Category Archives: +++ alt-country

Mary Lou Lord

maryloulord

Mary Lou Lord was my introduction to indie rock. If it weren’t for her song “His Indie World”, that I heard on a syndicated indie radio show on Sunday nights called “Spin Radio” (later– “Revolution Radio”), I would have never discovered the numerous classic indie rock bands she references in that song, until many, many years later. But in early 1995, when I first heard this song (lyrics below), I begun my true musical education looking for all those bands’ CDs at local, used record stores. What an education it was, too. What an enjoyable journey. And of course, I had to own all of Mary Lou Lord’s releases, too. And man, I fuckin’ LOVED them. I’ve been influenced by a lot of female musicians in my life, but I think the very first were Juliana Hatfield, Tanya Donnely, and Mary Lou Lord.

A few years after hearing “His Indie World” (from her self-titled EP), Mary Lou released her major label debut, “Got No Shadow”, which has “Lights Are Changing” (Bevis Frond cover, which appears on her first EP), as well as one of my favorite songs, ever, “His Lamest Flame” (the opening track– a lyrical response to Elvis Presley’s “Marie’s The Name (His Latest Flame)”). So creative, and so damn catchy. In my opinion, a much better song than the one Elvis recorded.

As I listen to her, as I’m writing this, it’s again clear that Mary Lou Lord is just one of those singer-songwriters that speaks to the very essence of your soul. You have an emotion, and you put on one of her albums, and she just gets you. It’s not really the other way around… you thinking, “I totally relate to her! Man, what a great song.” No. She relates to YOU. She gets you. That’s just her sound, her energy, her presence. Her music is that transcendent…. it just reaches in, and pulls, pulls, pulls. She’s said of The Bevis Frond (probably her favorite band) how altruistic, honest, and genuine his music is. I can see that in the Bevis Frond, without a doubt, but I also see those very traits in her music.

Mary Lou was very musically active in the 90s, but after she had her daughter (coincidentally, a talented singer/songwriter, herself!), she got really quiet, musically. Most likely because she wanted to raise her daughter right, but man, what a musical void she left during the 2000s.

From 2001-2015 she basically didn’t do much, musically… maybe a one-off show here and there in her native Boston (and she’s never really stopped busking in Boston, which is how she got discovered), and then she did a 2004 album called “Baby Blue”, released on a small label (I really love that record even though so few people know of it).

And then, recently, she dropped a lovely collection of songs on all her fans, with her latest record, “Backstreet Angels.” It is a collection of covers and original songs (as is common with basically everything she releases), and quite a collection it is, indeed. At 50 years of age, she’s still got it. She still sounds like she’s in her mid-20s, doing the gritty acoustic jangle-pop she’s done so well.

On a personal note, I’ve been following her on facebook for a while. A few years ago, I read on her website that she had suffered from a vocal cord condition called spasmodic dysphonia (involuntary spasms during speech, and occasionally singing). I was concerned that maybe that’s why she was so quiet, musically, after 2004. She didn’t post really anything (or at least anything I could see initially). All of a sudden, I started seeing a lot more posts by her, talking about her record and whatnot. I initially wasn’t able to comment on any of her posts, as we weren’t proper friends, but one day, I saw that I was able to comment. I happily commented several times, about how much I love her as a person and as a singer/songwriter, and she responded to every comment I posted. I was so thrilled! Here was Mary Lou Lord, one of my biggest songwriting influences, kinda sorta talking to me on facebook. One day, she said I should send her my music, as she was planning on doing a music blog type of thing in the near future. So honored that she would actually give a shit about some unknown dude’s tunes. She actually added me as a friend proper, one day after that, and I gladly accepted her request. It seems like we have a nice online friendship and rapport going on, in our random facebook banter/comments. She’s just a super-cool woman (and I’d say I’m a pretty cool dude, myself, haha). Seeing her posts usually make my day, as she always has something cool to share (often musically, as do I), and, without me sounding too “fanboy” about it all, I’m just really happy that we shoot the shit and talk music. And, I told her yesterday that I’ve been meaning to promote her new record and talk about her music, and she was really happy to hear that… so, here it is!

Without further ado, please allow me to share some of my favorite Mary Lou Lord songs with you all. And, for you Spotify users (wait, you’re not on Spotify yet? What are you WAITING for?), here is the full album stream of her latest record. Enjoy!

