Tag Archives: Josh Kaufman


Alone & Together Win Over Music Hall of Williamsburg

December 18th, 2017

Alone & Together – Music Hall of Williamsburg – December 15, 2017

Sometimes you hear or read about an impromptu jam session—a bunch of musicians get together for a friendly set of music in a studio somewhere—and you think, “Man, I wish I could’ve been there to see that.” Of course, it would be a rare treat to get to peek in on such a gathering, but that’s just what it felt like at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday night when Sam Cohen, Eric D. Johnson, Elvis Perkins, Josh Kaufman and Joe Russo, performing under the Alone & Together moniker, could’ve as easily just been some friends hanging out in a basement somewhere. The central concept of their show is that they play one another’s songs, so at the outset Perkins sang one of Cohen’s tunes and then Cohen sang “So Long” by Johnson’s band, Fruit Bats.

This led to some interesting dynamics among the musicians and with the crowd. I imagine it might be pretty weird to sing backing harmonies on your own tune if not feel like an out-of-body experience, to see your musical self from the outside. Similarly, depending on their familiarity with the original version of each song, audience members might’ve had a uniquely personal appreciation of each performance. Regardless, the spirit was one of camaraderie, of friends who are also huge fans of one another’s creative output. While the idea behind the show may sound like a bit of a gimmick, albeit one that works quite well, as the set went on, that central concept felt less and less important. The players sang some of their own songs—Perkins doing “Doomsday,” Johnson singing “Humbug Mountain Song”—and with their looseness and the lead-the-way rhythm section of Kaufman and Russo, these actually felt more like covers than the songs they’d swapped. The band made small changes in instrumentation that brought out subtle shifts in sound and energy, particularly from Cohen, who swapped between pedal steel and electric guitar throughout the night, pushing each song to its musical limit.

Regardless of who was singing with whom, it was the songs that were always in the spotlight. There was an understated political thread weaved through the evening on tracks like “Doomsday,” and toward the latter third of the two-hour show, when Kevin Morby, who has also toured as part of the group, came out for a guest appearance highlighted by his “Beautiful Strangers.” It was felt most strongly during a brand-new song from Perkins, “There Go the Nightmericans,” which was a powerful opus of our current political state. The set closed with a rollicking take on Johnson’s “When U Love Somebody,” with lead vocals from Perkins punctuated by Russo’s handclap percussion. In a show filled with what might technically be called covers, there were true covers as well, selections from Willie Nelson and Paul Simon that fit in with the general songs-first spirit of the night. The three-song encore closed with a joyous take on George Harrison’s “Awaiting on You All.” The long set seemed to have flown by, but that’s what usually happens when you’re having fun hanging out with friends. —A. Stein | @Neddyo





Hiss Golden Messenger Dazzle at Music Hall of Williamsburg

November 16th, 2016

Hiss Golden Messenger – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 15, 2016

The challenge when writing about Hiss Golden Messenger is to not overdo it. There’s marvelous stuff going on in this music, delivered in a deceptively simple framework. It’s the kind of thing that once you’re in its thrall and listening to frontman MC Taylor ramble on the frayed edges of Americana, you’re given to purple prose out of obligation, wanting to make sense of music that projects grandeur but also feels remarkably earthbound. It was a great turnout last night for Taylor’s latest stop in Brooklyn, part of a national tour behind the recent Hiss Golden Messenger album, Heart Like a Levee.

It’s accurate to call Hiss Golden Messenger a concept as much as a band; the live membership is variable (“MC Taylor + pals” is how they bill themselves), with a malleable cast of players who are at least as entranced as Taylor by what this music can do. At Music Hall, the band was on the larger side: usual suspects like Phil Cook on guitar and keys, Ryan Gustafson on lead guitar, Scott Hirsch on bass and Matt McCaughan on drums, plus expansion members like Josh Kaufman (everywhere lately) on guitar and the dazzling singer Tift Merritt, who earlier in the evening slayed with a soulfully roots-y solo set.

