Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Mirah came through Chicago last night to support her fifth full-length album, “Changing Light,” which finds the singer dealing with a breakup with a resigned and older awareness, and yet still wandering and pondering.
Mirah’s albums have always had ups and downs. Some songs seem to meander around without a central point, and seem, at least on first listen, a little light on variety and depth. But when she hits the mark, it’s magical. She chose her setlist well, performing the strongest songs from the new album. Her backing band, playing drums (live and synthetic), violin, keyboards, guitar, and bass, made the most of the quiet-loud juxtapositions, and the dark, spare spaces that mark her best material. Read the rest of this entry »
Despite the presence of a seductively strummed acoustic guitar paired with the flair of Dixieland jazz clarinet and piano, Greg Ashley’s latest is anything but easy listening. “Another Generation of Slaves” confronts the listener on the bleakest terms imaginable, and the battleground is lyricism laced with acerbic, existential posturing and pondering. Couplets like “Bow down to the Western world a slave is born, / embrace your complacency it’s your uniform,” from “Medication #7″ would sound just as at home on a crust punk record as they do here, and that’s what makes this recording so remarkable. Ashley clearly understands that the singer-songwriter craft has little to do with conjuring mediocre melodies for their own sake, and focuses much of his attention on spitting lines that bite and growl with all the energy of a feral dog. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Zia Anger
Since the budding stages of her career, back when she used to play acoustic sets at quiet St. Louis coffeehouses as a teen, Angel Olsen has been most comfortable doing things by herself. Yet the addition of drummer Josh Jaeger and bassist/keyboardist Stewart Bronaugh to her latest LP “Burn Your Fire For No Witness” succeeds not only as a small triumph marking the formation of Olsen’s first-ever and very own band, but also as an amplifier for the trembling sense of nakedness usually drawn from the unsettling poetry of her lyrics.
Olsen’s sophomore album was released just a couple months ago. It is her first on the folk friendly label Jagjaguwar and follows her previous solo endeavors; an EP titled “Strange Cacti” (2011) recorded in a kitchen, and her debut studio album “Half Way Home” (2012), as well as several collaborative works. Much like the title suggests, “Burn Your Fire For No Witness” delves into themes of solitude and the void one feels and the questions one becomes acquainted with when love dies in a state of misunderstanding. Versed in a style that morphs between 1950s country and the dream-like stanzas of Leonard Cohen, Olsen sings with a range that crisscrosses from a delicate indie-fied Loretta Lynn to an indomitable PJ Harvey. Read the rest of this entry »
Every list of John Cale’s achievements begins by cementing Cale’s role as a founding member of the Velvet Underground. At the onset of the group, Cale’s avant-garde and contemporary classical credentials lent a grounding circuit to the proceedings, with songwriting credits second only to Lou Reed. The spark in a song like “Venus in Furs” was summoned forth via his viola flourishes, or by his piano playing in “I’m Waiting for the Man.” Cale has continued to be a ceaseless experimenter, ever curious, always listening, and dead set on playing his own version of what’s next. The method has yielded a storied collection of recordings, with some unforgettable songs, including “Fear Is a Man’s Best Friend,” an anxiety twitch of a tune that sounds good no matter who sings it. Read the rest of this entry »
Tim Kinsella helms Joan of Arc, LeRoy Bach was with Wilco at their creative peak, Angel Olsen is on the cusp of indie stardom, but Marvin Tate? Who is Marvin Tate? The man responsible for writing each of these thirteen songs is the least known of the otherwise reputable quartet. Somewhere in the cracks between his race-exploring appearance on “This American Life,” his freakness embrace on Def Poetry, and his semi-regular outings as bandleader of early Funkadelic infused D-Settlement, Marvin Tate is too many things to distill. To be sure, he’s a Chicagoan, just like everyone else on this release, save Olsen who has fled the city to foster a career in the ascendant. Apart from Tate’s stated résumé, his work has yet to break the art world open, but such is the fate of the self-proclaimed poet. Where Tate disregards rhyming in verse, he favors the brutality of truth, which sits well with Kinsella. Read the rest of this entry »
