November 30, 2009

The Swell Season stunned me

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Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova represent everything that the hot & honest parts of me love the most about music. As The Swell Season, they are completely humble and engaging, they passionately perform their craft with every ounce of their souls, and they sound damn lovely the way their voices blend together. Somehow it has taken me until now to see them live, and last night at a sold-out show in Denver, I wondered what had taken me so long.

Swell Season 110-1

It felt alternately like a candlelight church service or a campfire at the Ogden last night, with pin-drop silence when it was required and all-encompassing enthusiasm every time Glen invited us to sing along. “All you have to do is sing this simple melody,” he instructed us with a wide smile from behind his guitar. “I don’t care if you mean it or not, just sing it. Well no, actually,” he reconsidered — “Don’t sing it if you don’t mean it.”

But instructions aside — when all of our voices started to rise together to the melody of “Falling Slowly” or “When Your Mind’s Made Up,” I think everyone in the room had to have been convinced. I’ve sang along at the top of my lungs to “Falling Slowly” in my car dozens (if not hundreds) of times, and I gotta say — it was catharsis at its best, to throw my head back with 950 other fans and let all those harmonies soar out into the darkness. It was one of the most honest and wonderful concerts I’ve seen in years. You get the sense that they are doing this for all the right reasons, and their fans respond warmly to that.

There is an undercurrent of hope in their new material that they played last night, and as much as I loved being melancholy and drowning in longing through their past songs, I too feel I am entering a period of hope and some wholeness, and songs like this new marvelously gospel-infused rendition are exactly what resonates with me:

A High Hope (new song, live in LA) – The Swell Season

Maybe when our hearts have realigned
maybe when we’ve both had some time
I’m gonna see you there

Maybe when we’re both old and wise
maybe when our hearts have had some time
I’m gonna see you there
where the good times go
where you are forever young…

The crowd singing here with all they’ve got, the woman in the crowd with the virtuoso voice ringing majestically over the crowd — this must be how ascension feels, no other way to put it.

All of my pictures are up on the Denver Post’s Reverb site as a slide show, if you would like to see more. What a gorgeous night, what a spark in my heart.

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November 29, 2009

remember how we fell upon an accident of paradise


I first listened to this song because The National told me to; New York City artist Doveman (aka Thomas Bartlett) is their longtime friend and collaborator, and here The National return the favor by essentially becoming his backing band on a gorgeous album, which they released on their own Brassland Records.

This song is a stinging arrow of beautiful ache, melancholy and somehow lovely. I relate to the way it weaves a dense layer of complex feelings, looking back at promises of magic somewhere amidst the whiskey sea.

Angel’s Share (with Matt Berninger) – Doveman

You always played a stonewall game
but I’ll get past you anyway

a flick of the wrist and it’s straight through your heart
when you’re feeling sad
remember how we fell upon an accident of paradise

So drink your fill, pretty baby
drink down that whiskey sea
and drink your fill, my darling
but save the angel’s share for me

If I were drowning, baby
drowning in your deep blue sea
if you want to rescue someone blue…
please don’t rescue me

In addition to Matt Berninger’s haunting baritone on the album, other collaborators include National bandmates the Dessner brothers and Bryan Devendorf, as well as Beth Orton, Martha Wainwright, Nico Muhly (of this) and Glen Hansard of The Frames/Swell Season (who I see tonight). It packs a pretty immense punch.

This living room performance with string quartet, trumpets, and guest appearances by Sean Lennon and Bryce Dessner was from the album release party last month. The simplicity and spare sadness of this rendition made me cry. Or maybe it’s just something in the air.

[more pics here]

Doveman just completed a string of tour dates opening for the Swell Season, but is sadly not still with them tonight for their Denver show. The only current tour dates listed are a handful of shows in New York.

The Conformist is out now on Brassland Records. As Hansard says of it, “The Conformist is just fucking beautiful. Thomas brings so much light to other people’s music, it’s great to see him stop long enough to apply that light to his profound sense of song. He’s not afraid to go in, in where the good stuff is, in where you might get lost without a compass — in and deeper in.” Here’s to compasses, and where the good stuff is.

October 25, 2009

if you’ve got something to say, say it to me now

Irish songwriter Glen Hansard took the crowd outside Fingerprints by surprise last week, as they waited in line for his appearance inside with Marketa Irglova (of The Swell Season, and the movie Once):

Doesn’t that just give you the best kind of visceral reaction in your gut-parts? Sometimes I wish we could always live inside wonderful moments just like that, where people sing out what they mean, and mean the things they sing. Glen is an artist of the first-class.

