August, 2010 Archives


Give Yourselves Some Elbow Room

by Lefort in Music

Speaking of British anthem power, if you don’t know the Manchester band Elbow, we say it’s high time.  We will confess to not knowing their discography completely, but their last record, “The Seldom Seen Kid,” was a revelation to our ears.  Why this band is comparatively unknown, while the likes of Coldplay and Muse garner the adoration of the masses, we will never know.  We were reminded of this when we recently stumbled upon a DVD of their live set at a festival in Benicassim, Spain.  Lead singer, Guy Garvey, may not be the prototypical, visually-alluring lead singer, but he and his phenomenal band (replete with strings and backup singers) nonetheless have seriously commanding stage presence.  Garvey had the audience and us in the palm of his hand, which repeatedly directed the crowd like a baton, and the festival crowd had no choice but to comply.   It doesn’t hurt at all that Garvey and crew write miraculous melodies set in oft-complicated song structures, with strings and brass aplenty.   They employ soaring melodies and Garvey delivers the vocal goods in a package wrapped in Peter Gabriel-esque vocals.  Highly recommended.

We hope that you know and appreciate this band, but if not, we give you below a few songs from The Seldom Seen Kid and the title song from their debut record, “Asleep in the Back.”

First up is the glorious One Day Like This, with its fine melody, uplifting chorus (“So throw those curtains wide! One day like this a year’d see me right!”), and lyrical adoration.   You can’t help but smile at lines like these:  “Yeah, kiss me when my lips are thin.”

Elbow–One Day Like This

[audio:|titles=10 One Day Like This]

If One Day Like This is the perfect first-dance at a wedding, Grounds for Divorce is the cold, hard reality of life and loss hitting home, including allusions to alcoholism.  We love the tortured chorus especially, with the repeated verses, “There’s a hole in my neighbourhood down which of late I cannot help but fall.”  It’s a serious rocker with seriously unique elements.

Elbow–Grounds for Divorce

[audio:|titles=04 Grounds For Divorce]

Next up is Weather to Fly, with its perfect piano intro and musings about escaping one’s hometown and circumstances.  The yearning is palpable in these lines and chorus:  “And why wouldn’t you try?  Perfect weather to fly.”  In addition to all that, this song is the perfect high jumper’s soundtrack.  We’ll miss you deeply, but go ahead, escape this town.

Elbow–Weather to Fly

[audio:|titles=06 Weather To Fly]

And last, but not least, is the band’s 2001 song, Asleep in the Back, in which Garvey tauntingly tests his love with disclosure of his prior sins.

Elbow–Asleep in the Back

[audio:|titles=06 Asleep In The Back]

And below are alternate electric and acoustic live takes of Grounds for Divorce, followed by a live performance of One Day Like This.


Zero Percent Pantomime–THE Band and the Real Deal

by Lefort in Music

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We have lived with and loved the music of The Band for a lifetime (almost literally). We (like some of you oldsters) met them early when they backed Bob Dylan, then heard Joan Baez introduce them to a broader audience in 1971 with her flawed, but magisterial cover of  their masterful The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, made the initial dive into their deep source in ’72 with the release of their live masterpiece, Rock of Ages, caught their legendary show at the Santa Barbara County Bowl in 1976, and then were saddened to learn of and later witness their subsequent demise via the best concert video of all time, The Last Waltz. Still, their music has stood our test of time, and we return repeatedly to that well for musical renewal and resolve.

We’ll save for another day our full take on The Band. For now we write prompted both by our perception of a renewed interest in The Band (restoring our faith in the younger generation) and by the Santa Barbara County Bowl’s announcement that they will host Van Morrison once again (despite his self-indulgent and wrecked 1970s concert there) on October 9th. We long to attend, but the ticket prices are stratospheric (unheard of actually–double the price of the recent concert there by genius hitmaker-for-50-years and legendary live-deliverer, Stevie Wonder). Don’t get us wrong though, Van the Man has delivered monstrous artistic portions over the years on his records, and we hold this Irish artist in high regard.

Along those lines, and combining the two, we give you a song some of you may not have heard. Van Morrison (“The Belfast  Cowboy”) showed up, impromptu, at The Band’s abode so long ago, and sat down and wrote a song with them in the wee small hours, which was recorded on the spot. It’s called 4% Pantomime. Due respect to Van, but zero percent of the alleged pantomime is allocable to The Band. Despite their Canadian roots (Levon Helm being the notorious exception to that rule), The Band defined and foundationalized the Americana (“North Americana”?) genre. So Van, we give you 4% of the pantomime and hope that you can work it off sometime soon. Listen in at second :52 when Van enters to set the song ablaze, and again at 1:40 to propel further. We also love Richard Manuel’s piano and Garth Hudson’s otherworldly organ, and the hum-along-chorus beginning at 3:17. Magic. Altogether? Timeless.

