April 2011

Sometimes you have to travel 95 miles to see a show.  Edwin McCain, with the acoustic trio, plus one, performed at the Kent Stage, in Kent, OH, Thursday night.

The Kent Stage is one of the best "listening rooms" I've been to over the last couple of years to see some of my favorite singer-songwriters perform including Livingston Taylor and Marc Cohn.  I can now add Edwin McCain to that list.

Mr. McCain was in Pittsburgh in March with his full band.  It was an energetic performance with the songs sounding like what you hear on the CD's with some great jams.  But where Mr. McCain is at his best is when he can tell stories and just let the songs speak for themselves.  The acoustic trio consists of Edwin McCain on vocals and guitar with long time sidemen Larry Chaney on guitar and Craig Shields on saxophone and wind instruments.  A couple of songs into the set a long time friend of Mr. McCain's, Kay Smith from Kent State made the trio a four-some when he came on stage to play percussion. In his early 40's. Mr. McCain is married with three young children at home.  His stories now are more about his family life and how he tries to still look cool driving a sedan to a local coffee shop drive-thru with car seats in the back. Mr. McCain casually walked on stage and began the show with Walk With You. The set included more of the songs that make you think and sound good in a small theater with just a few musicians on stage.  White Crosses, I Could Not Ask For More, Shooting Stars, Sober, and I'll Be were intertwined with stories of Mr. McCain's life with his family, including his mother-in-law. The three song encore started with Mr. McCain on stage alone singing The Lucky One, and ended with all the other musicians joining him on stage one by one on Holy City.

Opening the show was 22 year-old Seth Glier.

He began his 35-minute, 7-song set singing the title track of his latest CD The Next Right Thing acapella. He next performed Walk Katie Home and Gotta Get Away before Pittsburgh musician Brad Yoder joined him on stage to play sax on I Don't Need You and First.  Mr. Glier also tells stories:  living at home in a small town in MA with his parents and taking care of his 26-year old brother Jamie who is autistic.  The young singer-songwriter has been polishing his performance by spending 200 nights on the road each year.  Mr. Glier ended his set with the song he was thrilled to hear on the radio as he was driving into Ohio, Lauralee.  The audience rewarded Mr. Glier with a standing ovation.

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

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Okay, I dare you to watch this live version of "Last Night I Dreamed of Television" by Jeffrey Foucault and not wanna hear more:

I know, right? Wow. That song is included on his upcoming release Horse Latitudes (out May 3rd on Signature Sounds). Currently living in Western Massachusetts, Jeffrey's released a few other albums prior to this, but none have been so striking to me as this one. His voice, band (including lovely harmonies from his wife, Kris Delmhorst), lyrics and overall tone will shake you into submission. This album is totally on my best of 2011 list.

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What a treat: two hours of stories and music from Colin Hay on Tuesday night.

There may have been more stories than music from this singer-songwriter, who was born in Scotland, moved to Australia and now calls California home.  He came to the Rex Theater alone, not only reminding us of his success with Men at Work, but also of his body of music as a solo artist.  Between sipping water and changing guitars were the stories of his father, touring with Ringo Starr, meeting Paul McCartney, Men at Work supporting Fleetwood Mac, writing Men at Work songs, and even goats.  There was some music too, in between the banter.  The title track of his most recent CD Gathering Field began the set. The title track of his 2nd CD Wayfaring Sons and his 5th album Transcendental Highway, with a track from his 3rd CD Into the Cornfields. In the early 1980's we probably would not have appreciated hearing acoustic versions of Down Under, Who Can It Be Now? and Overkill but the songs have aged very well. Another new song Invisible. Also Beautiful World and Waiting For My Real Life To Begin, which he gently reminded us was now 17 years old.  The evening ended with Kool & the Gang's Celebration playing over the speakers. To really appreciate that song, you would have had to be there to hear that story.

Opening was Chris Trapper, out of Boston, MA. You may know him as the leader of The Push Stars.  I came in near the end of his set as he was introducing a song which he had written in Pittsburgh. He ended with a song he wrote for his parent's 50th wedding anniversary.

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

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Ellis Paul, playing a new space Thursday night, Calliope Center Stage, reminisced about the various venues, including house concerts that he has played in the Pittsburgh area over the years.  The Center Stage would be a welcome new home for Mr. Paul’s future visits.

Performing two sets of music, with a brief intermission, Mr. Paul was alone on stage with his guitar, harmonica and keyboard in a very intimidate setting.  It was like having your very talented singer-songwriter friend in your basement performing just for you.

