In November of 2003 at the Knitting Factory, I saw Willy Mason with his brother Sam Mason on drums open for Bright Eyes. He won that audience over, especially me. He casually said at the end of the set “I have like five CD’s in the back, if anyone is interested" I think he recorded them before the show.
I had to see him again and again. Everything about him captured my attention, his guitar playing, informed writing and relaxed and authentic manner. He has a gift for melody. I love how he plays the guitar using strong resonating and alternating bass notes. He adds strumming and picking with interludes of harmonic surprises down the fret. Although he is 21 year old his voice sounds weathered and worn.
While listening to his lyrics, it is evident that he is curious, smart and well read. He exposes social and political hypocrisy as he searches for deeper meaning and understanding of life’s daunting conflicts. He weaves a personal subtext within his songwriting while tackling issues of poverty, war, materialism and hedonism. It is the inference that adds weight and gives the lyrics cerebral edginess. Leaving the listeners brain in overdrive.
I've seen him live eight times in different settings alone, with Nina Violet on viola and with an assortment of players that worked on his freshman CD "Where the Humans Eat". The most recent touring band includes Nina, Sam Mason on drums with Colin Ruel on guitar and Farley Glavin on bass. They just finished an 18 stop tour opening for Radiohead in May and June 2006. I was lucky to see the band play the Living Room on July 21st 2006. The set included all new material with the exception of one song. The melodies, time changes and lyrics were memorable. The band sounded strong and confident. There was something different about Willy. He seemed more determined and serious. This time rather then being discovered, he seemed ready and eager to present his music.
Check out his new site called G-ma's Basement It is a home based online retailer selling local music from the Island of Martha's Vineyard. This includes some of Willy's live sessions with cousin Zak Borden, and past releases of Willy and his talented mother Jemima James.
"Equal parts hobo and Holden Caufield, nineteen-year-old Willy Mason blends precocious lyricism, spare, jangly guitar, and a world-weary voice that sounds older than his years." - Rolling Stone
From New York to Austin / Hop Along Queen Ansleis /The Smiling Folk Queen and Wheatie Mattiasich / The Folk Lore Goddess are doing a winter tour. Knitting Factory (tap room) Illinois, Deertick, Honne Wells and The Feverfew are on the bill. The Feverfew will be traveling down to Richmond. Then the Folk team stop in Athens, Georgia the home of the Wildebeest. They then join Fake Problems for a seven stop tour from Florida to New Orleans. Other bands to play along the way are; Murdock's Revenge, Judy Garland Death Squad, The Ackley's and The Robinsons.
So don't be toast! Get out there and warm the spirit, join the fun and toast the new year listening to fantastic, diverse and original music!!
Starting with “How it Is” the title suggesting just that, but things aren’t that simple. The only thing rich around here is the coffee / and it ain’t that rich. He has burdens to bare because his / back pack / all heavy. This bluesy alt country music works well with throaty vocals. The sound gracefully changes. Trumpets and oboe are a welcome addition in an off beat jazz / blues and eclectic music mix in “Swampy Doors (Golder Lighting)”. The mood gets dark, alone and fearful. / And I am usually standing in dark / lost………… "Wet Dog” employs electric guitar riffs and upbeat drum tempo as Matt and Evan sing / It must be you that's a makin me feel like this wet dog / and belting / cause it ain't rainin so hard……..“Palaces” is a blues acoustic song with outstanding instrumental and vocal tracks that ring with clarity and bite. Literal phrasing like / children fucking on a bare mattress is juxtaposed with personification of architectural reference ……/ duel palaces entwined / drawbridge layed down / dual palaces embrace /stone and holy walls. He ends with an introspective song “Host and Hostage“. The trumpets chime in like a soft echoing choir, the finger picking guitar parts blend and the bassoon blows like a fog horn. The song ending with very faint bells…………
To Order Send $5.00 dollars to
140 standard oils street
Athens Georgia, 30601
A few months back Matt completed a full length recording of 12 songs that he then edited down to ten. The full length is still in transition and the recording will be revisited.
