Monthly Archives: November 2012

With a Little Help from my Friends: Fall Folk Playlist

Nothing says fall like folk music and friendship. Too Hallmark? Too bad- you’re stuck with me. Maybe I really like alliteration, but maybe I also really like my friends and their rad taste in music.

To me, fall conjures warm, twangy, and acoustic melodies. Well let’s be real, this blog wouldn’t exist if I felt differently. But while summer is meant for punchy rock chords like the band Free Energy, spring is poppy and jingly like Allo Darlin’, and winter is slow jazz stylings of Peggy Lee, fall is soothing, sometimes biting, and overall pretty contemplative. What are some of your favorite seasonal songs?

Before Thanksgiving I polled a few friends to find out their impressions of fall music. Turns out we all came to the same conclusion: folk and fall are the perfect pair. From The Lumineers to I Am Oak, here’s what they had to say. (Shout-outs to Kelly, Swanson, Bethany, Alys, and Colin for being my muses and for You Won’t for the background music.)

Folk Selections for Fall from Alison on Vimeo.

Eager to hear these songs for yourself? Below is a Spotify playlist to meet your autumnal needs. Quick! Go listen before it’s December.

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Mumford and Sons: Lover of the Light

Earlier this month, British folk outfit Mumford and Sons released their video for Lover of the Light. I’ve owned their sophomore release Babel since it dropped on September 21, and have listened to it religiously like a good little fangirl. Yet, for some reason, “Lover of the Light” failed to transfer into my iTunes music library. There are far greater problems in the world, I know, but I still feel cheated by technology for separating me from this beauty.

Sure, the vigorous and angry banjos of Mumford and Sons sound repetitive when you listen to their albums straight-through and they spend too much time on grand declarations then cultivating thoughtful, toned-down verses. However, this stunning video caught me way off-guard and left me misty-eyed. Now I just want to share this with everyone.

Directed and performed by actor Idris Elba (from Prometheus, Thor, and American Gangsters), “Lover of the Light” follows a blind man through his daily routine. Midway through the video he ditches his cane and seeing eye dog, quite literally running into the light. Sprinting through a forest and picturesque Welsh peninsula  Elba’s character finally experiences the world without being hindered by his disability. It’s an incredibly empowering and moving piece, showing that we can use senses other than sight and still be “lovers of the light.”

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Little Green Cars: Artist to Watch

https://i2.wp.com/farm9.staticflickr.com/8335/8100965612_1b9beef07f.jpg

Excellent folk-rock music is hitchhiking across the pond. Little Green Cars just signed with Glassnote Records, joining the impressive ranks of Mumford and Sons, Phoenix and Daughter in the US. The Irish group is working with producer Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Coldplay, Mumford and Sons) to record their first release Absolute Zero, which is scheduled to drop in the new year. They’re barely 20-years-old and, according to CMJ, one of the most anticipated up-and-coming bands of 2013.

Little Green Cars single “The John Wayne” opens with thumping drums, paired with the endearingly sweet lyric of “it’s easy to fall in love with you.” They maintain pleasant harmonies throughout, looping them into powerful rock chords. Guardian music reviewer Paul Lest says Little Green Cars are “not afraid to stretch out and mess with the formula,” for they can to experiment with folk influences, adding a dash of gospel and electronic nuances. For now, sadly we must scrounge live YouTube recordings and blog reviews for hints of their album. Lucky for us, Little Green Cars give phenomenal and passionate live performances, as emphasized by this OtherVoices acoustic recording of “Grow” that channels  Head and the Heart harmonies…with a little more punch.

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At Last: From Etta James to Gavin James

“At Last” is one of my favorite songs of all time. I went through an Etta James phase (RIP gurl) in 8th grade and listened to that song on repeat for most bus rides to and from school. The string intro provokes instant goosebumps, and James’ first utterance of “At Last” is this beautiful sigh of relief. The song is soulful and powerful, but not overbearing. And at two minutes long, it’s way too short for only one listen.

