It’s after Thanksgiving so we have now officially entered Christmas music season, which makes it very apropos that I have some Christmas music for you today. Last year I was obsessed with Phoebe Bridger’s album and this year I have been obsessed with the temporary supergroup boygenius that Phoebe Bridgers formed with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus. So today I have three songs from Phoebe Bridgers and boygenius for you.
Yesterday she released a cover of McCarthy Trenching’s “Christmas Song” with backing vocals by Jackson Browne. It’s not a song I had ever heard before, but it’s about feeling lonely at Christmas even when you’re not alone. I love me a melancholy Christmas song, so it’s right up my alley.
Speaking of melancholy Christmas songs, one of my favorites is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. In reading the article about the new Christmas cover I discovered that Phoebe had recorded a version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” last year. She appropriately uses the “muddle through somehow” over the “hang a shining star” lyric and makes the song sound even more haunting than usual. I approve.
And on a non-Christmas song note I figured I would also throw in this recent cover of the Dixie Chick’s “Cowboy Take Me Away” that boygenius has been doing on their short tour, which sadly came nowhere near me. I’m holding out hope that they’ll reunite to play a set at the 2019 Newport Folk Festival. This is a gorgeous cover of this song. Their voices are so good together. It’s too bad their 5 song EP is all we’ll probably get out of them as a group.
Wye Oak is a Baltimore indie rock band who has met with some success, but they always come home to play at the Ottobar. They ended their most recent tour there this past weekend. I had actually never seen them live before and wasn’t actually sure I was going to go this time. The first show they announced was on a Sunday night on a day I already had tickets to two different plays, so I definitely wasn’t going to that one. After that sold out really quickly they added a second show for Saturday night. I sort of waffled on it because while I really love 50% of their music I’m either indifferent to or don’t care for the other 50%. They play some stuff that’s sounds more experimental and spacey to me, which I don’t love, but anything they play that has a good beat and melody to it I dig. Anyway my friend Paul texted and said he was going with some other friends and asked if I wanted to go, so that gave me the kick in the pants to do it. It felt very prescient then that leading into the final song of the evening singer Jenn Wasner talked about how whenever she’s getting ready to go out on tour she gets really nervous about it and just wants to stay curled up in the safety and comfort of her home, but that it’s always really great to get out into the world and actually share the same space with actual people in real life. It took all the energy I had to force myself to get up off my couch and go out at 9 pm (I’m too old for shows that don’t start until that late. Why aren’t there matinee concerts?), but like she said it was really great to get out and listen to music and enjoy the evening with other people.
The opening act was some band called Thor and Friends. I had no idea what to expect from them going in. Apparently what I should have expected was marimba. So much marimba. It’s not the most offensive opening act I’ve ever seen because it’s not like it was aurally unpleasant, it was just sooo boring. One of the people I was with joked that it was like going to see Pure Moods in concert. I guess if I needed something to meditate to it would have been fine, but as something I’m listening to live. No thanks. I also appreciated the joke made by one of the guys I was with about creating a Thor and Friends cover band called Loki and Friends. At least we got some laughs out of it even if we didn’t get any good music.
Happily Wye Oak was much better. They definitely played a few songs I didn’t care for that much, but overall I liked what they played. I enjoyed getting to hear them play “Civilian” live, which if you know a Wye Oak song at all it’s probably that one. It’s been used like like 185 tv shows, so there’s a good chance you’ve heard it even if you don’t know it. It was a good show with a good crowd, and I’m glad I got myself up out of my house to go.
We’re hitting that point in the year where there isn’t much new music being released so I’m going to have to start getting a little more creative with what I’m considering new. So this week I’m talking about two songs off of the deluxe version of Amos Lee’s newest album My New Moon, which was just released yesterday.
One of the new songs on the deluxe version of the album is a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. I wish this song wasn’t still so relevant to today. There was so much great protest music written in the 60s and it’s kind of disheartening to listen to it today because the lyrics still fit so well and you can see that we haven’t come very far.
