Harmaleighs at Fuller Lodge, Pretty Picture, Dirty Brush

Great concert by indie folk/pop duo The Harmaleighs (Haley Grant, guitar & vocals; Kaylee Jasperson, bass & vocals) Halast night (Feb. 19) at Fuller Lodge in Los Alamos, accompanied by Mike (?) Baker on guitar and supporting vocals.   I bought their excellent album Pretty Picture, Dirty Brush at the show; it's also on Spotify and at itunes.  A new album will be out May 5th. Here's a live acoustic duo version of the first song, "Hesitate", on Pretty Picture:

I guess "Diamond Ring" might appear on the upcoming album. Here it is live with the addition of Baker:

A group of three girls from Los Alamos High, the Hopeless Distractions, did an excellent warm up set of three or four songs, covers although they told me they are working on a few things. They are in the same vein---indie/country/folk/pop, sweet and somewhat ethereal vocal harmonies.

Huge thanks to Los Alamos High history teacher John Lathrop for organizing the concert, and the Harmaleighs for playing this little burg! I'll update this post with a few photos soon...

Local Scene: Leaves and Trees, Hannover

Great to be somewhere that has a local music scene.  Hannover indie-folk band Leaves and Trees released their first EP on April 23rd.  The release show/party at LUX was full by the time we arrived (from a concert of Max Reger's choral music at the Marktkirche by way of  the Pfannekuchen Haus) so we hung around sheltering from the wind in front of a locked door facing the Schwarzer Bär tram stop, that appeared to be next to the stage as it transmitted the sound quite well.  Only a couple of beers from a nearby kiosk would have been necessary to complete the Just Kids Too Young to Get Inside picture, but we didn't bother... good sounds coming through the door, though.  Nice arrangements, with good use of cello.  I'll buy the EP at Bandcamp  (where it can also be streamed).

The signature tune is Who Is That Man, for which a very well done video that tells a story that goes beyond the lyrics, is available on YouTube (you'll get an accurate impression of the local woodlands from watching it):

There's also a nice video of lead singer Fabian Baumert singing another song from the EP at a singer-songwriter slam at local club Kulturpalast Linden:

I don't think every post about a band's new EP needs to be a "review", comparing it to the writer's favorite bands and the world's top artists, etc... and opining about a band's chance of "making it" instead of just enjoying their music. Nevertheless, since this EP and the Who Is That Man? video evince very high production values that might suggest eventual goals wider than just local or regional success, a few comments along those lines. I think that's not an implausible possibility. I don't really know what the indie-folk scene or possibilities are these days---but a little investigation suggests there are some pretty nice festivals and things around Europe with bands I enjoyed checking out on the web. (The opening band for L&T's LUX show was one.) Maybe there was a moment a few years back, when with Mumford and Sons and Bon Iver and such, indie-folkish singer-songwriter music was going mainstream, and maybe that moment is over, making some modest success for this type of band, that sort that can lead to an extended career for a band making a living from music, tougher. I like all the songs on the EP, like the overall band sound, and like Fabian Baumert's singing. A little bit of gentle, almost Nordic North-German melancholy in the mix is very nice. Uncomplicated, but not completely predictable, song and chord structure, beautifully arranged. Relaxed tempos and feel in general. The sound on the EP seems very good, possibly a little crunchy in the treble but I have only streamed it yet; the FLAC and CD may fix that. I'm reluctant to say such a thing, but I do think that to have a broader---say, international---appeal, it would be good if Mr. Baumert's accent when singing in English, which is generally quite good, were even more natural. Some of the lyrics are hard to understand, and in this kind of music that can be crucial. On a light note, it is risky to include "Whoa", let alone "Whoa-oah-oh", in lyrics, especially when you're playing acoustic guitar. It works out fine here.

If you have a local band of this quality, go to their shows, buy their music, and support them. Here's hoping Leaves and Trees get the opportunity to write and play much more and continue to grow.

