Monthly Archives: October 2012

Ben Howard: Halloween Haunts

It’s eerily coincidental that Ben Howard announced the UK release of The Burgh Island E.P. in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction and the day before Halloween. His announcement itself was obviously not creepy (and actually very exciting for this fangirl), but the album features ominous cover art and a stormy single “Esmerelda,” making the news certainly timely.

Music is an audio diary for musicians, and The Burgh Island is no different. According to an e-newsletter Howard sent yesterday, “it’s a pretty hard listen at some points but a huge relief to get some more songs down and out of my head. Onto permanent paper.” These four songs are loaded with brooding and rippling guitar chords and Howard trades  cheerful tracks from his full-length album like “Old Pine” and “Keep Your Head Up” for intense drum cadences and guitar swells. “Oats in the Water” is my personal favorite, for it starts slow and bursts with energy midway through; Howard’s strengths exemplified . This EP is a wonderful fusion of music and nature (clearly a common theme amongst folksters…or at least the ones I’m writing about here). The Burgh Island is peace within personal turmoil and destruction, and a calm during the storm.

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Big Easy Express: Bound for Glory

All abroad the Big Easy Express, where three distinct folk bands pow-wow on the floor of a vintage train and collaborate while journeying across six American cities. Directed by Emmett Malloy, this music documentary follows the first Railroad Revival Tour from Oakland, CA to New Orleans, LA and won the Headliner Audience Award at SXSW 2012. Mallow is joined by British folk-rock outfit Mumford and Sons, California dreamers Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and bluegrass crooners Old Crow Medicine Show.

“We’re playing music on a train with the country, across the country to see it the way [people] saw it more than a hundred years ago when we were all children,” muses Alex Ebert, frontman for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. All bands bring different experiences to this vintage California Zephyr Silver Lariat train- Old Crow Medicine show has been recording music since 1998, while the other two released sophomore albums within the last 5 months. Yet they share the same wanderlust and interest in experiential music-making. Come on baby, do the locomotion.

Big Easy Express beats the “Americana vintage” drum in a borderline kitschy way, and while beautiful, some jam sessions seem too staged. But the live performances are the opposite of cookie-cutter- the best parts of the film are watching Mumford and Sons perform “The Cave” with the Austin High Marching Band and dancing along with Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos sing favorites like “Up from Below” and the always-sentimental “Home.” It ends with a ten-minute finale of “This Train is Bound for Glory,” a raucous hoedown featuring all three groups. While Old Crow Medicine Show may have influenced the other bands’ sound, Mumford and Sharpe exemplify the future and diversity of folk music.

To find a screening of the Big Easy Express or enjoy the movie in the comforts of your own train, click here. For all my fellow Boston folk, there are two more screenings of the movie on 10/31 and 11/1 at the Museum of Fine Arts for $11.

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Logan Afouyni: The Drunk Duet

Sure, we’ve all witnessed those not-so-sober sing alongs when walking or taking public transportation on a weekend night…maybe we’ve even participated in a few of these ourselves. But when Logan Afouyni was approached by an intoxicated man in London who eagerly wanted to sing a duet, the result was surprising to say the least…

Where did this guy come from, you ask? Lucky for Logan, she exchanged information with Clark Chamberlin and they (soberly) made another video.

Maybe I’m especially fond of this story because I spent last semester in London and Clark is also a study abroad student, but Logan’s raw Cat Power-esque vocals and the spontaneity of their duet makes impatient for more. In the meantime I’ve visited Logan’s SoundCloud for some fantastic (free!) covers, found a fan-made video of “The Drunk Duet”, and unearthed the original song by Seattle singer/songwriter Noah Gundersen. His live performance will make you want to stand up and dance just like the audience.

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Langhorne Slim: A Private Serenade

Langhorne Slim @ the Brighton Music Hall (taken by me)

I’ll be honest, my roommate and I sauntered into the Brighton Music Hall tonight already feeling pretty cool- our new apartment is less than a 2 minute walk away and we bought the tickets for Langhorne Slim as a last-minute attempt to procrastinate studying for midterms. We were positioned a little far from the stage, but consoled ourselves by talking through the opener (sorry Last Bison, you were pleasant and imma let you finish, but why did you change your name from Bison to The Last Bison? Are you becoming extinct?) and with pumpkin beer. And we were seeing Langhorne Slim perform! What could be better?

