Another Year, Another Song

DSC05118Thursday, March 24, 2016 found me at the Troubadour for a lovely night of music featuring Mandolin Orange and Elephant Revival presented by The Bluegrass Situation. Mandolin Orange I have not seen before and had only been able to check out a few of their songs earlier that day. I first saw  Elephant Revival in January when they left a strong impression on me when they opened for Josh Ritter (see my post “Let’s See Where the Night Takes Us“). I’ve been listening to their album These Changing Skies since then and earlier in the week had received my pre-ordered copy of their brand new album Petals, which will be officially released on April 1.


Emily Frantz and Andrew Marlin are Mandolin Orange

Last year Mandolin Orange released their album, Such Jubilee, from which they played several songs at the Troubadour, including the first one of the set. Andrew Marlin alternates between playing mandolin and guitar and Emily Frantz between guitar and fiddle. The duo takes turns singing lead and harmony. They played a set of thoughtful songs, weaving tales and painting images with words and music as vivid as any masterful storyteller could.  Their set list was as follows:

  1. Old Ties and Companions” from Such Jubilee
  2. One More Down” from Quiet Little Room
  3. That Wrecking Ball” from Such Jubilee
  4. There Was a Time” from This Side of Jordan
  5. Innocent Road” — they covered this song by Caleb Klauder (link to his version)
  6. Daylight” from Such Jubilee
  7. Cavalry” from This Side of Jordan
  8. Turtle Dove & The Crow” from This Side of Jordan
  9. Rounder” from Such Jubilee
  10. Blue Ruin” from Such Jubilee
  11. Little Worlds” from Such Jubilee
  12. New Five Cent Piece” — traditional  tune (link to recording by Murphy & Marckx)
  13. Amsterdam” — cover of song by Gregory Alan Isakov
  14. Waltz About Whiskey” from This Side of Jordan
  15. Train Song” from Haste Make/Hard Hearted Stranger
  16. Rocky Island” — traditional tune (link to Joe Newberry & Mike Compton version)
  17. Brief Instrumental
  18. Boots of Spanish Leather” — cover of song by Bob Dylan

Emily Frantz of Mandolin Orange Performing at the Troubadour

Some highlights from the set included Andrew’s stellar mandolin playing throughout, Emily’s gorgeous vocals on “There Was a Time,” and the gut-wrenching, heartbreaking lyrics of “Blue Ruin” — a song written in the aftermath of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Andrew introduced “Cavalry” and noted, “This one is about a horse,” telling how he was inspired to write it after watching Lord of the Rings. That context helps in understanding the lyrics of the song.


Andrew Marlin of Mandolin Orange Performing at the Troubadour

To close the set, they brought out their sound guy, Josh, to play guitar with them, while Emily was on fiddle and Andrew on mandolin for the folk tune, “Rocky Island.”  The audience was fully engaged and enlivened by the performance and urged the duo back on stage for one more song, a sweet cover of Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather,” of which Emily and Andrew effectively took turns singing different verses.



Emily, Josh, and Andrew Gather Around One Mic for “Rocky Island”


Elephant Revival is unlike any other band I have seen and their sound defies pigeonholing into any one genre. Their music is rhythmic, poetic, beautiful, soulful, earnest, encompassing and embracing nature, and life-affirming. Watching the band live is to see five talented musicians, four of whom swap instruments during the show, performing so fluidly together as if they are five parts of the same organism. The group is comprised of Bonnie Paine on washboard, percussion — including djembe, musical saw, and cello; Daniel Rodriguez on guitar and percussion, Bridget Law on fiddle; Dango Rose on bass and mandolin; and Charlie Rose on banjo, pedal steel, guitar, percussion, and bass. Bonnie and Daniel alternate turns for most of the lead vocals and the others provide harmony.


