Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

New Album from Anna Fritz of the Portland Cello Project

Friday, January 4th, 2013

Anna Fritz CD Release Show – Thursday, January 17 – The Secret Society

Portland, OR – Long-time core member of the Portland Cello Project, Anna Fritz, will be releasing her new solo album “The Gospel of Tree Bark,” on Thursday January 17 at 8 p.m. at The Secret Society in Portland. Closing out the evening will be the sing-a-long carnival antics of The Saloon Ensemble.

Fritz wrote most of her new album, “The Gospel of Tree Bark,” in a little cabin in Southern Oregon, nestled within the coastal mountain range of Coos County. Two small creeks ran through the camp, and it was the first time in years that Fritz felt like she was in a place that was truly quiet, with only the sounds of the water, birds and wind to lull her to sleep.

“I had a strong connection with a place that felt sacred; the land all around me was an inspiration, and central to the creative process,” Fritz explained.

And so emerged one of the primary themes of her album: exploring the natural world as a place of comfort and spirituality, longing for this connection within an urban landscape. The video for the title track, produced and filmed by David Waingarten, depicts her waking in the morning in the city to find a string that she follows deep into the woods, where she is free to be her most natural self, finding music in everything around her. The video is a stunning work of art in itself, and helped Fritz to raise over $15,000 through Kickstarter to fund the recording of the record.

Her voice on “Tree Bark” hints at the vulnerable tremolo of Mira, with a contrasting soaring soprano like Sinead O’Connor’s. Musically, cello takes center stage. Fritz has been a core member of the Portland Cello Project since its inception, which has given her a sense of “freedom through limitation.” While most singer/songwriterly records are fleshed out by a rainbow of tonal palettes, “Tree Bark” is arranged for cello trios and quartets. The result is a style that blends Fritz’s orchestral sensibilities, with songs born from the folk rock tradition, layered with tasteful drums and percussion by Ji Tanzer. Jason Wells (March Fourth Marching Band, Trashcan Joe) recorded and produced the album, and his expertise and affection for Fritz’s music resulted in a record with equal parts professional polish and earthy luster.

Fritz’s first solo effort, “Wake,” released in 2005, was a much more overtly political album, oftentimes bordering on angry. Since then, Fritz has grown up a lot, both as a musician and as a person. On “Tree Bark,” anger, frustration and alienation are sublimated into songs that are experimental and playful, sweet and sad. One of the most poignant moments on the album is during Fritz’s rewrite of “The Water is Wide,” where she sings of the struggles of a transsexual lover, a boy trapped in the body of a girl. As the French Horn soars over the background, each verse unfolds the struggle: “And so began my true love’s journey to claim his body for his own, to find a way to bend and shape it, to find a way to call it home.” The familiar chorus takes this story—starring an otherwise invisible member of our society—and makes his story universal, inviting the listener to remember that hard times can be overcome with the help of another.

Other musicians featured on the album include David Waingarten (electric guitar), Alison Ippolito on piano, Samantha Kushnick on cello, and Leander Star on French horn. Album art by Aremy Stewart features a woman smiling peacefully, laying on the ground, her body blending into the earth and roots of a tree. The artwork, just like the chorus of the title track, ties the spiritual and natural themes of the album together. On the chorus of “Gospel,” Fritz sings, “Life is a prayer in the gospel of tree bark. There’s a voice that whispers in the branches at night. It says life has gone on and will go on forever and you’re just a droplet, a small beam of light.”

For more information about Anna Fritz and “The Gospel of Tree Bark,” visit www.annafritz.com.

Up Close with Larry & His Flask

Monday, June 4th, 2012

-Published in Central Oregon Magazine in Spring of 2012 by Laurel Brauns

It might come as a surprise that the nationally famous, Warped-touring band of acoustic punk rockers from Redmond, Larry & His Flask, used to have a hard time getting a gig in Bend. They were too loud, too crazy or just too electric for this laid-back, bluegrass-loving mountain town.

Shunned by most major venues in Central Oregon, they took to the streets—literally—and set up impromptu stages on street corners, often drawing droves of patrons out on the sidewalk in front of the very venues that wouldn’t give them the time of day. Sometimes they’d even march through pubs and bars, play on table tops for a song or two, and rally on to the next place to stir up the crowd.

