January 4, 2015

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #34: Gregory Alan Isakov

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Oh, where do I start with this one? Gregory Alan Isakov has grown over the last decade from a soft-spoken friend that I would see playing his winsome, warm songs at dozens of small shows, into one of Colorado’s genuine state treasures. I have a collection of little cardboard-sleeved, hand-stamped EPs and early recordings from Gregory (“all songs written by me and recorded to 8-track on a thursday morning in my room, Boulder, CO“) dating back to 2003.

Now’s he’s at Red Rocks with the symphony, having his most recent (magnificent and charming) music video debuted by NPR’s Bob Boilen, with Rolling Stone calling him the “Best Subtle Storm.” Perfect.

One thing I have always loved about Gregory and his music since the first time I heard it is the hint of sly joy that underlies everything he seems to sing. I almost feel like I can feel a shy, candescent smile just waiting at the corner of his lips.

He writes rambling songs that really stab at a certain heart of foolish beauty that exists all the time in the world around us, but that I am often too hurried to see, much less to give it the attention it deserves. He weaves words together into perceptive lyrics that I can’t get enough of, songs that skiffle and flicker as they grow slowly.

In this session, Gregory and his band performed three songs from their latest (2013) album The Weatherman, and one stunningly jaw-dropping cover of one of my favorite songs ever written. So, you know. That was alright.



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FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #34:
GREGORY ALAN ISAKOV
January 9, 2014
Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs, CO

Suitcase Full Of Sparks
This song speaks directly to the always-gnawing wanderlust that sometimes hides under the ashes in me, but that is always ready to be stoked by this wide, wild world around us. It makes me want to do nothing more than head off onto a roadtrip — anywhere that promises campfires, or even better, an ocean. Gregory’s wanderings here are trying to find their way to someone, but I find the song works just as well for me if we think that the someone we are rambling everywhere trying to find is ourselves.



Saint Valentine
A song for mostly-misremembered Roman saints, and also for banjo-plucking dancing around in the pouring rain. Also notable in this song is the great delight I get from such an old-timey sounding folk song that contains the line “while the girls in the glass, they’re just throwing me shade.” Aw, poor Gregory.



The Universe

the Universe, she’s wounded
but she’s still got infinity ahead of her
she’s still got you and me
and everybody says that she’s beautiful…

JESUS. Here’s to that.



The Trapeze Swinger (Iron & Wine)
Welp. I sat in stunned silence when Gregory suggested this song as his cover. The original is one of my top five songs ever — this baffling, beautiful, confused, peaceful elegy that feels like it never started and will never end. I wrote about this song once five years ago; I might have been a little drunk when I wrote it, but I said (and I still believe):

I remember a book from when I was about ten years old, something like A Wrinkle In Time or one of those fascinating imaginative visions of other worlds and things unseen. My brain stretches hard to recall a passage about tapping into a current of singing that existed outside of normal time, these pulsing jetstreams of melody and poetry and all the human longing – timeless and universal. Always there. Not always heard.

When I listen to “The Trapeze Swinger” by Iron & Wine, that’s the closest I can come to expressing its perfection. It sounds like waking from a dream on your front porch in the late afternoon in springtime — or maybe not waking at all, but being suspended. Somewhere where, for once, you can hear the currents. “Please remember me, happily, by the rosebush laughing, with bruises on my chin….” the song begins, all golden beauty and purplish contusions from the first lines.

Gregory does 100% justice to the original, in the noble hesitation, in the smiles around the edges of his voice, and with the gorgeous golden guitar solo in the middle. Man, oh man.

Who the hell can see forever?

DOWNLOAD THE ZIP: GREGORY ALAN ISAKOV CHAPEL SESSION

Gregory is out on tour in the coming early months of 2015 with Nathaniel Rateliff (a fellow chapel session alum), and that is going to be a pretty goddamn good pairing.

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[Audio recording and production by my beloved Bourgal brothers of Blank Tape Records, and photography/video by the fabulous Kevin Ihle, who nearly died a thousand deaths of joy photographing this session. Thanks to Blue Microphones for the terrific consideration in giving us some sweet mics to capture this magic.]

December 28, 2014

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #33: Alex Dezen (of The Damnwells)

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I have always said that Alex Dezen, of the beloved Brooklyn band The Damnwells, has a romantic voice.

