Archive for the ‘2019’ Category

PledgeMusic, which began operations in 2009, has gone belly-up.

For those unaware, it was a crowdfunding website that connected indie music artists with fans who provided backing for specific projects. It was a win-win for everyone. The artists weren’t left footing the upfront costs for their projects (no mortgaging the house!) and, if they were smart, priced in a profit for themselves. Fans, for their part, scored new music plus, if they chose, nifty premiums – everything from autographed items to pay-to-order cover songs to house concerts to a chunk of an artist’s hair. They also gained access to an online diary that chronicled the project via posts and audio/video uploads.

The PledgeMusic model had artists receiving 85 percent of their raised funds through two payments over the life of a given project, with the company deducting its portion – 15 percent – from the second. There’s also this: The site’s terms and conditions says that “Monies collected by PledgeMusic for a Campaign will be held on account for the Artist.” That infers, at least to me, that the money raised by each artist was segregated from the company’s operating funds, and perhaps that was the case at first. Over time, however, it appears that Pledge dipped into the 85 percent supposedly earmarked for the artists, though why we don’t know. What we can say for certain: Payments to artists were delayed. And delayed again. And, finally, stopped altogether. 

PledgeMusic is now expected to enter bankruptcy, perhaps as soon as this week. The money sent in by fans to support specific artists will likely go to the company’s creditors, whoever they may be, and not the artists themselves. I’ll leave it to others to expound on and investigate the whys and wherefores of the company’s stumbles, and instead state the obvious: There’s no coming back from it.

And while Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and other crowdfunding sites remain, PledgeMusic’s absence will be felt – at least for me. I found it, by far, the most user-friendly. It’s always where I began my searches for new or established artists to support.  

The first PledgeMusic project I backed was in 2011, when I signed on for the Juliana Hatfield album that became There’s Always Another Girl. In the years since, in addition to signing on for Juliana’s additional Pledge projects (and the Blake Babies), I backed a variety of other artists, including (but not limited to) 10,000 Maniacs, Josh Rouse, Garland Jeffreys, Rickie Lee Jones and, most recently, Church of Birch pastor Diane Birch, whose plate-passing campaign came in 14 percent above her goal just as PledgeMusic began suspending payments to artists.

So, for today’s Top 5: RIP PledgeMusic (aka Songs from PledgeMusic Albums I Helped Fund).

1) Juliana Hatfield – “Taxicab.” This driving tune – which is made for listening to while speeding down the highway – hails from Juliana’s under-rated There’s Always Another Girl album, which began life as “Juliana Hatfield New Album” on PledgeMusic in 2011.  

2) Garland Jeffreys – “Is This the Real World?” Garland’s 2013 Truth Serum album was highlighted by quite a few songs, but this one is – hands down – my favorite. One listen and, trust me, you’ll be hooked.

3) Rickie Lee Jones – “Feet on the Ground.” That artists such as Juliana, Garland and Rickie Lee had to turn to PledgeMusic says all one need know about the state of the music industry circa the 2010s. This song is one of the highlights from her 2015 Other Side of Desire album.

4) The Stone Foundation – “Next Time Around.” The British soul/R&B band’s Everybody, Anyone album was one of my favorites from last year. Absolutely addictive. And this tune is a stone-cold classic.

5) Diane Birch – “Stand Under My Love.” Diane’s 2018 PledgeMusic project reached its goal, only to have the money swiped from her collection plate. So I’m reaching back to this insta-classic tune from her 2016 EP, Nous. In another era, it would have been a huge hit.

(If you like it, head over to Diane’s BandCamp page and buy the EP.) 

First impressions aren’t always lasting impressions, though with this gem of a record, the full-length debut of singer-songwriter (and two-time International Bluegrass Music Association Guitar Player of the Year) Molly Tuttle, I can’t imagine not returning to it time and again for the rest of my days. The album blends bluegrass, country and rock into a deft set that’s as sublime as it is spellbinding, and conjures everything from Manassas (sans the Latin tinge) to Jewel’s under-appreciated 2006 opus, Goodbye Alice in Wonderland.