That night their set included tracks from the new album Strict Joy (out tomorrow on Anti- Records), the Once soundtrack, Leave (The Frames), Tim Buckley’s Buzzin’ Fly (Jeff Buckley was once Glen’s roadie, ‘member?), and “New Partner” by Will Oldham. Those who were there say it was truly magical.

Say It To Me Now – The Frames
(from Hansard’s 1996 album Fitzcarraldo; a version was later on the Once Soundtrack)

SwellSeasonFinalSMIn conjunction with the fine folks at Fingerprints, I have one autographed poster from that event to give away. It’s only signed by Glen (“Marketa wasn’t feeling great, so after the performance and almost two hours of meeting fans we set her free for the nap that was calling so loudly”).

Leave me a comment if you’d like to be entered for the poster — and go see Swell Season on tour this fall, eh?

11/01 Milwaukee, WI – The Pabst
11/02 Indianapolis, IN – Clownes Theatre
11/03 Toronto, ON – Massey Hall
11/04 Montreal, QC – Olympia
11/06 Boston, MA – Berklee Performing Arts Centre
11/07 Providence, RI – Lupo’s
11/08 Philadelphia, PA – Merriam
11/09 Washington, DC – 9:30 Club
11/12 New Orleans, LA – House of Blues
11/13 Houston, TX – Warehouse Live
11/14 Dallas, TX – Palladium
11/15 Austin, TX – The Paramount
11/17 Mesa, AZ – Mesa Arts
11/18 Los Angeles, CA – The Wiltern
11/19 Los Angeles, CA – The Wiltern
11/20 Oakland, CA – The Paramount
11/22 Seattle,WA – The Paramount
11/24 Portland, OR – Crystal Ballroom
11/25 Vancouver, BC – Centre For the Performing Arts
11/27 Boise, ID – Egyptian
11/28 Salt Lake City, UT – Jeanne Wagner Theatre
11/29 Denver, CO – The Ogden
11/30 Kansas City, MO – Uptown
12/03 Chicago, IL – Auditorium Theater
12/04 St. Louis, MO – The Pageant
12/05 Minneapolis, MN – The State Theatre
01/19 NYC, NY – Radio City Music Hall

August 12, 2009

New Swell Season :: “Fantasy Man”


In 2007, Glen Hansard (The Frames) and Marketa Irglova entranced a whole lot of us music lovers with the simple and sweet story of Once, and the flawless ways their voices blend together on the soundtrack of original material. The song “Falling Slowly” still puts a knot in my gut when I hear it, and that whole soundtrack is magic.

If you liked that film, you must stop what you are doing today and visit the NPR “Tiny Desk” concert series to hear the set they recently did with six new songs, plus an urgent and impassioned rendition of “When Your Mind’s Made Up” from the film. They are back with their first album of new material since that soundtrack.

Strict Joy is out October 27th (-Anti Records) under their proper band moniker, The Swell Season. The forthcoming album takes its name from a work by Irish poet James Stephens, and was co-produced by Hansard and Peter Katis (The National, Frightened Rabbit).

Of the six songs they previewed from the new album for the lucky folks at NPR, this one riveted me the fastest. The dulcet harmonies remind me quite a bit of Lisa Hannigan’s haunting work with Damien Rice…

Fantasy Man (live on NPR) – The Swell Season

…And I second NPR’s notion that “Feeling The Pull” sounds like a lost Van Morrison track — which reminds me how much I love this cover:

Into The Mystic (Once b-side, Van Morrison cover) – The Swell Season

Download the whole seven song podcast here.

May 15, 2009

Tonight is bittersweet(s)


I first fell in love with the open and clear voice of Hannah Prater through her duets with fellow San Franciscan Ryan Auffenberg, on the gorgeous song “Under All The Bright Lights.” Something about the stirring timbre she possesses just reels me in and (very) often entices me to sing along.

Along with Chris Meyers, Prater ‘s band The Bittersweets have now relocated to Nashville. Their strong songwriting, melodic harmonies, and sun-dappled alt-country has been on rotation in my stereo for the last few years, with this superb track likely being played the most:

Long Day – The Bittersweets

I am thrilled to be seeing The Bittersweets tonight at the cozy mountain shop / cafe / brewpub Kinfolks in the neighboring hippie enclave of Manitou Springs, and they’re in Denver tomorrow night at Swallow Hill. More tour dates below.

