Review: The Record Company Give It Back to You

A couple of years ago we decided to lease a company car, and it came with SiriusXM satellite radio. For those of you who aren’t familiar, this service provides quite a large number of digital audio channels and each features a particular style of music. For example, music from the 1950s is on channel 5, music from the 1960s on channel 6, etc.

When I got it I spent most of my time on channel 36 “Alt. Nation” which plays alternative rock. After that started to get old, I branched out and started listening to a number of other channels. When I wanted something upbeat I might hit channel 51, “BPM” or channel 43 “Backspin” for “old skool” hip-hop. Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time on channel 32, “The Bridge” which focuses on (gulp) folk and soft rock. Hey, I’m old and besides I know all of the words to the songs. When I need something a little more modern I drop down to channel 28, “The Spectrum” which plays more energetic rock and mixes it up with both the classics and modern tracks.

Today I was coming into work and I heard this great song on The Spectrum called “On the Move” by a band called The Record Company. Now I know that smell is supposed to be the strongest trigger for memories, but for me music is a close second, and this song brought back a number of strong memories from my youth.

I grew up in a small town in North Carolina, and after I graduated from high school I moved to Los Angeles. I was done with this backwards and backwoods State and ready to enter the real world. That lasted two years, when I returned to the place I now call “God’s Own Earth”.

When I got back I reconnected with some friends I had left behind on my sojourn to California. I am blessed to have met some amazing people in my life, and in my fifty-odd years I’ve collected some great memories.

One of those involves Vonnie, the mother of a close friend. She used to live with a man named Bob who was an avid motorcycle rider, specifically of the Harley Davidson variety. Now about this time of year there is a huge motorcycle rally in Florida known as Daytona Bike Week. It turns out that for people who live up North and want to ride down, where we live is a very convenient place to stop about halfway. So each year Vonnie and Bob would host a party.

I got invited by my friend with the words “Mom is having a few bikers over for a cookout and you are more than welcome to join us”. It turned out to be a beautiful day, so I grabbed my buddy David and we headed out to Zebulon.

Along the way we kept passing groups of bikers, almost all on Harleys. We figured it was just because it was such a nice day to ride but as we got closer to Vonnie’s it turns out they were all headed to her party. There were at least fifty bikes, over a hundred people, as well as assorted cars and at least one cab from a tractor/trailer rig.

If you have ever seen the movie Mask, it was pretty much just like that, except Cher wasn’t there. It was awesome.

David and Tarus at a Biker Party

Yup, that’s me looking like the Oates half of Hall & Oates. Dave is the guy next to me.

Now the kind of music that is played at these parties is best described as “Southern Rock”. While I can’t remember a band at this particular party, I do remember going to another one soon after at a nearby farm with twice as many people, if not more. The stage was a flatbed trailer someone had pulled out into the pasture, and a number of bands would get up and play music from the standards like Alabama and Lynyrd Skynyrd, as well as tracks from Little Feat and Nantucket and blues songs from Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. I can remember The Black Crowes were huge at this time as well, so a number of their tunes would always get played. We’d drink beer, eat “chicken ‘n pastry” out of a God’s honest cauldron, and hang out under the stars just having a great time.

It was these memories that came flooding back when I first heard “On the Move”.

Now lately I’ve been stung by a number of album purchases. I would hear a song on SiriusXM that I really liked, go get the album and be disappointed that the one song was by far the best track. Luckily, I have Amazon Prime and so I was able to stream this album before buying it. By the time I got to “On the Move”, which is the fourth track, I’d bought it. Such a great album and an absolute steal at five bucks.

Give It Back to You

I’m not a music critic, so don’t expect me to review this with words like “a strong hint of apricot with a grassy overtone, with a finish that reminds you of almond” or some such crap. If you are of a certain age, or even if you aren’t, this music will remind you of simpler times, when a good party, great friends and rock ‘n roll were all you needed to forget your troubles. In a time where the country is run by a billionaire who never mowed a lawn in his life yet talks about making America great again, this album will remind you that America has always been great, in no small part due music from the heart and the heartland.

I was incredibly surprised to find out that The Record Company is based in LA. Heck, I lived there once, but they are channeling some down home feeling in their music. Please, check out their stuff. You won’t be disappointed.

Review: Sarah Jarosz at Hall River Ballroom

Once in a generation a voice comes along that is so pure that it goes in your ears, straight through your brain and to the bottom of your soul.

