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Album Review – Jack White’s “Lazaretto”

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Through a cloud of lingering personal drama and potentially damning press, eccentric-rocker Jack White emerges triumphantly with his second solo album, “Lazaretto.” White, who is well-known for blurring musical boundaries in unpredictable ways, presents an appealing juxtaposition between Detroit blues and rock and Nashville honky-tonk country on “Lazaretto.”

To follow up the success of his first solo album, “Blunderbuss,” White decided to take a new approach to songwriting, making the two albums quite distinct from one another. “Lazaretto” pulls inspiration from a collection of plays White wrote when he was 19 years old and recently rediscovered. Over the course of a year and a half, characters and storylines from White’s 19 year old imagination found homes in each of the album’s 11 tracks.

The album opener, “Three Women” is a funky blues tune in which White fills emotional voids with a woman in every port. The title track follows, providing an electric mash-up of rock and rap reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine as White shows off his guitar prowess and jagged verses. “Lazaretto” also gives listeners the first hint of Nashville influence as the song closes with a wailing fiddle, before leading into “Temporary Ground.”

“Temporary Ground,” along with “Entitlement,” capitalize on traditional country instrumentation and harmonies, but do not commit completely to the genre. On both tracks, White stays true to his distinct vocals, but surrounds them with twang harmonies, pedal steel and fiddle, submitting his own take on country music. A river of sarcasm runs through “Entitlement,” and while it may have been influenced by White’s observations in the mid-90s, lyrics like, “Though the world may be spoiled and getting worse every day, don’t they feel like they cheated somehow,” seem to ring even truer today.

“Would You Fight For My Love?” features intense percussion and eerie howls, but what stands out most is White’s passionate yet panicked vocal performance, implying that perhaps his more recent turbulent relationships weaseled their way into the song. The album’s only instrumental, “High Ball Stepper,” takes listeners on a dark ominous walk through the woods, as a banshee-esque violin hollers underneath White’s lightning rod electric guitar solos.

“Just One Drink” is a fun juke-joint cocktail of blues and country that channels a little Buddy Holly, while “Alone in my Home” ramps up the pop factor with flirty keys and day-dreamy female harmonies, despite the song’s dejected theme of solitude.

“That Black Bat Licorice,” which competes with “Lazaretto” as the album’s top rock and roll track, brings in yet another genre with reggae-like backbeats. With ironic lyrics like, “I want to cut out my tongue and let you hold on to it for me, ‘cause without my skills to amplify my sounds it might get boring,” perhaps White is foreshadowing the need to keep his strong opinions about others to himself, or perhaps not.

“I Think I Found The Culprit” has a dramatic outlaw feel with rock-country flair that peaks and dips throughout the track. The final track, “Want and Able” is like having an angel and devil perched on each shoulder and trying to make a decision. Here, as on many “Blunderbuss” and “Lazaretto” tracks, the keys play a central role in the collective sound of the song. Whether through the buzz of an organ or the tickling of ivories, White’s appreciation for the piano continues to be evident with “Lazaretto.”

Overall, “Lazaretto” translates like a collection of short-stories written by different authors, reaffirming that White’s experimental nature is alive and well in Music City. The album offers listeners a genre clash that could initially feel distracting, but instead keeps ears perked for nuance and surprises around each bend of the chords. The instrumentation, while crazy and impulsive at times, stands tall against the lyrics, proving once again that White is not in it for the songwriting glory, but rather the overall auditory texture of the song.

As White’s personal life and professional opinions continue to stand blazing hot in the media’s spotlight, it is obvious that strong ties will be made to the themes in “Lazaretto.” However, the truth is that while many of the tracks could be interpreted as intimately tied to his current woes, listeners and critics will never quite know whose story White is telling, and in that intention lies the genius that is Jack White.

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Album Review – Lake Street Dive’s “Bad Self Portraits”

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Photographs are the gateway to the past. These 3×5 glossy prints serve as tangible memories capable of unleashing an emotional flood the instant the image and retina meet. While photographs convey moments locked in time and place, they can also inform and inspire the present and future — much like music.

On their breakout LP, “Bad Self Portraits,” Brooklyn-based jazz-pop-soul quartet, Lake Street Dive, taps into the curious power of the photograph, with a throwback twist. The band itself has a bit of a vintage vibe, with lead singer Rachel Price fit to be a 50s pin-up girl, upright bassist Bridget Kearney looking straight out of an episode of Mad Men, and drummer Mike Calabrese and multi-instrumentalist Mike Olson sporting just enough flashback hipster gear to round-out the look.