Afternoon show CMJ Fanatic Acoustic at Mo Pitkens November 3rd, 2006 2:15
Sometimes in life you need affirmation. I received just that the other day while listening to an interview on NPR’s show All Things Considered. Chandler Burr an author and columnist for the New York Times was interviewed. He wrote a book about Luca Turin a scientist whose obsession with perfume lead him on a quest to collect perfume from around the world. This insatiable passion guided him to develop a scientific theory, about how humans are able to smell (olfactory processing). In the future, the Nobel Prize might be awarded to this passionate scientist. The book is called The Emperor of Scent: A Story of Obsession, Perfume, and the Last Mystery of the Senses. This was a fascinating and entertaining interview, that you can hear on NPR (archives).
Well I won’t be winning the Nobel Prize, but I did start this little site and people are finding it. One of my first goals was to get people to the site through Google search. The 300 plus people who have found me so far are not related to me. They do however, have an interest in music or in the musicians I write about.
I will conclude by saying, HANG IN THERE.
David Dondero the road wise touring veteran writes songs about his travels touring and the in-between stops along the way. Dondero has supported his life in music, taking on jobs in towns and cities across America. His life is broader than that of a musician who might experience life in a touring bubble. His lifestyle has come with personal sacrifice, but has guided his voice and is reflected in his outstanding songwriting. It is what makes him stand out from so many other songwriters. The cataloging of experiences that few have had and few can tell so sincerely.
He is not fearful of taking on topical subjects like guns, religion and politics and sex. He pens his material like journal entries. Thoughtfully and cleverly and flavored with a little tongue in cheek tone. Like /I was just a tender chicken in the Florida rotisserie - my own sweats basting me...... or / some decisions are incisions - much too late to make revisions - sorry is just a suture...... and his description of his tour van / built in 1973- fossilized technology... his lonesome longings /liquor - come take her place - miss her- make it erase........One of my favorites is his reference to being a convenience store connoisseur, describing the Zagats of highway travel. When I listen to his songs I visualize all the colorful people and places. I am in the song as a spectator and mesmerized by his insightful phrasing, offbeat escapades and vivid descriptions.
The music is in the folk rock tradition but mixed with bluegrass. It is edgy and that's what makes them original sounding and not generic. Just when you think you get it he'll suddenly change the timing with an electric guitar part that's atypical of that style, and it works. He sometimes incorporates banjo, mandolin, drums and horns. Always present in his songs is the finger picking, hammered guitar strings and quivering voice.
I have seen Dondero live four times, twice alone and twice with his talented touring drummer Craig D. I always love seeing him play. It was great to see him energized by an enthusiastic crowd at CMJ Team Love night 2005. He took out his camera to take a picture of the gorgeous audience to send to his mother. He is very endearing. The show was an energetic, high tapping- clapping-stomping show. In an acoustic show at the Knitting Factory tap room in August 2006, a quieter but very determined singer emerged. His guitar broke toward the end of the set. He borrowed a very small guitar from the previous singer. It was a sight to see his 6'2" frame in a small chair overpowering this tiny guitar. Then he sang the most poignant song called the Rothko Chapel singing/ my religion is in nature, art and literature - my religion is in science, music and poetry....... He is presently featuring this demo on his myspace site.
I was thrilled that an NPR host Robin Hilton listed him as one of the 10 best living songwriters. Although I don't generally like lists, I was pleased Dondero received this deserving recognition. One very well written review of Dondero's 2003 release The Transient is by the writer Gary Glander for Pop Matters, captures the essence Dondero the songwriter.
I own his full collection, and didn't want to use this post to review a specific CD. They all have been a personal obsession and I cherish all of them. I am looking forward to his next effort. The demos that he has been featuring on his myspace site have teeth and they bite. The lyrics attack in the political song You Got Love In You. He employs strong and powerful words that remind me of the spirit of early Folk, when words could make a difference.
Check out his Fall tour Dates
The Pity Party 1999
Spider West Myshkin a City Bus 2000
Shooting at the Sun with a Water Gun 2001
The Transient 2003
Live at the Hemlock 2004
South of the South 2005
Great music is being heard. It is thrilling to me to see the change in the way music lovers can hear, find and share music. Musicians now have the opportunity to create careers on their own or with the help of a caring independent label. The tides our changing. There are people all over the world starting sites like this one. Spreading the word about music they love.
