September 23, 2009

Far away from these winter streets


Well, my summer is over with a bang and a strong gust. The wind outside has a wicked bite to it that chills down to the skin as if my layers weren’t even there. I don’t mind letting this gorgeous, whole summer slip off into memory — it was a good one, a summer where I grew my first (thriving) garden, spent time down in the rich damp soil with the crickets chirping around me at sunset, while I could often hear the bells from the college chapel tolling a reminder of where in the evening hours we found ourselves. It was a summer where I got back the gift of quiet contentment in the late, warm nights.

I read several wonderfully rich books over the summer as well, sometimes sitting out on my back porch with my feet on the railing while my kiddo ran and played with the other little people in our neighborhood, blazing past as a whir of lanky legs, bare feet, and often a collection of eew-inducingly-large bugs in his bug carrier. The two books I completed on the porch in these summer months that will stick with me are Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger. Both cast off sparks and loaned me great joy with their vocabulary and writing style, seamlessly knitting me into the worlds they created. Gilbert’s journey through a year of recovery and self-care in Italy, India, and Indonesia was a wellspring of simple strength and enjoyment on my bedside table, and Enger’s book consistently delighted me with unexpected beauty in the simplest turn of a sentence, weaving Cormac-McCarthy-worthy characters with a richer innocence. This summer, they nourished me.

I can smell smoke in the air tonight from a neighbor’s wood fire, out somewhere in this old neighborhood. I wrap the dense warmth of this sweater around me, and listen to this Marah song that has felt like a constant anthem of my last few winters. It’s a song with some thoughtful sadness in it, but also a solitude, a strength, and that wistfully warm harmonica that cuts through it and makes me think of driving over Highway 17 in California, towards the ocean on a clear October day.

Walt Whitman Bridge – Marah

Far away from these winter streets
On a cloudless day
Your memory, your memory
Your memory blows away from me…

[top image, Gustave Caillebotte]

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October 15, 2007

Monday Music Roundup

The game’s on tonight. I love taking three or four hours to watch baseball — the pace of it, the grace and the subtlety. I am having so much fun watching The Rockies’ brand of baseball – it’s young and hardworking and fun, and it’s all coming together for them into a very very likely World Series run (becoming more likely after that 4th inning tonight)! It’s a fun time to live in Colorado. They need to win just one more against the Diamondbacks to go to the Series, and this Giants fan is cheering for them without qualms.

The Feeding Of The 5000
Ian Brown

There’s a Matt Nathanson song called “Everything You Say It Sounds Like Gospel,” a sentiment that also applies to much of what former Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown has been putting out lately. In addition to a storyline here straight out of The Good Book, Brown is drawn to using these dramatic orchestral foundations that make it all seem even more epic and important. But I don’t find it pretentious; I get into the way the strings combine with cool electronic flourishes and his effortlessly swank vocals. His new album The World Is Yours is out now in the UK, not in the U.S. yet.

The Hustle
This came on my shuffle on my iPod at the gym while I was trying to top my personal best at sit-ups (oh, like 33. Something mindblowing), and it gave me an instant rush of energy. This is a Marah tune that has comfortably been living on my iPod for a good two years or so without receiving my full unabashed love — until now. Without reading the shuffle display, at first I thought this urgent, perfectly ebullient song was maybe Westerberg because of the yowly crack to Dave Bielanko’s voice, with delightfully jangly rock guitars. I now love this song, it’s my new favorite — off their 2005 album If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry. This Philadelphia-based, brother-helmed band has got a lot of cool stuff going on now, including a new EP/10″ vinyl this month (Can’t Take It With You) and a forthcoming album called Angels of Destruction.

Lisa Hannigan
I wrote about the Cake Sale compilation last year when the Oxfam benefit album featuring the talents of lots of good folks (Damien Rice, Lisa Hannigan, Josh Ritter, Glen Hansard, Gemma Hayes, etc) was released in Ireland. At the time, it was a UK-only release, and for those of us on this side of the pond not hardy enough to weather the pounds-to-dollars conversion, it’s finally gained a U.S. release tomorrow on Yep Roc. This particular song (written by Damien Rice) is as haunting and lovely as everything Hannigan loans her vocals to. Allow me to repeat at this point that it’s truly a crying shame that things didn’t work out musically with her and Damien Rice; I can’t get enough of the way she sings.

