Sunday, June 27, 2010

Go See Hear in L.A.: June 28-July 4

June turns into July this week; the Summer just keep motoring along.
Here are the shows that stand out for this week that leads up to July 4th.

Frank Fairfield ( cultivates an intriguing old-school country sound. He has gig at the Redwood Bar and Grill Monday Night coincides with the release of the first release on Fairfield’s label Pawn Records. Unheard Ofs & Forgotten Abouts draws upon “vernacular music” from around the world and reveals his love for 78 rpm records.

Sloan ( swings down from the Great White North for the concert at the House of Blues on July 1 – which is appropriately enough Canada Day. While Sloan’s a huge group in their native land, Sloan is known more here mainly by power pop aficionados and there is much to love in the melodic music that they have creating for nearly two decades now.

On July 2-3, Free Energy ( will be lighting things up at the Echoplex. This Philly band offers a fantastic blast of ‘70s riff-happy rock that makes for a great soundtrack for the summer. Their disc Stuck On Nothing is nothing but fun, good-timin’ rock ‘n’ roll and stands as one of the top debuts of 2010. Also on the bill is the hooky pop-rock duo Mates of State and musician/comedian Nick Thune.

The annual Hootenanny ( down at Irvine’s Oak Canyon Ranch offers some All-American rock ‘n’ roll Hall of Famers topping the bill: Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, with the Old 97’s and Shooter Jennings also notable acts on this day long, pre-Independence Day festival.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles at the Mint, Los Angeles, June 23

I had the opportunity to catch Sarah Borges and her band, the Broken Singles, at the Mint this week. While I had included her show in my list of recommended shows, I was reminded how much I enjoy Borges as a performer and how I probably didn’t convey that enough in the preview blurb.

The wise-cracking, raven-haired Borges (pronounced like “gorgeous”) certainly is a vivacious frontwoman. Since this is Los Angeles, comparisons can be made to Sandra Bullock (more the feisty Speed model than say the recent All About Steve). Musically, however, she recalls Neko Case back in the days when she played with the Boyfriends, and before she turned into an NPR art-pop darling.

Borges has her own “boyfriends” backing her up: guitarist Lyle Brewster, drummer Robert Larry Dulaney and bassist/comic sidekick Binky. Together they whipped up twangy rock ‘n’ roll that’s part grange and part garage. A good example of their sound would be their energizing cover of the NRBQ’s “It Come To Me Naturally,” a good-natured, roadhouse rave-up that they perform with grit and sass.

So far, Borges has put out 3 full lengths: Silver City (2005), Diamond In The Dark (2007) and The Stars Are Out (2009) – and all are highly recommendable. She’s known on these works almost as much for her excellent array of covers (Stars’ covers range from Smokey Robinson to The Magnetic Fields, for example) as her own originals. And if she hasn’t crafted her own standout signature tune, she certainly has accumulated a very strong set of originals.

At the show, she announced that they have a DVD coming out and have been working on demos for her next CD; efforts that hopefully will give her the popularity that she deserves

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Justin Roberts Is A Kindie King With Jungle Gym

Justin Roberts ranks among the top songwriters in the kids music scene today. Along with the likes of Ralph Covert and Peter Himmelman, Roberts pens little pop gems that really relate to what it’s like to be a kid.
His latest CD is entitled Jungle Gym, and, naturally, there’s a very playful vibe to the tunes. There’s a dozen delightful ditties dealing with various childhood thrills: playing duck, duck goose, getting a new haircut, having a fire drill and being “obsessed by trucks.” In “Cardboard Box,” he inventively captures how a cardboard box can fire up a child’s imagination. Although this is a summer release, Roberts’ tunes here covers the whole calendar, as he includes a song among Halloween as well as one about a wintry snow day.
While there is plenty of fun and games in his music, he also is quite effective on songs that take a bit more serious look at childhood. “Sign My Cast” tells the story of an active boy who has to slow down after an injury, while “Never Getting Lost” is about a child apologizing to his mom for wandering off at a mall.
Roberts has fashioned another wonderful album that will entertain both adults and kids.

This review was originally written for L.A. Parent Magazine

Film Talk: The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia and Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

The Tribeca Film Festival swings through Los Angeles this weekend and I got the opportunity to watch a couple of the fest’s music-related movies.

