Tales of Olde

Tales of Olde band pic

The first song I listened to by Boston-based six-piece folk-rock band Tales of Olde was their cover of Justin Timberlake’s ode to being high on love, “Pusher Love Girl,” the leadoff track to the first of his 20/20 Experience albums released last year, and arguably the most soulful and old-school sounding song on that album. I love the idea of an indie folk-rock band covering a Timberlake song, and Tales of Olde’s version does not disappoint. Watching the video, you realize two things: one, this is indeed a band, and two, it is comprised of some very talented singers and musicians. The video has been viewed over 51,000 times on YouTube; you can check it out below. The original song is an eight minute long behemoth, but it’s been condensed to a quickly watchable two-minute forty-second video by Tales of Olde. I must admit, I would not be disheartened if a cover of the full version appears at some point in the future.

The band, who is currently recording, is set to release their debut EP in the next month or two, and on their Bandcamp page they’ve posted two teaser songs to whet your appetite. They call the teasers a “softer side” of their sound, but while both songs do start out gently enough, they build into foot-tapping, just-shy-of-bombastic conclusions. “This Place,” a meditation on home, the earth, and the simple blessing of being alive is filled with pastoral imagery and eventually rollicks its way to a la-la-laden ending. “Little Bird” is a rumination on the simple pleasure of listening to a bird’s song and imagining the stories behind it. It all stands for something larger, as the song ends in a chorus of voices pleading to the now departed creature, “Sing to me bird,”  which seems to symbolize the loss of something intangible yet important, and still utterly desirable. Both songs are solid both musically and vocally, with refreshingly understated lead vocals that subtly rise in volume only when the harmonies call for it. If these tunes are any indication, one of Tales of Olde’s themes is: Life can be difficult, but it’s largely to be celebrated.

Made up of two married couples—Lucas (lead vocals) and Evelyn (background vocals) Cortazio, and Ellen (fiddle) and Drew (guitar) Story—who met in 2011, and keepers of the beat Jeff Kinsey (bass) and Al Cleveland (drums) who came on last year, Tales of Olde are ready to release their songs to the world. Drawing on influences as varied as the aforementioned soul-pop of Justin Timberlake to the folksy harmonies of Of Monsters and Men and even the anthemic rock of Kings of Leon, I’m excited to see what they come up with. Keep checking their website and/or social media pages to keep track of when their forthcoming debut will be released, and enjoy “This Place” and “Little Bird” below.

 

Tales of Olde: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Bandcamp

Widower – Fool Moon

widower fool moon

Back in the good old days, when compact discs were all the rage, one of my favorite things to do after I purchased a new album was stick it in my portable compact disc player, wrap some cheap headphones around my head, and read along with the lyrics booklet while the tunes rolled between my ears. Hell had no fury like me when I opened one of those booklets—after spending 15 minutes trying to get the plastic off—and there were no lyrics.

With the aptly titled Fool Moon, released by Mama Bird Recording Co. in July, Widower has made an album for lovers and lovers of lyrics. The words found here are at times straightforward, at times abstract, but always heartbreaking, poetic, and darkly witty. Listening, you can feel the solitude it took to create: It feels like an album written by a man—singer-songwriter Kevin Large, who’s made music under the Widower moniker for almost ten years—who put a lot of thought into what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it. Opening track “Jumper Cables” is the most upbeat song here, its shimmering electric guitar providing a musical bedrock for Large to sing about “ferris wheels of feelings” and “the aesthetic of a lover’s hand.” The acoustically driven “Oh Catherine, My Catherine,” a rumination on a night spent with a former love, dispenses the hard truth that “Some growing pains never go away, they only keep you up at night.” Touches of sparsely plucked banjo, speckled piano, and well-placed cymbal rolls provide ambience to the lovesick “The Antidote,” which will hit home if you’ve ever gone ocean-swimming with a significant other in the middle of the night.

The centerpiece of the album is the one-two punch of “Grasp,” with its immediately timeless groove and excellent imagery (“Darlin’, during downpours, you were my cellar door”), and the passionate “Love or Lack Thereof,” which turns on the rhyme of the title, a hook so simple and affecting it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been done before. The dobro- and piano-tinged “Thoroughbred” might contain Large’s finest line on an album full of them, as it opens: “She’s given me hell, so eloquently; she resembles the devil, goddamn it, so delicately.” The death-obsessed guilt of the rollicking “Two Tombstones” leads into acoustic closer “Almost, Always, All Yours,” a summation of the album’s themes of lost loves and past regrets that ends with the quick balls out coda of a guitar solo.

