From Baltimore to Washington to St. Louis: Happy Birthday Woody Guthrie! (plus MP3 download)

Artwork by Sleepy Kitty

Tonight, 12 bands from in and around St. Louis will be performing songs from the grand-canyon vast catalogue of Woody Guthrie. This year marks the centennial of his birth, and celebrations have been happening from coast to coast. 88.1 KDHX is proud to be part of sharing in the jubilant and resilient spirit of the man’s music.

So we hope you’ll join us at Off Broadway for Just One Big Soul: Woody Guthrie 100th Birthday Party, Tribute and 88.1 KDHX Benefit. Doors are at 7 p.m. Music starts at 8 p.m. sharp.

One of the bands that will be performing is the Campfire Club. Ryne Watts and company were kind enough to share a rehearsal recoding of their version of “Baltimore to Washington” — just to give you a taste of what you’ll be hearing at Off Broadway tonight.

“Baltimore to Washington” – The Campfire Club

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‘It’s about life and freedom and sorrow’ An interview with Ryne Watts of Campfire Club (plus MP3 download)

Ryne Watts has was born in the Midwest, and he can’t see himself anywhere too far outside of St. Louis. Like him, his band Campfire Club is Midwestern through and through — all the way down to the roots.

In Watts’ words, the Campfire Club is “Midwestistential.” “It’s like this Midwest and existentialism point of view,” he explains. “And some of it’s happy and some of it’s sad, but all of it’s about life and freedom and sorrow, and all these gambits that sort of encompass the Midwest.”

It’s an ideal that has been well-received in St. Louis. The band took the cake as the “Best Folk Band” in the Riverfront Times’ annual music showcase this summer and released its most recent album “Tin Can Telephone” last November.

“The best thing about playing music here is how close of a community it is, Watts says. “It’s not this sort of cutthroat competitiveness and I think that’s a very Midwestern thing. It’s about working together and having a community of artists dedicated to creating and exploring.”

A lot of great folk musicians have been birthed from the Midwest, like Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. While the band credits some sonic influence to the likes of the aforementioned artists, the Campfire Club will have the opportunity to put their own musical touches on Guthrie’s music at “Just One Big Soul,” on July 14 at Off Broadway.

Equal parts centennial, birthday party and tribute to Woody Guthrie and benefit for 88.1 KDHX, the event will feature 12 regional artists, including Campfire Club, who will perform three Guthrie tunes, among them one song that was never recorded by Guthrie.

The freedom to pay tribute to Guthrie can be a little bit daunting and exciting at the same time, says Watts.

“I got into folk and country music from a pretty early age, so that was one of the names that came to me immediately and I tried to listen to everything that I possibly could and I still haven’t listened to every Woody Guthrie song there is. I want to try to do tribute to his awesome name and not screw it up.”

Alongside the other bands and musicians, the Campfire Club will illustrate its definition of folk music and express how Guthrie had seen it.

“It’s folk music and it’s for the people, and Woody Guthrie was a big proponent for that,” Watts says. “Because folk music is the people’s music and that’s where it should be.”

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Album review: Tracie Bennett Sings Judy: Songs from the Broadway Production of End of the Rainbow

The theatrical subgenre of celebrity impersonation has always been an odd duck. It’s easy to do badly, damned difficult to do well, and gets the impersonator little respect in any case. In fact, duplicating a performer’s on-stage persona in a way that will allow audience members to suspend disbelief and react as they would to the original is quite a challenge, especially when the performer in question is well represented on audio and film/video.

Judging from the praise she has received for her performance as the late Judy Garland in Peter Quilter’s play with music “The End of the Rainbow”, Tracie Bennett has risen to the challenge. In the New York Times, Ben Brantley praised her “electrifying interpretation”. The Huffington Post’s Mark Kennedy) said she was “so stunning that she manages to raise the dead”. Others have had similar praise for her performance even when they have found the play itself a bit monochromatic.

I haven’t seen the show, but judging from the original cast recording now available on Masterworks Broadway, Ms. Bennett has eerily captured not just the sound of Garland, but more specifically the sound of Garland towards the end of her career, when drugs and drink were taking their toll. To quote the Times again:

“In her terrifyingly manic, Ritalin-fueled “Come Rain or Come Shine” you hear not only the music but the rage that produces it.”

You don’t really hear that in Garland’s recordings from the period, in my view. But then, this isn’t an attempt to duplicate those recordings. It’s a look (albeit fictionalized) at the pain they masked. And on that level I think it works perhaps a little too well. At times, it’s difficult to listen to—not because Ms. Bennett has done her work poorly but rather because she has done it so very well.

