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Craig Bickhardt – The More I Wonder: 12 Scenes From Life, Love & Family

Craig BrickhardtThe subtitle of Craig Bickhardt‘s eagerly anticipated, latest release – The More I Wonder (set to hit the streets on May 6)- is 12 Scenes From Life, Love & Family. That alone attracted me to giving this album a listen because those are some of the most challenging subjects of which to write, share, or sing. I admire those singer/songwriters that have the courage to reach deep into the rawest corners of their souls, and pull personal, and sometimes painful, events of their lives into the light of day for the rest of the world to hear, and Craig Bickhardt is one of the finest. (After reading this article – Click the picture to the left to go to Craig’s website and purchase his music. You won’t be disappointed).

To be honest, the very first thing that caught my eye when I opened this CD… there was a 20 page lyric and photo booklet included with it! In this day and age of impersonal instant downloads and listens, it’s such a pleasure to get to read along while listening to lyrics that come from a place so personal. (Thank you, Nathan Bell).

With lines like – It was always the madness of the drink you were driven to / I guess in the end those were the bars you were singing through… from “Crazy Nightingale” – along with – …Where is the warm place that will keep me from the cold? / Where are my children to give me life when I am old? / A builder of bridges to the beyond, to the unseen / A little I’ve found, but where have I been?… from “There Is No Night” – you can’t help but sense the autobiographical theme of this well done, warmly produced album.

Bickhardt describes his latest unassumingly produced set as being vignettes about life, love and family, particularly his own family’s struggles with his son’s disability. “I’ve always been good at reaching in, that’s what writers do best. But since becoming the father of this very brave kid who has overcome a lot of the challenges he’s faced with cerebral palsy, I’ve learned more about reaching out. This record documents my search for deeper empathy.” The opening track “Giant Steps” was inspired by something his (then younger) son said as they walked together in a mall. The song “It Opens” sums up his quest for personal growth by acknowledging that opportunities for it are often disguised and can be found in improbable places.

Craig Bickhardt – “Giant Steps”

 

While Bickhardt is excited about the new music in and of itself, he’s especially pleased for an extra reason: His daughter, Aislinn, joins him to harmonize on every track. As music aficionados well know, the vocal similarities between blood relations often yields an incomparable effect, something that Bickhardt appreciates heartily. “The sound that’s created is something in the blood, in the DNA,” he explains. “It’s sort of like the resonance of two adjacent strings on the same violin rather than two different violins playing harmony lines. The tone blends in a way that’s appealing and natural.”

Although Bickhardt has perhaps flown under the mainstream, he’s certainly managed to cement an audience for his music- an audience he’s looking to expand with the release of his fifth album, The More I Wonder on May 6. “This is probably the most personal record I’ve made so far,” Bickhardt says, explaining that although other artists have covered his work before, everything on this set is brand-new. “I was always pleased when artists of the caliber of Johnny Cash or Ray Charles or Alison Krauss recorded my songs, but I didn’t write for others, I wrote for me. All comparison to cover versions of my songs is off the table because you’re hearing them sung by me first.”

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Tyler Fortier Interview

I first saw Tyler Fortier perform back in June, 2010 when he was the opening act for a singer I was writing a review about. I almost didn’t get to the show in time to catch his opening set, but I’m glad I did. His music and lyrics grabbed me and made me pay attention. A quiet-spoken, humble man when he talked; Tyler passionately bared all – pain, joy, and disillusionment – when he sang. I was more intrigued with him and his musical journey than I was with the headliner that night.

I got back in touch with Tyler the other day and interviewed him via webcam. We discussed all that he had accomplished in 2011 – releasing three albums, hitting the road on a eight state tour – and the lessons he’d learned from that most ambitious year. We also talked about his plans for 2012. Tyler and his music are never short on surprises. I highly recommend you check him out. You won’t be disappointed. Click on the cool Plexi Amp looking video player (below) and enjoy the interview in 720p HD!

Tyler Fortier Interview

Click here to preview, purchase and download Tyler Fortier’s music.

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Tommy Womack Video Interview – Now What!

Photo by Gregg Roth

Back in 2007, when Tommy Womack released his solo CD There, I Said It! he had pretty much given up on his dream of making it in music. He recorded There, I Said It! without the intention of even releasing it. He didn’t think that people would want to listen to him whine. He was surprised to find that things were quite the opposite – people related to his tales of middle age stress, self-doubt and disappointment.

