Sunday, August 30, 2009

Steve Earle Does Opera

There's a full moon over Galway Bay tonight, silver light over green and blue and every place I travel through, I find Some kinda sign that you've been through... (Steve Earle - Ft. Worth Blues)

I caught Steve Earle's Townes Tour last Wednesday (8/26) at the Lexington Opera House in Lexington, KY. The show was the fifth Steve Earle show that I've seen over the years and not that atypical with just Steve and his guitars. Steve was in good form and seemed to be especially happy that it was a sold out concert. He said it was only the 3rd sell out on this tour, likely as a result of the economy and maybe the fact that half the concert he is playing someone else's songs (Townes Van Zandt).

Townes Van Zandt was an early and major influence on Steve and he did a fine job waxing poetically and sometimes colorfully about his late mentor and friend. The stories were amusing and the songs were sequenced nicely. A nice review of the show can be found here.

The setlist for the show is as follows (may be incomplete):

  • Where I Lead Me
  • Colorado Girl
  • Rex's Blues
  • Ft. Worth Blues
  • Pancho and Lefty
  • Brand New Companion
  • Tom Ames
  • My Old Friend the Blues
  • Someday
  • Taneytown
  • Goodbye
  • Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold
  • Marie
  • City of Immigrants
  • Dixieland
  • Jerusalem
  • The Mountain
  • Lungs
  • To Live Is To Fly
  • Harlan Man
  • Copperhead Road

Steve's wife Allison Moorer opened the show with a nice set of her own. She is a fine singer songwriter and should not be missed.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Review: Steve Earle - Townes

Ah, lord, Im gonna ramble 'till I get back to where I came... (Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle - White Freightliner Blues)

Steve Earle's lastest CD Townes was released in May of this year, but I have waited until now to write a review. Well, for one reason it has taken a while to fully digest, but the other is that I am going to see Steve in concert in a few weeks and I have been re-listening to the CD.

Steve has been one of my favorite singer/songwriters since I first heard Guitar Town back in 1986. It has been a satisfying ride along the way no matter the genre, from country to folk to rock to americana to bluegrass. Steve's strength has always been his songwriting. On Townes, he pays homage to his mentor and friend, the late Townes Van Zandt by covering 15 of his songs.

Van Zandt was always a big influence on Steve. I've read and heard the recount of how Steve was heckled by Townes when he was a young Texas country singer; "play the Wabash Cannonball" as Steve broke into his own rendition of Towne's Mr. Mud and Mr. Gold to quiet him down. After Townes' death in 1997, Steve wrote and recorded the very moving Ft. Worth Blues in his honor. Steve's oldest son, Justin Townes Earle, is even named for him. So this album of covers was not unexpected.

