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 these early months of 2015 with Nathaniel Rateliff (a fellow chapel session alum), and that is going to be a pretty goddamn good pairing.

Also, just announced: Fuel/Friends is pleased to be presenting Gregory’s March 1 Colorado Springs show at Stargazers Theater! Ticket info here.

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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



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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.]

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.]

June 7, 2014

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #30: David Wax Museum

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Whoa. So this is the first chapel session we recorded using the new Blue Mics that were donated to the cause by a wonderful reader named Tyler Barth in California, just simply because he is a fan of what we are doing here. I’m no sonic whiz (for example, I’ll happily listen to crappy-quality songs ripped off YouTube) — but I can flat-out say that this is the best sounding chapel session we’ve ever done, and we’ve done some pretty damn terrific sounding ones before this. So thank you, Tyler. We’ve got a handful more sessions already in the can with these mics, and now I’m quadruply-thrilled to hear what’s next.

David Wax Museum is a tremendously talented band, and I’ve been a fan for years. Their voices ring true and urgent and clear together, and they’re a joy to watch because they take so much delight in what they’re doing. Then again, I’d take great joy in my work if I got to use an accordion, a cajon, shell anklet percussion, a donkey jawbone, a fiddle, and basically every other instrument that nine-year-old you would want to get your hands on and run around the backyard playing.

There’s always been a trademark español undercurrent to much of their music, fostered by David’s fellowship in Mexico after he graduated from Harvard. He spent a year studying Mexican son music, first forming a Mexican roots band before the David Wax Museum came into being.

On this session they were augmented by sometime-band-member and full-time-David’s-cousin Jordan Wax on the accordion, and I could see the specialness of their music created together. Also, this is the first chapel session I’ve hosted with a glowingly pregnant woman performing, and I think we can all agree that that little kiddo (she’s born now, and on tour with the band) must have had one of the *most joyful* in utero experiences of any baby in 2013.

It was happy to watch, imagining backflips.



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FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #30
DAVID WAX MUSEUM
July 7, 2013 – Shove Chapel
Colorado Springs, CO

Big Heart of Yours

This is such a wonderful, specific love song, and it expands like a kaleidoscope with each verse and voice and instrument added. Love songs should be specific. This one paints a distinct picture of a lover with a big heart, low voice, trembling lips, and dark eyes. I like how he invites her in this song to “break me” and also “seep into me.” Sometimes we need both, don’t we?



Let Me Rest

This traditional-sounding song is laden with a community weight of a gospel singalong, and I had to look up it up to see if it was their original creation, or a hundred-year old hymn. Suz’s clear voice rings out to lead — and if we’re talking about the gospel, she is like a minister here, leading the other four dudes in the band with her violin and her voice. This song is about resting with things that we don’t understand, best I can tell, and it’s nice to have the community voices behind us, anchoring that sometimes-challenging sentiment.



Born With A Broken Heart

This is still one of my favorite David Wax Museum songs (I named that Spring 2011 mix for a lyric from this song), and this was a request I made that afternoon. They jumped into it wholeheartedly, as you can hear, and this chapel rendition is even more mellifluously cacophonous than the album version. I adore it. You can hear the hands hitting the cajon, you can hear the clackety shells ’round ankles, you can watch the joy in the dueling accordions. “Some of us come with new hearts, most of us come with used hearts / baby, why do you look so sad?”



La Guacamaya

This is their cover song, a traditional Mexican folk song from Veracruz. I was pretty proud of my high school Spanish that allowed me to glean, without googling, this this was a song about some sort of poor little bird (spoiler: IT’S A PARROT) being urged to fly away. There’s some residual high school extra credit waiting to be earned from Sra. Navarro for that one, I think.

There was so much joy on their faces and effervescent laughter in the church when they performed this, the yelling call-and-response. Also, the cajon is hands down my favorite thing about this entire session – the way Philip Mayer drums it for all he’s got. Later that night at my house show, I think this is the song that David stood outside for, and yelled his lines from beyond the windows in the darkness. It was tremendous.

