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Live Culture: Vermont Arts News and Views


October 25, 2013

Oh, Tiger Lillies, You Wild and Crazy Guys

If I didn't already have tickets to the awesome Dr. John at the Flynn tonight, I would be heading to Dartmouth's Hopkins Center to see these weirdly awesome Brits.


Nuf said.

October 16, 2013

Rickie Lee Jones Talks About Her New Album, the Music Biz, and Hitting the Low Notes

Freelancer Ethan de Seife interviewed Rickie Lee Jones via email and contributed this report to Seven Days.

Credit astor morgan 2013Rickie Lee Jones has been surprising and charming listeners since the late 1970s with her distinctive voice, unique phrasing and deft musicianship. She has steadfastly refused to be pinned down by any single genre, ranging instead across jazz, folk, rock, popular standards and numerous other forms. Her fans are devout.

Jones' most recent album, The Devil You Know, is her first since 2009’s Balm in Gilead. On it she has elected not to showcase her own fine songwriting skills but those of others: Every one of the album’s 12 songs is a cover, including material by the Band, Tim Hardin, Neil Young and the Rolling Stones. Against the backdrop of producer Ben Harper’s stark, mysterious arrangements, Jones uses her remarkable voice to reinvent every single song, rendering them both welcoming and unfamiliar at the same time.

In an email interview, Jones discusses her changing voice, the costs and benefits of recent sea changes in the music industry, and her relationship with live audiences.

SEVEN DAYS: How did you choose the songs for The Devil You Know? Are there any links between them, besides your admiration for them and that you plainly enjoy singing them?

RICKIE LEE JONES: I don’t love all these songs, but [The Band’s] “The Weight” and [The Rolling Stones’] “Sympathy for the Devil” were and are pretty strong, and unique, live and so I decided to record them so folks could hear them sung a different way. 

SD: Which of the songs do you feel the closest connection with and why?

RLJ: The two mentioned. And I like the Van Morrison song [“Comfort You”]. Of course, “St. James Infirmary” is a song my daddy used to sing to me. But I did it differently for Ben Harper’s production.  

SD: You're known as one of the great interpreters of popular song. Do you have a "theory" of musical interpretation? That is, what makes for a good or successful interpretation of an existing song?

RLJ: If you hear it inside your head a certain way, then you are meant to sing it. But why bother singing it the way somebody already did it perfectly? Remember, it’s all about singing, being happy that you get to sing a song. It’s not so serious, after all. Just sing it how you feel it. 

Then again, I did not really like the Neil Young song I did [“Only Love Can Break Your Heart”]. I have Young songs I love, but this was not one of them, and I had no real line on it. Ben liked it very much, but this was a case of me going with his feelings. I still have mixed feelings about it. 

SD: Some of the arrangements on the album are pretty stark, even eerie. Why use that kind of "filter" to essay these songs?

RLJ: I guess at this point I am such a control freak that I cannot relinquish the control, and so the very heart, to a drummer and bass player. I hope this phase will end soon. 

SD: How has your previous musical work led you to the particular artistic statement you make with The Devil You Know? Does this album specifically build on or refer to your musical past?

RLJ: It’s all part of a whole. Each leads to the next. It’s all a response. It’s all expression of a time in my life. 

SD: As your voice has changed, do you find yourself, as a singer, drawn to different kinds of songs? And how have you kept your voice in such good shape?

RLJ: Yes, I think so. High end is gone now; low has taken its place. Must be careful not to relinquish femininity for all these wonderful low tones. With menopause and feelings of doubt, I can find myself hanging out in the low register. I have the youth still in my voice, in my heart, and the low tones can bring a kind of emotion, as the high notes do for youth ... to the song.

Women with low tones and voices evoke a certain courage and contentment, I think. So it’s not an elixir but a highly concentrated, magical thing that must be used sparingly, as much as it’s so fun to see how low you can go. Anyway, sounds good. 

SD: I'm sure everyone asks you this, so please forgive this longtime fan: Your phrasing is so unusual and distinctive. How did it evolve? Which singers, if any, shaped your phrasing? 

RLJ: I think I sit behind the beat so far because, in fact, I speak slowly, and I like how it feels to be there. ... Being right on the beat seems so ... impersonal. 

SD: How have the changes in the recording industry changed your approach to making music, and to being a professional musician?

RLJ: Well, I guess we can get the money directly from fans now. That would be good. Lotta people in the middle been making a lot of money and not giving much to the artist. Trickle-down record checks. Now the money will come, can come, directly to me, not half or more to the record company, who you then have to audit, if you can make enough money to do so. 

SD: What are you listening to these days? Do you listen to music in different ways now?

RLJ: I really listen mostly to the same old stuff, though I am delighted to hear and understand new music, its place in the lives of young people today; why they like mechanical voices. Why they like beat and no relief. What does it mean? It’s not my language, and I listen to it with great interest. Then I go home and put on my old records. 

