Thursday, April 17, 2014

Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen @ Bridgestone Arena

Photos courtesy of Mark Maxwell
Having just witnessed my very first Bruce Springsteen concert, I can now officially echo Jon Landau’s prophetic endorsement that “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” Although that statement was originally made in a pre-Born to Run 1974, it holds as true today as it ever did then. After a 2 encore, 3 hours plus mixture of majestic musicality and sweaty showmanship, there is no question that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band is still the bar by which all other bands are measured. With no signs of slowing down any time soon, Springsteen seems content to be continually raising that bar with each show.

The follow-up sentence to that Landau quote proved equally fitting for me tonight as well: “he made me feel like I was hearing music for the first time.” While that could easily be shrugged off as euphoric post-show hyperbole, I can honestly say that there was a specific point in the show tonight where the music that was being created on stage was something I had never experienced before. During “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” honorary E Streeter Tom Morello (formerly of Rage Against the Machine) played an outlandishly otherworldly guitar solo – if you can call it that – that transcended the song to somewhere I’d never been before. Originally a Steinbeck-inspired, acoustic-led folk song, Springsteen has morphed “The Ghost of Tom Joad” in recent years to be an aural onslaught of instrumentation that matches the anger and indignance of the lyrics. Morello seemed to pull out every technique and trick in his inventive guitarsenal, effortlessly switching between bouts of manic melodiousness and surrealistic sounds. At one point, he even unplugged the guitar and furiously tapped the cable in the palm of his hand as he rocked out a rhythm on his beloved whammy pedal. But as jaw-dropping as it actually was, the thing that made the moment so special was how Morello’s boundless guitarwork fit in with what everybody else was doing. As Springsteen looked on, strumming away on his own guitar, the rest of the E Street Band provided the flawless atmospherics to support this feat of fleet-fingered fancy. That’s what makes Springsteen’s music and his shows so singularly special. It’s the unified combination of the band, the songs, the crowd, and, of course, the Boss.

Springsteen opened the show with “High Hopes,” the title track of his most recent covers and outtakes album. As the militaristic marching beat set the groove, the Bridgestone Arena crowd was immediately loud, engaged, and insatiable. Every song, new or old, seemed to be met with the same level of enthusiasm and top-of-your-voice singalongs. After a mix of Darkness on the Edge of Town favorite “Badlands,” Born in the U.S.A.’s “No Surrender,” and Wrecking Ball’s “Death to My Hometown,” Springsteen greeted the enthusiastic attendees to deafening approval. Continuing on with the crowd interaction, Springsteen took off his guitar and let the arena take the first verse of “Hungry Heart” as he wove his way through the fans on the floor. After resuming vocal duty midway through the crowd, Springsteen took the opportunity of Jake Clemons’ saxophone solo to crowd surf back to the stage, collecting signs of song requests along the way. As Bruce got back to the front of the stage, Clemons played the final few bars of his sax solo with one hand as he coolly pulled Bruce back on stage with the other. At this point, the crowd was at fever pitch and we were barely five songs in.

After a rousing “Spirit in the Night” from his 1973 debut album, Springsteen launched into his infamous “Stump the E Street Band” routine where he chooses a couple of songs based solely on sign requests. After some short instructions – “Key of D, band” – he did a convincing Elvis on “Burning Love” and then brought a young fan on stage to help sing on a loose cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.” Moving into a mini “Electric Nebraska” section, Springsteen and company amped up “Atlantic City” and “Johnny 99,” with Morella and the E Street horn section contributing stellar solos to the latter. “Johnny 99,” one of my absolute favorite Springsteen numbers, was played with the fervor and tenacity of a set closer. However, at this point, we were only 10 songs in.

