Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Big Easy Express

“It’s like we left all our baggage at home and just brought our instruments.”--Ketch Secor, (Old Crow Medicine Show), in Big Easy Express

A train embarking on more than 2,000 miles of open countryside between Oakland, California and New Orleans, Louisiana, holds a lifetime of musical memories.

The steel-driving force of this trip was not the engine going full steam ahead, but rather the Railroad Revival filling the train’s cars. 

All aboard this glory-bound train were London’s Mumford and Sons, Nashville’s own Old Crow Medicine Show, and Los Angeles-based Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros

With thousands of miles to conquer in a week and a half, six cities to perform in, and a train full of talent, the saying “The sky’s the limit,” becomes a bit of an understatement. The trip of a lifetime? Perhaps.

Old Crow Medicine Show fiddle player/vocalist, Ketch Secor says, “Definitely the trip of a lifetime. I've been a touring musician for something like 15 years and I've never experienced a more dream-come-true tour.”

Fortunately, film director Emmett Malloy (The White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights, Out Cold, Thicker Than Water) was on board this magical mystery train to catch a glimpse into the world of these folk gurus. 

The picturesque scenery and vintage feel of the train reflected throughout the film are only the beginning of this rail-riding adventure. Malloy captures the euphoric, late night jam sessions--performances at the stops along the way where people poured in by the thousands--and the kindred friendships that grew deeper as the journey continued. While the film does have interviews with members of each band, this film truly is all about the music. 

The raw talent these musicians have individually is undeniable, but combined they are a force to be reckoned with.

“Charged up with a full head of steam and set loose rolling down the mountain like a cannonball,” is how Secor paints the picture of what is was like being on board the train. 

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s lead vocalist, Alex Ebert defines the tour as, “Electric, child-realized magic.” 

These three bands with different backgrounds from very different places learned that they all effortlessly became one when it came to the music. “It was like meeting old friends for the first time,” describes Secor. 

Ebert says the camaraderie was, “Inspiring...it shook the very notion of being a musician to me. So much music was being played so often, more than any other thing, more than sleeping, more than eating--BEING music.  It was a profound experience.” 

Fond memories were clearly made throughout this trip. For Ebert, the experience of just being on board the train was a memory in and of itself.

“Walking from one car to the next--shaky, in between cars--the loud gasps of rumbling air, smiling at someone because it was too loud to yell 'Hi!', enjoying a sunset or landscape with them for a moment and then suddenly entering the next pocket of music-- of company.”  

Secor reflects back on memories from being a child. “Having my father out there with me was pretty special. He is a real railroad enthusiast and raised us kids up riding Amtrak trains. Being in some of those vintage railcars with him, especially the diner, was like stepping back into my own childhood again.”

After ten days of travel across the U.S., the train that became home to these bands dropped its passengers off for the last time in New Orleans for the final performance. 

As the journey concluded, Secor recalls, “After a few nights on board, you get train legs and regular ground just don’t feel quite right." 

Before the trip would completely come to an end, of course there had to be one good night of partying in N’awlins before everyone parted ways. And party they did.

“I love New Orleans--got very drunk in NOLA,” explains Ebert. “Marcus (Mumford) eventually corralled some of us more drunk fellows up to the roof, and we jumped into the pool just before dawn.  It was ecstatic. We then tumbled soggy to our rooms.  I did lose my hat on that roof though, I think...”

The film made its debut to the world when it premiered in Austin, Texas on March 17th. After the screening of the film, the bands reunited and performed a free set for those who came. 

“It was very good to see so many of the folks again,” say Ebert. “We played a few songs on the movie stage, including the song we wrote about the train--nearly choked up.”

The good news is that the film, Big Easy Express, will be making a pit stop in Nashville. On April 26th--the closing night of the Nashville Film Festival--there will be a screening of the film. For more information, check out the Nashville Film Festival website.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mumford & Sons, Dawes and Colorfeels - Secret Show at The Basement

Mumford & Sons brought their magic for not one, not two, but three-nights of sold-out shows at the historic Ryman Auditorium last week.

Audiences were dazzled by Mumford & Sons, surprised with appearances by world-renowned Dobro player Jerry Douglas, and entranced by collaborative encores with members of Old Crow Medicine Show and Dawes.

Over the past couple of years, Mumford & Sons have laid the groundwork for deep-rooted ties here in Music City. They showed their love of the local music scene by having opening acts like Apache Relay and Abigail Washburn join them on their Ryman headlining debut. 

After a triple dose of Mumford & Sons at the Ryman, the band was not quite ready to head out of town without giving Nashville a little more to resonate with before they hit the road.

