Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Avett Brothers - I And Love And You

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Country, folk, bluegrass, a hint of punk describes The Avett Brothers pretty well; American roots music is a better overall description for the music put forth by the two multi-talented brothers from North Carolina. I And Love And You is their sixth full-length album since their debut in 2001 and their first major label release. Put out by American/Columbia and produced by big fan Rick Rubin (his favorite new band says Rolling Stone), the new CD is a collection of 13 songs about life, love, and dealing with it all as you transition “from youth to adulthood” and starts “hoping to build something.” The Avett Brothers, Scott and Seth, speak volumes in their lyrics while keeping their music simple and enjoyable.

From the start, I And Love And You grabs hold and brings you into the world of the brothers (who play most of the instruments) filled with piano, vocals from the heart (which they switch off on), basic drums kits, cello (Joe Kwon), stand-up bass (Bob Crawford), percussion, and some banjo for more kick. Most heavy-hitting are the lyrics, kept simple yet arranged in a way that gives them snap and sting with the reality of life. The Avett Brothers paint pictures with words, using both gentle and fierce strokes and flushing them out with music arrangements that range from whisper to shout.

For the first time the brothers let the chore of song order go to someone else. Rubin chose them well as they move flawlessly from track to track. He understands the brothers and arranges their songs to further paint and expand the pictures of love and life they present.

The title tune deals with the difficulty of uttering those three words. It begins with the easy arrangement of them, then the breaking them up gives them different meaning .Add in lyrics like “what you were then I am today” and “the highway sets the travels stage/ all exits look the same” and the story of a road trip to Brooklyn unravels to tell the tale of how those words became so difficult to say.

On “January Wedding” the music perks up a bit and we get more country/bluegrass picking of guitars, banjo, and stand-up bass reminiscent of The Stanley Bros. The song pretty much conveys, what is in away, the height of those three words, expressed with lyrics that hit the heart: “She keeps it simple/ and I’m thankful for her kind of loving” and “she’s talking to me with her/ voice down so low I barely hear her/ but I know what she’s saying/ I understand because my heart and hers are the same.” The lyrics continue to describe the right reasons why people should get married. As the song goes on we hear how the couple is surrounded by darkness. The narrator doesn’t feel weak but sometime needs her “to protect me/ and reconnect me/ to the beauty/ that I’m missing.” Call me insane but is that not what a mate and partner-in-crime should do for you? Pick you up when you’re down, and provide the true feeling that everything will be all right and the sun will shine again?

“Head Full Of Doubt Road Full Of Promise” explores that feeling of transition, moving forward head full of doubts but looking to shake all that clear, build on it and move on. While “And It Spread” is a heavy little ditty about how love or the cold lack thereof can spread into the heart and affect your mind.

“The Perfect Space” with its heavy piano deals with finding that space in life where one can fit and feel comfortable with friends. The ones you can trust and who understand and love you for who you’ve become and not who you were. The tune has a wonderful tempo change in the middle that kicks things into high gear and shows that these boys can really rock, shout, and cut lose when they want to before returning to the slow and steady.

“Kick Drum Heart” furthers this up-tempo rocking, shouting side of the brothers. Drenched and dripping with ‘80s pop flair, with happy piano, kick-drum skipping playfully, and joyful lyrics of walking in the woods. This time the tempo change in the middle is reversed for a bit before bounding back and ending with the steady heart beat of the kick drum.

“Tin Man” is a fast-paced tune with a Beatlesque tuba about missing the feeling of feeling. “You can’t be like me/ but be happy that you can’t” and “I see pain but I don’t feel it” reflects the times when you’re so down, out, and left behind that all seems to go numb even when the person you love best is right next to you. “And so it goes/ a man grows cold/ some would say a man grows strong” along with “and if you won’t give my heart back/ I’ve no need to stick around” perfectly sums up the mood and sets the stage to end the album with three more solid songs.

