Favorites of 2011
“The King Is Dead,” the Decemberists and “The Harrow & the Harvest,” Gillian Welch In a surprising return to their roots the Decemberists stripped down their sound, mixing a ’70s Neil Young vibe with some R.E.M. guitars and became one of the finest Americana bands of the year. The 10-song set still featured Colin Meloy’s trademark literate lyrics, but the almost-woody sound offered a more intimate feel. Every song makes you want to sing along.
Not to be outdone, Gillian Welch also stunned the music world, by actually putting out a new album, her first in eight years. And, of course, it was totally worth the wait. She and David Rawlings – accompanied only by acoustic guitars, banjo and harmonica – set their characters out on that dusty road looking for redemption. Just one listen to “Tennessee,’’ with its lyrics, “I had no desire to be a child of sin / Then you went and pressed your whiskers to my cheek’’ and you’ll understand that no matter how many other pairs try (the Civil Wars, etc.), Welch and Rawlings continue to be the true one and only. Read the full reviews HERE and HERE
Barnstar! at Club Passim It’s a given that the most fun you have at shows comes at the ones you almost don’t attend. The early show sold out before I could buy tickets, and it was only by the grace of God (and Passim booker Matt Smith) that a second show was added. The night was bluegrass heaven with a large dose of hellish fun. A band of local superstars (pictured from left) Zack Hickman, Mark Erelli, and Taylor and Jake Armerding (and Charlie Rose on banjo, who I couldn’t fit in this shot). These guys blazed a trail through country originals and rock standards (Paul Simon’s “Boy in the Bubble,” Neil Young’s “Cowgirl in the Sand” were standouts), all with incredible musicianship and good-time humor. See more pics HERE
Newport Folk Festival I’ve said it before, there is very little that beats perfect weather, a good friend, and lots of great music. If you hit the trifecta, Newport is the best there is. It’s a music festival where the fans really care to listen. And you get to see bands you might never have chosen to see. Read our concert review HERE
Being a roadie for a pair of shows for Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band I was lucky enough to spend three days on tour with one of the nicest group of guys around. The fact that I was nearly twice their age and had no real knowledge of how to “roadie” didn’t stop them from trusting me. And, what I thought was a hazing incident the first night on the bus with me having to sleep with Josh’s luggage turned out to be just a minor miscommunication (!). Oh, and by the way, the shows in Philadelphia and Boston were amazing. But you knew that. Read our review HERE
Hadestown, Me & Thee Coffeehouse (see top) This was my second chance to see Anais Mitchell’s Hades-town performed, and it was truly special. What made this version stand out was that all of the musicians performing (including Tim Gearan, Jefferson Hamer, Amy Correia, and Dinty Child) had sung the roles before. What I love about this photo is the expressions on the performers’ faces. They were all totally into the performance. Read our review HERE
Paradise Rock Club There’s something special about a venue that still feels like a rock ’n’ roll club. I don’t need comfy seats or craft ales. I need a place where the sound system can handle both loud and quiet music, the beers are fairly priced and you can immerse yourself in the moment. Now that’s Paradise.
The Way It Goes,” from “The Harrow & the Harvest,” by Gillian Welch. Becky Johnson bought the farm/Put a needle in her arm/That’s the way that it goes/That’s the way… Any question of what kind of songs fill Gillian Welch’s new album are answered in these lyrics. Yet somehow she and David Rawlings manage to find redemption amidst the pain. Rawlings’ acoustic guitar work is superb, filling the in-betweens with intricate runs while Gillian diligently strums her way through one of the few uptempo songs on the album.
“The Least I Can Do,” from “Everything Is Saved,” by David Wax Museum. The lyrics of this song are captivating, but it is the beautiful harmonies of David Wax and Suz Slezak that make me want to listen to this song over and over. The hearbroken guy lost his love and can’t figure out why she left him. He reels off excuses why he’s become a recluse: “I’m not trying to get away, from anything, or anyone/I’m not trying to get away from you/At least thats what I tell myself/It’s the least I can do.” It’s tragically delicious!
“The Boy in the Bubble,” from “C’mon,” by Barnstar! Sometimes it’s hard to imagine a popular song any other way but in its original version. One of Paul Simon’s classic tunes gets reworked with mandolins, banjo, guitar and bass courtesy of Barnstar! (see favorite concert on preceding page). The great thing about this version is that it retains the tension in the lyrics while the woody sound of mandolins, banjo, guitar and bass chug along replacing the electric sound that Simon provided.
‘When David and I really get down to work, it’s like we’re in a lifeboat, like we’re the only two people in the world, and it’s very quiet.’ Gillian Welch, about her musical relationship with partner David Rawlings
‘Imagine Ray LaMontagne coming home after a long day at work to a candlelit dinner cooked by John Mayer. That’s Mark Alexander’s music.’