God, those harmonies on “Some Jingle Jangle Morning”…. KILL ME.

Her brilliant duet with Elliott Smith

The Archies song “Sugar Sugar” (with Semisonic). The best cover on “Saturday Morning Cartoon’s Greatest Hits”, by far.

“My Buddy Valentine”, from her latest record

“Because He’s Leaving”, from her 2004 record

And, finally…. “Backstreet Angels”

Buy it here: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/maryloulord2

And I’ve got to stream “Got No Shadow”, too…. it’s so worth your time. One of the most overlooked 90s albums, period.

Thanks, Mary Lou. 🙂

“His Indie World” lyrics:

I don’t think I fit into his indie world
Guided By Voices and Velocity Girl
Eric’s Trip and Rocket Ship, Rancid and Rocket from The Crypt
Bikini Kill and Built to Spill, it’s plain to see that I don’t fit
He says my songs are too deep and gloomy
He wishes that I could be more like Jenny Toomey
Just give me my Joni my Nick, Neil, and Bob
You can keep your Tsunami, your Slant 6 and Smog
What’s the story he says Butterglory
I say what’s the news he says the Silver Jews
His Heavenly hang-up is getting me down
And it’s making me wonder why he’s hanging around
Cause I don’t fit into his indie scene
Huggy Bear and Helium and Half-Japanese
Sebadoh and Sentridoh and Superchunk and I don’t know
Doug and Lou and Calvin too and Kim and Kim and Kim and Kim
Yeah I’m stuck in the past and he’s stuck on his four-track
But I can’t get through to his one-track mind
I push play and record and a major chord
Maybe I’ll win his heart this time
Maybe I’ll win his heart this time

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KaiserCartel

kaisercartel

On their last.fm bio page, it says “Warm up by the fire with KaiserCartel.”

After reading this, I had to listen to them almost non-stop this month. I’m freezing my ass off, miserable (winter does this to me.. I have Seasonal Affective Disorder), and this music helps greatly. I hate  February. Despise it. It brings back a lot of horrible memories. Namely on 2/7/11, when I lost my higher-range singing voice for almost three years.

Anyway, back to KaiserCartel…. I first discovered them after seeing the great indie film “Liberal Arts”… their masterpiece “Favorite Song” is the last song in the film.

Here’s a Spotify playlist with the album containing “Favorite Song”… enjoy this lovely, simple music.

Buck 65

IslBG

Buck 65 is my favorite underground hip-hop artist, by far. No one puts together more interesting/fresh/weird hip-hop, than he does. And his lyrics are tremendous.

I had the great pleasure and luck of hanging out with Buck 65 during a 2007 show in Philly. He was opening for Sage Francis. After he played his set, he was over at the merch booth, burning tour-specific CDs on his mac laptop. I went right over there, bought a shirt and all four tour CDs, and hung out and talked with him during Sage’s entire set. Hardly anyone was around, because everyone loves Sage (I do, too…. but hanging out with Buck 65 is a memory I will never forget). We talked about everything from Hal Hartley films, to Juliana Hatfield and Buffalo ’66 (the Vincent Gallo film– which he sampled one of the best scenes from, in his song “Pants on Fire”).

At the end of the conversation, he gave me his email address and home address in Canada when he was living there (I still have the pieces of paper he wrote on). During the convo, I offered to send him a care package with bootlegs, short film collections, etc, and he was eager to check it all out. I did send the package a few days after the show, but according to him, he never received it, sadly. But still, he was really cool about it, and again, it’s a memory I won’t ever forget.

Been listening to his album “Man Overboard” since before I went to sleep, and still, as I am awake early on this Friday morning. Here are some tracks from it.

Sadly, a lot of his music isn’t readily available. He released several albums between 1996 and 2005, and most of them are hard to find (even though they were re-released by Warner Music in 2002), though all of them are considered classics (Man Overboard, Vertex, Synesthesia, and the two earliest: Weirdo Magnet, and Language Arts). I have his entire discography, but I definitely believe that the first of those five are the best.

recommended listening, in order (if you can find the albums)….