Oh right, when Slim (also known as Sean Scolnickjumped into the crowd TWICE to sing. He didn’t just hum a few words or wait for audience participation, but sang two entire songs. In the throws of an epic encore of “Back to the Wild,” Slim transitioned into a rugged and soulful “Past Life,” gesturing for everyone to huddle in a circle around him on the floor (video credit to “zach22m” who was standing a few people away). Everyone in that room got a private concert and assurance that Langhorne knew each of us from a past life. The spontaneity of seeing this concert in the first place was thrilling, and this unexpected twist was the cinnamon-sugar rim on a fall brew. Do you have any cool concert moments where you were practically touching the main act? (In a non-creepy way of course.) Any experiences of private serenades? I’ve been lucky enough to have a few great memories, one coincidentally when I snapped a picture with Slim at a free concert this summer. However, I was totally unprepared for this moment, making it that much better.

Langhorne Slim @ The Brighton Music Hall 10/24/12

Other concert highlights include an infectious toe-tapping “The Way We Move,” also the name of his 2012 release, the bittersweet “I Love You, But Goodbye,” and even more heart-wrenching “Song for Sid,” a ballad written for Slim’s late grandfather. As quickly as Langhorne Slim can wiggle his tiny hips on stage to raunchy bluegrass chords, he can flip the mood with somber melodies. I guess that’s just the way he moves.

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Publicly-Funded Music Projects: Thee Ultimate Fan Request

Big music names like Ben Folds and Amanda Palmer did it (although the latter is facing some legal complications because she didn’t do it correctly). My personal favorites Ben Sollee, PigPen Theatre Co., and Elizabeth & the Catapult did it. Crowdsourcing is music’s Next Big Thing. Websites like Pledgemusic, Kickstarter, and Crowdrise make fans donors and “producers” of their favorite artists’ music projects. While fans are usually left out of the loop during the album-making process, these websites break down the industry barrier between musicians and listeners.

The shape-shifting music industry is constantly exploring new ways to make a profit and battle music sharing, streaming and pirating. Some artists increase their tour time and offer more inclusive and preferential concert experiences to early buyers. Others take a less aggressive approach and simply give albums away, hoping listeners will show support through merchandise, concerts, or future releases.

In my opinion, it is a genius idea and perfect for the emerging role of new media sector in the music business. Fans feel inches closer to their favorite performers and are engaged in a very personal process. Musicians receive input, connect to listeners, and ultimately boost music sales (fans who feel part of the process will probably be more inclined to buy the album.) Have any of you every contributed to an album through these crowdsourcing websites? Did you feel more valued?

Take a look at Elizabeth Ziman, also known as Elizabeth & the Catapult.  The Brooklyn singer/songwriter has a small but dedicated fanbase, and was able to raise money for her album in about three weeks. During the recording process, donors gain access to exclusive videos and pre-released clips. There are also perks to funding, like dinner with Elizabeth, a piano lesson, and a knitted scarf. Ben Sollee started a similar initiative, which took only 4 days to fund. It’s a win-win situation. Albums are funded, artists gain support from their current fan base (an extremely important new media strategy), and fans are satiated with new music at a faster rate. Publicly funded music projects are an exceptionally great resource for lesser-known niche artists. Since their tours travel to small venues and don’t produce much revenue, these musicians can’t afford to tour at the same rate of artists who sell out large venues. Crowdsourcing helps them produce an album without sacrificing tours. And ultimately, it puts the interactive social world to use in a music business setting.

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Ben Sollee: Political Music-vism

Ben Sollee @ The Brighton Music Hall (Taken by me)

I discovered Ben Sollee’s, “A Few Honest Words,” almost four years ago, and it has since become the soothing travel companion on many train rides from Boston to Philadelphia. However, seeing Sollee in concert last night at the Brighton Music Hall put the song in a completely different context. During this exciting election season, Sollee’s acoustic intro of, “if you’re going to lead my country/if you’re gonna say it’s free/I’m gonna need a little honesty,” conjures more than feelings of sleepy relaxation. After Sollee hinted at environmental efforts in his Kentucky Appalachia hometown and unique, community-building “bike tours,” this poignant song beautifully closed the show. His earnest call to action didn’t force the audience to sway left or right in a political way, but in a physical one.

