Categories
Music Reviews

She & Him

She & Him

Christmas Party

Columbia

Five years after A Very She & Him Christmas, Zoey Deschanel and M. Ward are back with another selection of holiday tunes suitable for coffee shops and sedate gatherings. Zoey takes center stage on most of the album, but Ward shines providing counterpoint on “The Coldest Night of the Year.” In addition, The Chapin Sisters and Jenny Lewis provide vocal assists throughout the album, while Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) provides drums on all tracks.
As far as I am concerned, “All I Want For Christmas” is worth the purchase price of the album all by itself. Zoey’s voice perfectly fits with the production, bringing a Leslie Gore/Ronnie Spector vibe to the Mariah Carey modern classic. “Happy Holiday” is served up as a bouncy jazz number, with a prominent bass line. “Must Be Santa” is a bit of a disappointment. It is fine on its own, but doesn’t stand out. The again, to me, everyone else pales after hearing the Brave Combo version. The really surprising take is listening to Ward slow down “Run, Run Rudolph,” a track that begs for an up tempo treatment. When it started slow, I figured it would kick in at the chorus, or the second verse, but it never did.

I expected a solo performance from Zoey accompanied by nothing but a ukulele. And while we do get it, it is not “Mele Kalikimaka,” the Hawaiian Christmas song. Instead, it is the closing track, “Christmas Don’t Be Late,” commonly associated with Chipmunks. Oddly, it works as a lullaby, and the Hawaiian track still has an island feel to it.

Ok, by now everyone reading this already has an opinion on She & Him. Their second mixed bag of Christmas songs will do nothing to sway that opinion. If you are a fan of their retro arrangements and breathy vocals, you will gladly play this at your holiday gatherings. If you find everything associated with Zoey Deschanel to be annoyingly cute and twee, you can safely pass on this.

www.sheandhim.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Hop Along / Speedy Ortiz

Hop Along / Speedy Ortiz

with Transcendental Telecom

The Social; Orlando, FL • May 15, 2016

Everyone loves Hop Along, so why don’t I? On paper they sound like my perfect kind of ear candy: female fronted 90’s inspired indie rock with confessional lyrics sung with emotive intensity. Even after their album (Painted Shut) failed to grab me, I stood at the foot of the stage prepared to be woo-ed by them, but woo-ed, I was not.

Hop Along

Jen Cray
Hop Along

Frances Quinlan sings with a smile on her face and holds nothing back when she reaches for the most bold faced notes, which is endearing, but the scratchy cry of her vocals when they crack makes me grateful to be wearing ear plugs. No one else seems to hear it. The room is full to capacity and they’re all singing along with such loving sincerity that I feel like my internal tuner must have honed in on a different frequency. “Horseshoe Crabs,” a song I do admit to really liking, has the girls next to me practically tearing up as they close their eyes and sing like they’re alone in their bedrooms.

Jen Cray

Jen Cray

Drummer Mark Quinlan (Frances’ bro) is an animated tornado behind the kit, one whose smile and enormous laugh is infectious. In fact, the whole band has a fun hearted air that pulls me in, despite my disinterest in the music. Some music has to marinate. I’ve been simmering Hop Along for a long time now, and though it’s not yet to my taste that’s not to say it won’t ever be.

Speedy Ortiz

Jen Cray
Speedy Ortiz

Co-headliners Speedy Ortiz opened up the show with a lackluster set that was weak compared with the one they gave Orlando a year ago when opening for Jenny Lewis. Maybe less is more with this Massachusetts noise pop band, because after awhile it all kinda blurred together. Opening with crowd pleaser “Taylor Swift” and playing their best song, “Raising the Skate” early on had them showing their hand too quickly. After that the setlist felt a bit light.

