Tag Archives: Townes Van Zandt

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The Barr Brothers Bring Their Beautiful, Exotic New Music to the LES

November 24th, 2014

The Barr Brothers – The Bowery Ballroom – November 21, 2014

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If you got to the Barr Brothers show at The Bowery Ballroom a little early on Friday night like I did, you were greeted by a stage filled with instruments. Music makers of all sorts crammed every corner of the space: at least half a dozen guitars including some D.I.Y. thing that looked like an old lunch pail with strings, a harp, a pedal steel guitar, a couple of keyboards, drums (is that a bicycle wheel?!) and at some point around a zillion I lost count. It was a sight to behold and foreshadowed the music to come. At least a couple of those instruments belonged to the opener, Leif Vollebekk, who mesmerized the early birds with a solo set of folk-centric music, the perfect palette cleanser between the workweek and the weekend. He packed quite a bit into his 30 minutes, playing two different guitars at multiple tunings each, an electric piano, a harmonica and a violin he had hidden off to the side. The highlight was “When the Subway Comes Above the Ground,” a long, Dylan-esque number with wonderful imagery and acoustic guitar playing to match. Vollebekk finished with a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.”

By the time the Barrs took the stage, the room was filled with decidedly high spirits. The band, the brothers Andrew and Brad Barr plus four, began things, naturally, all with an instrument in hand, including Sarah Page, holding what I guess I’d call a mini harp, and Andrew on banjo. The music was beautiful and exotic, a sound greater than the contributions of each musician and instrument. Songs like “Wolves” and “Love Ain’t Enough,” off their new album, Sleeping Operator, or the excellent “Beggar in the Morning,” from their 2011 self-titled debut, deliciously blended pedal steel–meets-harp in ethereal melody. Along the way, all those instruments onstage—and more hidden from sight—made an appearance in fascinating permutations, Brad Barr performing with each different guitar like a musician showing off a how’d-he-do-that trick. The sounds were dense and often unexpected, I kept craning my neck to see who was playing what and how and usually gave up. While Brad led the way and proved his mastery on guitar, Andrew held things together and set the tone, at one point simultaneously singing and playing drums and banjo. At different times the music felt African and heavy blues and art-folk-pop or genres still to be determined, everything made to fit together snug by the brothers Barr.

Following a lengthy set, the Barr Brothers encored with “Cloud (For Lhasa),” which seemed to encompass and summarize the whole night at once—beautiful songwriting augmented by masterful guitar playing, distinctive harp plucking, pedal steel (played with a bow for good measure), Andrew playing drums and xylophone, Leif Vollebekk returning to add some violin, not to mention great keyboard and bass playing, and to top it all off, Brad Barr taking a lengthy solo that brought him down into the crowd. Quite a way to end quite a set. Good thing too … if they had kept playing, they might have literally brought out the kitchen sink. —A. Stein | @neddyo

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The White Buffalo Headline The Bowery Ballroom on Sunday Night

October 17th, 2014

Passionate singer-songwriter Jake Smith (vocals and guitar) grew up listening to country music and then punk before he began writing his own songs and enthusiastically performing them live while in college in Northern California. He eventually made his way back to Southern California and began working under the name the White Buffalo, joined by the rhythm section of Tommy Andrews (bass) and Matt Lynott (drums). With songs about outsiders and rebels, plus Smith’s whiskey-tinged vocals, the L.A. trio’s own winning take on Americana has been compared to Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr. and Townes Van Zandt. Following the release of several EPs, the White Buffalo (above, doing “The Whistler” on Jimmy Kimmel Live!) made waves amongst critics and fans alike with 2012’s Once Upon a Time in the West (stream it below)—about which American Songwriter opined, “The gravity of these tracks serve as somewhat of an announcement of Smith’s arrival, and it appears he doesn’t plan on going anywhere soon”—and 2013’s Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways (stream it below)—PopMatters said it’s “an album that always seems to find the perfect note. Is it a barrel of laughs? Nope. Is it worth listening to? Definitely.” Of course, you might also recognize some of the band’s tunes from Sons of Anarchy, which is perhaps why Paste labels their music a “biker-friendly brand of folk music.” But, regardless, you can experience the White Buffalo live and in person on Sunday night at The Bowery Ballroom. Local four-piece Swear and Shake open the show.

