screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Month: November 2013

Introducing… Vikesh Kapoor

To summon the emotions from another person’s life story and personal struggles, and be able to convey everyday events that instantly evoke a sense of time, place and personality takes a special gift. When one thinks of master storytellers who touch people’s souls, names like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan come to mind. While many musicians have been inspired by Guthrie and those such as Seeger and Dylan who proudly carried the torch after him, very few have the necessary gravitas to convincingly pull it off. Folk music is a tricky animal. It’s a rare breed who can sing about the seemingly mundane life of the common man and elevate his actions and feelings to a reverent realm, without coming off as simplistic or overly sentimental. To delicately weave in a socio-political message is even trickier. Bruce Springsteen can do it. So can Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle. It’s not a long list. So when I saw Vikesh Kapoor mentioned alongside the legendary Guthrie and Dylan, and even named in The New Yorker as one of Guthrie’s natural successors, I was skeptical.

Vikesh Kapoor hails from rural Pennsylvania and did some time as a mason’s apprentice, getting a firsthand taste of blue-collar life. Upon performing at author and activist Howard Zinn’s funeral in 2010, he had an epiphany of sorts and set out to tell socially conscious and politically informed stories of everyday people. What got my attention are the songs themselves on his debut album, The Ballad of Willie Robbins (Mama Bird Recording Co.).

This is a young man with an old soul. His first effort is a concept album about working man Willie Robbins and his real-life daily struggle to not only survive but thrive, most simply and poignantly expressed in the title track. The songs are sad but also celebratory, raising the human condition to lofty heights. Other stand-out tracks are the mournful and solitary “I Dreamt Blues,” with its heart-wrenching lyrics and harmonica cry, the bittersweet banjo-tinged lament of “Bottom Of The Ladder” and the haunting “Carry Me Home,” in which his expressive voice is especially effective in carrying the wistful mood. “Forever Gone” is an absolute stunner of a song, a kind of “gypsy klezmer dirge” that seeps deep into the bones.

Kapoor is not only insightful into the human condition; he’s also quite enlightened about the art of storytelling. In a recent Interview Magazine article, he explains that although his debut album isn’t autobiographical, during the process of relating a story, one can’t help but be self-revealing. “In narrative, adding elements of fiction or stretching the truth can shed light on greater truths than just recounting something in a journalistic way.”

Upcoming Shows
w/The Melodic
04 Dec – The Saint / Asbury Park NJ
05 Dec – North Star Bar/ Philadelphia PA
06 Dec – Cafe Nine / New Haven CT
07 Dec – The Middle East (Upstairs) / Cambridge MA – Facebook event
08 Dec – Higher Ground / Burlington VT
09 Dec – Mercury Lounge / New York NY
13 Dec – Columbia City Theater / Seattle WA – w/Frank Fairfield & more

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Introducing… Metsatöll ~ Estonian folk-metal (yes, really)

This is one of the more bizarre things I’ve heard in a long time, so naturally, I wanted to share it. The band is called Metsatöll (an ancient Estonian euphemism for wolf), they perform a mash-up of heavy metal traditional folk music with flute, and yes, they’re from Estonia, singing in their native tongue. What’s more, it all works. Beautifully.

They’re not actually new, though they are for me, so I have a little catching up to do. Their first album was in 1999, and their instrumentation includes not only the standard guitar and drums, but also torupill (bagpipes), kannels, flutes and zithers.

They recently released three albums from their catalog digitally, Äio (2010), Ulg (2011) and Tuska (2012), plus a new single called “Lööme Mesti” (“Together”), which is from an upcoming album due out in March.

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Rock Chick: Sexism and Exploitation in the Music Business

The current pop wasteland. Clockwise from upper left: Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, the reinvented Miley Cyrus at the 2013 MTV VMAs and Taylor Swift, before and after.

The current pop wasteland. Clockwise from upper left: Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, the reinvented Miley Cyrus at the 2013 MTV VMAs and Taylor Swift, before and after.

I was inspired by a recent Facebook post by Anna Bulbrook, who plays viola, keyboards and is a vocalist with The Airborne Toxic Event. She posted a link to an article about the rude and demeaning things said to female musicians, and voiced her own frustration with the music industry’s rampant sexism. I’d like to dedicate this to all working musicians out there (and music professionals who support and nurture them) who happen to be women.

