Tag Archives: Folk

Wrapped With Realness, Matt Epp’s Album Shadowlands Delivers Stand-Out Sound

9 Jul

With Matt Epp’s latest album Shadowlands, one can sense the tone of Americana and nostalgia all wrapped into one sound. Epp cited this collection of tracks as something very personal and different from his nine other albums that he’s released. When listening to the lyrics of this album, you can definitely sense the theme of being on a journey, self reflecting, and the inner challenges along the way. The unique and humbling aspect of the track Runaway is the rawness and realness that it has attached to it. Epp explains that it was written with his wife and in her perspective on witnessing the ups and downs that he has gone through. Having that unique approach, point of view, and twist on writing makes his music standout even more and allows listeners to connect even more to something that is so personal. Connecting on themes, important messages, and significant experiences, Epp effortlessly wins over audiences through the stories of his life.

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Time (Specifically 1969) Has Told Me

28 May
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Nick Drake 

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Richard Thompson

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Danny Thompson

Have you ever played the game six degrees of separation before? The idea behind the game is that all people are connected within six steps of each other. For example, perhaps the guy you met on the train yesterday frequently eats at a bagel place where your brother’s best friend works the counter. It’s a small world after all, right? Well, it’s an even smaller world with music – you’d be surprised to find how many musicians have recorded in the same studio with other musicians. A quick check of an album’s liner notes may shock you. Thus is the case of today’s post – let’s head back in time to 1969 and find Nick Drake recording his debut album Five Leaves Left at Sound Techniques in London.

Drake, who signed to Island records at 20 and released three studio albums before turning inwards and committing suicide at 26, was a tortured folk genius whose creative guitar tunings, chord progressions, and lyric bent conventions and significantly impacted those lucky enough to work with him during his unfortunately short career. His music is haunting, much the probable consequence of severe depression, and although bucolic and tranquil for the modern listener, the music is tinged with a lugubrious solitude. Five Years Left, recorded when Drake was around 20 and released in July of 1969, finds its way on several top 500 album lists and for good reason; it is a masterful collection of Drake’s talent … and the talent of others. Take a listen to “Time Has Told Me.”

Right? There is nothing quite like it – hence the draw of Nick Drake. Did you notice the twangy electric guitar and swooning bass? That is where our game of musical degrees begins. Let’s start with the electric guitar.

Recorded at around the same time of Drake’s album and released in December of 1969, Liege & Lief, one of the most influential British folk albums ever released, featured the guitar stylings of Richard Thompson – “Farewell, Farewell,” one of my favorites on the album, is Thompson’s arrangement. Why bring up guitarist Richard Thompson? He played electric guitar on “Time Has Told Me.” He was also a founding member of Fairport Convention, who, in 1969, released three albums – the third being Liege & Lief. Impacted by American folk acts like Bob Dylan, Fairport Convention revived older British folk songs, and added a modern tint to the classics. The band, of course, is most known for the dulcet vocal of Sandy Denny, who, like Nick Drake, also suffered from depression and died young. Thompson’s guitar, though, cannot be overstated – his impact on the scene was invaluable.

Often when people consider late 60s British folk , they think of Fairport Convention and Pentangle, a band that explored more of the Folk Baroque scene, implementing Jazz influences into their folk tunes. Formed in 1967, Pentangle also featured a powerful female vocalist – Jacqui McShee (who still performs with the band) and a bassist named Danny Thompson (no relation to Richard) who also played bass on, you guessed it, “Time Has Told Me” by Nick Drake. Only a few months after Drake’s debut release, Pentangle released its third studio album (it had released two in 1968 – these bands were quite prodigious) Basket of Light, and on it was the traditional piece “Once I Had A Sweetheart” that was creatively arranged by the talented quintet. The music is tinged with a progressive sentiment – a true precursor to some progressive acts that sprouted after the British folk movement petered out in the early 1970s.

So there you have it – Nick Drake records his seminal debut album in 1968/1969 and from perhaps its most famous track we find two British folk giants whose careers have both spanned more than 50 years – time certainly has told us much.