Julie Meckler’s voice is soft and pleasant, and it floats over her acoustic guitar with the familiar, idyllic buoyancy of a rowboat. Left in the wake of her playing are strains of precious and patient melodies, alternating throughout her debut long-player “Queenshead,” most affectedly on the a capella tune “The Cigarettes Song.” The spontaneous results of a throwaway moment—”we were smoking cigarettes in the snow in Chicago”—have a raw majesty missing from the rest of the album, which by way of contrast seems too carefully composed. The listener faces a dilemma: this could be any other release by any other up-and-coming singer/songwriter stuck in the cafe tropes that garner paying gigs. Fortunately, Meckler has an ear for detail that bats those banal qualities away. Field recordings of ambient noise—the traffic in Chicago, the sound of whirling wind—these attributes create a density and purpose that continually ground the carefree melodies, something especially impressive given the inclusion of a bonafide reggae tune in “Bitch.” Read the rest of this entry »
Per Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, some are too old to rock ‘n’ roll, but too young to die. At seventy-one, Paul McCartney seems to defy the odds by relentlessly touring and consistently releasing new music. On his aptly titled “New,” he briefly looks into the past but has his eyes firmly locked on the future by working with young producers like Giles Martin (son of George Martin) and Mark Ronson, who all collaborated to give McCartney a more contemporary sound.
The disc opens with “Save Us,” a track reminiscent of Queen guitarist Brian May’s solo work via its multi-tracked vocals and layered guitars. The title track (also the lead single) has a retro seventies feel thanks to its prominent use of synthesizers, its vocal structure, and its general mood. The song has an immediately captivating groove, especially the harmonies at the end of each verse. Read the rest of this entry »
Tijuana-born Julieta Venegas is a multi-faceted singer-songwriter who is equally comfortable belting out acoustic-based, folksy tunes alongside more pop-oriented songs, as evidenced by her 2012 release “Los Momentos,” which she is promoting with an extended tour of the United States. “Los Momentos“ showcases a more mature side of Venegas, who took a short break from performing following the birth of her daughter Simona three years ago. Her songs have a greater depth, and she has come to embrace traditional instruments with greater frequency. The title track has a touch of jazz, and the black-and-white promo video for the tune has a retro fifties feel that showcases her accompanied by a grand piano. Read the rest of this entry »
When the slightest degrees separate the coffeehouse hack from the gifted songstress, it’s no easy task being a woman armed with an acoustic guitar. Often too subtle for fame, and therefore too obscure to be relevant, singer-songwriters walk a tense tightrope between credibility and, well, dullsville. They are unheralded, they are unappreciated, they are the unloved stepchildren of the music world. For the fortunate few who manage to conjure their craft at precisely the right moment and for precisely the right audience, the gamble can pay off dividends. In this circumstance, the mode of expression has an effect few other ensembles can manage. There’s something mystically personal about the experience for the listener, as though the tunes were carefully handcrafted to the refined specifications of each individual. Take for instance Joni Mitchell’s “Blue,” which will be covered in its entirety by Chicagoan Eiren Caffall as part of The Whistler’s “Playing Favorites” series. Read the rest of this entry »
“La Voce Toa” is among the best songs of Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino’s, and it happens to be the sole English-language tune on their 2012 album “Pizzica Indiavolata.” The vocal belongs to Piers Faccini, an English singer-songwriter who is currently touring the United States in support of “Between Dogs and Wolves,” his second release via San Francisco-based indie label Six Degrees.
Faccini’s style is a mix of folk, blues and acoustic rock with a heavy African influence and a dab of jam-band feel. But don’t expect him to get lost in endless guitar riffs during his performances. In fact, when playing Stateside he travels lightly, accompanied only by his own guitar and a percussionist, which allows fans to focus on his voice. His heartfelt delivery has a laid-back feel, and his reflexive lyrics set him apart from today’s shoegazing singer-songwriters. Read the rest of this entry »