Tag Archives: Guitar

Take Solace in Area of Refuge

17 Sep

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We’ve all had those nights, where for whatever reason, we decide to simply lie down and become consumed by music. Those are the instructions I followed quite literally on my first Joanna Newsom listen, just add wine. I also did this when I first heard Vulnicura, a heartbreaking record. And Area of Refuge have created something equally as immersive with their recent Series One LP.

Area of Refuge is a duo, consisting of Christopher Morin and Jahna Stanton. Morin was beginning a career making easy listening music, writing riffs on a classical guitar after his band broke up. He played at an art show and there met Stanton, a violinist. They decided to collaborate and play a few songs together, but those tracks turned into an album, sometimes with the addition of the piano, and on one track, an upright bass, viola, and cello. And despite that seeming like fairly limited instrumentation to work with, all fifteen tracks on this record are genuinely unique.

Morin’s guitar work is delicate but cinematic. “Leap of Faith” shows this off, and also makes abundantly clear how talented Stanton is on the strings as well. It and the violin act as voices, with complementary melodies that warm your heart. In fact, the entire record is comprised of the quiet melodies that are better cherished alone. Each chord rings with beauty, and makes it tough to dislike. The grandest of them all is “Seeds of Aspen,” the tune with the upright bass et al; its composition almost seems to tower above the other tracks, but the emotion of the track that follows is equally as impactful. “Big Bad Luck” has a particular violin chord progression that makes me feel a yearning, as if my soul has opened up but I’m not sure for what.

My favorite song is “Shipwreck,” because it inexplicably reminds me Laura Marling. The guitar strums are very deliberate and methodical, then it slides into something bigger, more meaningful. There is something special about each track here, and because Area of Refuge is giving it out at a pay what you want rate, you have no excuse to download it and listen for yourself.

Visit Bandcamp to listen or download Series One.

Josh Ritter is Ready to Get Down

5 Aug

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When I saw Josh Ritter several months ago (just after he finished recording his new album Sermon on the Rocks, which will be released on Oct. 16.) he introduced his newest ditty off the upcoming release, “Getting Ready to Get Down.” It was a crowd mover, a bubbly track much in the style of “To the Dogs or Whoever” with rapid lyric spitting and a funky bass riff mixed with a hip drum beat. Ritter recently released it to the public (July 31), and it has shot up the iTunes ranks, so much so that it appeared on the front page of Hot Tracks today.

So, of course I need to share the track. Josh Ritter is one of my favorite artists creating music today. He blends several styles of folk/rock with intelligent lyrics. It’s easy to sing-a-long to most of his songs, and he carries the title of almost universally creating highly listenable tracks. “Getting Ready to Get Down” is that type of song.

I particularly enjoy the country guitar stylings featured in the middle of the song; it’s a bit different, and it may signal an intriguing dynamic on the new album. But, like always, Ritter’s most endearing quality is his lyric, and this song has a killer verse that I need to share.

“They said your soul needed savin’ so they sent you off to bible school
But you know a little more than they were sure was in the golden rule
Be good to everybody, be a strength to the weak
A joy to the joyful, the laughter in the grief
And give your love freely to whoever that you please
Don’t let nobody tell you ’bout who you oughta be
And when you get damned in the popular opinion
It’s just another damn of the damns you’re not giving”

Talk about bible puns and satirical paradoxes. Ritter tells a message with a punch, a socially liberal sermon from his own personal mount, and I am an eager myrmidon to Ritter’s church of great music.

Classical Davide – Acoustic Guitar for the Soul

22 Oct

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When I was younger I wanted to be a guitar-wielding, vocal powerhouse rock star. After a few fledgling attempts at musical production with impromptu rock bands, I realized that my dream was limited to the occasional, recreational strumming of an acoustic guitar.

Turn on the radio today, and toggle through the stations. You are bound to find variations of rock and pop. That should come to no surprise to anyone. I dreamed of pop/rock stardom, and I did so because that was what was cool. I was a musical conformist, and although at 14 years old I turned my attention to 60s and 70s rock, I was still focused on rock dreams.

