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Todd Snider’s Overdue Return To Las Vegas

Think back to a time before Facebook or Twitter… I know it might be hard to imagine, but that’s how the worldwide web was way back in 2002 – tweet-less and barren of cute kitten pictures. 2002 was also the last time stoner-folk, free-spirited troubadour Todd Snider played in Las Vegas, and now he’s finally returned! What does that tell you? Maybe the acoustic music scene in Vegas needs a swift kick in the ass.

Todd Snider, Acoustic Routes, Las Vegas, 2002

Todd Snider, Acoustic Routes, Las Vegas, 2002

A lot has changed in all those years, including Todd’s hairstyle (see photo at left), his body of work has swelled by eleven albums (twelve if you count Shit Sandwich by Elmo Buzz and the Eastside Bulldogs); his musical style has found its way into a fresh groove with each release; while his ability to thread words and thoughts into witty, engaging, sometimes political, and ofttimes poignant lyrical tapestries, has evolved to a flawless edge.  If you’ve never heard those albums, then get your ass on Spotify and catch up. (That’s something else you couldn’t do eleven years ago).

On February 1, 2013, Todd Snider and the Burnouts heated up the ice-covered Orleans Arena with a rocking set that was book-ended with covers of tunes from two of Snider’s idols – Billy Joe Shaver’s “Good News Blues” and Chuck Berry’s classic “School Days.” Breaking from his acoustic roots, Snider armed himself with his most recent axe-of-choice – an electric guitar – for the whole night, giving way to a smoking, rocket-fueled sound, solidly driven by Paul Griffith’s incomparable drum chops and Dan Baird’s stalwart bass, and skillfully punctuated by Kevin Gordon on guitar.  The eleven song set included “Too Soon To Tell” and “Big Finish” from Snider’s latest release Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables.  There were two songs in the set – “Easy Money” and “D. B. Cooper” – Snider had performed back in 2002 when he stood solo on the stage of the long-gone-and-often-missed Las Vegas music venue Acoustic Routes. This time around, Todd and the Burnouts deftly treated those fan-favorites with new texture and dynamic colors, giving them a whole new shine. Hail, hail rock and roll!

After the show, I got the chance to sit down with Todd (above the noise of workers clearing the stage his bare feet had danced on less than half an hour earlier). We discussed his influences, the Burnouts, his latest song character, guitar lessons, and also some of the side gigs he’s got lined up… Would you believe he’s going to be in a movie and become a minister? Oh yeah… just call him “Pastor Todd.” You can view a video of the interview below.
(Todd… about that invite to East Nashville… Do you have a couch I can stay on?)

Post Concert Interview with Todd Snider in Las Vegas

I sincerely want to thank – Dave “Elvis” Hixx and Kymm Britton for making this interview happen; Matthew Bown and Rebecca Holmstrom of the Orleans Arena for their hospitality; Kevin Phillips for the steady camera work and good eye; and mostly, thanks to Todd Snider for the pleasure of getting to sit down and talk with him.

 

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Josh Harty Interview

Josh Harty’s latest release Nowhere is an intense collection of engaging, and sometimes painful songs that will capture your attention right down to the last track. In this interview he tells us the stories behind some of these songs as well as some interesting tales from the road.

Harty’s subtlety multi-layered approach to his lyrics and music is polished to a warm glow on this seven-track EP. Each song revealing another seam of a once buried dream, regret, or desire. The only thing I find fault with the album is that it’s too short; it leaves you wanting more, but yet still satisfied.

And if it wasn’t for this interview, I never would have learned of the Shitty Barn in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Thanks, Josh.

Interview with Josh Harty

Since the audio quality from the Wisconsin end of the conversion was a bit sub-par (I apologize for that, but I did all I could do to enhance it) below is the super clean studio version of “On My Mind” for you to listen to and enjoy!

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Better yet – purchase and download Josh Harty’s album Nowhere. You won’t be disappointed!

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Levon Helm – The Last Waltz

Upon reading the message from Levon Helm’s daughter, Amy, and his wife, Sandy about Levon being in the final stages of his battle with cancer – I closed my eyes and drifted back to 1973… I sat in my high school English Literature class talking about… what else?… music. My friend Doug looked at me like he didn’t recognize me and said, “What do mean you’ve never heard of The Band?” I felt ashamed for some reason – like I’d let him down or something.

Lunch break came after our class, and we headed out to his van for… lunch. Doug popped Moondog Matinee into the 8-track player – You remember those don’t you? – and the tinkling of piano keys of the opener “Ain’t Got No Home” cut through the sweet smoke wrapped around my head. I’d heard the song before, but not like The Band did it. I drifted away to New Orleans, or at least what I imagined New Orleans might have sounded like; I’d never been there.