Recently I befriended someone that has a Myspace site that strongly states "Let's Make Folk a Threat Again". He is a young man who is passionate about changing the world through music. On his site he hosts bands and singer songwriters that are doing just that. He presents their uTube live performances for all who find his site, to hear and investigate. These great musicians are playing among us on street corners, in basements, garages and small venues. They are being heard by a few but have the potential to be heard by many!
Music fans and bloggers are curating their personal music aesthetic. They are creating their own small communities of like minded listeners. Myspace, uTube, Last.fm and podcasts are vehicles to help bring music forward and expand the audience.
Many of the public radio sites and stations offer some new music, but are gearing there music selection to an older demographic. Their playlists get very similar and end up being mediocre. They are trying to please, but are not challenging their audience. They often play music that has an audience, not music that needs to find one. I miss the truly informed host. I want to hear the history behind the music and find out what was just played. That is why I'm not a big fan of Satellite radio.
In 2004 WillyMason was discovered by Conor Oberst. He opened a few shows for Bright Eyes and was very well received. Shortly after those shows he played SXSW to an audience of four. The audience turned out to be scouts for Zane Lowe Radio1 on the BBC. Their job that night was to find the best band at SXSW. Well they loved Willy Mason and asked him to perform a song on the air. The song was played and requested for months. At that point his first self released EP was available. Eventually he recorded his full length and by the end of 2005 had sold 100,000 CD's in the UK.. Unfortunately, this would never happen here in the States. The corportization of radio and rise of the monopoly the Clear Channel would change radio and music discovery in this country forever.
When I was a teenager in the mid to late sixties radio reached a broader community. Along with hearing bubblegum pop you would also hear Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Supremes and Hendrix all in the same half hour of airtime. Everybody was hearing the same music, and great music had a chance to evolve and change the culture. Today we are a boutique culture. This feels comforting, but creates separation of communities rather than shared experience.
Even though myspace is owned by Rupert Murdock and is weighed down with advertising and over customized sites, it is still free and accessible. I am able to find inspiring music on myspace. It does take time and a discerning ear, but it is there. It has aided bands like the Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah sell large quantities of CD’s by indie standards and fill venues without radio play. Their success is a hopeful sign for other music artists to model.
I am trying to find out about new vehicles that foster music discovery. I am hoping to start a dialogue with this community of music lovers. Maybe you have some suggestions and some answers to questions that would be helpful to other musicians and music fans. Are there radio and Internet radio sites that are innovative and worthwhile? Are there sites that should be avoided? Is CD Baby a good way for independents to sell CD's? In what way do you think all of this will evolve? What's on the horizon that most people are not aware of? Are you willing to share? Together we can make a difference. Freedom to hear music, find music, share music and love music!! Please comment and help move the culture forward.
Langhorne Slim delivers live. I Saw them at Rothko's in January, with a packed house. The group worked the crowd into a frenzy, with just an acoustic guitar, stand up bass and drums. This group has heart, passion and a love of performance that is refreshing and uplifting. I was watching the show with a drummer from a legendary hardcore punk band. At the close of the show he shook Langhorne's hand and said "after seeing this show I will follow you anywhere, man you're awesome."
Their sound is a mixture of folk, hillbilly, scat, bluegrass with the sensibility of punk, especially with the strong percussion team of Paul Defiglia on bass and Malachi DeLorenzo on drums. Mr. Slim's high quivering voice can get very raw, bluesy, gritty, nasty, naughty at times and downright sweet, singing a love song with just a guitar. The other players sing and shout along as momemtum builds. Energy radiates from these three players and a kinetic force is created leaving the audience exhilarated.
Langhorne has physical aspects to his playing that are very charismatic. His head turns from side to side while he pauses and stares to emphasize a word or phrase. He sways high and low with his guitar as he stomps and glides across the stage. Kind of like the artist "Prince" but folk style. There are so many mannerisms that are charming, quirky and great to observe. The other members ham it up as well. The banter during and in-between vocals is not to be missed and is never the same. It is guided by audience feedback, creating an interactive set.
