musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Month: December 2013

My Musical Highlights of 2013

(clockwise from upper left): A blessing to see all my favorites this year - The Henry Clay People, The Happy Hollows, Malcolm Sosa's 123Death and The Airborne Toxic Event

(clockwise from upper left): A blessing to see all my favorites this year - The Henry Clay People, The Happy Hollows, Malcolm Sosa's 123Death and The Airborne Toxic Event

I’ll be honest — 2013 was a bitch of an “all work and no play” year, but the times I did get to cut loose with some fine music were pretty spectacular. There were a few really nice festivals (not a format I’m typically fond of), an intimate backyard deck show in Echo Park and the swan song of a beloved L.A. band. What might have lacked in quantity was well compensated in quality. Due to my work circumstances, I had to select carefully, so what you’ll find here are mostly old favorites. As the year winds down, it does so on a rather ominous note, and I’m not entirely certain what the future holds. Ok, no one is ever certain; I’m especially not certain. If there’s anything in a musical vein that I hope for in 2014, it’s that however my life changes, it does so in a way that I can experience a wider range of musical delights in the new year. For a comprehensive overview of top recordings released in 2013, visit Ryan’s Smashing Life for his ’50 Best Albums of 2013.’ Meanwhile, here are six of my personal live performance highlights, in chronological order.

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Eastside L.A. Update: Black Hi-Lighter’s recent single and podcasts – have a look & listen!

Echo Park Rising - The Echo, Los Angeles, 8/17/13

Echo Park Rising - The Echo, Los Angeles, 8/17/13

Yes indeed, it’s high time we checked into our favorite Los Angeles bands and see what everyone’s been up to and has coming up, in these final days of 2013. We begin with the glam rock fun of Black Hi-Lighter, whom I had the great pleasure of seeing in person back in August during Echo Park Rising. They released a new single, NU4NYC, back in November and were recently featured in a few podcasts — Straight To Your Head (in the UK) and the first podcast from new label Phaedra Records.

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A Tom Waits Christmas

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In the aftermath, who among us notices?

It was early evening as she made her way slowly across the Massachusetts Turnpike, an an uneven and halting pace after the long holiday weekend. There was an edgy aggressiveness of harried, anxious motorists eager to get home from stressful family obligations. This unholy angst rose up from the dark pavement like a thousand jagged-edged knives cutting. Hostile Boston-bound drivers are nothing new, but this was worse than usual, she thought. The surly ones darted in between those more frightened and cautious, resulting in a dangerous dance, a bubbling cauldron.

She stayed in the middle lane, steady and watchful though the tedious start/stop motion had caused her restless mind to wander. The pace had quickened somewhat and traveling now at about 30 miles per hour, it was nearly too late when she saw the stopped line of cars in the left lane just ahead. A car darted out manically ahead of her from the left, unaware. Instinct took over, which caused her to veer wildly to the right as she saw out of the corner of her eye the crash, and heard metal on metal.

So close to disaster, she felt the debris hit the side of her car. She kept driving with her eyes riveted straight ahead, unhurt but not untouched, her thoughts back at the site of the crash, in the aftermath.

In her mind’s eye, even as SUVs moved past her, uncaring and unseeing, like a heartless robot battalion, she saw twisted metal and injuries, frightened children and families who faced an all-night ordeal, who would not be warm in their beds for hours, if at all. But for a second earlier, an inch this way or that, she would be there with them in their shock and fear. It all felt like haphazard chance. Who gets caught up in the twisted metal, and who gets to cruise by unscathed?

As she tried to calm her rattled nerves, she thought of one particular SUV she saw zooming past haughtily. She imagined its driver and occupants, an upper middle-class family, shielded in their armored vehicle, secure in their certainty, protective and insular. They watch their sanitized version of the news, make the requisite donations to charities at Christmas time, and consider themselves to be enlightened and well-informed. But did they stop on that darkened stretch of highway to be of assistance? She didn’t stop either, and the thought made her feel ashamed.

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Tinariwen returning in 2014 with a new album (Emmaar) and tour!

©Marie Planeille

©Marie Planeille

How wonderful to see that the hypnotic, “old soul” guitar-driven magic of Tinariwen will once again grace our shores. They have a new album called Emmaar coming out February 11, with a North American tour planned for February and March. This new release will be the follow-up to their Grammy award-winning 2011 album Tassili, which was recorded in a tent in the Algerian desert. This time around, due to continuing political tensions and instability in their homeland of Mali, they recorded in a home studio located in a U.S. desert — Joshua Tree, California. The music features their trademark powerful electric guitar sound and traditional drumming, and was recorded in a natural live setting, with all the musicians performing in one room together. The recording features original members from the group’s beginnings in the 1980s (vocalists and guitarists Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, and Alhassane Ag Touhami) and newer members from the 1990s (multi-instrumentalist Eyadou Ag Leche, guitarist Elaga Ag Hamid, and percussionist Said Ag Ayad). They also invited some American artists to join them — Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, Matt Sweeney from Chavez, Nashville fiddler Fats Kaplin, and poet Saul Williams. Good heavens. I can’t wait to hear this. For now, here’s a small taste — the official video for “Toumast Tincha.”

