musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Category: Indie Music (Page 1 of 69)

Josh Knowles’ weaves violin magic on ‘Spin Without a Sound’

JoshKnowles

Passionately performed music can open up the heart and free the soul. Modern interpretative dance, in all forms, are the ultimate expression of the human form, in all its liberation and limitations. When the two combine in a symbiotic way, what’s created can be something quite extraordinary and deeply moving.

Josh Knowles is a Boston-based contemporary violinist and songwriter, with an impressive CV that includes violinist and arranger for the Boston Ballet; lead vocals, violin shredding and songwriting for Boston folk rock band Nemes; violin, voice and piano teacher at Boston School of Music Arts; co-founder, violinist and arranger for cello/violin duo String Along; teacher, composer and arranger for the Roxbury Youth Orchestra and collaborative work with professional dancers for Cirio Collective, in addition to arrangements for various artists and performances at Berklee College.

Even with all that, Knowles has found time to work on his own solo electric violin compositions, recently releasing Spin Without a Sound (which can also be listened to on Spotify). In this stark, poignant video for “Great Blue World,” his stirring and evocative music is beautifully interpreted in a powerful choreographed dance by former Boston Ballet soloist Sabi Varga.

Spin Without a Sound was inspired by and conceived during a series of marathon performances in the luscious Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum courtyard. The recording seeks to capture the stateliness and beauty of that esteemed, sacred space, so that one might be transported to those special performances. For those concerts, Knowles used a D4 Loop Pedal to create multiple layers of improvised melodies from his violin, creating a constantly changing soundscape. The album was recorded from live sessions that gave the artist even more space to experiment, expanding upon the ideas he first explored at the Gardner Museum. The resulting work is “steeped in nostalgic intimacy.” The recording includes samples from his upbringing, such as audio from vintage home movies, childhood recital performances and answering machine messages from his late grandmother, for compositions that are deeply personal and intimate.

Knowles is currently working on his second solo recording, which will showcase his work as a singer and lyricist in addition to his violin.

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What we leave behind: the importance of organ donation

Still image from official video of Sarah McQuaid’s “Slow Decay”, filmed and directed by Brett Harvey (brettharvey.co.uk).

Still image from official video of Sarah McQuaid’s “Slow Decay”, filmed and directed by Brett Harvey (brettharvey.co.uk).

There’s an amazing story behind this pretty folk song, “Slow Decay,” and its compelling video. Sarah McQuaid, a singer/songwriter, and Brett Harvey, an award-winning filmmaker, teamed up to create a heartwarming short film to raise awareness about organ donation. This sounds very important, but it doesn’t stir the soul — until you watch the video and learn about Bill Conner and his young daughter.

Five months after his daughter Abbey died at the tender age of 20, Bill decided to honor her memory by cycling from his home in Madison, Wisconsin, to Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where Abbey’s organs were recovered for donation. He stopped off in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1,400 miles into his journey, to meet with the 21-year-old man who was the recipient of her heart, after being given just 10 days to live. After a long hug, the man put a stethoscope to his new heart, and Conner was able to hear his daughter’s heartbeat. He was given a recording to bring with him as he continued to spread awareness about the life-saving practice of organ donation.

The body fails / These bones won’t last forever / So I ask myself what are the things we leave behind – “Slow Decay”

In the realm of organ donation, this question touches on both the physical and the spiritual — that is, what do we physically leave behind that others can use, and what do we leave behind as a lasting legacy of our lives? Giving part of ourselves, literally, so that someone else may continue to live is one of the greatest gifts a person can bestow, and it’s an act that conveys tremendous compassion and caring.

If my organs are of use, I hope they find a happy home. – “Break Me Down”

In this line from elsewhere on McQuaid’s album, the meaning is more obvious and literal. In the film, a mother, warmly portrayed by Mary Woodvine (Eastenders, Doc Martin, Casualty, Poldark, Blight, The Lark), takes the long cycle journey, which is delicately intercut with flashbacks of her daughter’s life. After the final frame, links for donatelife.net, organdonor.gov and organdonation.nhs.uk appear, so that viewers can learn more and register to become an organ donor.