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia continues the cinematic legacy of the White family. It started with Mike Seeger’s Talking Feet documentary, which featured D. Ray White’s unique mountain dancing skills and then there were the Dancing Outlaw movies that focused on Jesco White, who has become a cult figure. Or as he is called by his sister in the film, “the most famous man in West Virginia.”
This new documentary follows the various members of the White clan, including Jesco, for a year. While there are some samples of Jesco’s dancing, the film mostly dwells a series of drug use and dealing, paroles and convictions that the Whites experience. It’s a fascinating look at poverty-level life in coal country where people don’t really see a future for themselves so they have a “what-the-hell” attitude. But it’s also stands as a very sad, tragic portrait of the White family.
Part of this sadness is that the Whites don’t seem to have any conscience-ness or consciousness about their behavior. For example, one daughter, who goes by the name Kirk, doesn’t understand why she isn’t allowed to take her newborn baby girl home from the hospital even though she does drugs in the recovery room. There’s also a family birthday party for the White matriarch Bertie Mae that involves the family consuming cake and drugs. I could go on, but you get the point.
In a weird way, you hope that there are performing for the cameras. Something like “The Hills” set in the West Virginia hills or the Real Housewives of Boone County (except none of these women really aren’t housewives, at least not in the conventional sense). That this isn’t how that they behavior normally, but you suspect that it really is. The White Family may not be wonderful but they certainly are wild. One town official mentions that there’s was a local boy who got admitted into M.I.T. and asks why he isn’t getting any media. In fact, it probably would have been interesting to see more of the other side of life in Boone County, West Virigina.
There are several musical performances in the movie, including one where Jesco dances to Hank III’s plays a tune. The film, directed by Juilen Nitzberg (who worked on Dancing Outlaw and directed a documentary of backwoods musician Hasil Atkins) and produced by Johnny Knoxville of Jackass fame, is the kind of movie where you shake your head in dismay at these folks’ behavior, but you keep watching just to see what they do next.

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll is the bio-pic about Ian Dury, who came out of the ‘80s British New Wave/Punk scene and scored big hits with tunes like “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick,” “Reasons To Be Cheer, Pt. 3” and, of course, “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. “ The film really captures Dury’s dark, manic charm and that is due greatly to the terrific lead performance by Andy Serkis (who is best known for playing Gollum in the Hobbit movies) and the inventive direction of Mat Whitecross. While undoubtedly taking some liberties with Dury’s life story, Whitecross and Serkis successfully create a portrait of a man who is haunted by his past and self-destructive in his present but also talented and endearing, despite his repeated poor behavior. Dury contracted polio as a child, which afflicted him throughout his lifetime, seemingly serving both as a motivation and a crutch (both physically and emotionally) for his behavior.
His conflicting behavior played out in his relationships with the key women, his long-suffering wife Betty and his long-suffering girlfriend Denise. The film spends a good deal of time focusing on his relationship (or lack of a relationship) with his son Baxter, who has become in musician now in his own right, which offers a glimpse of the genuine love he has for his son even if he didn’t always show it.
Interestingly, the movie doesn’t dwell much on the music business, so music fans will be left wanting to learn more (much like the even more muddled Pirate Radio). There are some scene dealing with his collaborations with Chaz Jankel, but his other bandmates, the Blockheads, figure little in the movie; more time is spent on the character of the band’s roadie/Dury’s minder. Moreover, little is shown about the ‘80s UK music scene, which is a disappointment since Dury was a part of the very colorful Stiff Records label.
However, director Whitecross does give the movie a lively, inventive look that does recall the spirited New Wave scene and distinguishes it from the standard bio-pic. The highly theatrical opening sequence sets up viewers for a stylized look at - rather than a historical record of - Dury’s life. While the film has flaws, it also has Serkis’ captivating performance and Dury’s quirky, memorable tunes to make this recommendable, particularly for fans of that music scene.

During the Tribeca Film Festival’s stay in Los Angeles, the White documentary plays June 25-July 1 at 10 pm at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in West Hollywood and then moves to the Downtown Independent for a run through July 7. The Dury film screens at 2:30 pm at the Sunset 5 from June 25-July 1. For more information, visit Also, they both, undoubtedly, will be making more art house circuit showings and appearing in other media (dvd, internet, etc).