Bonnie Paine of Elephant Revival Performs at the Troubadour

Their set drew heavily from the forthcoming album and their most recently released one. If anyone reading this knows the titles of the songs I’m not familiar with, please share the titles with me! The set list included:

  1. Will Carry On” from Sands of Now
  2. Home in Your Heart” from Petals
  3. Stolen” from Sands of Now
  4. Birds and Stars” from These Changing Skies
  5. The Pasture from These Changing Skies
  6. Remembering a Beginning” from These Changing Skies
  7. Sea Monster” from Petals
  8. Raven Song” from It’s Alive (EP)
  9. Season Song” from Petals
  10. Hello You Who” from Petals
  11. On and On” from Petals
  12. Petals” from Petals
  13. When I Fall” from Petals
  14. “You were the thunder” — another lyric, I don’t know this one
  15. Single Beds Are Made For One” from Elephant Revival
  16. Rogue River“from These Changing Skies
  17. “The song my mother sang to me, deeper than the sea” — one more lyric to one I don’t know
  18. Grace of a Woman” from These Changing Skies

Charlie Rose of Elephant Revival Performs at the Troubadour

There were some moments I would number among my favorite of the night. The first was hearing”Sea Monster” live, because that song really grabbed my attention the first time I listened to the new album. It seemed like a different direction musically for this group and I appreciated the musically distinct sections of the song. Charlie, who sings the lead vocal, introduced the song by noting that it was first named “Sea Monster” because it was in the key of C, but then the lyrics ended up being about the sea.


Dango Rose of Elephant Revival

Another new song I’m digging is “Season Song,” because it is a superb bit of lyric writing and I love to hear the musical saw on it. Daniel does a good job on the vocals for this one. I like the lyrics so much, I borrowed a line from this song for the title of my blog post. I also liked hearing the new song “On and On,” and was particularly intrigued by Charlie playing the banjo in the style of an electric guitar solo — it sounded cool!  They also gave a strong performance of the percussive new song “When I Fall,” penned by Dango, which had the audience clapping along in rhythm and singing the refrain. I don’t want to neglect mentioning Dango and Bridget, both of whom provided rock solid support all evening, with Bridget getting a nice spotlight for her succinctly-titled fiddle tune, “Single Beds are Made for One.”



Dango, Daniel, Charlie and Bonnie finishing “When I Fall”


Bridget Law of Elephant Revival Performs at the Troubadour

The band members only addressed the audience briefly in between songs during the set, but when introducing one new tune after playing a few in a row from Petals, Daniel said, “We’re courting you with our new songs. We’ll hope you become companions.” Then he paused, chuckling, “I don’t know what I just said!”  Later, Daniel introduced the final song of the night, “Grace of a Woman,” by noting, “This song came out of women giving birth.” What a way to win the support of the women in the audience! Mandolin Orange came on stage to play this one with Elephant Revival. Everyone in the audience was singing along on the “Whoa-oh-oh” part and generally enjoying and living in the moment.


Daniel Rodriguez of Elephant Revival Performs at the Troubadour

Dare I say — this group would not be Elephant Revival without Bonnie Paine. It was fantastic hearing her enchanting, ethereal voice and song interpretation throughout the evening. She is an incredible vocalist, absolutely spot on in pitch at all times and with an appealing natural timbre.  She is also an astute percussionist; the rhythm of the music seems to flow right out of her and she confidently lays it down on the djembe or washboard. While beautifully dressed and hair nicely coiffed, she performs in an almost understated way, yet humbly shines like a star the whole time.


Bonnie Paine of Elephant Revival

Elephant Revival is touring all around the U.S.A. behind Petals through the end of June. Mandolin Orange is on the road with them until April 9th.  Go see them — and if you can see the two together — that’s even better!


Dreaming Our Lives Away

Friday, March 11, 2016 — It was a dark and windy night, but that wasn’t going to stop the audience at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach, CA from living it up. I arrived early in the evening for dinner and dessert (the caramel chocolate brownie was delicious). I was pleasantly surprised to find local musician Jett Pink performing though Happy Hour. Playing guitar and sometimes using a stompbox, Jett blazed through a number of well-known songs from a slew of legendary artists, including Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, The Beatles, Neil Young, Elvis Presley, The Eagles, The Band, and The Zombies. It was a pretty appealing selection of songs. I particularly liked his covers of “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” (which is one I like to play), “Harvest Moon,” and “She’s Not There.” He closed his set with an original song, “Workin’ for Beer.” You can listen to samples of his original music on his website.


