Thursday, April 16, 2009

My Morning With Marty

I had the pleasure of attending the press day for Sparkle & Twang: Marty Stuart’s American Musical Odyssey at the Autry National Center of the American West. It’s a wonderful exhibition filled with historic items from Marty Stuart’s personal collection. While, naturally, it’s filled with memorabilia from Stuart’ long, illustrious career, there are also a great many items that he has collected from the American roots music scene at large - like a colorful array of Nudie suits, guitars (particularly some classic Johnny Cash guitars) and other fascinating items (such as a set of ties from the Lester Flatt band).
What made this walk-through extra special was that Marty Stuart himself played host. He provided behind-the-exhibit stories, like how Johnny Cash’s grandma sewed some J.C. Penney edging onto a suit after she saw him perform on a show with a more flamboyantly dressed Elvis Presley. He also talks about becoming friendly with Hank Williams’ sister Irene and described how he proclaimed, after meeting singer Connie Smith when he was 12, that he was going to marry her, which is what he ended up doing.
Visitors also can enjoy a good many of Stuart’s anecdotes in this well-annotated exhibit - like the concert where the Lester Flatt band (which a young Stuart was in at the time) shared a bill with the Eagles and Gram Parsons.
As this exhibit amply demonstrates, Stuart should be applauded for having the foresight for collecting, preserving and sharing so much of Country Music’s past. This show is a must-see for anyone interested not only in American music but 20th Century American culture as a whole.

Sparkle & Twang: Marty Stuart’s American Musical Odyssey runs at the Autry National Center of the American West (4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles) from April 16 through August 23. Admission is $9 for adults, $5 for students and seniors, and $3 for kids 3-12. For more information, visit

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Marissa Nadler

I was at Los Angeles’ Hotel CafĂ© the other night and caught an opening set from Marissa Nadler. I wasn’t much familiar with her beyond having seen her name around but I was glad to have seen her set. Nadler has been labeled with the freak folk tag, which she is and she isn’t. There is a definitely a mystical quality about both her and her music. With long dark hair, dark eyes and an introspective stage presence, she comes off as being a couple years matured from a post-goth period. Her songs are semi-twisted tales (one line went: “Silvia, I met you in a belly of a whale”) that she sings in a semi-quivery voice. The combination suggests a slightly odd blending of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan gone on a traditional English folk song kick. In fact, more than being a freak folkie, Nadler makes music in the dark art folk vein. It’s telling when her “lightest” song is a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat.” She was backed by a band for this show (a drummer, bassist and guitarist) that added to her music’s dreamy hallucinatory effect. They sounded a bit like a muted Cowboy Junkies. Nadler revealed at the end of the set that this was the first show with this backing band and that might have explained why the arrangements didn’t quite come together. Close but not fully transcendent. While the guitarist provided some vivid textures, it didn’t feel like there was enough dramatic tension in the music. However, maybe that was part of the point – to create a dark and dreamy sound that floated along with Nadler’s dark and dreamy songs. My lack of familiarity with the songs also uncut my full understanding and appreciation of the lyrics, although they projected an eerie, timeless quality. But it does say something that these beguiling performance is still staying with me a few days after the fact.
Nadler has a new album Little Hells (a seemingly appropriate title) that just came out on the Kemado Records label.

Friday, April 3, 2009

My Lowe-down on the new Nick Lowe Best Of disc

Quiet Please...The New Best Of Nick Lowe {Yep Roc}
• by michael berick
Quiet Please is, as it subtitle indicates, not Nick Lowe's first Best Of (that's 16 All Time Lowes), his biggest Best Of (The Doings), his most hits-packed Best Of (Basher), or his most rarities-filled Best Of (The Wilderness Years). But this two-disc collection is his most comprehensive Best Of, and, perhaps, his best Best Of. Its 49 tracks follow Lowe's entire solo career, along with stops at various group efforts (from Brinsley Schwarz through Rockpile to Little Village) along the way.

The compilation commences with the rousing Brinsley gem "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding" (later co-opted by Elvis Costello and Curtis Stigers). Disc one cherry-picks Lowe's favorite tunes from Pure Pop For Now People through Pinker And Prouder Than Previous. The second disc contains his more recent, "quieter" work. The collection's chronological nature winds up showing a man evolving from clever youth to introspective middle age.

As with any collection, there are quibbles over song choices. Only one Brinsley tune (and, less disappointingly, one from Little Village) and two Rockpile tracks appear. Completists might grumble over the lack of previously unreleased cuts, and the rarities are few and not particularly revelatory. The Bowi EP obscurity "Endless Sleep" might be a precursor to his current sound, but it's wedged amidst more brightly colored Pure Pop pleasures.

Minor qualms aside, this retrospective wonderfully reveals Lowe's many musical moods (from silly to serious, from rock to country to soul and many combinations within those), and serves as a terrific reminder of what a master songcraftsman he is.