While I'm talking about film, I got an email that other about the DVD release of two mid-‘80s French films. Joy and Joy and Joan (two films that probably will never be confused with the Truffaut classic Jules and Jim). While I typically write about music, I did go to film school to study film history/criticism and have a long love of movies. I have to admit that I have never heard of these films, the directors (Serge Bergon and Jacques Saurel) or the lead actresses (Claudia Udy and Brigitte Lahaie).
What caught my eye was how the prints used to strike these DVDs were discovered. According to the press release (and what’s to stop me from believing it), the print for Joy was found in the screening room of a Parisian brothel while its sequel came from a print seized in a Marseilles vice raid. These aren’t the places where film historians typically do their business, unless I was totally misinformed in school.
The films are compared to the Emmanuelle series, and the descriptions definitely make me think of something that would air on “skin-amax.” To return to the Severin Films’ press release, Joy now includes “the complete ‘secret orgy dungeon’ sequence, while Joy and Joan now has “the complete ‘Philippine sex grotto’ sequence.”
For those interested in more, you can visit

Monday, June 21, 2010

Go See Hear in L.A.: June 21-27

The start of Summer starts off with one of the hottest – and busiest - weeks of music shows in LA so far. At least when it comes to my concert radar. It's one of those weeks that it is not only difficult to pick the show of the pick but it's hard to pick just the top shop of the night since several nights have more than one show to recommend.

Peggy Sue is a cool, young UK group, led by co-singers Rosa Slade and Katy Young, with an intriguing “folk noir” sound draws upon old and modern elements. Their 6/22 show at Spaceland supports their US debut, Fossils and other Phantoms that’s out on Yep Roc.

The veteran band Blue Rodeo performs at the Mint on June 22. One of Canada’s most esteemed groups for around 20 years, they are still creating their signature harmony-rich country rock as their recent double album The Things We Left Behind proves.

The Viper Room hosts the all-female quartet, Katzenjammer on the 22nd too. Hailing Norway, they play a lively gypsy folk-rock and I found their US debut Le Pop, which comes up at the end of June on Nettwerk, a kicky listen that should attract them a good deal of attention. They’re also known for using a trunkload of instruments on stage, suggesting that they are fun to see in concert too.

I have been a longtime fan of Josh Ritter, who’s one of the most talented singer-songwriters of his generation. His new disc, So Runs The World Away, stands as his most ambitious work of his young career. He has a show at the Music Box on June 23, with the talented Carolina Chocolate Drops is opening with their take on old time string music that’s inspired by their African American backgrounds.,

Sarah Borges has been another of my favorite acts in recent years. Her music is a captivating mix of barroom country and rock ‘n’ roll – maybe it’s “punky tonk.” On her last album (The Stars Are Out, Sugar Hill Records), her covers range from NRBQ to Lemonheads and Smokey Robinson. Known for her energetic live shows, She brings her band the Broken Singles to the Mint on 6/23.

Last month, Kate Miller Heidke was in town opening for Ben Folds. In my LA Weekly preview of that show, I praised the quirky Australian songtress’ album Curiouser for its lively dance pop music (that) comes colored with a theatrical streak and then twisted up in ‘70s New Wave disco." You have another chance to check out this colorful performer as she returns to L.A. for her own set at the Hotel Café on 6/

The 24th also is a night for a special benefit at the Echo that MusiCares is doing for Nashville Flood Relief. The lineup includes such wonderful roots rockers as Syd Straw, Exene Cervenka and Dave Alvin, plus the great Carlene Carter will be performing too. She did a strong comeback album, Stronger, a few years back and her classic album, Musical Shapes was the inspiration for this blog title. For more show info., visit

Maryland-bred singer-songwriter Joe Pug might not do anything fancy on his debut The Messenger but it still impresses by being a mature effort from a first timer. He has a show at the Echo on 6/25.

While legendary indie rock Lou Barlow is the headliner at the Bootleg on Sat. June 26, I want to sing the praises of his opening act, Sarah Jaffe . The twenty-something Texan’s debut full length Suburban Nature caught my ear for its captivating offering of bedroom folk that’s energized with edgy emotionality.

On the 26th, McCabe’s hosts Greg Brown, a mainstay in the American folk scene since the early ‘80s. Possessing a rich voice and literate story-songs, I always think of him as a Midwestern Dave Alvin. The Iowan, by the way, is married to Iris Dement and is the dad to musician, Pieta Brown.

Last year, Peter Case had heart surgery, so not only is it great to welcome him back to the stage – he has a show that Claremont Folk Music Center on June 26 and one at McCabe’s on July 9 – but it’s also great that his new disc, Wig, is such a wonderfully bluesy, rockin’ affair.