For those unaware of Molly – and, honestly, I was until this No Depression review in early April sent me scurrying to YouTube to research her – it’s safe to say that music is in her DNA. The daughter of San Francisco-based bluegrass musician-instructor Jack Tuttle, she picked up the guitar at age 8, and some 17 years later is now a master of the flatpicking, clawhammer, and cross-picking techniques. She released an album with her dad at age 13 and joined the family band, The Tuttles With AJ Lee, a few years after that. She also attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and released a few albums in various collectives and duos with classmates before, in 2017, releasing her solo debut EP.

At first listen, When You’re Ready sounds like a lost classic from another era – which kind of makes sense since the opening track, “Million Miles,” was an unfinished Jewel-Steve Poltz tune, written in 1997 and released on the Jewel: A Life Uncommon video in 2000. Twenty-two years later, after Poltz played it for her, Molly completed it.

The songs that follow are similarly well-written, primarily introspective tunes that harken back to another era. On second, third and fourth listens, however, the time-out-of-place quality of the music slips into sheer timelessness. Melodies rise and fall, twirl and swirl, barrel forth and pull up, all while Molly’s honey-dewed vocals define “honey-dewed.” And there are moments, such as on the chorus of “Don’t Let Go,” where her voice slides into an upper register, that belie words – they’re aural beauty set to song, just about.

She does something similar in “Sleepwalking,” another high point.

Make no mistake, however: This isn’t just an album of just mid-tempo and slower delights. NPR’s Jewly Hight equates “Light Came In (Power Went Out)” to power pop in her review, and it is that while simultaneously being more than that. It’s a tour de force…

… as is “Take the Journey.”

I’d say the same about the album as a whole. When I’m driving in my car, I don’t want it to end. And when it does? I hit play again. That should say it all.

Last Saturday, after much hemming and hawing, and having read more about cars in the past two months than during the past two decades, I traded in my 2010 Honda Civic – which had near 112,000 miles on it – and bought a 2018 Mazda3 hatchback. It was one of the last “new” ’18 3s still on the dealer’s lot. (Word to the wise: Last year’s model is always marked down.) It’s a good ride with an excellent Bose sound system that almost makes me yearn for my old commute just so I can listen longer. 

(Note that I wrote “almost.”) 

The tech upgrade has been a bit of a culture shock, however. The Honda included a CD player, AM-FM stereo with buttons, and an aux jack. The Mazda, on the other hand, features a 7-inch LCD screen with AM, FM, SiriusXM, Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay, plus an aux jack but no CD player; and, when you’re driving, everything is controlled by nobs located between the front seats.

I’ve primarily listened to Jade Bird’s and Molly Tuttle’s full-length debuts this week, but carved out time during my shorter commute to explore a bit of SiriusXM, as the car comes with a three-month trial. E Street Radio is, as expected, a joy, but the Outlaw Country and Bluegrass Junction channels sound good, too. (More to come on that, for sure.) 

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: New Tracks & Videos

1) Bruce Springsteen – “Hello Sunshine.” I switched on E Street Radio, which is dedicated to all things Springsteen and band, on the ride home Thursday night and was surprised to hear that  Bruce has a new album coming out. And then “Hello Sunshine” played. Wow. Just wow.

2) Neil Young – “Don’t Be Denied.” Neil says he’s saddled up the Horse and that (as of April 22nd) they’ve recorded eight songs for a new album. While we wait for that, there’s this, the first taste of the coming archival release Tuscaloosa, which features 11 tracks from a 1973 concert in Alabama.

3) Courtney Marie Andrews – Tiny Desk Concert. Courtney and band perform a stellar three-song set: “May Your Kindness Remain,” “Rough Around the Edges” and “This House.”

4) Jade Bird – “Side Effects.” Jade and band deliver a driving rendition of this “Springsteen-y” track, one of the highlights from her recent full-length debut.

5) Lucy Rose – “The Confines of This World.” A live rendition of one of the (11) standout tracks from Lucy’s recent No Words Left album. From the Union Chapel in London on April 9th of this year, it’s a mesmerizing performance.

And one bonus…

6) Molly Tuttle – “Helpless.” Molly Tuttle’s full-length debut is a velvety smooth (and addictive) blend of bluegrass, folk and pop, and conjures – for me, at least – Alison Krauss, Shawn Colvin and Kasey Chambers, among others. Here, she ends a show with a rendition of Neil Young’s classic ode to his Canadian home. (For those unfamiliar with Molly, she – like Kasey – began her career in a family band before branching off on her own. Since, she’s twice been named the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitarist of the Year.)