Man Overboard
Vertex
Synesthesia
Talkin’ Honky Blues
Square
Language Arts
Weirdo Magnet

 

Gillian Welch

Never knew anything about this woman until yesterday, when I was hanging with my friend (and current musical collaborator) Renee. She is a big fan of hers, and shared some of of Gillian’s tunes with me and we played a few together. I was instantly in love with Gillian’s music and voice. Take a listen.

 

The Tallest Man On Earth

A lot of people have already heard the brilliant work of this Swedish singer/songwriter. But there are millions who haven’t yet, so let’s talk about him.

The Tallest Man On Earth is Kristian Matsson. He is an indie/folk singer-songwriter, who plays guitar in a variety of open and altered tunings. He is married to another Swedish singer-songwriter, who often performs with him live (and vice-versa). He’s been compared to Bob Dylan and Nick Drake, but I would consider his music completely original as the only comparison I can see is Dylan MAYBE vocally… (maybe.. Kristian is a much better singer, and I say this as a big Dylan fan)… and I can see the Nick Drake comparison because he uses altered/open tunings, which Nick Drake used almost exclusively, save for a few songs such as “Things Behind The Sun” and a few others).

Take a listen to his KEXP performance from a few months back……. lovely stuff here.

PS- You may notice that Kristian looks/sounds a bit uncomfortable and nervous in this live performance (especially while speaking to the DJ).

A lot of YouTube commenters are of course, ignorantly commenting on his demeanor… joking around, asking if he kills himself after the performance, etc (god, I hate ignorant/stupid people). Keep a couple things in mind if you are puzzled during certain parts of the video…

1. He’s Swedish and English is not his native language…. 2. His songwriting and his passion are clearly evident while he’s singing and playing… this doesn’t necessarily translate when a person is speaking. For instance, I am kind of a hyper, energetic speaker in person (especially if I’m comfortable around people I know), but when I perform, I am calm/in the zone (basically the opposite of this guy) and on the flipside, I am INCREDIBLY shy and quiet, talking with people I don’t know well (which could be the case here, with Kristian’s interaction with the DJ)…. 3. You don’t know if he is going through some personal problems, or having a very bad day, in this video… no one knows what’s in his head except for him, and 4. Maybe he’s just a shy/introverted dude.

At the end of the day, all that matters to us (as fans/listeners) is the music. And speaking of, look at that guy’s fingers, especially on the last song, which begins around 18 minutes in). Enjoy.

 

 

 

Band of Horses

Band-of-Horses

BOH is a band who, when first hearing their song “The First Song” (coincidentally), I was immediately drawn to.

They’ve been around forever (about 7 years). When indie/emo gods Carissa’s Wierd (spelling error intentional) broke up in 2003, Ben Bridwell (vocals/guitar in Band of Horses — drums, then bass in CW) started a new band, very different from CW, and in my opinion, much better.

I think their best record without a doubt, is 2007’s Cease To Begin. I feel that BOH has gotten kinda bland with the recent records (which I also feel have a warmer production style that I don’t really like as much as the production and engineering of Cease To Begin.

Here’s the sound of BOH in seven words: epic vocals, weird lyrics, alt-country, gorgeous.

Here are a few of my longtime faves:

Also, check out “The Funeral”, “The First Song”, “Laredo” and basically every single one of their other songs… cause they kick ass.

 

Mindy Smith

mindysmith

Ya know, I hate Christian lyrics/artists…. really not my thing at all. But there’s an exception: Mindy Smith. She’s someone who doesn’t preach much in her music (well, in her second album, anyway– her first record has an opening track called “Come To Jesus”…. but I still like that album, too). I think her best record is her second, “Long Island Shores.” She’s been around just over a decade, and I dunno… I’ve really loved her sound since first hearing her.

She has one of the most pleasant voices in modern folk/country... I don’t know what it is… her melodies and her phrasing… she’s just damn good….  her voice is never annoying. It’s just warm, pleasant. The kind of voice I’d love a girlfriend of mine to have, if I ever had another girlfriend.

I could listen to this record over and over (and I have). I haven’t heard much of her music beyond her first two records, but I dunno, as I spin this record, I figured I’d write about her on my blog.

And for the record, the second song listed here, “Tennessee” (written entirely by her)….. fucking FANTASTIC SONG. Gives me chills. That is all.

Give her a shot. You may like her sound. Again, it’s not preachy Christian stuff… just damn good “Nashville-sound” songwriting.