ZIP: DAVID WAX MUSEUM CHAPEL SESSION

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SEE ALL PICTURES OVER AT THE FUEL/FRIENDS FACEBOOK

[as usual, thank you to the wonderful sound production from my Blank Tape Records homies, and Kevin Ihle who took all the marvelous video and still photography]

April 11, 2014

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #29: Vandaveer

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Sometimes two voices wend together so powerfully and perfectly that you stop frozen in your tracks the first time you really listen to them. I felt that way about Vandaveer when I heard their album Dig Down Deep in the hot summer of 2011 (and it went on to be one of my favorite records of that year). With roots in both Kentucky & DC, Vandaveer is the project of Mark Charles Heidinger with Rose Guerin perfectly complementing his voice with hers. J. Tom Hnatow (of These United States) plays dobro/slide guitar.

Mark has the most unusual voice, in that it reminds me of a wonderful female blues/jazz singer — maybe the rueful and bittersweet beauty of Nina Simone. It nestles underneath your skin. As complement, and sometimes taking the lead, Rose Guerin’s deeply-saturated, strong alto is generous and powerful. Together they are really stunning. If you haven’t listened to their music, I urge you to.

Mark was once called “The Greatest Songwriter of His Generation.” In the article, Paul Gleason remarks that: “‘Dig Down Deep’ was the moment of epiphany, the moment of spiritual awakening, when Mark reminded me of what art can do when it reaches its highest potential – that is, how it can close the gap that divides us into separate beings.” I had a very similar connection with the song standing under the staggering, light-drenched architecture of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia a few winters ago.

I’d known Mark Heidinger’s work over the years through his connections with These United States (with Jesse Elliott, currently from Ark Life), as well as his role of lead singer in The Apparitions (I still run to their phenomenally-catchy song “Electricity + Drums” on the regular). I’ve loved every musical iteration he has explored, and this chapel session is another stop on that variegated journey. It was a pleasure to welcome these guys.

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FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #29: VANDAVEER
June 6, 2013
Shove Chapel, Colorado College

Dig Down Deep
YOU GUYS, I have sang along to the harmonies on this song probably 100 times, usually in my car, where the reception is always breathless and astounded wonder. I finally got to try those same “ohhh ohhh ohhhh”s IN REAL LIFE and WITH THE ACTUAL BAND. Pret-ty pleased. This is a such a great, great, great song. Dazzling and moving like a modern gospel hymn.

Down In The Willow Garden
The latest Vandaveer record Oh, Willie, Please is a bold exploration of murder ballads. There are a lot of terrible things that people do to each other – drowning, stabbing the woman you love with a dagger, and other lighthearted mirth. As Stephen Deusner writes in his terrific Paste Magazine review of their new record, “New folk revival bands like Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers and The Avett Brothers reimagine old-time music as uniformly fervent and life-affirming and white, but there’s some fucked-up shit in the American songbook.”

You might wonder, as I did — why the hell these murder ballad songs? Mark did many interviews about this genre and their decision to make a whole record of these gory melodies (– they donated 10% of the crowd-sourced funds raised for this record to a domestic violence shelter in Kentucky, actually). Mark said:

“I do think we humanfolk have long been fascinated by the darker, gruesome aspects of the human condition. It’s the same reason shows like CSI or those real-life crime documentaries are popular today. People are strangely attracted to acts of evil. It’s a form a voyeurism on some level. For my part, I wanted to participate in the process of continuing the life of these songs. They all come from the public domain. They belong to all of us, and so I think it’s important to revisit, to reinterpret, to engage with them as living artifacts of our collective experience.”

The Great Gray (with Ark Life)

It was great fun to welcome our friends in Ark Life into the church to loan their stomping and clapping percussion to this last song. This is another song from the tremendous Dig Down Deep record.

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ZIP: VANDAVEER CHAPEL SESSION


SHOW ANNOUNCEMENT!
When Vandaveer played at my house last summer, they were absolutely riveting. I swear that none of us breathed in that room when they lit into it.

This time we are thrilled to have them playing the wonderful restored gym at Ivywild School a week from tonight! I am so pleased to get to see them again next week (Friday, April 18) and to introduce a whole new bunch of people to their voices.

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TICKETS ARE ON-SALE NOW!

January 21, 2014

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #28: Desirae Garcia

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I’m strong for my size, but I’m small / …and I don’t want to carry your load anymore,” Desirae Garcia sang these words as her opening lyrics for this chapel session at the La Foret campgrounds during the Meadowgrass Music Festival last year (same day we recorded Dawes). The words are indicative of how effortlessly direct her songs can seem in their simplicity, but one listen will show how those unassuming songs pack a punch through their quiet and insistent assertion.