Davide Rigodanzo is not, and that is what makes this 14-year-old fingerstyle guitarist so special. A self-taught guitarist who started playing the guitar when he was 11 years old, he has aspirations different from your normal 14-year-old music lover. Davide, a spitting image of Justin Bieber, represents keen maturity and a perspicacious appreciation of the acoustic guitar and music itself. I’ll leave you to read some of Davide’s words.

“My preferred style is fingerpicking. It is not simple to learn, but I think that this style meets the possibility to have an accompaniment (with finger) + a principal sound more emphasized with the pick.”

You don’t hear many 14-year-old aspiring musicians talking like that. As a music lover, I have much respect for those who play the acoustic guitar well. The instrument has been slightly perverted by pop simplicity – a few chords and voila, a chart-bursting hit. I am endeared to those who actually know how to pick notes and extract emotion from an acoustic guitar so it oozes out in smooth sound. Davide is able to do that.

He even gets the slaps and mutes right! Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. “Wonderful Tonight” is my favorite Eric Clapton song. Davide performs it with sophistication and feeling. The sound is crisp, and Davide strikes each note with intensity. He demonstrates a true sagacity in his ability to not drown the sound by playing too quickly or let the sound echo too often. It’s a wonderful mixture.

I’m happy to introduce Davide to the Music Court readership. It isn’t everyday I am contacted by a classical guitarist, especially one who is 14 years old. We should all take a page out of Davide’s playbook. Don’t simply pursue something because it is perceived to be chic or profitable. Do what you love!

A True Guitar Festival – Crossroads Night One (4/12/13)

21 Apr

Eric Clapton Crossroads (DAVID HANDSCHUH/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Within the first ten minutes of the first night of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival, I turned to my buddy and exclaimed, well, “that was better than an encore. Do we go home now?” Behind the attempted humor, I was serious in my sentiments.To open the show, Eric Clapton and guests greeted an enthusiastic full house at Madison Square Garden with a five-song acoustic set that drifted and jived through Clapton staples like “Lay Down Sally” and “Wonderful Tonight.” Clapton invited artists like Vince Gill and Andy Fairweather Low on stage, the latter of which sang tremendous lead vocals on his song “Spider Jivin” – the second song of the night. Clapton began the concert with “Driftin.” In the middle of his opening set, Clapton performed “Tears in Heaven,” which he has unearthed for his 50th Anniversary Tour. The song, written in response to the death of Clapton’s four-year-old son, is as potent as it is simple. Because of its subject, Clapton rarely plays it (last time before this tour was in 2003). Hearing him perform the song live was well worth the price of admission.

At the helm of the show was emcee and original Blues Brother, Dan Akroyd, who introduced artists and, prior to the concluding set by the Allman Brothers, performed a rousing version of “Got My Mojo Working” with Keb ‘Mo. In reviewing my notes from the show – and recalling my euphoric loquaciousness during/after the show, I realize now that despite my pre-show expectation to see a slew of revered guitar gods, I couldn’t quite grasp how overwhelming and ethereal the concert would be. Perhaps the “kid in a candy store” axiom might suffice in describing the crowd’s zeal, but I believe it may be a little weak. There was an infectious gregariousness to the crowd; this wonderful atmosphere of musical passion and friendship. It was as if the guitar community was coming together for a convention, a mind-blowing convention.

Let’s face it; the entire five-hour concert was a highlight. It was a virtual all-star game of guitarists. I intended on marking down some highlights of the night, but I ended up typing furiously on my cell phone (and then my friend’s cell phone after my battery depleted) just to keep up with the plethora of highlights. For your reading pleasure, I have narrowed down my thumb-tiring list of typed highlights to just three major performances during the show. Before I get to the top three of the night (not counting the Clapton solo set I mentioned above), let me commend Booker T and Steve Cropper for their set (the first after Clapton’s acoustic opener). Paired with Blake Mills, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Keb Mo, Booker T and the NEW MG’s played a five-song set (concluding with “Green Onions) that featured a strong version of “Born Under a Bad Sign.”

