Dixie Chicks ACL Bonus Content

dixiechicks.jpgThe Dixie Chicks appear on this week’s Austin City Limits. The KLRU website has a full-length interview with the band which focuses on the musical, not the political. How does “Taking the Long Way” feel to the band after six-plus months of playing it live? What was it like working with Rick Rubin? What’s more satisfying, writing, recording or playing live?

Not, thank God, “do you still think Bush is a doofus?” Though there is a discussion of what the Chicks euphemistically call “The Controversy,” and whether it attracted fans to the band for reasons that had nothing do with music.

The band’s set list is nice mix new and old, along with some nuggets sure to please diehard fans like me. “The Neighbor” is a new song written for the “Shut Up and Sing” documentary, and has yet to appear on any album. They did play it during last year’s tour. “Mississippi” is a rocked-up version of a Bob Dylan song once covered by Sheryl Crow; it’s on “Top of the World,” the live document of their fateful 2003 tour.

I’m looking forward to the PBS DVD of the show. I know of at least one song (“Wide Open Spaces”) left out of the broadcast. The ACL DVD series are a completist’s dream.

Here’s the lineup as published by PBS. Asterisks indicate songs from “Taking the Long Way.”

Dixie Chicks Song List
Recorded 12/06/06:

  • Lubbock or Leave It *
  • Truth #2
  • Longtime Gone
  • Silent House *
  • The Neighbor
  • Not Ready to Make Nice *
  • Easy Silence *
  • The Long Way Around *
  • White Trash Wedding
  • Traveling Soldier
  • Mississippi

Local Rhythms – Watching Our Children Grow With Music

citydivide.jpgLast Thursday night, I attended my 11-year old daughter’s winter music recital at Claremont Middle School. She’s the second of my children to participate in the band program; Meghan plays clarinet, her brother played trumpet.

Typically, I prepare for these nights by reminding myself that the performances are about the joy of music, not technical perfection. I hope to come away proud, if not entertained.

The first hint that I was wrong came when the sixth grade band counted down, kicking off their opening number in perfect time. Each player was poised, watching director Seth Moore with unwavering eyes.

They sounded great, not a bleat or squawk slipping from a single instrument. As they worked through their five songs, I kept reminding myself that they’d been playing as a unit for less than four months, and that vacation had ended barely a week earlier.

The string orchestra took their turn in the spotlight with equally remarkable results. The chorus tackled a challenging arrangement with character and aplomb; the combined 7th and 8th grade band then stepped up to show the underclassmen what they might sound like in a year or two.

If these kids are this good now, I thought, they’ll be world-beaters come high school.

There’s been lots of talk in the recent past about the importance of building up student athletics with feeder programs, and much community pride at the current competitiveness of the Stevens football team. The same logic holds for music; the difference is that for the past several years, a well-oiled machine has been producing ribbons, plaques and trophies for the school.

Their reputation extends beyond New Hampshire’s borders. The value of student music programs, it should be pointed out, extends well beyond high school. Most student athletes stop playing competitively after graduation. Music can last much longer.

On the Friday after the middle school concert, I attended a rock show at the Moose Lodge. I was much impressed by the talents of A City Divide, a local group with at least one Stevens band alumni who, as a result of his studies, can play the trombone.

He also learned theory, structure and how to read sheet music – not to mention how to sit still, pay attention and know the cues. Three years later, he’s still using those skills. What other talents are on display this weekend?

Thursday: The Anarchist Orchestra, Middle Earth Music Hall – This ad hoc ensemble features Tao Rodriquez and Jacob Silver (Mammals) and standout fiddler (though her Berklee professors prefer “violin”) Laura Cortese. The result is greater than the sum of its parts, with rustic overtones and silver-plated harmonies. The sinister “Pretty Polly,” however, is Morphine meets Woody Guthrie. Get it while you can, as these fine players will surely be returning to their regular bands soon.

Friday: Sol Y Canto, Vermont Academy – Their name means “Sun and Song,” and they’ll be bringing southern rhythms up to Saxtons River. That’ll end the cold snap for a few hours. Sol Y Canto’s music features rich harmonies out in front, with a gorgeous tapestry of percussive sounds underneath. Led by the Brian and Rosi Amador on guitar and vocals respecitively, the ensemble also features musicians from Cuba, Uruguay, Mexico and Argentina.

Saturday: Al Alessi with the JOSA Ensemble – Newport Opera House – There’s been some confusion about this show. It’s not Al’s regular band, but a group of musicians he worked with at last December’s “Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon” set. “This is for people who’ve wanted to dance at JOSA” says Bill Wightman, who leads the band and plays piano. Expect Cole Porter, Sinatra, Latin rhythms and a few blues numbers – a more robust version of their First Friday Sophie & Zeke’s appearances.

Sunday: Lucy Kaplansky, Four Corners Grill – Good news for acoustic music fans – the Flying Goose Concert series is back from hiatus. The lineup’s still being fleshed out – John Gorka plays in a few weeks – but this singer/songwriter is a good start. Kaplansky is known for her work with Cry, Cry, Cry and several excellent solo albums. She’s also a go-to vocalist for plenty of other artists. Kaplansky’s new record is due out March 6, so fans should expect some new material.

Wednesday: Eilen Jewell, Iron Horse – Jewell (first name pronounced EE-lin) is generating a lot of buzz in Boston folk circles for last year’s “Boundary County,” as well as her incendiary live shows. Jewell’s crack band trades licks with the conviction of the “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”-era Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. At last summer’s Green River Festival, they played the second stage and earned not one, but two encores. Promoter Jim Olsen heard from more than a few fans who felt they belonged on the main stage.

