Friday, October 14, 2011

Would You Like To Try A Free Sample(r)?

(Here's my newest NoiseTrade post about some of the incredible samplers currently available on their site.)

Like any stereotypical 80’s kid, I spent many a Suburban Saturday schlubbing around my local malls (Southlake, Greenbriar and Shannon for those keeping score at home) for hours on end. During those non-driver’s license dark ages, parents could drop their kids off at these pre-teen daycare facilities from sun up to sun down with little to no worry about their safety. We learned to perfect the art of the all day hang with barely enough money in our ill-fitting Levi knock-offs to purchase a handful of cassingles, much less a meal. No matter how many bowls of Fruity Pebbles you’d had that morning, the midday rumbles hit everyone the same. So we all learned to listen closely for the siren’s call of the food court, “would you like to try a free sample?” After a few well-timed rounds through the questionable culinary circuit, you’d have a bellyful of Pizza Hut mini squares, Golden Panda mongolian beef bites, Chick-Fil-A nuggets, miniature Dairy Queen ice cream cups and if the grub gods smiled down, a somewhat filling 3-inch Blimpie sub. All this for only the price of a simple “yes, thank you” to the paper hat wearing patron saints of free mall food.

This “try it before you buy it” mindset eventually leaked over into the music industry and now tons of artists, labels and innovative, forward-facing online musical communities (ahem) are offering free song samplers in exchange for minimal contact info. While some try to bemoan the demise of the music industry structure as we’ve known it, others are quietly building their own empires with the bricks of free promotion, digital distribution and most importantly, fanbase connection. Is it crazy to think that a potential fan could find an unknown song or a new band without purchasing anything and then turn into a card-carrying member of the fan club that supports the artist by buying albums, concert tickets and merchandise? A quick search through NoiseTrade’s offerings will show you that many artists, bands and labels don’t think the idea is crazy at all. Make no mistake about it, these are not just throwaway B-sides or bedroom demos that are being offered either. Incredibly talented musicians and songwriters are releasing high quality album cuts and there’s also great compilation samplers that package 10-20 different bands at once for you to pick and choose from. So to help get things started, I’d like to offer you some of my own personal favorite samplers that are currently on NoiseTrade. Imagine me donning a too-tight, monochromatic polyester uniform or a full-size hot dog costume and hoisting aloft my tray of free musical goodies. “Would you like to try a free sampler?”

NoiseTrade Fall 2011 Sampler – By simply pressing the “Like” button on our Facebook page, you’ll get our gigantic 30-song Fall 2011 Sampler for free. You’ll get some fantastic songs from the likes of Joe Pug, Matthew Sweet, The Hawk In Paris, Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken, David Mead and more. We guarantee that if you don’t like at least one song out of the thirty we’re offering, we’ll refund your mouse click, no questions asked.

Ten Out Of Tenn – This collective of independent artists showcases some of the best songwriters to come out of Nashville over the last few years. Having just released Volume 4 in the series, Ten out of Tenn boasts a handsome roster of previous and current members that includes Katie Herzig, Matthew Perryman Jones, Griffin House, Trent Dabbs, Kate York, Ashley Monroe, Joy Williams and many others throughout the years. NoiseTrade is offering a couple of their earlier volumes and you can also find out more about them at

On Joyful Wings: Seven Swans Reimagined – Most will agree that Sufjan Stevens’ Seven Swans album from 2004 is one of his best received and most well loved records. His minimal instrumentation, quiet vocals and lyrical imagery create an intimate atmosphere for the weight of the album to exist in. On Joyful Wingsis a cool tribute album consisting of 15 independent artists covering the 12 tracks from Seven Swans, plus 3 additional tracks from the two 7” singles Sufjan put out in conjunction with Seven Swans. NoiseTrade is offering a 6-song sampler of On Joyful Wings that includes tracks from Derek Webb, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Half-Handed Cloud, DM Stith, Wakey!Wakey! and Inlets. You can purchase the entire On Joyful Wings album HERE, with profits being donated to Komen for the Cure.

Bloodshot Records Fall Sampler 2011 – I’ve got a deep-rooted love for twangy songs about heartbreak and honky tonks, so Bloodshot Records always knows how to put a smile on my face. Their alt-country leaning sampler is spilling over with sudsy goodness from Ryan Adams, Justin Townes Earle, Old 97’s, Excene Cervenka, Dex Romweber Duo and Alejandro Escovedo, just to name a few. In the spirit of full disclosure, a few of the tracks on this one contain some spicy language, so you may want to preview it before gathering the family around the hearth for an old-fashioned digital sampler listening party.