I don’t mean that in the way we picture Valentine’s Day cards or the airbrushed bodices on paperback romance novellas. By “romantic” I am alluding to the artistic movement that wished to remove us all back to nature, to crack through the dust on our Mannerist hearts. I hear the febrile brushstrokes of light and lightning in a Turner landscape, or the kind of voice that can carry one off to war, or the high plains, or to sea.

Strong words: yep. But this is an exceptionally strong and expressive voice. One listen to these chapel sessions will introduce you, perhaps, to a voice that does the same for you. After so many years of being a fan of his songs, it was a genuine delight to have his voice fill and echo in that chapel space.

He gave us two of his newer solo songs, an old (gorgeous) gospel-tinged Damnwells tune, and a cover from one of my favorite soul artists of all time. If you want to hear more, Alex has put out a series of four intimate (Bedhead) EPs this past year, and all are worth delving deeply into. The fifth Damnwells LP is due in April 2015 on Rock Ridge Music.



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FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #33:
ALEX DEZEN (of The Damnwells)
Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs, CO
November 22, 2013

None Of These Things

I’m not sure if this is a song about divorce, but it sure sounds like one to me. What a bittersweetly beautiful song, so simple and conflicted:

I don’t expect you to and
I don’t need you to and
I don’t wish you would
I just wish you could
I just want to sleep
While the sorrow’s cheap
But I think I hear your keys



HELLp

The cover art of Dezen’s four recent acoustic EPs show him sleeping peacefully under different bedspreads, face showing no discontent. But this song sounds like the complicated bad dreams that leave us tangled up in sheets, unsure how to find our way out.



Kung Fu Grip Kiss

God, I love this song.
I love the whole record it comes from, 2006′s Air Stereo. I tell you guys every now and then that this is a sleeper record you might have missed, but it is never too late. As fully-fleshed out as this song sounds even with just Alex’s voice and a guitar in a chapel, the album version has shimmering, resonant Memphis horns and backing vocals (that I add here every time I listen to this chapel version).

I was looking for Jesus, and I wound up with you.



These Arms Of Mine (Otis Redding)

I can’t think of a better song for a classically romantic voice to wail on than this one. This is the second time someone has said, “I was thinking of covering Otis Redding?” in my chapel, and the second time I have blissfully said “OKAY.”



ZIP: ALEX DEZEN CHAPEL SESSION



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[Audio recording and production by my beloved Bourgal brothers of Blank Tape Records, and photography/video by the fabulous Kevin Ihle. Thanks to Blue Microphones for the terrific consideration in giving us some sweet mics to capture this magic.]

December 24, 2014

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #32: Small Houses

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Even though we’re just about as firmly in the center of the dead-cold dark of winter as we can get these days, there will always be something inherently late-summery about the music of Small Houses (Jeremy Quentin) for me. I hear a redolence of ending or closing, the reels of the season playing back slowly-flickering in glowing (but fading) color. Jeremy writes beautiful songs, it’s as simple as that – I think he has the heart of a poet, and words matter to this guy. It works out with us because they matter to me, too, and he can string together a song unlike many people I know. Vulnerable, memorable, potent.

There is a cast of humans that a listener gets woven into as you know his songs: Karen, Jesse, Sarah. It’s a bit like piecing together the chatter on an old party-line phone call on a summer night, in a town you’ve never visited. It reminds me of Springsteen’s Mary, never sure how much she is a real person and how much she is a metaphor for something else, for a summation of things. (update: mystery cracked in this Paste Magazine feature on Jeremy and his songwriting, “The Best Of What’s Next“!).

Exactly Where You Wanted To Be was one of my favorites of 2013 (and I still listen to it often). Jeremy’s new album Still Talk; Second City is coming on February 10th, 2015 via The Cottage Recording Co and I can’t wait for you all to hear it. Three of these four songs in the chapel session are from the new album, which was recorded last year in an Atlanta cottage — and the first time Jeremy’s been off the road for a while. Recently another new album track “Staggers and Rise” premiered as well with a great, road-worn video to go with it.

He’s currently holed up in Denver for a long minute (you may have seen him onstage with Nathaniel Rateliff and Ark Life last weekend doing that insanely raucous cover of “Caravan”?). All my Colorado readers should please come see him with me on February 7 for the album release show at Ubisububi Room because that space is terrific and the show is going to be the best thing.

