Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Band

Image Credit: Elliott Landy

The first three albums by the band 'Music From Big Pink'(1968), 'The Band'(1969) and 'Stage Fright'(1970) are three of my favorite albums ever. The first two are essential additions to any serious music collection, the third, an oft neglected companion to the much lauded debut and sophomore efforts.

This list of records would be legacy enough for most, but you can add to this numerous credentials that make The Band one of the most important groups of all time. The most obvious examples being their involvement with Bob Dylan, both as backing band (then The Hawks) on his first "electric" tour of the US and later their work with him on the legendary 'Basement Tapes'. Then being the center piece of the greatest live concert film ever committed to tape 'The Last Waltz', documenting their final show featuring the original Band lineup and a stellar list of guests including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Emmylou Harris and The Staple Singers.

The original line up which spans 1967 to 1976 consisted of four Canadians: Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and Rick Danko, and one American, Levon Helm (There was a reunion of sorts (sans Robbie Robertson) in the eighties, but for now I am going to focus on the original line up).

Aside from the first three gems, the original line up of The Band released four other studio albums. Although none of which live up to the consistency and magnificence of the earlier records, all contain genuine highlights. 'Cahoots'(1971) has the Dylan composition "When I Paint My Masterpiece", as well as "Life Is a Carnival", "The River Hymn" and the Van Morrison collaboration "4% Pantomime". 'Moondog Matinee'(1973) is an eclectic covers album containing versions of originals by Sam Cooke, Chuck Berry and Leiber & Stoller amongst others. 'Northern Lights - Southern Cross'(1975) is a mixed bag, but does include some of The Band's finest recordings, most notably "Acadian Driftwood" and "It Makes No Difference". The Bands final studio album 'Islands'(1977) is probably the least rewarding in the groups cannon, with an apt title, as this is the sound of a group breaking up, not the coherent family heard on previous releases.

MP3: The Band - All La Glory
MP3: The Band - It Makes No Difference

The Band on Myspace
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Monday, April 20, 2009

Gene Clark

There are so many gaps in music I love and things I have never posted on, so I figure I am going to make a concerted effort to plug those gaps.. starting with Gene Clark.

Aside from being a founder member of The Byrds, Gene Clark was a prolific songwriter and singer with an amazing catalog of work, as well as being a pioneer of the country rock sound.

As part of The Byrds he contributed songs including "Set You Free This Time", "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better" and "Eight Miles High". After releasing his first solo album, 'Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers' (1967), Clark got together with banjo player Doug Dillard for two pioneering country rock albums 'The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark' and 'Through the Morning Through the Night'. For me, Clarks masterpiece is 1971's 'White Light' a largely introspective affair, this is the record where Clark is most consistently on his game in terms of the quality of the songwriting. Also worth checking out is 1974's 'No Other', but maybe the best place to start for newcomes to Clark's work is the brilliant career spanning anthology 'Flying High'.

MP3: Gene Clark - With Tomorrow
MP3: Dillard & Clark - Don't Let Me Down (Beatles Cover)

Gene Clark on Myspace
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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Quiet Bears

Quiet Bears is the songwriting/recording project of Johnnie Cluney from Iowa, who since 2002 has led an ever rotating lineup in producing a number of limited lo-fi, home recorded cassette and cd-r releases.

I forgot how much I liked this band, but was reminded to go back and listen to some of their stuff with news of a new release. As the label blurb goes: During a 2007 tour, Doby Watson stopped in Davenport, IA to play a show. That night he stayed at the Quiet Bears home, and at seven the following morning, they, along with A.P. Swearengin and Johnnie’s friend Mark, began to jam into a four track machine in the basement.

The resulting recordings are available on a new EP called 'God/Fate' available now from Orchid Collective for a nominal donation.

MP3: Quiet Bears - Walking In The Rain
MP3: Quiet Bears - Bluejaybody
MP3: Quiet Bears - Creatures (Courtesy Of Asaurus Records)

Quiet Bears on Myspace
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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Women & Children

With so much music constantly available all the time, I find I am increasingly acquiring music and then moving on to something else before I have paid much, if any, attention to what I have just acquired. Well, sometimes the forgotten music fights back and keeps rearing its head until I pay attention. This just happened with me for Women & Children. I must have got their record 'Paralyzed Dance, Tonight' on emusic about two years ago. I guess I would have lazily listened to a couple of tracks, probably been perturbed by the varied approach from one track to the next and moved on to something else.

