Saturday Morning Tuneage: Once in a Lifetime

Posted in Life Profundities, Saturday Morning Tuneage by dave on July 30, 2011 1 Comment

They say that coincidence is when God works a miracle and chooses to remain anonymous, and that serendipity is the art of making an unsought finding. And if there’s ever a time that you want these sorts of things to happen, it’s when you’re trying to piece together a special weekend to celebrate your wedding anniversary. As it happened, Kelly and I found ourselves trying to do just that – just a few weeks ago – as we searched for a B&B within driving distance that might have space available over the weekend that plays host to both Independence Day and Canada Day, depending on which side of the border you’re looking…

As it happened, we found a place, and booked a 3-night stay at the Timberhouse Lodge, nestled at the edge of Prince Edward County, Ontario. After a 5-hour drive with a dinnertime pit stop in Alexandria Bay, we settled into our room, too tired to spend much effort looking through the brochures we’d picked up, or planning the next day’s adventures. At breakfast, a charming retired couple joined us at our table – after the usual greetings and pleasantries, they explained that they were visiting the area for a special concert. Apparently, they were on the mailing list of a local winery and had tickets for a concert. And the artist? Just a singer from nearby Kingston – maybe we’ve heard of her? – her name is Sarah Harmer.

As it turns out, we had heard of the delightful Sarah Harmer. She’s been a darling of local indie station WBER, and even came to Rochester for a concert at the Water Street Music Hall, years before Kelly and I were married – a concert that we attended and enjoyed! So, needless to say, we were excited, and kept our fingers crossed that there’d be a few extra tickets available if we showed up at the winery, smiled real big and maybe bought a few bottles of wine to take home.

Thanks to the efforts of Robert, the owner of Chadsey’s Cairns winery, we were able to get the last two tickets – sealed with a rooster hand stamp. After trying some wine in their barn-turned-tasting-room, we took a quick peek at the venue: a nearby barn lined with chairs and hay bales, complete with a stage, endless strings of tiny white lights, and a cool breeze through the open pasture door.

  

A couple of hours later, we arrived alongside a hundred-fifty-or-so other (far more invited) guests. Kids climbed around the stacks of hay, parents mingled over glasses of wine, and we found a comfortable bale on which to park. Streams of afternoon sunlight cut through the barn’s siding, painting bright stripes over long-dormant farm equipment and highlighting what little dust floated through the air as if it were fireflies brought in just for this occasion. The concert opened with the lead singer from the Canadian band Bahamas playing a solo set, just as Sarah would not long after. A witty and likable amalgamation of Willy Nelson’s guitar, John Mayer’s voice and lyrics landing somewhere in the triangle connecting the Barenaked Ladies, Jason Mraz and The Weepies, Afie Jurvanen played a set of original songs that made us smile, and set the stage of good vibes perfectly for the rest of the afternoon.

After a short break, Sarah stepped nonchalantly from a small room off to one side, finished in the same slatted siding that was now casting long strips of amber late-afternoon light over the stage. With no fanfare and just a short introduction from the winery’s owner, she started into spinning her unique flavor of indie-infused folk that’s simultaneously brilliant and down-to-earth; through the delightfully-clear concert sound system, the pitch and intonation of her voice would have been at home right alongside Sarah Mclachlan or Regina Spektor. She ran through some favorites (Basement Apartment, I am Aglow), a handful of covers, and even a few new songs – one highlight was her performance of an upbeat commissioned song for the Canadian National Parks Service (presumably) titled “Won’t You Come With Me?“ that put a smile on all our faces. Though she only speaks English, she did impress us with one verse in French after describing the difficulty she had in recording the French version. At another spot, when she forgot a chord for a cover song, she just started experimenting with the audience – eventually someone called out “B-flat!” and as she played it, a satisfied smile washed over everyone and the song casually resumed.

  

As Afie and Sarah played, I stopped at odd intervals and looked around. I watched people in the audience pouring wine and smiling, watched a small spider work across one beam of sunlight building a web that would have shamed Charlotte herself, watched as kids played on the broad, well-worn floorboards at the performers’ feet, prompting occasional smiles from behind the microphone that tinted the lyrics with joy. It reminded me of an article I read while we were on our honeymoon. I thought, This – right here – is the kind of thing you only read about in magazines and food blogs. It was a rare, special, once-in-a-lifetime treat, indeed.

