Monday, August 07, 2006

Neko Case -- Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

This CD is my favorite (so far) this year. Every time I hear a track on the radio, I have this insatiable urge to hear the entire CD. Neko was featured on NPR's "World Cafe" tonight in which David Dye described her vocals as "rapturous." I missed most of it and had to head over to the NPR site to hear the entire interview. She intrigues me for a number of reasons.

She's done country covers and originals, punk bands, pop bands, and alternative music during and after graduating with a BFA from Vancouver, Canada's Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. She was voted "Sexiest Babe of Indie Rock" in a Playboy online poll. She left home at age 15 and remained homeless for some time before finishing high school and then obtaining her bachelor's degree. She grew up in Tacoma, Washington, and moved to Seattle after graduating and then, Chicago, because she felt Seattle wasn't doing justice to local artists. She's back in Seattle now.

She has done a few CD's with The New Pornographers that met with critical acclaim (Mass Romantic in 2000; Electric Version in 2003; and Twin Cinema in 2005). She is incredibly articulate, a gifted artist, and a haunting songwriter. She started out as a drummer/singer and now plays guitar and various percussion alongside her hauntingly edgy vocals. She still includes former bandmates from The Sadies (1997) on this CD.

Fox the Confessor came from Ukrainian Russian folklore sans flood. She feels a strong connection between animals (most passionately, birds) and humanity and heralds the dark meaning of folklore to light with her sparse, sometimes humorous in a dark comedy twist of fate, way. Her songs balance drums, reverberating guitar, rising and falling vocals reminiscent of Loretta Lynn in her early years, and acoustic strumming in dreamy ways that hang in the air like hummingbirds at the feeder - flitting anxiously this way and that with purpose although you're never quite sure which direction she'll head next.

Her most-played song from the twelve-track Fox the Confessor Brings the Flood is "Hold On, Hold On" which she describes as a soul-searching tribute to being 30-something and alone instead of married and starting families like many of her friends. The song floats like a Mama's and Papa's feel-good pop anthem of the 60's with a gray underbelly of questioning and forced hope. Her voice is truly stunning in its simplicity and starkness.

"The most tender place in my heart is for strangers," her quivering voice opens on "Hold On, Hold On," the only autobiographical song on the CD. "I know it's unkind but my own blood, it's much too dangerous, hanging 'round the ceiling half the time ... hangin' round the ceiling half the time. Compared to some I've been around. But I really tried so hard. That echo chorus lied to me with its "Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on." The song ends with her eating a Valium the bride gave to her and the soulful exclamation that "it's the devil" she loves which is "as funny as real love ... as real as true love."

She says she likes to write about other people's lives because talking about your own life too much is sinful or vain which, she says, comes from her upbringing. She's a self-described control freak that doesn't care for live performances or photographers. She's playing Brooklyn, New York, at the McCarren Pool with Martha Wainwright on August 24 (tickets still available) followed up by two California shows: Pioneertown at Pappy and Harriett's (tickets still available) on September 9th and the Hollywood Bowl with Willie Nelson and Ryan Adams (tickets still available) on September 10th.

The CD is a beautifully crafted homage to life away from home and new meanings found along the way. It's the kind of CD that you can safely put on "repeat" and find new meaning each time you listen. Whether it's the rambling piano underscoring the CD's opening track "Margaret vs. Pauline" or the banjo on "John Saw That Number," you'll flit across soaring vistas of sound and emotion and find new perches from which to view the emotional flood.

If you want to learn more about Neko, check out her awesome website featuring some interesting Neko blogs. She is not touring with The New Pornographers, in case you were hoping. There's also a fansite that you need to register for at Porchlight that offers the usual circumspect opinions mixed with some good information.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Kim Richey -- On Tour 2006

I received an email that Kim was touring in Pittsburgh a mere two days before her sold-out show at Club Cafe on Pittsburgh's South Side. I called Theresa (the fabulous girl) and bought tickets within the hour. I think it sold out moments after I got mine. Club Cafe only holds about 200 people and it was filled with folks that I've seen many times before at Kim Richey shows which was nice. It felt warm and accomodating for Kim and that's important because she thrives on people that know her worth.

I wasn't sure if she was traveling with a band or acoustic ... no matter ... it was sure to be a rare treat of stage performance and interlaced commentary about what's been happening in Kim's life. She loves to interact with the audience and this was no exception. (Not much information about her mother this time though)

Her Kim Richey web site is down (BOO HISS). You'll have to travel to MySpace to get the latest which is sparse. She has a little red book that she's traveling with where she asks for people's emails. Let's hope we get some more information in the future. At one point in the show, she alluded to the fact that she hadn't sent out a newsletter in over a year. I heckled her a bit with "we KNOW!" That made her laugh out loud which is such a sweet sound from Kim. Her house in Nashville is on the market if you're interested -- she's taking bids on that too.