Carolina Chocolate Drops rock the Rialto, Tucson

On a visit to Tucson I tore myself away from the U of Arizona --- USC game to go hear the Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Rialto downtown.  Incredibly high-energy show---you can get an idea of the band's sound from Youtube, but it doesn't really convey the impact of a live show.  They are still on tour until October 24th, and the main point of this post is just to say if you have a chance, go.  CCD got their start playing traditional or "old-time" African-American string band music. and that is still a large part of their repertoire.  The lineup has changed over the years, and I'm no expert on the changes since I'm new to the band.  Rhiannon Giddens, the lead singer (who majored in opera as an undergraduate at the Oberlin conservatory), is the only founding member of the band left in the lineup.  (I was amused that she felt she had to explain how her name is pronounced---anyone who doesn't know obviously missed the 70s, but I guess that applies to a good chunk of the audience.) The band is extremely tight, everybody is topnotch, and the numbers featuring the other members are just as strong as those (perhaps a majority) featuring Giddens as primary vocalist, but Giddens is clearly the powerhouse.  Though her manner when singing is not at all stagey or acted, when she starts making music the star power and charisma are immediately apparent.  CCD are currently doing a very wide range of music, much of which will sound familiar but not exactly like anything you've heard before.  This is African-American music that is part of the roots of bluegrass and country, coming out of folk traditions that are perhaps not so well known nowadays, but in CCD's hands it's not at all an exercise in scholarly dusting off of "hmm, interesting" musical curios---it's alive for the performers and audience, sometimes with an impact and energy that reminds me of a solid punk rock show---indeed some of the audience were definitely pogoing.  Much of the music is full of fiddle and banjo, with Malcolm Parson on cello (and sometimes bones), and Rowan Corbett on a variety of instruments, including bones, guitar, banjo, and I think perhaps fiddle on occasion.  Jenkins played guitar, mandolin, and banjo.  Parson's cello playing really added a lot to the ensemble sound, and I liked his rare solos a lot too. If I'm not mistaken, Parson, Jenkins, and Corbett all played bones to great effect, with Corbett especially virtuosic. Jenkins did some excellent vocal work, too, and his solo country blues original was superb.

As I said, online video doesn't really capture the impact, but this video of them doing Cousin Emmy's Ruby Are You Mad At Your Man from their current tour does a pretty good job.  (I am not sure if this is band-sanctioned, so will remove the link if they request it.)  Music starts around 1:34.

They also cover more recent material, like Dallas Austin's hit for Blu Cantrell, "Hit 'em up Style".  Here's a video from this tour, though I thought the Tucson performance of this song was harder-hitting:

Not all their songs are on the same topic---it's just coincidence that these are two of the best videos on the toob of the current tour.

They don't play many originals, but the song Giddens wrote reflecting her reading of accounts of life under slavery in the 19th century was powerful.

There's a lot more on youtube, including more old-time music, though not so much with the current lineup. They can sing country with the best---I wouldn't be surprised if they hit the country charts one of these days (or perhaps it's already happened); they do a great job with Hank Williams' Please Don't Let Me Love You:

Indeed, Country Girl sounds to me like a straight shot at the contemporary country charts, solid stuff though quite reminscent of a dozen or so other celebrations of down-home-by-the-crick livin' to be encountered over the last decade on mainstream country radio, with an acoustic backing just as rocking and funky as the typical electrified setting for the genre nowadays and just as deserving of a place there.

Definitely a band to get to know, and I plan to delve into their recordings now that I've had the live experience.

Thomas Mapfumo--- Los Alamos 2012, Festivo 2013 (video)

Last summer Zimbabwean musician Thomas Mapfumo (currently in exile as a critic of the Mugabe government) played one of the free outdoor Gordon's Concerts in Los Alamos, next to Ashley Pond.  The concerts are organized by Russ Gordon, and funded by the County and by local individual, institutional, and business donors.  Russ does an incredible job getting unbelievable talent, often somewhat lesser-known but almost always excellent.  Mapfumo, though, is not lesser-known, but rather world-renowned.  Amazing that we got him all to ourselves for a night of dancing to his complex, catchy polyrhythmic Zimbabwean music, heavily influenced by traditional Shona mbira music and all kinds of "afropop".  His lineup featured a crack horn section.  At the time it was tenor sax and, if I remember rightly, a trumpeter.  Just by looking at the video below, I recognize the sax player, although here he's playing alto sax, and his fellow horn section member is on trombone.