Jen Cray

Jen Cray

Some technical issues at the onset of their set, ironically, instilled the most life into their time onstage. When singer/guitarist Sadie Dupuis had to leave the stage to fix a broken string, drummer Mike Falcone improvised a System of a Down cover that made them sound like a whole different beast of a band — one with fiery hip hop beats and guttural vocals. Upon Dupuis’ return she demurely sipped her beer while waiting for Falcone to wrap it up. When that didn’t happen, she slowly poured said beer onto his cymbal. This unexpected bit of comic relief gave warmth to the band that otherwise felt a little cool.

Transcendental Telecom

Jen Cray
Transcendental Telecom

Jen Cray

Also on the bill was local genre-busters Transcendental Telecom, whose sound somehow fuses together indie, jazz, and surf rock in a pleasantly hypnotic whirl. Their set coincided with the early pre-sunset door time, painting them in a wash of Florida sunshine that perfectly accompanied their sunny psychedelic panorama of sound. Fun fact: frontman Spencer Tricker was in a band with Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis way back when, and she gave him a shout out about it during her band’s set. Indie rock love all around.

Galleries of photos from this show: Hop Along ; Speedy Ortiz; Transcendental Telecom .

www.hopalongtheband.com ; www.speedyortiz.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Jenny Lewis

Jenny Lewis

with Speedy Ortiz

The Beacham; Orlando, FL • May 10, 2015

Jenny Lewis is too perfect. It’s a problem, for some. She can write, she can sing, she plays multiple instruments, she’s beautiful, she can seduce a crowd with a simple sultry smile, and she unfailingly puts on the kind of live show that are the reason we GO to live shows. If this were high school, she’d be the cool girl who hung with both the popular kids and the burnouts and was nice to everybody. We’d all either want her, or want to be her.

Jen Cray

Personally, I have no problem whatsoever with her many skills nor the fact that her concerts (be them on her own, or with Rilo Kiley, or The Postal Service) are always transcendent, but for some it can be intimidating. “She sounds too perfect,” I hear some say, as if that were a valid criticism. To those in search of the imperfect performance I say this: go see a bunch of shitty shows and then maybe you’ll fully appreciate what you have in Jenny Lewis.

On her current tour, one which has her dropping down in Florida no less then four times, Lewis has been hand picking the opening bands from the vast pool of current female songwriters making killer music right now. Torres, Olivia Jean, and Nikki Lane have all been featured, and in Orlando we had Speedy Ortiz — a band that even Lewis herself admitted to being super excited about seeing.

Speedy Ortiz

Jen Cray
Speedy Ortiz

Led by the enigmatic Sadie Dupuis, Speedy Ortiz give 90’s influenced pop and fuzz indie rock a poetic shine. Imagine Veruca Salt or Helium with songs written by someone who both went to MIT for math and music and has an MFA in poetry. There’s unpredictability in the melodies and in the warping guitar work, but underneath it all are clean pop songs that stick to the brain immediately. “Raising the Skate,” with it’s chorus of I’m not bossy/I’m the boss/ Shooter not the shot sung over a wave of feedback is a subtle yet bold feminist proclamation that has hidden itself inside of great indie rock song.

Jen Cray

Stepping out once more in the custom designed white suit with its rainbow motif that has become her signature outfit for this tour supporting The Voyager, Jenny Lewis began the set at the piano before sauntering downstage to hand deliver the first of several roses to ladies in the audience. After opening with “Head Underwater,” she dipped into her Rilo Kiley pool for a pair of songs, much to the approval of the packed house — many of whom were too young to have ever gotten the chance to see the band, who split up 5 years ago.

For that matter, many fans seemed too young even to know songs from her first solo record, 2006’s Rabbit Fut Coat — including “The Charging Sky,” a song that she wrote about Orlando. “I wrote this song for you guys… no, really, I did!” She’s clearly catching the ears of a new crowd, but those of us who’ve been around the block with her a few times were giddy like school girls when she name dropped our town with such sincerity. She loves us, she really loves us!