I first wrote about Desi (who is also 1/5 of the celebrated Colorado Americana outfit The Haunted Windchimes) on my springtime mix, with her song “Hardly Are You Lonely,” off her Ill-Fitting EP (Blank Tape Records). I marveled at how her songs navigate dark waters with fearlessness, a flower on the ocean floor. Desi also sings with Planes, who contributed a hummably retro track to my summer mix this past year.

Her work with the ‘Chimes is wonderful, but I’ve so enjoyed watching her bloom through songs all her own, and this chapel session is long overdue for such a light. All through her leanly-sculpted melodies shines a beautifully resolute voice.

This is a simple session that I think will stick with you.


FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #28: DESIRAE GARCIA
May 25, 2013 – Taylor Memorial Chapel at La Foret
Meadowgrass Music Festival

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Honest Song
The songs that Desi pens are ephemeral in the sense that you could almost dismiss them in a wisp, in a moment. But Desi doesn’t let them, or herself, be dismissed. The songs sometimes seem unfinished and stop abruptly, or pause like a thought you lost — but that’s my favorite part, because they just drive you back to listen again. This is indeed an honest song. video is here

Bed of Roses
This song is from her Ill-Fitting EP, from where the collection of songs draws its name. “You weren’t listening to a word I had to say and now I’m ill-fitting…” she sings, with the sweet additions here of a delicate Casio melody from Alex Koshak (a multi-instrumentalist and drummer in town who plays with roughly 27 bands) and Desi’s bandmate Inaiah Lujan from the Haunted Windchimes on guitar and vocal harmonies.

Flaws
I like this thing there where Desi sings and two talented gentlemen croon her gentle backup harmonies. For a song that honestly addresses things like flaws, struggles, and enemies, it sounds damn charming. video is here

Dances Fantastic (Nena Dinova cover)
This is a pretty amazing cover, of a 2002 song originally by Neva Dinova (Saddle Creek). Where theirs is sonically spacey and full of weird wonderful sounds, Desi’s version is sweetly direct, but with that hint of darkness. The effect is a bit unnerving, like some David Lynch soundtrack contribution. Wonderful.

Second Hand Love (Connie Francis cover)
Finally, Desi gave us a bonus cover song, because we couldn’t decide which one we wanted. We’ll take both, definitely. Desi’s rendition of this 1962 top-ten hit single turns it from a shuffling two-step dance number over to something spare and much more sad. video is here


ZIP: DESIRAE GARCIA CHAPEL SESSION

all three chapel

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desi4


Also, good news from the chapel and the mixing studio! We are working concertedly to get caught up with releasing all the wonderful sessions we have recorded in the last few months. You have the following to look forward to:

Vandaveer (with Ark Life joining for one song)
David Wax Museum
Phox
Small Houses
Alex Dezen (of The Damnwells)
Gregory Alan Isakov

Yeah! Those are coming in that order, in the coming weeks and months.


[photos and video as always by Kevin Ihle, audio production by the wonderful Blank Tape Records]

October 30, 2013

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #27: Dawes

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At the Meadowgrass Music Festival in Colorado’s Black Forest in May, right before the fires ravaged the surrounding area but left the festival grounds untouched, we brought three of the members of Dawes into the small historic chapel where we recorded The Barr Brothers last year (and Desirae Garcia also this year).

There is a blissfully-simple openness to this chapel session — it’s just the three guys, one guitar, and a whole hell of a lot of unjaded harmonies in that echoey room with charming folk-art paintings on the adobe walls.

All of the Dawes songs I have been drawn to the most over the years are the ones with a vulnerable, wide-open heart on display, and harmonies to match. There is something in that sound that resonates with this (vulnerable, wide-open) heart, and today is a perfect time for me to post this. Sometimes opening yourself up to being vulnerable sucks, but Dawes makes it sound so damn alluring.

This sort of golden, expansive, late Sixties Laurel Canyon sound is how I love Dawes best, and I was thrilled to get to sit there while this happened and now to share it with you. I was interested to read of the band’s connections with both Jackson Browne and Elvis Costello on this record (?!) and the resulting songs wouldn’t sound out of place alongside either of those guys’ output.

This little session is one for the windows down in the hills.


FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION: DAWES
May 25, 2013 – Meadowgrass Music Festival
La Foret Campgrounds / Taylor Memorial Adobe Chapel

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Side Effects
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that you probably should not ever listen to this while sitting in your darkened living room alone with a glass of something amber. All the ghosts, all the other paths you took instead, all the aches — they will accost you. And, of course, this might be alright. But be warned that this is the best kind of sweet and plaintive and sad killer.




Someone Will
Those harmonies. I mean, COME ON.




Hey Lover (Blake Mills)
With a chorus that will stick in your head for weeks, this song also has charming lyrics like “I wanna raise with you and watch our younglings hatch / fuckin’ make the first letters of their first names match.” As our sound guy Conor told me later regarding that line: “A well placed fuckin’ is such a treat.” I agree.

Blake Mills used to be in the forerunner band to Dawes with Taylor Goldsmith (a band called Simon Dawes), so this is a charming choice of hybrid-cover.



ZIP: DAWES CHAPEL SESSION

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[video and photos by Kevin Ihle, as always, and the superb audio work from the Bourgal brothers at Blank Tape Records]

October 7, 2013

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #26: Will Johnson (of Centro-matic)

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“Life is wide,” Will Johnson told me, long past midnight at my kitchen table on a work night, a row of empty bottles between us. His eyes flash brightly as he listens to my stories, and I to his. My heart was ground-up meat the night he was in town, and even though my stories had nothing to do with anyone he knew, he elbowed his way into some truths with me as protectively as if he’d known me for years. And indeed, I felt as if he had.

This chapel session similarly feels summoned from some sort of ether that I completely understand, although the songs and the stories are all his. There’s a shining acuity, and this puncture-wound freshness in lyrics like, “and you were laughing that transparent laugh of one with a real broke-ass heart.” Will writes amazing, desolate songs with so much space and thought in them. They are the kinds of torn and weary homilies that I love from folks like Townes Van Zandt. His voice echoes off all the walls in the church and sinks straight into the cracks in me.

If you haven’t met Will yet, he fronts the bands Centro-matic and South San Gabriel, and also has been part of some rad collaboration projects that I love: Monsters of Folk (with Conor Oberst, Jim James, and M. Ward), the smoky duet record he did with Jason Molina, and that Woody Guthrie New Multitudes record with Jay Farrar, Jim James, and Anders Parker last year. He is a gem, among the best. And he is on the road down the West Coast next week with Dave Bazan, in their new musical project together, Overseas.


“Life is wide.”

I wrote that on the inside of a discarded bottle cap the next day as I cleaned up. If it’s long in duration, it’s wide in possibility, in unexpected connection.

That bottle cap is sitting on my bookshelf, as a reminder.


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FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #26: WILL JOHNSON
April 24, 2013 – Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs

You Will Be Here, Mine
This is the best version of this song I have ever heard.

There’s no way to say this without sounding maudlin, but here it is: this song makes me reflexively get a lump in my throat, as sure as a rubber mallet on the kneecap makes you kick. There is something in that stairstep progression of melody at the end of each line that just flat-out breaks my heart on this extremely primal level of sadness that is different from a rational cognitive sadness.

I’ve been kind of knocked flat by the brilliantly unresolved quality of this song, off his latest album Scorpion, since I first heard it.




Little Raider
I don’t know who the protagonist of this story is, but after hearing all the layers that Will describes seeing about who she is, I absolutely feel I know her, broke-ass heart and all.




I, The Kite
This is the best version of this song I have ever heard.

I requested that he play this old one, which was written about Will’s divorce and soundtracked mine, pulverizing me the first time I heard it in 2008. If we’re on the subject of best-worsts, I think the line about “and we tried innocence and we tried formaldehyde / in the end, you were left with the strings and I, the kite” is probably one of the most bitingly flawless collection of words to ever sung describe the end of a relationship. But there’s also something I can’t quite articulate in how purely and clearly-resonant he sings those words out into the room.




Going Back Song (Baptist Generals)
So this song first baffled me, because it seems really simple. When Will first launched into this cover by these Denton, TX/Sub Pop Records friends of his, it kinda sounded like a grocery list, a forgetful Post-it note to oneself: has anybody seen my bag?

But then you realize that it is a song about leaving.

It’s a song about the sidelong glance and the slow shuffle along the wall, towards the door. It is completely soaked in regret, about no longer being clean, about being cross but wanting someone you love to know that they are not the reason why.

You’ve had a bag packed all the time, waiting.