To help with the costs of touring, Tinariwen have a crowdsourcing campaign at Microcultures. Donate some funds and support their amazing music and their vision. In return, there’s all sorts of great items such as the upcoming CD, vinyl, autographs, show tickets and t-shirts, all the way up to an autographed guitar or an acoustic performance in your home! Give what you can. The France-based Microcultures is “an indie production company that offers preorders and subscriptions in order to fund creative projects, pays artists better, and deliver awesome rewards.”

I can’t recommend Tinariwen’s music and live show highly enough. I had the great honor of seeing these stellar musicians the last time they were at the Paradise Rock Club, and they were absolutely astonishing. The Boston show is again at the Paradise on Tuesday, March 25. See their official site for all the tour dates. To read about this group’s fascinating history, see the article I wrote about them last year.

web | facebook | twitter | youtube | Preorder Emmaar

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Sarah Rabdau and Sophia Cacciola Take on Shakespears Sister

Two of Boston’s “leading ladies,” Sarah Rabdau and Sophia Cacciola (of Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling), have teamed up for a passionate and hilarious remake of the 1990s classic “Stay” by Shakespears Sister. Not only is the cover itself spot-on (and seemingly made for these two), but the video… Have a look at Sarah and Sophia’s version and the original below. Campy magnificence.

Other Sarah Rabdau and Self-Employed Assassins news: their new album “Free As Thieves” can be heard (and purchased) on bandcamp, and they recently covered fellow Boston Band Dead Cats Dead Rats’ song, “No God In Massachusetts,” which can be heard here. Sarah also joined Lifestyle for a Thomas Dolby cover of “Cruel”. As for Sophia, I believe her next appearance may well be with the Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library on January 13 for the Encyclopedia Show at the Davis Square Theater. What with DFMOMD, the MJEML, Darling Pet Munkee and Space Balloons, it’s tough to keep up, but you can visit her official site and add yourself to the mailing list.

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On Escaping A Personal History

She was fearful of whatever it was that the future held. The familiar confines of her childhood room, this comfortable prison, kept her immersed in a kind of cold comfort. There were warring factions inside — a restless spirit and indefinable dissatisfaction on a low boil, with the tattered clothes of her past around her, her history, which she loathed but from which she was loath to escape.

The impatient snapping of fingers drew her attention to the situation’s importance, and to the cruel passage of time. Rust and mold from the ages grew all around, vines intertwining, and the overwhelming temptation was to hide in the weeds — or to run. But to run from a shadow is a pointless and exhausting exercise.

In a clear mirrored lake she bore witness to her life in parallel, but was powerless to help. The only solution was right in front of her, in her own toils, if only for the courage to face them.

A string of paper dolls without physical substance though enduring and strong as a singular iron soul joined hands in solidarity as her elite guard.

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Introducing… Saintseneca

Saintseneca came together in Columbus, Ohio, but their spiritual home is rural Appalachia. Their debut EP was released in October of 2012, and they have their debut album, Dark Arc, coming out on April 1. The band features multi-instrumentalist Zac Little and their sound includes violin, mandolin, dulcimer, Turkish Baglama and floor percussion, in addition to the more “traditional” electric guitars and synths. Their harmonies are exuberant and uplifting.

This is old soul music. Have a listen. Their latest offering is a new video for the song “Visions,” an off-kilter family home movie with poetic, haunting imagery — “I was always fond of the notion / I was drenched in some spirit ocean / And all my visions merely the symptom of eyes open so wide / That I could peer into the other side.” They previously released the first 7″, “Uppercutter,” and are touring in January and all through March. Their local Boston show is at Great Scott in Allston on January 16, 2014. See their full schedule of tour dates.

web | facebook | twitter | bandcamp | youtube | ANTI-

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The Parkington Sisters ~ December In The Pines

If this isn’t December in New England music, I don’t know what is. “In The Pines” is a Southern Appalachian murder ballad dating back to the mid-19th century. The Parkington Sisters hail from the the mysterious and artsy spirit town of Wellfleet, which seems perfectly fitting for this song.

How did I not know about these sweet ladies? Their Inside My Head EP is a lovely acoustic bouquet of strings (guitar and fiddle), piano and gorgeous close-knit vocal harmonies, the kind which you only get from blood siblings, so I’m guessing they really are sisters. They’ve performed with artists as diverse as Bruce Springsteen, Mavis Staples and Dropkick Murphys. Their new album will be released Spring 2014.

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Introducing (to myself only, apparently)… He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister

It’s a swingin’ gypsy jamboree for the dark times, and it would seem that, as usual, I’m late to the party. He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister are five merry pranksters from Los Angeles. The band features a tap-dancing drummer, upright bass and lap slide players, and the brother and sister duo of Robert and Rachel Kolar, for a vintage albeit magic mushroom-laced Americana folk feel. Since 2010, they’ve toured nationally with bands such as Alabama Shakes, Jack White, The Black Keys, The Civil Wars and Local Natives, and last summer in the UK with kindred spirits Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. Their debut album, Nobody Dances In This Town, was released in October of 2012 on Park The Van Records, and they’ve performed at Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo, Firefly and other festivals.

They recently finished a tour and are now back at home in L.A. working on new music.

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