Marvin Gaye’s version of this song has never been one of my favorites from that era, but I love what Amos Lee has done with it. His voice is perfect for the song and I think the even more slowed down and mellow tone he gives it work really well.
That brings us to “No More Darkness, No More Light” which was the first single off the album. It was a song I thought about writing about for this series multiple weeks only to have something else edge it out until it no longer felt new enough to fall under the new music Friday moniker. But since I’m writing about another song on the album I thought I would go ahead and sneak it in here.
Despite the uplifting tone of the music, the song itself is actually pretty heavy. Amos Lee took apart the whole song and rewrote the lyrics in the days following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting as the students there started to call out people for the hollow “thoughts and prayers” they were offering. I feel like the song offers a bit of hope at the end even if it seems to indicate there’s a long road before we ever get there. I keep trying to follow that hope even though most days I find it harder and harder to even see the road. I like when my music keeps reminding me to push forward.
If you read my blog post about seeing The Lone Bellow in concert earlier this week you may recall that I mentioned that they recently came out with a new EP of acoustic music called The Restless that includes some new stuff, some acoustic versions of old stuff, and a cover of Adele’s “Water Under the Bridge”. One of the songs off the EP that they sang and which I heard for the first time during the concert was “Power Over Me”. It’s a beautiful, simple song about grieving the loss of someone you still love deeply. I absolutely adore it. I have listened to it about 500 times since the show. I highly recommend you do the same.
I usually write up these concerts posts much quicker, but I went out of town the day after I saw this show and have been pretty busy in the evenings since I got back home and haven’t had time to write anything. But I like keeping a record of my concerts so I’m still doing this one a week late even though I know no one really cares about these posts but me.
The opening act was someone named Samantha Crain, who I had never heard of before. It was just her and her guitar up there on the stage. She had some amusing stage banter, but her music didn’t grab me. It wasn’t terrible, but for some reason I just didn’t connect with it. The person standing behind me however was SUPER in love with her. So she’s obviously up some people’s allies more than mine.
This was my fifth time seeing The Oh Hellos. I saw them twice at the Newport Folk Festival, which is where I first became acquainted with them. I saw them as an opening act for needtobreathe at the Fillmore Silver Spring, and I saw them once before at Baltimore Soundstage. They are just joy personified. They have so much fun on stage. Every single one of them. All 8 of them. They were a little more stationary this show than at some of the other ones I’ve been to, but a lot of times I wonder how they don’t all crash into each other dancing around as they do.
They always have really great interactions with the audience as well. There was a whole deal at the beginning with their lead singer chugging down a bottle of water and saying he was going to need a bottle every other song as warm as he was. It sort of became a thing that I think became a little performative because of the audience interaction. At one point I said something to my friends about him needing to eat some chips or something because he was drinking a concerning amount of water with no salt intake. Pretty much right after that someone else from the audience yelled out “eat a pretzel”, so I obviously wasn’t the only one thinking that.
I do feel like the sound mix was a little bit off though. For some reason the bass was turned up super loud, and The Oh Hellos are not a band that I consider to be bass heavy. A lot of their stuff has more of a Celtic vibe to it and bass is not really the focus. At any rate the bass was overpowering and was so loud it was making my body vibrate. Even with my ear plugs in it screwed up my ears and set off my tinnitus for days. I really hate that. Even when the instrument mix isn’t out of whack I don’t understand why they have to have the sound turned up so loud, especially in such a small venue. I don’t understand how anyone who works in these places or the bands and themselves have any hearing left at all.
Ok, now that I’m done with my old lady shakes her fist at the sky moment I will say that aside from the unruly sound it was a great show as always. The Oh Hellos never disappoint. There is no way to leave one of their shows without a smile on your face.
I still owe you a post on The Oh Hellos concert from last week, but I’m already so far behind on that one I’m going to kick it down the road a little bit farther and go ahead and write about The Lone Bellow concert I went to last night. Usually when I’m talking about how much I love Wolf Trap and that it’s my favorite concert venue I’m generally technically talking about The Filene Center at Wolf Trap, which is their outdoor venue. They also have a very intimate winter venue called The Barns, which is composed of two 300 year old barns. It is also a wonderful place to see a show.