Jenny Lewis

Giddy as school children to be knocking around the big inflatable balloon balls she tossed out near the end of the set, too. What is it about smacking around a big balloon that tickles us so? It’s a simple way to make everyone in the room feel like an 8 year old, and it totally works as a way to unite the room. She used to do that with Rilo Kiley (I remember silver balloons being tossed during “Silver Lining”), and she’s continuing the tradition now for a new audience.

Jenny Lewis

Before closing out a heavenly performance with the ethereal acoustic “Acid Tongue,” she played the new song that she first debuted with Haim at a fundraiser in Los Angeles last month, “Girl on Girl.” If that song is an indication of the next record Jenny’s got in the works, I can’t bloody wait!

Galleries of live shots from this show: Jenny Lewis; Speedy Ortiz.

www.jennylewis.com &end;

Categories
Features

Big Guava Festival

Big Guava Festival

Lineup Announced

The lineup for Tampa, Florida’s BIG GUAVA FESTIVAL has been revealed and, man, is it tasty!

courtesy of bigguavafest.com

The Strokes, Pixies, Hozier, Run the Jewels, Passion Pit, Ryan Adams, Jenny Lewis, TV on the Radio, Death From Above 1979 stand out in a longer list that touches base in just about every musical sub-genre. As with last year’s fest, there will be four stages, craft beer, food trucks, and free thrill rides to keep attendees entertained in between performances (though, with four stages, there will always be someone playing!).

Here are the dirty deets on the when, where and how much:

Fri. & Sat., May 8 & 9, 2015 Florida State Fairgrounds And Amphitheatre in Tampa, Florida

2- day tickets start at $115

For more info, hit up the festival’s official website.

www.bigguavafest.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Jenny Lewis

Jenny Lewis

with The Belle Brigade

Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, Orlando, FL • July 11, 2014

“I love Orlando. I have ever since I was a little kid,” the dreamy ginger haired Jenny Lewis said to the sold out audience, forever endearing herself to us all forever. And this after previously name checking our often-criticized tourist town in “The Charging Sky” off of 2006’s Rabbit Fur Coat. We’d have a beer with you on our Orlando streets anyday, Jenny.

Jenny Lewis

Jen Cray
Jenny Lewis

How can you not adore the child actress- turned musician? She’s gorgeous, and she writes naked songs that toe the lines between folk, pop, and country while still retaining cool indie cred. She’s been in cool bands like Rilo Kiley and The Postal Service. Beck produced the kick off single off of her upcoming album The Voyager, the rest of the album of which is produced by Ryan Adams. And she once got tattooed by a topless Angelina Jolie… ok, that last one may have been a scene in the movie Foxfire, but it still counts because it’s something that makes her infinitely cooler in my book!

The Belle Brigade

Jen Cray
The Belle Brigade

Before we dig deeper into the pool of redhead cool, let’s talk about The Belle Brigade. A brother/sister duo, Barbara and Ethan Gruska — for real brother and sister, not White Stripes-ian brother/sister — make up the core of this group. They share vocals and their voices compliment one another like Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks, but it’s Barbara who’s the real showstopper here. Not only is her voice knock-down stunning, but she’s also the drummer. That never ceases to impress my very uncoordinated brain! Their set is one of those opening act WOW’s! that catch you off guard and send you running to the merch table to snatch up the cd, if only to satisfy your need to hear the closing song “When Everything Was What It Was” a few more billion times!

Fun fact, no wonder this pair are musically gifted, they’re grandfather is composer John Williams. As in motherf-ing Star Wars , John Williams!

With everyone still bustling about, darting in and out of their seats as they make the mad dashes to and from the ever lengthening bathroom and bar lines — for, in fact, Jenny Lewis was NOT the headlining attraction for the evening, except for a select few (like myself), the marquee advertised Ray Lamontagne — Jenny Lewis and her band crept out onto the stage. Despite some sound maladies (one incredibly overloud lead guitar, in particular), the set that was brought forth stunned the unexpected crowd much in the way The Belle Brigade had caught me off guard, and then some.