Saturday Morning Tuneage: The Boxer Rebellion

Posted in Saturday Morning Tuneage by dave on April 16, 2011 No Comments yet

It’s been a while since I last wrote Saturday Morning Tuneage, but (perhaps along with my presence on this web site) it’s something I’ve been hoping to resurrect. A spate of new music purchases this past week reminded me just how much I enjoyed spending my Saturday mornings with my laptop and my favorite headphones – so (at least this week) I’m setting aside some tuneage time.

Maybe (probably?) it’s just me, but it seems like the majority of performers that appear in movies – while usually musicians in real life – are merely playing additional characters. So I suppose it was entirely natural for me to think that The Boxer Rebellion wasn’t a real band when one of the main characters in the rom-com Going the Distance dropped the group’s name. But, much to my surprise, the indie-rock group popped up on the set list of my friend Andy’s long-running Internet radio show! A quick Amazon search revealed they’ve actually released three albums, the oldest of which dates back to 2005. It only took a few previews to convince me to pick up all three…

Exits (2005) – Amazon, eMusic

I started my chronological tour of The Boxer Rebellion with Exits. Frontman Nathan Nicholson doesn’t waste any time before introducing us to his range – he gives equal time to quiet, subdued lyrics and urgent, almost-imploring vocals in the album’s opening tracks. The occasional distortion seems well-placed, and has a nice analog quality to it – you can almost see the board’s VU meters peaking into the red in Nicholson’s voice. While hints of Coldplay come through occasionally, the far more-indie sound of the instrumentals was a nice differentiator.

My first run through Exits – as with the other two albums – played through my office open-air as I wrote various bits of software. It was great coding music inasmuch as it maintained a good pace and an urgent tone – but no particular track stood out enough from the background for me to stop and take note of it. If I were to queue up the album on a different day, I can’t pin down any one that I’d jump to – all were good, but none were catchy enough to stand out. One possible exception was the atypically-melodic “Never Knowing How Or Why”.

Union (2009) – Amazon, eMusic

I started to notice patterns as I moved on from Exits to Union. The four years of (presumable) work and maturation that preceded Rebellion’s sophomore effort showed immediately, but the band certainly tipped their hats to their first release: come out the gate with a strong beat and prominent vocals to get the listener’s attention, make everything flow with nice seamless transitions, and offer a stylistic variety that (quite justifiably) shows off your musical versatility.

Unlike Exits, however, the songs on this album had contrast. When a new one came on, I noticed. I noticed the acoustic subtlety of “Soviets”. I noticed the head-nodding, foot-tapping magnetism of “Spitting Fire”. And I noticed the bits I’d go back to the next time Union ends up in front of me.

The Cold Still (2011) – Amazon, eMusic

After listening through five years of music-making in my first two hours with The Boxer Rebellion, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect when I dove into their most-recent release. Of course, as most assumptions go, I was wrong. Right out the gate with “No Harm”, the band made it clear they intend to be taken seriously. The indie-sounding guitar tracks are pushed farther into the album, and they wait to turn up the catchy-dial. This was the point where I stopped my work and took notice.

In The Cold Still, the lyrics turn more introspective and dark – but in light of their accompaniment remain encouraging-sounding. More than just offering song-to-song contrast, the band now juxtaposes sounds with emotions, and explores the complexities that take them beyond the typical indie sound – they achieve a phenomenon I’ve wanted to explore more: Some of the songs enter that personal canon of music that seems unfathomable not to have been written. For a perfect example of all-of-the-above, listen to “Organ Song” with your eyes closed. It makes you want to get up and run. Not from anything, or to anywhere. Just run.

If you couldn’t tell from the above, I’m glad The Boxer Rebellion is a real band. They’ll certainly be regularly appearing in my playlists from now on, and I hope they keep up the good work in their releases. In the mean time, do pick those releases up – if you have any sort of affinity for indie rock, you’ll be glad you did.