While it is easy to describe the band’s onstage appearance, it is much harder to pigeon-hole Lake Street Dive into a specific genre of music. On the album, Price’s smooth vocals offer a buttery mix of Motown soul and southern rhythm and blues, while the band adds a punch of doo-wop, swing and jazz. Collectively, the melding of musical styles finds a sweet intersection across all 11 tracks.

The album opener and title track is a bluesy take on the modern-day selfie phenomenon. With Laurel Canyon undertones and vocals that stand up to blues-rock icons Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi, this track jumpstarts the album with soul and presence. The doo-wop swinger “Stop Your Crying” speaks to the cyclical nature of letting the wrong kind of love come back around. With lyrics like, “I am a photograph, a moment stuck in time,” this track is a realistic glimpse into how love can cloud better judgment.

The album slows down on “Better Than,” a smoky ballad with a sadness reminiscent of Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” As Price’s vocals dip low, Olson adds muted trumpet tones that further drive the melancholy home. After the quick piano pick-up jam, “Rabid Animal,” Lake Street Dive puts their best feet forward with “You Go Down Smooth,” the song that blew minds and propelled the band to fame at T Bone Burnett’s “Another Day, Another Time — Celebrating the Music of ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’” concert in NYC last fall. “You Go Down Smooth” is not only lyrically brilliant, with cocktail metaphors galore, but it also highlights all of the band’s best features — Prince’s sultry jazz-singer range with the bands crisp harmonies and instrumentation.

“Use Me Up” is an ironic flip on Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” telling the tale of a parasitic love that leaves little left over. “Bobby Tanqueray” is a dreamy combination of retro rock cosmic flair and “Little Shop of Horrors” corner-shop doo-wop. It is fun and clearly one of the album’s best, despite feeling a bit overproduced.

“Just Ask” is five minutes of pure R&B bliss, with distant gritty guitar and ghostly backing vocals layered behind Price’s velvet vocal elegance, while “Seventeen” capitalizes on the band’s collective talents and falls in line with the more modern blues style of John Mayer.

By this point in the album, listeners may start feeling like the album’s protagonist is a bit of a pushover. Just in time to dispel this assumption, “What About Me” gives the album the sexy confidence it needs, and gives the love story a real backbone. However, just as quickly as the confidence appears, it withers as the album closes with “Rental Love,” a murky lounge reflection of a one-sided love affair that features Price’s powerful pipes one last time.

Overall, “Bad Self Portraits” covers the spectrum of emotion that accompanies the journey of love. Each track is a snapshot into past relationships, both good and bad. Throughout the album, Price displays a vocal prowess that makes Amy Winehouse’s absence seem a bit more bearable. Lake Street Dive offers a unique perspective on music’s past while catching the attention of listeners today. In the blink of a flash, “Bad Self Portraits” chronicles the band’s contribution to music and will hold its color and composition in the albums of music for decades to come.

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Review – Shaky Knees Festival 2014

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Shaky Knees, an Atlanta music festival in its sophomore year, was by most accounts a success on a grand scale. The festival relocated to a single Atlantic Station location this year from its bifurcated presence last year in Fourth Ward Park and Masquerade Music Park. While there was initially some noise regarding the somewhat less central location of the festival, the new site proved to be a boon, allowing for improved transportation to and parking at the festival. While festival organizers strongly urged ticket holders to use public transportation, there was ample parking and a discount agreement with Uber for the weekend.

The Good

It’s not often that the entrance to a festival is located within a large strip mall, but the unused, paved lot behind the Atlantic Station live-work-play development proved a worthy space for a burgeoning event. While the festival was not long on real estate, the available space was well utilized and easy to navigate. Two stages on each end of the lot ran on impressively precise schedules- when one band finished its set, the band on the neighboring stage picked up within seconds, keeping the energy of the crowds high.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros were as unpredictable as they were talented. Alex Ebert, the lead singer, was down from the stage and in the crowd within the first three minutes of their set. The Sunday show took place on his birthday, and he was in no way shy about celebrating with the audience. Ebert included plenty of audience participation in the show, and the band’s popular single “Home” was kicked off by a fan proposing to his girlfriend onstage. Ebert took time to showcase songs from several members of the ten-member band; however the female vocalist of the band, Jade Castrinos, was conspicuously absent. At times songs seemed on the verge of falling apart, such as their closer “Om Nashi Me”, only to burst into climactic and perfectly timed reprises.