The Band–4% Pantomime

[audio:|titles=Four Percent Pantomime]

And just for good measure, we give you our favorite post-The Weight song by The BandIt Makes No Difference, one of the most stunning songs of unrequited love our ears have ever heard. Oh how the world misses Rick Danko.

The Band–It Makes No Difference

[audio:|titles=2-09 It Makes No Difference]


Backyard Vowels–The Poetry of Paul J. Willis

by Lefort in Poetry

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We are constantly amazed by the many talents and resources to be found in and around Santa Barbara.

This happened once again recently when we were grazing through our (phenomenal) Public Library and discovered, prominently displayed  amongst the “Staff Picks” shelves, the latest p0etry collection of Westmont English professor, Paul J. Willis, entitled “Rosing from the Dead.”  It turns out you don’t have to sail alone around the room or to the moon to find great poetry.  It is here, being conjured in our own backyard, by Paul Willis, along with many others such as Perie Longo and David Starkey.  You can get a good flavor for the local talent here and can catch up on the Santa Barbara Poet Laureate effort here.

The poems and writings of Paul Willis have been featured, amongst other places, on Verse Daily and Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac, and in The Best American Poetry 1996, Image, Poetry, and The Best American Spiritual Writing 2004 (Houghton Mifflin) .

In “Rosing from the Dead,” Willis uses the platforms of his family life, work at Westmont, hiking adventures and faith as subject matter from which to leap into the poetic realm.  There is abundant humor, darkness, beauty and wonder strewn throughout these fine poems.  We highly recommend you seek out “Rosing from the Dead.”

Below are two poems from this worthy collection (used by kind permission of the author).


Conor Oberst–Soon to Burst Into Santa Barbara

by Lefort in Music

Imagine our delight when Club Mercy fulfilled its hail-Mary prophecy of bringing Conor Oberst to a small venue in Santa Barbara.   Sure enough, coming to SoHo on September 30th is Conor Oberst, backed by openers, The Felice Brothers.

Some of you may have lost track of Conor since Bright Eyes released “Cassadaga” and toured in 2007.  To quote Oberst, “you know a lot can happen after everybody falls asleep.”

Following Cassadaga, ever-prolific Oberst released new albums and toured in 2008 and 2009 as Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, and then followed that up with a record and tour as a part of supergroup Monsters of Folk (in case you missed the latter show at the Granada Theater, you missed arguably the show of the year in 2009).

We also caught both of his shows in 2008 and 2009 with the Mystic Valley Band that came within striking distance of Santa Barbara (at the Henry Fonda and the Echo).  As per the usual with this artist, each show was alternately poignant and incendiary.  He leaves it all on the stage, and every song is delivered with last-day-on-earth passion.  To sum up:  cancel all other plans on September 30th.

As for the post-Bright Eyes records, both the eponymously-titled first solo record and the second, “Outer South,” with MVB continued where Bright Eyes left off.  Both records are filled with stunning songwriting and deliveries.  Sure, there were the occasional clinkers on those records, but pound-for-pound Oberst has continued to show why he is amongst America’s best living songwriters and live performers.    Set forth below is a sampler of some of our favored songs from his two “solo” records.

First up from his first solo record is the great Get-Well-Cards, with its Dylan-esque allure and well-wrought lyrics.  Live, Oberst seethes and spits this song forth.  We like the following stanzas in particular:

“I want to be your bootlegger
Want to mix you up something strange
Braid your hair like a sister
Name you like a hurricane”

“Now they drive the cars up and down the beach
It’s ridiculous and everybody knows
Hear the Mustangs rev at the four way stop
You get ghosted when the light says go”

“I want to be your happiness
I want to be your common sense pain
Wrap your head in a picket fence
Rebuild after the hurricane.”

Conor Oberst–Get-Well-Cards

[audio:|titles=03 Get – Well – Cards]

Another gem off that same record is Lenders in the Temple, with its poignant mix of love lost and greater love corrupted.  We like the following lyrics in particular:

“There’s money lenders inside the temple
That circus tiger’s going to break your heart
Something so wild turned into paper
If I loved you, well that’s my fault”

“I’d give a fortune to your infomercial
If somebody would just take my call
Take my call”

Conor Oberst–Lenders in the Temple

[audio:|titles=04 Lenders In The Temple]

We also tout Cape Canaveral, with its motions and metaphors of life and the joy to be lost and found amongst the ephemeral.  And more stellar stanzas:

“And watch the migrants smoke in the old orange grove
And the red rocket blaze over Cape Canaveral
You’ve been a father to me, your 1960’s speak
Give me comatose joy like re-run TV
While the mountainside was shining
Wild colors of my destiny

I saw your face age backwards
Changing shape in my memory
You taught me victory’s sweet
Even deep in the cheap seats”


“Like the citrus glow off the old orange grove
Or the red rocket blaze over Cape Canaveral
It’s been a nightmare for me
Some 1980’s greed
Gives me parachute dreams
Like old war movies
While the universe was drawn
Perfect circles form infinity

I watched the stars get smaller
Tiny diamonds in my memory
I know that victory is sweet
Even deep in the cheap seats”

Conor Oberst–Cape Canaveral

[audio:|titles=01 Cape Canaveral]

And finally, off last year’s record, “Outer South,” we highly recommend I Gotta Reason, No. 2, wherein Oberst again grapples with the temporal and the forever, while incorporating some stunning Band-esque flourishes.  A new key to the kingdom?  This we gotta see.