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Justin Townes Earle Celebrates New Album Tomorrow at Stage 48

September 8th, 2014

His last name comes from his father and his middle name pays homage to Townes Van Zandt, so it seems Justin Townes Earle was destined to become a musician. He grew up in Nashville, playing music at a young age, but not just country or bluegrass as you might expect. Instead, Earle joined a rock band and also toured with his dad before self-releasing the EP Yuma (stream it below) in 2007. His debut full-length, The Good Life (stream it below), an interesting mix of bluegrass, country and folk that helped establish a name for himself, followed the next year. And then like so many before him, Earle headed to the big city, eventually becoming a denizen of the East Village, which inspired the terrific Hudson River Blues (stream it below). Two years ago, the talented Earle (above, doing “White Gardenias”) put out his fifth LP, the aptly titled Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now (stream it below), but his latest, Single Mothers, comes out tomorrow. And Earle celebrates its release with a hometown show tomorrow night at Stage 48.

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Daniel Rossen’s Brooklyn Homecoming

April 16th, 2014

Daniel Rossen – Music Hall of Williamsburg – April 15, 2014

(Photo: Dan Rickershauser)

(Photo: Dan Rickershauser)

Daniel Rossen and William Tyler make a great touring duo, like a fine wine perfectly paired with a gourmet meal. They were only on the road together for about a month before ending it last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg. For a night already feeling surreal due to a heavy rain that slowly turned into an unexpected and unseasonal snow shower, the one-two of Tyler and Rossen evoked an even more surreal sense of spiritual strangeness. Tyler’s music gets called a lot of things, but usually Americana is thrown in somewhere there. The Nashville native’s music in many ways reflects the sum of our vast and expansive country—the music that arises out of the heartland. “I’m always trying to pay attention to the melody of every landscape,” said Tyler before “Country of Illusion,” referring to the sound as the land’s “eternal ramble.” His fingerpicked acoustic guitar work does have its way of blurring into a meditative hum, a Zen-inducing sound on par with the word om. Much of his music carried a more dissonant sound than on his recordings, perhaps because he was so far from his home that inspired the original compositions.

Rossen, a New Yorker since his college years, inspires a similar vibe. His music sometimes evokes that feeling you get when you zoom out of the chaos of New York City and distill it down to its odd feeling of harmony. Rossen’s made an impressive amount of music that spans across two other bands, Grizzly Bear and Department of Eagles, in addition to his own solo work, which compared to his other material, feels much more stripped down, especially when he’s performing with just a guitar, piano or (for the final song of his set) a banjo. Dubbing the night “the most homecoming show I have ever had in my entire life,” Rossen expressed how happy he was to return, rewarding his hometown accordingly. With just an EP to his own name, Rossen included several new songs and older ones that haven’t been recorded in his set. Additionally, there were also some unexpected covers, including Townes Van Zandt’s “Kathleen” and a tune by Department of Eagles collaborator Fred Nicolaus. For his encore, Rossen did his version of Judee Sill’s “Waterfall,” one of the incredibly underappreciated singer-songwriter’s most beautiful numbers. There’s too much to thank Rossen for, but bringing this song to my attention is pretty high on that list.
—Dan Rickershauser

 

 

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Simply Heavenly

December 11th, 2012

Andrew Bird – Riverside Church – December 10, 2012


You knew it was going to be special before the music even started. Walking into Riverside Church, the audience sat in pews under an arched ceiling that was so high it may as well have reached the sky and looked upon a stage filled with so many Victrola horns, big and small like some steampunk public address system, it may as well have been a zillion. The possibilities seemed infinite. Finally Andrew Bird took the stage for the first of two intimate Gezelligheid shows, the solo, instrumental concert that, in the end, was neither solo nor instrumental.