SD: I've seen you perform only once — at First Avenue in Minneapolis, circa 1997. A great show, but I remember some audience members being a little rude, since they were used to music a little more raucous than yours. I imagine that your upcoming show in Vermont will attract a different kind of crowd. How do you "feed off of" your audience, for better or worse, when you're performing?

RLJ: I cannot pretend that I don’t hear them and feel them. Nor they with me. If I am in the right venue, we have a holy night. If not, I have to stop and listen until they remember where they are and stop talking. But that doesn’t happen often. Even in joints, I find they are very respectful and interested and captivated. It’s kind of awesome, and I do not take it for granted. Love my job. 

SD: You are allowed to listen to only one album for the rest of your days. Which album is it, and why?

RLJ: I think “On the Road” by Canned Heat. Just that song.  

SD: How does it feel to be regarded as an inspiration to the many younger singers who have cited you as an influence?

RLJ: FEELS GOOD. I would sure like to read that, because I still have not actually read any who cite me, though of course I figure they might. Well, I don’t read many articles about folks, I guess. 

Rickie Lee Jones performs on Friday, October 18, 7:30 p.m., in the Alexander Twilight Theater at Lyndon State College in Lyndonville. $39/49. 

 Photo of Rickie Lee Jones courtesy of Astor Morgan.


October 09, 2013

New Tunes: "Stay-at-Home Soldier," Happy Jawbone Family Band

This just in from the Dept. of Musical Oddities (Southern Vermont Division), it's the official video for "Stay-at-Home Soldier" by Brattleboro-based experiemental folk outfit Happy Jawbone Family Band. The song is from the band's forthcoming self-titled full-length, due out on Tuesday, October 15, via NYC label Mexican Summer.

The new album is a follow-up to Taste the Broom, a compilation of previously released HJFB material that MS released earlier this year. Judging from this video, HJFB pick up where they left off on that record, which is to say with winsome, lo-fi pop jangle that's as catchy as it is curious. Check it out …


September 27, 2013

Radio Bean Is Expanding Again


Radio Bean (File photo by Matthew Thorsen, 2010)

This just in from North Winooski Avenue: Radio Bean is expanding yet again.

In a phone call this afternoon, Lee Anderson, owner of both the Bean and the coffee shop's adjoining restaurant, ¡Duino! (Duende), informs Seven Days that he will be taking over the lease in the space previously occupied by the recently closed Caribbean Buffet restaurant. He says he plans to have the new space open by January 1, 2014.

And just what does Anderson plan to do with the space? Expanded seating for the restaurant? More stage space for bands, perhaps? 

Nope. It's gonna be a lamp shop. 

Yes, you read that correctly. Anderson's new venture will be a lamp shop that sells locally made lamps and accessories and other vintage baubles. It will also include the "Kitty Corner," where Anderon's wife, soul singer Kat Wright, will sell her own handcrafted goods. And, yes, there will also be a bar, though Anderson says he views that aspect of the venture to be secondary to selling lamps. 

Continue reading "Radio Bean Is Expanding Again" »

September 26, 2013

Joel Najman and His Beard Celebrate 30 Years on VPR


Joel Najman
Joel Najman (and his beard)

Joel Najman has been the host and producer of the weekly rock-and-roll-history program "My Place" on Vermont Public Radio for 30 years. That's a remarkable accomplishment, one for which he was recently honored by the Vermont Legislature with a resolution congratulating him on his three decades spinning the classic (and not so classic) songs that compose the rich tapestry of our collective musical past — and more importantly, unearthing the stories behind them.

Najman's show is as much a celebration of early rock and roll as it is a history lesson, and it is entertaining and educational in equal measures.

The anniversary love for Najman continues this Saturday, September 28, as his esteemed employers are throwing a celebratory sock hop called VPR A Go-Go, a 1960s-themed dance party at the Town Hall Theater in Middlebury.

The party will feature prizes for the best '60s hairdo, a Twister competition and go-go dancers. It will also, of course, feature the host with the most himself, Joel Najman, spinning the platters that matter. Oh, and Najman's beard. His totally awesome beard.

In anticipation of that party — and because we profiled Najman for his 25th anniversary — we recently got in touch with Najman's incredible Rip van Winkle and asked for its thoughts on 30 years behind the mic. Here's what Najman's typically silent partner had to say.   

SEVEN DAYS: 30 years. Wow. What are your thoughts about three decades in the biz?

JOEL NAJMAN'S BEARD: Well, it's certainly been a hairy ride. But I like to think there's been a lot of growth, too.

Continue reading "Joel Najman and His Beard Celebrate 30 Years on VPR" »

September 19, 2013

Califone's "Stitches" Is the Coolest Not-Really-a-Music-Video Ever


Califone (Credit: John Adams)

It's somewhat necessarily flown under the radar, but Chicago-based experimental rockers Califone are playing a small "living room" show this Saturday, September 21, at Angioplasty Studios in Burlington. (We've been asked not to divulge the precise location of the studio, since seating is limited. But if you're interested you can email the Angio folks for details.)

