December 29, 2010

A super new supergroup: Middle Brother


When I first read rumblings of the newly-formed “supergroup” collaboration between three artists who have all released incredibly strong albums in the last few years, I was eager to hear what they could cook up together. Imagine the expansive, sunny Laurel Canyon grooves of Dawes, the incisive pianowork and gruff yowl of Deer Tick, and the clever surf-tinged pop of Delta Spirit — all in one group. That seems to me like almost too much goodness for one album to hold.

The first track off the album proves all my suspicions:

STREAM: Me, Me, Me

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Download this track as a free Christmas present from the band, over on their website. Their full-length self-titled debut album will be out in March on Partisan Records. Yes, please.

November 27, 2010

you get a brick and you drop it down on me


From the earliest roots of music in our souls, I have to think that melody and faith and God and sex and death are all intermingled in a completely inseparable way, at the basest of levels. I am drawn to hearing other people untangle these things in honest songs, through unflinching confessionals. Like the blunt-force emotional honesty in “Wake Up Dead Man” by U2, “In The Dark” by Josh Ritter, “Casimir Pulaski Day” by Sufjan Stevens, or most of the songs by Mumford & Sons or David Bazan (just to name a few off the top of my head), the Deer Tick song “Christ Jesus” is a howl of questioning from the deepest parts of the artist.

This year’s Black Dirt Sessions is a stripped, often-beautiful collection of songs tracing a blindingly difficult year for frontman John McCauley, one that took him close to a breakdown of sorts. Over a piano dirge, you won’t hear a more guttural wail on a song this year – it brings chills to the back of my neck.

Christ Jesus – Deer Tick

Said the bottom of his belly, that’s where he would keep me
Christ Jesus, as I’m floating
you get a brick and you drop it down on me

It’s the time of the week no one sees but me
Christ Jesus, as I’m drowning
and I struggle to breathe, it’s your face I don’t see
Christ Jesus, please don’t leave us
if in peace you’ll keep us
well then you should have believed us

After first being wrongly distracted by McCauley’s plaid kilt and California Raisins tattoos when I saw Deer Tick live at Monolith in 2009, I’ve been letting their music grow into me with its smart tentacles. I’ve mentioned before that Deer Tick reminds me often of Ryan Adams in several of his incarnations (Gold, Heartbreaker, Love is Hell), or perhaps Tom Waits.

This recent video McCauley recorded for The Voice Project is simply arresting, so much so that I had to make it into an mp3 to takeaway.

L.I.E. (The Shivers) – John McCauley

Fri-Jan-14, Boston, MA – Middle East Upstairs
Sat-Jan-15, Providence, RI – Met Café
Sun-Jan-16, Northampton, MA – Iron Horse
Wed-Jan-19, New York, NY – City Winery
Thu-Jan-20, New Haven, CT – Daniel Street
Fri-Jan-21, Philadelphia, PA – First Unitarian Church Sanctuary
Sat-Jan-22, York, PA – Strand Capitol Performing Arts Center
Sun-Jan-23, Washington, DC – Rock and Roll Hotel

November 25, 2010

broken hearts and dirty windows

broken hearts and dirty windows

I started my morning with a hearty sing-in-the-shower rendition of “Angel From Montgomery” (those acoustics!) in the sticky warmth of Florida, and am ending it tonight back in the ten degree weather in clear cold Colorado. My sister asked over coffee what song I had been singing, and a discussion on John Prine followed. John Prine has stuck in my mind today, all his perfect lyrical constructions and simple folk truth, and was the soundtrack to my flight home this evening (while I finished Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and openly cried fat hot tears on the plane, but hey that’s another story).

If you own an old pickup truck (or can borrow one) to traverse some dusty roads in the countryside, this year’s Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows compilation of John Prine covers sounds especially good. The title of the album comes from the 1972 song “Souvenirs” (“Broken hearts and dirty windows / make life difficult to see”), and I’ve been meaning to mention this comp for months. The whole record is obviously rich because of the fodder to work with and the superb gathering of artists contributing, but I think Conor Oberst and his Mystic Valley Band contribute my favorite cover of the bunch:

My car is stuck in Washington and I cannot find out why
Come sit beside me on the swing and watch the angels cry
It’s anybody’s ballgame, it’s everybody’s fight
And the streetlamp said as he nodded his head
It’s lonesome out tonight

Stylistically this absolutely fits in with the rollicking twang of their own compositions on 2008′s Outer South, and Conor’s caged, restless energy shines through brilliantly.