The music started as ethereal, semi-improvised compositions, Bird mixing, sampling and looping violin, glockenspiel and his whistling into music apparitions that weaved through the stone archways of the church, becoming part of the architecture. The music seemed to take on a life of its own after leaving the horns, notes bouncing back and forth against one another, foreshadowing future interactions and eliciting awed silence from the crowd. Bird and the horns cast looming shadows on the walls, adding perfectly to the ambiance, with the bow of his violin the silhouette of a sorcerer casting his wand. Real songs made their way into the set: old songs reimagined, new melodies that weren’t yet songs fully realized and even a Cass McCombs cover. At some point, Bird’s bass player, Alan Hampton, joined in (“You didn’t think I was going to do this all by myself, did you?”), and the duo closed the first set with a strong stretch that included a new song, “Pulaski at Night,” a reworked “Orpheo Looks Back,” off Break It Yourself, and a pitch-perfect “Plasticities.”

After a short break, Bird returned with Hampton and special guest Tift Merritt. The second set provided a nice contrast to the open-ended first, more focused on songs from both Break It Yourself and his newest, Hands of Glory. He described it as an “old-timey” vibe, and the trio huddled together harmonizing around a single microphone. They opened with “Give It Away” followed by a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You,” the tenor of the music slightly more grounded, but the result still simply heavenly. A closing section that included a lifting version of “Eyeoneye” had a little bit of something for everyone sitting silently in the pews. The possibilities were infinite, but the music was real. —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

(Andrew Bird also plays Riverside Church tonight.)

 

 

 

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Simply Magnificent

November 27th, 2012

Ray LaMontagne – Carnegie Hall – November 26, 2012


It’s impossible to define who Ray LaMontagne is without mentioning his voice in the first sentence. It’s what makes his music so recognizable. It’s the first thing most listeners fall in love with, and it’s what makes his songs so wonderfully enchanting. It’s as though all the edges of his voice have been sandpapered down smooth. That all of his songs are expressed through this rustic and raspy singing voice somehow makes them sound all the sweeter, more sincere. It also fills a space like Carnegie Hall beautifully.

Performing for a sold-out audience in the biggest city in the country, LaMontagne started off things with “New York City’s Killing Me,” a folksy damning of the sometimes callousness of the giant city we call home. It was a perfect way to transition the audience from the noisy world outside Carnegie Hall into the hushed tenderness of LaMontagne’s music. With just an acoustic guitar and backing bassist, this tour marks the first time in a while that LaMontagne’s been without his band, the Pariah Dogs. The stripped-down versions of his songs, both old and new, allowed for the few elements holding together the music to fill the hall. Despite minimalist sound, the show swung to both sides of the dynamics spectrum: Quieter songs like “Sarah” sounded like they were sung as a whisper, like LaMontagne was letting in the audience on a delicate secret. The way such gentle songs contrasted to louder moments, like the pleas in “Trouble,” made such songs sound like the work of another artist entirely.

Last night’s show came with some surprises. LaMontagne played an unreleased song from his first record, Trouble, a self-described Western epic inspired by the late Townes Van Zandt’s “Poncho & Lefty.” For the second half, LaMontagne brought out a special guest, Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan, whose high harmonies floated majestically above LaMontagne’s own voice. Someone in the audience actually shouted “Freebird!” when LaMontagne stepped out for his encore, to which he responded while laughing: “In these hallowed halls some motherfucker yells ‘Freebird.’” He didn’t play the tune, but just about every other song of his was covered, and magnificently at that. —Dan Rickershauser

Photos courtesy of Jeremy Ross | jeremypross.com