Prince and the Soundtrack of My Life

Prince at Coachella.

Prince at Coachella.

It was my best friend from the neighborhood who first introduced me to Prince. Hanging out at his house one day, he played one of the earliest albums, either Controversy of the self-titled debut album. At that time, I was a good Catholic school boy trying to fit in, and Prince was kind of out there for me, with his erotic lyrics and a reputation for performing in underwear. I don’t remember my reaction as I listened to the songs with my friend, but my determination not to like this man’s music did not last long. Those songs stuck with me, echoing in my head.

Prince kept churning out great music, scoring bigger and bigger sales. Soon enough, even the suburban prep-school kids whose opinions I was too concerned about, were also listening.  It would be hard Continue reading

The Parlor Sessions Profile: Eliot Bronson

FB_profiles_Eliot-1Today we continue our series of profiles on the artists of the Parlor Sessions Tour with Eliot Bronson who was born in Baltimore where The Sun called him a “folk singing wunderkind.” The year after earning that praise he moved to Atlanta where he’s also earned similar praise from the press and built a sizable following.  He formed the duo The Brilliant Inventions which won a number of awards and built a sizable regional following until 2010 when his partner decided to pursue a career in photography.

For his part, Eliot continued his music career, releasing a solo album, Blackbirds in 2011, and an album called Milwaukee with his band the Yonder Orphans in 2012. He continues to receive accolades for his work, including first place in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest (http://www.merlefest.org), an award whose laureates include Gillian Welch, Johnny Williams, and Tift Merritt.
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Concert Gallery: Nickel Creek and The Secret Sisters

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This gallery contains 48 photos.

On May 1 the Boston show of a long awaited reunion tour of Nickel Creek at the House of Blues and The Secret Sisters opened.  It’s not my intention to review the show, but I’d like to make three quick … Continue reading

Concert Gallery: Bettye LaVette and Jesse Dee at Johnny D’s; February 4, 2014

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This gallery contains 27 photos.

I’d been wanting to see Bettye LaVette in concert ever since I happened to catch the broadcast of her concert on Austin City Limits back in 2008. She blew me away, especially the performances of the song “Choices‘” by Billy … Continue reading

Music, My Education, and Amnesty International

Conspiracy of Hope Poster

Conspiracy of Hope Poster

I’m watching the DVD of the “A Conspiracy of Hope” Concert in Giant’s Stadium in 1986. The all-day concert was the last in a ten-day series to raise money for and awareness of the work done by Amnesty International, and it featured folk acts Joan Baez and Peter, Paul, and Mary; Jazz artists artists like Mary Joni Mitchell, the Neville Brothers and Miles Davis; Latin and World Music stars like Ruben Blades, Carlos Santana and Fela Kuti; and some of the biggest artists of the day like Lou Reed, U2 and the Police. One of the highlights for me is Peter Gabriel’s performance of “Biko”, an powerful song that tells the story of a South African anti-apartheid activist who died in detention in 1977.

That song moved me so deeply I had to find out more. Continue reading

Interview: Will Dailey on National Throat

will daileyBoston-based independent recording artist Will Dailey‘s advice to aspiring singer-songwriters is to seek out experiences that you can call on in your work, and “listen, not just to music, but to everything around you.” It seems to have worked for him. He grew up surrounded by music from across the spectrum from Classical to Folk and says it all left an imprint. He exercises the the songwriter’s prerogative to call on whatever styles of influences seem appropriate for the song. The result is songs that are rich and complex, gathered into albums that are varied and full of surprises, refusing to be constrained by the conventions of a narrow style of genre.

Will Dailey and Bleu duet during the last show on the PledgeMusic Tour

Will Dailey and Bleu duet during the last show on the PledgeMusic Tour

A hard working and prolific artist, Dailey has done well for himself since his first self-produced release in 2004, GoodbyeRedBullet, in spite of being repeatedly knocked around by the vicissitudes of a recording industry struggling to come to terms with the digital age. He’s released 4 albums to date, 5 if you count Torrent Volume 1 and 2 separately. Collectively they reveal a songwriter with mastery over a wide variety of styles, and an interest in exploring a wide musical pallet. And while each album has it’s own distinctive feel, each is also a a musical buffet of sorts, with varying musical styles juxtaposed and hidden gems to discover.
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Cory Branan, The Middle East, and Feeling Better Than It Should