Fool Moon contains lyrical flights that are a pleasure to pore over, but the melodies and instrumentation (augmented by a host of formidable musicians) are also terrific. It is an album about the sway a woman can hold over a man, even when she’s wronged him, but it’s also about the regrets a man has about his own wrongdoings. A man doesn’t need a woman to be made a fool, but she can sure bring his foolish tendencies to light—as a fool in love, a fool for leaving, or a fool for falling in the first place.

Buy Fool Moon: CD or Digital

Widower: Bandcamp; Facebook

(Lyrics for Fool Moon found at Bandcamp page)

Full band performances of “Thoroughbred,” “Grasp,” “Oh Catherine, My Catherine,” and “Almost, Always, All Yours”:

Solo acoustic performance of “Grasp”:

Hog Bucket – Old Mustard

hog bucket old mustard

To give you an idea of the kind of album Hog Bucket’s debut Old Mustard is (as if the names Hog Bucket and Old Mustard didn’t tip you off already), here are some first lines from a few of the songs: “Well you look like the kind of lady who appreciates a real tomato”; “Ooh girl, I wanna lick your legs, come on honey, just a little taste”; “Oh my life’s been so lonesome, but last night I had a foursome”; “I fell in love with a nun, Sister I love you more than Jesus Christ does”; “Oh I take my eggs over easy, take them legs wrapped around my waist.”

So it’s obviously an album that doesn’t take itself too seriously, to say the least. It’s about sex and fun and drunken debauchery. It’s about good times had in younger days. But amongst all that the Brooklyn-based Hog Bucket also dispense some heartfelt emotion. Lead man John Glouchevitch’s songwriting is witty, smart, irreverent (“Break Yer Vows” talks of falling in love with a nun and a Russian callgirl), sometimes laugh out loud funny (lead track “Real Tomatoes” and “Breakfast,” a jazzy duet that turns the most important meal of the day into a sexy romp), and sometimes deeply moving (“Escape,” and “Indigo”). Some songs will probably come across as juvenile to some, but simply put, this is good, smart American music.

Hog Bucket’s influences range from country to classic rock to blues to just about every other form of American music you can think of, and they pull it all off without coming across as trying too hard. I normally wouldn’t call a song about drunken hook-ups “sweet,” but “Talk Like Strangers,” with a chorus that starts, “Why do I only love you when I’m drunk? The sun always shines on us when we’re wasted,” is as sweet as Thanksgiving pecan pie (and includes a clarinet solo). The bluesy “Or What” is a “come on” song that contains some slick slide guitar licks, and lyrics like “they say my tongue is like ancient religion” come off as tongue-in-cheek confidence rather than douchey cockiness, thanks in no small part to Glouchevitch’s hilarious phrasing. On the giddy stringband number “Nothing to Lose,” his ability to weave a witty story is brought to the forefront.

Obvious standout track “Bad Decisions” is a piano-laced classic rock jam that would have fit perfectly on the Almost Famous soundtrack, and everyone can relate to the near celebratory refrain of “How come bad decisions feel so right?” (It also contains a terrific reference to The Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” which might be my favorite part of the song.) Following that is “Escape,” which trades debauchery and cheekiness for earnestness and longing, and “Halloween” is a rather timely song that might give you some costume (and other) ideas for upcoming parties.

After the fiddle-laden penultimate track “O Peyote,” which declares Jesus a letdown and Elvis the true king of heaven, comes “Indigo,” the truly stunning culmination of the album. It’s a beautiful and haunting piano ballad performed with palpable emotion, where even a line like “You’re beautiful in sequined booty shorts” is moving.  Glouchevitch then turns around and hits you with “You’re naked on the table, room as empty as your eyes.” I’ve hit repeat on this one several times, but the whole album is well worth listening to. Superbly produced by Jeremy Backofen (The Felice Brothers), Old Mustard is a great debut collection, and one of my favorite albums of 2013 so far. (You’ll find a list of other musicians and vocalists on the recording at Hog Bucket’s Bandcamp page.)

Download Old Mustard (free/name your price)

Hog Bucket: Website; Facebook; Twitter

The Tillers – Hand on the Plow

Tillers Hand on Plow

If you’ve never listened to The Tillers, Hand on the Plow is a great album (their 5th) to get your ears initiated. Hailing from Cincinnati, they are a three-piece string band that draws you in with their musical chops and grabs hold with potent, literate songwriting that can be equal parts fun and heartbreaking. Obvious influences of old-time, Appalachian folk, and bluegrass are present but never once do The Tillers sound derivative. They throw down their own unique brand of music with respect and gratitude for the artists they admire who’ve come before. They’re damn good at it, and they deserve to have an audience that keeps on growing.