  • The CD starts out with Poncho and Lefty. This is Townes' most famous song because Willy Nelson & Merle Haggard's hit record. The song has been covered by others including Emmylou Harrison, Hoyt Axton and Delbert McClinton among others. Steve does a straight ahead reading of the song with just an acoustic guitar and his voice.
  • Next up is the bluegrass sounding White Freightliner Blues. A solid song about rambling along the these roads from town to city; along the tradition of Woody Guthrie.
  • Contiuing along the lonesome highway, Colorado Girl is tender song again with just Steve and his guitar. The singer yearns to see his lady in Dever.
  • The bluesy Where I Lead Me seems to be about the struggles with ones own inner voice. The voice inside is struggling with staying or leaving.
  • Lungs is the most rocking song from the CD with a sound similar to that from Steve's last CD Washington Square. This is Townes' poetry about fighting with his inner demons (which seems to be a theme in his work) "Salvation sat and crossed herself called the devil partner; Wisdom burned upon a shelf who'll kill the raging cancer".
  • In No Place To Fall, a slow tempo song, the singer is trying to convice his lover to let him stay, "I ain’t much of a lover it’s true, I’m here then I’m gone and I’m forever blue, but I’m sure wanting you".
  • Loretta is sort of an irish jig, about Loretta the barroom queen; "Her age is always 22, Her laughing eyes a hazel hue, Spends my money like water falls, Loves me like I want her to".
  • Brand New Companion is a straight blues song about a new love interest -"She fits just like my guitar, Shes near as tall as me, She lives way out the d train, But shes texas as can be".
  • The very poweful Rake again shows the poetry of Townes Van Zandt. The central theme of relationships again is on display here.
  • Delta Mamma Blues is another bluegrass sounding song.
  • The folk song Marie is a tear jerker; another powerful song from the Woody Guthrie book of songwriting. The story of a homeless man earnestly trying to take care of his family.
  • The bluegrass song Don't Take It Too Bad is a ditty with the message that sometimes things don't work out.
  • Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold is sung with Steve's son, Justin Townes Earle, named after his mentor. The song is an epic tale apparently about a card game. The length lyrics are hard to follow, but the conclusion is "Now here's what this story's told: You feel like Mudd, you'll end up Gold; Feel like lost, you'll end up found, so Amigo, lay them raises down".
  • (Quicksilver Daydreams of) Maria is a folkish ballad describing his love for Maria.
  • To Live is To Fly is another powerful ballad sung with his wife Allison Moorer. The lyrics are about really living -"To live is to fly, low and high, So shake the dust off of your wings and the sleep out of your eyes.".

Monday, August 3, 2009

Mountain Stage: Holsapple & Stamey

If there ever was a time we had better get it right it had better be tonight, right here and now... (Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey - Right Here and Now)

I got to see a live taping of the Mountain Stage show this past weekend! The live radio show from out of Charleston, WV is hosted by Larry Groce. The show features 5 artists that may range from rock, blues, folk, bluegrass, gospel or whatever. Each artist plays about 5 or 6 songs with the headliner maybe getting an extra one or so. They close out the show with all the artists performing a standard. It is a very nice show and I recommend the show if you have the opportunity.

This was my second Mountain Stage show in the last few years. The first show that I saw was back in May 2008 and the headliner was Kim Richey. That show is in the Mountain Stage archives here.

The show this past weekend featured Nanci Griffith, Todd Snider, The Greencards, Ashleigh Flynn & Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey. I've been a fan of Nanci Griffith since I fist heard her Other Voice, Other Rooms; her album of covers from 1993. I've wanted to see Todd Snider for a while now and his set was a treat. The Greencards and Ashleigh Flynn played fine sets as well. I was most excited about seeing Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey.

Back in the summer of 1984 I was studying in Colorado. One of my classmates that I traveled out west with introduced me to a new band, The dB's. Their sound was fresh, their songs, mostly love gone bad, were clever and funny. Their singers had unique voices. Their main singer/song writers were Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey. They had (and still have) a kind of Lennon-McCartney thing going on; a kind of yen and yang. The dB's made 2 great records 1981's Stands For Decibels and 1982's Repercussions. Chris Stamey left the band just as they had landed a bigger record deal. Although The dB's continued for a few more records without Stamey, the band suffered without his songs and vocals.

I followed Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey from afar. I have actually seen Peter a few times as he was a sideman with R.E.M. and Hootie and the Bowfish. Peter has recorded several albums with the Continental Drifters, a collection of like minded artists including Vicki Peterson formerly of The Bangles and Susan Cowsill of The Cowsills. Chris has recorded as a solo artist and has worked as a producer with such artists as Whiskeytown and Alejandro Escovedo among others. In 1992 Holsapple and Stamey released their first duet CD Mavericks; a very underrated and solid album.

Holsapple and Stamey are back with a new collection of songs entitled Here and Now. I read a very good review of the CD here. During the Mountain Stage taping they performed 5 songs (I think), all from Here and Now. They opened with "Early in the Morning" and the powerful "Santa Monica". They also played "Long Time Coming" and "A Song For Johnny Cash". A short but very nice set. These guys really gel together and here's to hoping they play together for many more years. Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey - Here and Now