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FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #32: SMALL HOUSES
August 11, 2013
Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs

I Saw Santa Fe

This song was blatantly my first request, because it is heart-stoppingly gorgeous, especially that pause and the bridge right at the two-minute mark that has wooed me since the first time I heard this song — it brings tears to my eyes every single time I hear it. I can’t even really articulate why, except for that it feels like a reflex, like your knee kicking when the doc whaps it with a rubbery mallet.

There’s something sad in this song that surpasses the cognitive parts of my brain. To watch him do this on that piano alone in the chapel space… man.



Old Habits

“Old Habits” was the first song that Jeremy recorded for the new record, at the cottage by the quarry in Atlanta where he would go on to record the whole album. He settled down for a first time in a while to make the new album, and said in the Paste piece: “Changing your standard of living often kind of opens you up to new things often. Get a house, live in it, love it, feel stability, and the next week, kind of find whatever you need to find to have the courage to just give up everything you have.” I hear that vulnerability in all these songs.



Sewn and Scio

This song always sounds like the soundtrack to a memory — watching an old Polaroid develop, the images rise and solidify. Like every road we were ever on was a summer road.



While I’m Away (Jeremy RR cover)

The closing song on the new record, this cover was written by Jeremy RR (Robert-Raymond). “Her hair’s the color of a dirt road, and one that bears her name / her eyes the color of a riverbed / though I miss them all the same.” Something so sweetly timeless rests inside this song, this song about leaving.



ZIP: SMALL HOUSES CHAPEL SESSION


It was such a joy having Jeremy in the chapel, and knowing this wonderful human. Go see him this winter when he comes to your town for the new album.

SMALL HOUSES 2015 TOUR DATES
Jan. 7 – Goldstein’s Mortuary and Delicatessen – Fresno, CA*
Jan. 8 – Pappy and Harriets – Pioneertown, CA*
Jan. 9 – The Mint – Los Angeles, CA*
Jan. 10 – The Partisan – Merced, CA*
Jan. 13 – House Concert – Berkeley, CA*
Jan. 14 – Hotel Utah – San Francisco, CA*
Jan. 15 – The Crepe Place – Santa Cruz, CA*
Jan. 16 – Yosemite Bug Resort and Hostel – Mariposa, CA*
Jan. 17 – Don Quixote’s International Music Hall – Felton, CA*
Jan. 21 – Volcanic Theatre – Bend, OR*
Jan. 22 – Axe and Fiddle – Cottage Grove, OR*
Jan. 23 – Sam Bond’s Garage – Eugene, OR*
Jan. 24 – Fluff and Gravy Headquarters – Portland, OR*
Jan. 25 through 31 – Al’s Den residency – Portland, OR
Feb. 5 – TBA – Olympia, WA
Feb. 6 – Skylark Lounge – Seattle, WA
Feb. 7 – Ubisububi Room (Album Release Show) – Denver, CO
Feb. 8 – O’Leaver’s – Omaha, NE
Feb. 9 – Total Drag – Sioux Falls, SD
Feb. 10 – Nicollet – Minneapolis, MN
Feb. 11 – High Noon Saloon – Madison, WI
Feb. 12 – House Concerts – Iowa City, IA
Feb. 13 – The Rozz-Tox – Rock Island, IL
Feb. 14 – Mike and Molly’s – Champaign, IL
Feb. 15 – Red Barn – Peoria, IL
Feb. 16 – Schuba’s – Chicago, IL
Feb. 18 – The Fix – Bay City, MI
Feb. 19 – Holy Oak – Toronto, ON
Feb. 21 – Dreamland – Buffalo, NY
Feb. 22 – The Bug Jar – Rochester, NY
Feb. 25 – TBA – Montreal, QC
Feb. 26 – Monkey House – Winooski, VT (Burlington)
Feb. 28 – Union Hall – New York City, NY
March 1 – Ortlieb’s Lounge (Album release) – Philadelphia, PA
March 5 – Jammin Java – Vienna, VA
March 6 – Pink Warehouse – Charlottesville, VA
March 7 – Blue Plate Special – Knoxville, TN (early show)
March 7 – The Music Room – Atlanta, GA (late show)
March 12 – Shack Up Inn – Clarksdale, MS
March 13 – The Beatnik – New Orleans, LA
March 17 through 22 – SXSW 2015 – Austin, TX
March 28 – Spacebar – Columbus, OH

* on tour with The Harmed Brothers

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[Audio recording and production by my beloved Bourgal brothers of Blank Tape Records, and photography/video by the fabulous Kevin Ihle. Thanks to Blue Microphones for the terrific consideration in giving us some sweet mics to capture this magic.]

