Sunday, April 25, 2010

Go See Hear: April 26-May 2

April winds down with a relatively quiet week – at least on my concert radar.
However, there is a one show that leaps out at me: the Dr. Dog show on Tuesday night (April 27) at the Music Box at the Fonda. This Philadelphia-based band has been building the buzz over the last several years and they have taken a major leap with their latest effort, the super Shame, Shame, which also marks their Anti- Records debut. The group draws inspiration from the classic rock of the ‘60s and ‘70s but have developed their own style that nicely balances power and polish – and so these Dogs stand out as the "Show of the Week."

Also notable this week is a couple local appearances by legendary British bluesman John Mayall, who has a show at Agoura Hills’ Canyon Club on April 29 and the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on May 1. While Mayall isn’t exactly a household name, almost every major British musician seems to have played with him at one time or another. For example, the guitar slot in his band Bluebreakers was held down by Eric Clapton, then Peter Green and finally Mick Taylor during one stretch in the ‘60s.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

CD Review: Sing SOS – Songs Of The Spectrum

Benefit albums often are more earnest than truly enjoyable. You typically buy to support the cause rather than wanting to listen to the songs. It’s rare for a benefit album to actually engage you musical, but Sing SOS – Songs of the Spectrum is one of those rare albums.

As the title suggests, this disc concerns autism spectrum disorders, and these disorders are said to affect around 1 in every 100 children. The project’s organizers know something about this disorder too. John O’Neill is a a New York Times writer who wrote about his autistic son as part of a Pulitzer Prize-nominated series.

The disc attracted a strong lineup of performers. The biggest names here are folks like Jackson Browne, Jonatha Brooke and Marshall Crenshaw, along with other musicians such as Dar Williams, Ollabelle, Ari Heist and Don Dixon & Marti Jones. There are obviously a number of fine songwriters involved; however, one of the unique (and rather risky, considering the assembled talented) aspects here is that the artists just sing the songs, not compose them. All the songs basically were written by the trio of O’Neill and Jon Fried and Deena Shoshkes, from the long-running New Jersey indie rock band the Cucumbers. So besides being a benefit disc, this is also something of a concept album.

However, this approach worked out wonderfully. The trio has penned a lyrically cohesive yet musical diverse set of songs that explore living with autism as well as living with someone who has autism. They are able to write from an insider’s perspective while also making it lyrically interesting. On the opening number, “One Went Missing,” engagingly performed by the band Ollabelle, they talk about a parent’s anxiety about having to be vigilant about watching an autism child “every waking hour, every waking minute.” In “Diagnosis,” Richard Julian sings the powerful image of “falling down a well” to convey someone living with autism.

One song that struck me in particular was “Afraid (My Brother’s Cries)” which Fried co-wrote with Chris O’Neill (John’s non-autistic son). It is a relatively simple tune about a brother’s fears for his afflicted brother, but lines like “I’m afraid that there won’t be anyone to catch him when he falls” pack a strong emotional punch. In fact, the entire disc resonates powerfully.

While the lyrics all deal with this serious topic, the arrangements vary enough to avoid making the songs feel like lectures. “If It Were His Legs” is done by Christina Courtin as a piano-based ditty. Dar Williams makes “House On Fire” into an urgent folk-rockers and Dixon & Jones injects “He’s Coming Back” with a fun funkiness.
The final song here, “It’s Time,” puts across an impassioned plea to the government bureaucrats to get “these kids some help,” and it’s performed with suitable outrage by Dan Bern & Mike Viola. The album actually closes with a short but touching spoken word piece written and done by James O’Neill. He gives his perspective about living with autism and concludes with the hopeful line: “the rainbow needs to be spread.”

Sing SOS is not just a terrific benefit album, it’s a pretty terrific album overall.
For more information, visit

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Go See Hear April 18-25

This week offers another super week of shows.

The top choice for the week is the Shelby Lynne show at the Roxy on Thursday April 22 with Findlay Brown as the opening act. Lynne has a terrific new album that just came out, entitled Tears, Lies and Alibis – which gives you a good sense of what she’s singing about. It’s one of my top albums of the year for so. Come early to see Findlay Brown, a young British crooner whose currently disc, Love Will Find You, a lovely set of retro pop that evokes Roy Oribson and Chris Isaak.

Also that night, Trampled by Turtles brings their revved up bluegrass tunes to the Mint. Their new disc, Palomino, was a real eye-opener for me. The fine local country-rock outfit Old Californio also is on the bill.

Colorful Art Brut frontman Eddie Argos has a fun side project: Everybody Was in the French Resistance…Now! - in which he has created cheeky “answer songs” like “Think Twice (It’s Not Alright” and “Hey It’s Jimmy Mack.”

Ex-Toad The Wet Sprocket frontman Glen Phillips, who is currently part of the all-star Americana ensemble, Works Progress Administration, has a show at McCabe’s on April 23, with the Irish band the Guggenheim Grotto opening (I really liked their tune “Her Beautiful Ideas”) off their Happy The Man disc.

Saturday, April 24, brings several interesting options: the Black Prairie, which contains a trio of Decemberists, creates dark acoustic-based sound that suggests a gypsy mountain music done for a David Lynch soundtrack. The band, whose debut is out on Sugar Hill, shares a bill at the Bootleg with trio of fabulous female singers, the Living Sisters; I caught their delightful set recently at Amoeba Records.

Baltimore-based, Merge Recording artists Wye Oak (basically the duo Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack) forge an interesting soft/loud sound that has a bluesy bottom and a freak folk-rocky topside. Their show is at Spaceland.

