IMG_6044 Pawtucket, RI. Truth be told, I'd never been. But Providence's Americana breakthrough artist Deer Tick was throwing a party and I figured I would have to stop by. When the 20 somethings of Toy Soldiers, an up-and-coming band from Philly, walked on stage I immediately thought of a poor mans Panic at the Disco! IMG_5903 But I have more faith in Deer Tick than that. Turns out I was right. Toy Soldiers had a rough rock sensibility that belies their appearance. Ron Gallo's voice floated easily over rock riffs. Earnest tunes singing "Wont you wear my ring" and "Heart in a Mousetrap" felt nice and comfy next to rockers highlighted by "Tell the Teller." The band has an undeniably retro rock aesthetic. I'd heard Toy Soldiers were good, but I was quite impressed. Smith & Weeden were up next. The local Providence band managed to merge  Americana with the Providence attitude. "Drinking Through Some Issues" is just like it sounds. A heartbroken cowboy song sung by a rock band. "Take a Train" sounds like a classic country train song driving forward. "Glory Alleluia" (I think that's what it's called) has the the southern gospel church covered. The band switched between rockers and swooning fiddle tunes. The swagger had a country sensibility. The rock had a country lean. Where was I? Next came the Low Anthem. Truth be told, I had pretty high expectations. I'd loved the band before though I hadn't been listening to them lately. The sound system had technical issues and it felt like an eternity before the band started. Once they did, the lethargic pace of the tracks dulled the excitement that'd been building for the two previous bands. I needed a seat for this part of the show and there wasn't one. IMG_5999 Finally, they were cut off for the headliner. Curator John McCauley also had sound trouble, but the crowd immediately tuned back in. He is sporting a completely new look and his music has backed away Americana of Born on Flag Day. Drug rehab and the end of a relationship caused some kind of change. The man came out with his hair short and slicked back. He sat down at the piano and looked over the crowd. No question, this is his home turf. Although I do miss the old sound, you can't argue with the performance. Deer tick seemed at home in front of the crowd and delivered a searing vocal. His gravelly baritone needs no accompaniment to be compelling. This show proves that. Glad to have you back Deer Tick. Photos by Suzanne McMahon

Isbell, Shires & Fletcher at the Sinclair

Even after leaving the Drive-by Truckers, Jason Isbell has continued to wow and amaze.  His literary songs and rockin' guitar licks accentuate catchy and heartbreaking melodies. I saw Isbell and Shires a year ago in Hartford in an acoustic setting. It fit so perfectly in the at the Wadsworth Atheneum Art Gallery that I wasn't sure about how a rock show would be able to measure. Luckily, the tunes are so strong that the emotions come through in the rock show. Isbell From the beginning of the set, Jason didn't shy away from his early emotional songs with the full band. He whipped through "Goddamn Lonely Love," "Tour of Duty" and "Decoration Day." Each one resonated just like they did with DBT. Isbell, Shires and the band managed to rock through them with both the good-time beer drinkers and the more studious rock critic types fully satisfied. From there, Isbell dove headlong into the emotional meat of the new record (and there's a lot of meat to dig into). "Different Day" and "Live Oak" both show a new narrative focus. In particular, the stunning story of a drifting laborer who falls in love of "Live Oak." Isbell rocked hard and seemed to be exploring the difference between his pre-rehab and post-rehab self. Its a delicate balance to strike between narration and rocking out. "Live Oak" shows Isbell's ability to pull them together. From there, Isbell continued exploring the new record and capped it off with "Elephant." Anyone who has heard the song knows the raw emotional power in its description of a battle with cancer. The audience hushed and appreciated every word and note of the song. And after it was over, we all gave a collective sigh. It was as though we'd had our cathartic moment and now we had a weight lifted from our shoulders. The show would not have been complete without the tune. From there, Isbell went back to the old favorites "Outfit," "Razor Town," and my favorite from his last record "Alabama Pines." They managed to lift the spirits of the crowd. After the encore, Isbell closed the show with a Stones cover "Can't You Hear Me Knocking." As a Stones aficionado it takes a lot for me to appreciate a cover and Isbell's version was a great way to close the show. Before Isbell's set, Amanda Shires stepped on the stage singing unaccompanied. She has a signature country-style vibrato sounds that lends her songs a unique emotional quality. She mixed in murder ballads with songs from her new record "Down Fell the Doves" that came out August 6. In the middle of her set, she brought out her three most devastating songs from 2011's "Carrying Lighting," "Swimmer. . .," "When You Need a Train It Never Comes," and "Lovesick I Remain." The songs are both lyrically dense and affecting particularly with Amanda playing her ukelele. I'm excited to get Shires' new record.ShiresIsbellSinclaire The opener, Joe Fletcher, started off with a raucous solo acoustic set. Fletcher's growl and finger-picked guitar lend the tunes a powerful delivery. His lyrics come flooding out in rhymes and often require several listens to piece together the meaning behind it. I was particularly struck by Fletcher's closing cover of Tom Waits' "Bottom of the World" from "Orphans." I went back and listened to Waits' version. I prefer speed and power of Fletcher's reworked version. FletcherIsbellShow Photos by Suzanne McMahon  

