Posts Tagged ‘2019’

The terrain of life is such that, at some point, everyone travels across rocky ground. We all grapple with the loss of loved ones, with broken-down cars, illness and unexpected bills, relationship tumult, and unwanted demands on our time. On the flip side, we all speed down similar, happier stretches of life’s highway. As Rhode Island-based country singer-songwriter Charlie Marie, who made her bones at Belmont University in Nashville, puts it in “Countryside,” “We’re all stars in a different show, singing along with the radio, all the same different shades of gray just trying to enjoy the ride.”

Last Sunday, my plan for this morn – yes, I sometimes think ahead – was to expound on “Hello Sunshine,” the new Bruce Springsteen track released from his forthcoming Western Stars album, and E Street Radio, the Bruce Springsteen channel on SiriusXM. But, that night, I read this review on Highway Queens about Charlie Marie’s eponymous EP, and then gave it a listen on my way to work the next day. 

The opener, “Rhinestone,” is built off an iconic quote from Dolly Parton – “it’s hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world” – and is a wry and sly parable about being true to one’s self. As with the songs that follow, it’s accented by Charlie Marie’s Northeastern twang; the quivers and quavers of her vocals sink into the soul like the warmth of the sun. At times, she conjures a young Emmylou. Here’s “Rodeo”…

She has one of those voices, in other words. Listening this morning to her first two releases – another self-titled EP from 2015 and Chucktown Takes, a stripped-down live set from 2018 that was recorded at a South Carolina AirBnB – one can hear her evolution as an artist. The one constant: Her vocals.

Here’s a cool track-by-track breakdown of the EP that she made with her grandmother, who introduced her to Patsy Cline.

(Just as an aside, her accent reminds me of Midge Maisel’s – a good thing!)

The song she references as her favorite on the EP, “Shot in the Dark,” is a gem. Here she is is in an NYC subway station singing it – check out the glorious echo.

There’s an age-old show-biz quote that it’s always best to leave the audience wanting more. Whether true or not, it’s safe to say that’s how you’ll feel once the EP comes to an end – 18 (or so) minutes just isn’t enough. Here’s looking forward to Charlie Marie’s next release…

(You can buy the EP, along with Charlie Marie’s previous two offerings, from her BandCamp page.)

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.)