And yeah — it would be pretty shiver-riffic if they performed something like this:

Their original song “When The War is Over,” from their current release Goodnight, San Francisco, along with a few minutes of “Falling Slowly” from the movie Once, thrown in for very good measure:

Here’s a performance of the title track to their new album, filmed last Fall at the gorgeous Swedish American Hall in SF. Also, you can download their new live album for free over at NoiseTrade, and enjoy their marvelously pure sound.

May 15 – Kinfolks, Manitou Springs, CO
May 16 -Tuft Theater @ Swallow Hill, Denver, CO
May 19 – Folk Salad House Concert, Tulsa, OK
May 20 – Blue Door, Oklahoma City, OK
May 21 – Lupus General Store, Lupus, MO
May 22 – Otherland Cafe, Memphis, TN
Jun 12 – Boone County Library, Burlingtom, KY
Jul 23-26 – Floyd Fest, Floyd, VA
Jul 29 – The Sea Ranch and The Pearl, Kill Devil Hills, NC
Aug 8 – Puckett’s, Franklin, TN
Aug 15 – Eighth and Rail, Opelika, AL
Aug 16 – Callaghan’s Irish Social Club, Mobile, AL
Aug 21 – Swampjam House Concerts, Plymouth, NC
Aug 22 – The Evening Muse, Charlotte, NC
Aug 23 – North Meets South House Concerts, Greensboro, NC
Sep 9 – Battle of Plattsburgh Commemoration, NY

November 17, 2008

Jeff Buckley, Glen Hansard “Neath The Beeches”

Today, November 17th, is Jeff Buckley‘s birthday, and a reader sent me this interview clip with Glen Hansard (Once, The Frames, The Commitments) discussing the months when his guitar tech/roadie was this young guy named Jeff.

Listen to Hansard tell the story of Jeff first playing “an Irish club in the East Village ” with him (of course, the famous Sin-é) and the reaction of the audience when this unknown kid started to sing. As he discusses their relationship in this wonderfully unguarded interview, he also recounts the story of playing the Tim Buckley song “Once I Was” in the hotel room for Jeff, and being stunned when Jeff casually mentioned, oh yeah, he was my father.

It closes with a gorgeous version of the song “Neath The Beeches,” which Hansard says fell fully formed from his mind, and that “I was thinking about (Jeff) when I was doing it, so it became his song in my head.”

Glen Hansard discusses Jeff Buckley / plays “Neath The Beeches”

Here is also the album version, from the 1999 Frames album Dance The Devil:

Neath The Beeches – The Frames

December 21, 2007

Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova (Once) cover “Into The Mystic”

One of the most highly acclaimed musically-infused movies to come out this year, Once is the story of a Dublin busker who works part-time in a vacuum repair shop instead of living out his musical calling (Glen Hansard of the Irish band The Frames and The Swell Season), and the musical connection that he forms over the course of a week with a fellow struggling artist, a not-yet-twenty year old street vendor from the Czech Republic who happens to play the piano (Marketa Irglova, the other half of Swell Season).

You’ve probably seen the lush and lovely soundtrack that they made popping up on year-end Best of 2007 lists all over the place, and with good reason. This particular cover is a bonus track on some special editions of the soundtrack, and it is jaw-droppingly good. Although it starts winsome and delicate, it builds into moments of heartfelt intensity. The song always ends too soon, so I have to back up and listen to it over again.

Into The Mystic (Van Morrison cover) – Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova

The DVD came out this week in the U.S., which is something that my Netflix queue is thrilled about.

* * * * * * * * *
In unrelated news, this kinda restored some of my faith in humanity this morning as I read the paper over my cup of coffee. Religious or not, I thought it was an inspiring story of giving this time of year, and what we are capable of.

May 28, 2007

Monday Music Roundup

So what, exactly, do you get the dog that has everything? I almost spit my coffee in laughter/disbelief the other morning when I came across this site (a link from dooce) — Neuticles. Apparently these little silicone delights “allow your pet to retain his natural look, self esteem and aids in the trauma associated with neutering.” If that doesn’t just beat it all. Good thing I don’t have to worry about decisions like that; although I am definitely a dog person, pets are just too much work for me right now. I consistently and methodically kill plants. I sometimes leave groceries in the car (meat. mmmmm.). I horrifically shrink wool sweaters by putting them in the washing machine. I don’t think I have time to worry about testicular implants. Anyways. I don’t really have a point other than . . . wtf?

