Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Over the Rhine - Snow Angels (Album Review)

If you’re looking for some Christmas music that invokes the season without being so ornamentally overt, Over the Rhine’s Snow Angels is here to help. The multi-faceted duo of Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler have been churning out their mystifying brand of jazz-based, folk-infused refrains since the early 90s and they’ve continually been able to sonically shuck every definition and label that’s been clumsily attached to them. With the smoky vocals of Billie Holiday, the melodic touch of Cole Porter and the eclecticism of Tom Waits, Over the Rhine is beautifully peculiar and a (gin-tinged) breath of fresh air. 

While Snow Angels is actually Over the Rhine’s second Christmas album (they released The Darkest Night of the Year in 1996), it contains far more original material than their first holiday release of traditionally non-traditional interpretations. Karin’s slinky vocals and Linford’s deft instrumental wizardry allows Snow Angels to glide and weave through 12 tracks of emotionally rich seasonal songs. Some are festive, some are romantic, some are sentimental, and some are even downright sad, but they are all uniquely warm and resonant.   

If you want to sample a couple of tracks first, I recommend giving the following cuts a chance: 
“All I Ever Get for Christmas is Blue” – lounge vocals, tinkling piano, stand-up bass, snare brushes… Move over “Please Come Home for Christmas,” this is sad Christmas music at its finest. 

“Snowed in With You” – Are we sure this isn’t an Ella Fitzgerald cover? Time to grab the nearest mistletoe and make your move. 

“Darlin’ (Christmas is Coming)” – this folksy little sashay lifts the mood and might even get those toes tapping. There’s even a playful organ solo in this one that begs you to take your holiday honey for a quick spin around the room.   

“Snow Angel” – A beautifully heartbreaking ode to romance ripped apart by war, the story that never gets old or any less sad. Keep the kleenex close and just blame the sniffling on it being flu season.

“Goodbye Charles” – A whimsical piano-led instrumental homage to both Vince Guaraldi’s classic soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas and to Charles Schulz himself. 

While those songs will give you an adequate feel for the album, Snow Angels is best enjoyed in full and in good company. If you listen closely enough, I bet you’ll even hear the crackling of a fire and the clinking of ice cubes in glasses. So grab the download and the hand of your own snow angel and give them both a spin. To check out more of Over the Rhine’s stellar catalogue and to help them make their next two records (The Farm and Blood Oranges in the Snow), visit them HERE

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Record Store Day's Black Friday - CMT Edge

