Tag Archives: Townes Van Zandt


Karl Blau and Chris Forsyth Team Up to Take On Rough Trade NYC

January 9th, 2018

After years of recording, Karl Blau is finally having his moment. As a mainstay in the influential lo-fi folk scene built around K Records in the Pacific Northwest, he’s been churning out rock solid music that’s never followed the trends around him. Featuring his rich molasses-soaked baritone voice and effortless abilities to cross genres, each of Blau’s records is a rewarding journey that can just as easily bring listeners gratification as it can put you off guard. As great as these albums have been, Blau had been flying under the radar for far too long. But thanks to last year’s Introducing Karl Blau (stream it below), that all changed. With help from producer Tucker Martine and guests like Jim James, Jenny Lewis and Laura Veirs, Introducing found Blau reinterpreting classic songs by such artists as Townes Van Zandt, the Bee Gees and Link Wray. The results were absolutely breathtaking and the long-player brought him to a much wider audience, landing Blau (above, doing “Fallin’ Rain” live in studio for KEXP FM) a home with Bella Union for this year’s equally brilliant Out Her Space (stream it below). Comprised of all originals, the new album continues Blau’s winning streak and proves that one of underground music’s best-kept secrets is at the height of his powers. Blau plays Rough Trade NYC on Thursday with guitar mastermind Chris Forsyth—most known for his sprawling psychedelic work, like on this year’s Dreaming in the Non-Dream (stream it below)—and his Solar Motel Band, a truly great double bill that shouldn’t be missed. —Pat King | @MrPatKing




John Moreland Converts the Masses at The Bowery Ballroom

June 8th, 2017

John Moreland – The Bowery Ballroom – June 7, 2017

John Moreland writes songs of redemption, songs written for the downtrodden that are so white hot with purpose they straddle the line between cautionary tales and gospel. Armed with a voice that conjures up how the Boss might sound after a bad night and the vindicated pessimism of Townes Van Zandt, Moreland doesn’t tug at your heartstrings as much as he eviscerates them. In his interview on the podcast Walking the Floor with Foo Fighters lead guitarist—and country music aficionado—Chris Shilett, Moreland explained that he had cut his teeth on punk and hardcore early in life, but everything had changed as soon as he heard the music of Steve Earle. After listening, Moreland quickly got it into his head that he could write songs that could equal Earle’s power and started recording and touring the country nonstop. After years of paying his dues, the Tulsa, Okla., singer-songwriter recently signed with 4AD for his third album, Big Bad Luv, and brought his tour to a packed Bowery Ballroom last night.

Will Johnson played solo to open the show. With a deep D-tuned guitar and a voice as rough as a tree trunk after a chainsaw exposed its bare wood, he mesmerized the audience with songs from his solo career as well as his criminally underrated band Centro-matic. The highlight was his meditation on loss, “Just to Know What You’ve Been Dreaming,” with the refrain “But when you’re not around, nothing makes a sound” landing like a slow moving haymaker. And then when John Moreland began, you could practically hear teardrops falling into beer glasses between the notes throughout the Bowery Ballroom. Accompanied by fellow singer-songwriter John Calvin Abney on lead guitar, harmonica and piano, Moreland ran through his songbook with efficiency, barely taking the time to address the crowd. Not that the audience needed anything more from him as everyone in the venue was completely captivated as soon as he sat down in his chair to play.

Moreland’s songs did the heavy lifting, and he showcased old favorites from In the Throes, High on Tulsa Heat as well as Luv. The best song of his main set was the new song “Lies I Chose to Believe,” which took on a new life live, stripping away the full-band arrangement and allowing his words to dig in deeper than they could on record. Moreland’s brief encore consisted of two songs from his breakthrough, In the Throes, “Break My Heart Sweetly” and “I Need You to Tell Me Who I Am,” which had the crowd clamoring for more. After the show, the audience quickly formed a massive line heading down to the merch table on the first floor. It was easy to see that if anyone had never heard of Moreland before this show, they had just been converted. —Patrick King | @MrPatKing





Laura Marling Brings Quiet Ferocity to Brooklyn Steel

May 22nd, 2017

Laura Marling – Brooklyn Steel – May 20, 2017

World-weary is a strange way to describe someone so young. But at just 27, Laura Marling seems to wear that term like a badge. With six full-length albums under her belt since 2008, the U.K. singer-songwriter has amassed a large catalog of intense folk songs that position her against the universe and brim with quiet contemplative ferocity. Oh yeah, otherworldly is also a great way to describe Marling. Her fantastic new album, Semper Femina, only further proves this, and on Saturday night, Brooklyn Steel was packed with fans eager to check out the new material live. L.A. four-piece Valley Queen, who blew away the crowd with a tight set of lean rock with a clear emphasis on hooks and ripping guitar gymnastics, opened the show. At times, Natalie Carol’s vocals and Shawn Morones’s guitar interplay reached the level of vintage Rilo Kiley, and her powerhouse voice took no prisoners as it burst through the stratosphere. Do yourself a favor and see these guys next time they roll through town. They definitely won’t be opening shows like this for very long.

