Collaboration, GPS and Bonnie Prince Billy: An interview with the California Guitar Trio

Kat Touschner

The California Guitar Trio are starting a three-month-long tour here in St. Louis at the Old Rock House on Friday, February 24 as part of the club’s Listening Room Series.

They were kind enough to stop by the Magnolia studio to chat with me about touring, Robert Fripp and their newest release “Masterworks.”

After meeting at a Robert Fripp master class in Europe in 1989, Paul Richards, Bert Lams, and Hideyo Moriya decided to continue the craft they had learned from touring with Fripp’s League of Crafty Guitarists. Richards from Salt Lake City, Lams from Brussels and Moriya from Tokyo decided to congregate in Los Angeles and form their own group. Thus the California Guitar Trio was born.

Now some 20 years and 15 albums later, the group is still together and stronger than ever. Incorporating classical, rock and pop sensibilities into a trio format that never ceases to amaze audiences, the group has just released “Masterworks,” a classical album that covers the highlights of their career featuring live and studio recordings. Known for their quirky rock covers — such as “Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, and “Echoes” by Pink Floyd — this album focuses on the classics and features Tony Levin and Fareed Haque guesting on pieces by Bach and Vivaldi respectively. One of the more exciting performance groups touring, it’s always entertaining to see how they meld all these genres together during a show.

California Guitar Trio interview

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Thursday morning music news: Blur, New Order and the Specials go for the gold, Sleigh Bells ring hollow and Michael Davis and Billy Strange pass on

RIP Michael Davis, bassist for the MC5.

The UK music press hasn’t hit rock bottom but it can see it from here.

The Huffington Post reports on a National Blues Museum — in St. Louis.

Justin Timberlake nails Bon Iver on SNL. Watch.

Jack White shares the tracklist and art for “Blunderbuss.”

Blur, New Order and the Specials will close out the Olympics in London.

You think you have the blues? You have nothing on trying to get tickets to Kraftwerk.

Hear “Death to My Hometown,” yet another new song from the forthcoming Springsteen album.

The A.V. Club takes a look at the Elephant 6 collective.

KDHX’s latest feature is called “Hear and Now,” a full album preview stream. The first installment shares Water Liars’ new album “Phantom Limb.”

How much would you pay for a Motorhead box set? $600? Lemmy wants to have a word with you.

The New York Times chats with Lon Bender, sound editor for “Drive” and “The Hunger Games.”

Billboard takes a look at 10 great new or renovated music venues.

Is this the toxic cocktail that killed Whitney?

Sad news about Slim Dunlap. The former Replacements guitarist has suffered a serious stroke.

Hear a new song by Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes.

When music critic titans meet: Simon Reynolds on Greil Marcus.

Take a tour of Neko Case’s Vermont home — brought to you by IKEA and a bunch of designers IDK.

What if the Internets took David Bowie and mashed him up with movie posters?

Joey Ramone is still dead but he still has a new album coming out — featuring Joan Jett, Steve Van Zandt and members of Cheap Trick and the Dictators.

The breakup of EMI isn’t going so well.

Sleigh Bells are the new Lana Del Rey. Or the new Transformers movie. Or something.

Norah Jones, Mudhoney and vintage horror flicks — all separated at birth.

We should be getting a new album from Metric in June.

Björk’s longtime collaborator Leila Arab takes a look back.

Electronic music pioneer Robert Henke takes on Skrillex, Ableton and more.

Rufus Wainwright is back in the game with “Out of the Game,” including a song called “Montauk.” Listen.

LA Wrecking Crew session guitarist and songwriter Billy Strange has died.

This week’s World’s Worst Person in Music (™) award goes to Michael Jackson’s former manager.

What’s on Jeremy Lin’s iPod? Uggh.

Concert review: Frank Turner delivers sweat, ire and song at Off Broadway, Tuesday, February 21 / Melanie Parker-Levi

Cory Chisel warmed up the packed Off Broadway with a set of seven songs that conjured the lonely American countryside.

Keyboardist and backing vocalist Adriel Harris accompanied Chisel on a Nord synthesizer, providing haunting, southern-styled, churchy arrangements and dulcet harmonies. Highlight “Born Again” filled the venue with hooks, creepy organ and gritty, Midwestern grace.

Before I proceed, I want to make it clear that Frank Turner normally sells out Pageant-sized (and bigger) venues across the pond with ease, so the crowd’s hum and buzz of anticipation was more than appropriate. It was clear they were ready for exactly what they knew they’d get: a very rare and intimate show from this British, punk-folk troubadour.