Portugal. The Man played an impressive set on Saturday afternoon. Having heard about the previous day’s deluge, John Gourley performed the entire show wearing a hooded raincoat and sunglasses. The band focused heavily on their latest album, 2013’s Evil Friends, both opening and closing with “Purple, Yellow, Red and Blue.” While the band played all of the favorites, one of the most notable songs of the set was a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2,” which reminded the audience just how rock ‘n’ roll Portugal. The Man is at its core.

Tokyo Police Club proved once again that they thrive at an outdoor festival. Opening with the nearly nine minute long suite “Argentina (Parts I, II, III)” from the brand new album Forcefield, the band showed that they’ve grown up quite a bit since the release of Champ in 2010. That said, the setlist neatly combined the two albums, delighting already-fans and winning over those unfamiliar with the band’s indie-pop sound. TPC closed with the first track of their first album, “Cheer It On,” bringing the show full circle and reminding fans exactly who they were.

Closing the festival with her performance Sunday night, Britney Howard of Alabama Shakes continually told the audience between songs that she wasn’t an eloquent speaker. However her raw and melodious songs spoke for themselves. The band played “Hold On”, the hit single from their album Girls and Boys, with the same energy as if they were playing it for the first time. The Alabama Shakes also debuted a new song “Miss You”, which combined tender verses reminiscent of a Motown classic, with a chorus that was unapologetically Rock ‘n’ Roll. They split their show with the interlude “Gemini I and II”, an eleven minute song involving voice effects and a slower pace, which was the only part of their show that dragged or lacked energy. The band’s performance at Shaky Knees was their last stop before returning home to Alabama to begin recording their second album.

The Bad

Though the addition of local food trucks to the festival sounded kitschy and even appealing, the execution was off here. The front of the park had only three options to contend with roughly half of the crowd. While the back had more options, they were arranged in a tight U-shape where people hopped in lines for anything (or nothing) and never seemed to make much progress. I’ve never wanted a hot dog so badly in my life.

As mentioned earlier, this festival took place on an asphalt lot. On the upside, it wasn’t a giant mud pit by the end of day two. On the downside, there wasn’t much around to absorb sound, and it certainly bounced resulting in a somewhat fuzzy sound quality from the audience. There were also instances of sound competing from opposite sides of the park. Jenny Lewis fought to be heard as she was blasted by The Replacements set playing at the same time.

The Ugly

As some other Atlanta natives have famously said, “you can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather.” Such was the case for Shaky Knees. In fact, wash outs seem to be par for the course for this festival, making back-to-back appearances in 2013 and 2014.

That said, there were very few ugly parts of this largely successful new festival. It seems that in time Shaky Knees could easily develop into one of the more popular festivals in the Southeast.

Story and photos contributed by – Emily Yerke and William Ruff

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Album Review – Future Islands’ “Singles”

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For a while, it appeared that the recent resurgence of ’80s-inspired synth-pop had fallen short, as if just having missed the dramatic mark that once tickled the edge of Broadway and blurred gender lines.

For those who grew up in the decade of neon-layered legwarmers, “Labyrinth” and Madonna’s negligées, this observation rang true — that is until Future Islands released its fourth album, “Singles,” in March. Throughout the 10-track album, Future Islands successfully delivers that theatrical element that had been missing this whole time.

While the band’s image does not necessarily match that of the ’80s, the attitude, sound and energy certainly does. With grandiose lyrical moves atop tight new wave beats, Future Islands proves to be a kinetic machine with enough stored energy to explode on the scene and cause havoc overnight—and that is exactly what the band did.

This explosion came in the form of a debut performance on “Late Night with David Letterman,” during which frontman Samuel T. Herring oscillated between deep squat air-humps and what appeared to be a gorilla mating dance that rivaled the moves of a young McDreamy in the 80s classic, “Can’t Buy Me Love.” After that performance, the world knew about Future Islands, and there was no turning back.

This now Baltimore-based trio got its humble start while studying art at East Carolina University, and quickly built a loyal following through relentless touring and one-of-a-kind live performances. Herring, along with William Cashion (guitar, bass) and Gerrit Welmers (keys, programming) have always approached their art with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. Their hope was that listeners would decide to stick around and be moved to join the crazy carnival ride they created.

If not familiar with Future Islands’ sound, “Singles” may initially translate as a bit off-the-wall, but do not despair. After a few listens, the band’s charm and character start to sink in and penetrate the soul. Pair this with a few YouTube searches and it will all begin to make sense.

The album opener, “Seasons (Waiting On You),” is a modern day “Breakfast Club” theme—a beautiful anthem for lost misfits on the quest for love. “Spirit” follows with bouncy keys and punchy drums that lead into Herring’s Bowie-esque dramaturgical vocals.