The beloved Nanci Griffith brings her sweet voice and impressive catalog of tunes to the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills on the 24th too.

Josh Rouse has a weekend stay at Largo. The traveling troubadour now resides in Spain, which is evident from his latest effort, the Yep Roc-released El Turista, which is a cool, bilingual affair of laidback tunes backed with some world rhythms.

Rounding out the weekend, Peter Himmelman will serve up some of his smart, tart tunes at McCabe’s on Sunday, April 25.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Field Trippin’ with the Guthrie Family

When I was a kid, I took field trips to the art museum and the kids program at the symphony. I remember one – in junior high – when we went to see the stalagmites and stalactites in the caverns outside of Pittsburgh.
Today I got to experience a school field trip that I would have loved to have gone on as kid – to see the Guthrie Family. In town for an evening show at UCLA’s Royce Hall, the Guthries (save for Papa Arlo) spent their morning entertaining a Hall-full of elementary students. Over 1500 3rd-5th graders from around Southern California got to experience a performance from the first family of American Folk Music. The show was a part of UCLALive’s admirable educational outreach program, Design For Sharing, which brings in school groups to artistic performances.
While the stage was filled with 13 members (include 4 young kids) of the Guthrie troupe, it was Sarah Lee Guthrie and her husband Johnny Irion who fronted the show. This made perfect sense since Sarah Lee recently released a delightful album of family music, Go Waggaoloo (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings), earlier this year. So, not surprisingly, the program focused on songs from the album, which included originals like “Take Me To Show-And-Tell” and “Don’t I Fit In My Daddy’s Shoes” as well as some rediscovered Woody tunes (“Bright Clear Day” and the title track).
I was curious to see how this folk-based music would go over with these pre-tweens. It’s not the type of music that they probably listened to (few raised their hands when asked if there knew who Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie were). However it was a testament to the timelessness, and agelessness, of this music, along with the Guthries’ performances charms (especially Sarah Lee and Johnny’s youngest daughter Sophie) that the kids seemed really into the concert.
Perhaps not surprisingly, what really got to school kids animated was when they got to do hand clap games to accompany “Miss Mary Mack” – that included some initially reluctant boys sitting in front of me. The grade-schoolers even followed along with the hand movements for “She’ll Be Coming Around The Mountain,” even though it’s a song generally for younger children. The Guthries wrapped up the show, naturally enough, with a rousing rendition of “This Land Is Your Land,” a tune most of the kids knew (although maybe not as a Woody Guthrie song).
I wasn’t able to attend the evening show, but I am glad I was able to see this performance, and see how the Guthries are maintaining their family legacy of making music as well as sharing American folk music traditions.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Go See Hear April 12-17

I’m back in town and getting back into the swing of things. Taking a look at this week’s concerts, here are the ones that pop out at me.

Bill Frisell is simply one of the most stylish, most versatile guitar players around. As an in-demand sideman, he has collaborated with everyone from John Zorn to Elvis Costello. Frisell comes to Largo on April 13, playing with pianist Jason Moran and drummer Kenny Wolleson.

Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs (which is basically her sidekick, multi-instrumentalist Lawyer Dave) light up Spaceland on April 14. While British-born Golightly started up her career in the UK band, Thee Headcoastees, she now lives in rural Georgia, a fitting location for her lively hillbilly noir music.

Lady Antebellum had a breakout year last year, topping country charts and coming up winners at the CMAs and the Grammys with their easy to enjoy country rock sound. Just two years ago they had a sold out showcase at the Mint and now they will be packing them in at the Wiltern on April 15.

April 15 will be a special night at Club Nokia as the Specials come to town for the band’s first American tour in almost 30 years. The Two-Tone pioneers were a popular new wave/ska band on both sides of the Atlantic in the late ‘70s and early 80s with tunes like “A Message to You, Rudy” and “Ghosttown.” This reunited UK outfit features all of the original members except for songwriter/keyboardist Jerry Dammers.

April 15 also finds the legendary Buffy Sainte-Marie playing the Bootleg Theatre. One of the stars of the Sixties folk scene, Sainte-Marie has not only had a successful musical career but also has been a vocal political activist.

The following night is another night for folk music lovers, as the Guthrie Family Rides Again into UCLA’s Royce Hall. This show, which ranks at my “show-of-the-week,” features family patriarch Arlo Guthrie along with his son Abe and daughters Cathy, Annie and Sarah Lee. Sarah Lee and her husband Johnny Irion (who also is part of the “family band”) have put out a number of excellent Americana albums both together and separately, and she also released a fine children’s music CD last year (continuing in her family’s footsteps there too).

On 4/16 you can also find singer-songwriter Mason Reed hosting an evening of music at Santa Monica’s Enterprise Fish Company. Reed has an engaging rough-hewn sound – there’s a Steve Earle growl in his vocals – as he displays on his new EP You Can’t Come Back From Heaven, which follows an Americana route with some rockier sidetrips.

Long-time Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler needs little introduction, but his opening act, Pieta Brown, deserves some attention. The daughter of folk singer Greg Brown, Pieta has fashioned her own sound, drawing upon country, folk, blues and rock, over the past 8 years. Brown, who typically tours with acclaimed guitarist (and now husband) Bo Ramsey, has a new disc One and All out on Red House. They have shows at the Pantages April 16-17.

When Steve Forbert, who plays McCabe’s on April 17, burst onto the New York City music scene during the late ‘70s New Wave era he was heralded as a new “Bob Dylan” – and even scored a hit with “Romeo’s Tune.” He weathered the “Dylan” tag and persevered, turning out a number of Southern-vibe folk music over the years.