Jen Cray

As yet unreleased songs off of her soon to hit the streets album were spread out through a nearly hour long set that included some Rilo Kiley songs, much to my delight. Lewis’ vocals were, as always, spot on to die for — sounding like a 21st Century Patsy Cline, though her white with rainbow design suit was a tad too timid for her usual ballsy style. Also timid was the lighting crew, if there was one. For the entirety of her performance the lights stayed frozen in place, never following the flirty frontwoman even when she climbed atop boxes or edged out closer to the audience. She was left in the dark unless she stayed in her designated places. Between the sound and lighting issues it felt as though the band missed their soundcheck, which could very well have been the case.

Still, there were some candlelight moments in which none of the exterior distractions mattered. When she sang the haunting “Acid Tongue,” accompanied by her band half mooned directly behind her singing backing vocals, the auditorium was so silent you could hear a pin not just drop, but breathe. It was one of those true concert moments that are, let’s face it, the reason we all feel compelled to go see these musicians play live in the first place. To experience an out of body, or at least out of head, experience that can only be brought about my melody, words, and voice.

She got us there. And no strange white pant suit, or ear piercing guitar feedback could diminish that.

Gallery of live shots from this show:: Jenny Lewis ; The Belle Brigade.

Jenny Lewis: www.jennylewis.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Sonny & The Sunsets

Sonny & The Sunsets

Tomorrow Is Alright

Fat Possum

It’s an open road, in the middle of America. A beat up camper, or maybe a VW bus, hurtles past the trees and corn fields housing a band that has no use for modern concepts like cell phones, iPods, or Facebook. They listen to The Velvet Underground, The Beach Boys, Leonard Cohen, or Simon & Garfunkel — depending on who’s got control of the cassette deck.

At least that’s how I’d like to imagine Sonny & The Sunsets.

The debut album of this California quartet sounds refreshingly not of this era. Sure, you can hear a bit of The Avett Brothers or Jenny Lewis caught up in the air that surrounds this collection of lazy day beach songs, but I choose not to dwell on those comparisons. I’d like to imagine that Tomorrow Is Alright is a newly unearthed gem that I just dug out of my parent’s old box of records.

Sung in a lighter Lou Reed matter-of-fact manner, Sonny Smith proves capable of sunny pop (“Too Young to Burn,” “Chapters”), beautifully morose sentiments (“Death Cream”), playful duets (“Planet of Women”), Americana tunes that would not have sounded out of place being sung by Johnny Cash (“Stranded”), and songs that manage to overlap just about all of those elements into one (“Bad Vibes & Evil Thoughts”) without sounding disjointed.

On a whole, the album sounds like the last day of summer and all of the complicated emotions that come along with it.

Sonny & The Sunsets: www.sonnysmith.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Jenny Lewis

Jenny Lewis

with Heartless Bastards

The Plaza Theater, Orlando, Fl • January 29, 2009

Alone, beneath a long white spotlight that makes her red hair glow and her white legs shimmer, Jenny Lewis opens her set with a solo performance of “Silver Lining,” a song she wrote with her primary musical family Rilo Kiley. The sold-out seated Orlando crowd soaks up the unexpected inclusion of the non-solo album song before exploding with welcoming applause as the petite Lewis smiles sweetly and welcomes her band onstage with her.

Jenny Lewis

Jen Cray
Jenny Lewis

The events leading up to these five minutes were not nearly as magical, but the moment was gorgeous enough to make the evening a rousing success — despite its sleepy start.

Since The Plaza Theater used to be a movie house, a screening of Lewis’ new documentary Welcome to Van Nuys sounded like a perfect idea, but watching dimly lit studio footage of the recording of Lewis’ recent album — while sitting in comfy chairs and drinking beer — was not exactly an exhilarating start to a night of live music. The 45 minute film was about the making of Acid Tongue with appearances by Elvis Costello, Zooey Deschanel, and M. Ward (all whom provide guest vocals on the record), and would have been a hell of a lot more entertaining had it had a little more out-of-studio footage to break up the monotony of recording.

