Monday, September 28, 2009

I And Love And You: The Curious Case of the Missing Banjo...

I've had a digital copy of The Avett Brothers' I And Love And You for over a month now. The fact that I haven't said anything about it yet is a little telling. For one, because of the brothers' new label/record deal, I have been afraid to post (leak) any songs too far prior to release day (tomorrow). On the other had, maybe I haven't shared anything from the album for the simple reason that I'm not too thrilled with it.

Upon learning about the band's label switch and plans to record with the famous Rick Rubin, I was immediately torn. Good for them. Potentially bad for the music. As I've made clear before, I grew up on 'Texas Music' and was indoctrinated with the "Nashville Sucks" mentality, which despised anything considered major label or big-time. To say the least, the term Sell-Out was heedlessly thrown around at the first sign of an increased paycheck. While I've since learned that the devil doesn't reside in Tennessee, and in most cases, a band's musical direction is ultimately an inside decision, a little part of me dies inside every time a favorite band jumps a rung in the music world.

I And Love And You is a good album. There are a couple of great songs. But it will never compare to Emotionalism. End of story.

OK, well... not the end of this one. I've got a few points to hit on. The biggest turn-off from the disc is the blatant lack of banjo. It may be a genre-polarizing instrument, but Lord, don't completely take it away. Scott admittedly doesn't play the banjo in the traditional fashion - but that's what makes it so exceptional. At some point he picked up the instrument and figured out how to make music with it. So what he's not playing clawhammer. He makes the banjo as much a percussion instrument as a stringed one. It only makes a few scattered cameos on IALAY, the first of which may just be my favorite song from the album.

January Wedding

In place of the banjo and overall sparing instrumentation from their earlier efforts, Rubin' s product employs an increased presence of a full drum kit and heavy piano. Both of which The Avetts have included in their music before, but never like they do on IALAY. Oftentimes the barroom style piano riffs come as hokey, a little forced (see Kick Drum Heart). Before, The Avett Brothers have excelled in gradually building songs upon themselves, starting simple and unfolding into a more layered sound throughout. On the new album, too many songs start full-formed and have no room to grow.

On the positive side, Seth and Scott's vocals are as strong as ever. At times smooth, other times perfectly raw. Taking twists and turns and carrying the melodies throughout. But in the past, they've used their voices as the primary emotion-harboring instruments, proving they can get their message across without a room full of symbols and amps. Ill With Want, for example, could have been equally impressive without the huge chorus backlit with synthesized aahs and crashing symbols.

Most of my disappointment with the album can be attributed to production. The songwriting still shines through. In fact, it's the saving grace it. The trifecta of Head Full of Doubt, And It Spread, and The Perfect Space provides an insight to Scott and Seth's inner struggles. They lead into the album's high note at track 6 in the form of a perfectly-written song.

Ten Thousand Words

Had we not been supplied with The Avetts' Tiny Desk Concert at NPR, I would be fawning over the album version of Landry Room. While it's still a superb tune, having been introduced to the live version first leaves me feeling a bit cheated when I hear the song on the album. The phrasing and lack of energy, coupled with piano in place of banjo causes the song to simply get lost within the album. One place I do enjoy the beefed-up sound is in Slight Figure of Speech, where the instruments match the energy in the vocals. It reminds me of very early Avett Brothers.

Slight Figure of Speech

Although I've been a ball of negativity in this post, I And Love And You will end up being much better than many albums this year. But it's hard to be completely subjective and not make comparisons to their last album (and my undisputed top album) from 2007. If I were to take each of the 13 tracks from the album separately and express my thoughts, you would find a much more favorable review. On the whole, however, I just don't find myself in the state of awe that The Avett Brothers have so often put me in.

I still encourage you to make your own decisions regarding the album. Maybe with a little time and some high fidelity vinyl, it'll grow on me.