The crowd tightened around the stage as Turner’s crew (personal sound guy included) performed a quick set-up and sound check. Soon, Turner appeared on stage with his backing band, the Sleeping Souls, and quickly leapt into “Eulogy,” from 2011′s “England Keep My Bones.” Turner proclaimed, “Not everyone can be Freddy Mercury,” before drummer Nigel Powell dropped a spacious drum fill and propelled the song from singer-songwriter balladry to a full-blown, nigh-Irish sounding, punk-infused rock-out.

Turner sustained the up-tempo action with “Try This at Home,” from 2009′s “Poetry of the Deed.” The song bounced along with heavy strumming, tight, articulate vocalization from Turner and bright organ accents from keyboardist Matt Nasir. Turner swayed his hips like a country star and waved at the crowd with a red, white and blue sweatband adorning his strumming arm. On “If Ever I Stray” the crowd howled along during the quieter, introspective verses and threw their fists into the air for the “1,2,3,4!” that proceeded the chorus’ drop.

Turner brought the tone down on “I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous” from 2008′s “Love, Ire and Song.” The crowd belted the ballad back at Turner with a gusto that would have made T.S. Eliot smile quietly from his muddy, English grave.

“I Am Disappeared” rang out with a light, yet rugged U2 vibe, while “Love Ire Song” sat firmly in the singer-songwriter mode, as Turner explored themes of growing up and politics, puffing off “fucks” with a grand glibness and well-timed strumming. On fan-favorite “Substitute” Turner called out, “Music is my substitute for love,” to cheers from the sweating crowd.

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Album review: Paul McCartney charms with ‘Kisses on the Bottom’

Paul McCartney
“Kisses on the Bottom”
Hear Music

“Kisses on the Bottom” is a collection of standards by Paul McCartney. This style of music is in McCartney’s DNA, every bit as much as the music of Little Richard or Carl Perkins.

Long before becoming a Beatle, Paul McCartney was exposed to the pop songs of the ’30s and ’40s through the strong influence of his father James, who played mostly ragtime jazz in the Jim Mac Jazz Band in the ’20s. McCartney’s father also would play the pop songs of the last 10 to 20 years at home with young Paul and the family gathered around the piano.

Those tunes never left McCartney and it was through them that he learned how to structure a pop song, how to sing harmonies and how to move the listener. His career is dotted with examples of his fondness of the standard and that style: “Till There Was You,” “Honey Pie,” “You Gave Me the Answer,” “A Room with a View” and “The Very Thought of You.” This album has been on his mind for a very long time.

Including the bonus tracks found on deluxe versions of the CD, released February 7 on the Hear Music label (jointly formed by Concord Music and Starbucks), there are 14 tracks; all are standards save for three McCartney-penned numbers (two new, one from 1979) written with the feel and style of the others. The songs hang together well — stylishly, instrumentally and lyrically.

Lyrically these songs are born out of an era when pop music was meant to lift the spirits. America had been through the Great Depression, then WWII. In Liverpool in 1942 Paul McCartney was born when the scars of the German bombing were still clearly visible throughout the urban landscape.

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The top 10 Jane’s Addiction songs

Jane’s Addiction‘s February 22 show at the Pageant is an excellent opportunity for longtime St. Louis fans to see the band in an intimate setting.

A second show would be ideal for those fans who didn’t buy tickets quickly enough, but there’s no sign of that happening.

Jane’s, arguably the first mainstream “alternative rock” band, last played here in 2003 when they headlined the KPNT HoHo Show at the Savvis Center. According to a Post-Dispatch reviewer, “nearly a third depart[ed] following Deftones’ set and a steady stream of folk exit[ed] while they played.”

This month’s show should be a different story. The Wednesday night show sold out very quickly and the excitement over the show is evidenced in the eBay and StubHub resale prices.

Here are my top 10 Jane’s Addiction songs, with some thoughts on each.

1. “Ted, Just Admit It…” (from “Nothing’s Shocking,” 1988)

This song, along with “Summertime Rolls,” is Jane’s Addiction — epic, hard-hitting, lyrically provocative and full of twists. In my neck of the woods, “Nothing’s Shocking” was the soundtrack to the summer of 1989. When played at parties, it was truly a no-hater zone — skaters, metalheads, goths and Britpop fans were equally thrilled at Jane’s bad-assedness. Mainstream pop fans had no idea who they were.

2. “Ocean Size” (from “Nothing’s Shocking,” 1988)

Elegant and rip-roaring at the same time, I’ve logged more hours on this song playing air guitar, drums, bass and vocals than any other song, no contest.