Very worthwhile 2013 concert video follows.  First piece sounds somewhat uptempo, hilife-influenced to me.  Second one (starting around 9'30) a bit slower, more hypnotic, still rhythmically complex.  And so forth.  Excellent stuff.  The horn section had more impact in person last summer...a really powerful combination with the mbira-like guitar and keyboard parts.  But this is a great set too:



Catchy and free... St. Etienne "Lose That Girl"

This post is just to point out that you can download a free mp3 of St. Etienne's catchy "Lose That Girl" from Sub Pop here.  (The link is under "Listen", 2nd column from the left.) I am not familiar with this band's oeuvre in detail but I like this tune.  They do have an official Youtube channel, where you can investigate cheery proto-britpop (with various amounts of electronic dance beats admixed) from the early 90s like 1992's Avenue:

or check out their more recent doings (that seem to involve more insistent, but lightfooted, electronic dance beats), like Tonight

Short listening notes: Janácek, Hindemith, Khaled, Steely Dan, Macy Gray, Handel

In lieu, for the moment at least, of longer reviews, I'll note a few things I've been listening to with great enjoyment recently:

Janácek's piano music.  Both the Sonata and the series of short pieces called "On an Overgrown Path" are major masterpieces.  Lyrical, evocative, often passionate.  Tonal, but with Janácek's sometimes unusual harmonic colors, which however are completely natural and expressive, not self-consciously displayed.  Both Rudolf Firkusný on Deutsch Grammophon and Alain Planès on Harmonia Mundi are excellent.  I give the slight edge to Planès for a softer-edged, more atmospheric piano sound, but you can't go wrong with either.  This music really should not be missed.

Paul Hindemith, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd  and Requiem, "Für die, die wir lieben" ("For those we love").   Annelies Burmeister, mezzo-soprano, Günther Leib, baritone, Soloists and chorus of the Berliner Rundfunks, and Berliner Rundfunks Symphony Orchestra.  Deep feeling here; this is not what I'd think of as "gebrauchmusik" ("use-music", a term probably from an earlier phase of Hindemith's career).  These pieces are post-World War II.  I need to listen to this CD again, but recall my first listen, about a month back, as a wonderful discovery.

Khaled, Liberté.  Khaled, for those who don't know, has long been perhaps the greatest star of the North African (especially Algerian) popular music called Rai.  In the Arabic-speaking world, he's a superstar.  When I first put this on, I was not paying much attention, and thought it not as good as the earlier, essential N'Issi N'Issi and Sahra.  Played it again last night, and revised my opinion:  it's superb.  His voice is as good as ever, his command of swirling North African melisma as secure as ever, and the material, a substantial amount of which he writes himself, is mostly excellent.  Overall, though it features electric bass and some synths, the sound is "rootsier" than the other two albums I mentioned, with lots of instrumental interludes featuring traditional North African instruments and a string section recorded in Cairo.  Reminiscent of some of his stuff from even earlier than N'Issi and Sahra, when he was more of a rising regional star than an international superstar.

Steely Dan, Katy Lied.  I wasn't really familiar with this album, which apparently predates the essential classic Aja, but it's solid.  Great to discover another 10 mostly excellent songs from the Dan, in the same vein as Aja, if perhaps a bit more varied and not as consistently great.  If you like jazzy chords with your pop-rock, lots of possibly tongue-in-cheek 70's-beatnik/hipster lyrical attitudinizing, and the occasional sax solo, the Dan is for you.  But you already know that from Aja, and the hits (Rikki, Do it Again, etc...) that still make classic-rock radio.  Excellent listening.

I Try: The Macy Gray Collection This is some kind of Greatest Hits CD I picked up cheaply.  Solid neo-soul and R&B singing from Ms. Gray.  Her voice is nice, a bit lighter than those of the gutsiest, earthiest female soul singers (e.g. Aretha), but with a slightly smoky texture, too.  That's a description, not a criticism.  Mostly very good material, some written by Gray herself.  Highly recommended.

G. F. Handel, The Messiah (oratorio).  Elly Ameling, soprano; Anna Reynolds, alto; Philip Langridge, tenor; Gwynne Howell, bass.  Academy and Chorus of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Neville Marriner, conductor.  (London 444 824-2).  Excellent soloists, very clear recording, with relatively light instrumental forces and a reasonably light-footed, baroque feel, but probably not original instruments or finicky attention to baroque stylistics.  With some of the sweetness (compared to many original-instruments treatments) that I tend to associate with Marriner/St.Martin's productions.  Beautiful.  The music is of course profound and essential listening.  Sir Colin Davis, leading the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with Heather Harper, soprano, Helen Watts, contralto, John Wakefield, tenor, and John Shirley-Quirk, bass, is also excellent, with a fairly similar overall feel (perhaps a somewhat less lush and sweet, more severe feel overall).  Unfortunately it seems to be marred by some kind of constant scratchy background noise, not extremely loud, but annoying once heard.  I have no idea what this is; if it's the result of a poor digital transfer in the early days of CD, then a remaster from analogue tape is in order; otherwise, let's hope there's a better master tape around somewhere because this performance is good enough that it deserves a noise-free reissue if possible.