December 23, 2014

Carry me home, with a choir to greet us

MP3: Carry Me Home (with Choir! Choir! Choir!) – Hey Rosetta!

As if the original version of “Carry Me Home” from Hey Rosetta! wasn’t already one of the best new Christmas-song standards written in the last few years, Tim Baker has to go and sing it with a whole choir of folks. All my seasonal soft spots, stimulated.

I first posted the original in my 2012 Christmas mix, which is still up for the downloading (along with all past years’ mixes). No new Christmas mix this year (I know, I miss it too), but that handful of Chapel Session stocking stuffers starts tomorrow, with Small Houses!

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December 22, 2014

Damien Rice in a synagogue in San Francisco (October 7, 2014)

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It’s the time of year when I have some time to swim around in music because the college where I work is closed in between terms. Brace yourselves for a bunch of good stuff in the next two weeks while I am off work — in addition to plans for a “Holiday Bundle” of up to four new Chapel Sessions (!!!), I have some incredible live recordings that a magical show-recording elf who goes simply by the initial “B” sends to my mailbox with little notes of care from the San Francisco Bay Area.

In this week’s mail I received a stunning recording of Damien Rice playing in the Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco – a magnificent Classical Romanesque synagogue built in 1904 and covered in gorgeous frescoes. The setlist to this show is fucking incredible. Damien Rice has the ability to transport me back to a very specific time in my life, a very raw time (“Accidental Babies” has got to be one of the most brutally bittersweet songs I know) and this show just was just song after song after song of that exquisiteness.

From the first song, “Eskimo,” when he starts howling, I was overcome with chills all up and down my spine. This is a very powerful show; even though these songs are old, they are undiluted. I did the thing that I do when a song really flattens me, and that is: I let it. I lay right in the center of the wooden floor in my kitchen where the stereo is and let the song do its work. Sometimes I sing along.

Holy shit, this show.



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crowd choir on Volcano

DAMIEN RICE
LIVE IN SAN FRANCISCO: Congregation Sherith Israel
October 7, 2014
Taped by B

Eskimo
Delicate
Elephant
Woman Like A Man
9 Crimes
The Greatest Bastard
The Professor & La Fille Danse
Grey Room
Rootless Tree
I Remember
Volcano –> When Doves Cry (Prince)

Encore:
The Blower’s Daughter
Cheers Darlin’
Accidental Babies
Cannonball

ZIP: DAMIEN RICE IN SAN FRANCISCO

The enclosed postcard: Thanks, B.
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I am seeing Damien on April 17 in Boulder. If this is at all what I have to look forward to…


[show photos borrowed from Irene Hsu, Stanford]

December 10, 2014

My 2014 Song of the Year: “Dearly Departed”

This is far and away my (syncopated-clapping, toe-tapping, driving along with the windows down singing harmonies at the top of my lungs) favorite song of 2014. Shakey Graves has shown up on this blog before, first with his tune “Late July” on the Summer 2012 mix, and his co-conspirator here Esmé Patterson (formerly of the Denver band Paper Bird) is someone whose music I have long admired.

There is a deeply delightful, timeless joy in a good clever duet.

Dearly Departed (featuring Esmé Patterson) – Shakey Graves

This video is the absolute best–when was the last time you saw two musicians having this much genuine fun?

YEAH YOU AND I BOTH KNOW



Shakey Graves plays our Ivywild School Sunday night, along with Esmé. It will be the final show I booked for the Ivywild, and I can’t wait to hear these songs live in that space.

The entire new album And The War Came is tremendous; highly recommended.

SHAKEY GRAVES AND THE WAR CAME TOUR

October 7, 2014

if it gets too lonely, i will follow you ’round in this tune

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I’ve been head over heels for Noah Gundersen for a few years now, ever since being completely spun around and knocked to the ground by him live at a few summer festivals, and then really getting into all his recordings, old and new. His songs are a piercing blend of harmony (with his sister, no less) and wide-openness to a world that’s not always easy to be wide open in.

Noah says of this song (and I 100% agree):

Lay Low is one of those songs that has a habit of finding its way into my subconscious and staying there. While driving around on tour, loading up the van after shows, during the rare quiet moments in a green room, the lyrics and the melody would rise up and start repeating over and over in my head.