McQuaid, Harvey, Conner and all the fine actors in this deeply affecting video are based in Cornwall, England. This short film was a collaborative effort to shine a light on this beautiful act of generosity and shared experience, a quiet but important story that might otherwise have never been told. As Harvey explains, “I was struck by the simple humanity of the act, and the notion that we live on through others after we pass away. I had wanted to tell a version of this story for a while, and as soon as I heard Sarah’s beautiful song I knew it was the right fit.”

Sarah McQuaid - Photo by Phil Nicholls (www.philnicholls.co.uk)

Sarah McQuaid – Photo by Phil Nicholls (www.philnicholls.co.uk)

“Slow Decay” is from McQuaid’s fifth solo album, If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous, which has garnered rave reviews from publications around the world. She’s currently touring in the UK and Ireland, which will be followed by a U.S. tour in September and October.

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Towers and Trees on thinking too much

TowersAndTrees

I’ll be perfectly honest. These guys are way too “peppy” for me. Even their Twitter description as an “earnest indie rock from Victoria B.C.” scares me a little. Earnest? Not first thing in the morning, thank you. But this new song they’ve released, after almost a year’s hiatus, well — let’s just say I can appreciate the sentiment. Especially at this particular moment in my life. I can almost even forgive them for their nauseatingly upbeat and colorful video.

“Head Down / Heart Up” is an anthem for the overthinkers of the world; a reminder and challenge to turn the volume knob in your head down, and let your heart take the wheel every once in a while because it almost always knows where to go.

Overthinker? Me? Ok, maybe that moniker does fit rather snugly. I consider, I analyze, I fret, I second guess — in short, I thoroughly examine just about everything I do. It’s exhausting.

There’s so much noise these days, and so much information coming from every direction, that I think a lot of people identify with this anxiety and ‘analysis paralysis’ from our minds working overtime to try and take everything in and make sense of it all.

Analysis paralysis. Nice. There are certain things that I’ve now accepted I’ll never be able to make sense of, like our current political climate. No, I’m not going there. Take a deep breath, and OMMMMM.

Despite this, almost all of the things that truly matter — family, community, helping others, self-love — these are products of the heart that can be easily drowned out by the excess noise.

I’ll try to remember this before I spend an hour going through political tweets or Facebook posts, only to come away feeling soggy, stiff-necked and unenlightened.

Head Down, Heart Up!

Listen to “Head Down / Heart Up” on Spotify. And treat your poor head to a well-deserved vacation, at least for a little while.

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The Division Men (and friends) turn up the romance and mystery on Niños Del Sol

Photo by Casey Chumbley

Photo by Casey Chumbley

Our favorite desert noir duo, The Division Men is on the cusp of an exciting new album, their third full-length release. Titled Niños Del Sol, it’s a deliciously romantic stew of acoustic and electric guitars, sensuous saxophone, delicately played piano and touches of percussion that lace in and out while J. Spencer Portillo and wife Caroline Rippy Portillo spin their vocal magic. The result is breathtaking. The music strongly conjures heady, exotic desert evenings along the Southern border. Each song moves seamlessly into the next like a lush and inviting soundtrack, but particular standouts include “Heaven Knows Why”, “Fall,” “Marionette” and the title track “Niños Del Sol,” which is spectacularly beautiful.

At ‘Musings,’ we first discovered Austin-based The Division Men in January 2015. As a quick reminder, they first came together in Berlin in 2008, and are strongly influenced by their El Paso and San Antonio roots. Words used to describe their music include “romantic,” “haunting,” “dark” and “ethereal.” I’ll add intoxicating to the mix.

Niños Del Sol, two and a half years in the making, was a collaborative effort, created with the musical contributions of several close friends, who also happen to be distinguished artists. Guest musicians include Rafael Gayol (Leonard Cohen), Jake Garcia (The Black Angels), Steven Hufsteter (Del Shannon, Tito and Tarantula), Jay Reynolds (Asleep at the Wheel) and Javier Escovedo (The Zeros). Half of the tracks are re-imagined songs from Live at Clap of Thunder, their first live album.

This new album will be released April 20th, and hopefully will soon be followed by some live dates!

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Dreamily soulful Deanna Petcoff and her trust issues

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Relationships can be tricky and emotionally uncomfortable, but that’s no reason not to immerse your dissatisfaction in some honey-smooth ’60s style soul. Deanna Petcoff, former guitarist and singer in Pins & Needles, is embarking on a solo career, and is out of the gate in a strong way with her first single, “Terribly True.”