Deciding to finally give the frenzied crowd a breather, Springsteen’s moving “American Skin (41 Shots)” was next. Originally written in 1999 after the controversial police shooting of Amadou Diallo and resurrected in 2012 in light of the heartbreaking Trayvon Martin case, “American Skin (41 Shots)” is equal parts somber and stirring, a tricky line that Springsteen is a master at traversing. After picking things back up with a raucous “The Promised Land,” E Street guitarist Nils Lofgren turned in an incendiary guitar performance on crowd favorite “Because the Night.” Although Lofgren and Morello have decidedly different guitar styles, their joint efforts compliment each other in a unique fashion that provides for some fun, eclectic moments. After another moment of deceptive dreaminess courtesy of “I’m on Fire,” Born in the U.S.A.’s “Downbound Train” and Wrecking Ball’s “Shackled and Drawn” mirrored the percussive thump of the show opener. For “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day,” Bruce grabbed another set of young fans to help with background vocals, reminding us all of large reach that Bruce and his music has over fans of all ages and generations.        
The first set closed mightily with Springsteen and Morello trading verses on “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” the palpable uplifting swell of “The Rising,” and the crowd losing their minds for “Land of Hope and Dreams.” Tagging the last song with a few lines of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” Springsteen left the crowd (if only for a moment) with a redemptive hope that was seen in the smiles and heard in the shouts. Surprisingly a few people in our section actually left at this point, unfortunately missing out on the fact that Springsteen encores are not to be missed.

For his first encore, Springsteen came back out to give an amazing tribute to fellow New Jersey musician Walter Cichon (and everyone else) who died in the Vietnam War and performed “The Wall” to thunderous approval. Next, he reached back to 1980’s The River for “Point Blank,” a surprising song that he hasn’t played on this current tour thus far. However, it was the closing foursome of songs that threatened to break Bridgestone in half. Starting with an anthemic “Born in the U.S.A,” the house lights would occasionally turn all the way so that everyone could see (and participate in) the party that was taking place on the arena floor. It was fist-in-the-air singing and like-nobody’s-looking dancing the entire time throughout “Born to Run” and “Dancing in the Dark” as well. However, the crescendo hit maximum intensity during “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” as the arena screens showed shot after shot of deceased E Street members Danny Federici and Clarence “Big Man” Clemons. As the song essentially tells of the beginnings of the E Street Band, Springsteen paused after hitting the lyric “When the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band” and the crowd erupted in tribute. Even after Springsteen closed out with "Shout" and his customary “You’ve just seen the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, house-rocking…” carnival barking, the crowd refused to call it a night. Springsteen came out for a second encore and played his laid-back, acoustic version of “Thunder Road” all by himself. As the crowd fought between trying to listen and singing every single word as loud as they could, there was no question that we had all been a part of something magical together; something that is not regularly experienced and not easily forgotten. 


High Hopes
No Surrender
Death to My Hometown
Hungry Heart
Spirit in the Night
Burning Love 
Atlantic City (electric version) 
Johnny 99 (electric version) 
American Skin (41 Shots) 
The Promised Land 
Because the Night 
I'm on Fire 
Downbound Train 
Shackled and Drawn 
Waitin' on a Sunny Day 
The Ghost of Tom Joad 
The Rising 
Land of Hope and Dreams/People Get Ready 

Encore #1:
The Wall 
Point Blank 
Born in the U.S.A.
Born to Run 
Dancing in the Dark 

Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out/Shout

Encore 2:
Thunder Road (acoustic version)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Record Store Day: 10 Classic Country Collections

(This article originally appeared on CMT Edge.)