The album consists of songs from the Broadway production of the play, fleshed out with new recordings by Bennett and members of the on-stage band of Garland classics not in the stage version, including “Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart”, “San Francisco” and “When The Sun Comes Out” (full track list below). If you’re a Garland fan you’ll probably want to add this to your collection; ditto if you have seen and enjoyed the show. For the rest of us it’s an interesting curiosity. The CD is available from the usual music outlets. You can also purchase the MP3 version at iTunes.

Track list:

  1. I Can’t Give You Anything But Love/Just In Time (Dorothy Fields, Jule Styne, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Jimmy McHugh)
  2. I Could Go On Singing (E.Y. Harburg, Harold Arlen)
  3. Smile (Charles Chaplin, John Turner, Geoffrey Parsons)
  4. Medley: The Bells Are Ringing For Me And My Gal/You Made Me Love You/The Trolley Song (Joseph McCarthy, Ray Goetz, Hugh Martin, George Meyer, Edgar Leslie, Ralph Blane, James V. Monaco)
  5. Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart (James Hanley)
  6. The Man That Got Away (Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen)
  7. Come Rain Or Come Shine (Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen)
  8. When You’re Smiling (Mark Fisher, Joe Goodwin, Larry Shay)
  9. Somewhere Over The Rainbow (E.Y. Harburg, Harold Arlen)
  10. San Francisco (Walter Jurmann, Gus Kahn, Bronislaw Kaper)
  11. When The Sun Comes Out (Ted Koehler, Harold Arlen)
  12. Get Happy/By Myself (Ted Koehler, Arthur Schwartz, Howard Dietz, Harold Arlen)

Album review: Brothers Lazaroff continue their journey through Americana with ‘Science Won’

Brothers Lazaroff
“Science Won”

Brothers Lazaroff are ever-evolving. From their Austin-inspired alt-country beginnings, they’ve added new layers of other forms of American music with each album. Their new release, “Science Won,” blends styles and genres to create something entirely new about the oldest theme in the world — family.

Album opener “Where Are You Going Now” hints at their rootsy strengths with acoustic strings, modernized with Grover Stewart’s brushed drums and minimalist jazz guitar riffs under brothers David and Jeff Lazaroff’s harmonized chorus. Combined with image-laden lyrics, the whole creates a multi-layered scene of modern domesticity that carries through the album.

Mo Egeston starts the darker “I See Her” with a fleeting moment of improvised jazz piano that morphs into Stewart’s steady percussion and Teddy Brookins’ subtle bass that roots the song. This piano-drum-bass foundation rolls through the entire album, topped with the Lazaroff’s more folk-flavored guitars, especially on “Picking Up Sticks.”

No single sound prevails. Instead, stitches of jazz, folk, country and rock create the fabric. It doesn’t make for a quick, throw-away listen. Much of the album’s appeal comes from discovering the layers. Listen one day, and the jazz influence stands out. The next day, it’s the poetic lyricism and strong visual imagery. Later, the rooted folkiness of the guitar arrangements comes through. It’s subjective to mood, setting and listener experience.

“Sometimes I feel so defined by what my ancestors said,” begins “Under the Tree,” continuing the theme of coming to terms with family, ancestry and generational expectation. “35 Summers” picks up the idea with its images of “some crazy old woman rambling on and on, talking about the kids, the ones that don’t belong.”

“Where Light Betrays Night” pairs sweet vocal harmonies with sparse instrumentation that twists into a funk riff, then straightens itself, twisting and turning to the end when it blends into “Keep it Dark”‘s catchiness that belies the lyrics.

The last quarter of the album is devoted to the more positive aspects of the theme, starting with wedding-ready love song “I Could Stay Here for the Rest of My Life,” to the tongue-in-cheek “It’s All Relative.” The climax of the album’s story, the song sums up what every family does: loves, fails, tries to do right, fights, succeeds, and keeps moving, all with no set pattern and rules.

“The Waltz of No Time” begins the album’s end. Taking a waltz meter with minimalist, modern instrumentation to set a scene of rooted timelessness that dips its toe into jazzy chaos before going silent.

The title track concludes the album with a return to the band’s folk roots. Sparkling acoustic strings shine over a quiet rhythm section, closing the album with, “She never would admit that science won.” What science? Not sure. Science of genetics, or human chemistry, perhaps. Science of evolution that fuels change and the marriage of species, be they mammal or musical.

