One for the Humans

It’s been 40 years since Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn released his first, self-titled, solo album. He’ll celebrate that milestone in June when a diverse collection of musicians gathers to pay tribute to him. Recording artists such as Bare Naked Ladies, Judy Collins, Jimmy Buffett, Michael Hedges, Tom Rush and The Jerry Garcia Band have covered Cockburn’s songs ­ testament to the admiration and praise bestowed by his peers.

As rendered in lyrics of “Pacing the Cage” ­ “I’ve proven who I am so many times / the magnetic strips worn thin” ­ Cockburn has been through as many style changes as decades. In the ’70s, Cockburn’s guitar work and songwriting skills won him an early enthusiastic following. Raised an agnostic, his early songs featured Biblical metaphors and reflected his Christian beliefs. He transitioned from philosophical folkie into a socially conscious rocker of the ’80s, most notably in his controversial and bitter “If I Had a Rocket Launcher.” In the ’90s Cockburn came full circle to a more introspective feel recalling his earlier work, but shifted his attention to more international political issues. The world music influences found in Cockburn’s arrangements reflect his global awareness.

Over the years there have been several live recordings of Cockburn, but none like his 2009 release, Slice O Life, which captures Cockburn in his finest form ­ solo, an artist at the prime of his musical maturity, his thought provoking, gripping and often emotional lyrics brilliantly ride every wave of his seemingly effortless guitar prowess.
This article was originally published in Eugene Weekly, April 22, 2010

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Impressionists of Experimental Folk

Photo by Derek Anderson

North Carolina based Megafaun — comprised of brothers Brad and Phil Cook along with fellow Eau Claire, Wis., native Joe Westerlund — is still soaring on the momentum of their 2009 critically acclaimed second album, Gather, Form & Fly.

With all of its divergent musical colors, Gather, Form and Fly (on Portland’s Hometapes label) is a vividly tighter step up from Megafaun’s 2008 debut Bury the Square. They take their traditional musical roots and brilliantly set them askew. Their palette — time-honored but occasionally psychedelic folk instrumentation, abstract sound collages and influences that hint of The Byrds and Smile-era Brian Wilson — is used more deftly than before, as is evident in the restless, shape-changing “Impressions of the Past.” It’s splattered with a mixture of audible textures and vocally finalized by “When all the colors keep on shifting / The truth is not found in the hue / It’s in my perspective anew.”

Coming off of a successful European tour at the end of 2009, the band found themselves with a couple of free months before hitting the road on their first headlining U.S. tour. That wasn’t a long enough break to get real jobs, so they wrote and recorded every day, treating their music like a 9 to 5 job. They ended up with 13 songs, five of which rose to the top, destined to become the EP Heretofore, out this summer.
This article was originally published in Eugene Weekly, April 15, 2010

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Jam ‘n’ Grass

In 1995, the year Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia died, banjoist Dave Johnston met mandolin player Jeff Austin during their Urbana, Ill., college days. Johnston invited Austin to play and sing in his band The Bluegrassholes. Austin admitted he owned a mandolin but didn’t actually play it. Johnston, obviously having faith in Austin, told him to “play anything, just play fast and loud!” The two moved to Colorado, where they met bass player Ben Kaufmann and guitarist Adam Aijala at a free-for-all jam session at The Verve, a bar outside of Boulder, in 1998. Upon that fortunate meeting, their niche was set. “It was an eye-opening experience because we heard a unique sound,” says Johnston. “Something coalesced that night.” That was the conception of the Yonder Mountain String Band, currently one of the fastest rising touring jam bands in the country. One of the most surprising things about these guys: None of them grew up listening to bluegrass music.

