Part two of three in my band round-up to clear the decks before 2010. I’ll start with a truly astonishing “one-woman-band”, Theresa Andersson, who completely blew me away when I saw a performance she did for Morning Becomes Eclectic. There’s also singer-songwriter Erin McKeown, and Girls in Trouble (a.k.a. Alicia Jo Rabins) whose two years living in Jerusalem inspired her self-titled debut album. From the psychedelic and dreamy Farewell Republic to the bluesy garage punk of the Willowz, and the pop punk/electro of Jessica 6, centering around Nomi Ruiz’s haunting vocals. Oh, and Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers. You just know you’re in for something good with a name like that.
I’m also featuring Sake Of The Song.com, a very cool site where musicians sell their own hand-crafted merchandise to raise money for recording projects. It’s an awesome time to be an indie musician right now, with so many DIY opportunities and a wide-open playing field – it’s a great time to be a fan as well!
multi-instrumentalist and multi-tasker extraordinaire
Originally from Gotland, Sweden and now living in New Orleans, blues/jazz songstress and multi-instrumentalist Theresa Andersson is a mad musical sorcerer, astonishing to watch in action. Her soulful easy-flowing vocals and fairytale-like storytelling would be enough to pique one’s interest, but her intense DIY indie spirit and amazing virtuosity and versatility as a musician completely amazed me. She originally moved to New Orleans to play violin with singer-songwriter Anders Osborne, and has performed and recorded with other New Orleans musicians Allen Toussaint, The Neville Brothers, The Meters, and Betty Harris.
With the production help of Swedish songwriter and recording artist Tobias Fröberg, Theresa recorded her latest release, Hummingbird, Go!, in her kitchen. She played all the instruments herself – violin, percussion, a classical guitar tuned down to act as a bass, and homemade keyboards (soda bottles and wine glasses filled with varying degrees of liquid). The album is heavily inspired by the rich musical history of New Orleans. “Birds Fly Away” includes a sampling from renown drummer Smokey Johnson, and Allen Toussaint performs on the bonus track “Now I Know”. There are Scandinavian influences as well, and Norwegian artist Ane Brun joins her in a duet for “Innan du går”.
Her unique signature “one-woman-band” concept (inspired by Chicago’s Blair Thomas & Company puppet theater) was borne from necessity – how does one replicate the album live, with just one musician? Her answer was to use looping pedals, first starting with just her vocals, guitar and violin, but then wanting to add percussive elements, and this now includes live samplings from records as well. The end result is remarkable performance art – not only is she a compelling and talented musician, but she takes multi-tasking to a new level.
Most recently, Hummingbird Go! charted in the Top 20 in Sweden, she recorded a song with David Byrne, “Ladies in Blue”, for his Fatboy Slim collaboration Here Lies Love, and the above performance was chosen by KCRW’s Jason Bentley as one of his Top 10 Morning Becomes Eclectic Performances (no surprise, that!).
singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, folk-rock, gypsy pop
Erin McKeown has been performing since 1999, releasing her debut Monday Morning Cold on her own TVP Records. Her music crosses genres (rock, folk, pop, electronic), and she’s toured with such artists as Ani DiFranco, the Indigo Girls, Martin Sexton, and Andrew Bird. Her newest album, Hundreds of Lions (released on Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records) has a playful, whimsical, and kind of gypsy quality to it, with lush instrumentation including strings, keyboards, brass and woodwinds, but very tastefully done, with the focus on her seductive and arresting vocals. I often shy away from “big productions” because while I enjoy beautiful music, if there are thoughtful, literary lyrics and compelling vocals, I want to hear them front and center. This recording is near perfect in this regard.
In addition to her own music and contributing to others’ projects as a session musician, Erin also writes essays and poetry, and is involved in activist pursuits (i.e. lobbying for a better energy policy), and teaches songwriting at girls’ rock camps. In 2010, she’ll be performing in the U.K. and Paris, followed by some U.S. appearances starting in February, which seems to include a May 7 show at The Center For Arts In Natick (as in Natick, MA), so I’ll definitely keep an eye out on that.