Patty Griffin – American Kid

[caption id="attachment_14776" align="alignleft" width="150"]Patty Griffin joined by Robert Plant It is hard to describe songs that leave you speechless. The breathtaking tracks on “American Kid” mesmerize from beginning to end. This is Patty Griffin’s first album of original material in six years. Since then she has recorded an album of Gospel songs and hymns, “Downtown Church”, and toured with Robert Plant’s Band of Joy. It has been well publicized that the inspiration for most of these songs is her late father. The album is certainly a beautiful testament to a man who once lived in a Trappist monastery, and was a high school English teacher. Each song is full of insight and deep emotionalism. There is also a unique atmosphere that surrounds each song on “American Kid”. “That Kind of Lonely” has a mournful undertone, yet there is comfort in the arrangement of the song. “Highway Song” is a reverent tune that sounds as if it were taken from a church hymnal. The album also shows a sense of humor on “Get Ready Marie”, an Irish drinking song that everyone in the pub could sing along with. The title cut is a beautiful but sad ballad. There are also a few Acoustic Blues songs, like the opening track “Go Wherever You Wanna Go”. The diverse yet understated sound and atmosphere of “American Kid” is largely due to the fact that Patty Griffin enlisted Luther and Cody Dickinson to provide the music. It was even recorded in the Dickinson’s hometown of Memphis. Luther’s guitar work and Cody’s percussion are the backbone of the album. Griffin apparently met them when North Mississippi All-Stars opened for Band of Joy. Griffin was also joined by Robert Plant on three songs. Their chemistry that began with Band of Joy carries over to these songs with a seamless harmony. “American Kid” was worth the wait. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another six years for a collection of original masterpieces like these.

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Mark W. Lennon – Home of the Wheel

Listening to Mark W. Lennon’s new release Home of the Wheel, I felt as if I was transported back to depression era America without leaving 2011. At times it is the music that takes you there, and other times it is the lyrics. Lennon draws the parallels between the Modern and the past with a wide brush of Americana. There are influences from traditional styles and contemporary songwriters like Ryan Adams. In between you will find Country and even some Jam Band riffs. All of these diverse ingredients may sound like a case of creative schizophrenia, and in some hands that would be the case. However, Lennon keeps his many influences contained within his own singular vision. That is no small task, and the result is a compelling sound that will likely end up in many listeners heavy rotations. Fans of Chattam County Line, the Avett Brothers or Steel Wheels will definitely enjoy Home of the Wheel.

The album was produced by Marvin Etzioni, a former member of Lone Justice who has worked with Steve Earle, Counting Crows and Lucinda Williams. Lennon is a North Carolina native but he now resides in California. In the title cut, Lennon gives a powerful portrait of life in post-depression America, and the desperation of the time. Other songs on the album are modern in there setting, but the parallel between then and now is clear. “Blues Forever (in Your Eyes)” is simply one of best songs I have heard this year. A Country tune “California Calling”, presumably refers to his own move to California. The move has been a good one for him, at least musically. His sound is now complete and he is establishing himself as a rising star in the roots music community of the area. Look for the buzz to get louder on future releases. Mark W. Lennon’s music needs to be heard.

“Blues Forever (in Your Eyes)”

Blues Forever from Mark W. Lennon on Vimeo.