But there are so many great tracks on this collection, from the Avett Brothers singin’ about blowing up your TV and moving to the country, to Josh Ritter’s “Mexican Home” (which I got to see him perform live in Telluride), to My Morning Jacket’s “All The Best” (reminiscent of the golden buoyancy of the track they contributed to the I’m Not There soundtrack). Add to that a glowing Justin Vernon, the pensive Justin Townes Earle, the heartbreak of Deer Tick, then pin it all together with Prine’s first-rate songwriting and I am sold.

Stream the whole thing and buy it over on Bandcamp for just ten bucks. They’ve got it tagged with classifications of “indie, Nashville.” Sounds about right to me.

My only frown came from the fact that no one covered “Speed of The Sound of Loneliness,” my favorite Prine tune. Luckily Amos Lee did a perfect one in 2003:

Speed Of The Sound of Loneliness (John Prine) – Amos Lee

April 8, 2010

If you lost your way, I’m seeing you through (new Deer Tick)


There’s a raggedy-haggard old country vibe to Deer Tick‘s John McCauley’s rasp, and on this song it could damn near make Tom Waits cry. But lest you think they only have an introspective sad-bastard wave to drown under, you must also see the youthful punk vibrancy that they bring to their live show, in order to understand them.

Deer Tick hails from the corner of the country up in Providence, RI, and this song is the first listen we have from their forthcoming Black Dirt Sessions LP (due June 8 on Partisan Records).

545Twenty Miles – Deer Tick

It’s rough and sad, but melodic and beautifully moody. The Black Dirt Sessions (named for the upstate NY studio where it was recorded) seems more introspective and raw than the jangle and clamor of last year’s Born on Flag Day.

They stole my heart when we all sang wholeheartedly with them on a Beatles cover at Monolith last September. Yup. Check them out at Coachella or Lollapalooza, or one of their 32 other upcoming tour dates — for a good time and a soundtrack for your whiskey. A documentary about the band, City of Sin, was also completed last year and should be out in 2010.

[photo from my Monolith Festival 2009 set]

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December 28, 2009

What would you do if I sang out of tune?

Another great music moment from 2009, while we’re gettin’ end-of-the-year nostalgic: John McCauley from Deer Tick singing in the crowd with me and many of my friends at the Monolith stage in September. Wow, we really fail on the second verse (but a terrific moment regardless).

Deer Tick puts on a marvelous, blistering live show — even whilst McCauley wears a kilt, a Betty Boop shirt, and white aviator sunglasses. Hey, sometimes it just works. Deer Tick’s Born On Flag Day was a solid contender this year and worth your time. They also released an iTunes-only More Fuel For The Fire EP recently to tide us over while they finish up their third album, due out in 2010.

Baltimore Blues No. 1 (live) – Deer Tick

And a favorite ragged old sad-sap one from Born On Flag Day:

Smith Hill – Deer Tick

I could drink myself to death tonight
Or I could stand and give a toast
To those who made it out alive
It’s you I’ll miss the most…

September 10, 2009

Monolith is this weekend!


The third annual Monolith Festival takes over the dramatically scenic crags of Red Rocks this weekend, with more music than you can shake a stick at or, say, run up and down a gazillion stairs for. You wouldn’t think it possible, but the organizers manage to fit five separate stages within the historic park, taking full advantage of the gorgeous views of Denver in the distance and the rosy rocks all around.

For the last two years, Monolith has packed in a sizable number of good artists, both well-known and fledgling newbies. This year is no different, with dozens of folks I want to see at what still feels like a boutique festival, in a very good way. You can get thisclose to the bands and get from stage to stage fairly easily (while toning your glutes — did I mention the stairs?). I plan to make the very most of my weekend this weekend — tickets are still available, and I think you should come too.