Mr. Paul opened with Rose Tattoo from his most recent release The Day After Everything Changed and ended the set out in front of the stage with an acoustic version of Annalee.  In between, he also performed Hurricane Angel, Dragonfly and Once Upon a Summertime.  Roy Orbison would have been 75 this Saturday (April 23) and Mr. Paul paid tribute by doing his version of Crying. He did a new song that he co-wrote with a member of Enter the Haggis, which is about Johnny Cash.  The audience joined in on the chorus of “Kick Off the Lights – Johnny Cash”.  Mr. Paul said the song was about the time Mr. Cash kicked out the stage lights at the Grand Ole Opry.  There were old favorites like Alice’s Champagne Palace and 3,000 Miles.

The second set had older material, fulfilling some requests from the audience.  In addition to asking for song suggestions, Mr. Paul opened up the floor to questions.  He shared with us which guitars he favors, and how he tunes them.  He also revealed he was working on his second children’s CD (he recited a poem about Thomas Edison to us) and a Christmas CD.  Before singing Jukebox On My Grave, Mr. Paul mentioned the gravesites of famous musicians that he had visited and the audience let him know that he could add another to his list, as Stephen Foster’s grave is nearby.  Maria’s Beautiful Mess, Eighteen, Roll Away Bed and The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down were highlights.  Mr. Paul ended the evening at the keyboard singing Johnny Cash’s The Night Hank Williams Came to Town.

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

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Gerard Smith, bassist for Brooklyn rock band TV on The Radio, passed away yesterday (4/20/2011) at the age of 34 due to complications from Lung Cancer. The band released a statement: “We are very sad to announce the death of our beloved friend and band mate, Gerard Smith, following a courageous fight against lung cancer. Gerard passed away the morning of April 20th, 2011. We will miss him terribly.”

This shocking and sad news comes only about a month after it was announced that Smith had been diagnosed. TVOTR seemed positive about his recovery. The band noted at the time that Smith's had seen "dramatic results" and with his “legendarily willful disposition … it might just be cancer that has the problem.”

TV on The Radio just released their latest album, Nine Types of Light on 4/12.
Below is the video for "Will Do":

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Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh's finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Justin Jacobs, contributing writer to Billboard Magazine and Relix Magazine

In case you missed it here's what he played (plus a bonus song):

Black Lips, "Modern Art" - This is the first cut from this Atlanta punk band's new record, Arabia Mountain, which was produced by Mark Ronson. It's a true story about the band taking ketamine and walking through a Salvador Dali museum in Spain. Not sure if that sounds fun to you, but the song certainly is. This band is pure rock'n'roll - sloppy, catchy, danceable, dangerous, fun. The album's out next month, and it is amazing.

US Royalty, "Equestrian" - Weird name for a song, but somehow fitting — the tune sounds like some majestic ride down a mountain on a horse, probably during a windy day, possibly while wearing a crown or something. Either way, it's a perfect cross between Fleet Foxes, Local Natives and the Black Keys. The D.C. band's most recent album, Mirrors, came out just last month.

Girls in Trouble, "Lemons" - This act got its start writing songs about girls in trouble... girls from the bible, that is. That narrative continues on Half You Half Me, out May 17 on JDub, the sophomore album from Alicia Jo Rabins' band featuring the bassist of Old Time Relijun. The record's no Sunday school affair, though. It's a string-driven, haunting folk record topped with Rabin's plaintive voice and poetic lyrics. Slip it to your rabbi; he'll be exponentially cooler.

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Black Lips Girls in Trouble Justin Jacobs The 9:13 Buzz U.S. Royalty

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Singer-Songwriter Ellis Paul will be in Pittsburgh Thursday, April 21st (check out the WYEP Concert Calendar for more information.)

Barb WYEP's Sunday Mix Host (WYEP):  Hello Ellis!  Thanks for taking the time, while you’re out on the road, to respond to some questions via e-mail for the WYEP Music Blog!

WYEP: Ellis, you are going into your third decade as a touring musician.  How has life on the road changed over the years for you?

Ellis Paul (EP): The main thing that’s changed is the cell phone has made life so much easier, so much more streamlined.  I can contact home, do business, get on the internet, and I can keep in touch with my home base, manager, home and kids.. Whereas when I started, I would pull into a gas station at midnight after a show and try to find a phone and call, I would touch base every couple days, and now I call multiple people many time a day, that’s the best part that’s changed for me.

