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  • Rich Kassirer

Favorites of 2013

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at the Sinclair.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at the Sinclair.

Favorite Album: Patty Griffin, “American Kid’’

Anyone who follows Modern Acoustic knows just where I stand on Patty. Two words: voice crush. My god, listen to “Wild Old Dog.” The song kills me. It’s so sad, and her voice just brings me to the verge of tears – every time. Many of the songs here – “Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone,” “Not a Bad Man” – are written as a tribute to her dad, who had recently passed. “American Kid” is filled with many emotions. “Get Ready Marie” is a funny, waltz-like bar song, and “Don’t Let Me Die in Florida” (apparently a phrase her dad would say) rocks on its acoustic guitar backing. She even gets some help from her buddy and Led Zep great Robert Plant on the stunning “Ohio.”

Surprise Album: Josh Ritter, “The Beast In Its Tracks’’ This album was a double surprise. First, who would have expected a divorce record from Josh Ritter? Secondly, who would have thought such an album’s tunes would be so catchy! Some songs are angry and others are slyly digging (in “New Lover,” he sings, “If you are sad and you are lonesome and you’ve got nobody true/I’d be lying if I said that didn’t make me happy too”), but the overall impression of the album is one of resilience. Josh’s brilliant songwriting stands out even in the hard times. In “Hopeful” he sings, “Most nights I’m alright still old rocks roll downhill/But she says I’ll get better, she knows that I will. And she’s hopeful, hopeful for me. Coming out of the dark clouds.”

Memorable Concert Moment: Patty Griffin performing “Rain’’ at the House of Blues This show was unusual – it was the first time I had been to a seated show at the House of Blues. Also, the Bruins were in the playoffs and playing that night, so I was somewhat distracted. But Patty was amazing as always, playing songs from her new album and filling the in-between with stories about them, both reflective and humorous. In the middle of the show, she played one of her great songs, “Rain,” because it had been pouring steadily throughout the day as the remnants of Hurricane Andrea passed over the Northeast. She and her band started playing and a few words into the opening she stopped and cursed because she messed up. She started over and again stopped at the same spot, breaking into cackle and exhorting “what a trainwreck!” The audience laughed and then Patty gathered herself and sang the song perfectly and beautifully. See a clip of the showHERE.

Favorite Concert: The Lone Bellow at the Paradise I went to the show more out of support for my friends than because I wanted to see the band. But what I heard and saw was a band that is something special. The beautiful harmonies of trio Zach Williams, Brian Elmquist and Kanene Pipkin captivated the crowd, from the quiet opener “I Let You Go” to the rowdy “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold” right through to a nice rendition of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” and the rousing “Teach Me to Know,” performed from the middle of the crowd. For more on the Lone Bellow, see Page 3. See a clip from the show HERE.

Favorite Venue: Sinclair

To date I have only seen one show at the Sinclair in Cambridge – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (at left) – but I was completely impressed. Smaller than the Paradise, but set up more like a concert hall, the Sinclair, from sound to sightlines, is a nice addition to the Boston area music scene.  And, for the record, Isbell is a star on the rise. My original impression of the guy – from his background with Drive-By Truckers and his blocky dude-ish looks – was totally wrong. His songs are sensitive and insightful, and he can really play that guitar. See a clip of the show HERE.

Best Time at a Show: Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band in Lowell Facebook gets blamed for a lot – and most of the time rightfully so – but it should be praised for helping find people with similar tastes in music and bringing them together either online or, even better, in person. The fact that I can share shows with a group of people I wouldn’t have otherwise have known is awesome. A Josh Ritter show for me is usually family reunion time, and, yes, a bunch of family members were at the outdoor show in Lowell. But this time, my wife Sue and I were hanging with friends Jamie, Krista and Reid. This bunch – plus Lynne, who couldn’t make it – are constantly reminding what makes the concert-going experience fun. The cameraderie, the laughs, the constant badgering of me to come see shows (HA!) is the icing on the cake. Oh, by the way, the weather this night was perfect and Josh and the boys, and Kingsley Flood, who opened the show, did not disappoint. See a clip HERE.

Pleasant Surprise: Let’s Put It Off Podcast, Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers’  Van Sessions Videos Once a week my commute is made a little more tolerable by listening to the podcast Let’s Put It Off hosted by two singer-songwriters Danielle Miraglia and Jenee Halstead. The podcast offers a glimpse of life as a working musician (both are fully comitted in the Boston music scene) as they chat about everything from the psychology of performing to how to build an audience. There is also plenty of giggles and detours into topics about Lady Gaga, Prince and musically unrelated silliness, which keeps things from getting too deep. Musician guests willing to talk in depth about their careers help steer the conversation. Check the podcast out on iTunes HERE.

YouTube can be a black hole if you’re not careful, but it is also amazing for helping you find new acts. Early in the year, I came across Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers through their Van Sessions. Filmed while driving to gigs in their van, the group offers their renditions of classic rock tunes, from Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good” to Hall & Oates, Steve Miller, and Boz Scaggs covers. Even the driver joins in on harmonies! Check the videos out at HERE.

Favorite Quote: Susan Tedeschi Q. I’ve always been curious, can you just go into any Tedeschi’s and take whatever you want and just show your ID? A. Unfortunately, no. (Laughs.) I’d get scolded by my family members. You think of Tedeschi food shops or Angelo’s Supermarkets growing up — it was my grandfather and his brothers and sister that started it and there were five of them. And they all had kids and there are 25 of them. And then they all had kids and there’s 50 of us and then there’s our kids. So we can’t just walk into a Tedeschi’s and take whatever we want, because that would be like 250 people allowed to do that. (Laughs.) We would put ourselves out of business just with our own family. (Reprinted from The Boston Globe; read the whole interview HERE.)

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