Archive for June, 2010

Tour Diary – New Orleans, LA (June 14, 2010)

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Cafe du Monde

(Jason Lent has forsaken the island paradise of Hawaii to follow us around for a few months. I have happily placed the tour diary in his capable hands. It should bring a new perspective to our ramblings.)

Headed straight for the French Quarter as I rolled into New Orleans. It was crawfish etouffee for lunch followed by beignets and café au lait at the legendary Café du Monde. The not always pleasant smell in the streets, the aging, colorful buildings and the sagging balconies give New Orleans a personality all its own. There is no shortage of voodoo shops and graveyards in this old pirate town.

Tonight’s show was held at a juke joint that first opened in 1977. Not much had changed inside since then. Tipitina’s was named one of the top 40 music venues in the United States by Paste Magazine. Longevity is sometimes mistaken for importance. The skies opened during soundcheck and then as the rain moved on, a rainbow came down on the roof of the club. In a town steeped in superstitions, I took it as a good sign for the night ahead.

The show was loud, aggressive at the right times, and subdued when the music demanded space to breathe. The musical crayons sometimes strayed outside the lines but it only added to the unique evening. The acoustic set wrapped with ‘River Waltz’ and the acoustic guitar went directly into the intro to ‘Bea’s Song’ and a new arrangement of the trilogy was born with Al and Pete remaining still until the solo. When they came in, the undercurrent of the song began to quicken and built into a tense ‘Dragging Hooks’.

A late night excursion to Bourbon Street provided some well earned R&R for the band’s might  crew of two. Generous pours or rum fueled the exploration of a quiet Monday in the French Quarter. There were more beignets and coffee at Café du Monde as the clock pushed past 2am and Bourbon Street began to dwindle down to only bad decisions waiting to happen.  It was time to go home.


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Tour Diary – Baton Rouge, LA (June 13, 2010)

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

the Mississippi

(Jason Lent has forsaken the island paradise of Hawaii to follow us around for a few months. I have happily placed the tour diary in his capable hands. It should bring a new perspective to our ramblings.)

A straight shot south with little traffic brought me into Cajun country. The venue was in the heart of downtown Baton Rogue but that heart wasn’t beating on a hot Sunday afternoon. Very few places were open and even less people were out on the streets. A few miles away, the college campus promised restaurants and record stores but in this heat, a few miles sounded like forever. Behind the venue, a path followed the top of the levee and gave a peaceful vantage of the slowly passing water.

The Manship Theater is housed in a larger arts complex. The curved room extended only eleven rows deep with two single row balconies stacked to the ceiling.  Intimate with immaculate sound, it promised a solid night of music. Across the street, the old capitol building stood majestically on a tiny hill. Tucked in a corner of the second floor, I stumbled across the Louisiana Basketball Hall of Fame. It barely filled the small room. Downstairs, an extensive exhibit provided two different perspectives on the work of The Kingfish, Huey Long. The controversial governor and senator fueled his public works and policies to share wealth (good) through corruption (bad) and possibly kidnappings. As I walked back into a wall of thick morning humidity, I realized that I’d probably have voted for him.

After settling in with ‘Misguided Angel’, the show kept gaining momentum and turned into a fantastic set. The room captured every movement of the band. The sound of a guitar pick scraping steel strings on ‘Sir Francis Bacon’ and the murmur of the insect loop on ‘Cicadas’ became voices of their own. Without the pedal steel from the last tour, ‘Cicadas’ sounded more sparse and haunting. It moved into ‘Good Friday’ and ‘Driving Wheel’ to close out a stellar performance by the band. As I walked to the car, I accidentally crossed the water exhibit outside the arts complex and a powerful stream of water shot up my shorts. It was a welcome and refreshing end to an excellent day on a very hot road.


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Amazon release special

Monday, June 14th, 2010

We are very pleased to announce that Amazon has made Renmin Park its MP3 Daily Deal which means that the album will be available  today only, (Monday, June 14th), as a download for only $3.99. The album will be officially released tomorrow (June 15th) and will be available at all your favourite retail outlets (we kind of hope that we are one of your favourite retail outlets).

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Tour Diary – Memphis, TN (June 12, 2010)

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

bandshell

(Jason Lent has forsaken the island paradise of Hawaii to follow us around for a few months. I have happily placed the tour diary in his capable hands. It should bring a new perspective to our ramblings.)

Chicago to Memphis is a haul so I left a day early. A night in Memphis sounded like potential fun. Then I glanced at a map and decided to keep the car running and make for the crossroads in Clarksdale, MS. The trip odometer hit 666 miles about ten minutes short of town on an empty stretch of highway with delta fields stretching to the horizon. Falling quickly towards that horizon was the blood-drenched host described in the writing of Flannery O’Connor. I had never seen a sun like this one but stopping for a picture would mean being out at the crossroads alone after dark. I pushed forward.