WYEP: What made you decide to go the fan funding route to raise money to record The Day After Everything Changed?

EP: Well, record labels tend to provide you money to record, they work the record for few months, and then they own the record forever.  Twenty years from now when I’m still slugging it out on the road, they would still own it and be making all the money, and I thought why let them have it when I’m doing the work in the long run? I can just make it work online, and have the people in my management company be the label itself.

WYEP:  What one piece of advice would you offer to a musician who wanted to ask their fans for money to fund the recording of their next album?

EP: I guess be honest with what your needs are, and what you can provide them in return.  They become your shareholders in a way, they’re your boss.  You have to give them a quality product, assure them their investment was worthwhile. They believe in you as an artist, but you have to believe in them, too, you’re partnering with them and you want them to feel good about their investments.

WYEP: Does it feel any different for you to play songs from a fan funded album live versus songs from an album that a record company funded?  Does it give you more satisfaction?

EP: There’s sort of a contentment factor that’s there..  Not just playing live, but if a song gets placed in a movie because we did all the work, I feel like I’m taking care of my family, my fans, and in the long run that’s what’s important, I don’t have that spiritual connection to a record label.

WYEP:  You were quite successful raising money to record The Day After Everything Changed, will your next recording be fan funded also?  If so, what lessons learned will you take into it the next project?

EP: Well, we’re still learning how to be record label. I don’t know that we spent the money on all the right things, but this was the first time we ever did this, there’s still some learning curve.  I’m pretty sure the next album will be fan funded, but we might partner with a label for certain aspects for a specified short time rather than doing it all in house. 

WYEP: As a fellow Capricorn (who is also married to a Capricorn), there are some admirable qualities under this astrological sign: responsible, patient, ambitious, resourceful and loyal.  Do you believe that being a Capricorn has had any influence on the decisions you’ve made with your career over the years?

EP: I don’t know, I could probably attribute any signs or positive traits to what I do for work. I do know Capricorn’s go inch by inch and conquer mountains slowly but surely over time, and I feel like that’s what my path has been over time and will be in the future.

WYEP: Two words:  Woody Guthrie.  What does his music mean to you and how has his music influenced you as a songwriter?

EP: The main thing with Woody is just what the job description is, how he defines it.  You’re supposed to write about things that are important, what’s broken and how to fix it… and have people understand there’s a better way.  To not be writing in just a commercial way, that’s the difference between a folk singer and someone who’s just a songwriter.

WYEP:  Your music has been featured in three Farrelly Brothers movies, including this year’s “Hall Pass”.  How did you start working with the Farrelly Brothers?

EP: The Farrelly Brothers are from New England and are good friends with my manager, and they just take care of the things they care about.  It’s almost a family run business, they bring in New England comics and musicians they love for their movies, they’re just loyal, reliable people.  I feel very lucky to have them in my camp.

WYEP:  Only Aerosmith has won more Boston Music Awards.  Can you briefly explain what makes “Boston-style” songwriting so unique?  Did growing up in New England inspire your songwriting?

EP: The main thing about the Boston scene is that all these listening rooms were here, and instead of coming out of the bar scene like I would have out of Texas, or Austin or Atlanta or Chicago, my art developed in places you can hear a pin drop.  As a result, it’s lyric driven, it’s a little more intellectual… for better or for worse!  It’s not slighting anyone that writes down in Texas that writes grittier, which I think is just as relevant and influential.  In Atlanta it’s more rock,  you have to break through the bar noise.  That’s the difference between learning to write a song in Boston, or Nashville, or LA.. the environment and the support system are different.

WYEP: One of the critiques I’ve received as a writer is that I need to show more than tell; to use the senses.  Do you find that applicable to songwriting as well, that writers need to show more in their songs?  Can you provide an example from one of your songs?

EP: That’s exactly what I tell people in my songwriting workshop, use the senses, make it visual, not just auditory.  Not just imagery, but language of the song itself. I would use like, in ‘Sweet Mistakes’, “Pop the cork, a champagne glass, raise to the future, drink to the past, thank the lord for the friends he cast in the play he wrote for you.”  So obviously, the pop the cork is the sound, taste is there, you visualize the raising of the glass, and that’s also touching the glass.. Then if you read the song out loud and think about the alliteration and consonants, the sonic, it’s not just the melody but what the words do out loud, “pop” and “cork” and very punctuated words, that’s the kind of writing that makes me most proud.

WYEP:  Ellis, thanks for your time!  We’re looking forward to seeing you soon!

EP: Thank you, looking forward to playing in Pittsburgh again!

