Tag Archives: Woody Guthrie

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A Willie Watson and Colter Wall Sing-Along at Rough Trade NYC

October 26th, 2017

Willie Watson and Colter Hall – Rough Trade NYC – October 25, 2017


Sometimes at a concert you get a real feel for what things were like back when. Sometimes it’s because of the room: Walk into Carnegie Hall or Village Vanguard and you are transported back through decades of New York City live-music history. Other times it’s the performers themselves who seem to transport you back to a past heyday. Last night at Rough Trade NYC featured two such performers who transported the crowd back in time, evoking a country and folk music of another era as if it were brand-new today.

Colter Wall is a Canadian singer from Saskatchewan who evokes a country music of a time gone by. He began his set solo, with just enough croak in his vintage voice and acoustic guitar, singing, “If I’m being truthful, I only live at night” and covering Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi” like he’d written it on his way from Canada. He was joined by a band—mandolin, dobro, bass—and continued to mix old-school covers by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Hank Williams with originals from his self-titled debut that evoked the same spirit with a little updating along the way. A cover of Blaze Foley’s “Oval Room,” perfectly fit into the set and had the crowd whooping and hollering. Audiences will clap or sing along and this one did that aplenty, but the stomp along is a bit rarer and felt natural at several points during Wall’s performance—you could imagine yourself back when in a barn somewhere hearing murder ballads like his “Kate McCannon” and stomping along.

Willie Watson has a voice and a love for folk music and, let’s face it, a name that makes it easy to imagine sitting around a campfire or revival tent hearing gospel numbers and old-timey songs mixed with storytelling and off-center humor. He opened with “Take This Hammer,” his voice infused with a slight warble as he stretched out syllables, letting them fill the room. “If you know this one, sing along” seemed to be implied from the start of his set, and the crowd joined in as he worked his way through a musical time warp. Watson has been playing and touring and recording these old folk songs for years—his new album is simply and aptly titled Folk Singer Vol. 2—and he sings them possessed of their original spirit. Tunes like “Samson and Delilah,” “Gallows Pole” and “Midnight Special” in their original form before they were turned into modern-day rock songs were stripped to their original bare essence in Watson’s hands. Switching between guitar and banjo (giving the audience what he referred to as a proper dose of “vitamin B”), the set was both raucous and poignant. Like any good folk show, there were sing-alongs, like “Stewball,” and murder ballads, like “Frankie and Johnny,” and, of course, songs about the feats of John Henry. Through them all, Watson’s love for the music and performing it shined through, taking the audience to way back when for just one night. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

(Tonight’s Willie Watson and Colter Hall show at Mercury Lounge is sold out.)       

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Catch the Cave Singers Tomorrow Night at Mercury Lounge

July 11th, 2017

When his previous band, Pretty Girls Make Graves, called it quits in 2007, guitarist Derek Fudesco teamed up with former Cobra High drummer Marty Lund and former Hint Hint singer Pete Quirk to start a new one, the Cave Singers, to make rock music with a folk bent (think: Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie). The Seattle three-piece had enough material for their first album, Invitation Songs (stream it below), within months of forming. A second disc, Welcome Joy (stream it below), followed two years later, and after the third, the-more-electric-than-acoustic No Witch (stream it below), was released in 2011, the trio became a four-piece with the addition of Fleet Foxes multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson on bass. Their first album as a quartet, the terrific Naomi (stream it below)—perhaps heavier on the rock than the folk—came out in 2013, and the Cave Singers (above, performing “That’s Why” live in studio for KEXP FM) followed that with their fifth LP, last year’s Banshee (stream it below). “The finished product shows the group understands very well what works for them,” said AllMusic. “Banshee is a smart and impressive piece of work that speaks to the mind and the soul with similar clarity.” The Cave Singers kick off their new tour tomorrow night at Mercury Lounge. Brooklyn’s LAPêCHE open the show.

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Robert Ellis Is Full of Surprises at The Bowery Ballroom

June 23rd, 2016

Robert Ellis – The Bowery Ballroom – June 22, 2016

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If you like stories, The Bowery Ballroom was the place to be last night. North Dakota’s Tom Brosseau, his set filled with “story songs” and stories in between the stories, opened the show. With a guitar, a microphone, an occasional harmonica and enough tales to fill the dilapidated barns of the plains he sang about, Brosseau performed a simple but highly entertaining folk in the tradition of Guthrie and Seeger and a sound that more or less ignored anything that’s come since those guys. The night’s headliner, Robert Ellis, told stories of a different sort: deeply personal, at times, almost painfully so, but fleshed out with a blazing band—textured guitars and pedal steel, a thumping bass and nonstop rollicking drums. To look at them onstage was to look upon a country band—cowboy hats, bolo ties, big belt buckles, pedal steel guitar and Ellis’s suit (well, what more can be said about what he called his “space cowboy” suit other than you had to see it).

