Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Venerable Video: the everybodyfields - "Can't Have It"

How awesome is this picture? I cannot find who to credit it to. I remember it from their website back in the day.

Before The Civil Wars there was the everybodyfields. Before The Civil Wars broke up (or whatever is going on with them) the everybodyfields broke up. And it seemed to occur right when they were on the verge of very big things. Their slow but steady rise in roots music seemed to follow a similar but softer trajectory as then label mates The Avett Brothers (Ramseur Records). I am not saying they were destined to be as big as the Avetts, but the potential and talent was certainly there. Even Jill Andrews' solo project The Mirror seemed to be marketed in a manner such that she would find a home perhaps on VH1 among rising female pop stars like Sara Bareilles.

The musical and songwriting chemistry between Sam Quinn and Jill Andrews was always undeniable, even as behind the scenes turmoil was apparently brewing. Earlier this year the group performed at the Rhythm 'n Blooms festival in Knoxville, TN and filmed a few excellent live videos with the team at Live and Breathing. I don't want to venture into hyperbole and say that it's almost too difficult to watch these videos, yet watching one can't help but feel like some great magic was lost when they decided to go separate ways. Watching them it is obvious they've still got that nameless thing many other bands (even good ones) lack, and I can't help but think that one day they will record and tour together again. We can only hope. If not, I guess that's what albums and performance videos on the internet are for. They last forever.

"Can't Have It" is the eighth track on the group's second LP Plague of Dreams. In the video they are backed by a great band that includes frequent collaborator (with both Quinn and Andrews) Josh Oliver on electric guitar. Jill Andrews is as stunning vocally and visually as ever and Sam Quinn's strangeness is as apparent as ever (well, there are some other videos on the internet that might take that cake, but still, check out those socks). And nobody does harmony quite like the everybodyfields. The Civil Wars comprises a couple of vocal powerhouses, to be sure, bending notes around impossible corners--and I enjoy some of their songs--but give me these two (Sam Quinn and Jill Andrews, if you aren't paying attention) any day of the week. Or of the year. Or of my lifetime. Just get back together already (respectfully). I'm confident that after you watch them perform this great song you will see why I'm so keen on a band that has been broken up for years.

Walk walk white sock to sock, I wonder why these people all deceive me again

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Some Favorite Songs From 2013 So Far (Part Two)

Holly Williams - "Gone Away From Me"
From The Highway
The most beautiful song on The Highway, Williams' anguished voice here is a force to be reckoned with, observant and detached one moment and emotionally wrought the next; she also employs her falsetto to nuanced and powerful effect. This is a terrifically sad story song about family, death, and the passing of time, sung by a woman who comes from a family who knows a thing or two about singing a good story (and death for that matter; Hank Jr.'s her father, Hank Sr.'s her grandfather). Little vignettes like this really push the song into the realm of great and timeless: "They always made us kneel by Grandpa's grave/ Mama was wailing asking God if he was saved/ I never liked to see my daddy cry/ I guess I'll never know how Grandpa died." (Jackson Browne contributes on vocals, too.)

City and Colour - "Two Coins"
From The Hurry and the Harm
I love everything about this song. The melody, the voice, the lyrics--especially the refrain: "I've always been dark/ with light somewhere in the distance." Dallas Green, the man behind the moniker, can damn well sing. If you've ever heard of every church youth group's former favorite Christian rock-pop-rap band DC Talk, his voice reminds me of Kevin Max. (The guitar sounds fantastic on the solo acoustic version below.)

Steve Martin & Edie Brickell - "Love Has Come For You"
From Love Has Come For You
I honestly didn't expect to enjoy this song (and the album) as much as I do. Steve Martin's banjo picking compliments rather than calls attention to itself. I'd never heard of Edie Brickell before but she has a great and unique voice. Nothing showy or flashy here, just beautiful, simple music. More albums please, you two.

Camera Obscura - "This Love (Feels Alright)"
The Scottish band creates a kind of pop that is ethereal and alive. The opening hook on this song instantly piqued my interest and pulled me in. I mean, it's cool to like Scottish pop, right?

Phosphorescent - "The Quotidian Beasts"
From Muchacho
I only discovered Phosphorescent and its sole member Matthew Houck's blending of atmospheric indie rock, country, and americana this year. Anyone who has the taste and appreciation to do a Willie Nelson covers album, as Houck did with 2009's To Willie, is worth considering by more than a select few "indie-only" music fans. Even those who may find some of the songs on this year's Muchacho too experimental, it's hard not get down with the melodies and Houck's downtrodden yet passionate voice on "Quotidian." And in general, it's hard not to get down with a song this catchy that uses the word "quotidian" in its title.

The Mavericks - "Lies"
From In Time
This jam just doesn't let up. "Let's do one more," says lead singer Raul Malo. Malo still has that soothing croon and The Mavericks can still hit those sweet harmonies and their songs still have that quality that almost makes you want to get up and do the twist. Just in case you were wondering. One more, indeed.