They were feeling it plenty: The band played a bit longer than the tour’s previous shows and held steady on a warm, almost hootenanny vibe that was at times both uplifting and spooked. Songs from Levee dominated, from “As the Crow Flies,” “Biloxi” and the soul-gospel “Happy Day” to the title track, and its loaded entreaty, “Will you grieve me, honey?/ Will I give you a reason to try?” “Tell Her I’m Just Dancing” is a Hiss Golden Messenger tune with a harder edge, awash with Cook keys in its closing jam. Such older tunes as “Lucia” and “Mahogany Dread” mixed with newer ones like “Like a Mirror Loves a Hammer,” and none were afraid of gritty rock and funk.

It’s Taylor’s band but the collective nature of it buoys him. His mates were free to roam, whether it was Merritt with deep-impact harmonies, or Gustafson injecting spooked or spacey guitar flourishes, or Cook pulling psychedelic tones from the keyboards to light the way. Together it’s a chameleonic thing—just when Hiss Golden Messenger sounded like a remarkably sturdy country-rock band, there were tears at the seams and more than hints of ’60s psychedelia, or a retreat into austere folk or hymnal balladry when it seemed like there might be a give in to boogie, or a heavy Southern soul thing when you were expecting, I don’t know, singer-songwriter confessionals. That it sounded like all part of one fabric is the mystery and also the joy. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson


Two Nights of Jason Isbell and Craig Finn This Week

May 19th, 2015

For many, Jason Isbell first rose to fame during his six-year tenure as lead guitarist in Drive-By Truckers. And although he initially went solo with the release of the bluesy, punk-tinged Sirens of the Ditch (stream it below) in 2007, Isbell (above, performing “Cover Me Up” for Austin City Limits) really broke through into the mainstream with his fourth solo album, the universally acclaimed Southeastern (stream it below), done without his backing band, the 400 Unit, out in 2013. “Listeners are able to hear an unfiltered representation of this Alabamaian prodigy, and the results are so stellar it’s not hyperbole to say that he could be his generation’s answer to Steve Earle,” gushed A.V. Club. His next album, Something More Than Free, lands in July, but you can hear a single from it now.

Singer-songwriter Craig Finn has been the frontman of the swaggering Hold Steady for more than a decade. And while the band is rightfully known for their literate songs and energetic live shows, Finn (below, doing “Jackson” for KCMP FM) has still found time to do some solo work— performing and recording music. His well-received full-length, Clear Heart Full Eyes (stream it below), arrived in 2012 to plenty of love. The LP “finds the songwriter looking for a change of sonic scenery that feels more like a vacation from his other work than a departure, with the singer maintaining his identity as a songwriter as he adapts to a more distinctly country sound,” according to AllMusic. Don’t miss Jason Isbell and Craig Finn tonight at the Space at Westbury and tomorrow at the Capitol Theatre.


Josh Ritter Closes Tour in Style at Music Hall of Williamsburg

March 10th, 2014

Josh Ritter – Music Hall of Williamsburg – March 8, 2014

Do you like stories? Well, if so, you’re in for a treat any time you listen to any of Josh Ritter’s lyrically rich songs. The singer-songwriter has been weaving tales for more than a decade now, and his spring 2013 release, The Beasts in Its Tracks, only continues his great tradition. After an uproarious welcome to the stage of a sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday night, the crowd hushed as Ritter opened with “Wildfires,” from his fifth album, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, accompanied by two very accomplished musicians in Josh Kaufman and Zack Hickman. Kaufman’s prowess on the electric guitar shone early, on “Southern Pacifica,” while Hickman wowed with the lap steel on “Wings.” A pair of tunes from the last album, “A Certain Light” and “Bonfire,” had fans clapping and stomping their feet.

There was no questioning what spirit animal Ritter was when, as if an animal himself, he dropped to his knees and howled into the rafters during “Wolves.” The songwriter revealed that fan favorite “Joy to You Baby” was written just four blocks from the venue and that he was sincerely thankfully to be completing the tour in Brooklyn. Although Ritter touched upon gems from his catalog like “The Temptation of Adam” and “Change of Time,” he also treated fans to covers (Waylon Jennings’ “Abilene,” Ricky Nelson’s “I’m Not Afraid” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Save Me a Place”) and introduced new material, “Cry Softly” and “Strangers.” For the latter, Ritter requested “romantic lighting” and got darkness in return, which only provided a better first listen for the new song without visual distraction.