Then a couple of weeks ago the track "Rolly Fingers" came on my ipod and I found myself listening to it on repeat, eventually going back to the album, which had been sitting dormant for two years and I am really happy I did, for it is a record of great depth and varying textures that really rewards upon repeat listens.

Women & Children formed in Paris in 2001 when Canadian-born keyboardist Cheryl June Serwa and California-born guitarist Kevin Lasting got together with multi-instrumentalist Jamie Moon and drummer Olivier Robert. The band began will all members contributing to the writing collaboratively and switching vocal and instrumental roles. A self titled album appeared in 2003, followed by completely different self-titled limited-edition, embossed wooden box release which contained two 10" vinyl EPs and a live performance DVD.

Around 2006 Women & Children reverted to being a two piece with Serwa and Lasting remaining and recording their second album, 'Paralyzed Dance, Tonight'. I'm not particularly partial to comparing one band with other bands, but if pushed I guess i'd describe the sound of Women & Children as the softer side of Velvet Underground & Nico playing in the woods with Robert Wyatt, joined by a hazier, mellower Comus.

Women & Children have recently toured with both Brighblack Morning Light and Sean Lennon and have "many songs that we plan to record , or put out in the near future".

MP3: Women & Children - Rolly Fingers
MP3: Women & Children - A Bigger Graveyard

Women & Children on Myspace
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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Viking Moses

Viking Moses was started by Brendon Massei in 2003 and has spent it's life accommodating a rotating cast of musicians worldwide, releasing two full length albums along the way 'Crosses' in 2006 (a split LP also containing Spencer Kingman's 'Spenking') and 2008's 'The Parts That Showed'.

Viking Moses first came to prominence after appearing on Devendra Banhart's highly influential 2004 'The Golden Apples Of The Sun' compilation. After a series of 7" and cassette releases plus the odd compilation track, 'Crosses' sealed the deal and Viking Moses delivered on the early promise they had shown.

Presented as a "story-song cycle" 'Crosses', is a subtle yet accomplished piece of work, and one of the most underrated releases from the crop of American folk musicians who appeared on the aforementioned 'Golden Apples..' compilation. Containing little more than softly picked nylon-string acoustic guitar, bass, and the occasional piano, it is Massei's sleepy baritone and understated, almost childlike, but completely accomplished songwriting that make this record stand head and shoulders above many of it's peers.

'The Parts That Showed' was a welcome addition to the Viking Moses catalog. Recorded on the Oldham family farm in central Kentucky by Paul Oldham and written with "the dream that it might one day be sung by Dolly Parton", the album follows the somewhat unconventional narrative featuring a teenage prostitute and the man who obsesses over her from afar. Viking Moses will be touring the UK in May.

MP3: Viking Moses - Crosses
MP3: Viking Moses - And Then You Left

Viking Moses on Myspace
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Friday, April 03, 2009


Thanksgiving is the quiet folk alter ego of Adrian Orange, a musician from America's North West who has, since his teens, been part of a tight knit music community that includes Phil Elverum (The Microphones, Mount Eerie), Kyle Field (Little Wings) and Calvin Johnson.

Orange started young, playing his first show at the age of 11 and by the age of 15, he had toured Europe and dropped out of high school to pursue music full time. He co-founded the brilliant label Marriage Records with his Watery Graves band-mate Curtis Knapp in late 2002, producing the labels first release, a CD-R titled 'Nothing'. Since then he has released numerous albums and singles under the name Thanksgiving including the fantastic Phil Elverum produced long player 'Welcome Nowhere'.

2006 saw the first releases under the moniker Adrian Orange and he has since recorded and toured under various names including Adrian Orange & Her Band, Lyllyy's Adrian Orange, Drone Boner and more recently has recorded an experimental electronic hip-hop album under the moniker AOK.

