New Music

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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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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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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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 Andy Mulkerin of Pittsburgh's City Paper

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

The Joy Formidable, "Cradle" - The new one from this Welsh synth-pop-post-punk band is one of my favorites of 2011 so far. Fans of catchy pop hooks; energy; lush, deep recordings; and big words should check it. They play at the Smiling Moose April 27.

Tristen, "Baby Drugs" - I didn’t know a thing about this woman until like a week ago, but this song, and a few others on her debut album, captured my heart. She tows the line between alt-country and straight up pop (in the classic sense) songwriting, and has a wonderful voice. She plays Stage AE next Tuesday (April 12). I also like the video:

Goldenboy, "She Belongs to Me" - This is my favorite track off a stellar release, sleepwalker, by this band headed up by former Elliot Smith guitarist Shon Sullivan. It’s simple, understated and pleasing to the ear.

The Rural Alberta Advantage, "Stamp" - This is my favorite song off this Canadian band’s latest release. I was hoping it would be their breakout, but I feel sort of ambivalent toward the album as a whole – it doesn’t have any tracks that I don’t like, which the band’s previous LP Hometowns did, but it also doesn’t have any that stand out as being amazing, which Hometowns also had. This song, though, has a pretty genius video:

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This video was shot in Tennessee earlier this year. This is title track from Alison Krauss and Union Station's upcoming album, out on 4/12/2011 on Rounder Records. Click here to sign up for Alison Krauss' email list & receive a free download of "Paper Airplane".

I wish my life looked this video all the time!!
- Cindy :)

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Singer-Songwriter Jonathan Kingham is joining Toad the Wet Sprocket on tour this year.  Toad will be coming to the Pittsburgh area soon.  (You can check out the WYEP Concert Calendar for more information.)

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

Jonathan Kingham (JK):  My pleasure. Thanks for having me!

WYEP: Jonathan, how did the opportunity come about to play keys for Toad the Wet Sprocket?

JK: I've been friends with Glen Phillips for a long time and consider him one of my best friends. We've toured a lot together over the last few years with me opening for him and backing him up on keys and guitars and vocals. He offered up the idea of me playing keys and lap steel with Toad and I thought it would be a good time as I'm a fan of all the Toad albums and obviously I'm a fan of Glen's solo work so I said yes.

WYEP:  How many Toad songs did you have to learn?  What is your favorite Toad song to perform?

JK: I think the list Dean emailed me was about 40 songs. We got two rehearsals and that was about it. Luckily there are a lot of youtube videos I can reference....My favorite song to play is probably either windmills or one of their new ones called "moments" and "Friendly Fire" They've been writing for a new album and the new tunes are really great!

WYEP:  You recently relocated to Nashville from Seattle.  As a singer-songwriter, how has this move been for you artistically?  Seattle has quite a vibrant local music scene, so what prompted the change?

JK: I absolutely love Nashville. I've been living there part time on and off for the last 8 years and it just finally made sense to be there full time. I love Seattle and was there 15 years. It is really beautiful, but it is also really hard to travel and tour out of there. Nashville is so central to everything, the cost of living is a lot lower and the community is really welcoming and supportive. Oh, yeah, and the sun comes out a little more often than in Seattle...I'll probably be writing more happy songs now that I'm in Nashville

WYEP: It is intriguing when a singer-songwriter covers a song by another singer-songwriter.  On your most recent release Smooth Out the Lines, you do an amazing version of Marc Cohn's Ghost Train.  Why did you decide to record that particular song?

JK: Thanks a lot. I am a big fan of Marc and I always felt like that song got overshadowed by "walking in Memphis"on that album. I had been playing Ghost Train for a long time live at shows and it seemed to fit nicely with the other 9 songs on the new album so I recorded it.

WYEP:  You host songwriting workshops.  If I were to enroll in your Songwriting Made Simple workshop, what would I learn?  Is it really simple to write a song?  After all you have many years of experience as a songwriter, how do you share with others what you have learned?