Langhorne Slim's full length CD When The Sun Goes Down (2005) lovingly unites the rousing songs with the beautiful love ballads. It is deserving of all the accolades it has received. The band has toured relentlessly in the last two years, featuring new material. They are in the process of recording a new LP. They have two shows in late August and two in September supporting the Violent Femmes, in New Jersey and Baltimore. For their fall tour they will support
the Two Gallants , tour dates are listed on their myspace site. I hope you get a chance to experience this amazing group!
When The Sun Goes Down LP 2005
Electric Love EP 2004
[PERFORMANCE STATURE OF A VETERAN]
STUNNING SHOW BY HONNE WELLS on Monday night August 14th at Bar 169 in the Lower East Side.
As Honne Wells sat down on a low stool he slowly took off his shoe, placing his foot through a small tambourine. The mic stand was set low. Standing at six foot two inches in a grey suit and wide tie, he slowly began to stomp his foot, placing his hands behind his back. He bent over at a forty degree angle to sing into the mic. His voice is low at the extreme, guttural and startling. The sound resonated, the air thickened with anticipation, and the time period altered to the early beginnings of Blues.
Mr. Wells sat down with his guitar tuned to an irregular E. His glass slide tools laid out in a row. Each used and carefully chosen to vary the intonation of the rugged sliding bass notes. His fingerpicking moved the higher strings to a constant flutter. Five songs in he added whistling to his repertoire. Ending the set with a great cover of Good Night Irene by Lead Better. Standing once again, he sang and paused carefully between verses, leaving his audience speechless.
Honne Wells blends earnest songwriting, conceptual affect with stunning music. Although he is a young man, the level of performance acumen is that of a veteran.
Self-released What the Lead Said
Self-released Mother Pie
"The sound that you hear are the harmonics of sorrow, people have called it folk, blues, gospel; but all it is to me is war." Honne Wells
Hop Along Queen Ansleis is refreshingly original. Her voice has a wide octave range that rises and falls with complete abandon. She never holds back. She tells stories and fills songs with many words and images, and delivers them at machine gun pace. Within a second her voice can suddenly fall to a whisper or a hum only to rise again with veracity that is unprecedented. Usually singers with that range typically work slowly and build to a crescendo, never surprising the listener. To me that is just sappy and easy.
In her full length, Freshman Year she utilizes many instruments to create a sound that is distinctively her own. She incorporates a variety of bells, whistles, shakers, small cymbals, toys and kazoos. The guitar is strummed and beat, hands are clapping and the banjo, organ and keyboards are added into the mix. While all of these instruments work their magic in a folk-like recipe, various voice tracks come in to create a feast.
On a first listen the tracks are so joyous and uplifting that the exceptional writing can be overlooked. She doesn’t rhyme or create verses, choruses or bridges. The writing is atypical with childlike references like the hot air balloon, the rusty trampoline, swollen boats and a sea of concrete. These references pertain to memories of family, friends, roommates, and childhood. She writes childlike dream sequences from an adult perspective, and with scripted and running personal conversations.
In the track “The Cactus” she sings, “I wish somebody’d up and save me, save me, save me” which builds, and the listener wishes to be saved. My favorite line in the song “For Sebastian From A Friend”, which she delivers with conviction, “Your guidance counselor was wrong, Hop Along sing your song“. Advice people get along the way is usually misinformed or clueless. And writing like this, “I ain't no artist, I oughta be the dirt along the ocean floor /so when it drains I'll float to shore / now scathingly I'll throw the paint along my..."
The essence of what you hear on this CD, she can accomplish live without all the instrumentation. In January of this year I saw her at Matchless in Brooklyn. There was a nice showing of her fan base, but the rest of the crowded bar didn't know her. The fans were up close and embracing Frances. She started the set using her guitar as percussion and after she sang the first note everyone moved forward. The bar was silent. People stood on barstools to get a better look. As the set continued, the audience clapped and stomped and sang along appropriately. It is such a joy watching her looking up to recall every word and nuance, smiling from ear to ear and singing to the rafters!!
Freshman year was Hop Along's first effort, which I think is remarkable. She is currently working on another full length. Can't wait!!!
