November 2009

What a bountiful crop of new releases this fall. I can’t recall the last time, at the end of a decade, when I’ve had so many quality CD’s to listen to. 

September

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers The Bear (Vanguard Records)

The CD cover looks like most of the albums in my collection from the 1970’s. Worn, but comfortable; just like the music on this CD. The title track, “Oh Adeline” and “Satisfied Man” stand out. Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers opened up for Toad the Wet Sprocket in May. I do pay attention to the supporting acts; in fact, I’ve been known to go to concerts, just to see the opening act. This CD is on my 2009 best of list.

WPA Works Progress Administration (WPA Music/Umami Music/Red Distribution)

You will find this album in the top 3 of my best of 2009 list. “Always Have My Love”, the first track and first release proves that Glen Phillips continues to write those catchy lyrics and melodies. My new favorite track, especially after hearing the acoustic version during their studio session at WYEP, is “Already Gone” with Sean Watkins singing lead and Glen Phillips on backing vocals. The other core WPA member Luke Bulla wrote the touching “Remember Well”, after a visit to a nursing home with Alzheimer’s patients. My wish is that this talented group of musicians will follow up this debut release with even more songs that take us on another ride beyond a single genre of music .

Will Hoge The Wreckage (Rykodisc)

A singer-songwriter out of Nashville, TN who caught my ear. I’ve been asking myself why I’ve never heard of Will Hoge until now. It took 10 months for Hoge to recover from an accident that left him seriously injured and “The Wreckage” is the end result. A song like “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” resonates loud and clear not only for the performer but for us music fans as well. I can absolutely say that I-love-every-song on this album. This CD is in the top 5 of my best of 2009 list.

October

Brandi Carlile Give Up the Ghost (Columbia)

Talented with anuber-amazing voice. I turn up “Dreams” every time I hear it on the radio. “Dying Day” is another great song. Carlile will be in Pittsburgh in January. What a great way to start off the new decade, hearing Carlile belt out tunes. This CD is also made my list for best of 2009.

The Swell Season Strict Joy (Anti)

The follow up to the “Once” soundtrack. I’ve been waiting for more from Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. I fell in love with “Low Rising” the first time I heard it. “The Rain”, “Feeling The Pull” and “Back Broke” are vintage Hansard songs. Oh yeah you know this CD made the top 5 in my best of 2009 list.

November

Peter King Dancing on a Long Leash (Raincheck)

This is the sophomore release (the follow up to the 2006 “The Road to Ubatuba”) by local writer and musician Peter King. I had the pleasure of attending the CD release show for “Dancing on a Long Leash”. King assembled an amazing set of local musicians to showcase his latest effort. The smile on King’s face was infectious. He was enjoying himself and so was the audience as he drew us in to his music. The dominant themes in King’s songs: his wife, his dog and samba music. I must confess that my favorite track on the new CD is the tongue and cheek “Number One in Liechtenstein." What fun.

John Mayer Battle Studies (Columbia)

This is only the 4th studio album for 32-year old John Mayer. I was hooked immediately by “Who Says”. Newly crowned CMA Entertainer of the Year Taylor Swift joins Mayer on “Half of My Heart.” Mayer does catchy pop well and there's nothing wrong with that.

Livingston Taylor Last Alaska Moon (Whistling Dog Music)

Hearing a new CD by Livingston Taylor for the first time is like putting on an old pair of flannel pajamas. It’s soooo comfortable. I had a smile on my face the whole time I listened to “Last Alaska Moon” all the way through. The first song I previewed was “Kitty Hawk”. Taylor has been singing this tribute to The Wright Brothers in concert for years and it has always been a show highlight (Taylor is also a pilot). "I'm in a Pickle" is certain to be another of those lovable quirky songs that fans will request he sing live. "Call Me Carolina" is one of the most beautiful songs I've heard in a long time. The only cover on the album is 1982’s “The Girl is Mine” (Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney) and Taylor even gives that a magical touch, with some help from his nephew Ben Taylor. Members of Union Station (Alison Krauss) join Taylor.  This CD is a gem.

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

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New Music Personal Picks

Moz

Sam

Morrissey's always felt like a bit of an outcast from the nest... now we know why after comparing his new album cover to the much beloved curmudgeonly Muppet, Sam The Eagle. What do you think?

Moz's new album, The Swords, is out now.

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New Music

There was quite the buzz at the recent CMJ music festival over newcomer and Denver based singer-songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff and the Wheel. His first recording with his band 'The Wheel' hasn't quite started yet, but I'm more than excited about it's Spring 2010 scheduled release.

Comparable to Grant Lee Phillips, Martin Sexton, Iron & Wine, and Ray Lamontagne this recent youtube discovery for the song "Hanging Surrender" has me eagerly anticipating the new release.

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The Who

Another Super Bowl, another performance from a classic rock icon. Sports Illustrated is reporting this year's halftime spectacular will feature the Who. That's right -- Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and company will provide the musical fireworks when the game hits Miami on Feb. 7.