Jett Pink Playing Happy Hour at Saint Rocke

The next act on the stage was Lee Boy Simpson, who briefly played an acoustic solo on his Martin guitar before being joined by a second guitar player and a bass player. They played a pretty short set of bluesy, slow rock original songs. The tunes were fairly straightforward, most employing a handful of open chords. I caught one line from the first song the trio played where Lee sang, “Years go quickly and days too slow;” isn’t that the truth! They performed a song that was about “6 weeks old;” I always admire when musicians play something relatively new on stage. However, I found it odd that the two guitar players played in unison for most of the set and was expecting one to take a solo, which didn’t happen until the fourth song. You can get a flavor of Lee’s style with his song “As Lonely As You Are” on Soundcloud.


Lee Boy Simpson, far right, Performing at Saint Rocke

I had seen the next band, Moonsville Collective  once before at the Hotel Cafe and was excited to see them at Saint Rocke. This was a great choice as a warm-up for the headliner Dustbowl Revival as there is enough crossover in genre (both bands have bluegrass-style tunes in their repertoire) that their music can be appreciated by the same crowd of people, without sounding too similar. Moonsville Collective mixes an Americana style in with their bluegrass.  The band is made up of members Corey Adams and Ryan Welch, who swap lead vocals and playing guitar and banjo; Sean Kibler on fiddle and background vocals; Dan Richardson on guitar and dobro; Seth Richardson on bass; and Matthew McQueen on mandolin.


Corey Adams of Moonsville Collective Performing at Saint Rocke

DSC04966They played a solid set of nine songs, kicking it off with a bluegrass instrumental called, “Chickens Hate Heat” from their most recent album, Heavy Howl.  Next was the escapist fishing song “In My Mind” from the album Cradle to the Grave. This was followed by a new song called “In the Morning.” I appreciated the lyric writing in their song, “End of the Line,” particularly poignant is the line, “In this past year, too many good folks have been dying.”  Another truism was the line “Back on the road there’s nothing but farm towns,” which is certainly what it feels like when you are driving around the rural Midwest.



Ryan Welch of Moonsville Collective Performing at Saint Rocke

The song “Big Jimmy” provided an opportunity for some impressive solo runs from Dan Richardson on guitar.  Next on their set list was “Always Enough,” which I’m not sure if that is a different song they decided not to play or a code word, but they played the song “Bud Heavy.” They introduced the song “2 Beer Blues” by stating, “This is a song about Long Beach.” This was followed by the lead song from Heavy Howl, “Blue Money Grove;” check the link for their official video. Moonsville Collective finished their set with the song “Millionaires” from Cradle to the Grave, though it was noted on the set list as “Gold Gold.”  The band effectively energized the crowd with their infectious music and by the time they finished their set the room was packed.


Fiddler Sean Kibler of Moonsville Collective

This marks my third time seeing Dustbowl Revival since last May when I first discovered them. This musically talented, ebullient octet delivers a heavy helping of happy times whenever they perform. The aptly named group genre hops around the music that was popular back in the days of the dust bowl (1930s) — bluegrass, swing, jazz, and blues, but with a fresh, modern flair. They started off the show with the call of “Let’s get ready to dustboooooooowl!” in the style of “let’s get ready to rumble.” The members of the band are Z. Lupetin on vocals and guitar; Liz Beebe on vocals, washboard, and sometimes ukulele; Daniel Mark, mandolin; Connor Vance, fiddle; Matt Rubin, trumpet; Ulf Bjorlin, trombone; James Klopfleisch, bass; and Josh Heffernan on drums.


Liz Beebe of Dustbowl Revival Performing at Saint Rocke

I was surprised at the number of songs they played that I was not familiar with that night, but it was cool to hear some new songs. Their first song was a new one called “Good Egg” with the line, “He’s just my kind and he’s just my style, he’s a real good egg.”  The second song, which the band referred to as a “drinking song,” was “Knock Knock.” Next up was their rollicking cover of the folk song “Old Joe Clark,” which is on their most recent album With a Lampshade On.

They played a couple more new songs. “Busted,” was sung by Liz and had lyrics such as “You think you got something, but you don’t got nothing, honey if you don’t have me.” Next up was a song called “Without You” with a chorus of “bup bah dah dahs.” Then Z. took a moment to teach us the vocal response part of the song “Wrapped Up in My Heart,” from With a Lampshade On. I love how this band gets the audience involved in the music. It makes the show so much fun! Another new tune was “I Decided,” with lyrics, “I must be having a good time” (yes, I was) and “I decided I’m never growing old” (I’ve decided that too).