3. “Been Caught Stealing” (from “Ritual de lo Habitual,” 1990)

From the opening barks, this whimsical track is a non-stop dance party.

4. “Mountain Song” (from “Nothing’s Shocking,” 1988)

Good memory: Watching singer Perry Farrell, bassist Mike Watt and the rest of Porno for Pyros blow the roof off of Mississippi Nights in 1996, playing this song as its encore. Not-so-good memory: At Lollapalooza 2009, Band of Horses inexplicably played over their end time on the opposite stage, drowning out some of this song and the entirety of “Up the Beach.” I like Band of Horses, but disrupting the festival owner’s Sunday night headlining set? Epic FAIL.

5. “Three Days” (from “Ritual de lo Habitual,” 1990)

Seeing this progressive rock-style song live is nothing less than a religious experience for many. This and other B-side songs on Ritual are thought to be about Farrell’s deceased friend Xiola Blue, who died of a heroin overdose in 1987 while still a teenager.

6. “Whores” (from S/T, 1987)

This is the ultimate early JA song, encompassing their unique blend of punk and metal. Lyrically, it set the tone for Farrell’s lifelong fascination with the beauty of society’s underbelly.

7. “Jane Says” (from “Nothing’s Shocking,” 1988)

The song is uber-repetitive, yet mesmerizing and classic — much like what “How Soon is Now?” did for the Smiths.

8. “Just Because” (from “Strays,” 2003)

This explosive single, their most successful hit yet, was a highlight of JA’s first ‘comeback’ album. The song helped introduce the band to legions of younger fans, many of whom had no idea just how much their tastes were shaped by Jane’s.

9. “Superhero” (from “Strays,” 2003)

Do I like this song simply because it’s been pounded into my head as the theme to HBO’s “Entourage”? Maybe, but it’s a cool jam that’s even better when you listen to the full version.

10. “Underground” (from “The Great Escape Artist,” 2011)

This is classic Jane’s, as guitar god Dave Navarro shreds on guitar, tweaking out many cool effects. Farrell’s voice doesn’t show much sign of age. Their latest album got mixed reviews, but I think it’s a good, if not great, effort.

That being said, I hope Farrell is smart enough not to play this entire album at the Pageant. This hungry St. Louis crowd is going to want classic Jane’s addiction songs and lots of them.

Album review: First Aid Kit stings, heals and soars on ‘The Lion’s Roar’

First Aid Kit
“The Lion’s Roar”

To single out one song for praise on the new First Aid Kit album “The Lion’s Roar” would be akin to extolling the beauty of a single stone in a mosaic.

With the help of producer Mike Mogis the Swedish sisters have given their sound and songwriting an overall brilliant polish.

For most artists convening in the Midwest to record their sophomore album the ac tmight be seen as a retreat into the hinterland. For Johanna and Klara Söderberg it was more of a pilgrimage. They got to record with Conor Oberst, the man who produced some of their favorite records and their self-described hero. Though he only appears on the closing song, his firewater spirit inhabits much of the album.

Separately and together the sisters also have a quality Conor always bemoaned he lacked: a fantastic voice. They bend notes into harmonies as if their vocal cords come equipped with whammy bars, and on songs like “To a Poet” their vocal melodies pitch and roll across the sky like biplanes trailing smoke. The voices intertwine and then break off into solitary loops only to find each other again at the apex or nadir.  

Just as the Stones lined their veins with blues records out of Chicago to pump out some of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll the world had heard, First Aid Kit has done Americana better than almost anyone currently dwelling this side of the Atlantic. Does it take outsiders to see the better picture through the details? Perhaps.

And perhaps someday someone will write a paean to Johanna and Klara much like their own plea to Gram and June on “Emmylou.”

Concert review: Darrell Scott engages devoted fans at the Old Rock House, Friday, February 17 / Phil King

Without regard for cold starts or protocol for warming up the crowd, Darrell Scott began his set last night with “River Take Me,” and immediately turned the entire Old Rock House audience attention to the stage. For the reminder of the night we were rapt by his song stories of life and love.

Scott not only stands out as a solo performer but also as a musician and songwriter called upon to contribute by some of the greatest performers of our time. He has performed live or in the studio with the likes of Robert Plant, Joan Baez, Del McCoury and Guy Clark to name a few. His songs have been recorded and performed by Brad Paisley, Keb Mo, Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw and a slew of other artists who could be considered the who’s who in country and Americana music. His album “A Crooked Road” received the 2011 Independent Music Award for Best Country Album and his performance of “Willow Creek” on the same album received a Grammy nomination for best country instrumental performance.