Before Laura Marling took the stage, the house blared Leonard Cohen’s early work through the PA. It almost felt like a locker-room pep talk sung from the beyond. Each of the three microphone stands, for Marling and her two backup singers, were dressed with bouquets of flowers, and even the drum hardware was covered in enough vegetation to resemble a fire-escape garden. It was safe to assume that this would be an intimate affair. Marling and her band owed much of the night to Femina, playing eight of the album’s nine tracks, only omitting “Nouel.” They sounded fantastic on the new material and gave apt attention to the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink compositions by producer Blake Mills. But the real spellbinder of the night, of course, was Marling, and the show went from simply being special to “Oh, my God, are you seeing this?” when she treated the crowd to a number of songs accompanied by just a guitar. Her intricate fingerpicking and angelic voice mesmerized on older tunes like “Goodbye England (Covered in Snow),” and she threw in a jaw-dropping surprise cover of the Townes Van Zandt classic “For the Sake of the Song.”

The band returned to play a few more numbers and reworked the Once I Was an Eagle standout “Once” into an AM country ballad with spot-on three-part harmonies that got the biggest applause of the night. After the crowd settled down, Marling had to break the bad news: The show was coming to an end. “If you wanted an encore,” she said with a laugh, “then think of that last song … as the last song.” Choosing not to leave and comeback for more, Marling and her band ended the night with a rousing rendition of “Rambling Man,” off of her breakthrough album, I Speak Because I Can, leaving the crowd wanting more. —Patrick King | @MrPatKing



Kevin Morby Returns to Sell Out Rough Trade NYC

June 23rd, 2016

Kevin Morby – Rough Trade NYC – June 22, 2016

For a long time, Kevin Morby called New York City his home. After arriving here in his late teens, the city found it’s way into the songs he wrote, as it almost always does. He’s since moved on, but the songs remain and the place still loves him enough to welcome his return for back to back sold-out shows, the second one at Rough Trade NYC on Wednesday after playing Mercury Lounge on Tuesday. “I played New York last night so I’m trying not to regurgitate my banter,” Morby told the audience.

His set began with the soft and reflective “Cut Me Down” before jumping into the stop-and-start momentum of “Dorothy.” Morby’s got a knack for creating hook-laden grooves that pull you along, but at moments throwing you off the groove and floating the song with just his lyrics. The winding NYC-inspired “Harlem River” rolled through its foreboding rhythms and into an energetic jam, much like the river that cuts off Manhattan from the mainland. In his jams’ heftiest moments, Morby swung back and forth, throwing around both his mop of hair and his bolo tie.

Morby recalled an earlier time he’d played a local show with just his drummer, Justin Sullivan, when someone shouted, “Where’s the band?” He’s since added Cyrus Gengras on bass and Meg Duffy on guitar, who backed songs like “Destroyer” and “Miles, Miles, Miles” with some beautifully understated soloing. The band left the stage and Morby played through “Black Flowers” and Townes Van Zandt’s “No Place to Fall.” Everyone then returned to the stage for the encore, another Gotham-inspired tune, “Parade,” before shutting down things with the barn-burning “Ballad of Arlo Jones.”
—Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks  


Double Your Pleasure with Two Nights of Dylan LeBlanc This Week

February 3rd, 2016

Born in Louisiana, singer-songwriter Dylan LeBlanc grew up surrounded by music, thanks to his father, a longtime Muscle Shoals session player. LeBlanc began playing the mandolin and guitar and then performing live at just the age of 15. His debut LP, Paupers Field (stream it below), arrived five years later on Rough Trade in 2010 and generated some considerable buzz. AllMusic made comparisons to Townes Van Zandt, Fleet Foxes and Nick Drake while adding that the album shows “a great deal of promise, especially when this old soul, saddled with the weight of a young man’s preconceptions, finds those ideals both met and shattered.” His third full-length, Cautionary Tale (stream it below), came out two weeks ago. Per American Songwriter, it’s “an album of reckoning with youthful mistakes…. LeBlanc offers cutting introspection that sounds so good it’s easy to miss.” On the road in support of the new LP, LeBlanc (above, performing “Cautionary Tale” for CBS This Morning) plays Mercury Lounge tomorrow and Rough Trade NYC on Saturday.


Justin Townes Earle Brings New Music to Music Hall of Williamsburg

August 5th, 2015

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). On the heals of releasing his fifth LP, the highly regarded Single Mothers (stream it below), late last summer, Earle (above, doing “My Baby Drives” for Rhapsody) put out its follow-up, Absent Fathers (stream it below), just a few months later. “Absent Fathers is the companion piece to 2014’s Single Mothers, an album that introduced the world to a new Justin Townes Earle—sober, married and healthy, full of insight and reflection. Absent Fathers is filled with a dichotomy of unrelenting frustration and unadulterated love. Whether that be for a distant father, an old lover or the narrator himself, it doesn’t seem to matter, as Earle is certainly pulling no punches,” according to Paste magazine. “While the album’s primary appeal may come from the rich storytelling in Earle’s songs, the musicality on display is nothing to balk at either.” See him at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday. Folkie singer-songwriter Anthony D’Amato opens the show.


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

November 24th, 2014

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

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


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.


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.


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




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.)





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