December 23, 2010

words are falling from your lips like Christmas to my hips


This is among my top three favorite modern Christmas songs, from the 2003 self-titled album from Leona Naess. Sublime, laden with those sweetly sad cellos – I really could listen to it for hours. It’s the aural equivalent of snow falling and thinking about those you’ve loved this year.

Christmas – Leona Naess

[photo credit Rachel Warner]

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October 30, 2008

try to ignore all this blood on the floor / it’s just this heart on my sleeve that’s bleeding

Seeing Ray LaMontagne the first time was pretty dang incredible. It was early 2005 and I had just experienced the beginnings of my slow musical rebirth (snatched from the jaws of grownup musical apathy) through his groundshaking Trouble. I listened to it non-stop, feeling like something I had been missing out of music was slowly being diffused back into me. The rough-hewn beauty of the music, the incisive daggers in his lyrics, and most of all that unbelievable voice — it all felt so raw and beautiful. I went to see him at the Fillmore in S.F., and as I wrote:

This skinny guy comes walking out on stage, looking as uncomfortable as all get out. Big beard. Quiet voice. Hiding behind his guitar. I almost thought he was going to bolt.

But then he opens his mouth and begins to play.

He has this vulnerable, raspy, velvety, pure voice, and he absolutely pours his soul into his music . . . He feels each word and resonates with each chord.

[One] non-album track that I remember vividly from the show is “Can I Stay.” He ended with this song. The venue went still, as if we were all transfixed in the moment, like you could almost feel the song hanging there above our heads. The spotlight shone on him, with the dust motes swirling in the heavy air. Absolutely beautiful song. I almost felt like I couldn’t breathe.”

On Monday night, I made the long drive up to Boulder for my fourth time seeing Ray. As jaded and cynical as I sometimes worry that my little critic’s heart is becoming, wouldn’t you know it – it happened again for me. The chills and the lump in the throat. Several times. The potency and passion still lives in Ray’s music, and I was so glad to meet up with it again.

Dressed in the same plaid shirt/jeans/workboots ensemble of his Maine roots, Ray is really hitting an amazing stride and finding his subtle confidence as a performer. Instead of feeling bad for even looking at him on-stage, as I sometimes did that first night, Ray now exhales a quiet sense of purpose, a level of comfort as he melds with his backing band, and occasionally a wickedly funny streak. (One gal in the crowd yelled out that it was her birthday, 26. Ray first claimed not to remember that long ago in his life, and then he thought for a moment and pensively but determinedly said, “Now I said I didn’t know what I was doing at 26, and that’s not true. I was getting stoned, that’s what I was doin’”).

Ray’s set skillfully wove his older material together with the bigger, brighter, shiner songs from his new album Gossip In The Grain. From the robust opening notes of “You Are The Best Thing,” to the rocking blues of his ode to Meg White (while the stage was saturated in a very White-Stripesy crimson light), it was exciting to see this different side of him bloom. The country flavor ran deep, with pedal steel replacing the elegant strings on songs like “Shelter.” Songs were laced through with high and lonesome whistles, and harmonicas unbounded like a runaway train.

I was nothing short of captivated, that he could still move those puzzle pieces around inside me. In a moment, Ray’s music conjures up a hard-working world of faded wood cabins on the plain, country dresses, and going home at night exhausted to someone who really loves you. There may be some cornbread involved, maybe a passel of children. All that flashed through my mind (and I thought about various Steinbeck books I’ve read) in the way he sang the line from Empty about, “kiss me with that country mouth so plain.” Overactive constructs, perhaps, but I loved it nonetheless in its simplicity, and in his absolute gut-wrenching conviction. He still doesn’t sing songs as much as they are yanked out from his insides.

Since you all already know that I’m a sap sometimes, I’ll totally cop to crying on his solo acoustic version of “Burn.” I didn’t expect that. It was very much like this video from a few days prior, and just bleeding raw and damn gorgeous:

A guy in the balcony said it best when he yelled out during one of the many quiet moments of guitar tuning between songs: “You sound good, Ray!

