Alex Mallett

The first time I ever heard Alex Mallett we were sharing a bill and I wasn’t that impressed… though it wasn’t about Alex and always about me (being a douche).  Not sure what I was looking for, but I was apparently missing the guy sitting right in front of me - the guy who would go on to be one of my favourite songwriters (and all around musicians) in town.    My friend (and bassist) Jay “got it” that first night and I kinda wish I had to;  for I missed out on some quality time with some tremendous music.

I know a LOT of songwriters and the vast majority of them, while possessing myriad influences, are all cheap facsimiles of Paul McCartney, Merle Haggard, Bob Dylan or the occasional Brian Wilson or Carole King (I am guilty of this as well).  Alex is the only guy I know who has descended from the line of Paul Simon… and his shit ain’t cheap neither!  Equal parts wit and candor, Alex’s songs are always engaging and, at best, spellbinding.  Most are instantly memorable (and in some cases even singalongable) and all are layered in such a way that they reveal more about Alex the man and the mysteries of life in general upon each listen.   I really would give up most of my catalogue to write one “AlMal” song.  I am proud to call him a musical conspirator and am even lucky enough to play in his band from time to time.  

I guess I should also mention that Alex is great upright bassist, banjo player, and up-and-coming guitar player.  You can see him all over town (and sometimes out of town) with his own band and one of my other fave band/friends Union Street Preservation Society.

Here are some vids:

Here’s where you can buy his stuff.

Matt Frye

Rather than promoting my own stuff, I will spend this week talking up some of the work that some of my incredible friends are doing.

I met Matt Frye entirely by coincidence.   As I walked into my regular cafe, its proprietor said, “Yeah, Matt, this is a guy you gotta know:  Chris Q. Murphy.  He plays all sortsa instruments.”  I blushed a little and, within minutes, we were swapping contact info so that I could play on his upcoming EP.     When I got the rough mixes in my inbox, I didn’t know what to think.   The songs are SO straight-ahead.  The guitar playing is SO old skool   The vocal delivery is so in your face as to not let you lose sight of the everyday truths this guy is dropping.  This IS folk music… but it’s WEIRD… but I LOVE it. I was instantly hooked and beyond stoked to know that I would have a chance to play on the final version of this recording.   The more of Matt’s tunes I heard, the more I loved them all; and the more I got to play live with him - backing him on bass, mandolin, banjo, and electric guitar from time to time -  the more I came to respect and admire him as a performer.

I make no secret about the fact that Matt is my favourite performer in NYC right now.   Lying somewhere between and old skool country variety show, the laid back “fuck you” of the anti-folk scene, and a fireside chat, you can’t help but be drawn in by rock solid performances of great tunes.   Between that and the banter that ties the songs together and lets you know just a little bit more about this man out of time, watching Matt is one of the best ways I can imagine spending an evening.  I always walk away happy and changed.   As of late, when I’ve find myself “lost” on stage between songs, I seem to have developed the habit of doing my own version of Matt Frye… but not nearly as well.

Here’s some vids:

Lou Dog-Matt Frye from Erik Button on Vimeo.

matt frye LIVE _ livin’ at joann’s from Hilo Media on Vimeo.

Click HERE for Matt’s official website which will give you all sortsa cool info on how to buy his music, or, more importantly, see him live.

Russ Kaplan

Rather than promoting my own stuff, I will spend this week talking up some of the work that some of my incredible friends are doing. 

Having played with Russ in the Randy Bandits for seven years (!) and having featured him as a keyboardist and vocalist in my own band, I have always had a front row seat for his all-around musical awesomeness.   While first and foremost (in my mind) a keyboardist and arranger, Russ is also a composer, theatre producer, a capella maven, harmony singer, pop/jazz historian, and all around good dude. 

I first became aware of his Ulysses Cycle project a few years back, and having gone to almost every performance of this masterful piece of music (even having - unsuccessfully - tried my hand in the guitar seat for one gig), have been anxiously awaiting the release of this album since the first notes I heard.   I was admittedly nervous about whether or not it was possible to capture the live magic of this all-star ensemble on “tape”, but am glad to report that they have gone so far as to have transcended any version I have witnessed with this studio rendition.    A jazz, rock, soul, younameit instrumental retelling of the chronicles of Ulysses (Homer, not Joyce), this record should please musicians and hardcore listeners of any ilk.  It was my favourite album of 2013 before they even entered the studio to record it. 

Here are some vids:

Here’s where you can buy it. 

(might I suggest you get the physical copy as it comes with original full color illustrations for each track and narrative prose written by my wife in a FABULOUSLY designed package - to say nothing of how much aweseomer this sounds on CD)

Today’s listening….

1)  3 mi. walk this morning to….

buy it here.

2) current CD (re)obsession (and total nostalgia trip - though this record is as mediocre and half-baked as I remember): 

Buy it (on CD) here.

Dig that (stupid?) sound?