Freshman Year LP
If you’re looking for pretty or easy, don't even bother. If you want to see and hear a music legend develop, you’re in for a ride. Matthew Winn is reserved, and his musical counterpart is the beast within. In his own words, "this is not folk punk, this is serious".
Wildebeest is an exceptional multi-instrumentalist playing guitar, keyboards, accordion and harmonica. His guitar playing and picking style is fast and furious. I can only compare the caliber of his playing to that of M Ward, but different. On his 2005 full-length release Motion and Language, he played all the instruments with the exception of drums.
He is a powerful songwriter, and the music and energy of his impassioned singing style hammer those lyrics to the listener. The voice is raw, it screams for attention, and cries for answers, and sometimes it is soft and tender. The songs tell of his year spent living in Spain. They reflect his reactions to a different culture, his inner reflections, longings for home and familiarity, and his affirmation to take life on-- to change and grow. Although the songs are personal, they are also universal and capture the essence of youthful concerns in a literary mode.
In the opening track, “Wisdom Tooth”, he sings, “I’m getting my last wisdom tooth in now / maybe this will be the one that works” and as the song concludes, “I’ll plant my roots on a wrought iron bench”, repeating that line over and over, declaring a realization. In “Fighting Windmills” he sings to propel himself forward, "I’m gonna manifest some destiny”. The last song of the CD proclaims, “We’re not yet the tired husks of men / Our hands are still young and our fingers need blisters”. He knows he has time to grow, but he feels a sense of urgency. This is just a sampling of the lyrical content, every song has memorable phrasing, and meaningful substance. The words on paper are powerful enough, but hearing them sung so fervently adds additional weight that resonates with his listener.
From beginning to end, this CD works as a whole and seamlessly flows with solo acoustic musing and a full-out band sound. This is not the kind of CD that if you hear just one song you get the gist of its strength. Every track emphasizes different instruments creating a cohesive, but diverse, approach.
For nine months straight I listened to this CD and never got tired of it. Recently I saw Wildebeest at a show and heard him play his new songs, He was mesmerizing. I could barely recognize some of the older songs he played. They were new again, inspired by a more bluesy direction. His voice moans, howls, groans and occasionally yodels. The guitar playing was more subtle. I wasn’t disappointed. I left, saying to myself, I believe I just saw a music legend in the making.
Home and Time EP 2005
Motion and Language LP 2005
Full-length vinyl will be done soon
After listening to Fear Not, Distant Lover, he got to me. It just lingered and I couldn't shake it. Peasant's sound and songwriting quietly haunted me. His songs start out so simply. The beauty lies in the layering of instruments and harmonious vocals that give it depth and add dimension. He coats each song with delicate percussion and combines this with jewel-like guitar riffs. The gentle riffs glide around the song’s melody, creating various combinations without being repetitive. He is a skilled player. To compliment the instrumentation, he overlays his soft tenor vocals employing three-part harmony with words and soft humming. His voice, while being very beautiful, has quirky, unpredictable qualities. That is part of the charm that draws me in. His voice can quiver, gulp, cry and at the right moments in a song, be joyous.
The lyrical content of Fear Not, Distant Lover is smart. The song “Icy Deep” has compelling imagery. In the line, "Something sharp has cut my blood out, there's my blood now, there’s my blood now”, that he cleverly repeats and fades thoughtfully. In the love song, “Yes It’s True”, he juxtaposes "shot in the head with love" to describe loves powerful hold. Besides loves longings and sad songs, he tells stories about Lonnie, a simple craftsman whose craft is obsolete, or of Joanna, a mother that is cherished and remembered after death. He also has a message to convey in the song “Don’t Quit“. To describe the frustration of war and conflict, he writes, "All we are doing is staring at a screen, no one will hear you scream". He continues with, "Take a little time to understand the man who walks beside you". His philosophical and mature writing is not overbearing-- just there to ponder. He is young and wise. Through his music, he has a voice with something to say.
Playing live, Peasant connects with his audience. His love of music is evident, and that sincerity is a pleasure to witness. The show is basic-- a beautiful caring voice with a guitar, at its finest!
While this CD has been his focus since it’s release in 2005, in October of this year he will be pressing a vinyl single with four songs that are presently featured on his Website. These songs will be part of a 14-song full length that he will release in 2007.