Arise My Soul: Indelible Grace – To balance out Bloodshot’s Saturday night, there’s Indelible Grace’s Sunday morning. This beautiful collection of acoustic based hymns mixes the gorgeous language of the hymnwriters with updated instrumentation from the likes of Sandra McCracken, Derek Webb, Matthew Smith, Matthew Perryman Jones and others. There’s also an insightful two-part lecture about hymns from Kevin Twit.

Blitzen Trapper/Dawes Tour Sampler – Blitzen Trapper and Dawes are currently out on a 29-date tour through the US and Canada and they’ve created this tour sampler to help promote it. With three songs offered from each band, this EP-like sampler is rich with folky acoustics, swampy electrics, gorgeous vocal harmonies and great lyrics. Currently my favorite track on the sampler is “Little Bit of Everything” from Dawes, but each song is a keeper. To see if they’re going to be playing anywhere close to you, check their tour dates out HERE.

We’re also offering a plethora of single artist samplers, with some of the more incredible offerings being from Sandra McCracken, Brandi Carlile, Marc Broussard, The Hawk In Paris, Andy Gullahorn, Plumb and many, many others. But as the literary shaman Levar Burton always reminded us, “you don’t have to take my word for it.” Just click around the database, find some interesting album artwork or just type an artist name or the word “sampler” into the search box. Discovery is such an integral and fun part of music. So just give it a shot. Your next “my new favorite band” could be just a click away.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Concert Review: Wilco @ The Ryman

No one can do what Wilco does.

I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that this was true, but last night’s transcendent performance at The Ryman made it a foregone conclusion. In front of an enthusiastic and appreciative crowd, Wilco lit up the room and played like they were a young band trying to prove something. Their unique mix of fantastic songwriting, gorgeous melodies, complex rhythms, incendiary guitar solos, lush harmonies, garage-rock freak outs, acoustic ballads and everything in between rang out loud and true in one of the most beautiful and historic venues in music’s history. Countless legends have played the Ryman stage and there’s no doubt that time will show Wilco being mentioned among the greats. It’s really a special thing to see a band at peak performance, firing on all cylinders and going for broke. There is no safety net when Wilco plays and there are moments when you can’t imagine how they are going to cohesively resolve the chaotic din they’ve just created. But then they do it, effortlessly and perfectly, with no band mate or audience member left behind. Wilco managed to balance their monster catalog of fan favorites with songs from their brand new release, The Whole Love, to spectacular results. Even if you didn’t hear “your” favorite Wilco song, you still got to hear much of their best work as they played at least one song from every major release of theirs. They even reached back to their debut, 1995’s A.M., for two songs. By the time their 8-song encore was finished, there wasn’t a seat filled or a mouth closed as the entire audience let the guys know that they had experienced something magical that wouldn’t soon be forgotten.

Kicking the night off in a no frills, unannounced manner was the Jesus of Cool himself, Nick Lowe. Armed with just an acoustic guitar and his crystal clear voice, Lowe took on the role of an English troubadour moreso than the new wavey, pub rocker he’s been since the 1970’s. With a playful smirk and a youthfulness that defied his 60+ years, Lowe charmed the audience with acoustic renditions of some his best loved songs and some of his newer tracks from his latest album, The Old Magic. He smartly bypassed the stool-sitting, coffee house vibe for an upbeat, Elvis inspired leg-bouncing take on his tunes. Songs like “Cruel To Be Kind,” “When I Write The Book,” and “The Beast In Me” got immediate reactions from the first note, while other songs seemed to be listened to for the first time by many in the audience. “All Men Are Liars” got an exuberant reaction from the females in the crowd and Lowe’s tender take on Elvis Costello’s “Alison” was incredibly awesome to say the least. Nick’s one of those guys whose production work and songwriting has seemed to generate more success for other artists (Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash) than for himself, so it was really nice to see him in his element, singing his songs, his way. For anyone who made it in only enough time to see Wilco, you absolutely missed out on a musical legend sharing his songs and having fun. Nick’s set list consisted of: “Stoplight Roses,” “Heart,” “What’s Shaking On The Hill,” “Ragin’ Eyes,” “All Men Are Liars,” “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide,” “I Live On A Battlefield,” “I Read A Lot,” “Cruel To Be Kind,” “Alison (Elvis Costello cover),” “When I Write The Book” and “The Beast In Me.”