Sarah Jarosz is one such voice.

Sarah Jarosz Tickets

Several weeks ago I had the television tuned to our local PBS station, WUNC. They were showing episode 5 of the Transatlantic Sessions. We weren’t really paying attention, it was more like background noise, but then Sarah came on with her song “Annabelle Lee”. We just had to stop what we were doing and listen. Andrea was the first to comment on her voice.

I went out and bought her second album Follow Me Down which has that song and by the end of the day I owned everything of hers I could buy on-line. I also learned that her latest album Undercurrent would be coming out soon. In the process I saw that she was coming to perform locally at the Hall River Ballroom in Saxapahaw, NC, which is about 10 miles from the farm. A steal at $20 a ticket, we made plans to go.

I had never been to the Hall River Ballroom but I had heard good things. They were all true, but despite that I doubt I’ll go back. More on that in a rant later.

The show was sold out. There is a program on WUNC radio called “Back Porch Music” that focuses on American “roots” music. It has quite a following so my guess is that a lot of the people there learned about Jarosz and the concert from that show.

While crowded and hot, it wasn’t stifling, and I was pleasantly surprised at the acoustics in the Ballroom. They are excellent, and probably the best of any of the local music venues I’ve visited.

The opening act was Scott Miller.

Scott Miller

I had never heard of him before, but he did a good job of warming up the crowd. His music contained a lot of political commentary and I agreed with most of the sentiments. According to Wikipedia, he lives near Staunton, Virginia, which is really close to the farm of a friend of mine in nearby Stuarts Draft. It was pretty much just him and his guitar, and I need to find the time to check out more of his music.

Sarah Jarosz

Jarosz came on stage right at 9pm as part of a trio featuring Jedd Hughes on guitar (and backup vocals) and Jeff Picker on upright bass.

This band was tight.

The first pleasant surprise was that not only is Jarosz an amazing singer, she’s also an amazing musician. I saw her play five different instruments. Her main instrument was an octave mandolin, which looks like an eight string guitar, but she also played a standard mandolin, acoustic guitar, electric guitar and banjo. I was also very impressed with Hughes and Picker, especially since Hughes is a finger picker like me. I’ve never been able to flat pick since I can’t figure out how to “feel” the instrument to know where the pick is going, but with my fingers I know where the strings are supposed to be (although getting my fingers and the strings to get along is the challenge).

Speaking of playing guitar, I get teased by Andrea for the faces I make while playing, and Jarosz does it too when playing instrumental songs, although not as strangely as I do. I’m also teased for the time I spend tuning, so I had to laugh when she told a story about wishing that, on your deathbed, you get back all that time.

A lot of the songs were off her new album, which was to be expected, but she hit all of my favorites, including the aforementioned “Anabelle Lee” as well as “Run Away“.

I had been told that she was not going to do any covers, which was a shame since I started to fall in love with her music when she covered Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells“. It is one of my least favorite Dylan tunes, but in her hands it turns into something magical and uplifting. So the next pleasant surprise was that she did play it.

The set was long, about 90 minutes, and she managed a great flow which sometimes was just her and an instrument, or her and either Hughes or Picker, although for most of it they were a trio. There was a great little medley of Tim O’Brien instrumental songs with just bass and mandolin that really showed off their skills (Tim O’Brien tunes aren’t the easiest to play).

Toward the end of the show she mentioned they would be at the “merch booth” selling CDs and shirts, which reminded me of MC Frontalot’s song “Captains of Industry” (although if you click that link note that Front is a totally different genre of music). I had to fly out early the next morning so we didn’t stay around, but I do plan to buy any music the woman produces for the foreseeable future.

So, what went wrong?

It was the crowd, or namely a few specific members of the the crowd.

Seriously people, can we put away the phones for just a little bit? Okay, take a quick picture here and there, but damn it turn off the flash. When she came on stage it was like disco strobes had gone off. The flash ain’t gonna help.

[rant]

But my strongest bile was reserved for drunk guy standing in front of me. He thought it was cool to record entire songs, the problem being that when he’s holding up his phone it makes it hard for everyone else to see, especially since the glow from the handset in a dark room is insanely distracting. To paraphrase Louis CK: she’s right there dude, in Super HD! Live in the moment!

