October 11, 2009

goldenrod and the 4H stone


This morning my neighborhood is covered in a thin sheet of ice, each leaf coated and crackly frozen. After venturing outside to take this picture (and promptly slipping on the ice), I sit here with my coffee and warm up, cozy in my slippers and fuzzy clothes. As I read the newspaper it tells me that today is the anniversary of the death of Casimir Pulaski, a Polish gentleman I know nothing about other than that his day in March is the title of one of my favorite Sufjan Stevens songs. Something about this powdered-sugar dusting of snow seems eminently appropriate for listening to a lot of Sufjan all morning long, yeah? I’m in Sufjan mood lately.

The sadness in this song always gets me — painfully honest, and bitterly sweet. A girl he loves is diagnosed with bone cancer. The light from the window presses up against her shoulderblade and they pray over her at Bible study (but nothing ever happens). He wrestles, as many of us do.

I appreciate the difficult veracity in these lyrics, Job shaking his fists upwards. As Josh Ritter muses, perhaps “we need faith for the same reasons that it’s so hard to find.”

Casimir Pulaski Day (live on KCRW) – Sufjan Stevens

…In the morning when you finally go
And the nurse runs in with her head hung low
And the cardinal hits the window

In the morning in the winter shade
On the first of March, on the holiday
I thought I saw you breathing

All the glory that the Lord has made
And the complications when I see His face
In the morning in the window

All the glory when He took our place
But He took my shoulders and He shook my face
And He takes and He takes and He takes…

THE REST OF THE 2005 KCRW SET (good for snowy mornings)
The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts (live on KCRW)
Chicago (live on KCRW)
John Wayne Gacy Jr (live on KCRW)
A Good Man Is Hard To Find (live on KCRW)
Jacksonville (live on KCRW)


May 6, 2009

Two new songs from The National this weekend


I am pleased as punch at the audio which has surfaced from this Sunday’s Dark Was The Night benefit show at Radio City Music Hall. How this event did not sell out is beyond me — a superb lineup of The National, Bon Iver, David Byrne, Dirty Projectors, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Feist, Dave Sitek (of TV On The Radio), My Brightest Diamond and Annie Clark of St. Vincent.

You can see Amrit’s excellent pictures from the evening here, and a million thank yous to the awesome NYCTaper site who captured this National audio. Even from the opening notes of Slow Show, this set is warm and full with additional orchestration.

You know I dreamed about you for twenty-nine years before I saw you….

May 3, 2009
Slow Show
England (new song)
So Far Around The Bend
Vanderlylle Cry Baby (new song)
Big Red Machine – Bon Iver & Matt Berninger from The National
(bonus from later in the night)

(FLAC files available through NYC Taper)

The two new songs sound lugubrious and richly elegant, as can be expected from The National — just gorgeous. “Leave your heart, change your name, live alone, eat your cake….” urges the cryptic Vanderlylle Cry Baby, “the waters are rising, still no surprise.” I love the power of several strong voices all swelling together as the song is sliced through at the end by that loud and ferocious squalling electric guitar. If this is the direction of the next album, I am even more in love with them.

[image via Amrit at Stereogum, the man with the lens. Also, visit NYC Taper for more amazing live recordings — one of my favorite sites.]

April 1, 2009

the trapeze act was wonderful, but never meant to last


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. Opening with the tinkle of a windchime, 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, with golden beauty and purplish contusions from the first lines. The song weaves those two threads of our sweetest joys and our saddest failings over and under for the next ten minutes, with a feel of looking back from a distance. The things we carry with us, the strange variance of memory. Sam Beam crafts a stunning, endless, hypnotically rhythmic masterpiece that feels like it has always existed, and you just walked somewhere into the middle.

It’s about death and the pearly gates and how we might feel when we get there, and the eloquent graffiti that might greet us on the walls outside. “Lost and found.” “Don’t look down.” “Tell my mother not to worry.”

It’s about dreams among the fallen trees of our babies that may have never been born. It’s about uphill clawing, colored birds, and remembering the time in the car behind the carnival with your hand between my knees. “Please remember me, my misery, and how it lost me all I wanted.” It is, in a word, perfect.

Nothing compares to the original recording (from the In Good Company soundtrack), but this live version is humble and as unaffected as they come.

November 29, 2007
Peace Beneath The City
Sodom South Georgia
Boy With A Coin
Resurrection Fern
Woman King
The Trapeze Swinger
He Lays In The Reins
(Calexico cover)


[top image credit Anne Teliczan]

March 15, 2009

The honest and compelling music of Mumford & Sons


Mumford & Sons sounds like a dignified British jeweler, or perhaps a men’s clothing store, but instead they are a potent and wonderful quartet out of London that is poised to shoot to the top (and well-deservedly so).

The first time I listened to their music they reminded me of a blend of two bands I wholeheartedly love — a vibe of Frightened Rabbit meets the Avett Brothers? I hear both the wrenching confessional storytelling in a thick brogue, and the almost-punk ferocity of the bluegrass glimmers. Absolutely fantastic.