The Tillers certainly make good albums, but they’re one of those bands you must see live. I’ve seen them live three times and am always impressed: the first they opened for contemporary North Carolina bluegrassers Chatham County Line, the second was at a little dive bar called The Green Lantern in Lexington, Kentucky, and most recently was last year when they opened for the inimitable Iris Dement at the 20th Century Theatre in Cincinnati. I don’t know if Iris knew or had even heard of the band before the show, but she asked them to join her in a rousing rendition of “Keep On the Sunny Side of Life” for the closing number. It was fantastic. (You’re in luck, it’s on YouTube. Click HERE if you care to watch.)

Now, finally, let me tell you a little bit about the band and their new album. The Tillers are multi-instrumentalist Mike Oberst (banjo, fiddle, spoons, dulcimer, harmonica, accordion, bowed bass) and brothers Sean and Aaron Geil, who play guitar (and some banjo) and upright bass (and some guitar), respectively. The eleven-track album Hand on the Plow was released on Muddy Roots Recordings on July 5th and it was cut straight to analog tape, giving the album an immediacy and down home feel that just seems natural for recording roots music. It sounds as if each member was standing around one mic—that’s how they play their live shows—in the middle of your living room.

The songs that comprise Hand on the Plow are somber tales of travel (“The Road Neverending”; “500 Miles”), simple living (“Shantyboat,” inspired by the life of Kentuckian Harlan Hubbard, who lived a few of his middle years on a hand-built boat with his wife on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers), and unrequited love (“Can’t Be True,” which includes the line, “Your love can’t be true unless the other’s love is too”). “Tecumseh on the Battlefield” (tipping its hat to Doc Watson, as many of their songs do) and “Treehouse” are straight up fiddle-laden hoedowns that’ll have you foot-tappin’ or headbangin’ to your soul’s delight. On the paranoid and devil-possessed “I Gotta Move,” J.D. Wilkes adds some soulful harmonica. My favorite song on Plow, and what I think is one of the best songs of the year, is “Willy Dear,” a story that, as legend has it, played out at the building that used to be the music venue the Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky. It’s a gut-punching, chill-inducing, timeless classic, deeply felt and so well written. It’s a wonderful example of how powerful story and song can be when combined.

Oberst and Geil (Sean) both trade out lead vocal duties; Oberst’s voice is a raspy traditional high and lonesome tenor while Geil’s is more deep and gruff, making for a nice contrast, and they lay down some slick harmonies with the help of other Geil brother, Aaron. Oberst says of The Tillers’ art, “Playing folk music, you have to be just as much a historian as a musician,” and it’s evident from their music that reverence and respect for the past is what drives The Tillers’ passion. Their songs betray a staunch conviction of disinterest in bringing this music to contemporary ears with tricks and bells and whistles for popularity or relevancy’s sake. The music, pure and unadulterated and unburdened of boxes, speaks for itself. It’s music that’s truly of and for the people, the kind of music that will always be truly relevant. With the help of bands like The Tillers, the old will continue to become new again.

(The Tillers begin a tour of the UK with Pokey LaFarge on November 2nd. See ’em!)

Great outdoor performance, with story, of “Willy Dear”:

Official music video for “The Road Neverending”:

Live WDVX Blue Plate Special performance of “Shantyboat”:

Buy Hand on the Plow

The Tillers: Website; Facebook; Twitter

We/Or/Me – The Walking Hour

we or me the walking hour

The Walking Hour is a fine atmospheric folk album. Other than “Old Joy,” with thick upright bass undercutting an almost giddy melodica and organ and clever lyrics like “Sorrow is just old joy, they say, old joy that’s lost its way,” this is a quietly unfurling album of songs. It contains some fantastic, deceptively simple sounding guitar picking. Singer Bahhaj Taherzadeh is able to pick out melodies on some of these songs that you will find yourself humming in the shower or that get stuck in your head just as you lay it down on your pillow. He does all this while singing with a voice reminiscent of a less angsty Conor Oberst.

