November 2, 2012

oh brooklyn, brooklyn take me in

Are you aware the shape I’m in?

I am a complete sucker for symphonic accompaniments, and the way they expand the available palette and tease out the colors and nuances of a song, in breathtaking ways. The Avett Brothers have long pierced me with their earnestness, and now with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, even more so. This is terrifically beautiful.

I and Love and You (with the Brooklyn Philharmonic) – The Avett Brothers

February 17, 2012

and in your soul they poked a million holes: DeVotchKa with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra tonight

A handful of Colorado’s favorite sons (and daughter), DeVotchKa, took the stage tonight with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra for an immense evening of their mariachi-gypsy laced music made even bigger.

Tonight was an electric, flawless, intuitive pairing. Coupled with the ululating vibrato of Nick Urata, which is an instrument in itself, DeVotchKa writes complex, challenging songs that have been ripe for this sort of reinvention. Songs that are already brilliant to begin with shot into the sky tonight with a thousand colors.

It’s a brilliant phenomenon lately, some of my favorite musicians recording sessions with anything from small string quartets to the sixty-person symphony orchestra I saw tonight. As I sat damp-eyed during the final gorgeous explosion of “How It Ends,” I tried to put my finger on what exactly it is that these songs gain from going through the transformation from guy-on-a-guitar to full-blown-orchestra. Best I can articulate is that I feel like it has something to do with colors, and with size.

Hearing a pop musician play with a symphony makes their songs balloon into ten thousand gradations of hue where there once were five or six. It feels like a chorus of voices (instruments) all swelling with you to agree, yes, this is a terrific song and all eleven of us violins will speak with you on that — as will a half-dozen trumpets, and those plinky wood-box percussion things. It was deeply thrilling to hear these songs get so colossally huge, and tremendously more expressive. I found myself picturing stars coming out into the sky at night during “Dearly Departed” when all the string instruments began a complex plucking pattern, the song so immense that it transcended the hall we were in. It got at that effect I am always longing and looking for in music: an overpowering sense of the vast other, the cresting of the tidal wave, the moment when it knocks you down.

We don’t, as a young-people whole, go to see the Symphony much — at least, I know I don’t. I’m sure you’ve spent many times more money in the past year on live popular music than on the symphony or other forms of “high culture,” even the raddest former band-geeks among us. I wonder if more of these incredible pairings could help remind us all why we sometimes need to sit ourselves beneath the cerulean thunder of the waves of sound that sixty people can create.

I was also watching the joy radiating around the musicians in the symphony as they performed, and from the young ones to the rad ponytailed older dudes on percussion, there was a definite energy created by this merger of forces, and what it teased out of the crowd. I would absolutely love to see more nights like tonight; I think of recordings I cherish that have captured this sort of pairing (Augie March, Josh Ritter, Joe Pug) and then fantasize about ones that would probably kill me dead if I ever were to see them live with a symphony (The National, mostly). This is a good idea with only good effects, as we stretch our musical boundaries and conceptions.

Tonight left me breathless. Musicians, let’s do this again.

February 14, 2012

i undressed someone’s daughter / then complained about her looks

I love the wrenching, tentative beauty in Joe Pug‘s hesitation.
(With a symphony orchestra a few weeks ago)

April 12, 2010

like drinkin’ gin with nothing else in, and that doesn’t hold me together

augie march technicolor

My little brother first told me about the marvelous and literate music of Augie March several years ago, and now he’s up and moved to the band’s native land of Australia. While he’s off doing things like abseiling near waterfalls and boating on the Sydney Harbor (someone give this kid a job), Augie March released their fourth album Watch Me Disappear over a year ago, and it slipped right past me.

You can hear one of their new songs below (the new album was recorded at Neil Finn’s Roundhead Studios in New Zealand, and is certainly recommended for fans of the Finn Brothers) — but reading this news made me decide to re-up an old set of Augie March playing with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. It’s one of my most-requested old posts, and for good reason. “One Crowded Hour” is still one of my favorite, gorgeous sad songs; alongside “Sometime Around Midnight” by Airborne Toxic Event, they both evoke a very young and desperate kind of love to me. With strings it becomes even more brilliantly devastating.

