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They Have Seen the Summit

The D.C.-based band These United States have released four albums and played more than 550 shows over the last two and a half years. That’s quite a dedicated pace. It makes you wonder if they could give others in our nation’s capital a little seminar on work ethics.

Their latest album, What Lasts (out July 20), written last summer after founding member Jesse Elliott’s near-death experience on Lake Michigan, is a horde of understandably temperamental images. Elliott — at times sounding like a gritty, weary Adam Duritz — delivers a multitude of lyrical and strident emotions. As with These United States’ previous albums, What Lasts shouldn’t be pigeonholed into one genre. In just over 30 minutes, it rumbles you through a multi-paced, psych-folk and indie-rock driven trip, never easing up.

Shortly after the band completed demos for this latest release, someone stole Elliott’s laptop while in L.A., and with it, almost 300 songs, including all of what became this album. Due to a timely email sent to a long-lost friend, one song evaded that theft and fittingly became the title track.

Their current summer tour reached a highlight when they rolled in Toronto last month — on the same day as the G20 summit. They sat in the famous Horseshoe Tavern, sipped a couple of pints and watched as rioters clashed with police in streets illuminated by burning cop cars. Even though their show was canceled, Elliott got some cool video.

This article was originally published in Eugene Weekly, July 22, 2010

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What the Road Has Brought Together

 

Kelly Joe Phelps and Corinne West

Corinne West and Kelly Joe Phelps have traveled the same roads for years — paths deeply rutted by countless musical gypsies past — but they rarely met. In late 2009, their musical avenues meshed when Phelps performed alongside West in a series of CD release shows for her most recent album The Promise. During these shows it became apparent that each had found a true musical partner. The next path to follow: Become one as a duo.

Their partnership, built on the foundation of mutual respect and admiration of each other and their craft, led to the 26-minute, six-song EP Magnetic Skyline, recorded live-off-the-floor at Skywalker Sound (the sound division of George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch) in Novato, Calif. The songs on Magnetic Skyline, previously released on two of West’s earlier albums — the critically acclaimed debut Bound for the Living (2004) and The Promise (2009) — are innovative again with two destined-to-be-together voices soaring on the wings of their beautifully intricate but seeming effortless acoustic guitar work.

Coupled with her sensuously soulful voice, West’s insightful and provocative songwriting is an airy, free-flying vehicle, perfect for Phelps’ innovative and artistic guitar skills. A brilliant improviser, Phelps is known for his remarkable ability to reinvent a song — blending multiple influences with his own voice — every time he plays.
This article was originally published in Eugene Weekly, July 15, 2010

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Love’s Ups and Downs

The first track of Dave Barnes’ latest release and forth full-band studio album, What We Want, What We Get, – with the opening line “everything is beautiful” riding on a smooth lilting reggae groove – suggests that we’re about to embark on a ten track journey through McCartney motivated silly love songs. Not true – that opening track “Little Lies” delves deep into the realistic language of love with “words can be daffodils or a fire in an open field.” Now that is love, beautiful and frightening, “butterflies with broken wings.”

As a songwriter, Barnes was initially only interested in writing material for other performers but was later encouraged by his peers to perform his works himself. So, damn his boyish good looks and amiable stage presence, after graduating from Middle Tennessee State University, that’s what he set out to do in 2002 when he released his debut EP Three, Then Four. His songwriting skills have since been praised by Amy Grant, Vince Gill and John Mayer. Barnes even dabbled in stand-up comedy, but thankfully returned to songwriting in 2007.

Barnes’ latest messages for all lovers – with bits of Fagen and Becker influences – reach fruition in the final tracks, “My Love, My Enemy” and “Amen,” with observations such as “You’re my darkest night lost at sea, you’re the shadows, you’re my light” and “We’ll live through so much more than we could take… When everything’s wrong, and I’m the one to blame.”
This article was originally published in Eugene Weekly, June 24, 2010

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And the Band Was Happy

Photo by Tracy Graham

Deservedly labeled the greenest band in the land, The Giving Tree Band — an indie, bluegrass-infused, folk-rock octet based in Yorkville, Ill. — is passionate about life, music and saving the fragile world we live in. Their latest album, Great Possessions, was recorded, edited, mixed and mastered at the Aldo Leopold Center in Wisconsin (the world’s first certified carbon-neutral building). It’s packaged with 100 percent post-consumer, recycled materials, printed with soy-based ink and wrapped with nontoxic, biodegradable cellulose made from corn. The band plants 10 trees for every 1,000 CD units made in order to offset any carbon created in the manufacturing and shipping processes. This is not some clever marketing gimmick; it’s a way of life.

The eight members of The Giving Tree Band live and make music communally at Crooked Creek Studios in suburban Chicago. The fresh yet timeless style of these men conjures up frontier settings of centuries past. These tales must flow through the blood of brothers Todd and Eric Fink, co-founders of GTB; they are direct descendants of Mike Fink, the legendary “King of the Keelboaters.”

Although their songwriting styles differ — Todd’s introspective, Eric’s a storyteller and bandmate Patrick Burke’s more of a humorist — they share equal credit under the band’s name. They also share a trait with the tree from Shel Silverstein’s book for children, The Giving Tree — they give their all, wanting nothing in return.
This article was originally published in Eugene Weeky, June 17, 2010

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Bluegrass With Balls

When the Portland-based Water Tower Bucket Boys’ latest batch of original, bluegrass-infused songs were tight and ready for production, they entrusted their acoustic gems to punk legend Mike Herrera (Tumbledown, MXPX) and his Monkey Trench Studios. What could possibly come from this anomalous union of talents? Bluegrass with balls.

The Bucket Boys — multi-instrumentalists Cory Goldman, Josh Rabie, Kenny Feinstein and Walter Spencer — share a love and appreciation of old-time and bluegrass music. The integrity and hard-driven attitude of their music comes steeped in their passion for this deeply rooted song form.

Their latest full-length album, Sole Kitchen — stocked entirely with their finest original songs yet — carries an unrefined bluegrass edge, honed sharp but without that overly polished finish found in so much of today’s neutered bluegrass. The album starts with a trip down a “Crooked Road” — somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains — that is so immersed in all that is bluegrass, you’d swear these guys were actually weaned on some Appalachian porch. Sole Kitchen’s menu offers up everything from a shuffling feast of broken heartedness in “Sunday Night Roast” to a waltzing, whiskey-soaked “Goatheads.” The final of the 13 tracks takes us on another road ­ this one leads to “Heaven” and what it may have in store­ with a beer and a song.
This article was originally published in Eugene Weekly, May 27, 2010

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