Kim is such a gracious and talented woman. She's touring with Jesse (no mention of his last name or if she did mention it, was swept away by her next song), a guy she met at songwriting camp a few years ago. He doesn't know the song list (at least, not for the first few stops on this tour) and ran upstairs to grab Kim's coveted "red book" filled with fan information on her request (and a beer) which turned into a rather funny moment. Kim sidebarred "Jesse isn't really working out," as we awaited his return. Badump bump. Evidently, they wrote a few booze-soaked songs together at camp that neither one can recall.

Her vocals were so amazing halfway through the show that it, quite literally, took my breath away. This woman CAN sing with raw emotion and lilting high notes that are SPOT ON! Highlights of the show included an audience sing-along to "I'm Alright" from Bittersweet and "Didn't I" from Glimmer.

She sticks around to kabitz with the fans and sign autographs after the shows which is always nice. A couple in front of me talked to her for 10 minutes before I got to thank her for continuing to play Pittsburgh. The guy after me was greeted with a huge "it's soooo good to seeeee you" and a bear hug and another autographed poster/CD to add to his complete collection. These are some dedicated fans. Rightfully so.

As I've said before, catch her live. She puts on an intimate, unforgettable show, if you enjoy laid back intelligent "girl-jilted" songs. Kim ... my hat's off to you, lady! Great show!
Rusted Root -- Live (2004)

Rusted Root has been awing Pittsburgh audiences with their live shows for decades. They started out doing the Pittsburgh club circuit and ended up playing back-to-back sold out shows all over town in the 90's. I never went to see them back then because, quite frankly, I thought they were just another Grateful Dead knock-off jam band. They've matured since then and grown to embrace solo careers although their hometown band, Rusted Root, binds them still (Jim Donovan a.k.a. J.D. aside).

I went to see them last Sunday and was blown away by two things: the audience and their energy. Perhaps it's because they were playing to a hometown bunch, the same dredlocked, flowing skirt, patchoulli-wearing crowd that launched their career, that evoked such energy. I can't say. Maybe it's the fact that all band members were present for this show (Jenn Wertz occasionally stays home to raise her young son). Or perhaps it was the incredible thunder storm that raged around us as they came on stage. One can't say for sure what makes an incredible performance.

It's great fun to attend Rusted Root shows. The people-watching factor is off the scale with so many fans zoned out on ecstasy and acid, floating and skipping past to the first strains of "Tree" and "Ecstasy" that you can't help but be engulfed in the pure joy of the moment. I could not COMMAND myself not to dance or sway -- the environment breeds it. I'm not the wallflower type to begin with, which helps.

I was surprised, as a new fan, to hear their rendition of Neil Young's "Powder Finger" but felt so-so about the performance for that song. Neil has a way of underplaying the gravity of the lyric that Micheal Glabicki hasn't mastered yet. Still, it was fun to sing along.

The thing that really engages me with the band is their love of family and friends. The backstage area was teaming with well-wishers that have been part of this Root tribe for a long, long time. I watched Jenn Wertz playing with her toddler, Gibson, in the rain puddles and felt the joy shared between them. Michael Glabicki spent time with his son, Tree, and Patrick Norman got to see his parents after the show. Liz Berlin is always a whirlwind of energy, saying "hello" to fans and family alike. I miss seeing J.D. around and his wife Tracy. Tracy lived a few houses down from me on two occasions and we always enjoyed catching up. J.D.'s doing a lot of work with drumming and meditations, his true passions in life.

Rusted Root is touring a lot of college towns and music festivals this year. They're playing the hits and the Roothead favorites across America. I've seen some reviews praising their efforts and some that were left "flat" with their performance. I can say this about the latter: there is more to come, either as solo artists or a band, this story is not quite finished. It's like the ebb and flow of the ocean landing against the shore -- sometimes the sound is quite hypnotic and one can't hear anything else and other times, the boy with the frisbee 10 feet away lends more meaning to the day.

However it plays out, solo or band, ebbing or flowing, this is one CD worth owning. As always, do yourself a favor and go see them live. If anything, you'll be entertained by the Rootheads. They're a great bunch to have around!

If you want to find out more about Rusted Root, check out their web site or the Wikipedia listing. For now, I'll send you on your way.