And good it was. Very good.

You Are The Best Thing
Hold You In My Arms
Let It Be Me
I Still Care For You
(with Leona Naess)
Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s A Shame)
Narrow Escape
Meg White
(solo acoustic)
Winter Birds (solo acoustic)
Hey Me, Hey Mama
You Can Bring Me Flowers

3 More Days
Gossip In The Grain
(with Leona Naess)

[see all my pictures here]

October 27, 2008

Tonight: Ray LaMontagne and Leona Naess

Touring in support of his new third album Gossip In The Grain, the skinny bearded man with the immensely warm & rough voice comes through Boulder tonight. I fell hard for Ray LaMontagne in early 2005 and his music has accompanied me through all sorts of highs and lows since then. Every now and again I still get a hard lump in my throat that’s hard to swallow past when I listen to his music; even after knowing most of it by heart, it still suckerpunches. This is one of my favorite qualities.

A few of my favorites at the moment:
Hold You In My Arms (live on KFOG)
Empty (live at Bonnaroo 2005)
Crazy (Gnarls Barkley cover)
To Love Somebody (Bee Gees cover)
All The Wild Horses (solo acoustic, 9/30/08)
Heaven Is A Honky Tonk (live on ACL)
(“all my heroes have gone to heaven…” – written after the death of Townes Van Zandt)

The effortlessly wonderful songbird Leona Naess lends her talents on Ray’s newest album, and also opens this tour. I am quite excited to see her live after also being a fan for several years and never managing to catch her on tour. I was out at the record store on Friday night and I saw that her long-awaited album Thirteens is finally, finally out with little fanfare. It’s excellent.

Ghosts In The Attic – Leona Naess

[photo credit: Dan Winters]

August 1, 2008

New Ray LaMontagne! “Let It Be Me” (studio)

I’m a big sucker for the heavy exhalation.

When I first heard that weighty sigh of breath that hangs in the room to start this first new Ray LaMontagne song (from his upcoming Gossip In The Grain), I smiled wide to myself.

Once it cues up and that voice starts singing, I was texting gushing and effusive words to my friend Bodie who found it for the listenin’– something to the effect of “!!!! o dear heavens how i love ray!” That evocative voice is enough to make grown men weep — and for my money, no one nails that husky, gorgeous, smoky, bluesy sound exactly like Ray.

Let It Be Me – Ray LaMontagne
(alternate SaveFile link)

Gossip In The Grain is out September 30th, and Ray just announced tour dates yesterday with the lovely Leona Naess, including a stop at Boulder’s Macky Auditorium on October 27th and the gorgeous art-deco Paramount Theater in Oakland, CA a few days later. Seeing Ray live in San Francisco in 2005 still ranks as one of my top spellbinding concerts ever.

Sept 30 – Murat Theatre, Indianapolis, IN
Oct 1 – Chicago Theatre, Chicago, IL
Oct 3 – Union Theatre, Madison, WI
Oct 4 – State Theatre, Minneapolis, MN
Oct 6 – Royal Oak Music Theatre, Royal Oak, MI
Oct 7 – Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Toronto, ON
Oct 9 – Opera House, Boston, MA
Oct 10 – Opera House, Boston, MA
Oct 11 – Radio City Music Hall, New York, NY
Oct 13 – Keswick Theatre, Philadelphia, PA
Oct 14 – The Strathmore Music Center, Washington, DC
Oct 16 – Meymandi Concert Hall, Raleigh, NC
Oct 17 – Bijou Theatre, Knoxville, TN
Oct 18 – The Tabernacle, Atlanta, GA
Oct 19 – Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN
Oct 21 – Uptown Theatre, Kansas City, MO
Oct 23 – Verizon Wireless Theatre, Houston, TX
Oct 24 – Majestic Theatre, Dallas, TX
Oct 25 – Paramount Theatre, Austin, TX
Oct 27 – Macky Auditorium, Boulder, CO
Oct 28 – Murray Theatre, Salt Lake City, UT
Oct 30 – Wiltern Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
Nov 1 – Spreckels Theatre, San Diego, CA
Nov 3 – Paramount Theatre, Oakland, CA
Nov 5 – Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland, OR
Nov 6 – McDonald Theatre, Eugene, OR
Nov 8 – Vogue Theatre, Vancouver, BC
Nov 9 – Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, Seattle, WA