Shawna Virago Delivers Strong Messages With Punk Twists In Heaven Sent Delinquent

13 Apr

Shawna Virago dazzles the music scene with her newest album Heaven Sent Delinquent. Combining visual storytelling with singing about emotions, Virago does an amazing job of painting pictures within the tracks on this album. Drawing inspiration from typical folk sound, Virago spins it into a world of her own. Also, deep within her music lies the themes of punk rebels, stories of the queer and transgender community, and pioneers of society. Overall the album takes the listener through a ride of journey as they listen to stories of love, adventure, and reflections. In conclusion, Virago crafts a sound that’s a perfect blend of new age Americana, folk, and punk into one album.

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The 27 Club – Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson

18 Jul

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When actor Anton Yelchin died in June in a freak accident many immediately linked the death to the portentous 27 club striking again, as the actor was also a musician – a guitarist for a band called The Hammerheads. This is the typical inquiry when a musician dies young; was he/she 27 years old, and, if he/she was, it is the 27 club’s reaper coming with scythe in hand to steal another young musician from this world.

Today, I enter the Stygian realm of 27. Thankfully, I am neither a musician nor talented, and thus I should be spared by the 27 club; so, my 27th birthday can be met with more joy, despite the fact that I am getting closer to 30, which I would always consider so “adult” and “old” when I was younger. Yes, older readers are probably scoffing at my naive, doltish complaints. In all seriousness, though, it’s good to be 27 – I get to espouse on deep thoughts of the world, and, if I say anything dumb or trite, I can always use the, “well, I’m still learning” excuse.

27, though, is synonymous with the 27 club if you are a fan of music, and, thus, I felt the need to do a post on this star-crossed club. However, instead of completed a wide scope of the entire 27 club, I want to focus in on a particular musician whose death pre-dated the Mt. Rushmore of the 27 club (Jimi, Janis, Jim, and Kurt). In fact, Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson died only two weeks before Jimi Hendrix in September of 1970, a year that fell in the middle of a stretch of time where the 27 club took so many wonderful musicians (1968-1972).

Before we get into the fascinating story of Alan Wilson, let me qualify this entire post by writing that there is no special link with 27 and death for musicians. Yes, coincidentally, many talented musicians died within a short time of each other at the age of 27, but, when you do a wide scientific study, it is pretty obvious that more musicians die closer to the national average for humans than do when 27. Many musicians unfortunately die young, though, because of the lifestyle they lead – drugs, alcohol, lack of sleep, constant touring, violence, accidents, and, in some cases (like that of Mr. Wilson), debilitating depression. For example, Tupac died at 25, Otis Redding at 26, Hank Williams at 29, Sam Cooke at 33, and Buddy Holly at 22.

Sept3

Canned Heat may be the most underrated band of the 1960s. The band, which was put together by Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson and Bob “The Bear” Hite, appeared at both seminal 60’s music festivals – The Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock – and played a style of psychedelic blues music that was adroit and foundational. It is not a lie that Canned Heat provided tremendous inspiration for several blues acts during one of the most formative eras of rock n’ roll. The band housed a slew of blues-related acts in the late 60s (Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead included), and became a key starting point for tremendously talented blues musicians like Harvey Mandel and Walter Trout. Founding guitarist Henry Vestine is ranked 77th in the top 100 guitarists of all time list from Rolling Stone Magazine.

Unfortunately, Canned Heat suffered two huge losses with the death of Alan Wilson in 1970 and then Bob Hite in 1981 (at the age of 38). The band still performs today with originals Larry Taylor and Adolfo de la Parra. Harvey Mandel performs with them as well, and he is pretty much an original, joining the band in 1969 and playing with them (his third performance oddly enough) at Woodstock.