I got the chance to sit down and talk with Tommy (via Skype) about his latest release Now What! that picks up where There, I Said It! left off only with a more optimistic feel to it. Oh yeah, Tommy’s still singing about cigarettes, sex, pot, and life on the road, but he seems more at peace with it all.

Before you watch the following video, I feel obligated to tell you the story behind this little technological adventure…

I had made arrangements through Tommy’s publicist and manager to interview Tommy on the morning of January 31, 2012. I was ready for it; I’d been testing some software that seemed to work good for recording and editing Skype video calls. Sometimes things aren’t always as they seem…

The interview itself went great. Tommy and I covered a variety of subjects and talked for about 15 minutes. Later that day I converted the video so I could start doing the post-production work on it. When I opened the file, I couldn’t believe it… There was no video captured at all from Tommy’s end. All the audio was there (thank God), but just video of me. And I thought, well shit, who in the hell would want to watch this? They’d be stuck looking at my ugly mug the whole time they listened to Tommy talk.

I got in touch with the software developer in Australia – which in itself was kind of weird because they’re in the future – anyway, they sent me an update insuring me that it should work. I tested it some more and all seemed cool. Now, I’m not a religious person, but I really prayed that Tommy’s publicist and agent would give me a second shot at the video interview. They did. We appropriately conducted take two of the interview on Groundhog Day. I called Tommy up, fired up the recording software, and all was cool… for about eight minutes, then, well… you’ll see.

Damn it! Just when we were getting into the new album! That’s when I think a solar flare blanketed North America… that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

My next post will have a more in depth review of Now What!

 

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The Original Dawg

David GrismanThe number of decades that mandolinist David Grisman has been creating music is only rivaled by the number of genres that his brand of acoustical music spans. Grisman is the original master of “dawg music,” and it has nothing to do with hip hop or rap.

Grisman began piano lessons in 1952 at the age of 7. After three years, he lost interest in the piano and his attention swayed toward the mandolin. Like many budding folk musicians in the late 1950s, Grisman discovered folk music through the Kingston Trio and the lively Greenwich Village music scene. Grisman started his musical career in 1963 as a member of the Even Dozen Jug Band. His close friend Jerry Garcia gave him the nickname “Dawg” in 1973. They first met in 1964 at a Bill Monroe concert.

“Dawg music” is what Grisman calls his fusion of bluegrass and Django Reinhardt/Stéphane Grappelli-influenced jazz, as highlighted on his 1979 album Hot Dawg. It was Grisman’s amalgamation of Reinhardt-era jazz, bluegrass, folk, Old World Mediterranean string band music and modern jazz fusion that personified “Dawg” music.

In 1975 Grisman got together with guitar virtuoso Tony Rice, multi-instrumentalists Mark O’Connor, Mike Marshall, Darol Anger — and featured guests such as violin genius Stéphane Grappelli — and formed the David Grisman Quintet. Although the lineup has changed through the years, the DGQ continues to produce music with the same confidence and finesse as it did 35 years ago.

This article was originally published in Eugene Weekly, October 7, 2010

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A Wild Ride — No Bull

Ryan BinghamRyan Bingham’s smoke and whiskey etched voice is quite deceiving. You might think you’re listening to some dusty, middle-aged, leather-faced guitar slinger instead of a brooding, good-looking 29-year-old former bull rider. If his rusty-saw of a voice sounds familiar, then you probably saw the film Crazy Heart. Bingham penned the film’s theme song, “The Weary Kind,” for which he received both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Original Song this year. That’s a wild ride for a guy who didn’t pick up a guitar until he was 17 years old.

Bingham’s work on the Crazy Heart soundtrack brought him together with producer T-Bone Burnett, who produced Bingham’s latest album, Junky Star, a vehicle for his ever-improving songwriting skills and his raw out-in-front vocals. It also has all the markings of a Burnett project, giving it a stripped-down, timeless sound. The unobtrusive acoustic accompaniment of Bingham’s longtime band, The Dead Horses, never overdrives the vocals.

The 12 tracks of Junky Star are populated with characters from the harder side of life — junkies, murderers, strippers and thieves — clinging to a slender glimmer of hope. Bingham’s vocal style ranges from the Dylanesque “Direction of the Wind” to a Nebraska-era Springsteen on “Yesterday’s Blues,” with others bringing Steve Earl or Tom Waits to mind. In the standout track “Hallelujah,” a man robbed and shot to death tells one of the most compellingly tragic tales. He unwillingly wanders between life and the afterlife, refusing to abandon his passion for life and the lover he left behind.

This article was originally published in Eugene Weekly, September 16, 2010

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