The album starts with “Lights Inside Us,” a song which foreshadows the melding of subtle, psychedelic atmospherics and tuneful acoustic picking found throughout most of the album’s songs. “Letting go’s the only way, to hold on to what’s gone way,” Taherzadeh sings. These kind of philosophic reflections abound in places on The Walking Hour. On “City Fades,” he’s able to convey the pastoral impulse of the urbanite who simply wants to get away from the noise; the sentiment is simply expressed by repeating the line “City fades from view” over top of a simple guitar melody that makes you want to take your time as you drive away with the city lights in your rearview. “My Father” is a tribute to the hard-working, story-filled, and often mysterious men who raise us. It might be the most beautiful song on the record; all of its elements, especially the slight trace of piano accompaniment, work perfectly together to help create an emotional and meaningful piece of art.

The best song of the bunch, however, is one that is completely different from the rest but makes perfect sense in the album’s sequence. “From the Top of This Thing” is a spoken word piece written and performed by Anis Mojgani, who has one of those speaking voices you could listen to all night, excitedly youthful but strong and sturdy. Said “thing” of the title is a metaphorical monster or beast of some sort washed up on a beach that two lovers climb to the top of. It’s dramatic and hopeful and a helicopter is somehow involved. I won’t guarantee it will all make sense when you listen to it, but it will leave you with a feeling of joy and delight. (Who was it that said “Genuine poetry communicates before it’s understood”? [T.S. Eliot is who it was. Many thanks to you, Internet.]) The last words spoken are, “Don’t fall, love. We are not down yet. We are not yet done with this.” The music goes on for another ninety seconds, leaving the listener who is prone to ponder the time and musical accompaniment to do so. And as a whole, The Walking Hour is a pleasurable album that will make you ponder often.

Buy The Walking Hour

We/Or/Me: Website; Facebook; Twitter

Little Chief – Somewhere Near the River (EP)

Little Chief Somewhere Near River

I feel it’s important to go ahead and get this out of the way: there is no denying that Little Chief, a Fayetteville, Arkansas-based folk band formed in 2012, can aptly be compared to mainstream folkies The Lumineers and Mumford and Sons, and the band unashamedly wears those influences on its sleeve. The rollicking, banjo-driven rhythm and sporadic shouts of “Hey!” on opening track “Hiding and Seeking” are a testament to this. Depending on how you feel about either one of those bands will most likely color how you feel about Little Chief’s debut EP, Somewhere Near the River (released independently on March 1st of this year), at least upon first listen. Those comparisons, however, can also be a little unfair, for as much as folks love both Mumford and The Lumineers, the backlash against those bands by other folks has been nearly as impressive and passionate. If you are someone who immediately balks when such comparisons to Luminumford are made regarding a new band, you should still give Somewhere Near the River a chance. The fact is, Little Chief is a talented new folk group that brings some unique elements to the table.

To me, the defining characteristic of Little Chief—insofar as a new band with only a single EP recorded can have a defining characteristic—is lead singer Matt Cooper’s voice. It’s so warm and inviting and smooth and soulful, at times reminding me of a mix between Chris Martin and Dallas Green (of City and Colour). Cooper’s voice stands out especially on songs such as the title track, “Somewhere Near the River,” where he hooks you with his lilting delivery of the chorus, and “North Carolina,” where he conveys loneliness and longing on the open road in equal measure. There is certainly a sing-a-long quality to the songs here, but not in the loud and overdramatically anthemic sense. This is a lushly produced and mostly quiet collection of tunes, and it suits the band well.

Rounding out the Fayetteville five-piece is the steady rhythm section of drummer Andrew Myers and bassist John Lewis Anderson; Matthew Heckmann, who imbues the songs with deep, mysterious, and beautiful cello sounds; and Ellie Turner, whose harmonies soar effortlessly like a bird caught in a wind gust and compliment Cooper nicely. There’s even some sweet pedal steel on “North Carolina” (if you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you know that I’m a bit of a fan of the instrument).

Two definite themes that emerge on Somewhere Near the River are love and hope, both of the romantic and spiritual variety. Perhaps my favorite lyric is, “If heaven sent me an angel, I’ve gotta find the place where I can see her again” from “Somewhere Near the River.” And though, as I mentioned before, this is a mostly quiet set of songs, I’m sure their live shows can get a little, well, lively (and stomping and clapping is encouraged, according to their bio). Ultimately, this debut release from Little Chief does exactly what an EP by a new band is supposed to do—it showcases both the band’s talent and potential, and makes the listener excited for whatever comes next. That’s a pretty good start.