The Way I Am
Ingrid Michaelson
I’ve mentioned my love/hate relationship with Old Navy music and also lately their ’80s carnival of wide-necked, very long, big-buttoned, “they-think-I-am-11″ items. However, this song which they tapped for their latest sweater commercial is a nice home run for deserving songwriter Ingrid Michaelson from Staten Island. Despite her being my MySpace friend for, like, ever — somehow this infectiously cheery, handclappy sweet ditty slipped my notice. Okay, it’s a bit syrupy, but you know when the girl-group harmonies of that chorus hit, you kinda like the sugar rush. Her new album Girls and Boys is out now.

Avril 14th
Aphex Twin
Since we’re already talkin’ TV, here’s one other one on the airwaves lately. I’d never listened to ambient musician Aphex Twin (born Richard David James) until I started seeing articles about the licensing flap about the sampling of this song in the recent hi-larious Samberg digital short on SNL, “I Ran.” This original is a lush, gorgeous piano song from the 2001 Aphex Twin album drukqs, and count me as a new fan . . . but I can’t really listen to it purely without thinking of lines like, “You ain’t wrong to me, so strong to me, you belong to me . . . like a very hairy Jake Gyllenhaal to me” (which, incidentally, may be one of the best rhymes ever written). If you haven’t seen it:

January 28, 2006

Why is the whole world not listening to Marah?

Hey there, Marah. Where’ve you been all my life? This is a really, really great folk-punk/roots/garage-rock band making some quality tunes, a largely undiscovered gem in the lexicon of rock music today.

Formed in 1993 by brothers Dave (singer-songwriter-banjoist-guitarist) and Serge (harmonica-guitarist-vocalist) Bielanko, this Philly-based band has been compared with early Replacements and a younger and urgent Springsteen, and depending on the song I definitely hear both influences. They’ve jammed with Springsteen in concert and in the studio, and have shared the bill with the likes of Ryan Adams, Ted Leo, and Jesse Malin live.

Marah writes solid, multi-layered songs and their most recent album If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry harnesses an immediate and melodic beauty. Since many songs on this album were recorded in no more than three takes in a Brooklyn kitchen, there is a raw and unpolished edge to them.

They are playing tonight in San Francisco at the cozy Cafe du Nord, for all you cats from my homeland. Then they are on the road pretty much through March, including SXSW, so you might want to check them out live. Their shows are rumored to be “sweaty, feel-good rock’n'roll with an urgency that makes you feel alive.”

And one interesting thing I noticed from their website was that the March 25th date in Oxford, MS will feature Nick Hornby (the author). I am not sure in what capacity Hornby will be appearing with Marah, but he wrote a really lovely op-ed piece in the New York Times mentioning Marah and is a confessed fan. Hornby, always poetic in his love for good music, says the following about Marah:

“Indeed, in the shows you can often hear their love for the rock canon uninflected – they play covers of the Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait,” or the Jam’s “In the City,” and they usually end with a riffed-up version of the O’Jays’ “Love Train.” They play an original called “TheCatfisherman” with a great big Bo Diddley beat, and they quote the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” and the Who’s “Magic Bus.” And they do this not because they’re a bar band and people expect cover versions, but because they are unafraid of showing where their music comes from, and unafraid of the comparisons that will ensue. . .”

From If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry (2005):

  • Walt Whitman Bridge – Listen to the harmonica in this one, and the story in the lyrics.
  • City of Dreams – a little Dylan-esque, rolling folk with a hint of the Beatles.

From Let’s Cut the Crap & Hook up Later on Tonight (1998):
great album title. come on

  • Formula, Cola, Dollar Draft – Folksy with a simple guitar and honest, slightly cracking vocals and a winsome harmonica bridge.

Bonus Live Tracks from 8/12/00 show in Tempe, AZ:

  • Can’t Hardly Wait- Replacements cover, homage to one of their sonic predecessors
  • Reservation Girl with a superb opener of one of my favorite guitar instrumentals ever, Sleepwalk

I think what I like the best about listening to Marah is that each song is really different from the next. But it’s all good – and it might just restore your faith in the pure and heartfelt honesty of rock’n'roll.

I’m glad I ran into them.

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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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