About three songs into the tape Doug excitedly explained, “They’re all cover songs, man!… well, except for the next one. You know what cover songs are, right? It’s when they do someone else’s songs. You should hear their stuff though, man, it’s so cool. Its like nothing you’ve – ”

I had to stop him. “I know what a cover tune is, man,” I said. “Just relax and let’s listen to it.” Damn, Doug talked a lot when we had lunch. I slid deeper into the beanbag chair as “Third Man Theme,” took me and dropped me right in the middle of a carnival. We listened to the whole tape – it was like nothing I’d ever heard – and then we drifted off to our Art Appreciation class. Later that day, Doug and I went to the record store to look for more by The Band. He told me all about the albums I was buying before I got the chance to listen to them.

Now I’m 39 years older and shocked to hear that Levon Helm is closing in on death’s door. I shouldn’t be shocked, after all, he is 39 years older too, but it didn’t seem possible. I guess that’s one of the harsh realities of life – our heroes don’t stay the way we remember them so many years ago. The music locks us in those memories while everything and everyone else around us changes.

It did make me feel better though when I watched this interview with Levon from about a month ago. Sure his voice was raspy, and the cancer treatments had taken a toll on “The Man Behind The Drums,” but he still had a sparkle in his eyes and an undying smile on his face as he spoke about his favorite subject… music… and his friends known as The Midnight Ramblers. He still plays the drums the way I remember, and if you close your eyes… The best things don’t have to disappear.

Levon Helm Interview from the Sound Tracks: Quick Hits series by PBS Arts

Levon Helm and the Midnight Ramblers – Ophelia – from the Sound Tracks: Quick Hits series by PBS Arts

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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 is feelin’ good on Now What!

Tommy Womack - Now What!

The title of Tommy Womack’s latest CD – Now What! – may describe what went through his mind after the unexpected success of his 2007 release There, I Said It! (an album that almost never found its way to the record rack). As Tommy told me, “I thought I was done, and I almost pulled that record. I almost pulled the plug on it because I thought, No one wants to hear me confessing all this stuff. Thankfully I found out that by voicing my fears, I echoed the fears of a whole lot of people of my generation… It was far and away the most successful record I’ve ever had… It totally turned my career around.” The title of that album came from words that Tommy had written years earlier, and later took shape as a track on There, I Said It! called “I’m Never Gonna Be a Rock Star” that tells the tale of Tommy’s realization and reluctant acceptance that his rock star days were over. From 1985 to 1992 Womack had played lead guitar and sang lead vocals for the post-punk band Government Cheese. He may not be the rock star of yesterday, but Womack’s career as a must-be-heard singer/songwriter of today is thanks to that nearly shelved self-therapy project.

Now What! is an all-embracing collection of songs pulling influences from musical styles diverse as blues, Dixieland jazz, and classic rock, with just a pinch of rap. Womack lyrically sheds his skin with an equally assorted batch of subject matters. Tommy defends his diverse topics and says, “It’s really not a skitzo record at all!” There’s no need to defend his choices that, once again, a lot of people will relate to:  dealing with life on the road (or the road of life) and some of its pitfalls; the warmth of home and family; the past and how it can show up unannounced and bite you in the ass; the mortality we reluctantly realize as we grow older; and finally – love, simple and real.

The upbeat opener “Play That Cheap Trick, Cheap Trick Play” sets the optimistic tone – cheerfully declaring  “Another dollar, another day / I shouldn’t look back but I do anyway / Dad’s in the ground, Mom’s on the way / Play that Cheap Trick, Cheap Trick play” – while also giving us glimpses of Tommy’s undying love of his family, and his ever-haunting self-doubt. It’s all good in the end though as he borrows some favorite lines from Cheap Trick’s Surrender to sum it all up – “Momma’s alright, Daddy’s alright, the boy’s alright, we’re all alright.”

Listen to “Play That Cheap Trick, Cheap Trick Play”

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Continuing with the “we’re all alright” good vibe, comes “It Doesn’t Have To Be That Good” carrying the message that life needn’t be filled with gloriously rewarding moments. Sometimes it is what it is – ups, downs, paying bills, and mowing the lawn (and all that can happen in one day). The tune also reminds us “No matter what your life is like – it beats the pants off death.”

Have you ever run into an old flame and wish you hadn’t because all those old memories – good and bad – came flooding forward from their long-time hiding place way back in your mind? In the gentle ballad “Bye & Bye” (one of my favorite songs from Now What!) Tommy shares a story of when he bumped into, as he put it, “A real girl that I had a fling with back in the 80s.” As he explained further, “She was a real girl… well, she still is a real girl. We’d bumped into each other in the grocery store one day. It happened pretty much as it’s described in the song, except we didn’t end up at the checkout line at the same time”. Lyrics of remembrance came out of that encounter – “Your body still makes me a young man / Your brain’s still a bomb you can throw / I had me a nice hard decision to make / All those years ago.”  But in the end, the admission is made, possibly justifying that hard decision made so many years earlier – “I’d have made you a miserable husband / You’d have been a high maintenance wife.” But ardor seems to still linger in the air at that Harris Teeter. (Being from the west coast, I had to Google “Harris Teeter.”)