Saturday Morning Tuneage: Go Local in 5 minutes or less

Posted in Saturday Morning Tuneage by dave on January 24, 2009 No Comments yet

Given the sorry state of my office this week (it’s time for some cleanin’), the pile of bills waiting in my inbox to be paid, and the fact that I only got about 4 hours’ sleep, this week’s edition of Saturday Morning Tuneage is going to be a short one.

Teagan and The Tweeds

If you noticed the countdown in the nav bar anytime in the last two months, you probably already know that I checked out Teagan and the Tweeds, the Katy Wright Band, and Teressa Wilcox at Lovin’ Cup last night, along with Kelly and a couple of good friends. Between the great covers (highlights included Janis Joplin, Sara Bareilles and K T Tunstall, just to start) and plenty of originals in every set, every song they rocked out was a crowd-pleaser.

Aside from my personal favorite, Don’t Walk Away, The Tweeds got everyone on their feet and clapping when they broke out Janis Joplin’s Mercedes Benz, and they gave us a taste of what happens when they crank up the soul with their take on Nothing but the Water by Grace Potter and the Noctournals.

Aside from the music, the venue was a winner, too. It was our first visit, and we tried out the food, the coffee, the hot cocoa and some nothing-short-of-kickass chai. Obviously set up for live music, the layout is just what you’d imagine for an ideal “intimate concert” setting – sit-down booths on the outer edges flank high-top tables, all of which surrounds a well-lit rounded stage. The front row sits about ten feet from the musicians, and no one is far enough away to feel disconnected from the show. It reminded me a lot of seeing John Mayer perform tracks from Inside Wants Out at the now-defunct Milestones Music Room – along with a whopping 200-or-so other fans – long before his rise to superstardom.

If you didn’t make it to last night’s show, you can still check out Teagan Ward on Tuesday nights at the Beale Street Cafe on South Avenue. And for those with more “classical” tastes, there is some excellent local music yet to be heard this month: The Eastman Philharmonia – a student ensemble at the world-renowned Eastman School of Music – will be playing works by Elgar and Rismky-Korsakov this coming Friday night (January 30th) from 8-10PM at the Eastman Theater.

Eastman Philharmonia

Hmm…so much for keeping it short this week!

Saturday Morning Tuneage: Jon Hopkins

Posted in Saturday Morning Tuneage by dave on January 3, 2009 No Comments yet

There’s an episode of Britain’s gearhead petrolhead phenom-show Top Gear (Season 11, Episode 2, to be exact) when Jeremy spends some quality alone time with a drippingly-beautiful Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG “Black” coupe. At the beginning of the segment (which you can watch here, at around the 52-minute mark), he introduces the car with this monologue:

Hey now listen: When was the last time you just got up and went for a drive? Not to anywhere, not for anything – just for a drive? … This is brilliant. No phone. No kids. No interruptions. It’s just me, in my little metal shell. Time to think. Time to work stuff out. Small wonder crabs are so wise… And this really is an ideal car for when it’s four in the morning and you’ve got the whole 400,000-mile British road network all to yourself.

Since I saw a rerun of that episode a few weeks ago, I’ve been intrigued with the idea of a “microcosm of escape” – personal experiences that wrap us in that little singular cocoon of relaxation, or exhilaration, or isolation and give us a momentary break from the balance of our reality.

jon-hopkins_contact-note

Listening to Jon Hopkins is such an experience.

More…

Saturday Morning Tuneage: Teagan and The Tweeds

Posted in Saturday Morning Tuneage by dave on December 20, 2008 5 Comments

The storm that I mentioned in the last post has moved on toward the New England states, leaving us to wake up this morning to sparse, fluffy snowflakes drifting gently to earth. They instantly reminded me of this year’s first snowfall, which happened to coincide with my unsuccessful reintroduction to night mountain biking

After about a half-mile of climbing, with my respirations running at least 60 and my heartrate through the roof, I decided to turn back … As he passed, I told the “sweeper” I was heading down, and hung my head as I made my way back to the car…

It was a tough night – probably tougher than I let on when I wrote about it from the warm comfort of my office, a day later. I desperately wanted to hang in there with the group, to get through the ride. And since I hadn’t, now – cruising toward home in my cooshy car while the rest of the group was still out grinning their way up the trail – I just wanted to curl up in a ball.