JK: I really love a great song and our whole goal with the songwriting workshops is to help people realize that even if they don't have any formal music training they still possess the ability to write a song. We start with the different parts that make up the structure of the song, then we have the students create a chord progression, and then craft a melody.  Then we do brainstorming lyrical exercises to get ideas flowing which we then funnel down into ideas that become our title, verses and chorus. It may not be a song that changes the world, but it will be a song and it will hopefully set you down the path of writing more songs.  So yes, it really is simple to write a song. ...

WYEP: So, last year, if I called the City of Seattle, and was put on hold, I would have had the chance to hear a song from you in the Muzak?  I read on-line about the Seattle onHold program that plays music by local artists on city phone systems.  Seattle was the first city to feature local music.  What song(s) of yours were selected?  How did your music get chosen to be a part of this program?

JK: It was a cool thing. It wasn't thru Muzak but the City of seattle used all local musicians as their on hold music. I believe they played "September skies". It came about because I had done a Seattle Downtown Series concert and the guy who booked the series also was the one spearheading the on hold music.

WYEP:  One of my favorite songs of yours is Grace.  What was the inspiration behind that song?  It is really beautiful and I think your signature song.

JK: Thanks a lot. That is my favorite song I've ever written and I don't like a lot of the songs I write. Ha. I had that guitar riff and the first verse  for a long time and then it all tumbled out. I feel like some songs you really work at and try hard to write and about every 50 or 60 you get handed a gift that you are just the conduit for and it comes out effortlessly. That song is a reminder to me to never take for granted what I have been given.

WYEP:  Another favorite is September Skies.  When I am outside walking and that tune comes on my MP3 player, it provides such vivid images in my mind of the fall season.  For a song like that, do the lyrics come first and then the melody?

JK: That song was actually done and ready to be mixed and was titled something different when my mother got diagnosed with cancer. It was in the fall and I was on tour in Ohio, walking along the river. It brought everything acutely into focus about how fragile and precious life is and I went in an re-wrote all the lyrics and re-cut the vocals. For that one, when I wrote the string arrangement I actually liked the melody line of the violins better than the original melody so I re-wrote it to marry with the string section.

WYEP:  I am also quite partial to AM Radio (Hardwood Floors).  I grew up listening to AM Radio and was even on-air at AM Radio stations many years ago … I was wondering if you wrote this song about a particular radio station.  There are not many radio stations on the AM band that are as soulful sounding as you described in the song.

JK: Well that wasn't about one particular station but that song started out as a tribute to my dad. We didn't have a TV growing up and my father would listen to old radio dramas on his little AM radio and he'd listen to baseball on Sunday afternoons and so I started out to write a song for my dad and his AM radio but it quickly shifted to a "late night with your lady and some wine" kind of song.....

WYEP:  How did you pick up your rapping skills?  You seem to have the natural ability to be able to spontaneously perform a rap.

JK: Uh, yeah i'm kind of freak that way. I've always loved all styles of music especially hip hop. I used to tour with a folk group and one of the other guys in the band Evan Brubaker and I would freestyle battle back and forth. Then I started playing college cafeterias and a lot of the time, the students wouldn't be paying any attention. Then I'd drop a few freestyle rhymes on them and all of a sudden you have everyone in the room's attention. Now it is kind of expected that I'll do it but its different every single night so I don't get tired of it.

WYEP:  Jonathan thanks for your time!  Safe travels and best of luck in the future!

JK: Thanks so much, we'll see you in Pittsburgh, home of the silent "H"

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

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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 Scott Tady of The Beaver County Times.

In case you missed it here's what he played with commentary by Scott (plus some bonus songs):

Golden Dogs, "Long As You Like" - The sweet, seductive voice of Jessica Grassia carries this playful pop tune from a Toronto band performing April 3 at Mr. Small's Theatre. The full-length album, "Coat of Arms," is out on April 26.

The Cars, "Sad Song" - Don't be alarmed by the title. This peppy comeback single from The Cars is a pure delight, hearkening to the Boston band's pre-MTV days and songs like "It's All I Can Do," "Touch and Go" and "Dangerous Type." The Cars' album, "Move Like This," arrives May 10; the first studio effort featuring Ric Ocasek in 24 years.