Listen to “Bye & Bye”

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The flip-side to “Bye & Bye” – “I’m Too Old to Feel That Way Right Now” – has Womack briefly trying to fan the old flame but realizing he isn’t quite up to it as “The touch of your hand leaves me inspired / But I’m set in my ways and kinda tired.” Getting old sure is a bitch.

In the slow-paced shuffle “On And Off the Wagon”, with a comical arrangement that cleverly pairs pedal steel guitar with a tuba,  Tommy confesses “I’ve learned to know my limits / I’ve learned to pass them by.” The lesson here – Maybe it’s best to say you’ve paused instead of quit.

In the few of the tunes on Now What! you might get the sensation that you’re on the road with Womack as he shares his witty tales. But in the hard-driving Rap-esque “90 Miles an Hour Down a Dead-End Street” you feel like there’s a pissed-off drunken maniac behind the wheel, and you’re trapped in the passenger seat clutching a bottle of Chianti for dear life as the driver – looking a lot like a creation of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth – barks at you, “Don’t spill any of that shit!” At this point, you may wonder if jumping from this crazy ride would be better than the possible ending – but you choose to stay because it’s so damn fun!

The lyrics in the jazzy bop number “Guilty Snake Blues” shuffles near-carelessly over a wide topical stretch of lustful land, but somehow it all ties together like a cool ribbon of random thoughts punctuated by Jim Hoke’s smokey soulful sax.

Tommy Womack & Sheba the Wonder Dog (Photo by Gregg Roth)

One of Tommy’s personal favorites on the record is “Pot Head Blues.” It’s a quiet heartfelt acoustic tune that has him recollecting and somewhat regretting  time lost while stoned. But he doesn’t let it hold him back, stating “Nobody ever made me do it / No time to turn around, you blew it, get to it / Lay it down, you got nothing to lose.”

“I Love You to Pieces” is Tommy’s playful, flirtatious love letter to his wife, Beth. But feel free to use it on someone of your choice. It’s got plenty of Stones-like jamming filling it up with nothing but fun.

“Over the Hill” had been bouncing around in Tommy’s head for years, and he’s finally let it out. It’s a blend of feeling your age and spreading your love in the spirit of Donavan – complete with sublime horns.

The peacefully haunting “Wishes Do Come True” (sweetened by Lisa Oliver-Gray’s vocal talents) intrigued me as I tried to get the underlying meaning of it. To me the lines – “All through the day you used to want me / You used to need me now you just haunt me / I sold my soul for one night of your touch / How could I know when too much was too much” – spoke of Womack’s up and down relationship with the music industry. When I told Tommy my thoughts on this he laughed and said, “You know, I’m not sure what all “Wishes Do Come True” is about. That one has ambiguities in it that escape me. I wrote that with Irene Kelley. There are lines in there that we really liked, but there are lines in there that I’m not sure what they mean to this day. It could be about the music business. If it works that way in your interpretation, then I’m not going to say that it’s not about that. Who knows, maybe subconsciously it is about that. Like I said, I’m not sure what it’s about. You could take it as meaning infidelity.”

Listen to “Wishes Do Come True”

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The album wraps up with “Let’s Have Another Cigarette” which made me ask Tommy if he still smoked (even though it wasn’t any of my business). “No, no,” he said, “I haven’t smoked in about two and a half years. I’ve got a snuff pouch in my mouth right now. I still do those.” Getting back on the subject at hand, I then asked him how “Let’s Have Another Cigarette” came about. “I don’t remember writing it,” he said. “One day – I had it, the day before – I didn’t. It’s based in fact to a degree. I got a speeding ticket in Ohio one day where they were convinced that I was transporting drugs. So they took everything in the car apart, and I didn’t have anything in there… thank goodness. So I always see that as being a song about being in Ohio going from one gig to another, and it just seemed to call out to be the album closer. You know, because I’m leaving somewhere and going somewhere else. Also, in that song – I’m sober. There are other songs on that record where the character of me is not sober, but in this one I make it to the end of the record, and I’ve sobered up, I’m going on to the next gig, and life continues on. A nice way to close out the record – on an optimistic note.” Now What! comes full circle, ending as it began, cruising along in Tommy’s car, taillights fading into the night, he’s fully aware of where he’s at – “I got about a half a tank of gas / I’m a pimple on Dylan’s ass” – and he couldn’t be happier. Hopefully, we haven’t seen the last of Tommy Womack.

There, I Said It! was a tough act to follow, but Tommy Womack took himself to the next level and did not disappoint with Now What!.

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