As faithful as I am (and always will be) to the James original, I recently found a rival version. And no, I don’t mean the first recording of the song, which was featured in the 1942 film Orchestra Wives

I’m also not referring to the PHENOMENAL and emotional Beyonce serenade, as seen at President Obama’s 2008 inaugural ball (which still leaves me in tears).

Nor am I trying to dig up an underground Jason Mraz rendition, or, better yet, one from the late Eva Cassidy (another one of my favorite acoustic, female singer/songwriters).

Long story short, I’d like to introduce you to Gavin James. This Irish crooner originates from Dublin and joined Ingrid Michaelson for some of her UK tour dates. His album is apparently No. 1 on the Irish iTunes charts, however since the US is generally slow to catch on to great European acts…we sadly won’t hear his EP Say Hello in the States for awhile. James is signed to Believe Recordings, the same label as his fellow Irish songwriter James Vincent McMorrow. However, while McMorrow is acclaimed for his raspy, soft, and moody melodies, James has a smoky soul that melts all over you. To take the analogy a ridiculous step further, his voice is the saccharine frosting on a cinnamon bun, filling pores like a sponge of warm and gooey happiness. It’s fitting that he has the same last name as the woman who made At Last famous. However, I like the contrast between the two. Etta’s is a strong, female ballad; a declaration of love meant for grand stages like the Inaugural Ball. Gavin’s is an intimate poem, geared solely towards some extremely lucky lady.

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Cover Songs: I’ll Cover You

Sure, everyone wants to take a stab at “Call Me Maybe” (I’m talking to you Fleet Foxes, Ben Howard, Cookie Monster, etc) or any Beatles song (Apparently “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby” are the two most covered songs). As mentioned in a previous post- I love a good cover song. While I enjoy when they’re produced and recorded on albums, my favorites usually stem from impromptu concerts or requests. I especially love when musicians cross-genres and sounds, like when James Vincent McMorrow sings Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” or when Anya Maria croons T.I.’s “Whatever You Like.” Covers bring new meaning and interpretations to music, and are the highest form of flattery. Here are my top cover picks (for this week, at least).

  • Florence Welch (of Florence and the Machine) covering Cold War Kids’ “Hospital Beds” – I could honestly put any Flo Flo cover here; it was really difficult choosing between her rendition of Beyonce’s “Halo” and this one. Her voice has similar qualities to Cold War Kids frontman Nathan Willett; haunting and borderline-screechy. I like that her version is stripped down, but she still belts the “put out the fire boys, don’t stop, don’t stop” coda. It further exemplifies the pain found in the lyrics.
    • Alex Winston covering the Black Keys’ “Everlasting Light” – Just like Winston’s voice, her version is a little off-kilter. She pairs banjo, heavy guitar, airy female backup vocals, and the slightest accordion with a pounding tempo. Cool.
    • Ellie Goulding covering Bon Iver’s “The Wolves” – I gasped outloud the first time I heard this cover. Goulding’s vocals are so pure and beautiful, and much less muddled that Justin Vernon’s. Plus it’s a capella.
    • Cee Lo Green covering Kings of Leon’s “Radioactive” – I’m not the biggest Kings of Leon fan and honeslty needed to hear’s Green’s version before giving the original a chance. Clearly acoustic covers hold a special place in my heart, but it’s refreshing to hear Cee Lo sing something other than “F You.”
  • Julia Stone covering The National’s “Buzzblood Ohio” – This song reminds me of a train-ride; Stone is contemplative and escaping worries of the past. Her falsetto contrasts The National’s Matt Berninger’s bass in a beautiful way.

If these tickled your fancy, check out my favorite cover blog Cover Lay Down for millions of folk wonders. Or, if you’re the giving kind, The Voice Project is a really great philanthropic organization that works with musicians to raise money for various peace initiatives in Africa. The “Episodes” section of their website features a wonderful web of cover songs.

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Animal Bands: Owling for You

Recently I’ve noticed an oddly-specific trend in band names: owls. And I mean more than just Owl City, people. Maybe I’m hyper-sensitive because the wide-eyed creature is one of my favorite animals, but after finding four bands that share similar, lovely sounds, I couldn’t resist sharing. These groups are no longer nocturnal. They make my head spin. You’ll get a hoot out of them. The puns will stop as you keep reading, I promise.