A local friend who knows my musical leanings fairly well sent me this recommendation that several readers have also written in passionately to me about, primarily folks from the UK. Mumford & Sons make honest, compelling music that veers towards triumphant even as they chronicle the difficult litany of life’s woes. It sounds epic and substantial while simultaneously crawling under my skin with its vulnerability.

Perhaps it’s the multiple voices rising together of all the band members, but there is a distinct feeling of kinfolk here, almost like a gospel choir or a Greek chorus, a community vibe that lends some sort of strength through such raw lyrical content. Add some banjo and….I’m totally sold.

I have been listening to this live set pretty much nonstop this weekend.

The Cave
(ack. love this!!)
Roll Away Your Stone
Sigh No More
(otherwise unreleased?)
White Blank Page

You can bet your last sip of Tito’s that I’ll be seeing these guys in Austin this week. Hurrah! I cannot wait.

[audio thanks]

March 4, 2009

Chris Isaak at Amoeba San Francisco


Best thing about this blog gig is when readers tape shows for you that you can’t be at. Hurrah!

March 2, 2009

Take My Heart (new)
You Don’t Cry Like I Do (new)
Mr. Lonely Man (new)
Forever Blue (never get tired of this)


The sound levels are a tad low, so turn it up — but a great 14-song set filled with new songs, covers, and some twists on classics. Isaak brings a girl up on stage to play maracas on “Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing,” and comments on her scarf, playfully asking her if it’s cold in there. You can hear the smile in her voice as she replies, “Not anymore…”

Man. Isaak does it every time. No, seriously.

[thank you thank you JS!]

February 16, 2009

I’m in the middle of your picture :: Radiohead at Outside Lands


This weekend I was finishing my taxes and getting it back from The Man, whilst listening to Radiohead to make the undertaking a bit less tedious.

The recording of their live set from last August echoed through my kitchen, the show where I saw em for the first time at the Outside Lands Festival in foggy San Francisco. Photographing the band from that close (under a dazzling collection of cathedral-like lights) and the superb setlist makes me smile every time I think of it.


2008 was the first year of the Outside Lands Festival, and it was a bit of a clusterfuck at times. The sound went out twice during Radiohead’s set, in one of the most surreal moments I’ve had at a concert. Imagine the most sublime wall of sound you’ve felt in years, vibrating all around you — and then complete silence. I watched the band furiously playing on, while all around us the absence of music felt thick like cotton. I joke that for a second I thought it finally happened, I finally went permanently and irreversibly deaf from all the concerting.

After the first burst of silence, Thom jokes about someone putting beer in the plug; when it happens again two songs later, a wave of discontent ripples through the crowd but then we all rose up to sing at the top of our lungs (in an excellent concert moment that still kinda warms me):

You are all I need…you’re all I need. I’m in the middle of your picture, lying in the reeds…

I was packed there into the masses singing along in the fog, thin sweater wrapped tight around me under the cypress trees.


August 22, 2008 – Outside Lands Festival
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA
15 Step
There There
All I Need*
Talk Show Host
National Anthem
The Gloaming
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Karma Police
Jigsaw Falling Into Place
Exit Music (For a Film)
Pyramid Song
You And Whose Army?
Paranoid Android
Fake Plastic Trees
(this still kills me lately)
Everything In Its Right Place

*Sound cuts out during Airbag and All I Need


[thanks to the original taper! I took all them pics, and love 'em, especially that abstract one with the heart, taken as I looked at the crowd behind me during Radiohead's set. Yep.]

December 27, 2008

The Gaslight Anthem finally announce headlining U.S. tour dates, cover The Band

Mar 18 La Tulipe – Montreal, Quebec %
Mar 20 The Opera House – Toronto, Ontario %
Mar 21 Call The Office – London, Ontario %
Mar 27 Webster Hall – New York, NY
Mar 28 The Trocadero – Philadelphia, PA #
Mar 29 Mr. Small’s – Pittsburgh, PA #
Apr 2 Turner Hall – Milwaukee, WI #
Apr 3 The Bottom Lounge – Chicago, IL #
Apr 4 Varsity Theater – Minneapolis, MN #
Apr 7 The Warehouse – Calgary, Alberta #
Apr 8 The Starlite Room – Edmonton, Alberta #
Apr 10 The Plaza – Vancouver, British Columbia #
Apr 15 The Boardwalk – Orangevale, CA #
Apr 16 Slim’s – San Francisco, CA #
Apr 21 The Clubhouse – Tempe, AZ #
Apr 24 Gothic Theatre – Englewood, CO #

% – with Saint Alvia Cartel from Ontario
# – with Heartless Bastards from Cincinnati

Only about half of the dates from the tour have been posted so far. Stay tuned.