Record Store Day’s seventh annual celebration of independent record stores takes place Saturday (April 19) and, once again, the event will be commemorated in style.
Hundreds of unique, limited edition vinyl releases have been thought up, pressed up and will be snatched up by music fans and vinyl enthusiasts alike. Whether it’s a brand new offering or a reissue that has been out-of-print for decades, Record Store Day has a little something for everyone.
While some may question the validity of vinyl in a digital delivery world, the numbers tell a different story. Last year marked the sixth year in a row that vinyl sales topped their previous highest totals — with a 32 percent increase from 2012 to 2013 alone. For a visual depiction of the boom, look no further than this weekend when consumers around the globe will be waiting in line before their stores even open.
While Record Store Day releases are available for a variety of tastes and preferences, here are 10 classic country offerings CMT Edge readers might like to pick up from their local record store.
Johnny CashWith His Hot and Blue Guitar
This is Cash’s debut full-length album from 1957, originally released two years after he recorded his very first single for Sun Records. Not only was it Cash’s first LP, it was the first LP for Sun Records, as well, as they had previously only released singles. This historic album is being reissued on title-appropriate blue vinyl.
Steve EarleTownes: The Basics
Earle recorded the Grammy-award winning Townes in 2009 as a tribute to his mentor, legendary singer-songwriter Townes Van ZandtTownes: The Basicsfeatures Earle’s original guitar/vocal only performances. This is the first time Earle’s solo versions of these songs have been made available on vinyl.
Ramblin’ Jack ElliotJack Elliott
Folk troubadour Ramblin’ Jack Elliott first released this album in 1964, his first for Vanguard Records. The track listing for Jack Elliott features a mix of traditional songs, covers and originals, but the album is also notable for featuring a young Bob Dylan on harmonica.
The Everly BrothersSongs Our Daddy Taught Us
With the passing of Phil Everly earlier this year, this rousing release has become a bit more poignant. Originally released in 1958, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us was the Everly Brothers’ second full-length album. Last year, this album was covered in its entirety by Norah Jones and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and released asForeverly.
Wanda JacksonWindy City Redux
The 7-inch single from the Queen of Rockabilly features a live recording of a longtime fan favorite, “Funnel of Love,” along with her more recent hit “Shakin’ All Over” on the flipside. These tracks were plucked from one of her 2012 concerts where she was backed by a rowdy band and an equally rambunctious horn section. This single was mixed and produced by Shooter Jennings and is pressed on snow-white wax.
Waylon Jennings/Sanford Clark, “My Baby Walks All Over Me”/“It’s Nothing to Me”
This split 7-inch single is the inaugural edition in a series of releases celebrating the famed Audio Recorders studio in Phoenix. Available for the first time on vinyl since their initial Ramco Records pressings in 1967 are country legend Waylon Jennings doing “My Baby Walks All Over Me” and Rockabilly Hall of Fame member Sanford Clark performing “It’s Nothing to Me.” There will only be 500 copies of this rare release available, and it will be pressed on gold vinyl.
Gram Parsons180 Gram: Alternate Takes From GP and Grievous Angel
Enigmatic country-rock icon Gram Parsons only put out two solo albums (one of which was released posthumously), and alternate versions of the songs from both recording sessions are presented on this double-LP release. Although his tragic death at 26 cut short the opportunity to hear more of his self-described “cosmic American music,” releases like this at least allow listeners a chance to hear his songs in a different context than their original album versions.
Dolly Parton, “Blue Smoke”/“Home”
In advance of the May 20 release of her new album Blue Smoke (her stunning 42nd studio album overall), Parton is releasing this 7-inch single showcasing the title track with “Home” occupying the B-side. While the full album will feature Parton doing covers of Bob Dylan and Bon Jovi, as well as duets with Willie Nelson andKenny Rogers, these two self-penned originals certainly hold their own as a standalone release. Playing off the new album and lead single title, this record will be pressed on smoky blue vinyl.
Doc WatsonSouthbound
The bluegrass aficionado and guitarist extraordinaire first released Southbound in 1966. Although it was only the second studio album to be released under his name alone, Watson had already made a name for himself as an inspired interpreter of traditional folk standards. However, with Southbound, Watson finally started coming into his own as a songwriter, as well. Mimicking the original album aesthetics, this release is being faithfully reissued in “exact replica” packaging.
Hank WilliamsThe Garden Spot Programs, 1950 — Extended Play
What some consider the pièce de résistance of this year’s Record Store Day releases, this 10-inch EP features eight previously-unreleased tracks from Williams’ stint on various Garden Spot radio shows in 1950. The first, last and only time these performances were heard was 64 years ago on Texas regional radio. The recovery of these lost recordings allows for a unique look at the legend playing both host and performer, giving equal vigor to their jingles and his singles. This extraordinary release is pressed on gorgeous brown vinyl.
To find out more about these releases and to make your own game plan for this weekend, you can browse through all of the Record Store Day releases and find a list of participating record stores at the Record Store Day website.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Interview with Erin McKeown + "CIVICS"

Last year, Erin McKeown released MANIFESTRA, a compelling album that mixed together guitars and governments in a decidedly head-on manner. While these can be notoriously tricky waters to tread, McKeown’s gift for inclusive storytelling and her knack for melodic and percussive magnetism invite the listener into conversation instead of a debate. Looking to take the concept of civil engagement further, McKeown then recorded CIVICS, a companion album of the 11 songs from MANIFESTRA reinterpreted in a nuanced, solo acoustic fashion. According to McKeown, “CIVICS whispers where MANIFESTRA shouts.” Choosing to record these performances inside of a marble-tiled library proved to be quite the aesthetic (and poetic) final touch.


