Sunday, September 23, 2012

My Part-Time Cover: "One More Try"

Rarely does an artist step away from an already successful duo career and make an even bigger splash as a solo act. In the mid-80s, George Michael decided to step out of his half of the Wham! spotlight to try his hand at a solo career. Man, did it pay off big time. While still in Wham!, his first solo activity was the monster single “Careless Whisper,”  which quickly went to #1. A couple of years later, he released his debut full length solo album, Faith, and with six Top 5 singles, it ended up being one of the biggest albums of the late 80s. Trading in the day-glo bike shirts and bubblegum pop tracks for a more mature, tougher look and smarter, cleverly crafted songwriting, George Michael showed he was serious about being taken seriously by writing all of the songs (besides one co-write), playing the majority of the instrumentation and producing the album himself. Thanks in part to the cultural impact of MTV, the aesthetics of the videos from Faith may be the first thing that comes to mind. But make no mistake about it, the album was full of really amazing songwriting and George’s unmistakably flawless vocals. Just take another listen to “One More Try” and you’ll see what I mean. Released as a single almost a year after the album’s initial release, “One More Try” is a fantastically soulful ballad that reminds you just how talented his musical output was back in the 80s. At almost 6 minutes in length, it had to be good to be played on the radio so much in the days of three and half minute pop songs. 

"One More Try" - George Michael (Faith)

Iron & Wine were part of last year’s “Undercover” series by the A.V. Club, but how their particular session came about is quite an amazing story. Initially, Sam Beam was supposed to cover “Islands in the Stream” with a special mystery guest duet partner. Well, at the last minute the mystery guest didn’t show up. Instead of making Sam pick another song from the list, they let him choose whatever cover he wanted to do. He picked George Michael’s “One More Try” and the results are nothing short of astounding. I first fell in love with Sam’s voice when I heard “Upward over the Mountain” from 2002’s The Creek Drank the Cradle and he shines even more whenever he gets into these quiet, soulful tunes. If you pay close attention to the video, you’ll see that his back-up singers are no less than the fantastic Rosie Thomas and Marketa Irglova (The Swell Season). Sam ended up releasing this cover as a small-run, three-color 7” single on Suicide Squeeze records earlier this summer and I lucked out by getting a sweet yellow copy from Grimey’s on release day. The B-side is another cool cover, Sam’s take on Little Feat’s “Trouble.” A great song sounds great in any format and I think this covers speaks to the incredible talents of both George Michael and Sam Beam. Take a listen and you’ll see what I mean!

Iron And Wine covers George Michael

I snapped a pic of the sweet yellow wax for all my fellow vinyl fiends:

Friday, September 21, 2012

Interview with Erin McCarley

(Here's my most recent piece for NoiseTrade.)

Alt-pop songstress Erin McCarley just released her incredible new album My Stadium Electric earlier this month and she’s celebrating with an infectious 4-song EP, Boys’ Club Live. Featuring 3 stripped-down acoustic versions of songs from My Stadium Electric (“What I Needed,” “Elevator” and Rearrange Again”) plus a cool non-album bonus cut (“The King and the Cat”), Boys’ Club Live showcases even more of Erin’s knack for smoky melodies, clever lyrics and stirring vocals. It’s always nice when an artist’s talent shines even brighter as the sonic layers are pulled back to reveal more and more of themselves. While Boys’ Club Live absolutely has a great vibe on its own, it works even better as a companion piece to My Stadium Electric. So think of it as “My Stadium Acoustic” and make sure to grab them both!

Recently I was able to ask Erin a few questions regarding her new album, her new EP, song placement and how things have been since she moved from San Diego to Nashville.

NoiseTrade: Your new album, My Stadium Electric, feels a little grittier and more aggressive than your 2009 debut Love, Save the Empty, while still retaining your fantastic sense of melody and pop beats. Was this an intentional shift or just a natural progression in your songwriting?
Erin McCarley: It was both. The songwriting for this record had touring experience and performance in mind. I felt like I was shedding a few layers and breaking into a braver and more animated version of myself.

NT: While I always try to steer clear of the well worn, clich├ęd type questions… I’m genuinely curious about your album title. Where did My Stadium Electric come from and what does it mean for you?
Erin: The title stems from the lyric in the first song on the record, "Elevator".  The stadium represents my inner core (mind/body/soul) and the "electric" was the energy of who I was allowing myself to become. A lot of walls came down between the making of these 2 records.