Changing gears completely (thankfully), here are some new tunes to please your ears.

The Alternate Routes
I am completely in love with this new album from The Alternate Routes: Good and Reckless and True (Vanguard Records). I’ve been listening to it all weekend and from the first notes I smiled, and kept at it all the way through. They’ve got a warm, expansive, alt-pop-americana sound with hints that remind me of The Damnwells or Whiskeytown — and speaking of Ryan Adams, current Cardinals drummer Brad Pemberton pitches in on the skins here as well. Solid songwriting and incisive lyricism, a highly recommended new album. I’ll be talking more about them, I’m sure.

Either Way (featuring Mike Skinner of The Streets)
The Twang
Stereogum calls bollocks on this group, but I find myself rather liking this ditty in a summer-fun way. The video starts out promising, all froliciking on a rocky British beach, but ends up a bit like the goofy-looking kids from high school who got a hold of dad’s camcorder while drinking. Either way, I can always do a little bit of Mike Skinner‘s rhymes, notwithstanding his odd penchant for wearing rainbow striped sweaters.

All The Way Down
Glen Hansard
This is from the rootsy-melancholy soundtrack to the new movie Once which is in select theaters now after wowing everyone at Sundance. Glen Hansard (of Ireland’s The Frames) stars in the film as an art-imitating-life busker on the streets of Dublin, and wrote the evocative soundtrack. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but readers tell me I must. This hushed song is in a similar vein to countrymate/tour companion/duetter Damien Rice, or maybe Josh Ritter. Good stuff.

Jason Collett covering Stars
This tune is labelled as being by lush-indie-popsters Stars (whom I adore), but it’s from their new remix album Do You Trust Your Friends, and is completely reinvented by friend and Broken Social Scenester Jason Collett. He delightfully turns it into something rollicking and loose, with a funky beat and fatty bass line that would be marvelous live. The Stars remix album is out now on Canada’s Arts & Crafts label, and I also still recommend the impetus behind the remix album, 2005′s Set Yourself On Fire.

Ghost of An Afternoon
Dave Fischoff
Independent musician Dave Fischoff labors from his small Chicago apartment/closet studio, weaving together sound samples that he has created himself and culled from the vast Chicago Public Library collection of sounds. You can hear his concentration in listening to the world around him, absorbing sounds and ideas, incorporating his own. They become melded together here on his album The Crawl — one touch Postal Service with threads of ’60s pop and orchestral strings. You can stream his whole album here and buy it from label Secretly Canadian.

PS – Comments turned on. That was an accident.

November 7, 2006

“The Cake Sale” (featuring Josh Ritter, Lisa Hannigan, Damien Rice, The Thrills, and more)

Well, here’s something tasty.

Excellent Irish musicians team up for a good cause with the upcoming release of The Cake Sale — a band featuring a loose and expansive collective of musicians and writers who have combined to create a 9-song CD of the same name on Oxfam Records. All profits will go to support Oxfam Ireland’s Make Trade Fair campaign and their overseas program work.

Songs on the album have been written by Dave Geraghty and Paul Noonan (both of Bell X1), Bono’s favorite Emm Gryner [link], Glen Hansard (of The Frames), Ollie Cole (of Irish band Turn), Damien Rice, Irish indies The Thrills and Australian-born Irish songwriter Matt Lunson [link].

Lead vocalists for the project include Lisa Hannigan (who has worked extensively with Damien Rice and should release a solo album as soon as she is able), Nina Persson (of The Cardigans), Gary Lightbody (of Snow Patrol), the lovely Irish singer Gemma Hayes, Glen Hansard, Josh Ritter, Conor Deasy (The Thrills) and Neil Hannon (of The Divine Comedy). A host of other luminaries fill the roles of musicians.

That’s a top notch compilation lineup if I ever saw one! You can stream audio from all nine of the songs here, or on their MySpace page. Be their friend. Buy their record. It’s a GOOD cause. The Cake Sale was just released in Ireland last week, and apparently those of us not on the Emerald Isle can buy it online through Road Records.

Here’s just one of the great songs:
Last Leaf (Lisa Hannigan on vocals) – The Cake Sale
(re-upped 11/11/06)

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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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