Tonight in Portland I had the super-pleasure of seeing Drew Grow and Janet Weiss perform raucous, airtight covers under their new band name Slang. Both taking a night away from their other music (Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives are finishing mixing a new album, and Janet is busy kicking ass with Quasi and Wild Flag), Slang just radiated joy and fun – two things that I so love in my music, and often miss.
This song has long been a favorite of mine, and was one of the covers they performed tonight. I bought it on a little $5 CD single, backed with “Handle With Care” (Traveling Wilburys). So good.
Townes Van Zandt’s song “If I Needed You” is one of the most quietly sad laments I know of, an asking for help, even while not quite asking. In a session posted on World Cafe on Friday, the Mumford kids take a shot at this song and wring out all the latent desperation that underlies the words. On the last verse, when Marcus cranks it up to a wail, it no longer becomes a polite request, but more of an exhortation yelled into the unresponsive silence of an empty room.
On Saturday night, Seattle’s Pickwicktore through Denver on a short tour, and the energy in the Hi-Dive was palpable. Their music leans towards the toe-tapping, hip-shaking soul variety, but when they burned their way into this Damien Jurado cover and then “The Ostrich” by Lou Reed’s The Primitives as their penultimate song, they showed that they can also rage like a proper punk band. Holy mackerel, being in the front row for this just about killed me (in the best possible way).
This band keeps surprising me, and from the looks of the packed club on Saturday night, they keep surprising and converting increasingly large circles of fans. I predict good things coming with their debut full-length that they’ve almost finished. Watch out.
I’m sitting by my window watching a late summer storm brew and foment. The thunder is rolling in the distance as tree branches thrash around in the wind; all the humidity and grey heaviness of this afternoon is finally ready to break. The line I just sang to myself in the quiet kitchen, without thinking, was “a big old hurricane / she’s blowing our way…” This song keeps following me around (because Patty Griffin pens some of the best songs around, anywhere) to keep reminding me of stubborn lessons.
The version that always gets me is The Local Strangers‘ take on it, and the way that the hurricane of Aubrey Zoli absolutely owns this song, invoking that gospel certainty as she raises her arms and sings the truth. I watched Matt and Aubrey slay this song at silvery sunset on the beach at Doe Bay Fest a few Sundays ago, and it was one of the purest and most stunning moments of the fest for me. For as many times as I hear them perform this song (they often end their shows with it), I always get chills — every time.
We keep waving and waving our arms in the air, but we’re all tired out.
When Seattle folk songwriter Noah Gundersen decided to cover Vic Chesnutt’s “Flirted With You All My Life” very late one night at this year’s Doe Bay Fest, it felt surreal. A bunch of us had gathered for a secret show after midnight on the field, lit by a few torches stuck in the grass. Noah sat next to Daniel Blue (Motopony), John Roderick (The Long Winters), and Bobby Bare Jr., and each songwriter took turns singing songs out into the darkness. Daniel stood up and sang one completely a cappella, his vibrato piercing the night like an unearthly arrow.
The Perseid meteor shower was showing off in earnest overhead, and I was sitting with a musician whose work I deeply appreciate, our heads craned back to see the flashes and streaks of dying stars above. We were there on an island accessible only by boat. The ocean stretched black and blending with the sky around us.
I was ambushed, then, as he sang.
Flirted with you all my life
even kissed you once or twice
even though I thought it was nice
I know, I’m not ready
When you touched a friend of mine
I thought I would lose my mind
though I found out with time
indeed, I was not ready
oh death, oh death, oh death
really, I’m not ready
when my mom was cancer-sick
she fought but then succumbed to it
but you made her beg for it
lord Jesus, I’m not ready
oh death, oh death, oh death
really, I’m not ready
It’s hard to write about the incongruous force I felt in that moment of wanting to stave off death like the song says, without sounding maudlin. But saturated as we were in late-summer-night happiness, feeling so damn young and so damn alive — this song was like a small plea out to the gaping universe. What is it about August that fools us sometimes into thinking that we’re untouchable? If ever there was a setting for believing in lies, it was this one.