NT: Your NoiseTrade sampler features unique acoustic versions of some of the songs off of My Stadium Electric. Did these songs change or transform in any way when you rerecorded them in this more intimate style?
Erin: We recorded this EP live along with a video series up on YouTube called "The Boys' Club Live". It was a great experiment for us to strip these songs back and give the listener a closer look at how the song came about in the first place. We played softer which meant we had to carry the energy in different ways than the My Stadium Electric versions.  The arrangements came to us very naturally. The songs speak for themselves. And I also decided to add a special song that didn't make it on the record (The King and the Cat) which I recorded separately in London last year. It seemed to really fit the vibe of this EP concept.

NT: I’m always fascinated with the concept of showcasing new artists via music placement in television shows and movies. With so many of your songs popping up in that visual medium (one in which you can’t control what images/moods it’s being matched up with), what has the experience been like for you from the “creative songwriter” side and then from the “artist that has to continually think about building an audience” side?
Erin: I don’t find anything creatively stifling about the TV and FILM world. I love the use of my music in that medium. I do have a say if I think it is a good creative fit so I’ve found that it's opened up more creative opportunities for my songwriting. Sometimes the song is picked after it's been written for a personal reason, and sometimes I’ve written specifically for a visual request. It’s a great way for people to connect to your music. TV and Film have become a bit of a universal A&R department in a way. They've found and given light to a number of really good indie artists.

NT: While you’re currently a resident Nashvillian, you started your musical journey in the Southern California. What’s been some of the most poignant similarities and differences between the San Diego scene and here?
Erin: Wow Nashville. What a scene it has become! When I was first in Nashville, I wasn’t sure I would be able to find my footing and my people. But over the past 5 years or so, the indie rock scene has lifted out of the fog. While living in San Diego, I isolated a lot. There was a small talented music scene there, but my support system at that time was the beach and a few local coffee shops that gave me my first chance to perform my own material. Here in Nashville, I feel like everyone's got my back. Friends that understand the highs and lows. And people that push me and make me want to be better.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

2012 Americana Music Festival Round-up

The 2012 Americana Music Festival descended upon Nashville this past weekend and I had the extreme privilege of covering it for CMT Edge. It all started with the Americana Music Association Awards show at the Ryman on Wednesday night where I got to see a variety of legends and newer notables tear up the stage in between heartfelt presentations and acceptance speeches. My personal highlights included getting to hear elder statesmen like Booker T. and Richard Thompson perform live, as well fantastic performances by Justin Townes Earle, Jason Isbell, Alabama Shakes and Cary Ann Hearst dueting with Hayes Carll.

Another non-showcase highlight from the week was getting to go to a CMT Edge taping with Justin Townes Earle and Jason Isbell. Hearing both songwriters perform solo in such an intimate setting was pretty unforgettable and as soon as the videos are up, I'll post them here.

Each night of the festival had multiple artists packing out venues all around Nashville and filling the air with beautiful music. Here are the links to my review for each incredible night.

Wednesday - Shovels and Rope, Blue Mountain and Sally Ford and the Sound Outside at The Basement

Thursday - Punch Brothers, Paul Thorn, Sara Watkins and Blue Highway at Cannery Ballroom

Friday - John Hiatt, Robert Ellis, Amanda Shires and Shelly Colvin at Cannery Ballroom

Saturday - Buddy Miller and Lee Ann Womack at Mercy Lounge and Wood Brothers at The Rutledge

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Aimee Mann - New Single "Charmer" + NoiseTrade Sampler

While Aimee Mann achieved great commercial success in the 1980s with new wavers ‘Til Tuesday and their moving anthem “Voices Carry,” she has continually shown over the years that success at that high of a level can be just a jumping off point and not a plateaued destination. With a variety of impressive solo albums dating back to the early '90s, many of which she has released independently, it’s clear to see that Aimee’s unique mix of melodic melancholy and clever songwriting is still producing album after album of talented musicianship and witty, biting lyrics. On the heels of her next solo album Charmer (out September 18 on SuperEgo Records), Aimee has compiled a great 5-song sampler that includes her new title track single “Charmer” and four other great cuts from her last few solo releases.