There was just one problem: they were a punk band, and this whole busking thing required acoustic instruments and someone that could sing loud… real loud.

“We couldn’t plug in, so if we needed volume, we’d just double up the instruments. At one time we had four guitars and twelve people that would play with us on a given night,” said drummer Jamin Marshall, who along with his brother Jesse, founded the band eight years ago.

Jamin had always been the lead singer, and his gritty vocals complimented the band’s beer-before-breakfast sound. But guitarist Ian Cook had the ability to really project over the crowds that would often gather to witness the Flask’s sidewalk mayhem, and with that in mind, he was newly elected lead vocalist.

Cook’s voice and musical inclinations tended towards more of a country/Americana sound, and as he performed the songs that had been in the band’s punk repertoire for years, they were transformed into something altogether entirely. Excited by this new direction, and dedicated to making it work, the boys holed up in a closed-for-the-season lakeside resort in British Columbia for the winter, which was owned by a family member, and woodshedded their new songs and sound.

Enter Dallin Bulkey (guitars), Kirk Skatvold (mandolin) and Andrew Carew (banjo), the diaspora of the then defunct Central Oregon band Zombie Co-Pilot, former Flask touring mates. Equipped with a keen knowledge of crafting three part harmonies, and an empathy for the punk rock scene and sound, the new members hopped in the back of a yellow short bus for a three-and-half-month tour around the U.S. and Canada… and never looked back.

The result was a marriage of bluegrass/Celtic/country instrumentation with the raucous energy of the Flask’s punk-as-hell live shows. One must see it to believe it, but start by imagining a bunch of bearded guys in suits, throwing their fros around to drunken sailor songs and running circles around each other with mandolin, banjo and guitar solos. If it gets too hot, Jamin flings off his shirt. If it’s a particularly fast song, Jesse leaps back and forth across the entire length of the stage like Peter Pan, miraculously taking his upright bass with him, and never missing a note.

Gigs eventually got booked in Central Oregon, and word around town spread that the Flask’s shows were not to be missed. And then the magic finally happened: long-time advocate and promoter Bret Grier of Random Presents got the boys a slot opening for Dropkick Murphy’s, a internationally touring Celtic punk band from Boston. The Dropkick’s merchandise manager was blown away by the sheer energy the Flask brought with them on stage, and got them on a national tour with the Boston powerhouse. This led to many music industry connections, and eventually a spot on the main stage on the Warped Tour this past summer.

In the middle of their crazy touring schedule, the band also managed to release a full-length record in 2011, which made a number of top ten lists both regionally and nationally. “All That We Know” gleams with studio polish and combines Mumford & Sons –esque vocals with explosive drums and banjo riffs. Americana gems like “Slow it Down” place them on par with the Avett Brothers, and has the potential to bring their high-desert thrashgrass to a whole new audience.

With months of touring ahead of them, right now the band is happy to be back in Central Oregon, the place they proudly call home.

“We’re country boys,” Jamin said. “Jesse and I were actually born in Baker City, and I think most of the band just feels more comfortable here.”

“Being on tour so much has also made me really appreciate this place,” he added. “Most of America is badlands and plains, dirt and nothingness. Here, there are mountains all around us… Smith Rock. Sometimes when I’m out in the middle of Kansas or something… I just want to see a tree, or a rock or a stream.”

 

Jeff Magnum Portland Oregon, Crystal Ballroom, April 19, 2012

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

While the smoky tenors of Vedder and Cobain might represent the 90s for the mainstream, for those who had their ears close to short span college airwaves, Neutral Milk Hotel’s 1997 release, Aeroplane Over the Sea is often declared one of the best albums of the decade.

I hold it as one of my favorite of all time.

Portland was blessed to have two Jeff Magnum appearances last week at the Crystal Ballroom, two of only a smattering of national dates, including two weekend shows at Coachella in California.

Until this year, NMH’s lead singer, Jeff Magnum, has largely led a Salinger-esque life-style, with few public appearances. His quick rise to fame—and subsequent disappearance—has cast an almost mythical deification around the songwriter and his work, which, it can be argued, is well founded.