(sigh)

After one such recording he disappeared, only to return with another beer. By this time he’s weaving, so I have to weave too in order to keep a sight line to the stage. Then at the end of the song he shouted out a song title. Oh no! It’s Song Title Shouting Guy! I’m kind of glad that firearms were prohibited, or I might not be able to write this right now.

Luckily he saw some other guy who was by himself enjoying the show so he stumbled over to bother him for a change. Look, I know I’m old and maybe I’m too old for General Admission shows, but damn it I can’t handle the “mobile phones at shows” phenomenon. Back in the day we brought lighters (and, back in the day, some folks brought stuff to light) and that was about it. It’s one of the reasons I don’t go to movies much any more. Yeah, I know, you kids get off my lawn, but still, it ruined what could have been a perfect evening.

I don’t expect Jarosz to be playing places like the Hall River Ballroom in the future. When more people learn about her I think it will be too small, and I expect her career to match if not surpass people like Alison Krauss. But if she does I might just have to brave the mobile phone unwashed masses again, and perhaps they can swing by the farm afterward for some bourbon and branch.

Clean Bandit’s 60 Minute Workout

I’m not sure how I got introduced to the music of Clean Bandit, but I found myself listening to their album “New Eyes” over and over again. It’s Electronic Dance Music (EDM) with a classical bent, and while the band is responsible for writing the music, they always have guest vocalists do the most of the singing. I like a band that focuses on their strengths.

I mentioned this on G+ and Seth pointed out that they were coming to the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro. Now, this was back in January, but the concert wasn’t until last night.

We hadn’t been to the Cat’s Cradle in almost 20 years (at least that’s what Wikipedia tells me, as we went to see the first tour by Garbage). They’ve redesigned it (you used to enter from the front, now you walk around back) and it holds around 750 people. The Clean Bandit show was sold out, so we expected a crowd. As I am too old to be “hip”, we got there a little early. As the crowd was mostly college kids, they were checking IDs. If you could legally drink, you got a blue stamp on your right hand. If you were underage, you got two red stamps on both hands.

I was easily the oldest person there, so when I handed in our tickets I mentioned I was applying for the chaperon position. Andrea found the idea of me chaperoning anything a bit frightening.

As I had no desire to stand and fight my way to the front of the stage, we found a spot behind and to the right of the soundboard where there were a couple of bar stools. As the place started to fill up, we realized that the air conditioning, if there actually was air conditioning, wasn’t going to cut it.

It started to get warm.

Promptly at 8pm the opening act started. It was a trio consisting of a drummer, bassist and the guitarist/lead singer named Roland. At least I think his name was Roland, my Google-fu is failing me and I can’t find any reference on the Interwebs. In any case, their first song was a cover of Let’s Go Crazy so I didn’t feel too out of place.

Their set was good, although I didn’t recognize any of the songs with the exception of a part of We Will Rock You played at the end.

By this time it had gotten really warm as more and more people showed up. Seth and Sarah showed up just before Clean Bandit took the stage.

I was wondering how they were going to handle the fact that the lead singers for each of their songs have other careers, and there was no way they would be able to get all of them to tour for a song or two each set. The answer was found in the more than capable voice of Elisabeth Troy. She handled most of the vocal duties, and I think she could front any band she wanted. A very talented lady.

The first song was Real Love which immediately flowed into Cologne. The latter is one of my favorite tracks off the album, and due to the heat I was grateful that all the beautiful, young people in attendance had thought to wear some. Cologne flowed into my favorite non-album track Stronger.

When I say “flowed” I mean that the whole hour long set was pretty much a 60 minute sprint. The only real pause came during the fourth song, Come Over, when Elisabeth got a little over active and managed to knock Neil’s violin out of his hand. There was a bit of a delay as they got the backup ready.

They played most of “New Eyes”. While Come Over was fronted by a male vocalist on the album, Elisabeth did a good job covering it, but they avoided other male lead songs such as Telephone Banking. There were two tracks I had not heard before, Nightingale and Disconnect. The latter featured Roland from the opening act on guitar and vocals.

They ended the set soon after 10pm, and we knew that they would be back out for the big hit, Rather Be. During the encore I thought it was funny to see all the young’uns recording video on their phones.

It was probably 95F by this time, and the concrete floor was slick with what I can only assume was sweat. Outside of the heat, it was a great show, and we were happy to step outside at the end, which although was still around 80F, was a welcome change.

I would say be sure to catch Clean Bandit on their tour, but this was the last official US date. I doubt they will be playing small clubs next time, but you can catch them at the Firefly Music Festival in Delaware before they head back to the UK. I had a great time and should really get out more (grin).