John Moreland - "Your Spell"
From In The Throes
Moreland's entire album is chock full of soul-baring, heart-on-sleeve, heartbroken, ruthless authenticity such as this. This lyric gets me: "You were the queen of my condition, I was the king of the ignored/ Talked just like east Texas, looked like an angel from the Lord." That about says it all.

Listen on Spotify HERE.

George Strait - "You Don't Know What You're Missing"

From Love Is Everything
George Strait outclasses and outshines every male who's popular in mainstream country music, so much so that it's weird even to think of Strait as "mainstream" anymore. He is still the king and standard-bearer, cutting songs because he thinks they are good and have something to say and not because they cater to radio's annoying party-all-the-time culture. This song tells the story of two guys sitting in a bar. One guy won't stop complaining about his life and the other guy kind of wishes he (still) had that life. I'm glad Strait is still going to continue recording after he retires from touring; I don't want to miss out on gems like this. (The song was co-written by Chris Stapleton, unsurprisingly.)

Jimmy Eat World - "I Will Steal You Back"
From Damage
Sure, it's more of the same from Jimmy Eat World. But they do what they do so well and I know of no other bands still making this kind of music. "I Will Steal You Back" sounds like one of their songs you might have heard on modern rock radio in the late 90s or early 2000s, and I don't see a damn thing wrong with that.

Dailey & Vincent - "Steel Drivin' Man"
From Brothers of the Highway
This bluegrass jam is what you call a barn burner. You have top-notch tenor singing from John Dailey (who also wrote the song), and it's a wonder how he keeps up with the speed and ferocious picking of the rest of the band. It's the kind of talent you can find only in a bluegrass group comprised of musicians and singers at the top of their game. I highly recommend seeing them live if you get the chance. (The music video below captures their stage energy and sense of humor quite well.)

Jason Isbell - "Live Oak"
Isbell is one of America's greatest living songwriters. If you follow him on Twitter you are aware that he's an avid reader of fiction which may help explain why many of his songs have the feeling of being (really) short stories in and of themselves. If you like "Live Oak" and its anxious, verging on paranoid narrator, you'll love Southeastern. Great line: "Well I carved her cross from live oak and her box from short leaf pine/ buried her so deep she touched the water table line."

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Avett Brothers Set To Release New Album (Already) This Fall, Confess To Boredom

If you do a Google search for "the avett brothers new album," many hits are popular music and entertainment websites discussing their album released in September of last year, The Carpenter, will pop up. Except for one. The brothers did an interview (read it here in full) with radio.com where they discuss, among other things, Kanye West, Rage Against The Machine, the festival scene, boredom, and a new album--a new album to be released this Fall. I am a little surprised no (or not many) other websites have picked up on this seemingly large tidbit of information. (And I know some of you folks frequent--and I mean frequent--Abundant Ramblings for the truly hard hitting and breaking news in the world of music.) Maybe the fact that Scott mentions that it will indeed include a few songs from the Carpenter sessions doesn't quite fit the "big new release only a year after previous album coming from popular americana act" headline that many may have been hoping for. But it seems this isn't exactly a collection of b-sides and rarities. I don't know exactly what kind of album it's going to be. Perhaps neither does Scott Avett:

We should be releasing an album in September, maybe October. The Carpenter was the first installment and this is the other part. We initially thought of this as part two…but we realize it’s its own thing. It’s a very interesting occurrence we didn’t intend. It’s a nice surprise.

So originally the album was thought of as The Carpenter Part II, but it turned into something a little different. There are still unanswered questions: Was a Carpenter Part II always in the plans and, amazingly and with excellent tact, kept on the down low? What in the heck does "it's its own thing" and "interesting occurrence" mean? Were all of these songs written during the Carpenter sessions? Wait. Nevermind. He answers that:

Some of them are in the works for years — seven, eight years. Others, a year ago. It was all very different. We have a lot of places where songs are hiding within our homes, in our bus, in our bags, in our pockets they just end up here [points to his head]. They’re everywhere and we never know when they’ll come out of the shadows.

Folks familiar with the ingenuity that is The Avett Brothers Songwriting Process On Some Of Their Songs Which They Take Forever To Record But Have Been Playing Live Slash Tweaking For Ages will be unsurprised that some songs have been festering for years. So we know that, we know that some songs were recorded (written?) during the Carpenter sessions, and we know that some songs were written a year ago, which would be June of 2012, at which time I would have to assume most if not all of the songs included on The Carpenter had been chosen (they released lead single "Live and Die" to stream on NPR almost exactly one year ago), and it was in the twilight stages of mastering, mixing, engineering, and finalizing. Therefore, I will assume that a few of the songs for the new album were recorded after the Carpenter sessions. ("He sure is assuming a lot. I want nothing but the cold hard facts. This dude SUCKS.")