Still, despite their decidedly country foundation, Ellis and his band were full of surprises at every turn. Working through material off his newest self-titled album as well as the previous LP, Lights from the Chemical Plant, each song was infused with some extra oomph: from the unexpected, introductory space jam to the show-opening “The High Road” (on which Ellis crooned, half-ironically, “And nobody cares about songs anymore”) to the jazz-funk chord progressions midway through “Pride” to the three-guitar country freak-out on “Sing Along,” which somehow captured (I imagine, at least) the anger, confusion and hypocrisy of a childhood in the Bible Belt. Ellis was incredibly self-aware of the what-genre-is-this conundrum they were playing, explaining that he’d concluded that they were “difficult easy listening,” which more or less summed up the hybrid of ’70s country-rock and free-form jazz-jam on display.

The Bowery gig was the biggest headlining date for Ellis and his band, and they explicitly made clear how excited they were. Interestingly, they used the occasion to not only go big—which they did on multiple occasions—but also to go quiet just as often, Ellis explaining that there were songs they wouldn’t dare play in the opening slot for fear of losing the crowd. The closing third of the 90-minute set showed all facets of the band’s abilities. “Houston” flipped from Ellis’s unique, honeyed croon into a full weirdo jam-out, two guitars chasing each other like squirrels around a tree. Immediately following, the band left Ellis and guitarist Kelly Doyle alone for a beautiful duet on “Elephant,” each lyric and each note on the guitar packing an emotional punch. “Tour Song” took it a step further, Ellis singing solo, verse after verse getting more intensely personal, the room, attentive and appreciative all night, going completely silent. The band returned for a rocking finish, featuring “Good Intentions,” “California” and a “we don’t do encores” closer, “It’s Not OK,” the band firing off an almost ’60s-psychedelic rock-out, ending the night as all good stories do, with a definitive the end. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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The Cave Singers Bring New Tunes to Music Hall of Williamsburg

April 4th, 2013

When his previous band, Pretty Girls Make Graves, called it quits in 2007, guitarist Derek Fudesco teamed up with former Cobra High drummer Marty Lund and former Hint Hint singer Pete Quirk to start a new one, the Cave Singers, to make rock music with a folk bent (think: Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie). The Seattle three-piece had enough material for their first album, Invitation Songs, within months of forming. A second disc, Welcome Joy, followed two years later, and after the third, the-more-electric-than-acoustic No Witch, was released in 2011, the trio became a quartet with the addition of Fleet Foxes multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson on bass. Their first album as a quartet, Naomi (stream it below)—perhaps heavier on the rock than the folk—came out a month ago, and the Cave Singers (above, doing “Swim Club” for Seattle’s KEXP FM) are currently touring the East Coast. See their high-energy live show on Saturday night at Music Hall of Williamsburg.

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This Jam Is Your Jam

March 15th, 2012

Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Yim Yames and Anders Parker – Webster Hall – March 14, 2012


While the stage was loaded with talent last night show at Webster Hall, the real MVP might have been the lone roadie/guitar tech. The crowd watched this guy tune about a zillion guitars—acoustic, electric, bass—getting the stage ready. It was an impressive feat and all that work was absolutely necessary because  every single instrument was used to its fullest extent over the course of an awe-inspiring show. This was a modern day supergroup playing music written to accompany unfinished lyrics and writings of Woody Guthrie. The band is Jay Farrar (Son Volt, et al.), Anders Parker (Gob Iron, et al.), Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Will Johnson (Centro-matic, et al.), who nominally played rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass and drums respectively.

They performed with a communal spirit that would have made Guthrie proud, sharing lead vocals and swapping roles throughout the night. As far as supergroups go, this one is about halfway between Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Blind Faith, matching hefty harmonies with all-out rock and roll. The first part of the show was expected as the band rolled through all the material on New Multitudes. It was great to watch each member take the lead role and see the others transform into a backing band in the style of that leader. So that Farrar’s opener, “Hoping Machine,” embraced Son Volt’s twang-with-grit feel while James’s “My Revolutionary Mind” had a distinct MMJ arc, starting with a focus on his voice and then exploding into a flesh-crawling rock jam. Practically every permutation of two-, three- and four-part harmonies were realized, with each voice distinctly on its own making powerful music together. My personal highlight was “Chorine My Sheba Queen” with James sweetly harmonizing with Johnson’s lead vocal while Parker and Farrar beautifully laid down atmospheric drum-melody behind them.

The set lasted about an hour, and the crowd, which had been a perfect balance of enthusiastic and attentive all night, howled for an encore. What they got in return would better be described as a full-on second set as each member played a solo acoustic tune of his own, capped by James’s spine-tingling sing-along version of “Wonderful (The Way I Feel).” Again the show felt satisfyingly complete, but the band wasn’t yet finished, as each member highlighted another of his songs with the whole band in tow, each seemingly topping the previous in a playful we-rock-harder competition. As the “encore” reached the hour mark, the band played a ninth song with every member taking lead for a verse. What followed was a blistering, jammy  rock out with noisy guitar interplay shaking Webster Hall that went on in glorious feedback, surely exactly the way Woody Guthrie diagrammed it many years ago, until each musician left the stage one at a time to rousing applause (and a nod to the guy who had to tune all those guitars). —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of Joe Papeo | www.irocktheshot.com