Cory Branan @ The Middle East

Cory Branan @ The Middle East

Cory Branan makes Mutt Music! That may sound like a lame insult I’ve just invented, but it’s actually the term he’s been using to describe his music for some time, and it’s what he alluded to in titling his most recent album Mutt. He proudly owns the hybrid, eclectic styles of music it contains, and well he should.  He shifts and combines styles seamlessly.  It’s brilliant. His musical style was one of the topics of conversation when I interviewed him before his set at the Middle East Downstairs on July 21st.
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Tim Barry on Why He Doesn’t Want to Be a Rock Star, His Secret City, His First Song and More

At the Middle East, July 21st

Among the crowd at the Middle East, July 21st

When I asked Tim Barry how he would classify the style of music he plays, he told me, “I just say it’s Rock & Roll with an acoustic guitar.” I’ll buy that.  I know that his solo set during the show at the Middle East Downstairs on Sunday, July 21st   reminded me of what rock and roll is really about as much or more than did any of the sets by artists with full bands and electric instruments.  He had the nervous energy and desire to please that an aspiring artist might bring to an important audition, yet he was confident and a consummate performer.  He established a rapport with the audience that made it seem like he leading a sing along with a bunch of friends at a pub. This was especially true when he took the microphone stand from the stage and put in on the floor in front so he could sing in the midst of the crowd. This was a guy who was working his ass off to put on a great show, but having a great time at it. He told stories and philosophized, but mostly he played his heart out, and the crowd ate it up.

As he recounted in the post Musicians Egos and…, he had been largely responsible for bringing the show together, and several acts expressed their appreciation to “nice guy” Tim, either from the stage of when I talked to them later.  It was a Sunday night show that certainly didn’t feel like it was happening on a Sunday night! I’ll have more to say about the other acts in later posts, but for now let me tell you about Tim Barry, and incredibly exciting artist I had the good fortune to interview on June 17 by phone from his home in Richmond, four days before the show in Cambridge.

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Saint Paul de what? Even If You Can’t Pronounce the Name of this Seattle Band, You Want Them On Your Playlist

St. Paul de Vence are, from left to right: Mike Sievers, Kale Lotton, Jonny Gundersen, Lydia Ramsey, Benjamin Doerr & Alex Malloy.

St. Paul de Vence are, from left to right: Mike Sievers, Kale Lotton, Jonny Gundersen, Lydia Ramsey, Benjamin Doerr & Alex Malloy.

If you’re a musician and someone asks you to write their story, there’s probably a good chance that it’s going to come out in song. That’s precisely what happened when Seattle-based musician Benjamin Doerr set out to write the stories he collected from his grandfather who had come of age in France under the German occupation of World War II, then joined the Free French to fight for the liberation of his country. Though the stories may still find themselves into print in some form someday, Doerr found they initially came out as songs. Eventually those songs evolved into a band and a self-titled 11-song album, St. Paul de Vence, named after a town in Southwest France where Ben’s grandfather was stationed for a time.

Now if you’re yawning and thinking who cares about something that happened decades ago and ocean away, well…  I’ll skip the cliche about those who don’t study history, even though it’s true, because the album isn’t a history lesson at all.  It’s a collection of 11 catchy tunes with compelling lyrics that will appeal even if you can barely place France on a map, or didn’t know it was ever at war with Germany.  It’s just even more fascinating with context.  On July 16, I talked to Ben about the project from his home in Seattle about the project, the band, the album, what he’s working on now, and what’s next for St. Paul de Vence.

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Musicians’ Egos and the Six Acts Playing Sunday in Cambridge, Friday in Detroit

June21We all know how musicians are and how tough the music business can be.  Musicians have huge egos and the business is intensely competitive.  Because of these big egos, artists don’t work together well, and when the record companies make them do so, it’s the stuff of big drama. It’s what made last season’s tv drama Nashville a hit, and it’s the reason why we can only have one American Idol or winner of The Voice each season. Yet I hardly ever hear those kinds of stories when I talk to musicians. The kinds of stories I hear much more often are ones like the one Time Barry told me about how the six act show on Sunday, July 21st, Downstairs at the Middle East came about.
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