NoiseTrade: What sparked the idea to break down these songs and record CIVICS as a companion album to MANIFESTRA? 
Erin McKeown: My songs usually exist in at least two versions: the idealized band/album version that comes first and the more economical/practical solo version that comes later with touring. Since the MANIFESTRA batch were orchestrated to amplify the message in each song, I was curious how the messages would react to the solo treatment. If the song were played more intimately, would you hear the song rather than feel it? Would the songs feel more like songs than messages or vice versa? 

NT: How did you land on recording CIVICS at the Field Memorial Library in Western Massachusetts? 
McKeown: I've driven by the Field for over a decade now. It's such a curiosity; a large, ornate building stuck in the middle of a tiny, very rural town. It’s all marble where everything else is clapboard. It isn’t often open, but one time I happened to drive by when it was, so I stopped just for curiosity’s sake to have a look. The instant I stepped inside and heard my footsteps echo, I knew I had to do some recording in the space. At the time, I didn’t know for what project, but I filed the sound of the building away in my mind for the future. 

NT: Do you feel that the stripped-down performances of these songs shape the lyrical content or your vocal delivery differently? 
McKeown: I think the most fundamental differences in the CIVICS versions are the guitar parts. They've got to cover what the bass, keyboard, and drums are doing in addition to being a guitar. The parts I am playing on CIVICS are so different from MANIFESTRA that I inevitably sang the songs differently, emphasized different lyrics, and found different emotional shades to the songs.


NT: The mixture of music and politics can often end up being a shouting match with only one participant. What has shaped your ability to bypass that route and instead create an open dialogue through inspired storytelling? 
McKeown: That is very well put! I can certainly fall into the trap of shouting: "if I just say this LOUDER, you'll understand". But I live in fear of creating a bad song with a good message. That does no one any good! So I rely on my primary instincts as songwriter and performer. I need to tell stories first, to craft a dramatic arc, to find an image that will stick with the listener long after the song is over. Through years of touring and writing, I’ve built up a toolbox of effective, adaptive ways to make people listen. In the case of MANIFESTRA, the work was to stick to the song first and let the politics follow. With CIVICS, I found that there was even more power in being quiet. 

NT: One of the songs on the album, “Baghdad to the Bayou,” has a pretty unique origin story, as it was written - correct me if I’m wrong - over text message with Rachel Maddow as your co-writer? 
McKeown: That's right! I was in Alaska with Thao Nguyen and we ran into Ira Glass in a diner in Anchorage. Ira and I became fast friends, and shortly afterward, he invited me to perform at a benefit to raise money for the 2010 deepwater horizon spill cleanup. Rachel was also on the bill for the benefit. Since she and I have known each other for years from Western Massachusetts, Ira asked us to collaborate. She was so busy that the only way we could communicate around her travels was by text. It’s a unique song, one that probably leans more to being a better message than song. However, the message is so important, and Rachel is so amazing, that I am going to give myself a pass on it not being the greatest song ever. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Interview with Ethan Luck + Hard Seas [EP]


After spending the largest chunk of his musical career behind a drum set and guitar for a variety of bands, Ethan Luck has stepped up to the microphone and has spent the last year working on his own material. He released his debut solo EP, Wounds & Fears, last November and has just recently released his equally gripping follow-up, Hard Seas. Mixing his punk rock roots with a West Coast country twang and a sprinkling of sparse folk simplicity, Luck's wide-ranging musical tastes produce a cohesively diverse outing that never loses its bearings. Even in the short space of just five songs, Luck's ambitous twists and turns make for a fun and worthwhile listen. Which, if you're like me, means that the singular "listen" quickly morphs into multiple "listens" before you know it. 

With Hard Seas, Luck has also taken the opportunity to write about his recent struggles with anxiety. Using music as an outlet to address and work through everything that has accompanied it, Luck stated, "In the last year, for reasons I don’t need to get into, my anxiety went to places I thought I would never see or deal with. While trying to figure out ways to deal with it, I would write songs about it. That was a very therapeutic and painful process, but I needed it." 

NoiseTrade: You released your debut EP, Wounds & Fears, last November and you’re already back with your second one, Hard Seas. Were these songs hold-overs from Wounds & Fears or are they the prolific product of brand new moments? 
Ethan Luck: The only things that were left over from Wounds & Fears were half done songs. Those are still sitting around. The songs on Hard Seas are all brand new, after I finished the Wounds & Fears EP. I write music in any downtime I have. So, I started on songs for this new EP before Wounds & Fears even came out. I had a completely different goal in mind. I wanted to write an EP of songs with one constant theme. I wrote most of them while on the road, in hotel rooms. 