There is a loneliness throughout it. An admittance of frailty. An acceptance of our small and mortal lives, where we really don’t know what it all means. But through it all, a small yet resounding spark of hope and love. I’m honored to call Michael and Cary Ann friends. I hope this cover does their beautiful composition justice.

Lay Low (Shovels & Rope) – Noah Gundersen


Here is the acoustic version at Pickathon from the original artists, the terrific duo of Shovels & Rope. It was part of my Autumn 2012 mix, and I still often put this version of it on repeat.

Lay Low (live at Pickathon) – Shovels & Rope



I am pretty excited to be welcoming Noah Gundersen to the Ivywild School next weekend, on Saturday October 18, as part of his fall tour in support of the magnificent Ledges. If you’re in Colorado, please come! If not, here are your other tour date options. This kid is the real deal.

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TOUR DETAILS HERE

[top portrait by Ben Blood]

September 2, 2014

You, in three songs

Hey, you. We haven’t talked in a while because my life is going really well, overflowing full of promotions at work and adventures in life and love. And grad school, which is none of the above, but interesting and gratifying and a lot of work. It’s nice to be here tonight.

A friend shared an assignment with me for a music class he is working on, a get-to-know-you essay asking students to pick three songs (any genre) that most accurately speak to who you are. Make your case as to why these three songs, he said. Game on, I said. This is way more fun than reading development theory. I thought you might like to read my musings that I just sent back to him, and I’d love to hear yours.


ASSIGNMENT 1
Heather Browne
Sept 2, 2014

I have an over-identification problem with songs. It’s ravaged me my whole life, from the time I first listened to “American Pie” and felt deeply, weirdly sad — off in some strange monumental place that I didn’t have any personal experience with, but I nonetheless understood. “A long, long time ago, I can still remember how the music used to make me smile.” Has there ever been a more perfect opening line for a song, or a sadder one? I didn’t know, but I wanted to figure it out. I then proceeded to listen to that song on a cassette tape that I taped off the radio, roughly 1352 times that year between elementary school and middle school. The day the music died? What a terrible thing for my eleven year-old brain to try and empathize with. I felt it, man, especially in those elegiac closing piano notes on the last verse.

So the assigned task of picking three songs that most accurately describe me is not difficult from lack of choices. If we could pause on different points in my life, I could have felt summed up by “Vogue,” (Madonna, fifth grade, bangle bracelets) “Man In A Box,” (Alice in Chains, trying to impress a dude), any number of terrrrrible Christian rap songs that still sometimes get inexplicably stuck in my head (like this morning: the entire bridge, mind you), and real sad heartbreakers by Ryan Adams or The National, for crying in your coffee when love is gone and you’re just a big shimmering ghost of snot and sadness. I am an excruciatingly active walking songbook, most days. Wouldn’t trade it.

But: game, set, match Professor. I’ll give you three songs.



Yellow Ledbetter – Pearl Jam

One of the transformative functions of music in my life so far has been to uproot me from the ground I felt was home, to give me something to rebel with, something to flip off the establishment with, and crowdsurf to in my Doc Martens at a Cracker concert when I was fourteen. Not that I suffered any great indignities that I needed escape from (except maybe the aforementioned Christian rap), but that separating seems to be one of the most natural (and essential) growing pains that music can shove us into and then ease us through. For American youth this is a leitmotif we all recognize, from lindy-hopping in scandalously short skirts, to watching Elvis gyrate and screaming over the Beatles, to turning on / tuning in / dropping out.

As for me, I got to be fourteen in 1993 and rage against the machine with Pearl Jam, much to the slight bemusement of my parents. The second Pearl Jam album Vs. was the first CD I ever bought (after having Ten on cassette), and something in me electrified and woke up roaring, even if I didn’t exactly know yet where that roar came from. I immediately became not just a huge fan, but the best fan. Although long lapsed now, I can still recite my official Ten Club fan club number: 50792. I once spent all $200 in my savings account to buy a single scalped ticket to see them play a secret show in Santa Cruz billed as The Honking Seals. In those nascent days of dial-up internet, I joined an internet list-serv and posted to message boards, participated in tape trees to distribute and share live recordings of shows because in those songs I found a sort-of closed eyed bliss. I knew alternate endings and unreleased versions and one time my dad stymied my youthful rebellion to take me all the way to San Diego to see them live in concert (after Eddie Vedder got sick at Golden Gate Park and cancelled the next leg of the tour much to my utter ruination).