On Aeroplane, Magnum weaves otherworldly imagery, arising from dreams about Anne Frank, into lovingly crafted and loosely connected songs (chapters, poems?) touching on themes from fairy-tales, the bible, hushed family dysfunction, and surrealistic eroticism. Couple this literate scope with Magnum’s pitch perfect, reverberate tenor—and a cadre of back-up musicians with counter-point instrumental solos that would make memorable songs in themselves—and you have a record that still holds mystery, thousands of listens later.

On to the show…

I had only moderate expectations upon arriving at the Crystal Ballroom last Thursday, but returned home unable to sleep for several hours, energized and trying to replay the night over in my head. It was an orchestrated, but humble affair, with Magnum mostly solo on stage, and a collection of acoustics at his arms length, accented with his signature mix of light distortion.

Magnum’s voice hits your soul like a campfire: melting you from the front, and keeping you alive with cold gusts and shivers in the back. Hearing it live was absolutely better than the recording, another thing I wasn’t necessarily expecting.

And as most concertgoers can attest, a live performance can be exponentially heightened or ruined by the crowd, and in this case, the audience was almost universally rabid, attentive and jovial. It basically felt like 1,000s of people who had been cooped up in their cars and tiny rooms, singing NMH songs to themselves for years, until one day they were finally re-united with their tribe, and were exuberant to finally encounter the object of their obsession.

The audience became bombastic during the classics, and sang (yelled) along to every word, sometimes even swinging their arms in the air.

Magnum played nearly every song from Areoplane, along with a few from Avery Island and… a Daniel Johnston cover of True Love Will Find You in the End. He was joined on stage by the openers Andrew, Scott and Laura (fellow members of Elephant 6 Collective bands Elf Power and The Gerbils) with French horn, mellophone, clarinet, cello, accordion and even midi electronic saxophone!

I’ve attached some of the songs below. The photo above was taken by someone I randomly met there who was daring enough to get that close to the stage. I know there was no flash, so hopefully this is somewhat forgivable.

The night ended with my favorite song Aeroplane Over the Sea. I cover this song a lot, and play it as an instrumental at weddings. Even brides, who’ve never heard it before, often go for it, which says a lot about its melodic integrity.

It was an ecstatic ending: The Crystal Ballroom’s strange carnival-noir murals set the perfect backdrop for this song’s lyrics, really all of his lyrics.

It’s a near impossible feat for an artist that is so well loved, and with an audience to rabid, to play the anti-rockstar. But the whole thing felt pure, uncorrupted, cathartic.

Famous last words:

“When we meet on a cloud, I’ll be laughing out loud. I’ll be laughing with everyone I see; how strange it is to be anything at all.”

Some songs:

Jeff-Magnum-KingofCarrotFlowers-Pt3

Jeff-Magnum-PDX-Crystal-Two-Headed-Boy

Jeff-Magnum-PDX-Crystal-Oh-Comely

Jeff-Magnum-PDX-Crystal-Ghost

Jeff-Magnum-KingofCarrotFlowers-Pt3

Jeff-Magnum-PDX-Crystal-Aeroplane

 

 

 

 

Lewi Longmire at the Laurelthirst Public House, Portland, OR

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Lewi Longmire and Bingo play the the Laurelthirst Public House

I went out to see an old music aquaintance of mine, Lewi Longmire, play at the Laurelthirst Public House this Tuesday after Jackstraw. This bar sits on the north end of Laurelhurst Park and is known for featuring a great mix of acoustic Americana and bluegrass. Colin Meloy of the Decemberists, played some of his first Portland gigs here, and Portland music luminaries like Laura Veirs and Casey Neill often pop in to play cameo shows.

I first met Lewi when he was working for Music Millenium, one of those rare gem’s of a music store that promotes local and upcoming musicians with in-store performances. Lewi has always had a name around town playing is own music, but has also built a great reputation as a multi-instrumentalist and has been featured on many albums by national acts like Minus 5 and Tara Jane O’Neil, as well as playing as a side man in the above mentioned Casey Neill’s band (The Norway Rats), as well as with James Low and Caleb Klauder.

