• The Shiftless Rounders at Club Passim

    Set 11 2006, 18:40

    I saw The Shiftless Rounders last winter when they opened for Sarah Harmer at the Paradise. I was only lukewarm on them then, but I bought (places) and pulled a few more songs off the web and they grew on me. When I saw they were coming back to the area--to Club Passim down in Harvard Square--I figured I'd swing by.

    It's not easy to pin down what's so enjoyable about their shows. The lyrics have all the tragedy and bitterness old-time folk music was known for (Memphis has the worst drunk tank, and the meanest fuzz,) but they also have the tight, careful poetry you don't often see. Phil and Ben also harmonize perfectly, both vocally and instrumentally, so much so that despite Phil's relatively distinctive voice it's not always easy to tell who's singing which part, or whether the melody is being carried by Ben's self-made dobro or Phil's banjo (or guitar.)

    This was a much smaller show than the Paradise. When the opener, Paul's Big Radio, was playing, I counted twelve people there; in the break between the two acts, it developed that slightly more than half of them were personal friends of one of the various musicians. More people filtered in during the break, so there were probably more than twenty of us, but not many more. Two dozen at most.

    The Rounders don't get fazed by this; they have a song about the show they played in Colorado (Phil doesn't think much of Colorado) where nobody came, but they played anyway. They have a fair mix of traditional songs and Phil's compositions, and they flow together easily that without introduction, I might still be wondering why that Paul Simon song sounded so familiar. I think House Carpenter is an American Folk echo of the European-traditional "Raggle Taggle Gypsy," for example, but with less rebellion and more remorse.

    They play with a degree of enthusiasm and passion that's hard to get outside of, say, punk rock; I didn't really expect Phil to light his guitar on fire, but if he had, it wouldn't have been too shocking. (Their MySpace site bills their sound as "Imagine if Kurt Cobain had been from West Virginia...") I was grinning halfway through their first song.

    Passim's "green room," at least during this warmer season, is a little porch outside the stage door, about five feet below Palmer Street; I'd spotted them having dinner out there when I came in. They went back out there when they were done, but we clapped them back out; then they weren't sure which song to play. "Anybody have anything they want to hear?" I always scoff at the fans who holler out song titles midway through a set, as though the musicians don't know what they want to play, but the audience was quiet, so I called out, "Places!"

    All The Places I Go, a short inventory of travels (Iowa showed me more roads than I could drive / One Minnesota summer I just barely survived) was one of the songs I wanted to hear again. (The other one I missed was their Denver Jane: There was a woman I did wrong / she turned into a song / that always breaks my strings / or is a little out of tune.) Ben said, "That beats trying to decide on one," so they played it, and I was happy.
  • Josh Ritter free in Copley Square

    Ago 7 2006, 15:14

    “Look,” he said, “I know we’re in the epicenter of Puritanism, here between the library and the church, but can we get a big redneck yell?”

    That was Josh Ritter playing a free outdoor concert at Copley Square this afternoon. A and I went in two weeks ago for one of the earlier shows in the series, but we left late and spent so long on the T that we only saw Edie Brickell (and a band that must be, I joked, the New New Bohemians,) play three or four songs before the show was over. I wanted to see all of Josh’s set, so we left earlier this time, and got there just as they were breaking down the opening act and setting up Josh’s band. It was ten or fifteen minutes between when we got there and when the show really started, and meanwhile WBOS, playing over the speaker stack, played Wolves on the radio.

    I only had two problems with the concert, which I’ll get out of the way early: first, where I was sitting, the bass overpowered the rest of the band. This doesn’t help a lot of Josh’s songs, even though his bassist is quite good. I had trouble hearing Josh sometimes because of his habit of mumbling into the mike between songs; that pitch of voice would carry to the worst seat in the Horse, but it didn’t really make it past the first ten rows in Copley Square. Second, this was an outdoor concert, which meant quite a few of the people around me weren’t really paying attention to the show; they were sitting around yakking. Which is to be expected, I suppose, and if it really bothered me I could’ve stood up and gone closer to the stage.