Also been digging this week:
Edwyn Collins, "Losing Sleep" - Released last September in the U.K., where it made a few "top album" lists, "Losing Sleep" finally got its proper U.S. unveiling this week. Mature, accessible lyrics and nifty power-pop guitar make the case that the Scottish artist deserves more than just "one-hit wonder" status here in The States (Remember his Bowie-esque 1994 tune "Girl Like You"?) Guest appearances include The Smiths' Johnny Marr and Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos and Nick McCarthy.

Over the Rhine, "Infamous Love Song" - This hubby-wife folk duo from Cincinnati specializes in songs that unfold with quiet grace emphasizing the soft, elegant voice of Karin Bergquist. But Bergquist can belt out a smoldering torch tune, too, as she does to stirring effect on this six-minute-35-second standout track from Over the Rhine's new album, "The Long Surrender." They play Mr. Small's on April 1.

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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 two bonus songs):

Okkervil River, "The Valley" -The lead off track from the band's sixth album, "I Am Very Far," due out in May. It falls right in line with Okkervil's best song, "For Real," with it's jackhammer pulse and serious tension. Some folks hate on Okkervil for being too pretentious, but forget about the wordy lyrics ? dudes make great, catchy, emotional rock'n'roll.

The Felice Brothers, "Fire at the Pageant" - Don't turn off the lights; this tale of a burning down building comes complete with a bunch of children shouting. The Felice Brothers have always had a macabre streak, but this tune, off of the upcoming "Celebration, Florida" album takes the cake.

Pains of Being Pure at Heart, "Belong" - I really didn't like this band... until this song, really. Their indie-pop was too cute, or twee, or whatever for me. But this song, off their upcoming second album of the same name, adds some guitar heft and crunch to the mix. Sounds like, as so many have already said, an early 90's Smashing Pumpkins song. Not as awesome, but few could be.

Peter Bjorn and John, "(Don't Let Them) Cool Off" - Remember "Young Folks"? Of course you do. You loved it when you first heard it, then started to hate it after the 8,000 time. Well, forget about that whistle-happy song ? PB&J are back, and kinda sound like a real rock band! This song, from their upcoming "Gimme Some" album, is a catchy rock romp.

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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 Scott Mervis of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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

Paul Simon, "So Beautiful or So What" - Far from a relic, Paul Simon has been a huge influence on Sufjan Stevens, Iron and Wine and other neo-folk artists. But when was his last great album? You have to go back to 1990's "The Rhythm of the Saints," the follow-up to "Graceland." After that, he got mired in the "Capeman" and made a pair of disappointing albums in the '00s. With "So Beautiful or So What," Rhymin' Simon has regained his sense of rhythm and songcraft. Finally, we have songs with hooks, like this passionate title track that comes with a killer funk riff. It's one of the best albums you'll hear from a 69-year-old.

J Roddy Walston and the Business, "Brave Man's Death" - This is basically my favorite new band, and it happened within a week. Heard the CD, the band's second one, and saw them along with a crowd of about 50 people at Stage AE. Was blown away by both. J Roddy Walston is a piano-pounding frontman from Tennessee with a passion for Jerry Lee Lewis and a touch of absurdist Southern gothic. In concert, he did a Little Richard cover ("Lucille") and sang like Jerry Lee on "Don't Break the Needle." This song, a sprawling narrative, is a little more rootsy Americana, but you get the idea. You can file this band with the Avett Brothers, the Black Keys, or even the Black Crowes.

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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 Andy Mulkerin of Pittsburgh's City Paper

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

Thao & Mirah (feat. Tune-Yards), "Eleven" - This fun, weird track is our first look at the forthcoming record from these two indie songstresses, each well-known in her own right. (Cindy note: album comes out on 4/26. Click the above link for an informative article on the duo who are also personally involved)

Ennui, "The Battle I'm In" - A new track from the somewhat amorphous local atmospheric outfit; this song is on the record they're releasing March 18 at Brillobox. This holds up the more pop-oriented end of their oeuvre.

Dum Dum Girls, "He Gets Me High" - Good driving-down-the-road music from the California band; slightly disaffected vocals and fuzzy production make this straightforward rocker reminiscent of Dinosaur, Jr.

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