One Crowded Hour (with orchestra) – Augie March


New(er) song: Pennywhistle
I keep getting cascades of shivers at the lyric: “I dreamed you, like you dreamed me, oh the bomb dreamed the fuse and the drowner dreamed the sea…”

June 16, 2009

they sparkle, bubble over, and in the morning all you got is rain


As I’ve blathered on about before, Josh Ritter is one of the most talented epic songwriters we got goin’ right now. His words and music are nothing short of poetry, demanding a closer listen over and over.

Somehow in the cold winter bustle of December, I missed two renditions he recorded of his songs with a string quartet from Dublin’s Vicar Street Orchestra. Josh has used strings before in his recorded music (listen: “The Temptation Of Adam“) and played live shows with orchestras to immense effect, but these versions take it to a whole new level of sublime.

Girl in the War is laden with conflicted biblical imagery (as with many of his songs), and the deep waters of ache get even more vast here with the taut beauty of the strings. They speak to me in ways that no other instrument can.

These lyrics are all I really want to listen to on this gray day.

Girl In The War – Josh Ritter with String Quartet
(originally from 2006′s Animal Years)

Paul said to Peter you got to rock yourself a little harder
pretend the dove from above is a dragon and your feet are on fire

But I got a girl in the war Paul, the only thing I know to do
is turn up the music and pray that she makes it through

…I got a girl in the war Paul, her eyes are like champagne
they sparkle, bubble over, and in the morning all you got is rain

they sparkle, bubble over
and in the morning all you got is rain

Also download a string version of “Empty Hearts” (originally from 2007′s Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter), and if you are still unacquainted with his genius, many of his incredible songs are available for free download here.

# with Joe Pug (!)
* with Blind Pilot (!)
% with Helio Sequence
@ with Langhorne Slim

July 04 – Cork, Ireland. The Marquee (with full 24-piece orchestra and Lisa Hannigan!)
July 07 – Cleveland, OH. Beachland Ballroom #
July 08 – Des Moines, IA. Vaudeville Mews #
July 09 – Minneapolis, MN. Varsity Theater #
July 10 & 11 – Winnipeg, MB Winnipeg Folk Festival
July 12 – Fargo, ND. The Aquarium
July 14 – Boise, ID. Egyptian Theatre *
July 15 – Boise, ID. Egyptian Theatre
(solo acoustic with string quartet. Tift Merritt supports)
July 16 – Sun Valley, ID. Elkhorn Resort (outdoor show)
July 17 – Kennewick, WA. Red Room %
July 18 – Moscow, ID. Rendezvous in the Park %
July 20 – Helena, MT. Myrna Loy Center @
July 21 – Bozeman, MT. The Emerson Cultural Center @
July 22 – Salt Lake City, UT. Urban Lounge @
July 23 – Denver, CO. Bluebird Theater @
July 24 – Lawrence, KS. The Bottleneck @
July 25 – Omaha, NE. Slowdown @
July 27 – Columbia, MO. Blue Note @
July 28 – St. Louis, MO. Off Broadway Nightclub @
July 29 – Louisville, KY. WFPK Waterfront Park (FREE)
July 30 – Chicago, IL. Metro
July 31 – London, ON. Music Hall
Aug 01 – Montreal, Canada. Osheaga Festival
Aug 02 – Newport, RI. Newport Folk Festival
Aug 15 – North Adams, MA. MASS MoCA Festival

(with Elvis Perkins, Ben Kweller and more)

[photo credit Eric Connolly]

November 23, 2007

Augie March with a lush orchestra

Holy sweet fantastic, this is gorgeous. I already liked Augie March a lot before hearing this set; they managed to wow a midday tent-full of jaded music executives at the Boulder Records & Radio conference last August, coming all the way from Australia to play their hearts out with passion and earnestness. My brother, who is generally much cooler than I, tells me that in the land down under they are megastars, and I think their album Moo, You Bloody Choir is excellent. They are starting to get some well-deserved notice here.

Already literate and lavish, their songs become absolutely something else in this setting. “One Crowded Hour” makes me want to climb inside of it even more than before. What an elegant, evocative, soaring song.

[thanks jay!]

Lady Time (orchestra intro)
This Train Will Be Taking No Passengers
Mother Greer
The Honey Month
One Crowded Hour
Men Who Follow Spring The Planet ‘Round
Bottle Baby
O Song
Song In The Key of Chance
Stranger Strange


[photo from a set by Joff Crabtree]

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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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