Last night I went down there to see The Lone Bellow’s Acoustic Tour with Naia Izumi opening. I thought I didn’t know anything about Naia Izumi until we got there and I realized he was the winner of the most recent NPR Tiny Desk Contest. I didn’t particularly care for his music when I watched that Tiny Desk Concert and I can’t see I much cared for it last night either, but I will say that he is a very interesting and talented guitar player. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone play a guitar quite like him before, but I can’t say I’ll go out of my way to listen to him again.
The Lone Bellow however was fantastic. This all acoustic tour took them back to their roots with just the three main band members Zach Williams, Brian Elmquist, and Kanene Pipken on stage with some acoustic guitars, a mandolin, and a grand piano. Although they’ve never been an entirely acoustic band they’ve always done some acoustic stuff and in more recent years have had some additional people sitting in as part of the band including Kanene’s husband Jason on keys. At one point near the end of the show Zach said that this tour has been like a reset button and breathed new life into the music for him and it couldn’t have felt more like that last night. I’ve seen The Lone Bellow many times over the past five years and they’re always delightful and fun so I hadn’t actually realized that anything was missing until I saw it again last night.
They were silly and free and just genuinely seemed to be enjoying being up stage together and watching and listening to what each of them can do. That led to a lot of riffing and them winding up messing around with a lot of cover songs they don’t actually know the lyrics to generally due to Brian starting something. They used to do that all the time in their early shows, but I haven’t seen them be that loose with a set in a long time and I forgot how much I love it. Brian sang one line from the Patty Griffin song “Let Him Fly”. An audience member encouraged them to keep going, but they didn’t know any other lyrics. She shouted that she did and she wound up singing part of it with them joining in. After they mistakenly attributed the song to the Dixie Chicks it turned into a whole Dixie Chicks thing complete with a cover of “Wide Open Spaces” being danced to with pantomimed lyrics. There was also a cover of Boys II Men’s “End of the Road” at the beginning of the encore. In addition to all the silly off the cuff covers they also did a legit pre-planned cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”, which was amazing. Kanene singing that song was gorgeous.
The actual set was great too. It was wonderful to hear so many of their songs played acoustic. I also had not realized that they put out an EP of acoustic songs, which includes some new songs, some acoustic versions of previous songs plus a cover of Adele’s “Water Under the Bridge”, a few weeks ago until they mentioned it last night. I really liked the songs they song off that last night am happy to know I have some new Lone Bellow music that I didn’t even know about.
It was a really wonderful show filled with a lot of laughter, fantastic music, and moments that made me grin from ear to ear. It was way better than sitting home watching election returns and well worth the long drive down to Wolf Trap.
I have two new songs for you this one. One is not the newest of the new, but I’m betting most of you haven’t heard it.
Mockingbird by Ruston Kelly
I’ve been meaning to write about this song for weeks now. It’s been in contention for new music Friday for a couple of weeks now, but there has always been another song that dropped that I felt about writing about more. It finally gets the honor of appearing here this week. “Mockingbird” has apparently been out in the world since July, but I only added it to my 2018 Spotify playlist at the beginning of October which means I probably didn’t run across it until several months later. The song is by Ruston Kelly, aka Mr. Kacey Musgraves. It reminds me of early harmonica-y Ryan Adams, which is my favorite Ryan Adams, so I’m really digging that vibe.
Comeback Kid by Sharon Van Etten
In general I’ve never been a huge fan of Sharon Van Etten, but I’m really liking her new song “Comeback Kid”. This is her first new music since 2014, so it’s been awhile. There’s not much in the lyrics that I find super exciting, but I just love the sound and vibe of the song. The song has been out for a few weeks, but this music video for it just dropped a couple of days ago. I actually watched it for the first time in writing this post, but I had seen comments about it channeling 80’s Pat Benatar, which it most certainly does. It may be my favorite thing about the song and the video is the little title chyron that shows up at the beginning of the video like they used to on MTV. Ah nostalgia.