The bouncy, synth-driven groove of “Charmer” shows a musically playful side of Aimee that harkens back to the late '70s vibe surrounding punk and new wave’s beginnings. For me, there’s always been something cool about her voice against a distorted electric guitar, so I’m loving this track and really looking forward to the rest of Charmer. “Little Tornado” is a quiet acoustic track from her last solo album, 2008’s @#%&*! Smilers, and it’s a cool representation of the beautifully sad (but still somehow tinged with a certain measure of hope) songwriting that she’s capable of creating. “That’s How I Knew This Story Would Break My Heart” captures the same mournful spirit over a bed of piano and strings and comes from Aimee’s lush, relational concept album, The Forgotten Arm. “It’s Not” is a deceptive little number that vacillates between an intimate singer/songwriter verse and a rich orchestral chorus. “You Do” is from Aimee’s first independent solo release and it’s a nice little musical time capsule of that period of her career and creative development.  

Another project Aimee is involved in that you should keep your eyes and ears out for is the film Pleased to Meet Me. Based on Jon Langford’s classifieds-born, one-day band recording session for This American Life (Episode #223: Classifieds), this super cool film has Aimee trading lines alongside other musical heavyweights like John Doe of punk legends X,  Joe Henry, Karin Bergquist of Over The Rhine and famed folk troubadour Loudon Wainwright III. No stranger to the screen, Aimee can also be seen in The Big Lebowski and select episodes of PortlandiaBuffy the Vampire Slayer and The West WingPleased to Meet Me is still currently in the production/shooting stages, but it’s shaping up to be a really interesting film.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Andrew Osenga - Letters to the Editor, Vol. 1 (EP Review)

(Here's my most recent NoiseTrade piece.)

For anyone who’s followed the musical life and times of Andrew Osenga, it’s safe to say that the pleasingly unexpected twists and turns, while fun and interesting enough in their own right, have definitely churned out an impressive catalog of work. Apart from his full band work (The Normals, Caedmon’s Call, Jars of Clay), his hired gun guitarslinger duties (serving the greater metropolitan of Nashville and the surrounding areas) and his deft production skills (also serving the greater metropolitan of Nashville and the surrounding areas), the guy’s got a stunning roster of solo releases heavily peppered throughout the mix. His next solo album, Leonard, the Lonely Astronaut, is set to release on September 18 and to stir up even more excitement (as if recording the album in a handcrafted spaceship while wearing a customized spacesuit wasn’t enough), he’s putting one of his solo EPs, Letters to the Editor, Volume 1, up on NoiseTrade for this week only!

Letters to the Editor, Volume 1 was birthed from an interesting experiment Andrew crafted with his fans. Soliciting stories, pictures, drawings, letters and the like from his fans, Andrew offered to pick a few of them and write new, complete songs based off of them. The result was a rich, expansive 6-song EP that features only voice and guitar. Containing both single passes and some beautifully layered creations, Andrew was able to tell some stories, create others and even insert himself into a few of them over some deceptively complex musical settings. As an English major, Andrew’s lyrical ability is deceptively complex as well, gracefully weaving weighty issues and emotions into easily palatable lines.

We all know the book is always better than the summary, but here’s the cliff notes on the songs. “Wanted” is an acoustic tornado dream that sounds like an outtake from Springsteen’s Nebraska album. “The Ball Game” includes a little Normals backstory and had me checking the liner notes for singer-songwriter Todd Snider’s name. “You Leave No Shadow” features some great bluesy, finger-picking and multi-personality harmony vocals. “Anna and the Aliens” (my personal favorite track on the EP) contains my favorite, simple but telling lyric of the album, “She wanted Broadway, I just wanted The Mets” and sounds like full Cougar-era John Mellencamp. “The Blessing Curse” features more gorgeous finger-picking and some lush storytelling through multiple characters. Taking the “fan input” ideal to extremely cool limits, “Swing Wide the Glimmering Gates” closes out the EP with a choir of voices, all recorded from fans' homes via their computers and compiled by Andrew into one gorgeously ethereal ensemble.

As an added NoiseTrade bonus, Andrew has included an alternate version of “Firstborn Son,” a track from Leonard, the Lonely Astronaut, done in the guitar/voice vibe of his Letters to the Editor EPs. Word on the street is that next week Andrew will be swapping out Volume 1 for Volume 2 and will also be including another alternate version Leonard track. Any tips he receives, let me repeat, ANY TIPS HE RECIEVES… pause for effect… will go towards the continuing renovation/repair of his home that was totally devastated due to water damage while he was out of town this summer.