    Josh spent a few years in Cambridge, so he was pretty excited about being back and playing right in the center of things in Copley Square. He said that a few times in between a few songs. He opened with several songs off The Animal Years, which I’ve heard often enough now even though I haven’t gotten around to buying the disc yet: "Monster Ballads,” “Wolves,” and another which I hadn’t heard (maybe it was “Another Mouth”?) He wasn’t afraid to go into his back catalog, though, hitting the high notes from “Golden Age Of Radio” (“Harrisburg,” “Me & Jiggs,” and the title track, among others,) and “Hello Starling” (“Kathleen,” “The Bad Actress.”) He even dipped back to his first CD [album artist=Josh Ritter]Josh Ritter[/track] for “Hotel Song.” (“You checked in, I checked you out…”) Of course, he did have trouble remembering how to start the verses.

    The crowd knew what they were there for, with quite a few of them streaming to the front when the music started, and cheering loudly for “Kathleen” and “Me & Jiggs.” Josh isn’t used to big outdoor venues; he takes a long time to set up his jokes, so you really have to be paying attention, as when he took the bridge of “You Don’t Make It Easy, Babe,” to dedicate the song to Dick Cheney, “who couldn’t be here with us tonight; his cat is sick.” (And then the last verse includes the line, “I hope you find someone just as hard as you come / but in this hard world sadly that’s so easily done.”) I didn’t catch the intro to “Girl in the War,” but the crowd up front did, and cheered; they were waiting for that song.

    He closed with “Snow Is Gone,” which is a pretty good finale, but the crowd managed to scream up an encore; back out, the band played “Song For The Fireflies,” which was a good summer-evening wrap-up and put us in the right mood to go home.

    It was a great evening out, actually; after the roasting heat earlier in the week, it was genuinely cool downtown, just right for sitting out on the grass and watching a show. Next week the opener is Sonya Kitchell, who has drawn me some search engine traffic in the last few months as she gets radio airplay; I don’t know if we’ll make it in or not, but we might try.
  • Oops

    Lug 14 2006, 2:29

    I was scrambling around trying to figure out if anyone else wanted to go to The Weakerthans at the Paradise tomorrow night... then I called the 'dise and found out they were already sold out. Man, I suck.

    Though it's good they're selling out shows.
  • Mix tape 1994

    Mag 27 2006, 18:17

    The cassette player in my car has an adapter in it 90% of the time, to receive audio from an iPod or CD player, so there aren't many actual tapes left in the car. I fished out one the other day, and discovered a mix tape I'd made to take with me on a summer abroad (in Russia) in my college years. Not all of it's stuff I'd still claim, but there's some tracks I'll need to see if I can dig back up.

    Since I was packing limited space, and I didn't want to leave music behind, I took only a Walkman and three or four mix tapes, and I tried to make "no bad tracks" mix tapes: most bang for the buck. Of course, I couldn't shake some of the "mix tape rules," which led to me putting on some weird ones which "fit." Some of them simply have "in another country" connotations to me.


    * Hand Me Downs
    * Blues Before And After
    * Just The Way It Is (before they were on "Friends"?)
    * Suffer
    * How Beautiful You Are
    * Sometimes
    * Another Satellite
    * Directing Traffik
    * Not There
    * Stories I Tell
    * Fraulein
    * Be My Prayer
    * Fight
    * The Phone Call
    * Mr. Jones (They only had the one album then...)
    * Dyslexic Heart
    * Runaway Train
    * Hey Jealousy
    * Pictures of You (I'm a bit sick of this one, now - not sure why I included it then.)
    * Time Machine
    * Everyday People
    * Cold as Ice

    It's interesting to see what's held up over the past dozen years, and what hasn't.
  • The Music Snob's Oath

    Mag 8 2006, 14:39

    I ran into this a while ago. It seems like it would work well here:

    The Music Snob's Oath

    I, [your name here], Do hereby swear off using my impressive-albiet-limited musical knowledge to impress, intimidate or influence friends, family, acquantances, employers, co-workers, prospective employers and prospective sexual partners.

