Monday, October 19, 2009

This Week’s So Fine So. Cal. Concerts: Doubly Fine Double Bills

This week, I have a pair of shows to recommend that both boast particularly excellent double bills.
On Friday, Oct. 24, the Troubadour welcomes Blind Pilot and The Low Anthem. Blind Pilot has been known to tour via bicycle. I don’t know if the Portland, Oregon band will be pedaling down to L.A., but they will be pedaling their tunes off of their terrific 2007 release 3 Rounds And A Sound. They have been known to tour via bicycle. Led by singer/guitarist Israel Nebeker, the band has a knack for folksy rock that is anchored in melodic hooks. 3 Rounds comes packed with a number of memorably tracks, like “Oviedo,” “Paint Or Pollen” and “Two Towns From Me”; it’s one of those discs that’s always a pleasure to pull off the shelf.
The Rhode Island-based Low Anthem put out a disc this year, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, that is shaping up to fall into the very same category. It starts off with a trio of beguiling, gentle tunes (“Charlie Darwin,” “To Ohio” and “Ticket Taker”) that set up the band up along the quiet bucolic pop of the Jayhawks, but then they shift gears with a pair of raucous foot-stompers (“The Horizon Is A Beltway” and the Kerouac/Waits collaboration “Home I’ll Never Be”). It’s impressive that singer Ben Knox Miller can convincingly pull off these dulcet and ragged vocal styles. On Charlie Darwin, the Low Anthem has evolved into mighty fine craftsmen of lovely pastoral pop and more rugged, rootsy rock.
The week’s second recommendable show occurs the next night when the Hotel Café hosts both William Elliott Whitmore and Hoots and the Hellmouth. Over the past few years, Whitmore has been churning out stark folk blues that sounds likes it comes from a much older man than young Iowan is. This year he released his “major label” debut Animals In The Dark on Anti-. Whitmore expanded his arrangements a bit on this effort (like on the fiery full-band opener “Mutiny”) but overall he still sounds like an old-time bluesman on dark, intense tunes like “Johnny Law” and “Hell Or High Water.”
Also residing at the Hotel Café that night is the Hoot And Hellmouth. Although they hail from Philadelphia, they are more of a rural band than a city one. On their rollicking new release, The Holy Open Secret, they sound like they have been busking for year. Songs like “Root of the Industry” and “Watch Your Month” crank out a funky acoustic vibe, while “Three Penny Charm” and “Family Band” showcase their quieter side. With their blend of the rollicking and gentle, they fall somewhere between the Old Crow Medicine Show and the Avett Brothers on the jammy Americana band spectrum.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Song of the Week: The Blakes – “Charmed”

I don’t know much about the Blakes. They are a Seattle based garage pop band fronted by brothers Garnet & Snow Keim, who have a new full length Souvenir that I listened to the disc last night. While I enjoyed the band’s sweaty, retro-inspired sound, I was totally charmed by their song “Charmed.” It sounds like a wonderful Nuggets flashback. The gritty little number is powered by a thumping drum beat, although a vintage sounding guitar solo peaks out about halfway through. It also nicely balances the scrappy lead vocals with some shadowy background vocals floating in the mix. There’s an Anglophile flair to the Blakes’ sound without being too obvious of an homage. Its straightforward, low-tech production values fit in perfectly with what the band is going after. Although the lyrics aren’t especially profound (“hey there juicy fruit” is the opening line), they definitely get the sound vibe right. If you are looking for a new, but throwback sounding, garage pop gem, you need to look no further than the Blakes’ “Charmed.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Show To See (although I wasn’t there): Elliott Brood

I meant to get out some advance word for the Elliott Brood show but the Columbus Day holiday made me lose track of the week from the start.
So while it’s too late to plug their 10/13 show in L.A., it’s not too late to plug the band itself. And yes, Elliott Brood is a band, not a man. The Canadian trio blend acoustic and electric instrumentation into something deeply intense and richly textured.
They have just issued a powerful and memorable new disc, Mountain Meadows (Six Shooter Records). Apparently it deals with a slaughter that occurred in 1857. Given the bloody backstory, it’s not surprising that the music comes off as moody and (yes) brooding, but there’s also a vibrancy in its darkness. While it’s hard to highlight one song out of this cohesive set, the closing tune “Miss You Now” is a particular standout and it nicely exemplifies the band’s loud/soft construct and emotionalism in both the singing and the playing.
I saw an acoustic set that they did during the Americana Music Conference and I was struck by the ferocity of their performance. The dynamics that they created made me think of them something like an acoustic Feelies, although they don’t really sound like that iconic band. Still, Elliott Brood is worthy checking out both live and on disc.
Next time, I’ll try to give more advance warning…