 

Rilo Kiley

rilokiley

Rilo Kiley is probably one of the single most underrated American bands.

Backstory: Jenny Lewis was on a Nickelodeon kids show way back when (early 90s or so). Blake Sennett (guitars) played Frankie, the short bully-type with the huge, big-hearted (but intimidating) best friend, on one of my all-time favorite shows, Boy Meets World (1993-2000).

I won’t bore you to death with details of their backstory, but I just found that interesting…

Let’s talk about

RILO KILEY’s lyrics:

brilliant, sarcastic, poetic, and cute-angry

 

RILO KILEY’s music:

extremely well-written, spanning new wave, alt-country, and whatever they hell else they wanted to write.

 

RILO KILEY’s name:

Best band name, ever. Apparently it came to one of the band members, in a dream.

 

LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN (all three of these songs are from their record “The Execution Of All Things”).

 

Raven Katz (Raven Katz Band)

Tonight, I had the absolute pleasure of playing a show in Manayunk, Philly at the Grape Room with my talented friend Drew Brightbill, as part of his band “Words In Flight” (I haven’t played out since 2007). Immediately following our set, was this band I was about to be completely surprised by…. Raven Katz and her band.

It is pretty much NEVER, where I find myself mesmerized by a band playing at a bar, especially on a night where I just played. Oftentimes the bands bore me to death or are just doing music that is by and large, boring.

This is not the case with Raven Katz. She and her band are all either Berklee College Of Music grads, or current students. They are all very attractive people (especially Raven and Maddie, her lead guitarist and harmony vocalist). And man… were the songs fucking GREAT…. stellar songwriting. Just PERFECT music. I was sitting to the side of the stage playing with my phone before they went on… and after the first few songs, I had to grab a chair right in front of the stage. They were THAT fucking good.

Don’t even get me started on Raven’s silky smooth, professional voice and melody/phrasing in her singing. And the aforementioned guitarist Maddie Rice (she’s behind Raven in this photo)….. Maddie is THE cutest girl EVER, and she played guitar like a fuckin’ badass… I’ve never heard a guitarist play with better phrasing and melodic/harmonic decoration than this girl. She fucking ruled. Bottom line– this is a band that is going places.

 

 

 

There is unfortunately little music by the Raven Katz band online….

edit: here’s a live at Berklee thing Raven just did a few days ago!

 

And here’s a song called Apollo, which I think they opened with (minus the violin):

 

I literally was so blown away and pleasantly surprised by this band…. never in a million years would I have wanted to stick around in a very warm bar, watching some band with 10 people in the crowd (half of which were the bands that played). But again, the music was that good. And her voice just melted me.

But then it got even better…. Maddie started singing some vocal harmony in the 3rd or 4th song… and I was like, not only can this awesome girl shred on guitar but she could sing, too. And when I mean shred I mean… in such a tasteful way——– she played like the way Jennifer Turner (from the short-lived band Furslide) played with Natalie Merchant on Natalie’s first solo record….. I remember seeing “Wonder” and  “Carnival” on SNL in 1996, and thought Jennifer Turner was such a GREAT player, with extremely tasteful additions to Natalie’s songs. Maddie Rice played exactly like this and really took Raven’s songs to another level.

During the set, Raven had mentioned they were from Boston… and no doubt, I KNEW right away.. this is the first thing that came to my mind—- “these are without a doubt…Berklee students.” Then a few songs later they mentioned they were all Berklee grads or undergrads. I even said out loud (kind of quietly, not obnoxiously)…. “it’s obvious! You guys are amazing!” I think it made the crowd kind of go… “uhhh” and the band, too. But hey, as a music teacher who has studied the art of songwriting and high-quality songcraft all his life, I just knew. I knew. When it comes through, it really comes through. And I was thinking, “this is the shit. I’m so fucking glad I’m sitting right here in this too-warm bar.” And I never think things like that. Usually I think, “I want to go home and watch Amelie or The Perks of Being a Wallflower again.” or “I want to go home and teach myself some Sunny Day Real Estate songs by ear.”

rkband

So afterward, I just had to introduce myself to the band. First Aaron, the bass player, who was funny and had some great, simple bass playing (I liked how he didn’t overplay). And then I talked with Raven for a bit… it was just so great. She was so beautiful. I seriously wanted to tell her (AND Maddie) that they are like the women of my dreams. Extremely talented, great voices, great WRITERS, and just beautiful girls. Of course, I didn’t say that, I stuck to the music. It’s tough complimenting a girl you don’t know, because no matter what is said and how genuine or kind, it comes off creepy. Thanks, social media!