Now on to the top 3…

3.) “Everyday I Have the Blues” with Robert Cray, B.B. King, Jimmie Vaughn & Eric Clapton

Blues royalty. Yeah, something like that. B.B. King, who is in possession of a personal fountain of youth, was electric for the few songs he sat in on. I particularly like this performance because it highlights the spirit of the festival. As these legends (King, Cray, Vaughn, and Clapton) playfully swapped and stole solos from each other, the crowd could almost smell the aroma of blues – which to me is a mixture of hard scotch and worn guitar strings. This jam is about as authentic as you can get. It is the blues. Strip away the stage, crowd, and allure, and there would still be four individuals playing the blues.

2.) “Don’t Let me Down” with John Mayer and Keith Urban

After a small set of original pieces, John Mayer summoned Keith Urban onto stage to complete a guitar duo for an electric performance of The Beatles’ “Don’t Let me Down.” There are so many things to like about this performance. A.) It’s an awesome cover of a Beatles’ song. B.) John Mayer and Keith Urban can flat-out kill it on the guitar. C.) They also can sing pretty damn well. D.) If you listen closely, the band adds several interesting influences into the song (country hints mixed with traditional blues). E.) Go to the 3:00 minute mark, refer back to B, and enjoy.

1.) “Whipping Post” with The Allman Brothers Band

12 minutes of pure, unadulterated, brilliance. Watching the Allman Brothers Band is always a treat, but they brought it to a completely different level for this concluding performance at Crossroads. The solos were that much more inspired, and the band played with some extra fire and oomph that propelled the song to the apex of awesome. Listening to the jam-packed crowd, five hours into the concert, belt out the familiar lyrics like it was the opening song was also spectacular.

Legendary show! And, all for a good cause.

The Night Folk Owl – Willie Ames

12 Mar

Willie Ames @ Whisky A Go-Go - 20th Annual Los Angeles Music Awards voting party - by JAMES IRWIN PHOTOGRAPHY

Willie Ames has toured all 50 United States, distributed 35,000 CDs to the public, and won several solo artist awards including the Solo Artist of the Year in the 20th Annual Los Angeles Music Awards and National Solo Artist of the Year and performer in the Phoenix Music Awards 2011.

So, yeah, more people should know about this folk guitarist/banjoist/singer/songwriter. Ames has been playing guitar since he was five years old, and, at 18 decided to pursue music professionally. He added a banjo to his repertoire at 23.

Ames plays a distinctive style of classic folk music that focuses on heavier percussion, reverberated noise, and a guitar/banjo style that combines the flavor of early Dylan and Dave Van Ronk with heavier folk artists like Amos Lee. Ames then adds a banjo to the mix, and, instead of falling into the bluegrass banjo trap, the music has an edge that sets him apart from other folk musicians. Listening to Ames’ music is fit with unconscious toe-tapping and head-nodding. The beats are almost funky. The sound is multifaceted like a bean dip (light guacamole on top and heavy beans on the bottom). Gosh, I just compared music to a bean dip. If that’s not a sign to introduce a song, I don’t know what is.

“Night Owl,” the title track on the album, perfectly represents what I mentioned above. The beat is authentic. The echoed sounds are reminiscent of a dark night in a deep forest. Ames’ voice reminds me of the Holy Modal Rounders (only slightly), a folk duo from the Lower East Side in the 60s who released an excellent version of “Hesitation Blues.” I hate to be so simplistic, but the song is just cool. I like listening to it.

“Stumbling Home” is certainly lighter. The banjo rhythm is catchy and constant. It’s a great song to listen to if you want to unwind. It relaxed me.

Check out more of Willie Ames at his website, Facebook, and Twitter

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