MP3: Thanksgiving - Days of Hiding
MP3: Thanksgiving - Thanksgiving
MP3: Thanksgiving - Welcome

Thanksgiving on Myspace
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Thursday, April 02, 2009


2008 was not the best of years for James Jackson Toth. During a tour set up to promote the release of Toth's studio album 'Waiting In Vain', things began to rapidly fall apart, first his whole band, which included his wife and partner of ten years, Jessica Toth, up and split, leaving Toth to finish the tour on his own. During the remainder of the tour, left with a lot of time alone, Toth set about exploring his daemons. Perhaps over celebrating his his 30th birthday, he was arrested for a driving-related incident and subsequently spent the evening in jail. By the end of the tour he had also split with both his manager and record label.

However, this extreme period in his life also produced an intense writing period, and by the end of 2008 Toth had written and recorded over 50 new songs. Perhaps the most personal, but certainly the most direct album of his career, 'Born Bad' is the first collection of material released from this period. Released under the name Wand, the record has been put out in association with the People In A Position To Know label as a limited colored vinyl release, complete with lyric sheet and hand-screened covers.

'Born Bad' sounds like a rebirth, there is a clarity in this record that has not been as acutely evident on his previous efforts both as Wooden Wand and James Jackson Toth. The recordings are uncluttered and the song-writing focused. 'Born Bad' is most certainly a triumph in the face of adversity.

2009 is set to be a busy year for Toth. He is currently in the process of recording another new album (provisionally titled 'Remembrance Of Things Trashed') with a new band (un-provisionally titled The Jescos). You can follow his progress here: Before this, Ecstatic Peace is set to release 'Hard Knox or Are You Sure Hank Jr Done It This Way?' on May 26th, a collection of Wooden Wand demos and home recordings made between October 2002 and January of 2007.

MP3: Wand - Shaving Cold
MP3: Wand - Agent Of Destruction

James Jackson Toth on Myspace
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Previously on SOTR: James Jackson Toth

Kurt Vile

Photo by Sarah McKay

On constant rotation on my stereo this week has been 'God Is Saying This To You' a 12" mini-lp by Kurt Vile (out on Mexican Summer Records), a compilation of tracks from 'Overnite KV', a tour-only CDR made in conjunction with a European tour of Vile's other project The War on Drugs, along with a handful of extra tracks recorded specifically for this release.

Less uptempo than both his solo debut album 'Constant Hitmaker' and his work with The War on Drugs, 'God Is Saying This To You' presents Vile as a skilled, highly individual singer/songwriter mixing elements of subtle psychedelia, bluesy guitar and organic lo-fi sonic experimentation; part Jandek, part Devendra, part Panda Bear, entirely fresh and entirely original.

MP3: Kurt Vile - Beach On The Moon (Recycled Lyrics)
MP3: Kurt Vile - Red Apples

Kurt Vile on Myspace
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Matching Mole

Another post in the continuing list of songs that I find myself becoming obsessed with. This time the song is "O Caroline" by Matching Mole.

Matching Mole was a prog rock band from the famous 'Canterbury scene' that spawned such bands as Soft Machine, Caravan, Comus and Gong.

The band was formed by Robert Wyatt in 1971 after he had left Soft Machine. Wyatt took on the role of vocals and drums and was joined by David Sinclair (Caravan) on organ and piano, Phil Miller on guitar and Bill MacCormick on bass. The name Matching Mole was chosen as it was a pun on Machine Molle, the French translation of the name Soft Machine.

"O Caroline" is taken from the bands eponymous first album and was composed by Dave Sinclair with lyrics by Wyatt about his recent breakup with girlfriend Caroline Coon and is a tender piano based love song laced with mellotron and organ layers that form a fuzzy, warm background to Wyatt's fragile vocal. Dig!

MP3: Matching Mole - O Caroline

Matching Mole on Myspace
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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Iron & Wine: The Shepherd's Dog Acousitc has eight acoustic versions of songs from The Shepherd's Dog from 2007 available to download for free. It sounds great. As a fan of their earlier work, I kind of prefer these versions in many ways to those that ended up on the final record. There is a taster below, or go here for the whole thing. Click here to see the artwork for the forthcoming rarities compilation 'Around the Well'.

MP3: Iron & Wine - Flightless Bird, American Mouth (Acoustic Version)

Iron & Wine on Myspace
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Previously on SOTR: Iron & Wine
Previously on SOTR: Nick Drake Covers