Clarksdale is a hard town with more vacant buildings and crumbling brick than most. The breeze only amplified the effects of the scorching heat that clung to everything and everyone. I sauntered into the first juke joint I found and Kent Burnside, grandson to the legendary R.L. Burnside, was holding court. It was the delta blues, country to its core with a fiddle player keeping up with the guitars. The beer was Bud Light and it tasted grand.

The modest Riverside Hotel served as a black hospital until after World War II. Bessie Smith was rushed here after a car accident on a way to a show in the delta and died in one of the rooms. After the war, it became a hotel that was popular with blues acts working the delta. Sonny Boy, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Ike Turner (he recorded the “Rocket 88” demo here), and many others have slept in the rooms. These days, “Rat” looks after the hotel his mother started and serves as much as curator as manager. The furniture, and even what people have left in the dressers, tells the story of the blues better than any documentary. I sat on Rat’s couch and listened to his stories. I slept in John Lee Hooker’s old room. In the morning, I walked over to the defunct train station and visited the Delta Blues Museum.

Coming out of Clarksdale and riding Highway 61 into Memphis, I made the requisite visit to Beale Street. The temperature was lapping at triple digits and the garbage in the alleys was cooking. The stench was overpowering but the only refuge was cheap gift shops and theme bars. Any music history that once existed here has long been replaced by a Disney style re-creation. Thirty minutes was too much.

Opening tonight’s free outdoor show was the children’s act The Boogers. Billed as the anti-Barney, they sang children friendly lyrics over Ramones songs. An interesting idea and they played it well. The sloping lawn remained full of families and the crowd probably eclipsed 4,000 by show time. The band kept the children engaged with “Hunted” as the lively little tykes down front tossed balloons about. It was a casual night on the lawn and the band kept it straightforward. Once the temperature slipped below 90 degrees, it became an almost pleasant evening in Memphis.


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new Lee Harvey Osmond video

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

For those of you who don’t watch the Top 40 video countdown hour every Sunday morning, while eating your krispies…here’s the  new LHO vid…..

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Renmin Park review

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

We’re Canadian so we find it unseemly when someone toots their own horn, but every now and then you come across a review and you think (while giving the old Tiger Woods fist pump), “yes, we really got through to someone….”. Here is a current review from My Old Kentucky Blog.

New Music : Cowboy Junkies : Renmin Park

Truth be told,  Cowboy Junkies have never done much for me. It’s not like I harbor a grudge against the Timmins clan. Margo Timmins has great pipes, and I have great admiration for the painstaking recording process they utilized on 1988’s The Trinity Session.  I guess it’s just that I’ve always just found something I wanted to hear more than or instead of the Cowboy Junkies; to me, they are like a conventionally attractive woman in a room full of supermodels and circus freaks.

And now Renmin Park is making me look like a fool.

A little background:  Renmin Park (get it June 15th from the band’s own Latent Recordings label) is the first of four new releases the band will drop in the next eighteen months, known collectively as The Nomad Series, and was inspired by guitarist Micheal Timmins’ three month stay in China with his family in 2008.  Timmins strategically introduces homemade field recordings to the band’s signature sound, creating an aural landscape that feels equal parts Mitchell Froom and Alan Lomax.  Against this backdrop is set a loose song cycle chronicling the lives of a star-crossed young couple in the Chinese town of Jingjiang. Nothing earth shattering, but setting this familiar tale in an exotic and largely misunderstood culture gives the record surprising emotional depth.  Longtime fans will find plenty of familiar terrain (Margo Timmins’ husky vocal delivery, tasteful arrangements and impeccable performances) and I suspect that lead single, Stranger Here, will be the unofficial soundtrack to countless weekend adventures this summer, but Renmin Park also benefits greatly from the inclusion of two cover songs by Chinese artists, I Cannot Sit Sadly By Your Side by Zuoxiao Zuzhou (of ZXZZ) and My Fall by Xu Wei.

The ultimate triumph of Renmin Park is Michael Timmins’ ability to create a cohesive record that feels simultaneously common and extraordinary. Subsequently, the album’s ballads are the real stars.  The title track, a universal meditation on discontent, establishes the sustained somberness of the record that is only momentarily overcome by songs like Stranger HereA Few Bags Of Grain packs so much pathos that it is easy to miss the scathing critique of China’s gender politics, but Zuzhou’s I Cannot Sit Sadly By Your Side is the number I return to time and again. This harrowing and hypnotic song perfectly encapsulates the paranoia and oppression left in the wake of China’s Cultural Revolution and the June Fourth Incident, and suggests that Zuzhou may have a couple Leonard Cohen records in his collection. It’s also proof-positive that a great song is a great song, regardless of the language.  Trust me, you’re going to see Renmin Park on more than a few critics’ Best of 2010 lists.