“Slight Figure Of Speech” is the most rocking number on the album and has the band in a playful mood that shines in the rapid-fire, lyrical roller-coaster delivery in the middle of the tune. “It Goes On And On” continues the bouncy, playful pace and short, quick vocal punch. Closing with “Incomplete And Insecure,” which slows a bit and brings the album full circle, the perfect bookend to “I And Love And You.” The song leaves the album feeling like its title, not to say the album is incomplete, just the journey we were taken on through the eyes of the Avett Bros’ I And Love And You is an incomplete journey. Our narrator’s journey through life is incomplete like all ours lives if you don’t live and love and feel life in all its joy, pain, and glory.

I And Love And You is a solid effort and a good look at love through the eyes of two young men making the transition into their thirties, looking to build a future from the tools they acquired in their twenties. Incomplete and insecure can describe how many feel towards those three little words, but those three little words when whispered from the heart can contain the world in them. The Avett Brothers get that (the mission statement on the CD is further proof that they do) and through their music it can help us explore ourselves and the impact of “I And Love And You.”

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Willie Nelson Special with Special Guest Ray Charles

Written by Fantasma el Rey

The Willie Nelson Special
is an hour of Willie at the top of his game in 1985, singing the songs that made him famous and loved by fans around the world. His stage show has no frills or popping pyrotechnics. It’s just 60 minutes of Willie in an intimate setting, making him seem even more down to earth as he presents classic country as it should be, stripped down, focusing on the music and its performers.

The show opens with the rollin’ jump of “On The Road Again” played for a minute over the opening titles and some scenes of Willie and the boys goofing around, playing golf, and shooting pool. Willie and his band are in a quiet, sit-down bar or a very small club and on a low-rise stage putting them right next to their fans. The venue is small and perfect for this type of show, providing good interaction between fan and artist. These are the kind of places I like best; they make it seem as though the show is just for you and the band is approachable, which most times they are. This makes the next selection perfect as Willie slows the show with the beautiful “Always On My Mind” and shows off his quiet Texas crooner vocals on a tune I’ve always loved.

From there the legendary Ray Charles steps up to the piano and shares the spotlight with his friend Willie. Ray opens with a little jam they’ve titled “Ray’s Improvisation,” a good little piece of jazz, and slides right into the slow duets of “Angel Eyes,” “Seven Spanish Angels,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” and a tune that hit big for Ray, “Georgia On My Mind.” Closing the duets with Ray, Willie picks up his guitar and the two begin to cut lose on a swingin’ version of the country/bluegrass staple “Mountain Dew.” Willie’s band picks up the pace as Ray lets his fingers fly on the ivories as the two stars reel and rock their way through; both having fun with it.

The Willie and Ray segment is highlighted by a couple of flashes back to rehearsals the night before where it’s just the band, Willie, and Ray working on songs they plan to do. Its fun to see them laughing, having a good time, and really connecting with each other. Willie’s intro of Ray to the stage on show night is awesome as Willie makes a blind joke that really has Ray laughing and showing his wonderful sense of humor. A great segment and one that I’m glad was caught.

Willie then brings up guitarist Jackie King to help him out on the western swing ditty “My Window Faces The South,” which also features fiddle great Johnny Gimble in the background doing what he does best and making the cowboy jazz tune truly pop. The two then slow down a bit and move to the more solid jazz of “There Will Never Be Another You.”

After the two songs with King, Willie takes the spotlight again and croons three nice, slow tunes with “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before,” “Without A Song,” and “Who’ll Buy My Memories.” The highlight here is one of my favorites: “To All The Girls,” a big hit for Willie and his duet partner Julio Iglesias. Willie even opens the second verse with a playful poke at Julio’s accent, jokingly claiming it was all him on the record. Another look at the playful side of the redheaded stranger.

Closing the show is another of Willie’s up-tempo numbers, fan-favorite “Whiskey River.” Willie and his band close strong with this one and provide a perfect bookend to the night, reminding us that even though they can groove slow they love to rock. As the song plays, we get a three-minute tour of Willie’s hometown, Abbott, Texas. It’s an interesting little look at some of the places, people, and friends who remember the young Willie, his adventures, and his deeds as well as his family.