I And Love And You: [Direct][Amazon][iTunes]

Just as I finished writing this review, The Avett Brothers came on Letterman to play the title/lead-off track from the album. I And Love And You was the so-called single and the first track unleashed from the album. I was less-than impressed then, but as an album-starter, I think it serves its purpose well. The performance tonight portrayed everything I dislike about the album. Seth on the piano, Bob playing an electric bass, and someone on a full drum set in the back. Scott played the banjo, but I couldn't hear it. I feel bad for anyone getting their first taste of Avett from this Letterman performance. They used to be considered a punk/folk string band, but just showed the nation a low energy, out of context, mainstream song.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mixtape IV: Rainsongs

I've been spending my working days a little farther west this summer. The drought conditions and record number of 100° days really took a toll on South Central Texas. But in the past week, the skies have finally let loose.

It's funny how things work. With all the recent rain, I'd begun compiling a list of 'rain' songs and had a slight case of déjà vu. I checked my archives and remembered that I put together a similar small mix near this time last year as a much-needed rain came my way. The systems bringing in the moisture this time are likewise ushering in what feels to be fall, and it's got me excited. A friend told me the other day: I don't know if I have a favorite season, I just like when it changes. I like that.

This year's mix steals a bit from last year's, but is much bigger and leans on the optimistic leg. And like all my mixtapes, careful attention is payed to song order and album flow, and it will fit perfectly on a CD. One of my previous mixtapes was comprised of 'storm' songs, which are somewhat different, so I've stayed away from the ones I used there. This tape features two brand new songs from Ryan Adams - one from each of his recently released digital singles. The lead track from Sea Wolf is one of my favorites. Following the raindrop intro is a well-written story of love's beginnings on a rainy fall night. You'll find a good mix of and classic tunes, a Dylan cover, and some stuff from down here in Texas. The mix closes out with everyone's favorite High Fidelity soundtrack tune - a movie that fittingly centers around the idea of the mixtape - and one of Patty Griffin's most powerful songs - but really... does she have any that aren't?

It seems much of the country is currently experiencing heavy rains, so I hope this mix finds you well and fits your mood.

Side A:
1. Leaves in the River - Sea Wolf
2. Raincoat Song - The Decemberists
3. Rain in LaFayette - Pat Green
4. I Wish It Would Rain - Wreckless Eric
5. Rain - The Beatles
6. Save It For A Rainy Day - The Jayhawks
7. The Beatles & The Thunder - Max Stalling
8. What Color Is Rain - Ryan Adams
9. Buckets of Rain - Neko Case
10. Rainy Day Blues - Willie Nelson

Side B:

1. I Wish It Would Rain - The Temptations
2. Train Under Water - Bright Eyes
3. She Don't Mind The Rain - The Rosewood Thieves
4. Walk Between The Raindrops - James McMurtry
5. Go Ahead and Rain - Ryan Adams
6. I Love The Rain The Most - Joe Purdy
7. Over The Rain - The Great Divide
8. Hill Country Rain - Jerry Jeff Walker
9. Dry The Rain - The Beta Band
10. Rain - Patty Griffin

Download Rainsongs (zip)

Check out more Mixtapes at
Mixtape I: Surviving Ike
Mixtape II: NYC MIX
Mixtape II: American Mix

All mixtape zips are re-upped for a few days.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Viva la Vinyl: Ryan Adams' California 7"....

Here's another set of freshly-ripped vinyl tracks from none other than Ryan Adams. These songs make up the California 7" EP, the second of the three PaxAM releases set free in 2004. All four sides of this collection are taken directly from 2000's Exile on Franklin Street.

A: California
B: Waves Crashing

C: Secret Powers

D: Do You Wanna Get High?

I posted the vinyl tracks from Ryan's first PaxAM release - The Rescue Blues EP - here and mentioned that there were rumors that Ryan was looking to resurrect the vinyl label. Well, unless there's an imposter on a Ryan Adams forum, then the man himself has shared further details on the matter.

Wolfhunter says that certain, newer, unreleased material should be available "eventually." Among the material to be released are Cardinology outtakes, and Cardinals IV/V, the latter of which are complete records made with the original Cardinals lineup. He also says that they will be available on vinyl and as mp3 downloads.