Brown-Headed Cowbird Hijacks Another Nest

hereandnow.jpgAmerica, the soft-rock band formed in London by a pair of Army brats, is music’s brown-headed cowbird. Known for laying eggs in other birds’ nests, the brown-headed variant has a knack for coloring them to resemble the spawn of their unwitting hosts. Throughout their career, America has used the warmth of well-established trends to hatch their own hits.

Their first, “A Horse With No Name,” shamelessly mimicked Neil Young’s sound. Since Young was between albums – “Harvest” was close to release but stalled for a variety of reasons – the confusion helped sell a lot of America records. That they also had the same manager didn’t hurt either. From the Byrds (“Don’t Cross The River”) to the Eagles (“Sandman”), America laid a tenuous claim to a lot of musical nests.

The band’s latest release includes a retrospective live disc that exhibits the sweep of America’s artistic plundering. For the main focus of “Here and Now,” however, they play it more honestly, with an all-new (to America, anyway) disc of material.

Remaining America members Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley enlisted Ryan Adams, Ben Kweller and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, Americana stalwarts who have no problem mining the past in search of a contemporary sound wrapped in postmodern swagger. In addition to those players, they hired the production team of Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne) and James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins) to usher their sound into the millennium.

The results are, surprisingly, quite fresh. That’s due in large part to Schlesinger and Iha’s hard work poring through hundreds of demos to find an hour’s worth of good new material. “Ride On” features nimble guitar work from Adams and nicely layered harmonies from Messrs. Bunnell and Beckley. Their cover of “Golden” is a kind of tribute in reverse. The My Morning Jacket original was a throwback to troubadours like Ian Tyson and Glenn Yarborough.   It’s the kind of song that America might have purloined had it been available in 1971.

“Always Love” strips the jangle from the Nada Surf original, though with dumb/sweet lyrics like “hate will get you every time,” making the song sound more like Bread than Cake has a certain logic.

“Chasing The Rainbow” has a slowed-down stop/start guitar opening familiar to anyone who’s heard “Ventura Highway,” but enough extra texture to keep it interesting. “Love and Leaving” is a nicely balanced ballad that echoes hundreds just like it. Beckley’s nasally delivery of the line “the ghosts in here are all competing/over one more song about love and leaving” gives the impression that for all their history of theft, America has a sense of humor.

Bravo Plans Studio 60 Marathon 1/21/2007

studio60.jpgI’m a big fan of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” Aaron Sorkin’s latest TV project, but it’s had a dicey first few months. This weekend, the Bravo TV network runs seven episodes back to back, beginning at 10 AM Sunday morning. I’m not sure why they left out “The Cold Open,” with the hilarious Gilbert & Sullivan takeoff, or the two-part “Nevada Day” (John Goodman was a riot in that one). “The West Coast Delay” is also omitted, but I don’t mind. It stretched credulity.

The rest, however, are a good representation of a show that deserves a shot, if for no other reason than Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry have great chemistry as the show’s heads, and the fictional sketches are improving with each episode. The “Dateline Santa Claus: To Catch An Online Predator” in “The Christmas Show” was the best yet.

I’m on record as to how I feel about that episode.

RIAA – More Legislative Mischief

obey.jpgIt turns out that bipartisanship is alive and well in Washington, but for all the wrong reasons. Flannel-shirted man o’ the people Lamar Alexander and Dianne Feinstein, who should know better, are doing the RIAA’s bidding again.

This time, it’s a revival of the presumed-dead PERFORM act. Also sponsored by Joe Biden and Lindsey Graham, SB 256 would (via ARS Technica):

force satellite, digital, and Internet radio providers (but not over-the-air radio) to implement measures designed to restrict the ability of listeners to record audio from the services … If the name of the bill sounds familiar, it should. The bill was originally introduced in April 2006 with the support of the RIAA. It died in committee, but the senators are hopeful that the bill will pass this time around.

On the other hand, New Hampshire Senator John Sununu just introduced a bill that would forbid broadcast flags of any sort – technology which is at the heart of PERFORM. In the up-is-down, black-is-white world of Washington, I’m siding with the Republican logic of free markets:

“The FCC seems to be under the belief that it should occasionally impose technology mandates,” Sununu said in a statement. “These misguided requirements distort the marketplace by forcing industry to adopt agency-blessed solutions rather than allow innovative and competitive approaches to develop. We have seen this happen with the proposed video flag, and interest groups are pushing for an audio flag mandate as well. Whether well-intentioned or not, the FCC has no business interfering in private industry to satisfy select special interests or to impose its own views.”

PERFORM is corporate welfare of the worst kind. Record companies can’t seem to come up with a way to grow their business that doesn’t involve a lawsuit or a technological straightjacket. Our government has no business keeping them in business. Music won’t die if RIAA collapses; anyone who thinks otherwise is delusional. More likely, they’re a record company executive.

In an engaging article in this month’s Fast Company, someone aligned with musicians – you know, the people who actually PLAY the stuff the guys in the suits sell – made this observation:

“We’re heading to a do-it-yourself world where artists will be taking more control of their careers,” says Michael McDonald, John Mayer’s manager. Or as[John] Legend puts it: “In the not-too-distant future, this could mean you won’t need a label anymore. That’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”

If RIAA’s hand isn’t in that pot, tough.