Sunday, May 23, 2010

Nothing but a miracle

Bible Belt

Last night is likely the closest I will ever come to seeing Joni Mitchell live in concert. Or Carole King. Or Laura Nyro. As my musical heroines have mostly given up touring (or in Nyro's case, passed on to angelic choirs of the great beyond), I gladly turn to a new generation of musical genius. I had the good fortune of seeing Diane Birch at Park West last in a surprisingly intimate show (I think there were about 100 of us in the audience) and she completely blew me away. I even got to meet her after the show, and she is both clever and gracious in the way you hope your musical idols will be:

I have been in love with her debut album Bible Belt since it came out last October. From the minute I heard the first notes, I was transported to a golden era where soul music and a folk-based, singer-songwriter genre intermingled. Or to quote my friend Emily, who attended the show with me last night, "It's such a throwback sound, but it's vintage in a way that's never been done before."

Even more reason to love her? She's a favorite of Daryl Hall (of Hall & Oates). Check out this full ep of Live from Daryl's House featuring Birch. (They mostly cover songs from Birch's album, but throw in a great rendition of Hall & Oates' "Fall in Philadelphia" and a transcendent version of a forgotten Aretha Franklin gem, "Daydreamin'":

The video for her single "Valentino" is adorably clever as well:

Above all is just the sheer power of the music, at turns soulful, rollicking and contemplative. Last night, she opened with a rocking version of "Choo Choo" and played through the entire album with so much passion that we were left somewhat dumbfounded. There was even a soulful, extended cover of Hall and Oates' "Rich Girl"... pure heaven. (And that gorgeous white Rhodes keyboard throughout the whole show was pitch-perfect!) If you get the chance to see her live, do yourself the favor. Top 10 show.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The city resonates; we hum along

The Paper Raincoat
I used to play the bells in high school and college (for those who lack a certain concert-band savvy, "the bells" are a lot like the xylophone, but with metal keys – the marching version of the bells is better known as the glockenspiel, or the "glock" in nerd parlance), and as a result I am somewhat partial to pop music that incorporates that character-building instrument. Also, you know I like happy music, and there is no such thing as a sad song that features the bells.

For this reason, and many others, I am love love loving the debut album from The Paper Raincoat. Thanks to the ever-wonderful Paste Magazine, you can stream the whole album right now and even download the first two tracks, the charming "Right Angles" and "Sympathetic Vibrations." Each week, they will give away another track from the album, so collect come back often enough and you'll collect the entire album! (If you can't wait that long, go ahead and download it here.

The sound is alternately lush and symphonic and then charmingly intimate, full orchestra with strings one moment, then pizzicato violins and the bells ringing out happily the next. Gorgeous layered harmonies between Amber Rubarth and Alex Wong keep the music from sounding too twee.

I am totally and completely smitten with the album's only a cappella song, "Rewind." You just have to hear it to understand. In the meantime, check out a live performance of the excellent "Brooklyn Blurs" on the Luxury Wafers Sessions:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Turn it up to 10, and start it up again

You all know how much I love Hall & Oates (counting the days until their concert at the Chicago Theatre this summer!), so how could I resist checking out The Bird and the Bee's Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates, which is currently a $5 download at Amazon?

But I was also nervous that, like so many cover songs, this would not be able to hold a candle to the original. So I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that The Bird and the Bee's Greg Kurstin and Inara George must be equally big fans of Hall and Oates as I. How else could they have so wisely chosen to record mostly 80s-era H&O, which lends itself brilliantly to the subtly updated electronic-pop arrangements? How else could George's gorgeously lilting vocals so perfectly match - note for note! - Daryl's Hall's sexy phrasing?

Listen to "Heard It on the Radio" at their MySpace page.

And then check out this live performance of "Sara Smile" (and catch an adorably pregnant Inara George!):

Monday, May 17, 2010

Still all I got is love for you

I've missed you, LTF-ers! Life got crazy for a bit there, but I'm back. And there's so much wonderful music to talk about.

Let's start with Tyler James's fantastic It Took the Fire. Gorgeous 70s-style, soul-infused pop straight out of Nashville.

According to James's MySpace page, the album was recorded on a piano once played by Elvis. Like fellow vintage soul-pop-folk songstress Diane Birch (more on her later), the sound is both authentic and fresh at the same time, and the sound is appealingly organic and analog-sounding in a digital world. You can practically hear the needle drop at the beginning of the record.

An early standout track is the phenomenal "All I Got." Check out this live in-studio recording using only an old-school Casio keyboard for accompaniment:

PS. Thanks Paste Sampler!