Heartless Bastards

Jen Cray
Heartless Bastards

Also surprisingly unsuccessful were Heartless Bastards as the warm-up act. Their plugged-in bluesy roots rock should have been a good match for the indie-bred country folk of Jenny Lewis, but they lacked the force they had put behind their music when last I saw them as openers for punk-friendly rockers The Gaslight Anthem. Perhaps the sort of band that requires a give and take on the part of the crowd, the foursome weren’t getting much more than perfunctory attention and the expected after-song applause from this bunch and so the performance was equally as average. Vocalist/guitarist Erika Wennerstrom’s larger-than-her-body voice filled up the room with little effort, and the rest of the band sounded great, but there was no sweat involved. Even Dave Colvin, whose powerhouse seat behind the drumkit fuels the band’s fire, hardly seemed to work up a speedy heart rate. This is a bar band, a group that benefits from having to push their music out over a rowdy crowd, and the polite audience at The Plaza Theater was not challenging them enough to put their best foot forward.

Jenny Lewis

Jen Cray
Jenny Lewis

For a woman who’s obviously very comfortable at the center of attention, Jenny Lewis likes to surround herself with a lot of extra people when onstage. In 2006, while taking a break from the all-boy-backed band of Rilo Kiley, she embarked on a “solo” project (album and tour) where she co-billed herself alongside the The Watson Twins. For her second solo go ’round she shed the shared billing, but piled on the guest musicians — one of whom, her guitarist Jonathen Rice –doubles as her boyfriend. As gifted a musician as she is, she seems to lean on the crutch of guest stars in an attempt to be taken seriously. It’s unnecessary, and — at times — the added bodies only act as a distraction.

Which is why her spotlight solo intro was so satisfying.

The remainder of the set found Lewis switching back and forth between guitars and keyboard, and split the difference between the new songs and those off Rabbit Fur Coat. Of the new, “Carpetbaggers” — which is a duet with Elvis Costello on record, and one with Rice in concert — would have sparked a dance party amongst fans had the seats not been nailed to the floor. Both “Black Sand” and “Pretty Bird” allowed Lewis to showcase her timeless voice, and “Jack Killed Mom” created an eerie, but foot-stomping honky tonk groove.

Jenny Lewis

Jen Cray
Jenny Lewis

The audience ate up every musical offering, every sweet smile, and every small exchange between band members and crowd. When Lewis announced “This is your song,” before launching into “This Charging Sky” — a song that contains the lyric And I share with my friends a couple of beers / In the Orlando streets — the adoration multiplied further.

From the raging red of her long locks, to the sparkly red tips of her tiny boots, Jenny Lewis dripped with sweet and soulful sensuality. Whether standing alone, or mixed in with a crowd of talented musicians, she owns the spotlight.

To see more photos from this show, and others, go to www.jencray.com.

Jenny Lewis: www.jennylewis.com • Heartless Bastards: www.theheartlessbastards.com

Categories
Music Reviews

The Watson Twins

The Watson Twins

Fire Songs

Vanguard Records

You may have heard of the Watson Twins from their collaboration with Rilo Kiley’s lead singer, Jenny Lewis, on their 2006 record, Rabbit Fur Coat. Now the Twins are ready to go at it on their own and based on their stellar Vanguard debut, Fire Songs, they are more than ready.

“Lady Love Me” is a perfect blend of Americana and folk-rock, while the closer, “Waves,” has a more vocally mystical feel to it — similar to early Sarah McLachlan — until the drum kicks in and brings it back to the realm of alt-country.

The best track, “Old Ways,” is a perfect throwback to old-school country. It’s like the band took a track from country legend Patsy Cline’s repertoire and made it their own. Except it was their own to begin with.