Many tickets on presale now

May 22, 2008

New Leona Naess :: “Heavy Like Sunday”

I love the aching and honest timbre to Leona Naess‘ luminous voice, combined with her fearless lyrics and incisive wit. We’ve been waiting, oh, forever for her new album Thirteens to come out. News on the street is that it is still forthcoming through the label Polydor, but no exact date.

While we anticipate the full LP (and kick around possible track inclusions), Leona is releasing a single called “Heavy Like Sunday” through the performance night-cum-record label Blue Flowers on June 2. This release is a limited edition of 500 on 7″ vinyl, and each one comes with an individual polaroid taken by Leona. She’s also made a charmingly lo-fi video of herself singing her heart out while sitting on her piano, her balcony, and then all over London (back of a bus, flower market, overlooking the ferris wheel). Sounds good to me.


Londoners — there is a gig on June 5th to celebrate the release of the single. That’ll be at Soho Revue Bar, 11 Walkers Court, Brewer Street, W1F 0ED.

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March 30, 2007

Leona Naess: Album update

Finally SOME news on that forthcoming Leona Naess album that we’ve been hearing rumblings of for months and months -
Wednesday, March 28, 2007

record update..
i am sure any of you who have been coming here to check out what the hell is going on, must be thinking ‘what the hell is going on?’ I have been promising the/a new record for over a year and i can honestly say i was not lying to you, but things change, and things have changed, and i am adjusting to all those changes i guess.

what i mean is, that with all the delays, the record that was ready is no longer ready. basically, i started work after a very traumatic time blah blah blah, and now much more time has passed, and new things have happened and i want to add those on to the record.

i am going into the studio in April to add some songs and also, some songs that need a full band on them will be getting just that. i did this record with sam and his a lap top. not very conducive to a big band songs. hopefully i will finish this record once and for all. i bore myself with all this crap, so i understand if you are like ‘am i bothered’. just wanted to give you a heads up on why this, and why that . . . till the next time i pluck up the courage…


I am still looking forward to it. I say: take all the time she needs to make it perfect. After all, it is her artistic statement. This track is my favorite new unreleased tune from Ms. Naess that has surfaced thus far (I’ve posted it before):

Unnamed – Leona Naess

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January 19, 2007

You do not want Leona Naess as your hotel neighbor

Sometime this year, I hope to see Leona Naess‘s fourth studio album Thirteens released. She’s been talking about it for about a year through her MySpace blogs and website, but still no specific release date. She has such an appealingly open and unique voice — one of my favorite female artists to sing along with. In my pipe dreams, this is roughly the type of music I would envision myself making if I ever learned to play the guitar.

For some reason, it always sticks in my head how she categorizes her music on MySpace. I appreciate the honesty — this is essentially what everyone thinks, isn’t it?

Here are a couple of unreleased songs which have popped up in recent months from her; I have no idea specifically what will be on Thirteens, but these contenders are my favorites out of the batch I’ve heard.

This Is Not Love – Leona Naess
I’d heard this streaming before on her website and really liked it — must have left it on repeat for about 20 rotations. I could have sworn that I posted it before but Google tells me no. Fantastic moody song.

On My Mind – Leona Naess
The lyrics to this song are just so charming and descriptive, in a slightly innocent way but not cheesy or infantile. “Honey, you’ve been on my mind like Christmas and birthdays when I was five . . . Honey you’ve been in my head like homework on Sundays when I’ve been laughing instead.” The brass and bells faintly echo a little bit of that Christmas anticipation as a kid that she sings of, without being a “seasonal” song.