Petcoff has a rich and sensuous voice that, along with a glass of bourbon, would nicely soothe any heartache. Musically, what starts out sounding wistful gradually transforms into a more upbeat mood, as she calmly assesses the ruins.

I’m not calling you a liar, but I’ll never believe you
It’s a manefestation of trust issues
I’m not saying I could treat you better
but I’ll never put in the effort. – “Terribly True”

Based in Toronto, Deanna Petcoff’s personal muse is to think “what would a 1960s soul singer do?” She embodies this kind of spirit in addressing a timeless concern — how to be honest with oneself and come to terms with a relationship gone sour. As she explains it, “I realized that it wasn’t the person I was seeing who I was in love with — it was the idea of being in love itself. I was trying so hard to make them happy that I forgot to check in with myself and my truth.”

The song was produced by Alex Stavropoulos-Laurie and recorded at Dream House Studios in Toronto. Petcoff will be performing on April 2 at The Smiling Buddha in Toronto.

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Ellevator faces their dreams in “Hounds”

Ellevator

A dream will often present itself as a metaphor for something the dreamer is dealing with (or failing to deal with) in their waking life. For the band’s new song, “Hounds,” frontwoman Nabi Sue Bersche of Ontario-based Ellevator was inspired by a recurring dream in which she’s chased by wolves or wild dogs. They bite at her heels and keep her from being able to stop and ask for help. She hears their whistles in her head, and they drown out the voices of others who need assistance. She has had this dream since she was a child, and it’s all-consuming. This isn’t just a personal fear — it seems to be a strong indictment of our current social condition.

“Hounds” is an acknowledgement that we need each other to survive. There’s safety in numbers. We’ve seen how ‘every man for himself’ turns out, and we need to do better. – Nabi Sue Bersche, Ellevator

Ellevator releases their self-titled EP on April 20 (Arts & Crafts). It was recorded in Hamilton with Michael Keire (Arkells, The Dirty Nil, Wildlife). They’re currently on tour to support the new music. This has included dates with Our Lady Peace and Matthew Good, and from April 12-26, they’ll be supporting BANNERS. They’re also headlining in NYC at Pianos.

Listen to and purchase “Hounds”

Ellevator Tour Dates

4/12 Toronto, Ontario – Phoenix
4/13 London, Ontario – Rum Runners
4/14 Ottawa, Ontario – The 27 Club
4/17 Albany, NY – The Hollow
4/18 New York, NY – Pianos
4/19 Vienna, VA – Jammin Java
4/20 Boston, MA – Cafe 939
4/21 Montreal, Quebec – Theatre Fairmount
4/22 Quebec City, Quebec – Palais Montcalm
4/24 Waterloo, Ontario – Maxwell’s
4/26 Hamilton, Ontario – Club Absinthe
5/11 Toronto, ONtario – CMW (Lee’s Palace)
6/3 Toronto, Ontario – Field Trip
6/22 Ottawa, Ontario – Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival
6/23 Hamilton, Ontario – Tim Hortons Field
8/19 Elora, Ontario – River Fest Elora

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Iskwe and Tanya Tagaq stand up tall for Canada’s indigenous people

Iskwe

It has always been my great pleasure to celebrate and support strong, talented female artists, and never have I been more proud than in these current times, when women are speaking out with a single voice against many years of injustice. When one comes across an indigenous woman making a powerful statement on behalf of her people, there’s even more reason to rejoice. Iskwe is of Irish and Cree/Dené descent, and on her new song, “The Unforgotten,” she is joined by Canadian (Inuit) throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Their creation is powerful and entrancing, with political overtones and a haunting presence. It weaves together ancient rhythms and traditions with modern sensibilities.

Written at the time of Canada’s 150th anniversary, the song is, in the words of its creator, meant to celebrate Canada as a special place to live, as well as to “remember, honour and acknowledge our dark corners as well.” Iskwe states that it is a community song “to be shared by all people – a round dance where everyone holds the hand of the person next to them, forming a circle that connects us with our ancestors, as one.” You can listen to “The Unforgotten” on Spotify.

