Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I don't think there are any words for the greatness that is Augie March. For a band that's been hard at work in their native Australia for ten years now, it's amazing to be able to see them at such a small NYC venue like The Mercury Lounge. But finally, the band's 2006 award winning album, Moo, You Bloody Choir, is being released State-side, so I was able to do just that, and all I can say is...Wow.

Frontman Glenn Richards and the rest of the band-- David Williams, Kiernan Box, Adam Donovan, and Edmondo Ammendola-- were in nothing short of top form for tonight's show. This is perhaps a result of the seamless bond between the musicians that has been honed over the past decade as a band together, but more likely the result of a connection that is something like magic- rare and incredibly special to witness; a group of people lucky enough to meet the others with whom he blends perfectly. Richards leads the band in the most gentle way imaginable-- they don't seem to need much guidance to stay on the same page-- and the result is a show full of songs that are not only cohesive and technically well-written/performed, but also full of emotion and a kind of fireworks.

Richards' gift for songwriting is strong and understated, and is undoubtedly one of the reasons Augie March has had such staying power. Their music is literate yet subtly sentimental, and is truly gorgeous. I find it hard to write logically or professionally about a band that has meant so much to me personally, but hopefully that won't matter because they've made you feel the same thing.

Augie March - The Cold Acre
Buy Moo, You Bloody Choir

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The buzz has slowly but steadily building about Irish singer/songwriter Fionn Regan. The tale is a familiar one-- a guy with a guitar singing folksy songs that make the girls swoon. This was what I originally thought when I sat down preparing to listen to his album, The End of History. And that is indeed what I got, but that's not all.

What saves Regan from the droll passivity of becoming just another folk singer is the same thing that distinguishes musicians like, say, fellow Irishman Glen Hansard of The Frames-- a firm root in the cultural (specifically musical, in this case) background of his nationality. The traditions of Irish songwriting speak loudly and clearly through Regan's music, though perhaps unintentionally. To his credit, Regan has mastered the skill of mixing that influence with the tradition of American folk music. The obvious influence would be Nick Drake, who comes through most clearly on the track "The Underwood Typewriter", which is ripe with plucky guitar work and a melody you want to tap your foot along to.

His talents haven't gone unnoticed, either; on 18 July 2007, Regan was nominated for the coveted Mercury Prize, the UK equivalent to the Grammy (only with much better music). The End of History is a compelling album, one rich with stories of the old country just under the surface, as well as a showcase for a comfortable talent such as Regan's, and it's an album you should definitely check out.

Fionn Regan - The Underwood Typewriter
Buy the album

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Having been a Ryan Adams fan for quite a few years now, I feel like we've been through a lot together. From dramatic spats with Jeff Tweedy and answering machine messages left for Jim DeRogatis that border on harassment to the drug-addled Rock n' Roll phase, to the even more recent, also drug-addled Grateful Dead phase, it hasn't always been easy to defend his honour. Now with the release of Easy Tiger, we enter yet another phase in Ryan's ever-changing public persona: the clean-cut, alt-country roots just like the old days.

Easy Tiger is full of the kind of songs you listen to when you want to wallow over that lost love or you're trying to polish off that bottle of Jack-- or maybe just when you want a dose of Ryan Adams at his best (or most predictable-- it's a toss up, depending on who you ask). While only one track borders on actual rock ("Halloweenhead"), the album looms large with ambitious, melodic tunes rich with banjo, steel guitars, and harmonica. While the formula of the album seems, at first liten, to follow close on the heels of 2005's Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights, and 29 respectively, there's more certainty to Easy Tiger, and more of a formula that gets better as it goes on, if not vaguely monotonous. Tracks like "Oh My God, Whatever, Etc." and "Off Broadway" take on a folksy, singer-songwriter feel and are lovely but admittedly blend into one another a bit and don't stand out as strong individual tracks. That is the general problem with the album, though: while as a complete LP the album is cohesive and strong, individually the tracks seem slightly mediocre.

Lyrically, Adams is at his best on this album; his prose is sometimes blatantly sentimental, but still coherent enough to be relatable. Admittedly one of his biggest gifts is his voice and the myriad of ways he's learned to employ it over the years-- he can easily switch from a rock-driven rasp to an emotional falsetto at the drop of a pin, and it adds immense emotional volume to his musical landscape, which would probably seem a little drab and not necessarily very worthwhile without it.

All in all, Easy Tiger is a great return to the Ryan Adams that we got to know years ago, but it admittedly lacks the sparkle that was behind songs like "New York, New York" or "Answering Bell". But that's what happens when you're in it for the long haul; it gets hard to discern if you're bored or just comfortable. For now, I'll go with the latter.

Ryan Adams - Halloweenhead
Ryan Adams - New York, New York
Buy Easy Tiger on iTunes