While The Watson Twins effortlessly switch from upbeat indie-rock (“How Am I to Be”) to haunting indie-rock (“Fall”) to straight alt-country (“Bar Woman Blues”), the glue that holds together this record and makes it great is the straight-from-the-soul alto vocals and intimate harmonies.

Fire Songs is a must-have for any alt-country and indie fan. And for those who are not, take a listen anyway. The Watson Twins will have you enraptured in no time.

Vanguard: www.vanguardrecords.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Kate Nash

Kate Nash

Made of Bricks

Fictions/Geffen

She looks like Jenny Lewis, writes like Lily Allen, bangs the piano like a chipper Fiona Apple, is impressively able to hit Bjork-like yelps, and her lyrics are ripe with witty comebacks and loaded down with sarcasm.

Stop being a dickhead/Why you being a dickhead for?/You’re just fucking up situations -from “Dickhead”

Then I’ll use that voice that you find annoyin’/And say something like/”intelligent input darlin’ why don’t you just have another beer then?”/then you call me a bitch and everyone we’re with will be embarrassed/and I won’t give a shit -from “Foundations”

Oh, yes, Ms. Nash has been bowled over by the boys, and cheeky pop music is her chosen weapon for revenge. At times the music and lyrics bleed with youth and inexperience (she’s only 20!), but her sincerity can be sniffed out clear across the Atlantic. Hell, her story so far already sounds like a screenplay: An Irish born/English raised child of the arts is torn between her love for music and her desire to be an actress. Upon being rejected from a prominent theater school, she breaks her foot and finds herself homebound. With nothing to do but concentrate on her songwriting, she puts together a pack of songs, posts them on her myspace page and very quickly finds a fan in Lily Allen. When Allen puts Nash in her “Top 8,” she becomes an overnight sensation in the virtual world.

It’s probably not as simple as that, but that’s her story in a nutshell.

Made of Bricks has already made her a household name in the UK, and has finally made its way onto American shelves. If it doesn’t find its way into the sound system of every girl who’s every been screwed over in love within a month, it’ll be a tragedy.

For further proof to the salty sweet goodness of Kate Nash, dial up “Shit Song.”

Kate Nash: www.myspace.com/katenashmusic

Categories
Music Reviews

Rilo Kiley

Rilo Kiley

The Execution of All Things

Saddle Creek

Anyone remember that so-awful-it’s-great Nintendo movie The Wizard that starred Fred Savage? Ever wonder what happened to Jenny Lewis, the girl who played little Freddie’s love interest? Well, she spent 2002 recording one of the best indie rock albums you’re going to hear this year. Say it with me now: Whaaa?!

It’s true! Lewis and the rest of her cohorts in Rilo Kiley manage to distill a couple of decades worth of indie rock’s finer moments into twelve tracks. It’s apparent from the first track, “The Good That Won’t Come Out,” that the band knows what sources to draw from. The programmed beats percolate under weepy pedal steel and a ratty post-punk guitar before blossoming into an orchestral conclusion. Two songs later a Boards of Canada-styled intro gives way to dual guitar interplay, strings and oscillating synths on “The Execution of All Things.” This kitchen-sink aesthetic the band applies to their sound is their greatest strength. The album’s only weak point, “Three Hopeful Thoughts,” is bland because it relies too much on the guitar-bass-drums generic rock sound.

Lyrically Lewis and co-writer Blake Sennett are sure to please the post-Modest Mouse crowd looking for more songs about long, lonely road trips through winter landscapes. Thankfully Lewis manages to squeeze in a little bit of sunlight on songs like “My Slumbering Hear” and the album closing emo-celebration “Spectacular Views.” The latter screams to be included on every mixtape made this summer while at the same time sonically threatening to bludgeon any other upstart emo band into instant irrelevance. It’s incredible stuff.

Kind of makes you wonder where the kid who played Fred’s little brother from The Wizard is. Somebody find him and give him a guitar and a record contract! Quick!

Saddle Creek: http://www.saddle-creek.com/ • Rilo Kiley: http://www.rilokiley.com/