“You know a lot can happen after everybody falls asleep
Ask the forest fire, ask the cop walking on the beat
And do right by them, work a little in your dreams
Don’t let time rob you, hold onto your memories
In the glass houses, in the pages of the Rolling Stone
I get a sick feeling, like I’m rocking in a little boat
Hear the big church bell, it’s ringing like a mobile phone
Such a long Sunday drive, and I’m taking it all alone

I want to belong to a reason
And cut a new key to the kingdom
And if anybody asks me, say I want to belong
If anybody asks me, say that it won’t take long
If anybody asks me, say I’m going to get this done
If anybody asks me, say I got a reason

In the last hard drive in the satellites that kick and spin
You’ll find that old footage so everything can live again
Pretty pink roses, the ostrich and the elephant
It’s the last Noah’s ark, everything’s got to fit
In the creased pages of a letter I’ve been trying to send
To a young widow who is desperate for some kind of friend
You’ll find a long list of eligible, handsome men
Who want to lay with her, upon the table of the elements

They’re going to hold strong to a reason
And cut a new key to the kingdom
And if anybody asks them, say they’re going to belong
And if anybody asks them, say that it won’t take long now
And if anybody asks them, say they’re going to get this done
And if anybody asks them, say they’ve got a reason.”

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band–I Gotta Reason, No. 2

[audio:|titles=15 Conor and Mystic 2nd–Track 15]

OK, we lied.  Finally, below is a great duet with Gillian Welch (David Rawlings accompanying) of Oberst’s fine Lua, one of the best songs written in this millennium, if not ever.

Bright Eyes–Lua

[audio:|titles=16 Lua]


St. Damien

by Lefort in Music

Damien Jurado was yet another musician to release a new record in May when Jurado delivered the phenomenal “St. Barlett” on the “Secretly Canadian” label.  With hot producer, Richard Swift (Mynabirds, Gardens and Villa, etc.), at the helm on Swift’s ranch in Oregon, Jurado delivers a record that wanders beautifully between the sounds of the Flaming Lips and Neil Young (circa “On the Beach” or “Tonight’s the Night”).  St. Bartlett is a return to form for Jurado and amongst his best.

Check out the first song from St. Bartlett, Cloudy Shoes (sounding very much like the Flaming Lips’ and their singer, Wayne Coyne), and another gem from that same record, Rachel & Cali (the latter espousing honesty in life and acceptance of weakness) .

Gracias, Miguel.

Damien Jurado–Cloudy Shoes

[audio:|titles=01 Track 01 5]

Damien Jurado–Rachel & Cali

[audio:|titles=03 Track 03 6]

More Regrets

by Lefort in Music

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Regrets, we’ve had a few.  This week we’re experiencing a few more.  Because of a prior commitment we will be unable to attend the only North America concert by one of our faves, K’Naan, at the House of Blues in LA.  And just as painful, if not more so, is our inability to jet down to the Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa on Saturday for Club Mercy’s hosting of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Grafitti and the last show of their tour.  Reminding us at times of the powerful and poignant Girls band and their nostalgic musical vantage, Ariel Pink mixes well the old and the new, and especially on their latest record, “Before Today,” which is receiving much-deserved universal praise.

In case you too can’t make their show this Saturday, check out their video of Bright Lit Blue Skies from “Before Today,” and then listen in to the complex and wondrous Envelopes Another Day from their 2004 record, “Doldrums.”

Highly recommended.

Ariel Pink’s Haunted House–Envelopes Another Day

[audio:|titles=11 Envelopes Another Day 1]


Fields of Music

by Lefort in Music

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We have liked the band, Field Music, for a harvest or five.  The Brothers Brewis have given us some of the best, most varied pop music of this decade.

And their recording released six months ago, “Measure,” was no exception, reaffirming their powerful and varied pop palette.  We immediately were drawn to the title track, which is a great song sounding like a masterful mix of The Beatles (circa Eleanor Rigby), Talking Heads (circa Psycho Killer done acoustic), and the band’s usual XTC homages.

Check out Measure below and let us know.

Field Music–Measure

[audio:|titles=04 Measure 1]