Ever since the infamous Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake wardrobe malfunction in 2004, the NFL has gone with "veteran" acts and turned the reins over to one band or artist. Prior to that, there were often medleys and multiple acts, like No Doubt, Sting and Shania Twain in 2003 and the 2001 show that saw Aerosmith rocking 'Walk This Way' with Britney Spears and Timberlake.

The Who certainly fit the newer mold, proving worthy successors to the recent run of Paul McCartney (2005), the Rolling Stones (2006), Prince (2007), Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (2008) and this year's performance by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

With the matchup still far from decided, one thing is for certain -- a stadium of 80,000 people rocking out to 'Won't Get Fooled Again' will sound great no matter what. (Spinner.com)

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Music News

The New Music Express reports today that Peter Gabriel has confirmed what and who's songs he will be covering on his forthcoming album.   "Scratch My Back" will be released in January and will feature covers of songs from legendary artists like Talking Heads, Paul Simon, Neil Young, David Bowie and Randy Newman.  Apparently, his cover of Vampire Weekend's "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" earlier this year was just scratching the surface of Gabriel's appreciation of "younger" acts, as he will also be covering songs by Arcade Fire,  Bon Iver,  Elbow, The Magnetic Fields and Regina Spektor.

NME reports that the tracklisting for 'Scratch My Back' is as follows:

'Heroes' (David Bowie)
'The Boy In The Bubble' (Paul Simon)
'Mirrorball' (Elbow)
'Flume' (Bon Iver)
'Listening Wind' (Talking Heads)
'The Power Of The Heart' (Lou Reed)
'My Body Is A Cage' (Arcade Fire)
'The Book Of Love' (The Magnetic Fields)
'I Think It’s Going To Rain Today' (Randy Newman)
'Apres Moi' (Regina Spektor)
'Philadelphia' (Neil Young)
'Street Spirit' (Radiohead)

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I've been excited about seeing One Eskimo since first hearing the single 'Kandi', which includes a sample from an old Candi Staton soul song. One Eskimo is a 4 piece indie band from London and toured with Tori Amos in 2009. Check out their animated video for 'Kandi' and tune in or sign up to be part of the November 18th studio session at WYEP.

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New Music

The much anticipated Swell Season release Strict Joy is one of my favorites of 2009. The video for "Low Risng" is directed by Sam Bean, the man behind Iron & Wine.

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Two shows at two different venues.  From a three-piece to a five-piece band .  WPA played at both WYEP and Diesel on the South Side November 7th.

Despite getting up at 5:30 a.m. to begin the drive from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, the core group of members from WPA (Luke Bulla, Sean Watkins and Glen Phillips) performed and answered questions at a WYEP Studio Session during the Noon hour.  WPA did an acoustic performance of a handful of songs from their debut release "Works Progress Administration".  Each WPA member took a turn on lead vocals as well as answering questions.  After the on-air broadcast the studio audience was treated to an encore.

A singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who says she comes to Pittsburgh often, Erin McKeown, opened for WPA at Diesel.  She performed 10 songs in an almost 45-minute set, while alternating between the electric guitar and electric piano. Half of the songs were from her latest release "Hundreds of Lions", including the title song and "Santa Cruz".  McKeown ended her set by fulfilling two requests: "Melody" and inviting audience participation on "La Petite Mort".

WPA, as a five-piece (Bulla, Watkins and Phillips with Sebastian Steinberg on bass and Jerry Roe on drums) came on stage at 8 p.m.  The fast paced 1-hour and 20-minute set included 17 songs and a much deserved and well received 2 song encore.  WPA's music can not be clearly defined. It's part Americana, part Bluegrass, part Folk and part mixture of everything else.  You can hear the influences of the core member's past experiences with Lyle Lovett, Nickel Creek and Toad the Wet Sprocket.  To prove the point, let's look at a sampling of the WPA setlist that evening.

WPA began their show by launching quickly into five songs from "Works Progress Administration": "Always Have My Love", "End This Now", "Paralyzed", "Cry For You", and "Rise Up". 

Then the core members took turns doing various songs from their repertoires, in between some WPA songs.

"Solar Flare" (Phillips)

"I Feel The Blues Moving In" (Bulla choice of a Del McCoury song)

"Already Gone" (WPA, Watkins lead)

a sad song sung by Watkins that he originally placed on GarageBand

"Drive By" (Phillips)

"Whatever I Fear" (Toad the Wet Sprocket, Phillips changed to acoustic guitar)

"Pink Triangle" (a Weezer song, Watkins took lead on)

"Good As Ever" (WPA with the full band)

"Somebody More Like You" (Nickel Creek)

"Remember Well" (WPA, a touching song penned by Bulla, with Bulla switching from fiddle to acoustic guitar)

Watkins performed a song written by Phillips

"A Wedding or a Wake" (WPA bluegrass tinged track)

Nine songs from "Works Progress Administration" (mainly omitting songs that Sara Watkins would sing lead on), with the other portion of the set balanced with songs from the core group members from their previous groups, their solo work, or songs they just liked to perform.