**Update 9-9-09**
Suspicions confirmed! Check out for an informative video of his PaxAM vinyl mastering machine. Oh, there's also a couple mp3's from the first pressing available for purchase - and download on Friday. Well, maybe the second release if you count the 7" that came with the Hello Sunshine pre-order - which I should post here in a few.

You get:
•Lost and Found

•Go Ahead and Rain

for only $1.49

Hiatus officially over. Rejoice.
Check out more Viva la Vinyl at

Friday, September 4, 2009

"I wanna jump right in and see what that big ocean's got..."

Check out this new track from The Swell Season, aka Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova.

The Swell Season - Low Rising

This tune comes from their sophomore effort Strict Joy, out October 27. It's just as impassioned as anything from their debut or the Once Soundtrack. It was made available thanks to No word on any more films from the duo, though.

Glen and Marketa, who look as though they're still in love, recently did a Tiny Desk Concert. They seemed very happy to be there, performing a couple extra songs for the folks at NPR.

Here's my favorite one from their debut:

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Medders' Debut....

Cheyenne, Carson, and Will Medders, along with Joshua Stauter come together to form The Medders. Their self-released, self-titled debut album dropped Tuesday.
Here's the single:

The Medders - Gunslinger

Buy The Medders straight from the band.

But here's a little hint: Go look for the album on a certain online music source I've mentioned (and linked to) here before and you may just find it available for less than $2 - but only if you move fast. Mine's in the process of downloading now. I'll let you know what I think once I've soaked it up...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

New Digs, Vol. 24: Local Edition...

Hey. I'm still here.

Just to prove it, here are some sweet jams that will no-doubt match the sonic quality you always find here. These songs are all new to my library, and all happen to come from the Lone Star State - or somewhere very near.

Walt Wilkins - Gypsy Line
buy Vigil (2009)
Walt Wilkins is another one of the hundreds of brilliant songwriters we have hiding down here in Texas. His fluent way with words is matched by his effortlessly smooth vocal ability. Walt's been making music since '02 and has had a number of his songs featured by Pat Green. Vigil, Walt's fifth album, was released in June of this year.

Walt: [Website][MySpace][Facebook]

Mike McClure Band - Find It In You
buy Onion (2009)
McClure's 7th solo album, Onion, is yet another batch of tunes cooked up in his basement-turned studio. For this veteran songwriter/producer, pumping out albums is not the chore it once was. Mike's already talking about another album in the works. Let's hope he keeps supplying us with his work at this pace.

Mike: [Website][MySpace]

Cross Canadian Ragweed - Pretty Lady
buy Happiness And All The Other Things (2009)
Happiness... marks Ragweed's tenth album and 2009 marks 15 years that this band has been kickin' around. Produced by the aforementioned McClure, this album takes on a slightly different feel than their ealier works, but still has that classic Ragweed swagger. They were, by far, my favorite band throughout most of my adolescence, and I'm glad to see that the guys are still making good music and seem to be a genuine as ever.

CCR: [Website][MySpace][Facebook]

Stephanie Briggs - Good Guess
buy Birds Barely Know Us (2009)
I found Stephanie in the liner notes to the above mentioned album - she co-wrote a handful of songs with Cody Canada, offered some vocal help, and even designed the album art for Happiness... Stephanie's got a fun, quirky vocal delivery overlaid with electric guitars and interesting arrangement. She's much edgier than the other 'Texas' bands she associates with - in a good way. Glad I looked her up.

Stephanie: [Website][MySpace][Facebook]

photo by Alexandra Valenti
The Happen-Ins - Die
You may remember me mentioning that the two main pieces of Austin's Dedringers parted ways earlier this year. Sean Faires went on to form The Happen-Ins with the help of some other talented Austin musicians. I've since caught the band live a few times, and I'm more impressed each time. They play dirty, groovy blues/rock with infectious hooks and energetic vocals. I have a feeling after next year's SXSW, things are gonna be happenin' for these guys. This tune is from a demo I got my hands on - hopefully a taste of a soon-to-come full album.

Happen-Ins: [MySpace][Facebook]