Posts Tagged ‘Singer-Songwriter’

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.

5) Suzi Quatro & Chris Norman – “Stumblin’ In”

This was posted to a Facebook group I belong to – NHA, No-Hipsters Allowed. Great group. I remember the song fairly well from its time on the charts in 1979. Back then, I only knew Quatro as Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days, so it was something of a surprise to hear her in this cheesy context. According to Wikipedia, “Stumblin’ In” went to No. 4 on the Billboard charts – her lone Top 40 hit in the U.S. Obviously, she and Norman are having a blast lip-syncing to it, which adds to the flavor of what is, was and will always be a fluffy gem.

4) Paul McCartney & Wings – “Letting Go”

We picked up McCartney tickets this week – decent first-level seats at an exorbitant price. Which got me to thinking of the songs I hope he does when we see him. This Venus & Mars track is one.

3) The Staves – “I’m on Fire”

I’d never heard of the Staves until earlier this year, when I read a review of their new If I Was album in Mojo. I looked them up on YouTube, liked what I heard and bought it. It’s very good – they’re akin to a distaff CSN. And this cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” is a pure, harmony-laden delight.

2) Diane Birch – “Heavy Cross”

Diane Birch tweeted this week that she’d like to release an album of Bible Belt “demos and rejects.” I’d love to see it happen. I’d love, even more, for this to be included – her take on Gossip’s “Heavy Cross” (with a little bit of Screaming’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” thrown in for good measure).

1) Paul Simon – “American Tune”

One of my favorite Paul Simon songs. A timeless metaphor for the American experience. (It’s also a song that I think Rumer should cover, as she’d do wonders with it.)

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Two nights, two concerts. One venue. On Thursday, Neil Young delivered a spellbinding acoustic show at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. On Friday, Jackson Browne and a crack band gently rocked the same house.

On the surface, the differences couldn’t have been more stark. Neil, at 68 years of age, looks like a grizzled miner, albeit one for a heart of gold. He possesses a stage demeanor that is, in a word, gruff. He ignored the shouted requests (typical for a Philly crowd) for obscure and not-so-obscure songs from his decades-deep catalog and, at times, seemed visibly annoyed. “CSNY!” someone in the balcony yelled. “Never again,” Neil snapped. “Crazy Horse?” someone in the front row queried. “Always,” he replied.

Jackson, on the other hand, looked decades younger than his 66 years; and fended off the shouted requests with aplomb and humor, jokingly wondering if he’d selected the right songs for the setlist. At one point, as he prepared to play a song from his new album, the excellent Standing in the Breach, someone shouted out for an old song – and he swapped his guitar, huddled with the band members and then served up “Your Bright Baby Blues” from The Pretender.

Yet, appearance and stage patter aside, they share many similarities. They’re both singer-songwriters with long resumes who, at their best, craft songs that caress and/or express the heart and soul; they’re each comfortable on stage alone or with a band; and they’re passionate about defending the environment. Neil performed “Mother Earth” and the new “Who’s Gonna Stand Up (and Save the Earth)?”; and shared his disappointment with President Obama for signing off on deep-water fracking in the Gulf of Mexico. Jackson, for his part, discussed the need to save the oceans – every second breath we take is thanks to them – prior to performing the new “If I Could Be Anywhere,” a wonderful song from Standing in the Breach about a trip he made to the Galápagos Islands.

They also split their concerts into two sets.

Neil showcased a few songs from his recent, all-covers album A Letter Home and four from his forthcoming Storeytone. His setlist:

From Hank to Hendrix / On the Way Home / Only Love Can Break Your Heart / I’m Glad I Found You / Mellow My Mind / Reason to Believe / Someday / If You Could Read My Mind / Harvest / Old Man // Pocahontas / Heart of Gold / Plastic Flowers / A Man Needs a Maid / Ohio / Southern Man / Who’s Gonna Stand Up? / Mother Earth / When I Watch You Sleeping / Harvest Moon // After The Gold Rush // Thrasher

Jackson’s set featured a handful of new ones, though “The Birds of St. Marks” is actually very old – it dates to 1968. There was also, after his return from the break, a spontaneous rendition of “Happy Birthday” by the audience to him, as he’d celebrated his birthday the day before. His setlist:

The Barricades of Heaven / Looking Into You / The Long Way Around / Leaving Winslow / These Days / Shaky Town / I’m Alive / You Know the Night / Fountain of Sorrow // Rock Me on the Water / Your Bright Baby Blues / Standing in the Breach / Looking East / If I Could Be Anywhere / The Birds of St. Marks / For a Dancer / Doctor My Eyes / The Pretender / Running on Empty // Take It Easy / Our Lady of the Well

 

 

People who know me in the real world know that, when push comes to shove, Neil Young is my favorite musical artist – his music is ingrained in my DNA. Yet, as I’ve written elsewhere, the older I’ve become the more I’m drawn to the work of Jackson Browne – especially Late for the Sky, which now easily ranks in my Top 10 Albums of all time.

Since Friday night, I’ve been comparing and contrasting the two concerts in my head, and – beyond the superficial – coming up with blanks. Neil’s was, as I said at the outset, spellbinding. Jackson’s was a little less so, yet some of his songs (“Rock Me on the Water,” “Fountain of Sorrow” and “For a Dancer”) resonated deeper in my soul. Read into that what you will.

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The lights dimmed, the band took its place, and applause ricocheted around the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia as if the staccato rhythm humming from an old-fashioned movie projector. The silhouette of a shapely dame clad in a fedora hat and sporting a cane sauntered to center stage while the seductive notes of the night’s first song drifted through the room. As the show progressed, the stage was often bathed in dark red or blue, but never white or anything bright. It felt as if we’d stepped into a film-noir world of shadows and dim light. And then there was that voice…

I’d briefly investigated the singer, Melody Gardot, the year before when her name popped up during a routine background check of another chanteuse, one Peggy Lee. There, at the bottom of the Amazon page for one of Lee’s many albums, on the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” list, was Worrisome Heart by Melody Gardot. I’ve discovered a fair bit of good music that way, so clicked on the link to check it out.

I soon learned her backstory: Music as Therapy evolved into Music as Art while she convalesced from severe injuries sustained from a horrific accident. (This New York Times article explains it.)

Back to the show in question: Diane and I were seated near the bar, where the constant clank-clank-clank of glasses and dishes being washed and sometimes dropped, not to mention the constant murmurs of folks ordering drinks, can occasionally distract one from the music. Not this night, however.

A little more than a month before, she’d released My One and Only Thrill. It’s an excellent set of what’s called jazz-pop (as silly a label that I’ve come across), though to my ears it’s more a melding of the jazz and singer-songwriter genres. It’s the home to the above “Baby, I’m a Fool” and “Your Heart Is as Black as Night,” as well as several of the night’s other standout songs.

You may have noticed that the above YouTube videos hail from performances other than this particular concert. So here’s one (the only one that exists, apparently) from near the end of the night, “My Favorite Things”:

To say we were enthralled would be an understatement. We saw her two more times over the next year, with each show equally mesmerizing. Four months later, at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater in October 2009, the band was tighter and music more fluid.

During “The Rain,” she reached into the piano and plucked its strings – something I’d never seen, and have only witnessed once since – at the Keswick Theatre in the Philly suburb of Glenside, when Melody played there in June of the following year.

Yet, when I think of Melody in concert, the first thing that comes to mind is that World Cafe show. As I said above, it was akin to stepping into a film noir for a night. About the only thing missing was Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray trading stylized dialogue…