Bonus Video Playlist — Upcoming Shows in Boston

It’s an embarrassment of riches this week in Boston! As noted earlier, we’re kicking things off with Lydia Loveless and the Old 97′s tonight.

Tuesday we’ve got the long overdue return of Matthew Ryan (Atwood’s Tavern).

Thursday we’ve got the Curtis Mayflower (Atwood’s Tavern) and The Suitcase Junket (house concert).

Friday is the equally long overdue return of the Bottle Rockets (Johnny D’s).

Saturday is a great double bill with Mia Dyson and Will Dailey (Davis Square Theater) plus Twangville fave Mark Erelli with Della Mae and others (Middle East). If that weren’t enough, Saturday also has the Silks bringing their rock show to town (at Atwood’s Tavern, are you seeing a trend?).

This is, of course, just a sampling of the shows around town this week. I’m excited and tired just thinking about it.

For those not in Boston — and even those who are — here’s a video playlist to get you through the day.

True North – Elsebound

For the first few decades of bluegrass music, it tended to lean toward the high, lonesome sound invented by Bill Monroe, or an old-timey vibe like the Carter Family or the Osborne Brothers.  Then in the 70′s a few artists emerged that pushed the boundaries of the genre; John Hartford, New Grass Revival, Hot Rize, to name a few.  Hot Rize in particular managed to bring a relatively polished sound that was more listenable to an audience less familiar with back roads twang.  Listening to the latest album from True North I got that same feeling.  Call Elsebound a gateway drug to hard bluegrass music.

Primary songwriter Kristen Grainger also takes the lead on vocals for much of the album.  Her clear, warm voice brings the same kind of richness and familiarity to songs like Twist In the Wind and Hard Place that have made Rhonda Vincent and Alison Krauss so popular.  Vocally, the crowning achievement of the disc is One Voice.  Starting with just Grainger and a simple ukelele accompaniment the song builds by adding each member of the group until you get the full 4-part harmony and instrumentation, before finishing with just the one voice.  Showing her versatility, she also belts out a fine, fine traditional-sounding number with Shiny Black Shoes.

Another one of the appeals of Elsebound is that it keeps you listening with not just the virtuosity within individual songs, but also the variety across the album.  In addition to the typical bluegrass elements, the band veers into a jazzy vein with Come And See What I Got For You.  They cover a catchy Don Henry tune, BFD, that’s an ode to TLA’s.  Rattlin’ Bones, a Shane Nicholson/Kasey Chambers composition, is kind of hard to describe, but when I checked out the original I certainly like this interpretation better.  They even take some inspiration from 70′s California country rock sound with The Poet And the Carpenter.

Elsebound-Final-Cover-350x350 From the first time I listened to Elsebound I had the feeling that I’d heard it before.  And yet most of the album is new songs from Grainger, so it just seems that way.  The end effect, then, is one of presenting not just what bluegrass is, but what it can be.

Monday Morning Video: Chatham County Line

Twangville Jeff and I caught Chatham County Line last week. Ya gotta appreciate a bluegrass band from North Carolina who chose to celebrate their cd release day at, as they aptly described it, “a basement in Cambridge, MA.” I, for one, am damn glad that they did. It was my first time seeing the quartet and they sure did impress. Here’s a favorite from their brand new release.

Joseph Huber – The Hanging Road

Joseph Huber is a 21st century cowboy.  Back in the middle of the 19th century, a type of individual emerged in the American West who learned to take advantage of a new opportunity.  No longer did you have to live within sight of your neighbor and define yourself by your community.  You could go live in a new frontier, confident you could do whatever needed to be done.  You could be a cowboy.  Joseph Huber has applied that to his music.  As a member of a-legend-as-much-as-a-band bluegrass group .357 String Band, Huber undoubtedly could have surrounded himself with other great musicians and technicians for his third album, The Hanging Road.  Instead, he did it all himself.  Literally.  Playing every note on instrument on every track, writing the songs, and producing the album.

As a songwriter Huber has some good metaphors guiding several songs on the album.  Same River Twice covers the idea of a rekindled relationship by talking about “standing in the same river a second time”.  Shovel On Your Shoulder is a version of the admonishment  to keep your nose to the grindstone if you want to get ahead, set to an almost speed-grass accompaniment.  Broken Paddles slightly alters the idea of being up the creek with a paddle to one of being on a lake with broken paddles to address a lost love.

Like several songs on the album, Goin’ Far On A Little (Just A Little Too Long) dances a zydeco beat to tell the story of burning out on the road, or maybe just burning out in general.  The aforementioned Same River Twice and Broken Paddles also convey that musical style.  On Coming Down From You, Huber has more a southern rock sound with driving beat and wandering guitar.  The title track is a little closer to traditional bluegrass, but the Samsonite drum kit keeps it contemporary.