As a hard-scavenged b-side in the days when b-sides were much more difficult to find, this song always felt like mine from the first time I heard it; enigmatic and bluesy and undeniably beautiful. It is, at its core, a fumbling, sweet mess of a song that glitters with a sort of hope that all the teenage angst could never quite beat out of me. This song is how I felt inside at fifteen, and maybe it is how a lot of me still feels. When I listen to it even now, the roundness of the notes always hang there golden in front of me, like nothing could ever get better. Who knows …maybe it never can.



Mary – Patty Griffin
Even though I kept the battered brown Doc Martens, I pretty quickly jumped myself from teenage rebellion and on into marriage, and then into parenting a wonderful sweet little boy who joined me in 2003.
I was fascinated the first time I heard this song because of all the hidden layers of a human being that it flays apart. In this instance, it happens to have religious allegorical tones, and we happen to be talking about a mother – one of the most archetypal of all women and all mothers. But really, to me, it is a song about how none of us are ever just one thing, or even a handful of easily-identifiable things. Being a young mother and then a single mother and then an adventurous single mother roaring out on her own joyful and terrified, most of the images I’m handed aren’t me. This song is a litany of all the things that Mary is covered in, so much so that we can’t quite even see her face anymore – just a ideally-shaped collection of roses and ashes and babies and wilderness and stains. And yet, there is a quiet and very honest dignity to the work of caring that she does, with far-reaching consequences in the world around her. It’s a beautiful and complicated transformation, isn’t it? A lot of this song feels like my twenties. Somewhere in the really deep loveliness of this song, there is something of me.



Ragazzo Fortunato – Jovanotti
In addition to the Pearl Jam that spurred me to start a music blog (named after one of their lyrics), and the glossy wide river that motherhood has gratefully carved through the middle of my decades here on earth, it was the months I have spent studying and living in Italy that forever altered both what I do for a living and the way I see beauty in the world. I knew the first time I started studying the mellifluous language that rolled over tongues like love itself (or maybe lust), and the first time I saw the powerful, bright brushstrokes of Michelangelo – I was a goner. I wanted to sink back into this culture, laying down under the water and feeling the rush and the release. I’ve spent some damn good times in that water – learning how to express what I wanted to say in a new language, forging friendships, seeing things through very different eyes, and hell – even getting to interview Italian mega-star Jovanotti himself at sunset on a Southern California beach (twenty-year-old Heather is still dying over that one).

Yet, for all the beauty of the language, let’s be unequivocally clear: this is an extremely lame, thoroughly dorky song. I think this is important in summing me up. Because I also love it. It is unfettered and jubilant –I mean– in the video Jovanotti gestures at the camera like a badass (in his defense, namechecking Siddhartha and referencing Dante), backed up by a bunch of Italians happily frolicking like they’re in a Mentos commercial, demonstrating the rule that all Italians know at least three Jovanotti songs by heart.

D’aww – but the wide-open chorus: I am a lucky guy (ragazzo fortunato) because I’ve been gifted a dream / lucky because there’s nothing that I need / and when the evening comes, and I return home to you / and no matter what happens, I’m fortunate to meet you again.” It’s a simple happiness splashed all through this song, and I ain’t too good for that. I truthfully sing this song in my head all the time, like a constant mantra. Sono ragazzo fortunato. I am. And I have everything I need.

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July 15, 2014

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #31: PHOX

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In a recent segment on NPR’s All Things Considered, PHOX frontwoman Monica Martin confided to Melissa Block a similar thing to what she told me last year — that she has somehow, unbelievably, been a timid singer for years. To watch the glory that slowly unfolds now out of her tight green bud of self into this dazzling swirl of confetti is truly jaw-dropping.

Monica’s voice could easily rank up there with the greats, the distinctive women who command a room, who make your heart twinge and ache, who spin out old memories like cotton candy with the ease of her fingertips. This gal used to sing behind a megaphone, afraid to look at the audience?

PHOX is a band of friends, above all, who have grown up all wound together in Baraboo, Wisconsin. I am sure that familial connection helps instill some measure of safety around a hesitant singer on stages across the country and the world. The genuine affinity between them all was obvious when we met. Their songs have captivated me from the first time I listened, all multi-instrumental experimentation and a hazy sort of deepening joy — with melodies that absolutely stick in your head for days without leaving. Their full-length record just came out a couple of weeks ago and people are (rightfully) losing their shit over it. You should go get it right away – definitely a top album of the year so far.