This year, Fuel/Friends contributor-pal Dainon is coming to the fest with me, to help cover all the goodness that is rarin’ to occur. We’ve each picked a handful of bands we are putting down as “can’t miss” on our Gigbot schedules. Who would you add? And why aren’t you coming? Oh, you are? Okay, good.


cymbalsHB: Simply from the band name Cymbals Eat Guitars, this Staten Island band had me at hello, before I even experienced their massively sweeping, shimmering music that alternates between chaotic lo-fi punk and the most enormous moments of Explosions In The Sky. There’s a lot of buzz behind this group after only a self-released album (it grew wings when Pitchfork named it Best New Music]. It’s like Chocolate Eats Guacamole, or Using Your Turn Signal Eats Long Hot Showers. I mean, if good eats good, you end up with something even more amazing, methinks. Let’s go see.

And The Hazy Sea – Cymbals Eat Guitars
[Saturday 5:40pm, stage]

KRS481_CDF142_outDM: There’s a reason why I saw Thao with The Get Down Stay Down three times in a row, three concerts in a row, three days in a row earlier this year (something I refer to as my own personal Three Thao Tour) … and it has to do with the honesty that accompanies a Thao Nguyen performance. She loses herself in her craft every single time she plays: the eyes shut and the guitar is wielded like a battle axe. Now that she’s got a new album on the horizon, with lots more shiny new songs to show off, this is an unequivocal no-brainer.

Bag of Hammers – Thao Nguyen
[Saturday 2:30pm, main stage]

frightenedrabbit-02-bigHB: I apparently like having my insides pulled out of me in devastating fashion. This makes me a good candidate for sorority girl in a slasher film or, since we’re actually talking in metaphors here, attending a Frightened Rabbit show. Fronted by a pair of literate brothers from Selkirk, Scotland, Frightened Rabbit released one of my favorite albums in 2007 and puts on a powerfully visceral, poundingly jangly, truly honest show. I will not miss this one.

The Modern Leper – Frightened Rabbit
[Saturday 3:30pm, main stage]

cotton-jonesDM: I hesitate to say I want to see Cotton Jones, only because it doesn’t seem like they’ve a rabid following, not that I can tell. I’d kinda sorta like to keep it that way, too. Liked ‘em when they were Page France but, with the organ in the mix, listening to their album is akin to filling my mouth with candy jawbreakers and not wanting to share. If you decide to show, just try and keep it down, yeah?

Blood Red Sentimental Blues – Cotton Jones
[Saturday 7:00pm, stage]

ok-goHB: Yes, OK Go does that genius dance in their backyard. Four years ago when that video came out, we didn’t have the luxury that we do now of sitting at a bar with friends watching it on an iPhone, as I did a couple of weeks ago. And guess what? It’s still marvelous. And I’ve always truly dug the sexy, driving pop sound of their music and its roots in semiotic intelligentsia (frontman Damian Kulash majored in it, and loves to create word images and twist a lyric so it rolls off the tongue just right). Dancing or no, this will be a really fun set to see.

You’re So Damn Hot – OK Go
[Saturday 4:45pm, main stage]

chromeo-coverDM: It seems like Fancy Footwork has been around forever now, right? Do you know Chromeo? Do you know they could prolly work you into a dancier, sweatier mess than Girl Talk? Did you know they lucked themselves straight into a time machine, picked up some sounds from both Hall and Oates in 1978 and polished them off for the rest of us to benefit from? Well, if you didn’t … you do now.

Fancy Footwork – Chromeo
[Sunday 8:45pm, Southern Comfort stage, also DJing the VIP/Opening party Friday night]

born-on-flag-day-deer-tickHB: Nothing about a band called Deer Tick can be mistaken for enchanted twee pop, or, as their MySpace page says, they are “0% indie rock. Believe it, butt-head.” There’s a good helping of rustic twang here, but not that this is a whistlin’ Dixie mullet-hunting way to spend an hour of your Sunday at Monolith. Think the old-time radio sounds of M. Ward (also on the bill this weekend) meets the rowdiest of The Felice Brothers but with a piercingly ragged, whiskey-soaked howl, and you’ll be on the right track.

Smith Hill – Deer Tick
[Sunday 7:00pm, stage]

edward-sharpe-the-magnetic-zeros-from-below-2009DM: Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros are the new freak-folky Devendra Banharts of the festival. If their Dave Letterman network television debut taught us anything, it’s that all we need is love. And beards. And an absolute bare minimum of four tambourines.

40 Day Dream – Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes
[Saturday 3:00pm, Southern Comfort stage]


[my pic up top from last year’s fest, poster by]

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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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