    Not-so-random links:

    Sufjan Stevens
    Bright Eyes
    Ryan Adams
    Broken Social Scene
  • Catie Curtis at the Iron Horse

    Mag 6 2006, 22:18

    A and I decided last night that we'd lost track of how many times we've seen Catie Curtis at the Iron Horse in Northampton. At least four, but maybe five. I can remember at least three opening acts - Meghan Toohey once, Girlyman once (I wasn't impressed, but everyone else seems to like them,) more recently Jennifer Kimball. And someone else I (evidently) forget. Once it was during the Super Bowl (maybe that was the Girlyman show,) and once we were having Sox scores relayed to the stage. We also saw her once at this awesome triple bill at the Calvin: Catie, Dar Williams and Nerissa and Katryna Nields.

    Anyway. It's been a few times.

    We missed the opener last night, and got lousy seats (though I noted to A that even when we're early we get lousy seats, so why worry.) Mark Erelli was playing and singing backup; he's a talented guitarist and filled the role well, but Catie's Catie songs are IMHO better than Mark's (though I loved his "Farewell Ball" when he opened for Nanci Griffith at the Calvin.) Catie has a funny little thing now which she calls the "thumper," like a stuffed sock by her right foot, so she can just tap her toe on it and get a thump like a bass drum.

    She played a wide range of stuff, some recently recorded, some older. She dragged out "Wise to the Ways of the World," for example, having recently seen a headline about "pain at the [gas] pump" and wondering how that compares to the real suffering that exists around the world. "Kiss that Counted" and "Soulfully," of course. "Saint Lucy," my favorite. Last time she was here, she played a winter song - "California, we're cold as hell," - for the first time, and this time it was much more polished.

    As usual, a good show, even though I couldn't see Catie at all through a support pillar... I was geeking out on the guitar hardware laid out on stage. :)
  • Forgetting Evelyn

    Mag 4 2006, 23:30

    Every time I hear this (Forgetting Evelyn,) I have to check to see if it's the Gin Blossoms. Anyone know of a connection between the bands?
  • New CDs arrived!

    Apr 25 2006, 1:04

    It took me so long to find the CD store in Davis Square that I left when I didn't find the bands I was looking for. So much for supporting local business: I ordered on Amazon. I'm working on three new bands, all discovered via free downloads (free downloads! Share music, bands! I then buy your CDs so I can get more!)

    Reconstruction Site by The Weakerthans: Sarah Harmer covered one of their songs at The Paradise a few months ago, so I checked them out. Plea From a Cat Named Virtue was on their website, and that alone would've sold me this album. After one play-through, it sounds like a good call.

    Summer in Abaddon by Pinback: I got a mix CD a year or so ago with Fortress on it. It grew on me, so I'm trying more. Doesn't sound like a waste so far.

    Know by Heart by The American Analog Set: Same mix CD, but the AmAnSet track was Hard to Find, which isn't on this disc. Someone in the Amazon reviews said this was the one to start with for AmAnSet, so it's playing now. I suspect it will take a few plays for it to set in; they seem to be a sit-back-and-soak band.
  • Maybe it takes a while

    Apr 20 2006, 23:18

    The thing that utterly baffles me is that while the software is starting to recommend neighbors for me, it appears to be looking much farther down the "long tail" of my artists ranking than I would expect. I'm getting a lot of overlap on Ani DiFranco, Dar Williams, and (oddly enough) Sarah Harmer (and Weeping Tile), but none of the neighbors linked so far appear to even know about The Church, which was my most-played artist last week.

    But maybe I'm asking too much. It might take a few months for this to really zoom in on me; I've got this painfully geeky weighted playlist in iTunes which rotates my library (on shuffle, of course,) and it may take a while for the higher-rated ones to get multiple plays and make their weight felt.
  • Dar Williams at Wellesley

    Apr 20 2006, 23:13

    We were at the Dar Williams show Monday night at Wellesley College. Interesting show - just Dar and a guitar, which is always interesting. We've seen her play like that before, most notably at the Iron Horse in Northampton, but in this venue (the Wellesley Campus Center,) it was interesting and the right choice.

    Too bad about the openers, which didn't appear to be at all musically connected to Dar and were more likely to turn off audience members than anyone else.

    I wrote more on my blog, including some song notes.