By now it should be obvious that the band has been working with Rick Rubin again, producer (some would say destroyer of bands; just ask a small legion of original Avett fans or The Band Perry) of The Carpenter and its predecessor I and Love and You. They obviously enjoy working with him and appreciate what he has brought out of them and their music. Take it away again, Mr. Avett (Scott that is. He wouldn't let Seth talk):

After we worked with him we were inventorying our songs much differently, much quicker. When we brought them to him this time, there was a lot less to go through. A lot less. The songs weren’t distracted. They weren’t as jumbled up, if that makes sense. So the editing process was different. But we recorded more songs and took a lot longer to record because we decided to take them to the end with the mixing and mastering. Hopefully it will be different when we work with him again.

Is the "this time" while they were recording The Carpenter but still bringing in songs for The Carpenter Part II, which may or may not have been the plan at the time? Or is the "this time" some time between when The Carpenter came out and the present moment? "More songs" and "took a lot longer" is always a good thing in a fan's mind. But does "we decided to take them to the end" mean that they were Carpenter demos that didn't fit on the album proper or other new songs that they decided to go ahead and "take to the end" because The Carpenter Part II was becoming its own little animal? Does "when we work with him again" mean when they work with him again on finishing up this album, or are they already set on having him record the follow-up to The Carpenter's follow-up as well? I know that I haven't made it obvious, but I do indeed have a few unanswered questions about this new album.

To me, the last part of radio.com's interview is the most interesting (read: leaves me with ALL of the questions). Take it away, Seth. Just kidding. Scott again:

I think when we were first at this, we thought of changes as atomic bombs. Like we needed to change everything from song to song, from set to set, show to show, day to day. I think we look at changes now — real changes, honest changes — as something subtle. So I think that the changes will be understood and natural from what we’ve done or how we’ve changed in the past two or three recordings that we put out. We’re trying to make plans to record again soon, within the next year, so there’s no telling what it will be like. I think we all know, and we haven’t actually said this, but I think that we may be bored in some ways. And I think it may be of interest to us to shake that boredom off because as creators and as musicians we need that. The fans need what they need and sometimes that’s different. But we need that. We’re all inspired by many things, but we don’t get the opportunity to let that be reflected in what we make. But we can’t stay bored for long. (emphasis mine)

Well crap, Avett. Thanks for the clarification! Sooo...this album will be subtly different. Is that your way of saying it is pretty much going to be in the exact same vein as The Carpenter, or are you purposely trying to throw us off track and this will actually be an album full of angrily sweet emotional rage a la "Paul Newman vs. The Demons"? Are you truly hoping to get into the studio again within the next year to work on the super hush-hushed Carpenter Part III? (I'm only even thinking of The Carpenter follow-up's follow-up because you bring it up in the interview. I think.) If so, that would be fantastic. Are you going to work with Rubin again, as you maybe also kind of hinted at earlier in the interview? That's cool too. But wait, you're bored? Bored with Rubin? Or merely bored artistically? If the latter is the case, a change in producer might not hurt. Producers kind of have a fairly large influence on the music an artist makes. I'm not saying that because I disliked your last two albums; I like them both and appreciate how Rubin has helped you all grow as a band, both artistically and in popularity. Changes can be good without necessarily being "atomic bombs." But after the follow-up to The Carpenter even I, one of your biggest fans, am going to become bored with another Avett/Rubin collaboration. Sure, "the fans need what they need" and it's wonderful and possible to give it to them and maintain being true to yourself. But don't be afraid to venture off the beaten path. Change it up if you have to. Don't be bored. Don't bore your fans. Make music that inspires you because it's based off music that has inspired you. I'm not saying you don't already do this. I'm just saying don't be afraid to really change it up. Atomic bomb that shit if you need to. Your legions of new fans will follow. And if not all of them do? Well, then I guess they love you for the band that you were not the band you're becoming.

Thanks for reading, folks. I'm not, like, an Avett Brothers fan or anything (read: I most definitely am).

And my one and only piece of layman's advice to assist in boredom prevention (well, other than what I've already written above, I guess): more banjo.

(Note: I wrote this a few days ago but only just now got around to editing and publishing it. Since then I've seen another interview or two where the Avetts discuss their new album, and a few major publications like American Songwriter have picked up on it. I didn't incorporate any of that into this piece, however, as I simply thought it was fun to comment on the confusing vagueness and the veering into "musician-speak", regarding how and when the new album was recorded, in the radio.com interview. Plus, I think the fact that they admit [or at least Scott admits on behalf of the band] that they're bored is significant, and also raises more questions than it answers. Surely that means changes in some form or fashion are to come; I guess we'll just have to wait and see what they are. [Seriously though, more banjo.])

*image via coverlaydown.com