Z. Lupetin  of Dustbowl Revival Performing at Saint Rocke

Dustbowl Revival then ripped into my favorite song from With a Lampshade On, “Ballad of the Bellhop.” I love every little musical bit of this song; each player’s contribution is perfect, especially love the horns in this one.  A couple of energetic swing dancers, Marsh and Brit, joined them on the small stage and I spent most of the song worrying about them tripping over the electric cords that ran across the stage (that’s the mom in me). I’ve borrowed a line from this song for the title of this post.


Happy Birthday to Liz Beebe

Next was another song from the recent album With a Lampshade On with powerful vocals by Liz, “Feels Good.” I wonder if the band has thought of shopping that one out for TV commercials? “Feels good, just like it should, feels nice, like paradise” — I can think of several products that might work for. At about this point in the show, amusingly, a Dora the Explorer balloon was tied to Liz’s mic stand in honor of her birthday that day. The band played on with a good foot-stomping, hand-clapping song, “I Don’t Drink Anymore;” “The new year’s coming and I’m looking for a change…”. Some great soloing from Connor and strong support from Daniel on mandolin.



Liz Beebe and Z. Lupetin of Dustbowl Revival Having Fun at Saint Rocke

Another new song followed, which they described as a mix of “Fleetwood Mac and Beyoncé;” look out for “The Fire” in the future. Next was a song they have been playing on tour, which hasn’t been recorded yet, “Big Boned Girl.” Then one more new one, “Midnight Rolls Around,” with the line “I’m sick and tired of waiting around for you.” Oh, I think we have all been there! They played “Ain’t My Fault” from With a Lampshade On and Josh laid down a cool drum solo. This song led straight into “Happy Birthday” in honor of Liz.  Liz was having a great night and I don’t know if it was just because it was her birthday, but she really seems to have developed into an ultra-confident, powerhouse of a singer. The final song of the set was a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” featuring Connor with some fancy fiddling.

Apologies for lack of photos of those positioned on the far ends of the stage, both left and right, those guys (Ulf, Daniel and Connor, particularly) were lurking in the photographic shadows, as it were, or blocked by microphone stands.


Matt Rubin of Dustbowl Revival Performing at Saint Rocke

The crowd was enthusiastic at the end of the show and they were not about to let the band leave without an encore. The group came back on stage to play “Lampshade On,” which was met with much appreciation from the audience. This is my 9-year-old son’s favorite song by Dustbowl Revival, because he thinks it is funny. He has been requesting this on the way to school and it is an entertaining way to start the day.  We also come up with our own lines of what you can do with your lampshade on.

Dustbowl Revival is on tour all over the United States through the end of July. Hoping to hear some recorded versions of these new songs for the summer!









Skip Your Habit of Laying Low

DSC04898On Saturday, March 5, 2016, I attended a screening of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s film Punch-Drunk Love with the score played live on stage by Wild Up, the Wordless Music Orchestra, and composer Jon Brion. The film was shown at the Theatre at Ace Hotel . You can read about the film’s plot at the link above, if you have not seen the movie since it debuted in 2002. You can also see it on Netflix.



Wild UP and Wordless Music Orchestra Prepare to Perform Score of Punch-Drunk Love

The orchestra was already in place on the stage as the audience filtered into the theatre for this sold out performance. The conductor, Ryan McAdams, and Jon Brion walked onto the stage right before the film started. Jon Brion created a robust, yet whimsical score for this film; at times it is light and soaring, at other times disjointed, percussive and brooding, but never dull. The attention to tone, which I find compelling in Jon’s monthly live shows at Largo, provides a cornucopia of ambiance in his film scores.  Someone created a playlist of the soundtrack on YouTube, so give it a listen if you are unfamiliar with it.  The orchestra played the music beautifully along with the film.  Several times I wondered if the music was actually live as the sound seemed so flawless and I felt the need to look down from my seat in the balcony to confirm that the musicians were really playing.