The 26th is also the date that the Wiltern will be shaking with the sweet soul music served up by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. They are coming to town supporting their new album, I Learned The Hard Way, and it’s heartening that their old school soul sound is getting a niche in the mainstream.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Go See Hear in L.A.: June 14-20

The music this week starts in New Orleans and ends with Texas – but travels many other places in-between.

Dr. John, the night tripper, stops in at the Grammy Museum Monday night to talk his colorful musical career and play some tunes. He will be returning to LA to close out the Santa Monica Pier Twilight Dance Series on Sept. 2.

The Austin-based honky tonkers Horse Opera ride into the charming Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena on June 15.

Young singer-songwriter Jenny Owen Youngs performs her eclectic but forthright tunes at the Hotel Café on June 17. She comes from the recent NYC anti-folk scene that spawned artists like Langhorne Slim and Regina Spektor.

Also, on the 17th, the Troubadour welcomes a strong lineup of atmospheric indie rock featuring Matt Pond PA and Nova Scotia-based Wintersleep, who have a new CD, New Inheritors. While I haven’t heard much from that one, I did really dig “Archaeologists” from their prior effort, Welcome To The Night Sky.

British songstress Gemma Ray has the first of two local shows at the Redwood Bar on June 18 and then returns with a gig at the Hotel Café on June 22. Her new disc, It’s A Shame About Gemma Ray offers an eccentric covers selection ranging from Gershwin to Sonic Youth.

Onetime LA resident Jim Lauderdale has become one of the revered artists in the Americana scene, known for his songwriting and his singing (last year he toured as Elvis Costello’s accompanist). A prolific musician (he’s average over a CD a year in the last decade), Lauderdale arrives at McCabe’s on 6/18 behind his latest effort Patchwork River.

After SoCal favorite Chris Gaffney died in 2008, his Hacienda Brothers co-leader Dave Gonzalez (ex-Paladins) soldiered on with the Stone River Boys, whose terrific debut Love On The Dial continues churning out country soul gems. They have a show on the 6/18 Weber’s Sports Bar in Reseda.

Saturday night the Redwood Bar hosts the weekend’s top bill. The one and only Billy Joe Shaver makes his one and only L.A. appearance. He is true outlaw country original. Also appearing is the talented up and comer Eilen Jewell. While drawing comparisons to Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch, she has impressively developed her own take on retro-based music that is rooted in the blues as much as country.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Go See Hear in L.A.: June 6-June 13

The first full week of June comes with a full week of interesting shows.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are road warriors whose funky rock sounds have gotten them a reputation as a strong live. I remember digging their debut Nothing But The Water but have lost track of them since then; however, their new disc has received some good notices. They come to the Roxy on June 8.

Karen Elson comes to town for some shows: Spaceland on the 9th and McCabe's on the 11th. Sure, sure, she's Jack White's wife, but listening to some tracks from her impressive debut disc, The Ghosts Who Walks, you forgot all that and focus on the haunting folk-based music that she has crafted.

The Sadies swing down from Toronto to play the Echo on June 10. Over the 10-12 years, the band, led by the brothers Travis and Dallas Good, have released a string of fine albums, first on Bloodshot and now on Yep Roc. Their latest Darker Circles is their second in a row with ex-Jayhawk Gary Louris as producer. Their always interesting eclectic alt. country rock should have made them better known than just being Neko Case’s sometime collaborators.

Speaking of Bloodshot Records, their honky tonk maven Wayne “The Train” Hancock pulls into the Mint for a show on June 10. This true-blue Texan has been cranking out traditional country music – like Hank Sr. did – for going on 15 years now and there seems to be no slowing him down.

Gregory Alan Isakov returns to the Hotel Café on June 11. I found his This Empty Northern Hemisphere filled with laidback, yet lush, chamber folk music.

The next night another purveyor of lush folk-pop Greg Laswell comes to the Hotel Café; he has a new on Vanguard called Take A Bow

Up at the Getty on the 12th is Mayer Hawthorne who has been receiving a big buzz for his retro soul stylings.

The week closes with the top of the week as McCable’s welcomes Leslie and the Badgers and Eleni Mandell. Leslie and the Badgers have an excellent album Roomful of Smoke on which singer Leslie Stevens can sound as sweet as Emmylou Harris or as feisty as Kasey Chamber or Neko Case. Eleni Mandell has been concentrating on her Living Sisters project but she’s also a talented singer/songwriter who likes to cover a lot of musical territory.