 

Buy Somewhere Near the River

Little Chief Website; Facebook; Twitter; YouTube

Interview – Pilots & Errors

Pilots and Errors Annex

Earlier this week I sat down with Travis Wilburn of Pilots & Errors to talk about his new home-recorded album Annex, a great collection of melody-driven songs that he released last week. Among other things, we discuss his recording process and the role his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky (where I also happen to reside) played in the creation of the album. The interview below has been edited for length and clarity. Enjoy!

What was the genesis of Annex and the inspiration behind it? Did you have a theme in mind when you started writing it or did it just kind of transpire into one?

When I was writing it I was trying to wrap up some ideas from July (debut release). A lot of nostalgic ideas, things having to do with home—the physical place of Lexington. When I first started writing songs for this album, it was during the recording process for Broken Hearted Friends (second release). The song “Dog Days” is the oldest one on here. That was a little over two years ago.

It’s surprising to hear that “Dog Days” was the first song recorded because that one stands out from a lot of your songs as being different, with just the banjo and mandolin. You don’t use as much reverb on it.

With that one it was difficult to get a version recorded that I was pleased with. April of 2011 is when I started doing Broken Hearted Friends, and that was a song I kept getting hung up on. The album version is about the fourth or fifth different version I attempted. I’d go through it and hate the way it sounded and then I’d play it live again a couple weeks later and realize I wanted it to be on the next release. I just felt good about it. The album version wasn’t the first song I recorded for Annex, just the first song I wrote for it. I wrote it on guitar, but on the album the only instrument played in the entire song is banjo. There are four layers of banjo on it.

Really? I kind of thought I heard some mandolin in there somewhere…

The banjo is capoed up on the 7th or 8th fret. As soon as I started playing around with that arrangement, I felt like I finally had it. After I finished that song and was pleased with the version I had, everything snowballed after that. I was really able to get it together and get the album going. I’m glad it worked out, because lyrically I felt like it had to be on whatever the next release was.

Trav common folk

Touching on what you mentioned earlier, you wrote on Facebook a while ago that you had to go to North Carolina to write about Kentucky–Lexington in particular. I know Annex has been pared down some. Do you still feel it’s essentially about Lexington?

Yea, I think so. It’s definitely pared down. At least for me, though it may not be explicit to other people in the lyrics, when I think of this album I think of Lexington. And Carolina is even touched on a bit. It was important for me to be able to start writing about the things of home when I wasn’t in the midst of living there. The name of the album and the track “Annex”—that’s one of the parking garages in downtown Lexington.  And “Von Aly” is the alleyway right down the street from where I lived for the past year. So if the title is nothing else, it’s definitely Lexington-centric. Emotionally, when I think of the album and listen to it, it’s Lexington to me.

How did you decide which songs made the cut?

I wanted to have an idea and theme come across. I recorded these songs all the way through last fall, winter, and spring, and even into summer. I’m used to recording in a week or two weeks time and releasing it the week after that. So I think there’s definitely a thread running through these particular songs both lyrically and emotionally. I feel like they are all connected.

How many songs were there in the pile to choose from?

Fifteen solid, completed songs, so it’s literally cut in half. One reason I did that is because I didn’t want it to come across as boring. And as much as I try to put some variation in the songs, I feel like with a home-recorded album, at least at the stage I’m in now as a recording artist and songwriter, I don’t even think I would want to listen to fifteen tracks of mine in a row. I think thirty minutes is the perfect length.

So what comes after Annex?  Are you taking a break? Working on bonus tracks? Tweaking songs that didn’t make the cut?

I’m back and forth on this because I’m still closing the door on Annex and at the same time trying to figure out that next step.

I’d think you have to take some time to soak in the joy of releasing it and getting it out to people.

I think I will. I don’t want to move on from it quite yet. Eventually I might re-work some songs from these sessions for a larger, more official release like this one was, or maybe just do a quick release of some b-sides that didn’t quite make it. A lot of them are recorded and I like their sound–songs that just weren’t part of the theme or didn’t add to the cohesiveness of Annex. So something soon, probably several somethings, which is kind of exciting. Maybe a few EPs. Some experimental stuff under a different name. Maybe some instrumental things. I’ve got some time coming up set aside to figure all that out. I don’t want it to be another two and a half year wait. I do want to say that. Whatever it is will be something a little more free-flowing and organic instead of contemplating down to the second every single thing I do, which I did with Annex. We’ll see.

Download Annex for free

Pilots & Errors Facebook; Twitter; Bandcamp; YouTube