Not only did Sollee poetically encourage the audience to participate in the election through the encore number, his new release Half-Made Man is another fan-based effort. Sollee’s fourth album was released through Tin Ear Records and Pledge Music, a socially-conscious and interactive new way for artists to produce and release albums (Like I said in my PigPen post…post on that coming soon).

After his environmentally-minded album collaboration with David Martin Moore Dear Companion in 2010 (and subsequent Ditch the Bike tour, which he recreated this year for the Newport Folk Festival, biking over 3,600 miles along the East Coast to further connect with each city), Sollee’s new release takes community involvement to a whole new level. He strays a bit from his original folky sound by adding more guitar and drums, but his iconic cello still rings above the fuller sound. Clearly I’m much more of a stripped-down, acoustic Ben Sollee fan, but these new songs fall short to his old stuff in my opinion. New songs like “Whole Lot to Give” and “DIY” sound much better and purposeful in person. Hey, maybe Sollee secretly agrees, for he still played many of his older, sweeter classics like “Prettiest Tree on the Mountain” and “Built for This.” With these, the tiny bar went silent and to let Sollee’s pure vocals linger even longer.

Ben Sollee @ The Brighton Music Hall (taken by me)

As if I haven’t fawned over Sollee enough already, here are two more selling points:

1. His live rendition of “How to See the Sun Rise” is the most PERFECT marriage of soul and folk. (video following this post)

2. He is touring with one of his role models, Darol Anger, of the Turtle Island String Quartet. Sollee was inspired by Turtle Island to take up the cello, and they riff together like two old friends on stage.

The combination of Ben Sollee’s warm music and positive message made this a feel-good concert in every way.

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PigPen Theatre Co: Fusing Folk and Theatre

When asked if they are a theatre company or a folk band, PigPen Theatre Co is unsure how to answer. Although they technically started as a theatre troupe before releasing a full-length folk album Bremen, it’s best to call this seven-piece outfit as a group of fantastic storytellers. And according to a guest blog post they wrote for American Songwriter last week after the start of their first full-length production The Old Man and The Old Moon, the men of PigPen describe great storytellers as, “musicians, actors, directors, animators, bands, designers, authors, composers, singers, or illustrators [who]…use every tool at their disposal – music, imagery, poetry – to take you on a journey.  And on our very best day, we like to think that’s what we do.”

Troupe members conceptualized Pig Pen Theatre Co. during their freshmen year at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama. After winning the top award at the NYC International Fringe Festival for two consecutive years (the only company in the festival’s history to do so) with their productions of The Nightmare Story and The Mountain Song, PigPen soon produced their album through Kickstarter. (Post coming soon about publicly-funded arts projects, I promise!)

The Old Man and The Old Moon, which opened on October 7, 2012, is currently playing through January 6, 2013 at The Gym at Judson in Greenwich Village. It features shadow puppetry, live action, artistic lighting, and, of course, sweet folk music. After my best friend Tori saw it this week and gave a raving review, we immediately made plans to see it around Christmastime. Thanks to her suggestion, I’ve since become certifiably obsessed with their album.

That being said, I categorize PigPen as…well…perfect. Rather than try to pigeonhole (or cage them up, amiright? Couldn’t help a pen-related pun…) into either a theatre or music category, what’s important and unique is the experience they’ve created. PigPen uses their multifaceted talents across many mediums: music, theatre, film, social outreach, book-writing, etc. Not to mention, they do a killer cover of Adele’s “Someone Like You.” Although the concept is complicated to explain, the NY theatre community has still fallen for PigPen. Do you know of any other music group/theatre troup stagings in New York other than Once? The group adds a whole new dimension to folk music, and connects to the musical and theatrical roots of the Big Apple on a deep, creative level.

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