Happy Non-Sectarian Winter Holiday Party

I suffer from an embarrassment of riches.

I am in decent health. I don’t worry too much about getting food or shelter. I have an amazing family and incredible friends. I live in a nice part of the country, and unlike many people, I love my job.

As part of that job, a couple of years ago I met Damian Hess, also known as MC Frontalot. In addition to being talented, he is also a very nice person and I look forward to the times when I can see him, such as when we were both in Dublin earlier this year. He started that tour back in August and hasn’t been home since. Last year I got invited to his birthday party, so this year I thought I would invite him to one of mine. To my delight, he accepted.

He spent Thanksgiving with family in California and then went to Portland (Oregon) to shoot a video for his song “Start Over”. This is from the album Question Bedtime which is a collection of songs based on fairy tales. “Start Over” is his take on “Little Red Riding Hood” and as a little present to my three readers, here’s Damian as the wolf:

In the video he plays all of the characters, but you’ll have to wait a couple of months to see the rest of them.

Anyway, once about every three years I hold a holiday party. I went to high school right when “political correctness” started, and some friends of mine decided to christen the season the “Non-Sectarian Winter Holiday” and since then I’ve adopted the term. The year 2014 has not been the easiest one for me so I wanted to do something special for my party, and it almost tore me apart keeping the secret.

Damian and I are both fans of Mike Doughty. Mike did some vocals on Front’s song “Your Friend Will”, and this year Damian raps on Mike’s track “The Champion”. Damian found a way for me to get Mike to come down to the farm and do a concert.

In my house.

With me.

In the house.

At the same time.

Awesome, huh? So I invited a bunch of the coolest people I know, fired up the cocktail bar, got Angelina to bring us awesome food, and settled in for a wonderful evening.

Now in our houses in the Southern United States we have this thing called a “formal living room”. It is usually a large room filled with expensive furniture that you almost never use. We decided that was silly so instead we have a bar in ours – complete with wooden canopy where you can store glasses. We call it the entertainment center.

With everyone properly “libated” and fed, we moved the table out of the way and Mike set up in the corner. This was the view from the kitchen:

You can see a wonderful chocolate cake from Jodi at Phoenix Bakery in the foreground with the OpenNMS favicon on the top. We also had a tres leches cake and presents for a White Elephant gift exchange.

With the dining room table out of the way, we could fit everyone comfortably in the room.

I was going to be nice and sit in the back so someone else could have a closer seat, but after the first song I said “screw it” and moved up to the very front. This is what my concert looked like:

I had made up a playlist of about 17 tracks. Now Doughty fans know he has a wide range of musical output, from just him and a guitar to electronic music. I was happy when he said he could do most of my choices, and looking back at the list there were only three he didn’t do (“Wednesday (Contra La Puerta)”, “The Huffer and the Cutter” and “Ta Douler” – that last one was a cover of a Camille tune that I wasn’t expecting him to do but figured, what the heck, I’d ask). Most artists aren’t able to do their whole catalog on demand, but it was wonderful to hear almost all of my favorites.

Did I mention it was in my house? Where I sleep?

One high point of the night was “The Champion”. Not only had it never been performed live, this was the first time Mike and Damian had actually sung it together. Maybe I was just high on the experience but think it worked extremely well.

Toward the end of the set Mike realized that it was going to be short, so he asked me for some more songs he could play. I froze. I honestly couldn’t think of a single title. I was about to say something like “uh, how about that fast one about the thing that happens with the thing” when Damian suggested “Looks” which gave my some time to calm down, and that was followed by “St. Louise is Listening”, a good track that I wasn’t all that familiar with since Mike wrote it during his Soul Coughing days. I was finally able to suggest “Unsingable Name” which closed out the set (click on the link to get a sense of the show).

I was very nervous about the whole evening. First, I get a little nervous when hosting any type of party since I want to make sure everyone has a good time. Second, I had Damian staying over and I wanted to make sure this world weary resident of Brooklyn had fun in rural Pittsboro. And finally, did I mention, Mike Doughty was performing in my house?

After the set I took Mike back to his hotel and rejoined the party. Everyone seemed to have really enjoyed it which pleased me since I knew that outside of Damian and myself no one else was that familiar with Mike’s work. We did our usual fun gift exchange (I ended up with a pair of pink women’s Everlast boxing gloves if you are interested in a trade), ate cake and basically hung out.