By the end of the show, the audience had happily joined in to sing sections of “Galahad” and “Kathleen.” The trio returned to the stage after a brief exit to encore with “Snow Is Gone” and “Lillian, Egypt.” Properly concluding the evening, Ritter called for opener Gregory Alan Isakov to sing on the final song, “Wait for Love,” with everyone singing along to the chorus, “We all got to wait for love/ Wait for love, wait for love,” which continued even after they exited Music Hall. The conversations I overheard as I left ranged from “He was great. He was just smiling the whole time” to “He sells out everywhere.” There’s no doubt why Ritter is so beloved: his masterful storytelling and his sincerity—but most of all, for his songs that speak to the chronicle of love. —Sharlene Chiu





Yellowbirds Sounded as Good as Ever on Friday at Mercury Lounge

August 26th, 2013

Yellowbirds/Landlady – Mercury Lounge – August 23, 2013

It was another fun, fun, fun late night at Mercury Lounge on Friday. First Landlady played an awesome, noisy art rock that may be best approximated by Talking Heads meets Frank Zappa with a very ’80s–Steve Winwood vocal from frontman Adam Schatz. Harmonies and weirdo polyrhythmic prog were all glued together by the drummer. They closed their set big, with Sam Cohen joining in, adding a mid-song two-guitar space out that broke down into a monologue from Schatz before a build-up sing-along, the whole crowd singing “Always!” Keep an eye out for Landlady.

Cohen’s Yellowbirds hit the stage at midnight and were sharp from the start. Their opening song featuring a noise jam that melted to a fantastic two-guitar section with melodic guitar from both Cohen and Josh Kaufman. In the past, the stage at a Yellowbirds show has been populated with extra instruments. But the present incarnation is just two guitars, bass and drums, and the simplicity seems to have enlivened the material. Cohen and Kaufman’s guitars were constantly anticipating and complementing each other, two old friends telling a single anecdote with perfect timing. The set bounced effortlessly between the new album, Songs from the Vanished Frontier, and the tried-and-true material from The Color. Bassist Brian Kantor and drummer Annie Nero, laying down the groovy before a nice double guitar bridge, were a highlight of “Julian,” while “The Honest Ocean,” was crunchy with whammy reverb from Cohen.

Late-night crowds can go in many directions, but Friday’s was the right mix of rowdy and appreciative, with an enthusiastic patron repeatedly and playfully yelling, “I love you” until Cohen hopped down from the stage to serenade the wooing fan with his guitar. Which is to say that the band was as animated as ever. Returning the favor, Schatz joined in on keyboards—and a guest vocalist came out—for a fun, decidedly after-midnight Serge Gainsbourg cover. The set closed with “Young Men of Promise,” Yellowbirds sounding as good as ever, perhaps more than a few in the crowd thinking to themselves, “I love you!” —A. Stein



With a New Album, Yellowbirds Play Mercury Lounge Tomorrow

August 22nd, 2013

Singer-songwriter-guitarist Sam Cohen is a talented, busy dude. In Boston, where the Houston native attended the famed Berklee College of Music, he formed the psychedelic-rock trio Apollo Sunshine. That would’ve been enough for some musicians. But Cohen is also a sideman in demand, appearing on albums for Shakira and Norah Jones, among others. That, too, would’ve been enough for some musicians. But not Cohen. No, he decided to go it alone with the solo project Yellowbirds in 2009. Filled with what Rolling Stone calls a mix of “rock, folk and weird bits of R&B filtered through a psychedelic lens,” the full-length The Color came out in 2011. Cohen toured in support of the album with drummer Brian Kantor, bassist Annie Nero and multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaufman, and Yellowbirds (above, performing “Julian” for BreakThru Radio) blossomed into a four-piece. Their follow-up, Songs from the Vanished Frontier (stream it below) has a bigger full-band sound and you can hear it tomorrow night at Mercury Lounge.