So anyway….. I talked to the drummer Tim briefly and really dug his creative performance…. mallets, brushes, rods, mismatched stick types, shirt on snare drum, sizzle ride cymbal… it kicked ass. He was really good and really cool.

So, going back to the girls (which are obviously a huge selling point of the band)…. Maddie was super sweet and I found out that she had only been playing guitar for no more than five years… and she actually took lessons at the School of Rock, a company that I have worked for since 2007. She said “basically everything I learned about guitar, I learned from School of Rock!” haha. It was great. We talked about her main guitar influences, Jeff Beck and David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. I had mentioned that Gilmour is like the god of string-bending… he bends a note and you’re like “fuck.” She laughed. She got it. Maddie then gave me two of her business cards.. one was her personal/professional card where she offered her services as a live or studio musician… and the other was a card for her folk duo, Siv and Maddie. I will write about them in the next entry here at my blog. Yeah, shit is THAT good.

So yeah…. I really feel inspired right now and just smitten by this band. I hope they get huge and I hope that the whole world knows about them someday. They could easily open for or tour with artists like John Mayer, Ingrid Michaelson, Colbie Caillat, Jason Mraz,  etc… WXPN in Philly and all the Boston stations should be all over this shit. Just FANTASTIC songwriting.

I’m a talented guy, but I’d give anything… ANYTHING… to play in a band with such great (and beautiful) singers/songwriters/musicians. That has been my life goal since forever. I wish I lived in Boston, or went to Berklee. But alas, I’m completely self-taught. Makes things tough when you’re trying to find talented (and NICE) people to do music with.

Somewhere in the set, I kind of got the vibe that Raven might have been a bit too smug about her songs and her band… but this thought was put to rest when I really watched her sing. She sang with her eyes closed… SO in the moment… just IN the zone. I think I was too quick to assume, about the smug thing. Talking to her afterward eliminated any of the previous thoughts I had. She was completely down-to-earth and appreciative that someone got where her music and band were coming from. And I think so few people do…. this is one of the reasons I do this blog: To let people know that great music DOES exist… it’s not all boring-ass, stupid mindless bullshit… and furthermore, simple, pretty music holds a LOT of weight (this is for the people who may think “indie” music (or folk-influenced) is lame and or talentless….. which of course, is an ignorant assumption). A lot of people out there (including myself) have great things to say, musically. And people need to always go through life with fully open ears…. you never know what gems you’ll find out there. We are all teachers of music, and we are all students. God knows I didn’t expect being this impressed, tonight…. but I’m so glad I got to hear it all, and even more glad I got to chat briefly with these awesome people.

Final note (pretty much unrelated to this, but I feel the timing is significant in some way): In 9 hours, I have to go under the knife for my second vocal cord surgery (microlaryngoscopy with incision) in five years. I have not been able to sing in my lifelong (higher) voice for over 29 months now. I was so hoarse tonight talking to Raven Katz and her band (I currently have a hemorrhage on my right vocal cord)….. it literally hurt me (physically) to talk to them but to me, it was so worth it.

I’m hoping my surgery is a success…. the first one was, but bad luck and circumstance fucked me up royally in early 2011……. so, I’m hoping I can get some more songs finished (with vocals)… again, after seeing the band tonight, I am reeling with inspiration and happiness. Sucky thing? I won’t be able to talk until July 28th. Oh well… that’s why blogging rules.

—————-

Raven, you’ve got to get your album done! I haven’t bought a CD in over a year, but I certainly will, from you guys. And Maddie– very soon (money-permitting), I’m so buying your record from cdbaby.

Thanks for the inspiration, guys…. I hope this blog post brings you thousands and thousands of new fans.

The Middle East

In three and a half sentences:

The Middle East were an amazing band from Australia that broke up way before its time. They had gorgeous songs filled with lush harmonies and awesome folk-oriented instrumentation. Do yourself a favor and listen to this one song, and then seek out all of their other material (there isn’t much, but it’s so worth your time).