I wish I’d had a little more time to spend with everyone, and I did my best before it got late and people started heading home. Toward the end it was me, Cynthia, Ben and Damian sitting around the now cluttered and sticky bar, and I decided it was time to finally finish off that bottle of 33 year old Glendronach whisky that I had purchased on impulse at Heathrow about seven years ago (and then trying to explain to my accountant spouse that I didn’t understand the exchange rate). I’d managed to parcel it out at Christmas time over the years, and with about three fingers left I couldn’t think of a better way to end the evening. As Ben posted on G+:

We didn’t take many pictures of the event. I wanted to experience the moment and so my camera stayed in my pocket, and that was the case with most people. I am thankful that Barry, Ben and Cynthia took the pictures I used in this post.

I managed to get to bed for a few hours before driving Damian and Mike back to the airport for their trip home. I did get the the one picture I really wanted: me as the creamy filling in a Doughty/Damian Oreo.

If I had one piece of advice to give out, it would be to spend your money on experiences and not things. Sometimes, however, it is cool to be able to combine the two, and so I had Mike autograph my guitar.

I’m certain my fond memories of the evening will outlast it.

Review: x by Ed Sheeran

When I was at So You Think You Can Dance one of the songs I tagged was “Don’t” by Ed Sheeran. I liked it so much that I checked out the whole album, x, and I find I can’t stop listening to it. It’s quite good.

Sheeran is a ginger-haired young man from the UK whose looks don’t exactly match up with his voice. We’re not talking the cognitive dissonance I got from Rick Astley, but it still took a lot of getting used to seeing him in pictures and videos.

The album starts out with the track “One”, which is sort of what you’d expect from a pop singer-songwriter. It’s a nice track and it hints at Sheeran’s strong falsetto. This is followed by a slightly more upbeat “I’m a Mess”.

But unlike his first effort which was more of the same, this album is a collection of a ton of different genres and styles, and this is announced fully with “Sing”. This is a track that would feel at home on a Maroon 5 album, and it introduces his hip-hop lyrical style that is prominent on my favorite tracks.

Then comes “Don’t”. It is hard for me to listen to this track without hitting repeat. It is a wonderfully constructed tune that tells the story of a relationship that goes wrong. If you listen to it as much as I have, you come to understand how complex it really is, with my favorite bit being the spoken “don’t” a beat and a half before the chorus kicks in. Despite the somewhat downer story it tells, it makes me want to bounce around.

Keeping with the “relationship gone wrong” theme comes the fifth track, “Nina”. While it would be hard to follow “Don’t”, the strong chorus of this song works well.

The rest of the album alternates between pop songs that want to make you dance and the more traditional singer/songwriter tunes that started the album. Another favorite of mine, “Bloodstream”, on the dance/pop side of things, talks about substance abuse, and if I am to judge Sheeran’s life from this album he spends most of his time off-stage with women, drinking and smoking weed. I doubt that’s true, but it seems to be a theme.

As you get to the end of the album, “Thinking Out Loud” channels John Mayer, and it finishes with a track about terminal illness called “Afire Love” which closes with a gospel choir that creates a wonderful ending for the album.

The only weakness I found is when Sheeran raps. I listen more to hip-hop versus straight rap, so that may have something to do with it, but his pure rap songs hit me more like bad spoken word than music. Luckily the only one is called “The Man” and while I listened to it a number of times when I first got the album, now I tend to skip past it.

He also sings with a bit of an accent. It’s not as bad as Passenger, but since both sing about being on the road (which resonates with my heavy travel schedule) I identify with many of the songs.

It’s a real solid album on its own, but I would recommend you get the Deluxe edition. While it adds another disposable rap track (which starts out with him claiming not to be a rapper) and a couple of okay but not stellar pop songs, it ends with “I See Fire”.

This is where the geek angle comes in. “I See Fire” was the music for the closing credits of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Sheeran wrote the song. The lyrics are pretty referential to the movie and my original thought was that someone on Peter Jackson’s team had written it and he just performed it. If the Wikipedia entry is accurate, Sheeran is a rather talented young lad. It’s worth a couple of extra bucks for this song, especially if you are fan of the movies.

This album is still under heavy rotation on my media player and I look forward to more from him. Should he tour in the US I’d be tempted to brave the crowds I so dislike just to see him work live.