Here’s what they sounded like almost exactly a year ago on (I believe) their first tour ever. It was a short, sweet, stunning set that afternoon that left us all shimmering – tremendous then, and tremendous now.

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PHOX
Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs
July 17, 2013

Slow Motion
This is one of the most winsomely charming songs that I’ve heard in the last few years, and I have listened to it (and watched THE VIDEO) dozens of times. There is a playful, glorious thread running through this song that feels like it unfolds in a number of scenes or movements. As a fan of creative percussion, I superlike watching how they construct and layer the handclaps here also:



Espeon
This song sounds to me like a springtime morning waking up. It could be a forest or a meadow, or it could be a city where the shopkeepers roll up the metal grates and sweep the sidewalk that passes in front. To me it sounds like a song about a smile that you can’t shake.

Side note: I googled what an Espeon was, and it turns out it is a Pokemon — and as the mother of a ten year old boy, I really should have known that you guys. And then I also remembered that when Phox stayed at my house they specifically commented in praise of Samuel’s Pokemon dragon toy-thing that says “TYBLOSION” or something when you touch its stomach. Now THERE’S A LEITMOTIF YOU DIDN’T SEE COMING.

No Lion (Boom Forest cover)
Oh MAN.

From the first lyrics sung alone out into the room: “These days …these days are hard…” — I was frozen in place in that church, listening to four of the members of PHOX craft this with just their voices the whole way through. And then it builds and just gets stronger as it gathers steam; it is stunning, and it gave me full-body chills anew when I listened to the finished recordings. Boom Forest (John Paul Roney) is also from Baraboo, Wisconsin, and you can hear his fervent stuff (including this song) here — I like it a lot. PHOX sings on this song on his record as well.

I keep putting this song on repeat. Wow.



DOWNLOAD THE ZIP: PHOX CHAPEL SESSION

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All pictures from that afternoon are on the Fuel/Friends Facebook Page, if you wanna see more from that day.

This is our second session we’ve posted that was recorded using the fabulous Blue Microphones. I ain’t mic-smart, but I can tell a significant wow factor in the sound that has been attained through their support of these sessions. Thanks guys.

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[Audio wizardry, recording, and mixing time donated by the Bourgal brothers at Blank Tape Records, as always, and video and photography from the supreme Kevin Ihle. Thanks for being part of creating these special sessions.]

July 6, 2014

what’s beautiful is broken

This Wednesday night, we’ve booked Jeffrey Foucault at the Ivywild School in Colorado Springs (with Patrick Dethlefs opening). I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say that this song below is one of my favorites of the last good number of years. Please join us.

“Jeffrey Foucault, sings stark, literate songs that are as wide open as the landscape of his native Midwest.” — The New Yorker

If you’re not in Colorado, just listen and love:

Northbound 35 – Jeffrey Foucault

Northbound 35
through the iron hills
under infidel skies
It’s two hundred miles to drive
..you won’t be home

I saw an elsebound train
on the overpass
in the driving rain
Every ticket costs the same
for where you can’t go

Mustang horses, champagne glasses
anything frail – anything wild
It’s the price of living motion
what’s beautiful is broken
and grace is just the measure of a fall

So I rolled into your town
past the smokestacks
and the ore docks down
off of Main the sky spun around
with her diamonds on fire

And we fought all night and we danced
in your kitchen
you were as much in my hands
as water or darkness or nothing
could ever be held

Mustang horses, champagne glasses
anything frail – anything wild
It’s the price of living motion
what’s beautiful is broken
and grace is just the measure of a fall

It’s just flashes that we own
little snapshots
made of breath and of bone
and out on the darkling plain alone
they light up the sky

And it’s 51 and driving south
ain’t it funny
how things’ll turn out
I never even kissed you on the mouth
When we said goodbye

Mustang horses, champagne glasses
anything frail – anything wild
It’s the price of living motion
what’s beautiful is broken

and grace is just the measure of a fall


BONUS: Man alive do I love this R.E.M. cover he did with his former band Redbird.

You Are The Everything (R.E.M.) – Redbird

Also, I posted a songwriter session back in 2008 that Jeffrey Foucault did with Peter Mulvey and Chris Smither – that’s still uploaded here if you want to take a listen (wonderful cover of Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain,” to boot).

Foucault / Mulvey / Smither Songwriter Session


Tickets for Wednesday’s show are $10, available here.

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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