1. First up is Minneapolis four-piece outfit The Owls. Although their last full-length release Daughters and Suns dates back to 2007, their quirky, indie pop is not stale. My favorite tracks are “Peppermint Patty,” a biography of the Charlie Brown character, and Beatles-like “All Those in Favor“. Members Allison LaBonne, Maria May, and Brian, Tighe weave delicate harmonies among playful whistles and piano scales. For fans of: The Bird and the Bee, Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura

2. Next I’d like to introduce you to Colyn Cameron of Wake Owl. He is the Canadian love child of Ben Howard (we all know how I feel about him) and the Tallest Man on Earth; Wake Owl’s raspy vocals with eerie string accompaniment generate a powerful sound. His single “Gold” (below) is a steady orchestral crescendo and perfect for the winter months ahead.  While Cameron’s new EP was released earlier this month in the UK, we sadly must eagerly wait until January 2013 for Wild Country to hit the US.

3. Freak Owls is the indie-folk collaboration of Josh Ricchio, Kolby Wade, and Russ Lemkin. Highlights from their debut album Taxidermy are “Little Things,” essentially an electronic Lumineers song, and “Hey, Na Na Na,” an interesting mix of a capella harmonies, airy guitar chords, and endless handclaps. You can grab a FREE copy of their latest EP Orchastrates from their website. And if you can’t get enough, download of their new single “I Would” from SoundCloud. It’s a bit of a departure from their folkier days, and they sound like an echoing Arcade Fire, but hopefully 2013 will bring more Freak Owls.

4. The Hoot Hoots are upbeat, synth-y “fuzzy power pop,” and the perfect soundtrack for solo dance parties. Although they already have two albums, Silly Lecture Series and Appetite for Distraction, under their belts (or feathers?), this Illinois-based band is still cranking out energetic hooks. Feel the Cosmos drops on November 29th. If you like Reptar and Oberhofer and the Lumineers, for the love of music get your Hoot Hoot on.

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Deschutes River Recordings: Cover Songs for a Cause

 

This post started as an Ode to Covers (not yo’ bedsheets), since musicians revamping other songs is a huge compliment in the music world and also one of my favorite things. (Cue the Julie Andrews.) I especially love when folksters of today pay homage to their folk music role models, like Ben Howard doing Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” or The Avett Brothers covering John Prine’s “Spanish Pipedream” or Rufus Wainwright singing Neil Young’s “Harvest.” If all of those examples made you excited, just wait for the actual covers post coming later this week.

Anyway, to continue with the musical activist theme that keeps appearing in these posts, I stumbled upon the Deschutes River Recordings after consulting one of my favorite cover blogs Cover Lay Down (each post features a theme and at least 10 cover song examples AKA it’s my heaven). The Deschutes River Recordings has three free mp3s from Fruit Bats’ Eric D. Johnson, Blizten Trapper’s Eric Earley and singer/songwriter Laura Gibson. Sponsored by the Dechutes Brewery in Oregon, this initiative is a way for the brewery and community to aid the Deschutes River Conservancy. Although the songs are free to download from Bandcamp, listeners are invited to donate in order to preserve the river and its watershed. Not only is the Deschutes Brewery’s social media campaign cranking out super creative ideas in general, this music project is a fantastic way to connect artists to a cause.

Laura Gibson Singers

Plus the music is pretty rad. Earley’s cover of The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek” is conversational and soulful, with plenty of toe-tapping harmonica and bass hooks. Gibson’s take on the spiritual “Down by the Riverside,” is steady, earnest, and builds into a quirky crescendo. My favorite of the three is Johnson’s slow rendition of The Byrds’ “Ballad of Easy Rider.” (below) It’s a beautiful, organ-filled call-and-response and simultaneous call-to-action. While the artists shown in the River Recordings are inspired by the Deschutes watershed, this precious ecosystem will hopefully be equally affected by donations raised in the coming months.

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