“The Willie Nelson Special” is a solid hour of Willie doing what he loves and is best at: singing his heart out on slow numbers and raucous country stompers. It’s a good sample of what a Willie show is like in a close and cozy setting, one on one with his fans who will no doubt appreciate this DVD the most. The casual fan will have a good time too as there are some of Willie’s major hits on hand and presented with feeling and warmth that only some one with a great passion for what they do can bring. Bottom line: Shotgun Willie at his best!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Heavy Rotation: Twenty Writers On The Albums That Changed Their Lives Edited by by Peter Terzian

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Heavy Rotation
is a book that takes a look at twenty current writers and the albums that “changed their lives” as the subtitle implies. It also explores the reasons and times surrounding that particular album. The twenty authors are mostly the same age ranging from late thirties to mid forties, one or two may be a bit older or younger, but the majority lay there. They also cruise the vast musical spectrum covering Broadway musicals to ‘80s alternative and corny pop. The book is a good look at the connection between writers and their love for music and is the brainchild of editor/contributor Peter Terzian. An excellent and easy read that’s hard to put down as one can relate to the feelings and emotions that music brings even if unfamiliar with some of the albums listed.

Not all the albums written about are monster bestsellers or by bands or artists one would think would fill the pages of such a book. Shelia Heti recounts her fascination with the Annie soundtrack and how it led to an appearance on a local kid’s show hosted by some kooky clown and the odd disappointment she felt when she met her childhood idol years later. Alice Elliott Dark goes over how a Beatle became the father figure she tragically lost and had to deal with as a young girl as she glances back on Meet The Beatles. We also get a look how some bands can make you feel as if you know them and they could have been boys from down the street as Martha Southgate revisits her adoration for a quiet member of the Jackson 5 and their Greatest Hits album.

Heavy Rotation’s contributors also share how certain albums represent a small place in time. From a six-month stint in college where the B-52s’ self-titled debut ruled the turntable and seemed like it did for a longer time as Clifford Chase became engulfed by the band and began to understand himself a bit more through them. Or how Joni Mitchell’s Blue was played constantly at the annoyance of family members for three weeks before young Colm Toibin had to head off to boarding school where records weren’t allowed. Then there is Asali Solomon’s nearly complete dislike of Gloria Estefan before spending a semester in the hostile (to her) Dominican Republic and coming to find comfort in Estefan’s solo album Mi Tierra.

The writers also tell tales of how they became obsessed with smaller, lesser-known bands and compilations. Terzian finds complete fascination in a British band, Miaow, who only released a few singles and disappeared. Although years later he did manage to hunt down the band and thus begin his writing career while discovering the unreleased Priceless Innuendo.

Inside the 300 pages of Heavy Rotation we read the stories of how an album came to be owned, in what format (tape, vinyl, CD), and was just one format good enough. The pages pop with clearly painted pictures of where folks were in life, both mentally and physically. Kate Christensen has Rickie Lee Jones’ Flying Cowboys to accompany her on New York City streets. There are reflections of how a certain off-the-wall show soundtrack can represent freedom in all its odd glory as a housewife Claire Dederer finds in the original cast recording of Hedwig and The Angry Inch.

Many tales are spun in different styles throughout Heavy Rotation to take us back to how and why a particular album can represent places and times in life. Some albums help people cope with whatever they were dealing with, be it a tragic loss or the struggle to be one’s self, including confronting sexuality. Others show how records and bands can set us on a new path with their wisdom as we connect with the lyrics and make them are own, bending them to see they tell the stories of our own lives. Most of us can say the same about music in our lives and tell our own stories about it and through it. This connection is what makes Heavy Rotation a book that is very enjoyable to read as well as the fact its contributors do a great job in sharing their world of music in the way they know best, through the rhythm and music of writing.