Check it!

Tuesday at Laurelthirst, Lewi was playing with his buddy Bingo, who was visiting from Joshua Tree. The way they meshed was magical, and both traded songs and leads like only old music friends can. Lewi’s voice is classic Americana and he can carry a slow and sad tune (see “San Ysidro”) just as well as his more prolific and upbeat numbers like “Disappear,” both of which you can get your hands on through CDBaby.com on his most recent album, “Fire ‘Neath the Still.”

And speaking of this album, I’m intrigued by the cover. It looks like a shot from the Crooked River in Central Oregon, or maybe the John Day? If his love for rivers and the outdoors says anything about the tribe that Lewi attracts, I know you guys would love him in Bend.

And speaking of, the Laurelthirst in general seems to be a gathering place for these type of folk. Though I moved here to take a break from the foot-stompin’, shaggy-haired music so prevalent on the other side of the mountains, I have to say my soul felt filled by being at the Laurelthirst this week. Sometimes you have to move away to remember who you are.

Bingo and Bourbon Night at The Woods in Portland, OR – A guide and review

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

(A winter in Portland: This is the first of a series of articles and musings about being back in the city after many years living in the mountains. Right now, I feel kind of like a hick, but hopefully writing about all these little adventures and experiences will at least be funny, and will be good motivation to keep getting out there to try new things.)

If you’ve been wanting to check out Bingo Night at The Woods for a while, here’s a quick reference to get you started:

Time:
It starts at 8:30 p.m. and you should get there early if you want a seat, because the room is packed as a rule. If you don’t care about claiming a nook however, you can show up whenever you want. Michael Young (of Brother’s Young… one of my favorite PDX projects) usually works the door and will give you a playing card for whatever game they are on.

Money:
Bring cash. Although the playing cards at the door are only a buck each, they will not take a credit/debit card for them, and will not give you cash at the bar. (What the hell.) Somehow I ended up buying a little ink stamper (pre-game jitters, obviously), but you can just poke the numbers on the card to mark it.

Bingo Night Host Brian Perez - pretty entertaining.

Friends:
Most people there appeared to be in groups, but the few people that were flying solo didn’t seem awkward, and I witnessed a few folks introducing themselves, outside especially. I went there alone and met some very friendly people sitting outside the other bar as I was leaving.

Scene:
Bingo Night definitely is one. The guys in suits and girls in pre-Depression era fashions were just one element of the theatrics of the evening. The music was an upbeat mix of vintage tunes from the 20s – 50s, which complimented the house party/old funeral home atmosphere perfectly. Brian Perez, the host for the evening, chose Bingo balls from an old school spinning cage and gave away a strange assortment of prizes ranging from faux-antique to kitsch. So the “scene” is not for everyone, but perfect for those enjoy a fanciful element of stagecraft for their night out on the town.

The Woods is a renovated funeral home - look at the deer!

How To Play Bingo:
Well, it is not that hard but requires somewhat of an attention span. Brian will announce the winning pattern (a cross, a four square in the right-hand corner etc.) and might even post a visual reference above the stage. There are a lot of really long breaks every couple of games to get drinks, grab a smoke; meet your neighbor, etc. So the game itself is, like… not serious.

Parting Thoughts:
I’m psyched to see a unique night like this (and an equally interesting venue) build so much momentum. It probably speaks to people’s desire to have something fun to do that is still a connection to a large group and event, but is more playful and interactive than watching music.

But speaking of music, this place is an amazing place for it! I’ll be playing my CD Release Party here November 30, 2011 with Anna Fritz (of the Portland Cello Project) and Sam Cooper (of Horse Feathers.) Hope you can make it!

Mimicking Birds… Bend, OR loves you

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Here's the album. Yep, it's on iTunes.

When I first listened to Mimicking Birds it was as if I was hearing a band I had always known and loved: Maybe it was the familiar lilt of lead singer Nate Lacy’s voice that sounded vaguely like Isaac Brock’s, maybe it was the universal themes of his lyrics that grounded the literate in me, or maybe it was just the fact that everytime I’ve listened to Mimicking Birds 2010 self-titled debut, I felt like I was bathing in the pure acoustic gladness of lying in dewy grass on a summer morning.