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

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Personal Picks

Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh's finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Scott Mervis of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In case you missed it here's what he played with commentary by Scott:

Kurt Vile, "Runner's Up" - If the Rolling Stones made a lo-fi album, and let's hope they do, it might sound something like this. This hazy, psych-rock song comes from the Philly singer-guitarist's fourth album, "Smoke Ring for My Halo," his most focused record yet. "I was definitely going for a more cohesive record," he told me last month. "I always go for that. I guess my mind jumps around a little."

TV on the Radio, “Caffeinated Consciousness” - The trailblazing Brooklyn art-funk-noise band has moved on from its early apocalyptic phase and settled into a warmer, mellower groove on the new album, “Nine Types of Light.” It becomes a great showcase for the bottomless soul of front men Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone, both former Pittsburghers. This is one of the more fiery tracks, flashing some rap-rock bombast.

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New Music Personal Picks

Toad the Wet Sprocket:  Quality music on and off since 1986. Toad was certainly on Wednesday night for their 2nd visit to the Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead  in just under two years.

20 songs with a 2 song encore in a 95 minute set that really showcased the music of Toad for the last quarter century.  Talented musicians playing their songs for an appreciative audience.  Not many bands can boast of the original line-up 25 years later.  Or still sound as good as they do or better than on their records.

Be patient, there’s new Toad music on the way in 2012.  In the interim the band is offering up All You Want.  The members of Toad got together to re-record 11 fan favorites to bring them up to date with some new arrangements.  For example, the new version of Walk on the Ocean doesn’t end with a cold vocal, the music and singing continues on like a wave.

During the show, Glen Phillips looked very serious at times, or perhaps just intent on concentrating on the music.  I was watching his bare feet maneuver the box in front of his microphone stand.

A few times you could tell which song would be next as Mr. Phillips would share part of the lyrics (did I repeat myself?).  Todd Nichols (guitars) handled lead vocals on a couple of songs, Dean Dinning (bass, vocals), Randy Guss (the often forgotten drummer in the back), guest multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Kingham (keyboard, mandolin, lap steel, vocals) and Glen Phillips (lead vocals, guitars) spread out on the large stage.

The new songs were mid set.  They offered us a taste of the future with The Moment and Friendly Fire.  Both songs are very reminiscent of the Toad sound long-time fans have come to love.

This was only the 3rd time I’ve seen Toad the Wet Sprocket in concert (and Mr. Barb’s 1st).  Each show, Mr. Phillips seems to forget a lyric and/or just how a song goes.  Ooops.  It’s endearing and adds that human element to their musical presentation.  Mr. Philips commented that they were telling the folks back home in California that they were playing “Carnegie Hall” but that they don’t have to know it’s not the one in New York City.

The Set list:

Wrong

Is It For Me

Woodburning

Jam

Crowing

Good

Way Away

Inside

Torn

Windmills

The Moment

Friendly Fire

Come Back Down

Nightingale

Fear

Better Off Here

Crazy Life

All I Want

Brother

Fall Down

Encore:

Come Down

Ocean

When the members of Toad came back on stage for their encore, Glen Phillips shared with us that he gave the meat/fries/slaw Bugh sandwich another try and liked it.  Although he admitted (and received some boos in response) that he could not finish the whole sandwich, especially having to perform a show later.  The final song of the evening, Walk on the Ocean is now 20 years old and still sounds relevant.

After the show, Glen Phillips (who is now a very youthful looking 40) came out into the lobby to greet fans, sign autographs and pose for photos.   At one point, Mr. Phillips was crouching down, holding a small pink guitar which he was signing for a young lady.  The next generation is already enjoying the music of Toad the Wet Sprocket.

Carbon Leaf began the evening with a full-hour of music on their first night in support of Toad.

This 5-piece band out of Virginia performed a 9-song set.  Highlights: Lake of Silver Bells, Torn to Tattered, The War Was in Color and The Boxer.  Instruments included the penny whistle, upright bass, mandolin along with guitars and drums.  They ended their set around the microphone center stage singing Another Man’s Woman.

Barb S - Sunday Mix Host

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New Music

The Providence, RI rootsy group, The Low Anthem were recent participants of The A.V. Club's Undercover 2011. They chose from a list of songs to perform and went with Wilco's "Shot In The Arm". They done it right. Check it out:

The Low Anthem covers Wilco

The Low Anthem's Smart Flesh is out now on Nonesuch.

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The A.V. Club The Low Anthem Wilco

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