NT: As someone who does all of the writing, playing, and recording on your own, what does the process look like for you from initial idea to song completion? 
Luck: Mostly, I start with playing a couple chords and singing a melody of gibberish. Once I find a good melody that works well with the chords I'm playing, I record a quick memo on my phone, so I won't forget it. I do that most days. I'll revisit those ideas and decide which are the strongest and figure out what to write about and go on from there. It's been fun to write while on tour, as a guitar tech. I'll finish a few songs in hotel rooms and when I get home, I go straight into my garage studio and start tracking. I already know what I want to hear with other instruments so I make quick progress the day I start tracking. My normal tracking times are in the morning or late at night. I feel that I can focus better, especially at night. When I take a short break, I'll go in my backyard and it's silent. That helps a lot when finishing lyrics. I don't spend a lot of time over-producing anything. If I'm happy with it, then that's what you're gonna hear. I'm not trying to be anything I'm not. I'm not trying to please or impress anyone. Plus, I like the idea of capturing good moments as opposed to making it perfect. I have the same approach to photography. I'm never going to be perfect, so why pretend to be? 

NT: On your website, you spoke candidly about your struggles with anxiety. What role does music, specifically the creation of your own music, play in that?
Luck: Music plays one of the biggest roles in dealing with something like anxiety. I've been surrounded by music since birth. When anxiety became something real in my life, music became one of the few things that made it diminish or drove me right through the hardest parts of it. Even if a song isn't about what I'm going through, maybe the mood of the song is. When I listen to a song about pain or heartache, it hits me pretty hard. It pulls things out of me, whether I like it or not. When I've had an anxiety attack, I can't tell you how many times I've put on "The Cure For Pain" by my long time friend, Jon Foreman. It's a sad song with so much hope, to me. I'll send him a text from time to time, thanking him for that song. In regard to my own music, it's one of the best therapies out there. I've even listened back to this EP and it's helped me. I have many ways of dealing with anxiety and I'm still working on ways to do so. For me, to put what I'm going through into a song is like having someone to talk to. It's a perfect way to get across what you're going through and I can only hope that it might help someone else, dealing with similar things. When you meet someone with similar struggles, it becomes that push you need to get through the day. Music often does the same to me. 

NT: In the song “Can’t Sleep Sound,” you sing the line “I hid myself so well, well enough to not be found.” How do you reconcile attempts to do that with your job as a professional musician whose job is in the public eye? 
Luck: That line is talking about hiding from what's real and hoping that it will just pass. It won't. In the last year or so, when anxiety got worse than ever, I felt embarrassed. I feel like I'm a pretty social person and transparent. I love being around people. I want to love people. I didn't want anxiety to take over and change who I am. I felt like it was about to at so many times. I had to get to a point where I could deal with this and still be myself. So, what better way than to write about it. It's out there now and I feel great about that. "Can't Sleep Sound" is specifically about how I was feeling last summer, when I started a new job that was pretty unexpected. I got thrown into a situation where I barely knew anyone. Although I feel I can walk up to anyone and make conversation, this felt different. On top of that, I was dealing with the feelings of having to set aside my life of 16 years, playing music for a living. 

NT: In regards to the sound of Hard Seas, your country influences and guitar tones seem to be pretty West Coast in nature, like a mix somewhere between Buck Owens and Mike Ness of Social Distortion. Do you feel that as well or does living in Nashville play a part too? 
Luck: Where I grew up and where I live now definitely have an effect on me when it comes to my "sound." Growing up in California, I discovered bands like Social Distortion, Face To Face, Rancid, Green Day, Black Flag...etc. While living there, I also was exposed to the "Bakersfield Sound" by my Dad. That led me to artists like Johnny Cash, The Louvin Brothers and Hank Williams, just to name a few. When I got to the point where I wanted to write my own music, writing with all of those influences made sense to me. The sound came naturally. Believe it or not, there actually is influence from my love of ska/reggae on this EP too. The chorus to "Set Me Free" is where you'll find it. Mostly, with the "Oh-Oh's" on the chorus. Put an upstroke guitar and a kick drum on 2 and 4, you have a mid tempo ska song. 