The first song of the encore, "Cherokee Shuffle" featured the picking of Bulla and Watkins. 

The night ended with a version of Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" and a standing ovation.

Each of the core members took turns singing lead and singing songs written by other members of the group.  Bulla was a stand out on fiddle, vocals and in the amount of passion he displayed. 

At the end of the evening, Phillips thanked the audience for coming out to see them, even though they probably didn't know what to expect from WPA.  Their playing was tight in both the 3- and 5- piece ensemble, despite the fact membership in WPA, outside of the core group of 3, can vary depending on the show.  

"Works Progress Administration" by WPA is one of my top releases of 2009 and after seeing WPA perform many of the tracks live, I'm really looking forward to hearing more of what WPA can share with us musically in the future.

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host 

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Glen Phillips will be back in town, this time as part of WPA, on Saturday November 7th (Check out the WYEP Concert Calendar for more info) and WPA will be doing a Studio Session at WYEP on November 7th.

Barb WYEP’s Sunday Mix Host (WYEP): Glen, thanks for taking the time to talk to us again for the WYEP Music Blog.

Glen Phillips (GP): You're very welcome.

WYEP: You were in Pittsburgh co-headlining a show with Jonatha Brooke in December 2008, then in May 2009 with Toad the Wet Sprocket, now you’re returning with WPA.  I asked you in the spring (Toad the Wet Spocket - an interview with Glen Phillips) about transitioning from solo artist to being a part of a group and you said it kept you on your toes and that you enjoyed each style.  You also noted that playing with WPA was the most fun you’ve had “...in ages, if not ever.”  So now that you are currently focusing mostly on WPA, are your feet firmly on the ground and are you still having a lot of fun?

GP: It's still pretty wonderful. The biggest problem for me has been having "wedding mouth" after shows from smiling too much. Painful cheeks are a small price to pay, though.

WYEP:  “Works Progress Administration”, the first CD from WPA, was released as an independent effort on September 15th.  Having creative control has to be great, is it one of those labors of love, where you get what you put into it?

GP:  I've been spared corporate meddling for most of the last 10 years, and actually for pretty much all of Toad's career as well. It was shocking to see how much that had changed in the music business by the time I was talking to record companies again. So - I'm used to getting to make the music I want to with the resources at hand. This was a new level of resource, though - really inspiring at a number of levels. It's definitely a labour of love. Indie is great, but it's shocking to see how much money and/or luck it takes to break above the noise floor and have an album get some traction. It's not for the faint of heart. Creatively this has been a great experience. Ask me about the business in a year or two…

WYEP:  I have to ask you about the artwork in the booklet that accompanies the “Works Progress Administration” CD.  I believe each song title is integrated into a poster from FDR’s 1939 New Deal Initiative era.  Where did this idea come from?  I particularly like the one from Harrisburg, Penna.  They look so authentic.  Like mini pieces of art.

GP: As soon as we decided on the band name I knew I wanted to integrate original WPA art. It's beautiful, and in the public domain, so the idea of remixing some posters came pretty naturally. I did mockups on my laptop and then sent them to some real graphics people to make the fonts match up properly and such. I think about half the posters I used were from syphilis awareness campaigns. Not sure why, but those just seemed to have the right vibe for the songs. I hope it's not a bad omen...

WYEP:  Since February, I’ve had the chance to sample the future first release “Always Have My Love”.  In the final product there’s more strings, giving it a fuller more polished sound.  The song has really evolved.  Will WPA continue to evolve and change?

GP: I think the only difference since February would have been the mastering. We cut the album in five days, and took about five more to mix it. It just took us a couple years to get it out…As far as evolving - yes! We're excited to be writing for another album, now that we have some better idea of our identity as a band. 

WYEP: Along those same lines, WPA has a core group of founding members made up of yourself, Luke Bulla and Sean Watkins, along with “executive board” members.  Which members of WPA will be in Pittsburgh for the show?  Does the line-up change which songs you play and/or how you play them?

GP: We'll be a 5 piece in Pittsburgh - Sean, Luke and myself with Sebastian Steinberg on bass and Jerry Roe on drums. We play everything on the record except the songs Sara sings, and play a few from our various previous projects and solo records as well as a handful of covers. I've been loving the 5 piece. It's leaner and meaner, and actually rocks a little more than the 8 piece in a certain way. 

WYEP:  There’s a broad range of musical styles, genres and backgrounds within the members of WPA and your debut CD.  Do you plan to experiment with different sounds in the future and to continue to record and perform together?

GP: We're looking forward to making the next album and moving forward. I think we'll concentrate more on the songs than anything - the thing that makes this band work is that no matter how many people we have on board the song is the first priority - there's a lot of playing ability but nobody's showboating. That's the attitude we'll keep in the future - just playing the best material we can as well as we can, and enjoying the company while we're at it.

WYEP: Best of luck in the future and much success to you and the members of WPA! 

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

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