ZIP FILE: WILL JOHNSON CHAPEL SESSION



[more pics from the session are on the Fuel/Friends Facebook page, all taken by Kevin Ihle. Audio magic, as always, by the fellas at Blank Tape Records.]

Next chapel session: DAWES.

August 6, 2013

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #25: Pickwick

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Pickwick is a magnetic, six-person band from Seattle that draws people to stop what they are doing and listen, to pause in their conversations and move closer to the stage. Ever since the very first time I saw frontman Galen Disston sing like a man possessed in front of this generous and tightly-wound band of musicians, I was completely taken.

The first songs I heard from them were soulful, old-feeling jams like “Hacienda Motel” and “Blackout” that still give me great joy (and a healthy amount of toe-tapping/hip-swaying). Seeing them live is akin to a tsunami — we all broke the stage together at Doe Bay Fest 2011, and that was a tremendous moment. But the longer I have followed these guys, the more I notice the darker currents swirling up and the complexities emerge.

Last weekend Pickwick headlined Seattle’s Capitol Hill Block Party, and I loved the reactions. The Stranger wrote about their set, marveling over how this band is not the “polite blue-eyed soul” that lots of us associate with the Pickwick name; the author is right that there is a taut thread of shadow running right through the bloody center of this band, and in the live setting it burns palpably. Perhaps this chapel session evokes especially strongly the bonecrushing post-SXSW fatigue, but I love the darker currents here, the layered heaviness that allows these songs to take on a new shape than I had noticed before.

Also, that Rufus Wainwright cover? Get on out of town.


As always, you can download all the tracks for free below (zip file also at the bottom), and make sure to check out all 24 of the past sessions on the right sidebar.

FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #25: PICKWICK
Recorded at Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs
St. Patrick’s Day 2013, nighttime

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Santa Rosa
I notice hands, all the time. Right now thinking of each of my friends, I can picture their hands. To me, they are like faces but almost more expressive. As you watch these videos of Galen, you might also be mesmerized by the hands that alternately seem to channel the spirits, and knead themselves as he kinesthetically works all the songs out of his lungs. His hands elegantly interpret the songs in a subconscious complement that adds to the songs these guys orchestrate.

Brother Roland
We recorded this session on a Sunday night, with all the shadows gathering, our bellies full of the Irish shepherd’s pie I’d made and the Guinness we had paired it with. It was quiet in the church, after their long hot bright week at SXSW. I was half-expecting Pickwick to blow the roof off the place as they had done in all the big, loud, shiny halls I had seen them in before. The restraint was instead a welcome, haunting oasis. This song gave me goosebumps, from these eerie opening loops – and I still get them now listening back.

The unsettled, beautiful feeling that this song left me with was similar to this Werkmeister Harmoniak movie I keep trying to watch. It’s like swimming up to the surface in a confusing dream.

Halls of Columbia
Starting with the chimey chopsticks piano duet of Cassady and Michael (watch video), this song is the closest my hips got to swaying, even as it is one of the most wrenching songs in their repertoire – seeming to wrestle with spirituality and our roots. As this song congeals, I find myself noticing the instincts of this band in the give and take.

Foolish Love (Rufus Wainwright)
I always ask the bands if there is someone else’s song that they would like to end the chapel session with, and most have something in mind — sometimes an old friend that they cover often, sometimes a wonderfully spur of the moment contrivance. This cover of the first half of the first song on Rufus Wainwright’s haunting self-titled 1998 debut album was definitely an off-the-cuff experiment gone blissfully right. It is uncanny how Galen’s voice hovers over the water, and shimmers strongly through the ether in the same way that Rufus’s does.



ZIP: PICKWICK CHAPEL SESSION

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All pictures from the chapel session here.



UPCOMING CHAPEL SESSIONS:
In case you haven’t been following along with my adventures on “The Instagram,” we have six more incredible chapel sessions in the bag that we are working through final audio production for, and that you can look forward to in the coming months:
-Will Johnson
-Dawes
-Desirae Garcia
-Vandaveer
(with some help from Ark Life on a tune)
-David Wax Museum
-Phox!

Summer has us on a bit of a slow-down (WHAT’S NEW) but watch out for what’s next as we get through the backlog because holy hell have we taken some fine folks through that chapel. I’m a lucky woman to get to share them with you.

[audio production from the fine gents at Blank Tape Records, video and stills by the magnificent Kevin Ihle]

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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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