Posts Tagged ‘alt.country’

Live music is better. At its best, in concert, time trips over itself and lands you smack dab in that sweet spot of spacetime where the earth doesn’t whirl, clocks don’t tick, and nothing much matters beyond the rhythms and melodies rolling like the sonic waves they are from stage to shore.

Such was the case, at any rate, when Caroline Spence and her band headlined the Cat’s Cradle back room in Carrboro, N.C., on June 5th – our first time at the legendary club. For those unaware of her, which I suspect is many, she’s a country-tinged singer-songwriter whose music conjures, among others, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Sheryl Crow, Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams.

“The Long Haul,” about what Merle Haggard dubbed “White Line Fever” (aka life on the road), opened her 80-minute (give or take) set in perfect fashion, given that she and her band drove straight from Nashville for the gig (a 7 1/2-hour journey according to Apple Maps): “Town after town and it’s all the same/They say expecting something different’s the definition of insane/But here I go, I follow those highway stripes leading the way/Down that fine line between making a living and digging your grave.” Here’s the studio track:

One highlight was “Wait on the Wine.” Here she is, a few nights earlier, performing it at Atwood’s Tavern in Cambridge, Mass.:

Another highlight: “Sit Here and Love Me”:

The bulk of the set, which was split by a solo-acoustic turn in its center, was drawn from her stellar 2019 release on Rounder Records, Mint Condition, though she worked in quite a few older tunes, too. My favorite moment came with “Who Are You,” which floated through the ether like a long-lost Emmylou Harris & Spyboy track:

Although you can’t see them in the clip, her backing band – Charlie Whitten on guitar, Luke Preston on bass, and drummer Aaron Shafer-Haiss – was phenomenal. Another moment when they shined was  “Slow Dancer,” a track from her 2017 Spades & Roses album. Here’s the studio version:

The night ended with her rendition of Lucinda Williams’ “Passionate Kisses,” which she first heard via Mary Chapin Carpenter when she was 6. It quickly became, and still remains, one of her favorite songs.

In short, good times never seemed so good. If Caroline comes to your town, be sure to catch her. You won’t be disappointed.

 

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.)

Photo by Draven Nicole.

Last weekend, I whiled away part of Sunday afternoon on PledgeMusic and Kickstarter, where many music artists caught my eye. Only one, however, caught my ear: Tulsa-based singer-songwriter Erin O’Dowd.

 

In her introductory paragraph, she shares a “lo-fi” video for her song “Old Town,” which I’ve embedded above. While it may be lo-fi, her soul comes through at the highest of bit-rates. Curious and wanting to hear more, I turned to the Internet’s oracle for such things – YouTube.

Check out her song “Robin’s Egg Blue”:

And here she is with the honky-tonkin’ “Trick Pony”:

And, last, here’s her emotive cover of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery”:

She’s someone whose album I’d buy tomorrow and likely obsess over, as I’m apt to do, and someone I’d head down to Philly to see in concert without a second’s thought. Travis Linville, the guitarist in Hayes Carll’s band, has committed to producing her debut album – and, hopefully, their $10K goal is met so that whatever they need, they get.

I asked if she’d be willing to answer a few questions via email, and she agreed.

Photo: Draven Nicole.

When did you know you wanted to be a singer?

Since I was just a little kid. I was always singing and making up songs. I did my first talent show when I was 2 or 3. I sang “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music.

When did you take up guitar?

I took up guitar when I was 15. My older brother played and that turned me onto it. I grew up playing piano and that was my first instrument.

Who are your influences? Do you have a favorite songwriter?

My top influences are Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Gram Parsons, Loretta Lynn, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, the Band, Ryan Adams, gosh I could go on forever.

What was the first album/CD/download you purchased?

It was definitely a Christian CD – I grew up pretty sheltered and a pastor’s kid. I believe the singer’s name was Jaqui Velasquez, but I don’t remember the title! Really beautiful stuff.

And, on the flip side, what was the last album you picked up (or added to your library, if you stream via Spotify or Apple Music)?

The last full album I listened to was John Moreland’s latest release, Big Bad Luv. It’s fantastic!

On my blog, I sometimes spotlight albums I deem “essential” – things everyone should hear, at least once, in my opinion. What are a few of yours? What is it about them that draw you back, time and again?

Oh, wow – well, for me, definitely Dylan’s first several hits: Freewheelin’, Nashville Skyline, and Bringing It All Back Home. Blonde on Blonde. It’s impossible for me to pick a favorite among those. The songs are all equally poignant and inspirational. There’s something about the train of inspiration he hit after his first two that just struck gold and it didn’t stop. It still hasn’t stopped for him. There’s a soulfulness, playful creativity, and an honesty to those songs that never looses its luster to me.

Are you into vinyl? Prefer downloads?

I’m totally into vinyl. I had a massive collection that I lost to a mold problem in some places I lived in. It was totally devastating. So right now I’m into streaming, but only because that’s what I can afford.

Photo: Tony Shanks

On your Kickstarter page, you mention that Tampa is your other hometown. What led you to move to Tulsa?

I moved to Tulsa when I was 11 years old with my family. My Dad took up a new church here, and so here we came. I was actually born in Mississippi while he was in school there, but I don’t remember it at all.

How did you connect with Travis Linville?

Travis is an Okie guy with a huge talent for songwriting, performing (multiple instruments), and production. I first met him seven years ago or so at a show of his in Tulsa. It was the first time I had seen him and I was blown away. I actually didn’t know he did production until a few years later. I was struggling to find the right producer/engineer to work with and a few friends threw his name out. I decided, what the hell, I might as well ask him. Happily, he was into the idea!

You mentioned that you had concerts lined up in NYC and Canada for April. How did they go?

I had a great little tour of the Northeast in April. I started in Brooklyn, did one in NYC, one in Toronto, and one in Ottawa. I picked up a couple extra in Brooklyn and Toronto along the way. It was a super fun time, full of wonderful memories. I had some amazing musical experiences jamming with fellow buskers in the subway, with new best friends in Toronto, and with a friend from Folk Alliance in Ottawa. I made some really great connections and I can’t wait to go back along that route.

Do you get a chance to attend concerts, or are you too busy playing out? What are some of the more memorable ones you’ve seen?

I am pretty dang busy playing out – up to five or six engagements a week, usually, but I make it out to see other folks as much as I can. That’s what keeps me going! We have such an incredible music community in Tulsa. Within our local music scene live some of my favorite artists, including Jared Tyler, Linville and Chloe Johns. I could go on forever, but I’ll stop there. The most recent bigger shows I got to see were Sondre Lerche (in Toronto) and Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes). Two of my all time faves, as well. I have a lot of favorites. I guess I’m kind of a music nerd.

To learn more about Erin, visit her website and her Kickstarter page.