which is I’m a member of the band.  My job is to sing, and play guitar, keyboard, piano, and sort of follow the lead of that song, let the song tell me what it needs.

OOMPH:  What you’re describing to me, I think I’ve experienced at different times, where you’ve got musicians that you can turn them loose with the parameters and then you trust the results, and the results end  up being beautiful, and something more than you could have created on your own…more than the sum of its parts.

JOHN:  Yeah, and it happens all the time, and I think the way you’ve said it is exactly right; it’s that my job is to create a framework, first and foremost by with the song, but also by choosing the band members that I’ve chosen, by providing a super-high level of…”This is the vibe we’re going for here”, as a band, but also at the song level…and once you’ve drawn out sort of a blueprint and you give them the song, the next job is to shut up  and let the organic process take over, you know, let the talent of those people shine through.  And you’re right, it happens all the time…things come out, and I’m like, “I could never have conceived of that, you know?  I never could have guessed how cool that would have been.”

OOMPH:  Hey, what about the name of the band?  Who came up with Blinding Flashes of Light, and what does it mean?

JOHN:  Yeah, that was my idea. It’s referring to a couple of things. One is the type of people who I play with…well, they’re just great.  They’re artists and great musicians and great singers, they’re just very, very good at what they do.  And good doesn’t just mean technically good, they’re also just deep, deeply musical.  And I wanted a band name that–I didn’t want it to be, you know, “John Common and the Sidemen.” [laughter]…I don’t have a bunch of “also-rans” who I play music with. They’re very important. But also, the idea behind the band name is like–this is going to sound really weird–but when music really works, when you put it in a CD [player] when you’re driving, and the song really affects you–or maybe you go to a show, and it’s just that ineffable thing that’s happening–“Blinding Flashes of Light” is just sort of another way of saying, We’re not just trying to make bar rock here.  We’re not trying to be background music; we’re trying to make fundamentally gorgeous moments.

OOMPH: On a personal level, John–what are you currently listening to?  Who is speaking to you most these days?

JOHN: Oh, man, that’s a great question.  I…I love songwriters, and I love really good songs.  And the way I listen to things is I have a core group of albums and artists who I listen to over and over again over the years, like a heavy rotation list.  And I ‘ve got another list where they might not make my lifetime desert-island list, but I’m listening to their music because they’re inspiring me in the moment.  Some people on the first list could be Tom Waits, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Hoagy Carmichael, even some of the old classic songwriters from the 30’s and 40’s like Rogers and Hart, Leonard Cohen, Steve Earle…and there’s a handful of 50’s/60’s jazz artists [like] Thelonious Monk…every one of those artists are like textbooks that I keep going back to for inspiration and knowledge.  And then some artists on the second list lately…oh, you know it’s interesting, but I’m gonna name these, and they’re not going to be super hip and current, ’cause I consciously purposely, I don’t like to listen to “flavor of the month”.  I really actively avoid–like I don’t even want to know what’s popular.  And that might be a bad idea, [laughter]…but the reason is I don’t want to be chasing what’s timely.  I’d rather take a bigger a risk and try to do something that’s timeless…

So list 2…Willie Nelson’s Stardust [laughter]. I’ve been listening to this guy out of Europe, a piano player called Tord Gustavsen, amazing; Bonobo…great beats; Kings of Convenience’s last record [Declaration of Dependence]; and just the other day I realized I haven’t listened to The Grateful Dead in for-EVER [laughter], so I went and actually re-bought–because I lost ’em a long time ago–I re-bought a couple of Grateful Dead records.  I grabbed a copy of American Beauty, and the record that has “Uncle John’s Band” on it [Workingman’s Dead]. 

And finally, these next few helped crystallize some of my thinking about Beautiful Empty: the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss record [Raising Sand]…it’s that male female vocal thing…but also the production value.  It’s all those really organic, luscious, surreal sounds.  I loved how on that record it sounded like amazingly good musicians playing…and it sounded like they were choosing not to overplay.  And I wanted that on our record; I wanted it to sound like really good, tasteful musicians saying, “Mmm, I’d rather not play here, but I will play here.” And the last record I’d put on list 2 that helped me…with Beautiful Empty was a record by Sufjan Stevens that he put out years ago called Illinoise.  It’s got lots of orchestral sounds, and arrangements, and that’s something I’ve been working on for years…as a producer, arranger and writer I’ve been working on understanding how to make–even if I did the rock band format–how to arrange or sculpt sounds so that it feels like you’re sitting in an orchestral hall and there are movements of sound, rather than, you know–drunk guy on bass, drunk guy on guitar…[laughter]…I’m not describing it very well, but that was one of the central themes for me in Beautiful Empty…I wanted to explore how to create emotional moments with that kind of orchestral approach.