It was fantastic to see Jon Brion playing along with the orchestra throughout the whole film using his setup of multiple keyboards. His talent as a musician was on display, yet in an understated way, as the film drew the focus of the audience. Yet, diverting my eyes from the screen, I could see him expertly switching between keyboards or playing with the right hand on one keyboard and the left hand on another that was at a right angle to the other one (as in the photo below).  Joanna Newsom took the stage to sing a faithful and delightful rendition of “He Needs Me” at the corresponding scene in the film.



Jon Brion Performing His Score of Punch-Drunk Love

At the conclusion of the film, Jon sang and played “Here We Go” with the orchestra. This may be the best I’ve ever heard him sing this song and it was gorgeous to hear with full orchestra! I shot video (linked from the title) from the balcony and the sound came through well enough for a digital camera, but the picture is a bit wobbly as I had the camera fully zoomed in. There is not a lot of footage of Jon performing live, as Largo doesn’t allow video taping, so I was thrilled to capture one of my favorite songs of Jon’s on video. I especially love the lyrics for this song and have borrowed one of its lines for the title of this post. The song is well-suited to the story line of the film as the main character, Barry, must overcome his social anxieties to date, Lena, and each must accept the quirks of the other one (as strange as they are).  I believe many people can identify with the message of the lyrics.

The performance was well-received by the audience, with the musicians receiving a standing ovation at the conclusion of the evening. A second screening of the film with Jon Brion, live orchestra, and guest singer Norah Jones, will take place at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House in Brooklyn, NY on March 19, 2016.



Wild Up, Wordless Music Orchestra, and Jon Brion at the End of the Performance


Gather ‘Round and Stomp the Floor

On Saturday, February 27, 2016 I caught The Dirty River Boys playing at Hotel Cafe. Having been encouraged to attend by a friend, I knew nothing about this band going into the show, other than they hailed from Texas. They played a good mixture of songs in varying tempos that I would categorize under the Americana genre, with flavorings of cowpunk, country, and even Celtic rock. Guitar players Nino Cooper and Marco Gutierrez, and bass player Colton James, traded off singing lead for various songs. Often times the whole group was singing together, producing solid harmonies and sonorous vocals.


The Dirty River Boys Performing at Hotel Cafe


Colton James

The band started off at a blazing pace with, “Road Song.” I was immediately struck by the ferocity with which drummer Travis Stearns attacked the cajón — laying the beat down strong from the get-go.  The second song, “In These Times,” started off like a ballad, with Colton singing alone, but then the whole band jumped in and brought the tempo up. (Side note: first time I have ever seen a bass draped with animal skins!) For  “Boomtown,” Nino brought out his mandolin and sang lead. This was another rocking fast number and the audience was getting into the music at this point (whooping, clapping, dancing). For the catchy, foot-stomping “Thought I’d Let You Know,” Marco took the lead vocals. It was at this point in the set that I felt like the band has a sound that was much too big for the Hotel Cafe. Their music needs to sweep across larger theaters and outdoor festival sound stages.


Nino Cooper

The band slowed it down for a Dylan-esque ballad, “Union Painters,” with Nino on lead and everybody else harmonizing beautifully. They announced they were going to “play a real fast song” in honor of the birthday of their tour manager, Luke. The band ripped into a cowpunk kind of song, “Letter to Whoever” with Marco singing lead. Travis was absolutely on fire on the drum kit and Nino played a lightning fast guitar solo. Nino led the vocals on “Highway Love,” a vocal call/music response kind of song, like a Texan answer to Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog.”


Marco Gutierrez

There followed the Celtic rock-tinged song “Sailed Away,”  which was heavy on drums and had me expecting a fiddle player to appear at any moment to join in.  Next we were getting down and dirty with “Down by the River,” kicked off on vocals by Marco, with Nino taking a verse. We were back to the influences of the Emerald Isle for “Raise Some Hell Tonight” and quite a few people were dancing to this one. I’ve borrowed a line from this song for the title of this blog post.

It seems the audience would have liked the party to have gone on longer, but Hotel Cafe squishes the musicians into one hour time slots. The band finished the night with a cover of the Rolling Stones’ song, “Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which had the audience singing along on the chorus. It was a rip-roaring good night of music and I was pleased as punch to see this band live. Check out their self-titled CD, available for purchase from their web site or in the iTunes Store.


Dirty River Boys Having Fun at Hotel Cafe