NT: You created a gorgeous 48-page photo book of your photography to accompany Hard Seas. What's the association between the photos and the EP?
Luck: The digital photo book was a bit of a last minute decision. I had all these photos I had taken over the time of writing this EP. I wanted to do something with them. So, I went back and found my favorite photos from all the places I was while writing and touring. I picked my favorites and made a digital photo book. Each photo was from the surroundings of where I was writing, arranging or recording. You'll see photos from Australia all the way to my backyard. 

NT: This may be a bit of a music nerd question, but what do you think is special about EPs, as opposed to singles and full-length albums? 
Luck: I don't know every artist's reason for making an EP. Maybe you're taking to long to make a new LP? Maybe you have a batch of songs that are different than what people know you for? Who knows? To me, they do seem more special and leave me wanting more. For me, I want to put out music in shorter time frames. I don't want to work on a 12-song album and have it come out a year later. I like recording songs about life at that point and having it still be fresh when people hear it. My good friend, Nathan Thomas, mixed and mastered Hard Seas a week before I released it. I love that. If I end up writing 12 songs in a few months time, then who knows, maybe I'll have a full length out. For now, I like the idea of just EPs. 

NT: As a fellow fan of the format, what are some of your recommended EPs you’ve dug over the years from other artists you’ve enjoyed? 
Luck: Good question! Here's a few that come to mind... 

The Clash - Black Market Clash EP 
Fishbone - Fishbone EP 
Jon Foreman - Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer 
EPs OFF! - First Four 7" EPs 
Metallica - Garage Days Re-Revisited EP 
Noah Gundersen - Family EP 
MxPx - Small Town Minds EP 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Interview with G. Love & Special Sauce + "20 Years On... And A Taste of Sugar"


20 years after releasing their self-titled debut album, hip-hop blues trio G. Love & Special Sauce are celebrating with a retrospective look back and a refreshing look ahead. Although it's been eight years since they last played together, the original line up of G. Love, "Jimi Jazz" Prescott, and Jeff Clemons have reunited to record a brand new album, Sugar, and they're currently on tour playing 1994's G. Love & Special Sauce in its entirety. 

To add to the festivities, they're offering a cool EP titled 20 Years On... And A Taste of Sugar that includes three tracks off the new album and three live tracks form their ongoing tour. From Sugar, "One Night Romance" sizzles on the duet vocals of the legendary Merry Clayton, "Nothing Else Quite Like Home" gets a little help from Ben Harper and Marc Broussard, and the funky chug of "Cheating Heart" will have you moving in no time. The three debut album live tracks showcase the talented trio grooving through the laid-back chill of "Blues Music," the jazzy interplay of "Walk to Slide," and the sleazy slink of "Garbage Man."


NoiseTrade: It’s been eight years since the original G. Love & Special Sauce played together. What got you guys back in the same room and playing together again? 
G. Love: I was down at my sound guy/tour manager/producer’s wedding two Septembers ago and Jim (Prescott, bass) was there. We hadn’t seen each other in about five years. I asked him if he ever wanted to come back out on the road. He wasn’t exactly interested in doing that, but he said he’d be down for doing some recording. Fast-forward a year and a half, and after doing a session for the Sugar record, we felt like we wanted to cut some more tunes. I said, let’s see if Jim’s available to do this next session. Sure enough, he said he was into it. It was the first time we had played together in about five or six years and we were able to pick back up right where we were at the best times we had ever had playing together. The instant chemistry and joy of playing together were still there. 

After that session, I was helping him load up his car and I asked him again if he wanted to come back out on the road. This time, he was into it. It worked out pretty serendipitously with it being the 20-year anniversary of the first record. So it’s been great to put together the original line-up that made that record. 

NT: What’s the experience been like to play your self-titled debut album in full each night? 
G. Love: It’s been cool to play again as the original trio and play something that we’re all so endeared to and care so much about. It’s been just like getting back on the bike. We knew it would be since we had already done a successful recording session. We’re playing the whole first record and most of the new record with some other songs mixed in for fun. At soundcheck we try to work on other songs from our catalog to throw in. 