Here is my vision for this maybe-morning: Mimicking Birds is floating out my backyard window in Bend as I lay on the grass and fallen leaves. My eyes are wide open, ready for a beautiful blue-sky future, but my heart, and these songs, are heavy from the ghosts of life’s sad departures. Like the earth that is growing and dying beneath me, these songs have a way of paralyzing me into staying put, of really being present with this music and my surroundings, if only for exactly 40 minutes.

Mimicking Bird’s debut is much like entering into a relationship with a river you’ve never been down, but always wanted to explore.  Nate Lacy’s voice and lyrics have now been permanently burned into my mind. With this album, he offers both the shock and redemption of the chill of new waters, coupled with the warmth and comfort of those burning logs on the fire after a particularly difficult pursuit. Producer Isaac Brock’s otherworldly touch takes these post indie-folk melodies (can we say that now?) into a starry realm, with meaty electric overtones, playful distortion and effects, and delicate guitar and piano licks that could easily turn this album into any outdoor addict’s favorite road trip sound track.

Very much adorable.

While this is just the beginning for this Portland, Oregon band, I know know know I will be hearing these songs on many movies and commercials in the future. I’m so proud that Visit Bend, for whom I wrote music and web content in the past, has picked up these guys to use in their most recent commercial about the wonder of the outdoors through the perspective of a child’s eyes.  Check it below:

Congratulations to all that have been involved in these projects. Thank you so much to Glacial Pace and Mimicking Birds for letting Bend use your music for this commercial. Can’t wait to hear you all play here!

(((PS – I covered a MM song many years back, and Isaac Brock gave me free reign on it, for which I’m still eternally grateful. Thank you! Here she/he is Bankrupt on Selling.)))

Loch Lomond, boy next door

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Loch Lomond

Nearly every morning, at eight a.m. on the dot, the songs of Loch Lomond drift through my window here on Ithaca Ave. in Bend, Oregon from the speakers of Jerry Young’s white Jeep. Loch Lomond’s lead singer, Ritchie Young grew up next door, his parents still live here, and his father is an obsessive fan. When he’s not blasting Ritchie’s latest, I’ll hear Brothers Young for a while, the musical project of his other three sons.

I’ve been long over due to write about Ritchie. I’ve loved his music for nearly a decade now when I first heard him play in Portland while I was going to college there. He writes beautifully dynamic chamber-folk, fleshed out with the baroque flourishes of his five band mates. They most recently played in Bend for the PDXchange Program, opening for Viva Voce at the Tower Theatre, and it was quite possibly one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

Brothers Young

After the show, I hopped over the garden to Ritchie’s house, and got to rap with the band for a bit about how things have been going. They did admit that they had been rehersing A LOT lately, due to a new infusion of energy that was partially inspired but some recent successes. One, they had the song “Wax and Wire” picked up by Red Bull in the UK to be the sound track to BMX rider Danny MacAskill’s newest video. Last time I checked, it had 8 million views, and Ritchie told me they’ve sold close to 50,000 iTunes downloads of that track as a result. Cha-ching!

Check out some wonderful pictures of Loch Lomond in Bend, Oregon, taken by Photographer Byron Roe, and see the Danny MacAskill video below. The band also just released a new album in February on Tender Loving Empire called Little Me Will Start a Storm. Nice one neighby!

Oxford Hotel in Bend, and 10 Below

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

I’ve had the opportunity to play at the Oxford Hotel a number of times, mostly thanks to the GM, Ben Perle, one of the nicest guys in town. In addition, we have had a very successful photo shoot in the lobby with Bend wedding photographer Byron Roe, and we have also been filmed performing there by Local Buttah, a group of guys creating YouTube videos that support local music here in Bend. We are really looking forward to playing music for a wedding at the Oxford Hotel in the future… but until then, we’ll have to keep enjoying the restaurant. Check out some of our photos from the shoot below, as well as one of the Local Buttah videos.