(I wrote this Record Store Day piece for CMT Edge to highlight some of the best country/folk/roots music offerings from this year's event.)
If the term “Black Friday” conjures up scary images of early morning shopping and rowdy, turkey-fueled crowds, then the fine folks organizing Record Store Day would like to change that.
Their third annual Black Friday event returns this week with some super cool, limited edition vinyl, CD, DVD and boxed set releases available only at your local record store. The vast majority of these stunning releases are exclusive to this event, while a few items will just be making their debut. For music lovers and vinyl enthusiasts alike, Christmas is coming early this year.
Fans of Americana and classic country would do well to check out the following special releases on Friday (Nov. 23):
Johnny CashThe Fabulous Johnny Cash: This 12-inch, 180-gram vinyl full-length album is a mono reissue of Cash’s third album, which was originally released in 1959. Containing classic Cash-penned songs like “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” and “I Still Miss Someone,” this record is an interesting sonic snapshot of Cash’s post-Sun Records sound.
Gene Clark, “Echoes”: This seven-inch vinyl single from the founding Byrds member is a reproduction of his 1966 promotional single for Columbia Records. Featuring Clark’s first solo single “Echoes” on the A-side and “I Found You” on the B-side, this release also showcases the extremely rare promotional picture sleeve from the original.
Merle HaggardCapitol Rarities: This 10-inch vinyl EP houses six of Haggard’s Capitol-era rarities culled from recording sessions in 1966. Side one features three unreleased tracks (“I Threw Away the Rose,” “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” and “Loneliness Is Eating Me Alive”) recorded in Nashville in March of 1966. Side two features three unreleased tracks (“Someone Told My Story,” “Hang Up My Gloves” and another version of “I Threw Away the Rose”) recorded in Hollywood in June 1966.
Wanda JacksonCapitol Rarities: The 10-inch vinyl EP from the queen of rockabilly spotlights six of Jackson’s Capitol-era outtakes and alternate cuts from recording sessions in the ’50s and ’60s. The first side includes three unissued tracks (“Step by Step,” “In the Middle of a Heartache” and “The Wrong Kind of Girl”) from 1956-1960, while side two features three unissued tracks (“I Cried Again,” “Before I Lose My Mind” and “To Tell You the Truth”) from 1961-1962.
George JonesUnited Artists Rarities: Six of Jones’ United Artists-era rarities from various recording sessions in 1960s are collected on the 10-inch vinyl EP, including two of his marvelous duets with Melba Montgomery. Side one highlights three unreleased recordings (“Let’s Go Home,” “I Saw Me” and “Will There Ever Be Another”) from 1962-1964. The flip side features three unreleased tracks (“Is This How a Broken Heart Dies,” “Wouldn’t It Be Something” and “Alabama”) from 1963-1964.
The LumineersWinter: Another 10-inch vinyl EP, this one contains four songs not found on the Lumineers’ self-titled debut smash, including their uniquely stripped down cover of “This Must Be the Place (Na├»ve Melody)” by Talking Heads. New tracks also include “Ain’t Nobody’s Problem,” “Elouise” and “Darlene.”
Buddy Miller and Jim LauderdaleBuddy and Jim: The debut collaborative project from two of Americana’s most revered statesmen will be available at local record stores two weeks before it hits shelves everywhere else. Available on CD and as a 12-inch vinyl LP, the album is led by the twangy first single, “I Lost My Job of Loving You.”

My Morning Jacket, “It Makes No Difference” (featuring Brittany Howard): This 10-inch vinyl single is pressed on sweet orange wax and features My Morning Jacket covering The Band’s “It Makes No Difference” with a little vocal help from powerhouse Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes. The B-side is a previously unreleased My Morning Jacket song called “Grab a Body.”
Buck OwensBuck Sings Eagles: The 10-inch vinyl EP of unissued Owens recordings from the ’70s has the legend covering four different songs by the Eagles, who had not yet reached iconic status in the music world. Originally recorded to air on Hee Haw, the collection houses Owens’ take on “Take It Easy,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Lyin’ Eyes” and “Tequila Sunrise.”
Lucinda Williams“That Time of Night”: This 10-inch vinyl single showcases alt-country songstress Lucinda Williams covering Michael Chapman’s “That Time of Night” on the A-side, with Chapman’s original recording appearing on the B-side.

Fiction Family - Holiday (EP Review)

For Fiction Family fans (say that three times fast!), Christmas is coming before Thanksgiving this year! The eclectic collaborative brainchild of Sean Watkins (Nickel Creek) and Jon Foreman (Switchfoot) released their fantastic debut album back in 2009 and now they’re back for another round of folksy, melodic, acoustic-driven tunes with their brand new Holiday EP. Featuring sneak peek tracks from next year’s Fiction Family Reunion album (January 29, Rock Ridge Music), some tasty unreleased B-sides and a festive new Christmas song, Holiday is a super special treat for long-time listeners and soon-to-be fans alike. 

Holiday kicks off with the bouncy “I Don’t Need No Santa Clause,” a track that will quickly find its way onto holiday playlists everywhere this season. Landing somewhere between a jaunty bluegrass number and a nostalgic classic Christmas song of the 40s and 50s, “I Don’t Need No Santa Clause” is fun, romantic, catchy, and sentimental all at once. Even the lyrics are jam-packed with holiday references of mistletoe, jingle bells, sugar plums, off-key carolers, Rudolph, Ebenezer, Bing Crosby and Elvis. It couldn’t have been more Christmas-y unless they’d have had Santa sing it himself.  