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Merci Bien, Jessie Torrisi

When I received this disc, it touted Jessie Torrisi as some who played in some NYC bands (Unisex Salon, Laptop, Les Fleurs Tragiques) that I wasn’t familiar with, so I didn’t have any expectations as to what this album would be like. Well, actually, I wasn’t expecting much for this “mystery disc”, but I am happy to report that Torrisi has fashioned a terrific little solo debut (“little” in the sense that it’s a concise 8 song disc that runs just over 30 minutes) with "brujer, brujer."
Torrisi is something of an alt. folk-rock chanteuse, for lack of a better term. Take the marvelous leadoff track, “Hungry Like Me.” Torrisi’s captivating search for someone compatible with her deftly mixes twangy elements (pedal steel) with plucky keyboards (my copy of disc didn’t come with credit list so I’m fishing a little for specific instrumentation).
Love is a common theme throughout the disc. “X In Texas” finds her essaying a busted relationship – one where she wants to “just unbuckle me from you.” It’s another song that boasts a strong, although subtle arrangement, as it well utilizes some subdued horns along with a slide-y guitar line.
Torrisi goes back on the love offensive with “Cannonball.” It’s a jaunty, near-jazzy number that showcases the beguiling way Torrisi sashays around a song. Near the song’s end, she chooses to sing the work “explode” softly, making it all the more effective. “Runaway Train” is another standout track, both with its powerful, percussive arrangement and Torrisi’s emotive singing, which resembles an arty roadhouse version of Chrissie Hynde.
She exudes a playful bittersweet quality in the troubled relationship tune “Stormy Clouds,” which also displays her knack for phrase-turning. She’s particularly adept at using strong natural imagery – in this song, there’s a radiant line: “everything you love bursts into flames”- that reflect her dealings with relationships and love. Moreover, song titles like “Runaway Train” and “Cannonball” reveal a certain physicality to her songwriting, which also works well with her song’s looks at love.
After the sultry soulful “So Many Miles,” the disc wraps up with her most emotionally direct tune, the spare, piano-based “The Brighter Side.” This survivor’s tale is a stirring, and ultimately uplifting, number suggests a more laidback Michelle Shocked (in her gospel mood).
In “Runaway Train,” Torrisi sings: “what’s it going to take to get your attention?” With this thoroughly impressive debut, she certainly has created an attention-grabber. One of the joys of receiving mystery discs is when they turn out to be surprising delights, and "bruler, bruler" is one of the surprisingly delightful discs.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

If I Were Going Out – I’d Be Going Out To See Todd Snider on October 8

I don’t get out as much as I used to, or want to, so I often wind up “attending” show vicariously. One show that you attend for me is Todd Snider’s appearance at the Grammy Museum as part of their The Drop series. The Drop is a very cool on-going program the Museum has where it hosts an act that is releasing (“dropping”) a new album. I saw a Drop session with Marshall Crenshaw and was a very worthwhile experience.
Todd Snider might make for an even more engaging guest than Crenshaw. The Nashville-based singer/songwriter is one of the best around at telling a story that’s laced with wit and arsenic. For several years, Snider was on John Prine's label and if the master songsmith Prine wants a singer-songwriter for his label that's a high compliment. While Snider's last disc, Peace Queer, was a decidedly politically charged effort, his new album, The Excitement Plan (on Yep Roc), promises to be his trademark collection of darkly humored tunes.
Snider’s best-known numbers probably are “Alright Guy” and the satiric “Talkin’ Seattle Grunge Rock Blues,” from his 1994 debut. However, over the past 15 years he has crafted a slew of memorable tunes, like “Thin Wild Mercury” (that deals with Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan), “D.B. Cooper” and “Play A Train Song,” to name a few.
But Snider is really in his element on a stage, where he can tell colorful tales about his just-as-colorful tunes. It’s this quality that makes The Drop’s Q&A-plus-performance set-up such an appealing scenario to catch Snider.
However, if you can make it down to the Grammy Museum on Oct. 8, Snider is scheduled to return to L.A. on December 12 for a show at the El Rey.

Todd Snider appears at the Grammy Museum (800 W. Olympic Blvd., LA, at 8 p.m. on Oct. 8. Tickets are $10.