Review of 10 Below:

10 Below is a refreshing addition to Bend’s dining scene. The decor and the menu feel much more Portland than mountain town: The “urban-organic” influence sets 10 Below apart from Bend’s many steakhouses and brewpubs.

As a former waitress, I’m always hyper conscious of the service. We arrived at 9:30 on a Sunday night, at a time where there is not much open downtown. Although the restaurant was empty save a party of hotel guests, the bartender was happy to see us, made us feel welcome, and was both attentive and open to conversation.

We were dining on the light side, as it was pretty late. Being a vegetarian, usually my only choices are the ubiquitous veggie burger or hummus plate. There was lots to choose from including a ratatouille linguine, miso soup, grilled vegetable salad, vegetable tempura, and a carrot and sweet potato soup. I went with the carrot soup and it was served with warm, crunchy rustic bread, and was deliciously creamy with a hint of ginger. My companions enjoyed the lamb sliders and the korean bbq pork belly, and from their oohs and aahs, I’d say they were pretty happy.

I’ve returned a few times to 10 Below, and I always notice the employees seem really happy. They look you in the eye and give you a warm greeting. If employees are being well cared for, to me that is a sign that the same respect is going into many of the overall operations, from preparation of the food to considering environmental impacts of running a restaurant and hotel.

Above all, 10 Below feels authentic to me. It’s hip without being pretentious, snow pants and stilettos can sit side by side. I’ll definitely go back…

Photo below by Byron Roe:

Leonard Mynx, Vesper review

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Leonard Mynx plays the kind of slow, sad folk that the kids in Portland have been falling all over for the last decade or so, and that I could listen to all day. I think it is easy to make the Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen comparisons to Mynx: his reverence for poetic imagery and his smoky delivery for one. But on first listen to Vesper, immediately thought of one of my favorite long-lost bands, Hotel Alexis. Both embrace the warm, fat sound of recording to tape to create a specific intimacy with the guitar and vocals, so it is as if they are just a few inches away, singing in your ear. Both use elegant and sparse arrangements of pedal steel, strings and organs to give intentional emotional weight to their compositions. And both have eerie lyrical streaks-of-genius that makes you wonder why they are not famous. The opening line from Mynx’s Vesper is a great example:

I was born in a ghost town the year of the landslide in a hotel room beside the funeral pyre

While the Valley of Sickness and Death has a very memorable chain of surrealist images, for me, the second track, Northwest Passage is the “hit” of the album. I’m not talking about Billboard Top Ten crap or anything like that, but the song that had the stickiest melody and catchiest phrasing while still delivering an linear story that we can either be fascinated by, or else relate to on some level. The song proposes, “If for just one night I could hold you ask my own and see the world turn in your eyes…”

Almost every song on this record has a theme that will haunt the memory long after the record is turned off. “Robert” is a song about a fictional brother who dies in the war in Iraq. “The Wine” is sort of a Springsteen-esque anthem for America’s working class, and the little relief they get from drinking wine.

Vesper was produced by Leonard Mynx and Adam Selzer at Type Foundry, the same studio responsible for records by other Portland darlings like The Decemberists, Loch Lomond, Weinland and M. Ward, among others. He actually started giving away this album for free, so if you are interested, drop him a line at leonardmynx @ gmail.com, though I’m sure he’d appreciate a few bucks for postage…

I played a show with Leonard a few weeks ago in Portland at the Press Club and was psyched to find out that he played the Hush Hush Sweet Harlot series that I booked and promoted when I lived in Portsmouth, NH a few years ago. Sidney Alexis, of Hotel Alexis (now Winter Sons) mentioned above, originally started the series.

Built to Spill cover – The Weather – performed at McMenamins OSF

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Built to Spill played in Bend at the Domino Wednesday, November 10, 2010. This is one of my favorite bands and Doug Martsch has inspired me as a songwriter and a musician. You can read my review of the Built to Spill show in Bend OR here.

I covered the song “The Weather” at McMenamins Old St. Francis School the night after the BTS show and tried to get the audience to guess the band… but I suppose this song is a little more obscure than I thought : ) “The Weather” was the direct inspiration for my song “Outside” which is the first track on Closed for the Season.