If you were one of the lucky ones that caught wind of a rumored Mumford & Sons appearance at The Basement, you were certainly in for a treat.

The crowd poured in and The Basement filled up quickly. The venue reached capacity a little after midnight and a handful of hopefuls stood around outside, eagerly waiting for someone to leave so they could enter this secret event. 

Marcus Mumford, who stepped outside for a moment, asked the crowd why they were standing outside and he was informed the venue was at capacity. He then said not to worry and went and approached Mike Grimes (owner of The Basement). A moment later Mike announced to the crowd that per Marcus’s request, everyone was allowed inside the venue. 

Inside The Basement, members of Mumford & Sons, Dawes, Apache Relay, Colorfeels and John Rich were just some of the folks out having a good time. 

Finally around 2:00 a.m., perhaps the best jam session of 2012 broke out and The Basement attempted to set their own record for most people playing on stage; (the secret Metallica show comes to mind).

Marcus Mumford took the stage with Dawes, Apache Relay’s guitarist Mike Harris, the Mumford & Sons horn section, John McCauley (Deer Tick), Jonny Corndawg, and some of the members of Colorfeels.

The appetizer was a six-minute jam session that got everyone moving. Dawes lead singer, Taylor Goldsmith, started the main course with the distinctive opening notes of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Born On The Bayou,” and followed with Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark.” Marcus Mumford took over vocals on a stirring rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s, “If I Needed You.”

Afterwards, Mumford headed back to the drums and Goldsmith, McCauley, and Corndawg collaborated on a "pseudo-medley" of Bob Dylan's, "I Shall Be Released," and Buck Owen’s, “Act Naturally.”  The boys broke this hit down in a two-part jam session, just to keep the fun lingering a little longer.

Everyone left The Basement feeling full--perhaps even over-indulged--but ultimately satisfied to have witnessed such a dynamic group of performers in such a secret setting.

Born on the Bayou (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
Dancing in the Dark (Bruce Springsteen)
If I Needed You (Townes Van Zandt)
I Shall Be Released (Bob Dylan) / Act Naturally (Buck Owens)

Humming House

A “nod” to many genres is how Humming House’s Justin Wade Tam describes the music he and his band are making.

“That is true!” he says. “In each song we nod to many genres, but use that to create our own sound."

With not one, but two producers with Grammy awards on their mantles contributing to the group’s first album, it’s no surprise that the record is nothing short of genre-blending perfection. Mitch Dane (Jars of Clay) and Vance Powell (The Raconteurs) are the men who really gave Humming House the confidence they needed to move forward as a band.

“Landing two Grammy-winning producers was a bizarre experience,” Tam recalls. “We had planned to do it with Mitch, but then the day we were supposed to go in to track, he had a family emergency and ended up having to go out of town.

“He made a phone call to his partner, Vance Powell, and he just happened to be available. It was totally this freaky, terrible, wonderful thing that led us to working with Vance. We ended up getting along so well on a personal level that he wanted to help mix the record, as well. Mitch came back and helped finish the record by adding his incredible producing touches.”

Their debut album is set to be released on Jan. 17 and it is a musical milkshake, blending a little Americana, folk, blues and gospel to create a final product Dane calls “Irish Porch Stomp.”

Tam compares the blending on the album to something reminiscent of Girl Talk. “We enjoy genre-blending a lot,” he explains. “I think my voice, and the five of us together, make it into a Humming House song and it seems to be cohesive. We have covered Intergalactic live and for some reason that still really works. I think it’s because of the chemistry of the band members that make it make sense.

“This album is the best thing I have ever done,” Tam continues. “I think it is a good mix of story songs and songs that are very personal to me. I tend to like that in a record, something that is not completely fictional and something that is not completely personal, so it gives the listener both angles.”

The seeds for the formation of Humming House were sewn at casual Irish jams Tam hosted at his Nashville home which were attended by his future bandmates. The talent assembled in the band is undeniable. Aside from what they do together, individually their resumes are impressive as well.

Fiddle player Mike Butera has a PHD and is a Professor of Sociology. Mandolin player Joshua Wolak plans corporate scavenger hunts. Vocalist Kristin Rogers is an R&B singer-songwriter and bass player Ben Jones is a classical composer.

“When we did the Christmas song for the Christmas album for the Brite compilation, Ben came to rehearsal with a four-part string section written out in full score,” recalls Tam, who is in awe of the talent in his band. “I don’t know why they play with me. They are far too talented.”

The terms humming and house are not necessarily words you would think to put together, but for Tam it was the perfect name for their band.

