Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Scanning the dial and searching the sky

When I was a freshman in college, I bought tickets to see Shawn Colvin live in Columbus, Ohio. But thanks to poor planning on my part, I never made it to that show. It took me 13 years, but last weekend I finally righted that unfortunate misstep when I took my mom to Shawn's 10 o'clock solo acoustic show at the Old Town School of Folk.

She's totally wonderful by herself on a stage. Her wit and self-deprecating humor are endearing and entertaining and her songs are spare and stunning and powerful. But the thing that really stands out when you hear her play live is what a truly brilliant cover artist she is. I suppose I shouldn't be so surprised by that, since my introduction to her music was through her 1994 album Cover Girl, which featured Shawn's reworkings of other people's songs.

On Saturday, we were treated to two songs written by Robbie Robertson of The Band, "Acadian Driftwood" and "Twilight," (which is featured on Cover Girl), as well as the Talking Heads' "Naive Melody (This Must Be the Place)" (also on Cover Girl). And then she pulled out a gorgeously sad version of Simon and Garfunkel's masterpiece "America," which she informed us she had recently performed as a duet with Paula Cole at the Summerstage fundraiser in Central Park last week. (That fundraiser is another story entirely -- it paired modern folkies and tasked them with recreating a Simon and Garfunkel hit. She told us that Loudon Wainwright and his daughter Lucy did "Bleecker Street" and Aimee Mann and "some guy I don't remember" (John Roderick) did "Only Living Boy in New York," maybe? Must have been amazing.)

She often jokes that her songs tend toward the depressing and melancholy, and what makes her such a good cover artist is that she is able to draw out the emotional heart of other people's songs in much the same way. In her cover of "America," for instance, I've never really heard the line, "'Kathy, I'm lost,' I said, though I knew she was sleeping/ 'I'm empty and aching and I don't know why'" in quite the way I heard it when Shawn sang it. And her version of Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" is still the definitive version, as far as I'm concerned. (Listen to that and "Naive Melody" on her MySpace page.)

And I had heard Joni Mitchell's "River" a thousand times but I never really knew what the song was about until I heard Shawn's plaintive voice sing, "I'm so hard to handle/ I'm selfish and I'm sad/ Now I've gone and lost the best baby that I ever had."

Of course, her own songs are wonderful as well. I was particularly impressed on Saturday with "Wichita Skyline." I haven't been able to get it out of my head. Here she is performing it at Lilith Fair in 1997:

And listening to it live, I heard "Polaroids" in a whole new way as well. It's a much sadder song than it sounds on the album. Here is a comparable performance from a couple of years ago:

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

She & Him in the sun

I had the excellent opportunity to hear She & Him free in Millenium Park last night, and came away a bigger fan than ever before. Sure, I've always enjoyed their twee, vintage-60s-pop-meets-classic-country-meets-surf-music vibe, but hearing them live, I realized this is no throwback vanity project. Adding in some extended solos and a big backbeat to many of the songs in their normally kitschy, short-but-sweet repertoire made for a rocking live-music experience. (I couldn't actually see the stage, but had an amazing view nonetheless!)

They played most of the songs from their two albums, Volume One and Volume Two, and threw in a couple of showstopping covers as well, including two favorites of mine, Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven" and Joni Mitchell's "You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio." As an encore, the amazingly talented Zooey Deschanel tore up a version of Screamin' Jay Hawkins'"I Put a Spell On You."

Head to the She & Him MySpace page to hear a couple of songs from the new Volume Two as well as favorites from Volume One. Then watch the charming video for my favorite Volume Two song, In the Sun:

She & Him - In The Sun from Merge Records on Vimeo.

As a bonus, here's video from the Millenium Park show of one of my favorite She & Him songs from the first album, "Sentimental Heart." Could she be any more adorable?

Friday, June 04, 2010

Troubles will be gone

Wild Hunt
A little over a week ago, I made the fun-but-inadvisable decision to stay out WAY past my bedtime on a schoolnight, and as a result, I missed the Tallest Man on Earth show at Lincoln Hall the next night, which everyone has assured me was one of the best concerts ever performed in public. Of course, it was inevitable that it would be. The modern Bob Dylan-with-a-melodic-bent could not disappoint.

I fell in love with the Swedish folksinger's debut album, The Wild Hunt, a few months ago… and I fell hard. His voice may take some getting used to for those who are not huge Dylan fans. (He definitely affects a Dylanesque gravelly delivery in his own unique tenor.) But the melodies are so instantly beautiful and the ringing guitar tone (punctuated by mandolin and a handful of other acoustic instruments) so clear, this is modern folk at its absolute best, truest, most lovely. (Occasionally, the songs remind me of early Simon and Garfunkel in their simplicity and purity, and Woody Guthrie in their timeless lyrics.)

Listen to the rollicking "King of Spain" on TMOE's MySpace page.

And then check out the two encore numbers from the show I missed last week, both Dylan covers: "I'll Keep it With Mine" and "The Man in Me."

Truly gorgeous. Learn from my mistake, LTF-ers. See him as soon as possible.

"I simply lost the words to tell you I'm afraid" - From "Troubles Will Be Gone"