Throughout “Singles,” the listener is presented with tracks that strike a balance between light and dark, hope and despair, old and new. Dripping with synth-crescendos and heavenly vocals, “Sun In The Morning” perfectly depicts the emotional tug of war that accompanies a lover’s early departure, while “Like The Moon” takes listeners on a more subdued dreamlike journey into a midnight fantasy.

Musically, “Doves” feels upbeat and happy, but with lyrics like, “Baby don’t hurt no more,” listeners are forced to search for deeper meaning despite the springy dance beats. The unassuming bass line and drum beat of “Back In The Tall Grass” beg for a simpler time — a time of childhood wonderment and play. As the song outros with echoing swamp sounds, “A Song For Our Grandfathers” fades in with a menagerie of audio as Herring pontificates about the changes upon him and taps into the wisdom of ancestors passed.

The melancholy rock ballad “Fall From Grace” leads in with cavernous xylophone tones, high-hat taps and bass drops before Herring emerges with deep, throaty vocals interrupted by guttural primal screams. Here, Herring’s vocal and lyrical range shines bright despite the darkness that blankets the track.

The album’s closer, “A Dream Of You And Me,” is an uplifting message-in-a-bottle delivered on a wave of hope and washed over with beautiful seashore imagery. Herring sings out the song with the lyrics, “I asked myself for peace and found a piece of me, staring at the sea,” as if sharing his daily mantra and life philosophy with listeners — a perfect way to end the album.

Overall, “Singles” offers a glimpse into the past while carving out its own place in time. This quality will appeal to a wide audience and continue to catapult the band to new heights. With Herring’s vocal front and center, undulating effortlessly between gravel and grace, the album is a refreshing departure from the norm. In the end, “Singles” soars with more performance arts flair than auto-tuned studio gloss, giving listeners a raw, emotional sill on which to perch and ponder life.

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Album Review: Time Sawyer’s “Disguise the Limits”

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The Charlotte-based folk-rock quartet Time Sawyer ups the ante with its fifth LP, “Disguise the Limits.”

Made up of Clay Stirewalt (drums), Houston Norris (banjo), Kurt Layell (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Sam Tayloe (guitar, vocals), Time Sawyer crafts music that takes an honest look at life and builds on the rustic musical traditions of western N.C.

Though still in its infancy, the band has released five albums in four years. Based on the quality of “Disguise the Limits” it appears that Tayloe and Layell’s songwriting well is far from drying up. This album offers a fresh take on the familiar themes of life on the road and love and heartbreak, while bringing a little more grit and gravel than previous installments like “Headed Home” and “Come On In.” The folk has been dialed down, the rock turned up and, thankfully, the banjo remains on cruise-control, carrying the album through its 12 tracks with the punchy grace of an instrument that can do no wrong.

The album opens with “Better Off,” an upbeat break-up tune that sets the tone for the rest that follows. “Appalachian Bound” is the perfect rock-blues getaway anthem — chock full of moonshine barrels, brushes with the law and the wide- open road. On “A Little Bluer,” Time Sawyer hangs up its spurs and succumbs to that moment when love trumps all and future dreams grow straight from the heart. “How It’s Gonna Be” strikes a sweet balance between acoustic and electric, with a distant rolling banjo, muted organ and finely placed guitar riffs.

“Best Be Going” demands attention with its no regrets catchy chorus reminiscent of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” It is appropriately followed by “A Far Away Farewell from Rose,” perhaps the decades-later follow-up to that fateful day depicted in “Best Be Going.” This jump from youthful defiance to aged reflection stays true to the band’s moniker, and keeps the theme of time at the forefront.

The album pumps the breaks with its closing tracks. “Working Construction” returns to the band’s folk tendencies without feeling recycled or redundant. “West From the Farm” is a heart-wrenching ballad where Tayloe’s vocals drip with authenticity and harmonies, and horns lift lyrics to a weighty place that reveals the pain and remorse tied to lost love. “Tired of this Tired” soars with delicate finger-picking and relevant lyrics that speak to the daily tedium that can drain the heart’s passion and unravel the mind.

The true shining moment on “Disguise the Limits” comes on “210,” where lyrics tell the story of a scorned lover driven to murder. The Mexico-bound outlaw tale is perfectly accompanied by the distant haunted whine of the pedal steel and take-to-the-road banjo runs. “210” is followed and further elevated by “It’s Over (210 Outro),” which fades into a “Hotel California”-esque instrumental that beckons images of a dusty drive into the sunset. Taken together, these two tracks reveal Time Sawyer’s growing ability to create vivid imagery through songwriting and arrangement.