“It’s been in my head for a long time,” he says. “I like what it insinuates, it can be a house with a bunch of people in it and if it is humming it can be a musical term to insinuate things are happening or commotion. There’s that, and then I am also a sucker for alliteration.”

In less than a year together, Humming House has made an album under the direction of two Grammy winners, been featured on WPLN’s Live in Studio C and NPR’s All Things Considered, played Soundland, and had their latest music video, “Cold Chicago,” sponsored by Stetson as part of their Stetson Center Stage series. Not too shabby for a band still in their first year of making music together.

The thing Tam most wants people to know about his up-and-coming band is simple: “Everything we do is very intentional,” he says. But even though they put a lot of effort into every last detail of what they do, he also wants people to have fun listening to them.

“We’re not trying to be an all on guard art band hiding behind microphones,” he says. “We are very personable people and we want to relate to people and we are very inspired by stories. We want to write songs that are inspiring to others in a way that the stories are inspiring to us.”

Buffalo Clover

There’s a certain sentiment behind the band name Buffalo Clover for lead singer, Margo Price.

“Buffalo clover is a flower that comes up after buffalo trample; the less buffalo there are, the less the flower comes up,” explains Price.

“To me, it’s just beautiful. I grew up on a farm in Illinois called ‘Buffalo Prairie,’ and it is just something that’s always been in the back of my mind. It’s kind of touching whenever I see it.”

Buffalo Clover started up in 2008, and is currently comprised of Margo Price, Jeremy Ivey, Matt Gardner, Jason White and Dillon Napier. Since their inception, they have explored many different genres of music ranging from gypsy funk and blues, to southern soul and rock and roll, their more current sound.

“We’ve found it’s hard to please everyone,” says Price. “There are definitely still elements of blues and funk in the music, but we are trying to keep it a little more consistent.”

Buffalo Clover released their third studio album, Low Down Time in June of 2011. The album was just nominated for an Independent Music Award (IMA) for Best Alternative Country Album of the Year.

“I didn’t even know anybody entered it,” says Price laughing. “It cracked me up that they put it in the all country category, because that was us trying to move more toward Motown.”

2012 is going off without a hitch for Buffalo Clover. Just recently they released their latest single, “Hey Child.”

“My husband and I wrote this song together,” commented Price. “You meet a lot of people throughout your life and some of those people can become tied-up and distracted by drugs. This song points a finger at that.”

This song also strikes a very personal note in Price’s life. “We had a really rough year nearly two years ago,” says Price. “We lost a child. There are things in there that touch on that, like in the video--me going to the grave.”

“I think my husband and I have both been distracted through drinking, and this song is a call to everyone to get their shit together,” adds Price.

The chorus of the song comes across as a loving way of conveying the message to rise above it all.
“Hey child, you better get it right on you/ Hey child, you got so many better things to do.”

Buffalo Clover, who has shared the stage with Grace Potter and Nocturnals and The Flaming Lips, is freshly back in town after hitting the road to head to Austin to play SXSW.

“It’s been really fun,” says Price of being in Austin. “We played a show at a place called The Rooftop. When we first walked in there was another band playing and there weren’t very many people there. “

“We had driven so far and it was just kind of a last minute gig that got booked so we really did not have any time to promote it. They had speakers out on the street and people started pouring in, so my mood quickly changed and it turned out to be pretty cool.”

Tonight the band with a whole lot of southern soul will be playing at the 5 Spot in East Nashville.  
“It's just a really relaxed place to be,” comments Price on the 5 Spot atmosphere. “There's always a good crowd. It just feels like home.”

Matt Nathanson

San Francisco-based singer/songwriter, Matt Nathanson is someone whose songs you may already love and just not know he is the man behind the music. With a career spanning nearly 20 years, Nathanson has been transformed into a brilliant songwriter with wonderful stage presence and an irreplaceable sense of humor.

Since Nathanson’s inception into the music world back in 1993, his songs have made their way into multiple television shows from One Tree Hill to Private Practice. Recently, he made an appearance on season 16 of the The Bachelor, where he serenaded Ben Flajnik and Lindzi Cox. 

Modern Love, Nathanson’s seventh studio album, was released in June of 2011 and debuted at number 17 on Billboard 200. This album has been making musical waves not only in the Bay area, but has poured over into the east coast as well. Modern Love combines acoustic and electric sounds with provocative lyrics about love and sexuality.

Nathanson’s first single “Faster,” has more than one-million YouTube hits and has made several appearances on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts.