I Wait For My Prince – Leona Naess
I love the old-time songbird vibe here, like Leona is a starlet in a smoky piano nightclub. Very evocative, it sounds like it is coming to me from a long way away.

I also enjoyed this recent blog post written by Leona, and could empathize. I vent through blogging too when I am disturbed by loud neighbors in hotels:

Thursday, January 18, 2007
Subject: getting arrested in Ireland

so the tour has started with ray [lamontagne], and so far so good. just played cork and the audience was so quiet i almost cried. thank fucking god. my music seems to get quieter and quieter, and i just can’t handle any noise when i play anymore. Dublin was good, but not like tonight in cork.

what i can tell you, is that i caught a cold on my way to Ireland, and after the show last night i had to escape to bed, missing most of Ray’s set. I jumped into bed to try to kick the sick i had in my body and head. at midnight a party started next door. students having a laugh i guess after exams. i was that grumpy sick person calling up the front desk about the terrible noise.

after 2 hours of this insane racket , i told the front desk that i was going to call the police. i guess they did in the end, cause little did i know that my only band mate, Scott, had joined the party next door, and when the police arrived he got arrested with the rest of the collage gang.

basically, to cut a long story short, i got my drummer arrested.

oh well, its early days, what will happen next. right before we got on stage tonight the nice woman that works in the opera house in cork said that the audience never come in for the opener, and that it was really frustrating. well i almost wanted to shoot myself then and there. why bother right? after Scott being arrested wearing his hangover like a cross, and me not getting any sleep, still sick and about to walk on the a stage with an audience of 5. well she was wrong, thank god. it was great and it was my favorite show so far. lets see what tomorrow brings.x

One track that hasn’t surfaced yet that I am anxious to hear is her reported collaboration with Ryan Adams on the track “Leave Your Boyfriend.” Let me add my voice to the chorus hoping for a concrete release date in 2007 from the lovely Ms. Naess.

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August 16, 2006

Featuring Ryan Adams

Willie Nelson Teams With Ryan Adams For New CD
August 16, 2006, 10:25 AM ET (Billboard)

Seventy-three-year-old music icon Willie Nelson collaborates with 31-year-old singer/songwriter Ryan Adams on his new album, Songbird. Due Oct. 31 via Lost Highway, the 11-track set was produced by Adams, whose band the Cardinals back Nelson throughout. Veteran harmonica player Mickey Raphael also appears.

The track list features covers of Gram Parsons’ “$1000 Wedding,” Christine McVie’s “Songbird,” the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter favorite “Stella Blue” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”In addition, Nelson reworks his own “Rainy Day Blues” (which opens the album), “Sad Songs & Waltzes” and “We Don’t Run,” as well as tackling the traditional “Amazing Grace.”

Nelson is in the midst of a tour with John Fogerty and also has headlining dates on tap through a Sept. 15 appearance at the Austin City Limits festival. On Sept. 30 in Camden, N.J., he will join Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews and Jerry Lee Lewis for Farm Aid in Camden, N.J.

Here is the track list for “Songbird”:
“Rainy Day Blues”
“Blue Hotel”
“Back to Earth”
“Stella Blue”
“$1000 Wedding”
“We Don’t Run”
“Yours Love”
“Sad Songs & Waltzes”
“Amazing Grace”

That sounds really interesting to me. Ryan has been a busy boy, also reuniting with ex-flame Leona Naess to lay down some vocals on her new upcoming album Thirteens. According to her MySpace, “Old East Village comrade, Ryan Adams, crashed a Manhattan studio and contributed his distinctive vocals (and new lyrics) to the reprise of ‘Leave Your Boyfriend’ in one take. Cello and piano were added in Woodstock over a long weekend.” Interesting choice of songs to collaborate on; that’s another release that I am looking forward to hearing.