Anyway, Califone has a new record out on Dead Oceans called Stitches. In tandem with the release of that record, the band has unveiled a nifty audio-visual experiment that melds their music with the collective consciousness of the entire internet — or at least a whole bunch of Tumblr blogs. The result is a pseudo- music video that culls images from the Tumblr blogs of fans, set to the album's title song, "Stitches."

The cascading sequence of pics is never the same twice, meaning the video is unique every time you see it — which for us has been nonstop for about the last 45 minutes or so.

Check it out here, with the understanding that you'll likely disapppear down a rabbit hole for a bit — and also that, since it's Tumblr, you may see some naked lady bits. And for a more conventional example of the band's music, watch the video below.




September 13, 2013

New Tunes: "Return to Me," Bandleader


Bandleader album cover
Bandleader: Coal, Pressure, Time 

For the past several months, Burlington-based rockers Bandleader have been hard at work on their debut LP, a crowd-funded effort recorded — as all indie records are now legally required to be in a post-Bon Iver world — at a cabin in the woods. That album, dubbed Coal, Pressure, Time, won't reach our ears until October 1, reportedly with a Monkey House gig on or around that date.

In the meantime, the band recently released a single, "Return to Me," to tide fans over for the next few weeks. Not to be confused with the Dean Martin classic of the same name, it's a sneakily catchy, fat-bottomed little charmer seemingly informed by mid-1990s alt-rock and laced with just a touch of pop-punk precociousness — the latter especially in lead vocalist Patrick McCormack's playfully casual delivery.  


September 11, 2013

Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion Move Show to Skinny Pancake


Here's an unusual programming note: Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion's performance, originally scheduled for Thursday, September 12, at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge, has been moved to the recently expanded digs at the Skinny Pancake. And it's now a free show.

Guthrie — yup, she's Arlo's youngest daughter — and Irion are currently touring in support of their new record, Wassaic Way, which was released in August. The album was produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and Patrick Sansone, which makes sense given Tweedy's familiarity with the Guthrie clan.

On the Mermaid Avenue sessions, Tweedy, along with the rest of Wilco and Billy Bragg, worked with Nora Guthrie to revive and reimagine some of her father — and Sarah Lee's grandfather — Woody Guthrie's "lost" songs. So in a way, that means Tweedy has now collaborated with three generations of Guthries — albeit posthumously in Woody's case.   

Anyway, check out the lead single from that album, the decidedly irreverent pop charmer "Chairman Meow." 


August 30, 2013

Seven Questions for Brett Dennen

Brett Dennen
Brett Dennen

Brett Dennen has a knack for breezy, feel-good folk-pop. He also has a new record coming out on Tuesday, October 22, called Smoke & Mirrors. Touring in advance of that album, Dennen will stop by the Barre Opera House in Barre this Sunday, September 1. So we shot him a few questions via email about the new joint and some other random stuff. Here's what he had to say.  

SEVEN DAYS: When Loverboy came out you said in several interviews that it contained some of your most personal songwriting and storytelling to date. Did you continue in that vein on Smoke & Mirrors or did you take a different approach?

BRETT DENNEN: Yes. I went further. Even more personal. I figure the best way to reach people, or to ask them to relate, is to be totally honest.

SD: Otherwise, what can audiences expect from the new record? 

BD: I think that people who are fans of my early music will appreciate some of the songs. I also think that those who appreciate my more breezy upbeat songs will be happy as well. It is a nice mix of feel-good and intimate music.

Continue reading "Seven Questions for Brett Dennen" »

August 26, 2013

Dancing With Justin Timberlake: A Vermonter's Dream Comes True

1150211_10151829865989224_1268417503_nFormer U-32 student Lindsay Richardson danced her dream onstage last night with pop megastar Justin Timberlake at MTV's Video Music Awards. The best, and lengthiest, vid we found on the internets is on Perez TV right here. Or you can watch the Timberlake sequence here, or the entire broadcast on demand here.

Richardson started at age 12 studying hip-hop dance with Vermonter Sarah Cover, who runs the Urban Dance Complex in Williston. (As of September 1, it will be called the Urban Complex: Dance and Fitness.) With the help of Cover's New York and Los Angeles dance connections, Richardson got a leg up in the highly competitive industry. She moved to LA at 18 and, according to her Facebook page, is represented by the Go2 Talent Agency.

On Facebook before last night's show, Richardson let the cat out of the bag with these comments:

After a few of what felt like long weeks of secrets, I am VERY excited to say that one of my biggest dreams has come true. ... I could not be more honored to work with such an inspiring and humble human being and group of individuals. Tune in tomorrow and catch me and the most amazing group of dancers perform with Justin Timberlake on the VMA's!!!

In this "Stuck in Vermont" from 2007, Richardson spoke to Eva Sollberger about her aspirations.

Congratulations, Lindsay! Since one of your biggest dreams has come to pass, we can't wait to see what you do next.

Photo of Lindsay Richardson courtesy of her Facebook page.

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