The album also includes “Run,” a single featuring Sugarland. Just this past weekend, Ryan Seacrest aired “Run” on his American Top 40 radio show.

When Nathanson isn’t in the studio making albums, he keeps himself busy being out on the road. He has toured with several of music’s finest, from Jason Mraz to John Mayer, and currently, is out on tour with Kelly Clarkson until mid-April.

Matt Nathanson is truly bringing meaning to the phrase, “The sky’s the limit.” Keep an eye on him in 2012.

Neon Indian

What’s the best way to apologize to an upset girlfriend? Write a song titled, “Should Have Taken Acid With You,” of course. Twenty-year-old Indie Electronic artist, Alan Palomo, otherwise known as Neon Indian, did just that. Apparently, it did the trick.

Since Palomo coined the name Neon Indian in 2009, the journey into the present and future only seem to be getting brighter. 

In just a few short years Palomo released an EP, Psychic Chasms in 2009, and in 2010, it was re-released as a full-length album. The album, a music-induced psychedelic synth trip, found itself on Pitchfork’s Best New Music list, and two tracks were featured on their Top 100 Tracks of 2009.

Palomo has found himself opening for acts like The Flaming Lips, Phoenix and Chromeo, lighting up the festival stages of Bonnaroo, Sasquatch and STSW with his colorful, trippy presence. 

His second album, Era Extrana, was released in September of 2011 and was written and recorded in its entirety in an apartment in Finland. The album was produced and mixed by Dave Fridmann who is known for working with The Flaming Lips, Weezer, MGMT and OK Go. Era Extrana provides the same electronic synthetic sounds from the first album, but has a darker tone throughout. 

In 2012, Palomo will be leaving his neon imprint all across the United States, touring heavily in the upcoming months. He will be out on the road with The Flaming Lips and Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band or Purity Ring.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Straight No Chaser at the Ryman

On the evening of Nov. 10, adoring fans piled into the Ryman auditorium to indulge in a shot of Straight No Chaser and the ten-member a cappella group proved they really are top-shelf.

Formed at Indiana University back in 1996, Straight No Chaser features vocalists Ryan Ahlwhardt, Jerome Collins, Walter Chase, Seggie Isho, Michael Luginbill, Charlie Mechling, Don Nottingham, David Roberts, Randy Stine and Tyler Trepp.

The show was scheduled to begin at 7:30, and shortly thereafter, with no opening act, SNC stepped onstage moving to their trademark choreography. The group with more than 20 million YouTube views of their videos and live performances demonstrated immediately what the buzz is all about.

Ten handsome men dressed to impress, all wearing matching shiny tuxedos and dancing in synchronization. But what really dazzled the audience was their unique melodic blending of four-part harmonies interlaced with falsettos and vibratos on their outstanding renditions of hit cover songs. They played off each other’s energy and the chemistry was undeniable. They just looked like they were having fun up there and the audience felt that.

The remarkable vocal range of the group truly captivated the audience for hours. There was not a single instrument on stage to mask an off-key note, but these guys did not need any instruments to disguise imperfections.

The first set of the evening included some favorites from the 1950s — The Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk,” The Isley Brother’s “Shout,” and an Elvis Presley tribute remembering some of the King’s finest. The group then transitioned into some present-day favorites such as Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried” and Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours,” mixed with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Before concluding, the celebrated vocal ensemble brought some of the funk — Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive.” Stirring the audience to laughter, Nottingham dedicated a song to a couple in the audience on their first date saying the song could be, “Awesome or awkward, but I really hope it’s both.” The song was none other than Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”

After a brief intermission, it was onto the second set which bridged several generations of music, covering everything from Frankie Valli and the Beatles to Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga.

The highlight of the second set was when the group started singing the gospel standard  “I’ll Fly Away” and earning the first standing ovation of the night.

Straight No Chaser breathed new life into material by artists old and new. Every song was drenched in the group’s unique take on the song, but was also reminiscent enough of the original that two fascinating worlds collided. Each member had a solo turn during the show allowing the audience to experience each singer’s individual talent.

The encore brought everyone to their feet with a medley of Michael Jackson songs and a blend of Christmas favorites including their well-known version of “Twelve Days of Christmas.” Perhaps the most captivating part of the evening came on the second encore when Straight No Chaser came out with absolutely no microphone support and sang another classic from The Drifters, “Up on the Roof.”

Although the audience ranged from teens to seniors, no one left that night without hearing some of their favorites. From country to R&B, Simon and Garfunkel to Coldplay, young and old alike left singing the praises of Straight No Chaser. Never has there been such a variety of material so well executed in a single show.