Girls in Trouble
post-biblical art pop
While I’d like to take credit for the term post-biblical art pop, that’s actually Alicia Jo Rabins’ own description of her music project known as Girls in Trouble. From her MySpace page: “raised on a combination of Baltimore punk shows and classical violin training, and drawing on two years spent studying the Bible in Jerusalem while playing in rock clubs at night, Alicia combines mysticism, a looping pedal, ancient women’s tales and poetry to make beautiful songs about love & leprosy.” Her music is mysterious and both magical and haunting. Violin and accordion, and her flowing, lilting vocals – her debut release, Girls in Trouble (on JDub Records) tells stories of ancient Biblical women.
ambient, artsy, tribal
Ann Arbor-based Farewell Republic just released their Heat/Crimes/Trench Man EP, the follow-up to their Bridges EP, which was recorded by Gus Oberg (The Strokes, Willie Nelson). It’s tribal and relentless, but at the same time dreamy and artsy/ambient. I missed their Dec. 20 “homecoming show” at Harper’s Ferry (drummer Bobby Matson is originally from the Boston area), so I’ll try to make up for that lameness now. They’ve been performing together since 2007, this latest batch of shows being their fifth East Coast tour (they’ve also played in the Midwest). They incorporate strings and horns into this new EP, which was recorded and mixed by Michael Coffman, produced by Farewell Republic members Sivan Jacobovitz and Brian Trahan, and was mastered by Fred Kevorkian (White Stripes, The National) at Avatar Studios in NYC.
Farewell Republic is: Sivan Jacobovitz- guitar, vocals; Ryan Sloan- bass, keys; Bobby Matson- drums; and Brian Trahan- keys, vocals.
artist-made gifts and services
Sake of the Song.com is an awesome new site that features musician-made and/or designed products, proceeds of which help to finance their projects. As site creator Jody Orsborn (When You Awake.com) explains, “This is the first online store that allows fans to simultaneously gift themselves and others while directly supporting the musicians and bands they love.” Described as An Alterna-Merch Site For The Independent Music Community, it’s a beautiful representation of where the music industry has been going in recent times – towards a more direct, symbiotic relationship between artist and audience.
Some of the items and artists featured are: one-of-a-kind art by Iceland’s Sin Fang Bous, jewelry by Los Angeles’ Eagle Winged Palace and astrological readings by New York City’s The Morning Pages. Also included are biographies of the musicians and bands with links to their sites, videos, and a music player.
With the wide range of items, fans of more limited means can also contribute and be an integral part of the creative process – prices range from a handmade book by Uninhabitable Mansions ($8 each) to an original painting by Sin Fang Bous ($270). Other artists include Brooklyn’s Au Revoir Simone, singer-songwriter Langhorn Slim, and Guy Blakeslee of The Entrance Band.
bluesy garage punk
The Willowz just recently released their seventh full-length album, Everyone (Dim Mak Records), since first forming in 2002 in Anaheim, California. Back in 2004, two of their songs were on the soundtrack to the (wonderful) Michel Gondry film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (they also have two songs on the soundtrack for his equally fascinating 2006 film The Science Of Sleep).
Their sound is raw and immediate while at the same time very listenable (as on the title track of the new release). I’ve seen references to The Stooges in their press, and they do have that sort of vibrant energy. Probably a great band to see live; I’ll try not to miss them the next time they come around.
Brooklyn-based Jessica 6 purveys some dark sensuous dance music which centers around Nomi Ruiz’s low seductive vocals, propelled by bassist Andrew Raposo and keyboardist Morgan Wiley. Nomi had released her debut solo album “Lost In Lust” and was touring with Deborah Harry, Antony & The Johnsons and CocoRosie. Morgan and Andrew were on the road with hip hop band Automato. They first met while touring with Hercules and Love Affair. They’ve just released their debut Fun Girls Remix EP, and the “Fun Girls”/”Not Anymore” 7″ single is available at Turntable Lab. “Not Anymore” is especially lovely, highlighting Nomi’s intriguing vocals.
If you happen to be in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve, you can catch them at Otto – Santral. I guess that’s a club?
Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers
jazz, blues, punk-psycho
I’ll end with one of my personal favorites. She slips her beautiful, powerful voice around harmonium and slide guitar in “Beating St. Louis”, and growls Iggy-like in the deliciously twisted cover of “I Only Have Eyes For You”. It’s Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers, and they just released their debut 8-track album, A Fish Hook An Open Eye on Kepler Records back in September, commemorating the occasion with a series of performances (fortunately it’s promised that shows will continue into the new year, though I don’t see a Boston date as of yet). They’re kinda jazzy, definitely bluesy, seriously punk rocking, and unbalanced – in a very good way. They have songs titled “I’m not Frigid… Yet”, “What the Fuck was I Thinking?”, and “Woman Sets Boyfriend on Fire”, so no, this is not something to enter into lightly. To top it off, they come recommended by Nick Cave – and that’s damn high praise indeed.