“Under the Tree” – Brothers Lazaroff

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Discovery: Hoots & Hellmouth go there (and then some) on new single (MP3 download) / Deneka Peniston

If memory serves, I first stumbled across Hoots & Hellmouth at a show — Why was I there? Who was I with? — four years ago at Off Broadway. The band was clearly following the lead of the Avett Brothers — mangy, loud, old-time music with a vulnerable heart — but I liked the way the two (apparently) songwriters contrasted light and dark, introspection and resentment, while the band as a whole wielded their acoustic instruments with bluesy grace and crazed stomps, from the parlor to the pit.

The band has a new full-length album called “Salt,” due out in April on the sonaBLAST! label. It was recorded in their hometown of Philadelphia with Jon Low (Dr. Dog, Sharon Van Etten, Twin Sister). The first single is called “Why Would You Not Want to Go There.”

The song lights out, on soft noise and unsteady strums:

I’ve built such a fanciful kingdom in my head
You say you don’t, you won’t go there
Why would you not want to go there?

The answer unfolds in the drama of the song; the beautiful world of a good songwriter’s imagination is one shaky step away from terrible delusion. Still, why wouldn’t you want to sing along?

“Why Would You Not Want to Go There” – Hoots & Hellmouth

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Discovery: Charlie Parr drives a mean ‘Gospel Plow’ (MP3 download)

Charlie Parr is a Duluth-based country blues musician, a juxtaposition of location and genre which is only surprising if you haven’t heard of Bob Dylan.

At the deepest core of Dylan’s music, in all its peregrinations, is, quite simply, the blues, especially the country blues, a point Dylan punctuated with his two mid-’90s albums “Good as I Been to You” and “World Gone Wrong.”

Charlie Parr’s career, which goes back to the early 2000s, has always stayed close to the howling, hieratic vernacular of Furry Lewis, Son House, the Mississippi Sheiks, Dock Boggs and Dave Van Ronk. Greg Brown, another Midwestern, contemporary country blues-based musician, has sung Parr’s praises.

Just listen to Parr’s take on “Gospel Plow” and you’ll hear why.

Recorded in a baptist church in St. Paul, Parr’s new album is “Keep Your Hands on the Plow,” and features the talents of fellow Minnesotans Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker (of Low), among others. It’s hard-scrabble, joyous and profound — the way country blues should be.

You can catch Charlie Parr, live in St. Louis, at Off Broadway for a 7:30 p.m. seated show on Thursday, February 2.

“Gospel Plow” – Charlie Parr

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Discovery: Grace Woodroofe’s darkly armed ‘Battles’ (MP3 download) / Ben Sullivan

With the not quite over-night success of tUnE-yArDs, it appears that the immediate forecast calls for more chopped and drizzled rhythms, the clink and clatter and whirring whiz bang of more-is-always-never-enough lo-fi sample upon sample. Who needs tunes and songs and singing and stories and stuff when you can just throw a kitchen sink of grime-step at the indie wall and see what sticks?

I would go on but a new song by young Australian songwriter Grace Woodroofe won’t let me. It’s called “Battles,” and it hails from her debut album “Always Want” released today on Modular Recordings. You might guess from the way her smokey, lonely alto breathes over spooky wind chimes that she’s a femme fatale with a generous prescription of benzodiazepines, or at least that she can play one in this dark little movie of a song.

Then in come the skittering jazz rhythms, the bitter guitar figures, the scary ennui of lines like “I tell my daughter I’m method acting.” The singer in the song is trapped in a poisonous, alienated spiral. She never thought she’d turn out to be a middle-aged waitress. And she probably never thought she’d be singing about it so strangely and beautifully.

Battles by modularpeople

Discovery: Field Music gives a guided tour of ‘A New Town’ (MP3 download)

Force Field PR

I’m sucker for a good stereo mix of doubled or tripled drums — see every other track on “Soft Bulletin” and “Yoshima” — and also a pushover when it comes to the bass stating the hook — see jazz — but I’m on the fence when it comes to blowing bubbles in music. I suppose there are some days when I just really need to hear “Octopus’ Garden,” but it’s been a while.

Still, I’ve found myself playing “A New Town,” the new single by UK group Field Music, quite a bit of late. It’s got all the aforementioned, plus falsetto, melodica, more statement of melody from a remote acoustic guitar and a persistent sense of dread that juxtaposes nicely with the overall fruitiness of the track. If this is where highly-studio-crafted indie pop is headed in 2012, sign me up. New album “Plumb” is due out February 14 on Memphis Industries.

“A New Town” – Field Music

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