Let’s talk about Alan Wilson. Wilson, who got the nickname “Blind Owl” because he had terrible sight and was erudite, majored in music at Boston University and focused his attention on blues music. He particularly enjoyed the music of pioneer Skip James, and he emulated his high vocals in his own singing. With Hite, Canned Head was founded, and the band released a string of excellent album starting in 1966 – Vintage Heat (1966), Canned Heat (1967), Boogie with Canned Heat (1968), Hallelujah (1969), and Future Blues (1970). The albums featured such special guests like John Mayall, Dr. John, and Sunnyland Slim.

The band’s hit “Going Up The Country,” which sampled the quills of Henry Thomas’ “Bull-Doze Blues,” became the anthem of Woodstock; it is featured in the Woodstock movie.

In September of 1970, Wilson was found dead on a hill behind Bob Hite’s home. His autopsy revealed that he died of an accidental drug overdose. Wilson was hospitalized and treated for significant depression earlier that year after a suicide attempt, and some think the drug overdose was indeed a suicide.

It is worthless playing the game of what could have been, but if Bob Hite and Alan Wilson both stayed alive for longer, I believe Canned Heat would have released several more albums with the two leads at the helm, and perhaps would have gone done as one of the best blues bands ever.

Enjoy “Going Up The Country!”

Music Palace – Rival Sons, Adam Sullivan and the Trees

28 Feb

I must proclaim that I am a little late to the game with both Rival Sons and Adam Sullivan and the Trees. I first heard about both bands back in 2014, and, well, there they sat on my list of bands to write about for around two years. Since then, though, both bands have continued their drive to the top of their respective genres, creating excellent music that, if you have not heard of yet, you should have (and you will now).

 

Rival Sons

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Hard Rock is tough to come by these days. And, no, I’m not talking about the loud, “hard rock” proto-punk sound that occasionally serves as a substitute to traditional hard rock. I’m talking about Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer 1960s/1970s hard rock that took blues music and shaped it into a driving sound that rocked the socks off of my parent’s generation. Lucky for listeners today, Rival Sons is doing just that. Much in the vein of modern bands like The Sheepdogs and Gary Clark Jr., Rival Sons is creating old-style rock n’ roll music with a keen blues sound, driving percussion, and raspy vocals. This is not going unnoticed. The Californian band, which formed back in 2009,  was handpicked to be the main support for the entire Black Sabbath farewell world tour. That’s a high compliment from one of the originators of the genre.

Released in 2014, on the 4th studio album from the band – Great Western Valkyrie – “Open My Eyes” was a large reason why the album reached #1 on the US Heat charts as well as charting in several European countries. Hit play on that track and tell me it does not sound like you just lightly placed the needle down on an LP. The crashing percussion and satiating riff – purveyed by Mike Miley and Scott Holiday respectively – are jaw-dropping. Lead vocalist Jay Buchanan belts the vocals from the first note, calling forth comparisons to Paul Rodgers and Lou Gramm. Dave Beste provides a solid bass guitar to round out the quartet. The song even features a Bad Compary-esque acoustic interlude. This is a tremendous release from an up-and-coming band, and I cannot wait to hear more from them.

Adam Sullivan and the Trees

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After years as a solo artist, Adam Sullivan needed some more roots to shape his music career, so he recruited some NYC trees and started making music with them. The result? Adam Sullivan and the Trees, a four-piece Indie/Folk/Pop outfit whose music relies on catchy melodies, dulcet rhythms, and, according to the Facebook page, halal food and whiskey. The band, which consists of Adam Sullivan (keys, vocals), Mason Ingram (drums), Rob Ritchie (guitars), and Zack Lober (bass), formed in 2013 and since then released a self-titled LP (2014) and Live and Acoustic album (2015).

“Cool Kids” – the live version – is off of the band’s most recent 2015 release. It is a ditty in every traditional sense. The band describes its genre as happy/sad music, and this song encompasses that genre perfectly. Ostensibly, it is a melodic acoustic track with pleasant vocals and cheery instrumentation; the lyrics, though, are about trying to fit in with the cool kids and are, well, sad; however, the lyrics fit perfectly with the track and in that are successful.

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