Darrell drove to St Louis from his home in Nashville for this show making it possible to bring along a bouzouki — or as Darrell put it, “an octave mandolin if you’re in the TSA line” — and a fretless banjo in addition to his guitar. The bouzouki went unused until the encore was performed but the banjo did come out about mid set for “Banjo Clark.” The familiar percussive banjo sound was present but the fretless banjo added sliding and lilting accents adding a dimension to banjo with which I was completely unfamiliar. It will definitely remain in my memory as some of the most interesting and enjoyable banjo playing I have witnessed.

The crowd at the Old Rock House was nothing short of devoted to Scott’s music, calling out requests and carrying vinyl copies of his new album “Long Ride Home.” From my balcony perch I had an exceptional view and felt as close enough to the stage to hold a conversation with Scott. His moving performance of “Mahala” was preceded by recounting how he wrote it when his daughter Mahala was about one and half years old and how he had recently visited her, now twenty one and living in New York. Darrell had the audience join in for the last chorus of the song. It was a wonderful experience being part of an audience who truly loved his music.

Darrell set about wrapping up his set with the hilariously funny and engaging “Spelling Bee Romance.” Before the song began we were given instruction on how to go about inciting an encore once he had finished. So we all clapped immediately — an entire song too early — and then repeated this immediately after the song and again after the following song and were thanked by Scott with two encores — finally using the bouzouki for the last song.

The night closed with Scott standing near the exit and engaging any of us who wanted to speak with him as we passed to leave. Fans lined up to buy albums and everyone was happily buzzing with excitement. I couldn’t help but feel it was a great night to be alive.

All Aboard for Fun Times: St. Louis show highlights for February 17-18

All Aboard for Fun Times Train

I was sorry to hear the Paper Dolls have called it quits, but it appears that everyone involved has plenty of other things going on.

Such is life (or, as Dick Richmond once put it in his P-D review of an ELP concert, “Sailor Be”).

The Mardi Gras parade is Saturday; all my picks that night are free of charge, so they may not be free of obnoxious drunks. Here’s hoping the doors are staffed by persons who exercise some discretion — the bathroom they save may be their own! Friday is really jammed with jams:

Friday, February 17

Jon Dee Graham
Off Broadway 3509 Lemp 7-9 $10 adv/12 dos (+3 under 21) Smoke-free

Gruff-voiced JDG is an alt-country institution in Austin; voted Musician of the Year in 2006, and is a triple threat in the town’s Hall of Fame (as a solo artist, as part of the Skunks and the True Believers). He’s got a impressive CV, working with many of the town’s best artists and a list of others including Exene Cervenka, John Doe, Michelle Shocked and John Hiatt. Expect a range of sounds, with top-notch songcraft.

Allen Stone / Tommy And The High Pilots / Tidal Volume
Firebird 2706 Olive 7:30-11 $12 (+2 under 21) Smoke-free

Folks who enjoy retro-glancing soul acts like Mayer Hawthorn and Raphel Saadiq should enjoy the sounds of Seattle’s AS. Santa Barbara’s TatHP play jangly, catchy pop-rock. I haven’t heard TV.

The Ransom Note / The Transatlantic / Tok
Schlafly Tap Room 2100 Locust 9-12 Free (minors only with parents) Smoke-free

Smooth, soulful bedroom sounds from TRN — turn down the lights. Springfield (IL) quartet TT offers hook-laden, punchy pop-rock; reminiscent of the Romantics to my ears, albeit with a harder edge. T rock hard, but with a more melodic sensibility than many bands of their ilk.

Murder City Players provide a groove-filled night of reggae/ska sounds at 2720 (2720 Cherokee), with DJ sets during their breaks. This runs 9-1, with an $8 cover (18+ only). Smoke-free

Lookout Joe, a project involving scene vets Brian Henneman, Kip Loui and Richard Tralles, play rock and country at Pop’s Blue Moon (5249 Pattison), starting around 9:30. Cover is probably $5 (21+ only). Smoking is allowed, but in a separate area. Cash only here.

The Trip Daddys / Bible Belt Sinners / Old Capital Square Dance Club
The Crack Fox 1114 Olive 9:30-1 $8 (21+ only) Smoking, moderate to heavy

High-octane, kinda-billy rock from TTD. Rockabilly sounds, with the power-growler vocals of Molly Sims, from BBS. A mix of country, blues and rock sounds from OC(sic)SDC.

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