Wow, You Actually Know How To Play That?

The object that raised Ms. Bulbrook’s wrath (and started me on my investigative journey) was titled “Infuriating Things People Say to Women Musicians”. It was written by Steph Guthrie, who performs with Toronto-based band Patti Cake. The cringe-worthy comments from male musical instrument store employees, sound engineers, managers and others “in the biz” read like something out of the 1950s, but sadly they’re not. They’re comments that were made in the present day to seasoned and experienced female musicians. Sexism, of course, exists everywhere. Men in the music business still can’t get their heads around the fact that there are plenty of serious women musicians who are proficient with a wide variety of instruments, music composition and recording technology — and this includes the sacred lead guitar, historically the machismo status symbol of the (male) rock god. “Take Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Only two women, Joni Mitchell and Joan Jett, were honored. In a Washington Post article written in response to Rolling Stone’s list, the writer suggests that as interest in electric guitar was revving up in the ’60s, women weren’t encouraged to step out of their ladylike gender roles, leaving them with an impossible game of catch-up to Jimi Hendrix and Page.” (from The 12 Greatest Female Electric Guitarists – Elle, 2009). I can only assume that this disrespect stems from an inferiority complex, leading men to feel threatened by strong women. Regardless of how far we may think we’ve come in gender equality, clearly we haven’t actually progressed beyond The Flintstones.

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Sir Walter Sickert and The Army of Broken Toys does Dr. Caligari

Alright, mind out of the gutter. This is actually one of my favorite Boston-imprisonedbased bands, Sir Walter Sickert and The Esteemed Army of Broken Toys, with their original soundtrack performed live to the legendary film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, at the Music Hall of Portsmouth (New Hampshire, I’m guessing) back on October 24. On this cold, dark and lonely Boston night, when I can’t wrap my head around any sort of meaningful writing, I know I can count on these guys. It’s a fine psychotropic romp through a surreal desert landscape while munching on psilocybin mushrooms, feeling mildly ill-at-ease but enjoying the fine view nonetheless. That’s without the film playing. With it, I imagine, even better.

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The loosening of a hardened crust

Rust Never Sleeps at Johnny D's in Somerville 11/16/13

Rust Never Sleeps at Johnny D's in Somerville 11/16/13

There’s something about a heartfelt live music performance that can melt away any amount of hardened pain. For me, and unlike any other art form, a piece of music, even a single phrase from a familiar song, can bring back not just distant memories but also the emotional feelings that accompanied them. Exactly as it was, so many years ago, there’s the taste and the very essence of that moment. The experience is like a drilling through seemingly impenetratable granite, an unearthing of old sentiments and forgotten dreams.

Rust Never Sleeps is a Boston-based band that celebrates the music of Neil Young, not only by beautifully interpreting his songs in a faithful way and with stellar musicianship, but by infusing their performance with the warmth and honesty of the man himself. Check out some video and audio clips on their site. I had the pleasure of seeing these fine musicians at Johnny D’s last night, and they have a few area shows already scheduled for next year.

“I am just a dreamer,
But you are just a dream,
You could have been
Anyone to me.”
– Like a Hurricane, by Neil Young

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Introducing… Está Vivo

Here’s some really weird shit for you this evening. I say that lovingly. In attempting to describe the creativity of Chicago-based Ryan McMahon (who goes by the name of Está Vivo), I’ve come up with this: a pretty and unholy tryst between a time-warped Syd Barrett, a piano sonata and a scene from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Wait, no, add a few chewy psilocybin mushrooms to that recipe. Yeah, that’s about right.

Since releasing songs and EPs in 2011 and 2012 and performing around Chicago with Justice, Bloody Beetroots and Yelle, Está Vivo (“Is Alive”) released two EPs this year on Mush Records. The latest is How Strange, which features Steffaloo on the title track.

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Strange Parade’s debut EP!