Holiday also features a couple new tracks from their upcoming sophomore release, Fiction Family Reunion. “Up Against The Wall” and “Damaged” were written and recorded with the two newest members of the band, Aaron Redfield and Tyler Chester. These songs were birthed out of the friendships and musical chemistry that were formed between the 4 musicians while they were out on the road supporting their self-titled debut. The new tracks continue to showcase Fiction Family’s uber-talented, lyric-rich, multi-instrumental approach to collaborative songwriting that inhabits the same space as Music from Big Pink-era The Band and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era Wilco. 

Rounding out the EP is a live version of Fiction Family’s “We Ride” and two previously unreleased tracks, “Don’t Say You Love Me” and “My Forgetful Baby.” Even after just a few spins, it’s safe to say that if songs this good didn’t make the new album, I can’t wait to hear what the guys have in store for us in January. Fiction Family Reunion will be released January 29 on Rock Ridge Music. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Interview with Thad Cockrell of Leagues

In the realm of artistic development, some merely turn the page, some start a new chapter and some just reach for a whole new book altogether. For Thad Cockrell, one of the most talented singer-songwriters in the game, this type of fresh evolution led him to trade in his trusty acoustic guitar for a pair of dancing shoes. Through an interesting chain of people and chance encounters, Cockrell formed LEAGUES with guitarist Tyler Burkham and drummer Jeremy Lutito. (Original bassist Mike Simons quit early on to be able to focus more on his family.) Through a series of intermittent writing and recording sessions, a fantastic 3-song self-titled EP emerged last year. Currently, LEAGUES is prepping their debut full length You Belong Here for a late January release. You can still grab two songs from their EP on NoiseTrade HERE and you can watch their recently released music video for “Spotlight” below.


I recently spoke with Thad Cockrell about LEAGUES’ inception, their new album and what it looks like when you transition from an acoustic-based singer-songwriter to the frontman of a certifiable dance rock super group.

NoiseTrade: So what’s the story behind your killer new Allister Ann directed music video for “Spotlight”? Were there artistic discussions and thematic preparations or just a fun “put on a LEAGUES show and let the party ensue” vibe?
Thad Cockrell: She is a crazy talent! This was her first "music video" and you would never know it by watching. There are certain words/describers that we hold really close to chest. So, when we are working with all the talented people who are helping us out in this journey, we talk with them about those words. We talked with her and she took the ball and ran with it. We love it!

NT: When a band first starts forming, there’s always a plethora of conversations about what musical direction you want to head in and what songs and albums are influencing those movements. What musical ingredients were being thrown around in the LEAGUES formation process and during the recording of You Belong Here?
Thad: I think we knew what we didn't want to do, more than we knew exactly what we wanted to do. Although, we definitely had some ideas of what we wanted the music to feel like and what we hoped the listener would experience. We first and foremost wanted it to be creative. I think in order to create, it’s usually best experienced doing something you don't know how to do. So, we had an idea that we didn't want it to sound like anything we had ever done on our own. We were hoping for something that made us smile and laugh. I think this world needs some joy (as do we) and an excuse to get outside of ourselves. To be lifted. And we wanted to the 4th member of the band to be "the pleasure of the audience." It has been a mind bending, but fun, experience. Those are some of the really loose coordinates.

NT: While camaraderie between band members isn’t exactly an uncommon thing, it’s certainly not a given, especially within already successful, seasoned musicians. What do you guys chalk up your unique musical and relational bonding to?

Thad: We all still really love music. We believe it's important and that it's what we do best. As much of a great guitar and bass player as I think Tyler is, he is first and foremost a musician and a music listener that just so happens to play guitar. The same can be said about Jeremy. Although he is amazing at drums and production, he is first and foremost a musician and music listener that happens to play drums. I think another common thread is that we are "song" guys. Songs are king.

NT: Are the rumors true that the first official LEAGUES show started off as a Thad Cockrell show that morphed mid-set?