I turned on the radio, and with no CDs aboard, flipped through the channels looking for something to match my mood. The local pop and classic rock stations offered no solace, but then I reached the preset for 98.9 “The Buzz”, and hit on the perfect cure: Teagan Ward

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Saturday Morning Tuneage: MRDC

Posted in Saturday Morning Tuneage by dave on June 28, 2008 1 Comment

This might be the quickest-ever Saturday Morning Afternoon Tuneage – just a hastily-jotted note because a) I’ve been completely negligent in posting lately, and b) the electro-garage sounds from Martin Richmond’s MRDC are just too good not to share:


Timecode by MRDC

After you’re done listening to Timecode here (thanks to Magnatune’s nifty little embeddable player), you can buy the album DRM-free, in MP3 or master-quality FLAC format.

I’ve got a few new posts waiting in “drafts” for a rainy day (hey, wait a minute, it’s raining now) but with a living room remodel going on, a dining room remodel pending, and a lot of long days at work these past few weeks, they’ve had to wait. Hopefully I can get them cleaned up and published soon!

Update: Oops! Forgot to mention: Today (6/28/08) only, you can download a free copy of the title track from Timecode by pointing your browser over to http://magnatune.com/today/

Saturday Morning Tuneage

OK. I switched it up a few weeks ago, with the first-ever installment of Saturday Morning Tuneage that actually covered music that I didn’t out-and-out gush about. This week, the pendulum swings the opposite way – to the realm of the sublime.

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Saturday morning tuneage

Posted in Saturday Morning Tuneage by dave on April 26, 2008 No Comments yet

After looking back over the last few months’ worth of Saturday Morning Tuneage installments, it occurs to me that I’ve done you a bit of a disservice. Ever since late September, I’ve been telling you about music I’ve discovered and managed to enjoy – and as a result, I’ve had a lot of good things to say.

This week, it’s time to give you the whole picture – because the truth is, not everything that hits my headphones ends up on my good side. And sometimes, the reasons are anything but what you’d expect…

In the April 12th edition of Saturday Morning Tuneage, I mentioned that I was looking forward to the release of The Weepies’ new album, Hideaway. The day after it hit eMusic, I managed to squeeze in a few minutes of music procurement time, and downloaded the 14 tracks. Honestly, I enjoyed what songs I managed to play on a first-listen: the melodies were catchy, the lyrics made sense, the performances were enjoyable – vocals and instrumentals alike – and nearly everything that attracted me to Say I am You was present and accounted-for.

But the music – as a whole – was just … lacking something. Despite how good the content was, it left me unsatisfied when I finally set down my Grados and padded my way to bed. It had been a long day … maybe it would sound better after a good night’s sleep?

After giving Hideaway a good second listen, I think I’ve found the culprit. I’ve scoured the web – from the Weepies’ site, to Wikipedia, to Amazon to Gracenote – but I can’t find his name. Maybe you can though: his name will be immediately preceded by the words “Produced by”.

Hideaway really is beautiful. Honestly. The emotion that permeates every sound on the album just makes you feel warm. Deb and Steve’s voices are gorgeously complimentary – and they just sound awesome together. It must have been an absolute spectacle to hear when it was recorded … but sadly, that’s where it seems to have ended. The recording is flat and un-detailed. Coming through the little ear buds that came with your iPod, I’m sure this wouldn’t distract too much. But listening on a system with any sort of fidelity, it’s hard not to notice just how downright boring Hideaway’s sound is. There’s a bit of dimension to the guitars, but the vocals, bass and percussion have a flat, monaural sound that belies the wonderful work that Nettwerk has done with other artists (not the least of whom is the truly-beyond-criticism-of-any-kind Sarah MacLachlan). It might be this disparity that’s most disappointing about many of Hideaway’s songs – you get excited, hearing some detail and staging as the guitars begin, but as soon as the vocals start, you’re plunged promptly back into disappointment.

Hideaway will certainly hold onto a long-time spot in my music collection. It’ll make wonderful background music, and I’m sure it’ll be enjoyable when my iPod meets my Sennheiser HD202s. But if the Grados or the B&W 602s in our living room are in the picture, I think I’ll be sticking with Sarah. And, despite its technical shortcomings, Hideaway is still well worth buying. You can do so DRM-free at Amazon MP3 or eMusic.

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