You can’t call the Yonder Mountain String Band just another bluegrass band, not with influences like Hot Rize, The Seldom Scene, Frank Zappa, The Dead Kennedys and Ozzy Osbourne. Call them newgrass, jam grass or just a damn good band; whatever you call them, their music will get you on your feet and a good time will be had by all. In the tradition of a true jam band, YMSB sets are loaded with improvisation and you’ll never hear the same set list twice. Jerry would be proud.
This article was originally published in Eugene Weekly, April 16, 2009

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Todd Snider – Empathy For Assholes


Todd Snider at home in East Nashville

As an unexpected bonus, after Todd’s show in Eugene, Oregon, I was invited onto his tour bus, where he treated me to some beer and an early listen to some of his (then yet to be released) CD “The Excitement Plan.” I can’t begin to tell you how jazzed I was to get that surprise! (Thanks, Todd.)

I also interviewed Todd in May, 2009. We discussed “The Excitement Plan” and some of the stories behind the songs. (We also talked about wine, dogs, and pot; it seems that we both easily get sidetracked). The (unpublished) article from that interview will be posted here later this month.

(At the bottom of this post there is a link to the published version of this post).

Empathy For Assholes —

The guy in the car in front of you at the drive through window is brutally chewing out the blameless pimply faced kid working it. You watch this unfold and probably don’t give it much thought other than that jerk just wasted some of your precious time. When Portland-born singer/songwriter Todd Snider witnessed a similar incident, he thought “What would make a guy act like that?” Todd then took his thoughts, along with his food, home and digested them. “By the time I got back to my house” He said by phone from his home in East Nashville,  “I thought, if I could try to just find some empathy for this guy that acted like a total asshole… how could I write that down?” He then proceeded to piece together the possible aspects of this nameless man’s life that seemed to be pushing him off the edge of sanity: His unfulfilling, dead-end career chosen by his parents because they thought it would be practical; his brown-nosing, thankless, slave driver of a boss; his ingrate daughter that he keeps trying to please; his wife, who spends his money faster than he can make it; and his impenitent, slacker son (that he secretly admires for his shameless qualities). All of these pressures lead to the explosive assault on the innocent teenager working the window. The resultant track “Stuck on the Corner (prelude to a heart attack)” appears on Todd’s latest offering “Peace Queer” on Aimless Records. The song drives hard and fast, conveying all of the central character’s tension and anxiety.

This is just one of the extremely witty and perceptive songs that Todd will be performing when he hits the WOW Hall stage on Tuesday, February 17th armed with an acoustic guitar, a harmonica, a wry humor and a unique style that firmly places him in the company of some of America’s greatest songwriters. Todd admits that, in his early years, he idolized as well as stalked some of those very same songwriters to whom he is now compared. One of those targets of stalking back then was Keith Sykes. “I’ve got maybe ten guys on my Mount Rushmore” Todd said “And he’s always been one of them.” Todd showed up at Keith’s front door with just a demo tape and a guitar. Keith was so impressed that he introduced Todd to Jimmy Buffett in 1993.  That led to Todd opening for Buffet at a couple of west coast dates. “One day I was playing a little coffee-house in front of like ten people.” Todd said “Then I flew out to LA and played the Hollywood Bowl with him (Buffett) and then I did Portland, where I grew up, with him. Then I flew out on a red-eye… to Memphis where I played for another twenty people. It was pretty surreal.” Todd’s first two CD’s came out on Buffett’s Margaritaville Records label.

Todd Snider has gotten to a point in his life and career where he has connections, friendships and a history with those that he once and still idolizes. He doesn’t seem to take that lightly. He sincerely appreciates all life has brought. Todd is very proud to be having Keith open for him on his current tour. He also produced Keith Sykes latest CD “Country Morning Music”.

Todd’s songs can have you laughing one minute and choking up with tears the next. He stirs your emotions, beliefs and thoughts cleverly and carefully without ever being over the top or in your face. As he tells his audience at every performance “…I don’t share my opinions with you because I think they are smart or because I think you should share them. I share them with you because they rhyme. I do not do this to change your mind about anything. I do this to ease my own mind about everything…”

Click here to see the edited version that was published in the Eugene Weekly February 12th, 2009

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