Thad: Haha! That’s how it went down. I didn't want this to be a side project. I wanted to move from being a solo act and not do both at the same time. Our first show was at the Bowery Ball Room in NYC. We were opening for my friend’s band The Lone Bellow. Half way through the set I said that I was no longer a solo artist and that I was now in a band call LEAGUES and from here on out, I will be playing solely in LEAGUES. I went on to say that the rest of the set would be our first LEAGUES show. It was really fun.

NT: In writing songs for LEAGUES (which is admittedly different territory than your previous musical output), is there a struggle not to go to the familiar, comfortable places that you may go to when writing for solo material or has it been a natural separation so far?
Thad: There could be a struggle. However, I used a completely different process to write these songs than I did when I was writing for my solo stuff. For the most part, I never picked up an instrument while writing and we really tried to only write when it was all three of us in the room. Sometimes I had the lyrics and some idea of melody, but I really tried to limit that. So in a sense, it felt like learning to write songs all over again and learning to listen for melodies in a whole new way.

NT: With lyrics like “You want to know what loves about, give it when you feel nothing” and “Everybody’s got a heart worth breaking, everybody is the one that got away, everybody has a love they’re looking for,” are you guys intentionally trying to bring some heart to the seemingly hips-only realm of dance pop music?
Thad: That is certainly the hope. The general thought on music is that it can only be dance or fun party music if the lyrics are throwaway lyrics. I think in some way we would like to challenge that. NT: 

Okay, last question… when playing “Magic” live, do you guys go into a danceable cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” and if not, could you try it at least once for me?

Thad: Haha! We will certainly think about that. Do you promise to dance? 

You Belong Here will be released on January 29 and it can currently be pre-ordered HERE with a cool variety of bundling options.  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Vince Guaraldi Trio - A Charlie Brown Christmas (2012 Remastered and Expanded Edition) (Album Review)

If you’ve had the unfortunate experience of never owning a copy of Vince Guaraldi Trio’s soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, I’m not exactly sure that you’ve ever truly celebrated Christmas to its full potential. But fear not, because this could be your year to remedy any previous yuletide infractions. Even if you do have a well-worn copy in your collection, there’s good reason to pick up this year’s brand new remastered and expanded edition from Fantasy Records. Regarding the audio quality, this reissue returns to the mix and edits from the original 1965 stereo masters and enhances the crispness and separation of each instruments’ dazzling interplay. Each piano tinkle, snare brush and bass run sounds as if you are sitting right next the band as they recorded this holiday masterpiece. Even the space in the recording studio feels likes its own instrument as each melodic line and rhythmic bounce floats effortlessly through the sonic atmosphere. Need proof? Look no further than 37 seconds into the album as Jerry Granelli and Fred Marshall drop the beat for “O Tannenbaum.” Ah yes, Christmas time is here indeed.

All 11 tracks from the original LP are represented here and it doesn’t take more than a few bars to hear why this album has both sentimental and historical significance. Not only has it soundtracked many a Christmas season for a variety of generations since its release in the winter of 1965, but it’s largely credited with bringing jazz music into the mainstream consciousness. (In fact, just earlier this year A Charlie Brown Christmas was added to the National Recording Registry run by the Library of Congress.) “What Child is This,” “Christmas Time is Here,” “Skating,” “The Christmas Song” and the rest of the tracks continue to do their best to put you in a merry mood and with this year’s reissue, they even get a little extra help in their endeavors. Added to the original 11 songs are three more tracks not found on the album’s first release. The first of the bonus tracks is the traditional “Greensleeves,” first added to this collection for its initial run on CD in 1988. While it was recorded with a different bass player and drummer, Monty Budwig and Colin Bailey respectively, the sound of the trio and the spirit of the recording find it perfectly fitting for this release. The other two bonus tracks, while not exactly Christmas tunes, are still appropriately holiday-flavored and Peanuts-themed. “The Great Pumpkin Waltz” from 1966’s It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and “Thanksgiving Theme” from 1973’s A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving both appear on the end of the album.

Whether you pick it up for the audio enhancements, the bonus tracks or just to finally have it to listen to whenever you want, I highly recommend grabbing this year’s remastered and expanded edition of A Charlie Brown Christmas.