The Adam Ezra Group is celebrating the release of Volume 2 of the Better than Bootleg series with a show at The Sinclair in Cambridge, MA on January 2. Like its predecessor, Better than Bootleg, Vol 2 is a live recording, but while all the songs on Volume 1 came from one single performance, the recordings on this collection are taken from different shows. (Cl
In an interview conducted on December 13, Adam Ezra explained that it is not a live album” in the usual sense, documenting a single concert from beginning to end. Rather the collection represents the band’s ongoing experiments at finding the best way to engineer recordings that “translate the energy from our live shows into a recording.” I quite like the approach taken to this collection. A live recording of a show on a single night is documentation of that specific night’s, but this approach feels more representative of the band’s live shows in general. It mixes things up. The tracks include performances of some of the bands best known songs such as “Burn Brightly” and “Steal Your Daughter,” one cover of James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James,” as well as some of the newest songs in the band’s repertoire. (Click here to jump to a video of “Hippy Girl,” another song from the album.)
One song on Volume 2, “Steal Your Daughter,” also appears on BTB Volume 1. I asked Adam about the choice to include it again here. “We’ve added two people to our line up since the last version was recorded,” Francis Hickey and Corinna Smith. He pointed out that because the fiddle figures so prominently on the track, the recording on Volume 2 is very different.
Listening to the two versions highlights one of the most exciting things about the Adam Ezra Group, a trait they share with all the really great live bands, that they are constantly evolving and changing. One of the certainties of an Adam Ezra show is that every night is intentionally unique. “We never have a fixed plan when we get on stage,” and there’s a fair amount of improvisation and interaction. You might think that would make choosing just 13 performances of songs for Better than Bootleg Vol. 2 quite a challenge, but Adam says that the knowledge that the Bootleg series is ongoing helps. “We know we can use the song later.” Indeed, Volume 3 is already in preparation and includes some new tracks, as well as some recordings from a solo show by Adam.
Also already in the works are a new studio album and a film soundtrack. They’re working with American Authors producers Shep Goodman and Aaron Accetta on the album, which is coming along slowly due to conflicts between the band’s 200+ show a year touring schedule and how busy the producers” are. Adam shrugs off such delays in the project, indicating he’s willing to “let it unfold” in due time. He is also working on the soundtrack for movie, The Folk Hero and the Funny Guy, for which Adam Ezra will provide some music, and other songs will be sung by characters in the film. This includes his first song, written on the farm in Canada, “The Boy.”
Adam Ezra grew up in a musical household. His mother is a folksinger and a music educator, who directs intergenerational and children’s choruses in the Boston area. Adam recounted with a smile how she put him on stage to sing as a boy. Nonetheless, he didn’t pursue a career in music until after college, and some world travel. He says that once he got to high school sports were more cool, and he was all about Lacrosse. He did play drums in high school, but states “I was a really bad drummer.”
According to his bio, Adam’s travels took him to Venezuela, South Africa, and Canada. He was seeking to “embrace the world,” and in 2002, after releasing his self-titled solo album, even went to Kosovo to help with relief efforts. It was during his travels that he taught himself guitar and working on a farm in Canada that began to write songs in earnest. Some travelers return to their rooms and the end of the day and keep a diary, Adam told me, “songs where my of processing things.”
He started out as a solo musician, releasing his self-titled debut in 2000. The band has formed “organically” out of the Boston music scene over the years. The roots of the Adam Ezra Group’s sound are not easily pinned down by listening to their sound, but when I asked Adam about his musical influences, his response did confirm eclectic influences. “Growing up with a mother who was a folk singer, I heard a lot of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel.” Later I heard bands like Led Zeppelin and my brain exploded.” He was also impressed by the “improvisational” bands like the Grateful Dead, Phish, the Black Crowes, The Allman Brothers, where it was different every night.
I didn’t ask Adam if he heard any music on his travels that influences the sound of the Adam Ezra Group today, but I suspect so. You can hear it in the music. Maybe it’s also the hand drumming of percussionist Turtle, but AEG has a bit of a World Music vibe to its sound at times. Certainly band members also cite a variety of influences. Violinist Corinna Smith cites Alison Krauss and Stuart Duncan, bassist Francis Hickey studied with Jazz artists, keyboardist Josh Gold has played in soul and funk ensembles.
In a genre-driven music business, Adam admits that such eclecticism in their music, may be one factor that prevents the band from achieving greater commercial success. So, too, might be their activism and songs about social justice. “At the same time, that’s what connects us so powerfully to our fans.” It’s certainly not something he’s considering pulling back on.
AEG has an explicit commitment to activism and many of their songs address social issues. “Music connects me to the rest of the world. One of my favorite things about a concert is watching all these disparate people come together from various places,” and enjoying a concert together. “Being connected to the world inspires me,” he says.
In fact the “Better than Bootleg, Vol. 2” Release Show on January 2 will also include a Holiday Gift Drive for Veteran Families. It also promises to be a great show. According to Adam, “One of the best things about releasing an album is that you get to do a big show like this for the hometown.” He admitted that when The Sinclair called and asked them to play on Friday, January 2, they weren’t sure how they felt about a date so close to New Year’s Eve, especially since they’re playing a New Year’s Eve Bash of their own in New Hampshire. Ultimately they decided that it is a great venue and would be an opportunity they to “pull out all the stops” doing a special show for the hometown crowd in Boston!
I’ll be there. They put on a great show, and I am not the only one to say so. Check out the reviews. Admittedly I’ve only seen them live 4-5 times, but it seems to me they consistently leave it all on stage, so if they’re pulling out all the stops on January 2, it’s a must see.
NOTE: If you’re not in the Boston area, upcoming dates are taking them to Alabama, Maine, Colorado, Montana, and Georgia and more. See all the dates here.