Wilco boldly opened their set with the sprawlingly adventurous “One Sunday Morning,” a 12-minute acoustic-led ballad about the struggle between a father and son who have differing opinions on God. While some may have wanted Wilco to come out with guns blazing, I think this move showed that the guys trusted the audience enough to have the patience and the attention span to stick with them for the whole ride. It paid off in spades as the crowd erupted to the opening organ strains of the next song, “Poor Places” off their landmark album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It only took until that second song for Wilco to showcase their innate ability to descend into chaos and emerge unscathed without missing a beat. They would return to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot four more times throughout the night, each time capturing the deconstructed nature of the songs perfectly. Following “Poor Places,” frontman Jeff Tweedy took off his guitar to sing and dance his way through “Art of Almost,” one of eight songs played off Wilco’s newest release, The Whole Love. The new songs were met with varying degrees of familiarity, but each one still garnered the thunderous praise of an engaged crowd. With the exception of “Art of Almost” and “I Might” being played back-to-back, each new song was sandwiched between familiar older ones. It’s as if Wilco was saying, “Here’s why you love us. Give this new song a chance. See, you still love us.” Throughout the night, many songs broke out into word-for-word singalongs with “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” “Handshake Drugs,” “Impossible Germany” and “Jesus, Etc.” eliciting the loudest group vocals. Whether they were nailing tight, melodic rock songs with hook-filled choruses (“A Shot In The Arm,” “Monday,” “Born Alone”), experimenting with noise and sound during mix-metered passages (“Poor Places,” “Handshake Drugs,” “Art of Almost”) or holding the crowd by a string with acoustic fragility (“Red Rising Lung,” “One Sunday Morning”), Wilco showed that each band member plays like a virtuoso and knows their specific role in each moment of each song. There isn’t a weak link to be found. Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting eloquently shifts between passionate outbursts, lovelorn woes, concrete ideals and abstract imagery. Nels Cline is a guitar wizard who gets tones like no one else and hits notes that boggle the mind. Glenn Kotche sounds like he’s playing drums with octopus arms and has an uncanny knack for never playing anything straight without ever overplaying at all. John Stirratt keeps the train on the tracks with his solid, yet fluid, bass playing and adds incredibly gorgeous harmonies to Jeff’s vocals. Mikael Jorgensen transforms anything with keys, be it piano, organ or computer, to add melodic flourishes and help create Wilco’s dense sonic atmospheres. Pat Sansone fills in the holes with integral keyboard, guitar and vocal parts to make sure nothing is missed and to help elevate each song to maximum sonic force. Each member had multiple shining moments throughout the night and there were sections of more than one song where each member was completely locked into each other and they were simultaneously creating something new together. This was felt most heavily in the cacophonous outro of “Handshake Drugs,” ”the triple guitar lead of “Impossible Germany” and the joyful explosiveness of “Monday.”

For their encore, Wilco opened with the new song “Whole Love” and then brought out Nick Lowe to help out with two of his songs, “36 Inches High” and “I Love My Label.” Wilco’s version of “I Love My Label” can be found on the b-side of their 7” single for “I Might” and this was the second time of the night that Jeff went guitar-less to just sing and dance along with the song. After Nick left the stage, the boys continued with a twangy “Box Full of Letters,” a jamming “Walken,” a frienzied “I’m The Man Who Loves You” and a closing one-two knockout punch of Being There’s “Monday” and “Outtasite (Outta Mind).” While they could’ve probably played all night with out very many audience members leaving, Wilco graciously exited to a roaringly satisfied crowd of fans. If you ever have the chance to catch Wilco live, you’ll never forget the experience. Thanks to Wilco and Nick Lowe for a monumental show that is forever etched onto my musical heart.

Wilco’s set:
- One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)
- Poor Places
- Art of Almost
- I Might
- I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
- One Wing
- Bull Black Nova
- Rising Red Lung
- Impossible Germany
- Shouldn’t Be Ashamed

- Handshake Drugs
- Standing O
- Jesus, Etc.
- Born Alone
- War on War
- Dawned On Me
- A Shot in the Arm
- Whole Love
- 36 Inches High
- I Love My Label
- Box Full of Letters
- Walken
- I’m The Man Who Loves You
- Monday
- OuttaSite (Outta Mind)

(photos courtesy of Amanda Hodge)