Time to catch up with old friends. Los Angeles-based Strange Parade consists of members of Radar Brothers, The Movies, Morsel, DNTEL, Strictly Ballroom, Division Day and Georgia Sand for recordings/shows. Having finished touring the Radar Brothers’ album Eight (on Merge), Strange Parade regrouped to record. Their debut EP was just released last month, featuring Brian Cleary on keyboards and vocals primarily though not exclusively, Be Hussey on drums and bass, and Steve Triechel on drums for one track. It’s an expansive, spacey adventure that will stretch itself out extravagantly across your musical horizon. Have a listen below, buy it and support this fine band!

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Introducing… Deaf Professional Arts Network (D-PAN) ~ interpreting the music’s heart and soul


While enjoying the bands at the recent Boston Calling Festival, I happened to glance over to the side at a super-animated woman gesturing wildly out to the audience, in time to the music. At first I had no idea what this was, but soon realized it was an ASL (American Sign Language) interpreter. I had seen this before at other shows, and became fascinated by these “unsung heroes.” Some were as entertaining as the musicians, dancing and gesturing and fully absorbed in the music and the moment.

Entertainers in their own right, they bring the joy of the performance to audience members who are deaf or hard of hearing. Clearly I’m not the only one who’s been noticing these folks. Earlier this year, The New York Times did a great piece on one such interpreter at Lollapalooza in Chicago.

It was because of my appreciation for these special music lovers that a recent email caught my eye. It was about the Deaf Professional Arts Network (D-PAN), an amazing organization whose mission statement reads as follows: “D-PAN aims to make music and music culture accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community, and to give recognition to deaf and hard of hearing artists everywhere.” They’re based in Detroit and spearheaded by hip-hop artist Sean Forbes. Founded in 2006, they released their first ASL music video for “Where’d You Go” (by Fort Minor), which generated over half a million hits on YouTube. Their 2008 DVD “It’s Everybody’s Music,” which sold over 10,000 copies worldwide, featured videos for James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” and Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” (performed by Sean). Their unusual and imaginative videos created quite a buzz. This brilliant one for The White Stripes’ “We’re Going To Be Friends” (see below) was featured on The Today Show, and The Huffington Post.

For their second music video collection, “It’s Everybody’s Music” Volume Two (with songs from The White Stripes, Owl City, Carly Rae Jepson, The Clark Sisters and an original song from Sean Forbes), they’re been taking it on the road with concerts nationwide. On 11/9 (tomorrow night), they’ll be in Los Angeles for their DVD Release Party. Learn more about D-PAN’s activities on their official site. For a serious dose of inspiration, check out Sean talking about his project back in 2009 on CNN. Truly awesome.

D-PAN: web | facebook | twitter | youtube

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Psychic Ills ~ See You There (on tour with Mazzy Star)

photo by Christelle de Castro

photo by Christelle de Castro

It’s not every day that you like a band’s sound, their name and their video all at the same time. Psychic Ills have been around for ten years, released One Track Mind earlier this year and are currently touring with Mazzy Star, coming in for a landing in Boston tomorrow night at the Paradise (which I see now is listed as being sold out – sorry about that). Their surreal video for “See You There” is hypnotic and poignant and exactly how I imagine the first Grey to visit New York City would be received. Especially wonderful is the girl on the subway’s “what the f*ck now?” expression. Priceless. Their music is like being too high on hallucinogens. Pretty cool yet mildly disturbing. Or maybe it’s just me.

11.19 – Paradise Rock Club – Boston, MA
11.20 – Terminal 5 – New York, NY
11.22 – Union Transfer – Philadelphia, PA
11.23 – The Fillmore Silver Spring – Silver Spring, MD

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Introducing… Family Photo

Well, this is embarrassing. Sacramento, California band, Family Photo, spent this past summer living here in Boston, performing over 20 East Coast shows, and I’m only just hearing about them now. Yes, I’m clueless. It’s a problem. Since the summer of 2011, they’ve released two EPs (Family Photo and Nube Celebz) and are now poised to release their debut album, All We Ever Do, in January. They’re fun and quirky, with a jazz complexity and intricately woven pop harmonies that are tossed together into a haphazard casserole that comes out sounding like some off-kilter carnival. Their captivating musicianship seems like it’s about ready to go off the rails… in a pleasant daydreamy sort of way.

Listen below to their new single, “Fleets,” from the upcoming album.

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