OOMPH: Okay, last question: What are your plans for the coming year?  You did mention something about a little bit more national promotion of your record, but do you have any definite plans for 2010 that you want to mention?

JOHN:  Well, I can’t really talk about ’em too much right now, but I will say that we’re looking to…we think there’s something special in this record, and we want more people to hear it.  So I kinda got a team coming together to help figure out the best way to do that.  But it’ll involve all the normal stuff of getting out of town and playing shows, and hopefully connecting with some people in radio and some music writers in other towns and stuff like that.

John Common & Blinding Flashes of Light will be playing Saturday, March 13 at the Walnut Room, 3131 Walnut Street in Denver. Tickets are $9.00 advance, $12.00 day of show (if any are left), plus a $2.00 service charge.  Tickets can be purchased online from the Walnut Room website. Doors at 7:30 PM; show at 8:00. This concert is expected to sell out, so get your tix early if you want to go.  And even if you don’t live in Denver, you can purchase Beautiful Empty as a download from Amazon.com using the link below, or go to John Common’s website to buy a hard copy on CD.

“Turnaround” by John Common & BFL

Download Beautiful Empty on Amazon.com

Download “Beautiful Empty” from John Common and Blinding Flashes of Light - Beautiful Empty

Mar 072010

Regret Night EP

This post is supplementary to my article on Examiner.com.

When you first start writing about a local music scene, you are, in a sense, late to the party. You find yourself running to catch up becuase all you have to go on is what you see in front of you, and you have to try and make sense of it without the advantage of previous history.

The first time I saw local powerpop band Regret Night do a show, I wrote a less-than-flattering review of them based entirely on their performance, with a peek at their MySpace page for a frame of reference. That show was a fundraiser to help them fund the recording of their new EP. I could tell from that first show that Regret Night had a fairly solid fan base, which told me there must be something to them–but that night there just wasn’t a lot of substance behind the hype.  So I wrote what I saw, trying to give the band the benefit of the doubt for what I hadn’t seen, and throwing in some suggestions for how they could step it up. 

A few weeks later, I received a gracious email from Regret Night (whom I’d not told about my review), thanking me for my candor and telling me they were taking my suggestions to heart–and inviting me to review their new EP when it came out.  Just the fact that they took the time to respond (instead of react) and invited me to give my opinion again said a lot to me about them.  After all, for all I knew, they’d just had one bad night.

It would be presumptuous to think they were acting on my advice alone (or at all), but since that email conversation I’ve watched from a distance while Regret Night has seemingly been doing several of the things I had put on my list of suggestions.  When I found out that they were finally releasing their EP, Living the Night Life, at a concert at the Marquis Theater last Friday, I felt I owed it to them to see them again and to give their new project a spin.

I’m happy to say that Regret Night did step it up, both with the EP and their concert.  The recording has catchy tunes and great production value, and their live performance (though riddled with technical difficulties which must have been frustrating) was definitely an improvement over the last time I saw them.  And the bands they had with them on the ticket did them proud as well–which was one of the things I really harped on in my previous review.  Best of all, I was able to see some of the elements of their appeal that has won them their fan base, the things I knew must be there but couldn’t see the first time I saw them.

It would be dishonest to say Regret Night doesn’t still have some growing to do. But kudos are definitely in order for these guys, for several reasons.  First of all, behind their carefree party persona, it’s apparent the band hasn’t always had an easy time of it, especially in getting this EP done.  The fact that they pressed through their obstacles to get it done–and did it so well–says they are serious.  Second–simply put, they have grown, likely as a result of their perseverance.  And third, and possibly most important–Regret Night accepted with grace the criticism of a newcomer-upstart and took it seriously.  And that is why I know they will continue to grow–because for bands with that attitude, growth is inevitable.

Way to go, guys.

Hey Stupid
Build Me Up

Living The Night Life EP on Amazon

Mar 062010

I saw these guys for the first time during their debut performance on David Letterman, and I was immediately captivated.  Four guys from London doing their own unique take on folk/bluegrass?  London’s gotta be, what, 4000 miles from the Appalachians? :)  But they make it work.  Here’s the clip below:  listen for yourself.  (And does anyone know what that instrument is that the third guy from the left is playing?  It looks like a guitar and sounds like a banjo.  A banjitar? A guitarjo?)

Download Mumford & Sons from Amazon