Collectively, “Disguise the Limits” succeeds by combing the fugitive attitude of “Roadhouse” and “Smokey and the Bandit” with the heartbreaking infidelity and reality of “Honeysuckle Rose.” Runaway, tender, playful and pensive moments are strewn strategically throughout the album, creating a cohesive storyline that undulates like the plot of a favorite desperado movie. The album shows a definite progression and maturation despite the band’s short timeline, and is sure to gain momentum as one of the better albums released by a rising North Carolinian band this year.

In addition to the release of “Disguise the Limits,” 2014 will continue to be a huge year for Time Sawyer as the band makes its debut at MerleFest in Wilkesboro, N.C. on Sunday, April 27. Visit www.timesawyer.com to learn more.

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Show Review – Hurray For the Riff Raff w/Shovels & Rope @ Cat’s Cradle 3-5-2014

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Every now and then an artist emerges on the music scene who creates buzz and provokes conversation. Bronx-native Alynda Lee Segarra is that artist. From her vagabond train-hopping days with Dead Man Street Orchestra to her breakout performance at last year’s Newport Folk Festival, the world is finally taking notice of this gifted folk singer-songwriter.

After traveling and performing across the nation, Segarra found her musical center in New Orleans amid the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Where she never quite felt at home in NYC, the Lower Ninth Ward community took in her rambling soul and Segarra found inspiration to stay and make music.

Segarra soon found a group of musicians who shared a similar passion for writing and performing songs that spoke to social injustice, challenged political power, and revealed modern day issues that had been swept under the rug. They called themselves the “riff raff,” which eventually led to the formation of Hurray for the Riff Raff, of which Segarra stands at the helm.

Last month, Hurray for the Riff Raff took to the stage at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro as the supporting act to South Carolina’s sweetheart duo Shovels & Rope. While most in attendance were there to see the rowdy lovestruck pair, many left with a new appreciation for Segarra and her band of riff raff.

With Gibson in hand, Segarra took the stage. Petite in stature and draped in a black lace dress, the soulful songstress started the set solo by performing “The New SF Bay Blues.” The curious crowd listened intently to her timeless voice and simple finger picking. They quickly realized they were witnessing something that softly demanded attention.

Segarra then welcomed her four-piece band to the stage, and they treated the audience to tracks from their new album, “Small Town Heroes,” including the toe-tapping “Blue Ridge Mountain,” homesick homage “Crash on the Highway,” fun-loving bayou jam “End of the Line,” and gender-flipped murder ballad, “The Body Electric.” Segarra was candid and chatty with the crowd, telling stories and setting up each song — a quality that all concert goers appreciate and yearn for to feel more connected to the artist and songs.

As Segarra bridged the gaps between her songs, the venue felt less and less like a black box and more like a backyard hootenanny. It was with little to no effort that Segarra transformed the stage into her front porch and exposed listeners to the magic of her songwriting. The set closed with fan-favorite “Little Black Star,” where the band called upon the audience to join in with synchronized claps and snaps, further drawing the sold-out crowd into the riff raff fold.

After a sweat-drenched, energized set by Shovels & Rope, Segarra returned to the stage to join Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent for their encore performance of J. Roddy Walston and the Business’ song “Boys Can Never Tell.” With Hearst on the drums, Trent on guitar and Segarra at the center mic, the trio closed out a special evening of music with a genuine mutual admiration that was evident all the way to Franklin Street.

As Hurray for the Riff Raff carry on its U.S. tour, Segarra will continue to grow into a modern day folk icon, whether she likes it or not. Her essence dates back to the days when Greenwich Village was alive with folk music and people toted around acoustic guitars on their backs. Those were the days of Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan, where music was powerful enough to rally people and create change. With Seeger’s recent passing, Segarra steps into the spotlight as someone to carry the torch and keep the movement going well into the future.

For those who may have missed the Cat’s Cradle show, Hurray for the Riff Raff will return to North Carolina on April 10 to play at Local 506 in Chapel Hill. This will sell out, so plan accordingly. All riff raff is welcome.

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2014 Summer Featured Artists

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Each summer, new and seasoned artists step into the sunny spotlight and seem to shine just a little bit brighter than before.  This coming summer is no exception to the rule.  With festival lineups set, music lovers have a chance to catch these artists on multiple outdoor stages across the US.

Evolution of a Fan has chosen to feature a handful of these artists as their momentum builds. Stay tuned for features on the following artists through the end of summer:

The Milk Carton Kids

Willie Watson

Hurray for the Riff Raff

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down

Charles Bradley

 

 

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