May 15, 2006

Monday Music Roundup

Oh, let’s have some fun today:

Music Will Not Last
Jamie Lidell
One of THE best recommendations to me last week was to check out an artist named Jamie Lidell, and his new blue-eyed soul disc (after his past history in electronica, which nicely evidences itself in the rich sonic layers here). I give this song my highest recommendation; it weaves together elements that I just can’t get enough of. Sounds like if Ray Charles was practicing in one studio, circa 1965 Atlanta, and The Temptations strolled on through with Prince & Sly on their arms, poked their head in the room. And this goodness commences. The percussion alone is enough reason to listen; the hi-hat just about kills me.

Please check out Jamie’s whole excellent album Multiply (2005, Warp Records). There are several other great tracks on there, it was tough to choose just one for today’s roundup: notably the title track “Multiply” is almost flawless (falsetto harmonies, a kickass bassline, and enough soul to meet your daily quota – and you DO have one), and “You Got Me Up” made me dance around this morning in ways that I half thought white girls couldn’t do.

Leona Naess
This is my second highest recommendation for download this week – a new one from Leona Naess‘ upcoming unreleased album (Thirteens). This rip is from a track streaming on her MySpace page and is definitely her most singable, radio-friendly, and excellent sounding song in a while. With great couplet lines like “Shake these hips and let them persuade you / Take my songs – they’re always about you,” and a catchy chorus about the perils of loving someone who is also a famous singer (?):

“I can hear your songs / Through my radio

Singing soft / Singing slow
Songs I love / the songs I know

The lyrical writing style is classic but the sound is uptempo & fresh. I love her voice, and how she can switch from that rich sing-song to the bluesy yowl, which she gives glimpses of on this track, towards the end. Good stuff.

In The Morning
The Heavy Blinkers
I’ve been reading about Canadian orch-pop quintet The Heavy Blinkers on a few different blogs, and finally downloaded some songs because of the inevitable Beach Boys connection that everyone points out. Listen to this and you will understand why. Bring on the summertime and the sun/sand/surf, which we all know to associate (obviously) with the Heavy Blinkers’ hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Their fourth studio album The Night and I Are Still So Young will be released next week in the US on the Cooking Vinyl label. And the link above (on their band name) will lead you to a free mp3 download for the title track.

Rain All Summertime
(45 second clip)
Darren Hayman
One just for fun, and I am posting only a 45 second clip of it – since I can’t find a full-length. I heard it last week, featured by my co-podcaster Mike (from Take Your Medicine, out of Sheffield, UK) on the Best of 2006 So Far show.

From Darren Hayman’s oddly named, limited edition April 2006 EP Ukulele Songs From The North Devon Coast. Lighthearted ukulele joins with fuzzy guitars & synth beats for a feel-good electronica summer song. The clip jumps in at kind of an odd place in the song, so wait until it hits about 20 seconds in to hear the riff that drew me to post this. The sample here is so you can buy it from Static Caravan and enjoy it all summer long. You can also hear the whole song on this video.

Kelly Clarkson
I . . . I can’t even speak about this one, I just thought you might like to hear it. I will admit that it is better than I had anticipated, but still it feels like an unnecessary affront for some reason. It was marginally okay when Taylor Hicks covered “Trouble” on American Idol. But OHKELLYCLARKSON! Not so much for me.

April 26, 2006

Beautiful new songs from Leona Naess

British singer-songwriter Leona Naess is honing her angelic voice on some new songs which will be released on her fourth studio album, rumored to be titled Thirteens.

If you go to her website you can stream three songs from the new album on the main page:

“I Wait For My Prince”
“Beautiful Boy” (not a Lennon cover)
“Everyone’s Given Up”

I am pretty sure that the labelling on the songs is off: The second song title pops up as Beautiful Boy, but the lyrics talk about Wait For My Prince. So go figure. They are all excellent, whatever they are called. My favorite is the #1 track. Also available for download on Leona’s site is the song Ballerina, which was produced by Tori Amos.

Her new album includes a duet with Ben Lee on a song called “Boyfriends,” and is currently in the process of being mastered for a potential early summer release date. This will be the followup to her lovely 2003 self-titled release, which was produced by Ethan Johns.

Leona is playing tomorrow night in NYC at the Living Room if you are a New Yorker hankering for a good show.

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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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