On a recent family vacation to Seattle, I was dismayed to find out that the car I had rented did not have an auxiliary line input, thus, I would not be able to listen to my iPod or iPhone while my family cruised around my second favourite city ever.  (white people problems, right?!)  :)   Seeing as I have little patience for the combination of over-compressed top 40 music and over-bassy car stereo systems and that the once-beloved KEXP has really skewed its playlists in favor of the more, *ahem*, “electronic” side of indie music, I was left with but one choice:  buy some used CD’s.

While at first this seemed merely like a practical and inexpensive solution to a serious (first world) problem, a few simple rules made this even more fun:  1.  it had to be released during the “CD era” (which I roughly consider 1988-2004).   2.  it had to be an album I did not already own on CD.   3.  For both suitcase-weight and baggage handler clumsiness, I could NOT shop for records.   What I never could have guessed, however, was that this situation may very well open another (and potentially dangerous) chapter in my life as a music consumer:  Buying CD’s: Part II (Used Stuff!).   

I started out at Jive Time Records in Fremont.  I picked up 5 titles:

  • 1. Brian Wilson - SMiLE (despite knowing this inside and out, I seriously didn’t own this on CD) - $5

and the following 4 at the rate of 4 for $10.

  • 2. Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose (piece of shit)
  • 3. Operation Ivy - self-titled comp. of first three releases (fun)
  • 4. Lucinda Williams - Essence (I just don’t get why the world likes her music that much)
  • 5. M. Ward - Transfiguration of Vincent(typical M. Ward fare)

Toward the end of our trip, I also hit up Everyday Music in Capitol Hill.   I grabbed the following CD’s for $.95 a piece.

  • Cowboy Junkies -Black Eyed Man (meh)
  • Sam Phillips - Martinis and Bikinis (a T Bone Burnett project, but surprisingly dated… and crappy)

So, why would buying a pile of decidedly “meh” titles (save Op. Iv. and SMiLE) change my entire perspective on music consumerism?  It’s ‘cos, for the first time in years, I got THAT thrill when buying new music.   You know the one:  part internal excitement that comes along with potential discovery and part exhilaration for getting away with something (“could it really be THIS cheap?”).   I have felt this sensation at three other times in my life: 

  1. Early high school - cassettes started to become passé and you could find titles by quasi-obscure performers with cool name for $1-$4. 
  2. Late high-school/early college - before the world got re-obsessed with vinyl, you could find just about anything for less than $4 and the REALLY high-end stuff (first pressings, rarities, etc.) could be had for $20 max.
  3. 2000-2001 - early days of mp3 piracy and p2p sharing

I am willing to admit that this is partially fueled by nostalgia which is in turn fueled by a major milestone of adulthood (the birth of my first kid) being “achieved” in the last few months - but let us not forget: CD’s plain-old SOUND BETTER than mp3’s and the records produced during the aforementioned “CD era” were being produced at the apex of a 40-year R&D boom in recording technology and artistry.   People took the way commercial albums should sound seriously.  

So:  with the vinyl comeback in full swing (leading to all sorts of other problems) and streaming services taking the thrill of thievery out of music piracy, this may be my new obsession.   While we’ll have to wait and see how this bears out on my music storage space and my wallet, what I CAN tell you is that it’s made me excited to go back and listen to some of the CD’s already in my collection.   The albums we’ve spun today (with video, and more importantly, CD PURCHASING LINKS) are represented below.

1. Big in Japan - Destroy the New Rock

2. Belle & Sebastian - If You’re Feeling Sinister

3. G. Love & Special Sauce - (s/t)

Demo of the day!

new demo, y’all!

Here’s today’s demo!

Hey, folks! Here’s the first in a series of demos I’ll be sharing with you over the next few weeks. Enjoy! #demos

My new sounds:

Year End 5x5 Part 3: 5 NEW albums that were’t necessarily my faves (though they might have been), but I listened to a LOT in 2011

Hey, folks!

It’s year-end list time and as mixed as my feelings are about music criticism and the majority of music journalism these days, I can’t help but get wrapped up in the spirit.   As a means of amends to myself, I have opted, rather than have “top 10” this or “50 best” that to instead make lists that more reflect on trends in my own listening or lack thereof.   *Each list will be list of 5 songs, albums, performers, etc., and will be published (here “published” meaning posted to my Facebook, tumblr, etc) every Thursday in December.  As there are 5 thursdays in December, we’ll call this my “End of Year 5x5” (and hope it’s an annual tradition).   Shall we?

*(I totally reserve the right to include up to two honorable mentions each week as 5 is SUCH a small number and there’s SO much music out there)

5 NEW albums that were’t necessarily my faves (though they might have been), but I listened to a LOT in 2011

1. Chris Thile & Michael Daves - Sleep With One Eye Open
2. Gillian Welch - The Harrow & the Harvest
3. Stephen Malkmus - Mirror Traffic
4. Henry Wolfe - Linda Vista
5. JP & the Gilberts - Introducing…

Honourable Mentions (since I played on them):  Matt Frye, “Biscuits & Dog Days” / Chris Q. Murphy, “Fiendish Thingies”

Stay tuned as next week I list 5 albums that I am embarrassed to admit that I, upon a friend, journalist, or blogger’s insistence, downloaded or put on my Spotifty 2011 playlist but honestly didn’t listen to expect maybe in a shuffle.