NT: Are there any songs that have a taken on a different meaning for you now, 20 years later? 
G. Love: Yeah, it’s funny… It’s almost like having a kid and watching them grow up. You love them as much now as you did when they were little, but you almost respect them more. Instead of just jamming on the songs like we do sometimes, we’re performing them pretty close to how they were first recorded and letting them stand on their own. We’re trying to respect and celebrate the original performances. 

NT: Early in the tour you had back-to-back shows in Philly. How was the hometown crowd? 
G. Love: It was really awesome. It was emotional to play the Boston show and the Philly shows because a lot of the old heads came out. A lot of people showed up that worked in the music business in Philly around the time that we recorded the first record. So it was nice to see everyone. We’ve never been part of a trend or a scene, but it’s still nice to feel that community. 

NT: What drove the decision to record Sugar live with you guys playing in the same room at the same time? 
G. Love: Of all the stuff I’ve put out over the years, it seems that the best stuff has been recorded like that. Where we’re just going for it and not trying to be too polished. I try to stay away from the three compound words that can destroy any recording session for me: sonically-correct, radio-friendly, and commercially-viable. Over the years I’ve sometimes tried to cater to one or more of those curse words, but it’s always been to limited success and it was always a let down. When you’re recording, oftentimes the producer will want to have complete control over the sonics of the tracks, so they’ll want isolation. They’ll start with the drums and build everything around that individually. However, since it takes a certain emotional vocal and guitar performance to get the right drum take you want, why wouldn’t you use that same vocal and guitar track that got the drummer there in the first place? That’s where the connection is. It may be a little more raw or unpolished, but it’s emotionally connected and that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make every time. Things go a lot faster that way as well (laughs).


NT: “One Night Romance,” your call-and-response duet with the legendary Merry Clayton, is downright incendiary. How’d that come about? 
G. Love: That was a song that was written by a friend of mine named Kristy Lee, who sings background on that track. Emmitt Malloy at the label (Brushfire Records) saw that documentary 20 Feet from Stardom that had Merry in it. He thought it would be great to do a track with her and brought up “One Night Romance.” I asked Kristy about it, because we had initially sung it together, and she was really supportive and honored about it. So, Merry came in and she was so awesome. She told all these great stories about working with Mick Jagger and Ray Charles. We drank some wine, went in to sing for about an hour a half, and then we had it. She’s one of the greatest singers of all time and she really helped me a lot. It was a really special moment for me. 

NT: Along with Merry, you pulled in some other amazing guests like David Hidalgo and Marc Broussard. What did they add to the overall experience? 
G. Love: David Hidalgo was a really crucial part of the recording. Jeff (Clemens, drums) had the idea to take a couple days recording as a trio and then take a couple days to bring in some special guests. As it turned out, David was only available that first night, the first time that we would be playing together again after so long. Initially, I thought we should get into a groove, just the three of us, before bringing anybody in. But then I thought, what’s the worst that could happen? If we don’t get anything good tonight, we’ll just try again the next day. It ended up working out perfectly because it gave us a game plan. We picked the three tunes we wanted to have David on and prepared them for later when he arrived. When he showed up, we were ready and it was amazing. Jeff was so thrilled, he’s a huge fan of David’s, and he was like a kid in a candy shop. 

We also had Ben Harper and Marc Broussard on “Nothing Quite Like Home.” That song started out as an instrumental. Then, I met Dan Reynolds from Imagine Dragons and it turns out he was a big fan when he was a kid. The first song he ever performed was “Baby’s Got Sauce” when he was 13 at a New Year’s Eve party. We talked about collaborating and I sent him that instrumental track to check out. Six hours later, he sent back a demo where he had written lyrics and recorded vocals over the groove. As it turns out, Dan couldn’t be on the final track, but I still wanted to do a collaboration because that’s how it started out. I called up Marc and he took a stab at it. Then I dragged Ben to the studio and he did his thing. I was really happy to get those guys on that track.


NT: There’s a song on Sugar called “Run for Me” that was originally written for your debut album and never got recorded until now. What’s the story behind that song? 
G. Love: That was one of my original street-side blues tunes that I had written while I was a street performer back in 1992. There’s a version of it on my first solo record called Oh Yeah that I recorded when was 19. We had recorded it as a trio for our debut record, but it didn’t make the cut. It fit right in with this record, so we gave it another shot. We had played it live at various times over the years and if you’re still feeling a song 24 years after you wrote it, you know it’s got some merit. So I’m glad it’s got its place on a real release.