I’m proud of who we are, as Indigenous people. I’m proud of what we’ve fought for, and how we continue to fight for our culture, our languages, our children, our women, our men, our earth and our water. But I’m also proud of all my non-indigenous family and friends who continue to fight along with us. This song is for all of us. Let’s all dance together! – Iskwe

Iskwe will be performing during the 2018 Canadian Music Week Festival in Toronto, on May 11.

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Marshall Cecil Finds Balance in Chaos

photo by Alexandra Quaade

photo by Alexandra Quaade

Danish trio Marshall Cecil, in their music and visuals, struggles to find strength and solace in life’s confusing and disturbing reality. Their video, “Going Up / Going Down,” the band’s first track and video, begins with a violent act and then, from a backdrop of churning water, a metaphor for emotional turmoil, our protagonist moves through a world of crazed, dizzying scenes. It feels like a search for self, and a road leads from solitude to the company of friends. Flashes between alienation and inclusiveness is a powerful statement of life’s dichotomy, reflected as well in their music, which has a driving beat that’s matched with a gentle ambiance.

The video was created in collaboration with Céleste Nshimiyimana & Jacob Schill, with cinematography by Frederik Marbell, Céleste Nshimiyimana & Jacob Schill.

Clash Music premiered their new song, “Beautiful World,” which conveys strong feelings of isolation and melancholy (“I saw a little white dove turning to black”), but the title isn’t altogether cynical. Through the song, the mood transcends the darkness and rises to a stronger, more positive place. It speaks of an individual as well as societal journey. The band explains their aesthetic as “(venturing) through the baffling conflicts and political absurdities of the world in search for personal salvation of the mind.”

Marshall Cecil will be performing at the Spot Festival in Denmark, May 9-13, and at Roskilde Festival, which runs from June 30 thorugh July 7. At the Spring Equinox, they were headed to Naples to work on new music.

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Same Boat – A message of unity from Swedish musician Albin Lee Meldau

AlbinLeeMeldau3

In a simple yet poignant video for his latest single, Swidish singer-songwriter Albin Lee Meldau eloquently points out that we’re all in the same boat. A large supporting cast of many races, backgrounds and sensibilities take part in the universally shared emotion of longing.

When the night is calling and I’m missing my baby
Knowing we’re all in the same boat.

It’s a soulful rendition with somber piano and the sounds of a church choir lending the vibe of a sacred hymn.

From Gothenburg, Sweden, Meldau is the progeny of a Swedish jazz singer mother and a British punk rock musician father. After two EPs on Astralwerks, he’s gearing up to release his debut album next year. This year, he debuted at Bonnaroo and SXSW, and was featured on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. recently performed a rendition of “Same Boat” with the world renowned Staten Island PS22 Chorus. He is also featured on the Holidays Rule Volume 2 album, singing Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You. His song “Lou Lou” racked up more than 27 million streams on Spotify, and he won the 2016 Anchor Award, an international competition for best new emerging talent.

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Kirk Starkey Pays Homage to Ancient Acoustic Traditions and the Digital Age

KirkStarkey

The cello is one of my favorite instruments. In fact, of all the stately orchestral instruments, it may well be my most favorite. Mournful, soulful, melancholy — it’s often heard at times of sadness, to commemorate a dark day or to mark someone’s passing. In the case of Hamilton, Ontario session cellist, composer and producer Kirk Starkey, the cello is an orchestra unto itself, with many moods and personalities. His latest recording with George Crotty, Vidi Aqam is distinctly modern, yet also timeless. It’s classical. A little jazzy. Computer literate, yet deliciously steeped in tradition. Mournful, yes, but also hopeful and upbeat.

The merging of old and familiar with new and surprising extends to Starkey’s instrument and his method of performance. He plays a Bohemian cello (c.1775) which he then samples and uses to accompany himself. It’s a very cool concept, and not one you’re used to seeing with a traditionally classical instrument. You can see how elegantly this can be done in a 2016 performance for 93.3 CFMU, in their first episode of Sound + Silence, a showcase for local Hamilton artists. Starkey performs with his ‘cello of multiple personalities’ at McMaster’s Convocation Hall.

For Vidi Aqam, all tracks were written and produced by Kirk Starkey and George Crotty. It was recorded and mixed at the Wolftone Music Laboratory in Hamilton, Ontario.

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George Crotty: web | soundcloud | facebook | youtube

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