The rueful smile on Noah’s face in this video as he sang, well it just hits me in the center. We know what’s waiting; while we flirt with each other and open-mouth kiss this life, we know. All of us wished, I think, that maybe the nastiness of death would just forget about us all there on that speck of land in the sea for another day, another summer. Another year.
I’m not ready.
You can listen to Noah Gundersen’s EP here; he blew all of us away during his regular sets at the fest as well, when not covering amazing songs on a firelit field. A solid (“highly-touted“) talent, with clever sharp phrasing and a commanding voice that makes you stop what you are doing and listen:
I haven’t been able to string together a review of the weekend yet; I think it will come out in trickles. Megan from the Music vs Misery blog and Adam from the Songs For The Day blog also came as part of our group this year, and their reviews are much more cogent and compelling than I am capable of assembling right now. I also agree with everything they wrote, so let’s just pretend they’re mine. Easy.
The 2004 Stars record Set Yourself On Fire splashed with a plunk into my tumult that year like a shimmery, potent anchor of harmonies belying the deeper layers of truth in their music. It remains a hard-and-fast favorite of mine, one that I still put on with regularity (often on long flights, for some reason) and should be part of every music lover’s collection.
In 2007 a remix/cover album of those songs came out called Do You Trust Your Friends?, where the fabulously talented musical community that Stars surrounds themselves with took shots at their own version of those songs, with sharp and illuminated results (I really like Jason Collett‘s contribution, and Apostle of Hustle’s caffeinated take).
This morning, Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie) tweeted this demo version of the title track that he recorded for the album, and which never appeared. It sounds like a terrific lost Postal Service track, and makes me so happy for interstellar collaborations.
Before the leader of the free world sort of sang this little ditty, Britain’s marvelous Ben Howard took on a cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s apparent summer smash hit “Call Me Maybe” on the BBC Lounge. Ben Howard was one of my favorite new artists that I featured on my Springtime mix with that stunner “Old Pine” (thanks Rinker), and Ben’s whole debut album Every Kingdom is a slow-building phenom of deeply-seated goodness.
Ben Howard got his footing as part of the Communion Records family, one of my favorite folk labels in the U.K. right now (um, because of their ability to casually make things like thishappen). I got to have beers with one of the founding dudes when I was in London in November, and I was deeply inspired by the slow, community-focused growth of the collective and the consistently terrific sound that they have curated through their Sunday night shows and carefully-signed roster.
I also got word the other day that they’re also opening a Nashville offshoot of Communion Records this Thursday, which, when combined with Third Man, will increase Nashville’s allure to me even more, if that’s possible.
I’ve heard this song, and covers of this song, roughly 847 times. It hasn’t made me feel the way this video does in a very long time. I love Daniel Blue, I love Motopony, and I will never tire of honesty in a church.
This is ab.so.lutely stunning, and penetrating all the way to the little crackly-lightning neuron connectors along the base of my spine, and the scattered hardened-black corroded outputs around my heart.
One of my favorite songs off one of the albums I’ve listened to the most in the last year, this new cover of Damien Jurado’s “Beacon Hill” is suffused through the warmed-up, knowing rasp of Jon Russell (of The Head and The Heart). It’s been on constant repeat for me this week, since it was unveiled as part of an extremely cool mini-series of covers over on Andrew Matson’s music column in the Seattle Times.
Get Saint Bartlett if you never did, and stream Damien’s entire new forthcoming record, Maraqopa, here. Highly recommended — is anyone else also hung up on “Life Away From The Garden” (in addition to “Working Titles,” of course) like I am?
Keep your ears tuned to Matson’s column for the Seattle Times (check out Pickwick’s!). I don’t know what covers are coming next, but they can’t help but be amazing if this is the magnetic songwriting fodder we have to work with.
This happened tonight not far from my home in Colorado. Gregory Alan Isakov is a state treasure, and I am a sucker for Springsteen covers that make me take in my breath sharply when I really should be sleeping.
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..."
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