Cake Shop March 26th, 2007
Illinois /Trainwreck Riders / Peasant, AKA Damien Derose
The Cake Shop is a venue on the lower east side. Entering at street level and then negotiating a steep stairway to a dark basement, it is hard to imagine the caliber of the music that unfolded during the evening.
I was thrilled to see Trainwreck Riders from San Francisco. The music can be described as hardcore cowboy punk with alt-country twang. Immediately I knew I was hearing an accomplished group of musicians. The crowd shook to the driving force of the engine that could. The music slowed down to capture the rooted vocals of Pete Fraudenfelder. It came back furiously kicking up dirt, descending on the audience, and leaving us coming up for air. The distant guitar passages by Andrew Kerwin sounded like echoes from a deserted town. The musicianship is apparent but does not sacrifice the essence of their raw live sound.
Illinois from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, makes a ruckus with their banjo-laden songs, great vocal harmonies, and exceptional drumming. Using other traditional rock instruments and the telephone distortion invention, they create a rock force in the higher order. Chris Archibald is quite the frontman, he has charisma. His verbal antics are natural, unrehearsed, and entertaining.
Standing up close and watching Illinois professionally handle the logistics of the small stage was eye-opening. They seamlessly dealt with the mic not working and becoming detached, tangled in the wiring and the low ceiling. Because of all these issues, the fantastic harmonies that usually accompany Chris Archibold's vocals were lost. The first few songs of the set were the strongest and the most receptive to the small setting. Their sound calls for a larger and better sound system. With all that aside, Illinois put on a great show to an appreciative audience in a packed room.
Closing the rollicking show, with guitar in hand, was Peasant. He describes his band on myspace as "just one lowly Peasant." This
description rang true last night as he stepped onto the stage alone. We were treated to a six-song set of new materials. Adding a nice touch was the song he played with the harmonica. His echoing tenor voice captivated me and the others that gathered closely around him for his quiet, moving set. His voice has unique charms that capture the beauty and sincerity of his songwriting. The songs are thoughtful and sometimes sad about love lost and found. His set left me warm and smiling.
Web Album Link show pictures by Artifact
2007 Full-length “If The Ocean Gets Rough” review; a fan's perspective
Willy Mason sings strongly with clarity and purpose in his second release, “If the Ocean Gets Rough.” Following the well-received 2005 debut “Where the Humans Eat, “Willy has honed his writing skill and stepped up his melodic verse.
The music is two steps up from Low fi. Each instrument, including the guitar, is finely mixed as a backdrop to the vocals. Sloppy determined drumming marches on for the tired soldier and beats unsteadily for the uncertain future. The viola is subtly woven into the blend, while female harmonies are lovely but not clichéd. What is a standout are the stellar time changes and the delightful bonus of finding a song within a song.
Willy’s voice is clearly up front and strong, it is a voice with dignity, adding weight to his well-crafted songs. Slow and steady, his words provoke an intentioned platform. He doesn’t yell, the clarity of the message is heard as he quietly screams his potent lyrics.
He carefully weaves personal introspective conflict while emphasizing broader social, political, and world issues. Longing to be loved, he branches out into the world, leaving and remembering the familiar, the nest, the broken home. In “Save Myself,” he reaches out for help to save him from the / vultures that copyright the word free / and other evils awaiting. He longs for unconditional love from family, he asks his mother in the song “When the River Moves On” / Will you hold on to what is gone / Will you hold the rock / when the river moves on/ as he claims / I’ve got to leave home to be free /.
Simple things aren’t as simple anymore / death is easy to ignore when its numbers are on a screen /. Stated so flawlessly in “Simple Town.” The Simple town is sonically lonely, with an echo-like quality. The rain comes down under the simple sky, and life goes on, but secrets, history, and the past linger. In the song “The End of the Race,” he desperately sings / I see the ocean rolling past / I see the grass / I see the grass / I see it swallow up the past /. The past leaves scars and imprints that even the ocean can’t wash away. It churns it up to face reality.
The nation that is broken, the broken home, the broken self. He asks can they be fixed? Maybe, if we can / set our demons free / and /cut our secrets free /. Maybe we pay less attention to things we don't need and more to non-material things we long for, like the love of a father. As the son cries after his father's death / daddy what was it you really wanted / in the song “Tomorrow”.
He is learning to walk and negotiate the world. Sometimes he stumbles as unexpected conflicts or decisions appear like hot coals underfoot, making walking difficult. Willy knows the world is a tough place filled with secrets and regrets. And he asks…..If the ocean gets rough / would you help me sing / would it help to sing……….. It always helps me to hear him sing, especially when the riptide’s got me down.
"Four Winds" single Saddle Creek RecordsI heard Conor Oberst's voice 6 years ago, I was forty eight. A burned mix of Bright Eyes songs, ended up in my car CD player. It included the groups first recordings and tracks from"Fevers and Mirrors". The voice, the lyrics and the music had an overwhelming effect on me. I just lost it. It was very emotional reaction. The music had awakened something in me. My passion for music was dormant until that moment. It changed my life and I am grateful.
Every year since that time, I have looked forward to Bright Eyes' new releases, with excitement and anticipation. This year is no exception. Buying the CD is part of the experience, opening it and looking at the artwork and lyric pages. I make sure I put time aside to listen and read. I will listen over and over. I never get tired of it. Oberst's words are always layered with multiple inference. This is never an easy listening experience. I like to work for art!
I am excited by the sound and direction of these recordings. The music is similar to the 2005 release "I'm Wide Awake It's Morning" continuing with it’s alt country and rollicking folk flair. There is a difference, the production and orchestration are as layered as the lyrical content, mixing experimental effects that add an unexpected texture to the genre.The recordings have exceptional instrumentals including spectacular guitar riffs, awesome vocal harmonies and digital niceties like the repetition of the walking boots in the song "Tourist Trap". There are outstanding guest appearances from Dave Rawlings, Ben kweller and M. Ward, to name a few.
The alt country, violin driven "Four Winds" is the first track. The determined vocals emphasize the volatile lyrics .... / The Bible is blind /the Torah is deaf /the Quar'an is mute / if you buried them all together / you'd get close to the truth /. Religion turns away from the poor, displaced and forgotten. As another abandoned soul is remembered on a graffiti laden wall in a /chemical swirl/.
"Cartoon Blues" describes the abyss of depression as / a tumor we could not remove / an old friend / a constant / the blues / The music intensifies swept up in depression as the piano hammers out the demons. The strange sound effects express the lonely world of the blues. Then it breaks / I sweep up my broken spell /
I marvel at the lyrics. Like in "Tourist Trap", how the concrete city is depicted..../ The traffic is like a pack of dogs /. The title "Stray Dog Freedom" is thought provoking. I like the way the juxtaposition of words and meaning are intertwined. Opening the song with.... /There is a skinny dog/in a dirty parking lot /, these personifications bring to mind a broader context.
From the slow moving eerie gem "Smoke Without Fire" with M. Ward, to the beautiful orchestration and chorus, draping "Reinvent The Wheel", this six song collection are the appetizers, before the arrival of the full length main course, "Cassadaga". "Four Winds" are a welcome addition to my cherished and growing Bright Eyes collection.