LISTEN: Q101 Acoustic Set
The ’59 Sound (acoustic) – The Gaslight Anthem
Here’s Looking At You Kid (acoustic) – The Gaslight Anthem
The Weight (The Band cover) – The Gaslight Anthem

[photo credit Daniel Ackerly]

December 11, 2008

Rustic warmth and seeping wistfulness

The honest, richly-spun folk of up-and-coming local musician Gregory Alan Isakov captivated a packed house in Denver last week as he opened for the Calexico show. I’ve written about the marvelous skiffle of Isakov’s “The Salt and The Sea” tune before, and have been appreciated the bright talent of this local artist in several venues across Colorado this year. I love to hear Gregory sing; his voice is really something special in the singer-songwriter pantheon, with hints of sly knowing, balanced with a warm and soaring verve.

“Gonna write one for you, the unwritable girl . . .”

Unwritable Girl – Gregory Alan Isakov
[from his 2007 album That Sea, The Gambler]

All pictures of Gregory’s set with Calexico are here.

Isakov is playing again this Friday night at Boulder’s B-Side Lounge with Wisconsin folk artist Peter Mulvey. If you haven’t heard Mulvey’s songs before, you should take a listen to this collaborative set that he recorded on WPLN with two other excellent Americana songwriters in the same vein: Jeffrey Foucault and Chris Smither. I’ve listened to this set many times when I need an infusion of something weighty and authentic.

In addition to a cover of “Buckets of Rain” that gets me every single time, this set also includes one of my favorite sad songs of the last few years, “Northbound 35.”

Train Home – Chris Smither

29 Cent Head – Peter Mulvey
Stripping Cane – Jeffrey Foucault

Lola – Chris Smither

Stranded in a Limousine – Peter Mulvey

Northbound 35 – Jeffrey Foucault
**highest rec**
Crocodile Man – Chris Smither
Shirt – Peter Mulvey

Secretariat – Jeffrey Foucault

Outside In – Chris Smither

The Road To Mallow – Peter Mulvey

Buckets of Rain (Dylan) – Jeffrey Foucault


TICKETS: Gregory Alan Isakov with Peter Mulvey
Friday, Dec 12 – B-Side Lounge in Boulder

[audio via]

November 9, 2008

as heard by my wild young heart, like directions on a cold dark night

They are called The Gaslight Anthem, they’re from New Jersey (natch) and they have struck chords of urgency and passion inside of me something fierce. Lead singer Brian Fallon grew up in a home four blocks from E Street (yes, that one) and their music pays a nod to urgent elements of Springsteen, the Hold Steady and Lucero. Bringing a punk aesthetic to the music of their idols, they embody an audacious belief that music can still be heard “like a shot through my skull to my brain.”

I’ve been listening to this acoustic set all afternoon, and identifying so strongly with the high-resolution magnification of emotions laid bare in these lines. There is a resignation that becomes razor-sharp when all the punk defiance in the ragged yell of the album version is stripped away. The way Fallon sings in “Great Expectations” about seeing tail lights last night in dreams about his old life, and the baldfaced lineeverybody left me, Mary, why wouldn’t you?” just absolutely kills me.

Not that it needed it (their album The ’59 Sound is easily one of my tops this year), but these acoustic versions completely reinvent their music in sepia shades of Nebraska.

Great Expectations (live at Alternative Press) **highest rec**
The ’59 Sound (live at Alternative Press)
The Backseat (live at Alternative Press)
Here’s Lookin At You Kid (live on FNX Radio)
High Lonesome (live on FNX Radio)
The ’59 Sound (live on FNX Radio)


And two bonus tracks from Berlin this summer –

Stand By Me –> I’da Called You Woody, Joe
I’m On Fire (Springsteen cover)

[header photo credit]

October 2, 2008

Beck acoustic at London’s Union Chapel

Lately when I’m feeling overwhelmed and maybe a little melancholy, nothing salves the wound better than this acoustic Beck recording from April 28, 2003, beneath the soaring Gothic arches of London’s Union Chapel.

His bluesy, folky, Sea-Change-heavy set is sublime, featuring warmly crystalline audio and a dang fine setlist. Amidst the sad songs of a relationship dying, Beck peppers the evening with rarities like the Sea Change Japanese bonus track “Ship In A Bottle” and his oldie song “One Foot In The Grave,” which first appeared on his debut full-length album, Feb 1994′s eclectic and experimental Stereopathic Soulmanure (alongside tracks like the minute-long “Jagermeister Pie”).

The grizzled “Fourteen Rivers, Fourteen Floods” is from One Foot In The Grave later that same year, and while “It’s All In Your Mind” eventually made it onto Sea Change in 2002, it was originally a Japanese bonus track from the same ’94 independent release.

The evening has a very cohesive theme holding together the songs, and this is one of my favorite live recordings of late.

APRIL 28, 2003

The Golden Age
It’s All In Your Mind
Guess I’m Doing Fine
-talking 1- (Justin Timberlake’s “haunted house music”)
Lonesome Tears
Nicotine & Gravy
Lost Cause
Ship In A Bottle
-talking 2-
14 Rivers, 14 Floods
Nobody’s Fault But My Own (video)
Lord Only Knows
Hott In Here (Nelly cover)
One Foot In The Grave


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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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