I am not a theoretical physicist, nor do I play one on TV, but specific topics within that scientific field intrigue me. Among them: Hermann Minkowski’s introduction in 1908 of spacetime, which posits that time is the fourth dimension. It was an extension of Albert Einstein’s 1905 theory of special relativity, and a building block for Einstein’s 1915 theory of general relativity, which dove into the distortions that gravity has on time.

In the years before and since those scientific (and, at heart, philosophical) ideas, there have been a number of theories related to time. MIT-based philosopher Brad Skow, for instance, subscribes to the “block universe” approach, which – to layman me, anyway – seems little more than an extension of the age-old concept of eternalism, which I learned about decades ago in college. Skow says that we do not flow on a river of time nor does time pass us by, but instead postulates that the past, present and future exist simultaneously in different locations within spacetime. In essence, time is the constant; we are not.

The “growing block universe theory of time,” on the other hand, excludes the future from the equation, but that seems designed to deny a potential, troubling extension of the non-growing block universe approach: That our futures may be predestined. If the future co-exists alongside the present and past, after all, it stands to reason that our future has already been written. (Of course, that’s a hypothesis that can’t be proven – or disproven – unless or until our neighboring multiverses are uncovered.)

There’s also this: The universe is expanding faster than scientists long assumed. The reasons have yet to be determined, and likely never will be, but to me it indicates that an unknown gravitational force is causing a curvature or dimple in the fabric of spacetime. I.e., what we perceive to be an expanding universe is likely the result of a figurative bowling ball – a new black star, perhaps – being dropped in the middle of spacetime. While the fabric stretches at the edges, the distance between points near the ball, where the fabric sags beneath the added weight, actually shrinks. 

In other words, the force of gravity is causing portions of the past, present and future to jostle closer together. And, theoretically speaking, such moments are when time travel is most feasible. 

My tongue’s somewhat in cheek, of course, but it leads to this: Jade Bird’s eponymous debut. The 21-year-old wunderkind singer-songwriter, a former military brat from North East England, possesses a voice that soars like a soul to heaven and a knack for writing songs that are beyond her age. One explanation: An older Jade Elizabeth Bird leapt through a wormhole and imparted her hard-won wisdom to her younger self. The more likely explanation: She’s just damn good.

Check out “Does Anybody Think So,” one of the album’s highlights.

Musically speaking, the opening is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper.” Lyrically, however, it veers toward matters of the heart, loneliness and yearning. It’s a stunning song. The same can be said of “Side Effects,” which Jade described to Apple Music as having a “driving, almost Springsteen-y riff.”

The cover photo may be (purposely) out of focus, but the songs themselves are crystal clear. While the bulk of the set focuses on the perennial subjects d’jour of popular song – love, betrayal, life, death, etc., etc. – unlike with many of her peers (or forebears, for that matter), the tunes never overstay their welcome. When we saw her last year, I equated her and her band to a twang-infused Ramones, and that approach stays true here. The longest song is a few ticks short of four minutes; most of the others hover near three.

In some ways, she’s akin to a ferocious (but charismatic) boxer: In Round 1, the listener’s knocked down by her deft hooks, and then knocked down again in each of the following 11 rounds. “I Get No Joy” is a good case in point; here she is on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon performing it:

A few of the songs have been known quantities for quite a while – “Lottery” topped Billboard’s Adult Alternative Songs chart in April 2018; “Uh Huh” dates to August ’18; and “Love Has All Been Done Before” has been ricocheting around my head since its release in November ’18. 

They and “I Get No Joy” share a high-octane familiarity – they’re perfect tracks to stand out in the playlist-centric world we find ourselves in. On album, however, without given space to breathe, they’re as likely to leave the listener suffering from whiplash. What turns the eponymous set from a collection of singles into a cohesive set, at least for me, are “Side Effects” and the introspective “Does Anybody Think So,” “My Motto” and especially “If I Die.”

In some ways, “If I Die” conjures another song written by another wise-beyond-her-years upstart: “Where Does the Time Go” by Sandy Denny. It’s as if, at age 21 (probably 20 when she wrote it), she channeled the wisdom of the ages. It’s a timeless track, and the perfect end to a good-great full-length debut.