Renmin Park will be followed by Demons, an entire record devoted to the songs of the band’s late friend, Vic Chesnutt. The final two installments of The Nomad Series are Sing in My Meadow (theme TBD)  and The Wilderness, a full album of new Cowboy Junkie originals, many of which are already making their way into the band’s live repertoire. There are also plans for a lushly illustrated book that will delve into the character, nature, and inspiration behind each of the albums. Finally, the band’s website has been complete redesigned to serve as a portal into the creative process of The Nomad Series, and will feature demos,  rough mixes and outtakes from the project as it progresses. Pretty damn cool if you ask me. Nothing like eating crow courtesy of Cowboy Junkies.

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review of The Foundling

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Here’s another great review (stereosubversion.com) for Mary Gauthier’s new album. If you haven’t heard it yet please take a listen and if you like it…please buy it….

“For as long as she’s been making music, Mary Gauthier has been a storyteller; her records take song seriously, but the details of time and place, of character and theme, even more so. She’s a folk singer in the old-school vein, a troubadour who makes art from the people and places in her life. Look, if you will, to a song like “Mercy Now,” with its intimate character sketches sewn together by the broader tale of God and humanity. Or perhaps “Snakebit,” her terrific revamping of Flannery O’Connor’s savage stories of violence and grace. She tells the story of one of Americana’s great lost figures in “The Last of the Hobo Kings,” and of a whole city in her post-Katrina New Orleans wake, “Can’t Find the Way.”

And the more stories she tells, the more it becomes clear that they’re really all different parts of the same story — the story of her characters, and herself, struggling to find home. The theme dogs her work just as surely as the grim dark figure of the Divine haunts O’Connor’s work, as surely as Tom Waits is drawn to boozehounds and street rats — and if you know her own life story, you can understand why. Abandoned by her birth mother, left in an orphanage until she turned fifteen, turned into the streets to live the life of a wandering musician, ultimately rejected by the birth mother she spent her life tracking down, Gauthier’s whole life has been a search for home.

Not that she seems like the type to put it so simplistically. Her new album, The Foundling, is, finally, the telling of her own story. It is, in many ways, the album all her others have been leading toward, and it’s impossible not to hear echoes of her past characters in these new songs. Here, though, they’re not just stories, they’re autobiography.

Thankfully, Gauthier has enough self-respect to avoid the pitfalls of what an autobiographical album usually entails. She tells her story in gritty detail, but there’s no self-pity, no resentment, no wallowing in sadness. There’s no psychoanalysis, either, and thank God — though she does draw some matter-of-fact links between her past and her chosen craft, noting that the singer can draw on the “kindness of strangers” in place of familial ties. She allows her songs — her story — to drift naturally toward the big questions, and so The Foundling is something much more than a squeamishly-detailed account of a rocky childhood; it’s an album about identity, about self-realization, about who we are and the forces that make us that way. It’s about family, and it’s about grace.

Gauthier recorded the album in Canada, but its musical roots remain in a sort of gothic Americana. What it isn’t, though, is the Spartan blues outlines of the album she made with producer Joe Henry; this one she made with Michael Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies, and while this work is obviously inspired by the sound she explored with Henry, Timmins actually improves on it. It’s a spirited set: the musical idioms employed here are the well-traveled forms of folk and country-blues, appropriate given the sort of weariness of the story told, but there’s a real energy and drive to this set, a sense of pacing that befits the album’s narrative thrust. There is a fullness to it, as well: Timmins employs gypsy violin on several cuts to create a sort of whimsy that makes a nice contrast with the heaviness of the lyrics, and he knows both when to leave things spare and airy — to let the words speak for themselves — and when to decorate the set with some tasteful adornment, as on the album highlight “Sideshow” — a woozy, tipsy fusion of honkytonk with New Orleans brass, and a scene-setting piece that tips its hat to Gauthier’s Louisiana roots.

Gauthier’s story is a sad one, but the way she tells it, it’s hopeful, as well. The sheer beauty of this recording is a testament to that; the way it makes something artful and profound from such grim circumstances is evidence of grace at work, in and through this music, and that alone makes The Foundling a special, one-of-a-kind recording — one that examines and interprets the real-life story of a scarred but resilient human being, and does it in a way that honors both her and her listeners.”

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