 The Hanging Road
 is a paragon of what can be accomplished by a single musician in the digital age.  Huber does such a good job of everything that you’d never know it was a one-man effort if you didn’t read the liner notes.  And I guess that’s about as high of a compliment as I can give–to be so lost in the beauty of the music that what it took to make it is irrelevant.

Old Settler’s Music Fest – 2014 Edition

Every spring, a couple of weeks after the madhouse of SXSW, the music festival season kicks off with Old Settler’s Music Festival, about a half hour outside of Austin.  Started as a bluegrass festival, Old Settler’s now embraces a broad spectrum of Americana.  Organizer Jean Spivey has a magic touch for consistently mixing old with new, and traditional with what everyone will rave about next year.  Like all festivals of any size, there’s always more to see than you can get to, but with that in mind here are my highlights of the show.

Can I Get An Amen

OK, they don’t exactly have the old-time religion background that many bluegrass bands do, but European group Red Wine sounds like they come straight from the hills of Appalachia–until leader Silvio Ferretti speaks in his native Italian accent.  As Friday’s opening act on the bluegrass stage, they set a great tone for rest of the evening.  Rising star Parker Millsap lit up the campground stage Thursday night with his mix of blues, folk, and soul-wrenching vocal delivery.  Leaning on his Pentecostal upbringing, he delivered a fear-of-god performance.  For sheer spirituality, though, no one topped St. Paul & the Broken Bones.  They put on an electrifying performance Thursday evening, and then outdid themselves on Friday.  Singer Paul Janeway had the Austin crowd, who can be a little jaded about good music, pressing against the stage barriers like a bunch of teenage girls at a Beatles concert.  Speaking of which, the band delivered a cover of Hey Jude that was inspired, and followed it up with a cover of A Change Is Gonna Come that would have made Sam Cooke weep with joy.


Music Legends

As I mentioned earlier, Old Settler’s is usually a good place to catch some of the legends of Americana music playing for a crowd that’s appreciative of their life’s contribution.  Peter Rowan, a mere 71 years old, gave a heart-warming performance of many of his classics with the Twang an’ Groove instantiation of his backing band early Saturday afternoon, and then played a solo, unamplified set at the Discovery Stage later in the day.  Del McCoury, 75, with his multi-generational band, gave performances on both Friday and Saturday that were as energetic as the first time I saw him almost 30 years ago.  The coup de grace, though, was Ralph Stanley.  Also featuring family, his grandson, in his Clinch Mountain Boys band, Ralph pretty much just stayed in front of his microphone.  But when the band cleared the stage and Ralph, now 87, let loose with his a capella O Death, an unearthly silence enveloped a crowd of several thousand people.  Even the normal backstage chatter stopped cold to listen to the master.

The Road Goes On Forever

At the other end of the scale are new artists with tons of talent who have many decades of performing to look forward to.  Clearly local favorite Sarah Jarosz falls in that camp, having first performed at Old Settler’s in the youth talent competition, which she won at age 12.  That was literally half her lifetime ago, and she’s now perhaps the princess of OSMF having not missed performing at many of the festivals in between.  Elephant Revival first broke on the scene just a couple of years ago, but they’ve been gathering fans and momentum since, and their performance Saturday afternoon, including guests from peer bands like Wood & Wire and Della Mae, did nothing to slow that momentum down.  I think the highlight in this category, though, was the Saturday evening set from Lake Street Dive.  The entire band is so solid and singer Rachael Price grasps the subtlety of singing to the size and energy of the crowd, with a euphoric result.

And the Party Never Ends

Unlike many moderately sized festivals, the headliners at Old Settler’s are not the last act of the evening.  That honor is reserved for a party/jam band.  While the main bulk of the audience is finding their way to the parking lot, the last group of the night at Old Settlers is essentially in charge of priming the diehard music fans for the upcoming several hours of campfire jams.  Thursday night that charge was led by Donna the Buffalo.  With their style of Deadhead meets zydeco music, there was no doubt who was in control of the crowd when their supposed 75 minute set cracked the 2 hour mark.  Friday night’s final official festivities belonged to the Dickinson brothers and their incarnation as the North Mississippi All Stars.  With fiery lead guitar and a driving, sometime congo line, drum beat, the All Stars were just about the only people on the planet that could have transitioned the crowd from St. Paul’s Muscle Shoal’s soul to anything resembling normalcy.  And then there’s Kevin Russell.  With his previous band, The Gourds, Kevin owned Austin late night for several years.  Shinyribs is giving him a different outlet for his talent, but he knows when to let go of the rules and lash the crowd into a frenzy.  With Saturday night the last night of music for many OSMF attendees, Russell made sure things ended on an exclamation point.