Angel Olsen brings “Half Way Home” tour to Paradise City

angel_cover-PSPerhaps best known for her work with alt-country artist Will Oldham (aka Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy), singer and songwriter Olsen steps even further out into the spotlight on her debut solo album, Half Way Home, a record the sound of which the artist brings to the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton on Tuesday.

Like Oldham, who checks into Western Mass himself with a stop at the Calvin on October 12, Olsen is a musician who defies easy stereotyping. Does she sing country? Is she indie enough? What about her more rocking moments? How is a listener supposed to feel when a single song can break a heart and force a smile at the same time? The answer of course, to the last question anyway, is pretty damn wonderful.

Though many tracks on Half Way Home feature just slowly picked acoustic guitar accompanying the often otherworldly vocals, “The Waiting” includes drums and stabs of electric guitar, which provide subtle backing to Olsen’s double-tracked voice.

The best vocal comparison might be to Roy Orbison, who also shared the ability to warble single words and notes into some different other form altogether. Plus, with subject matter so heartbreaking, every tune is a harrowing listen.

“I was a child about to lose my child-like mind,” Olsen sings on “Lonely Universe.”

Elsewhere on “The Sky Opened Up,” even seemingly optimistic lines about daring to be true to what you believe are answered by the refrain, “There’s always somebody to lose.”

And on “Tiniest Seed,” the singer opines, “I wish you were here with me / But you’re too far away / Standing beside me now / With nothing to say.”

Listen to “Tiniest Seed” by Angel Olsen here:

Fortunately, for everyone, there’s constant beauty beneath all the sadness. Instead of crying along to the heartache portrayed in the lyrics, the urge is rather to track Olsen down and give the singer a hug, telling her everything will be okay. Yet, in actuality, such an act may be for naught. If the young songstress keeps making records this gorgeous, she’ll be just fine on her own.

Angel Olsen with opening act Pillars and Tongues, October 1, 7 p.m., $10-13, Iron Horse Music Hall, 20 Center St., Northampton, (413) 586-8686, www.iheg.com/iron_horse_main.asp.

For more information on Angel Olsen or to see future tour dates please visit www.angelolsen.com/.

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Album review – Nirvana “In Utero 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition” – September 26, 2013

Album review – Nirvana “In Utero 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition” – September 26, 2013

Album review – Weird Owl “Healing” – September 26, 2013

Album review – Weird Owl “Healing” – September 26, 2013

’90s Music Strikes Back: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Sebadoh

In_Utero_(Nirvana)_album_coverThe arrival of the fall season always brings with it a feeling of the past being renewed. For every homecoming parade and harvest yield, there is a palpable sense that one is obligated to look back, not only over the past year, which is rapidly coming to a close, but also to much older moments long since committed to memory or jotted down in now-faded script.

For the purpose of this essay, let’s revisit a time 20 years ago, before the Internet had worked its way into nearly every home, before smart phones brought the Internet into nearly every pocket, before texting, before Bieber, and before “twerking” became a national buzzword.

1993 was a tumultuous year in American and world history. From the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York, to the standoff at the Branch Dividian compound in Waco, Texas, tragedy often shared space in the headlines alongside glimmers of hope, as evidenced by the peace accord that was reached in September of 1993 by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, as well as the December signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement by then-President Bill Clinton.

But amidst all the good news and bad news there was also music. Two years removed from the moment that punk “broke” into the mainstream via the release of Nirvana’s seminal Nevermind album and still months away from that sad day in April of 1994 when the alt-rock curtain started to come down, music in 1993 existed in an isolated window of time.

Perhaps the most-hyped album of ’93 was Nirvana’s third record In Utero. A 20th anniversary edition of the album is even being released this week. And perhaps now, with all the B-sides, demos, and remasterings of the original material seeing the light of day, proper weight can be given to the significance this record had back in a year when Kurt Cobain was still alive.

First and foremost, much like 20th anniversary re-release of Nevermind, this reissue of Nirvana’s final studio album is stocked full with riches. The “Super Deluxe Edition” even features a recording of the group’s frequently-lauded “Live and Loud” concert from December 13, 1993. However, for hardcore fans the real focus is on the two never-before released instrumentals “Forgotten Tune” and the aptly-titled “Jam.”

Though highly hyped, each of these long-lost cuts is ragged and unfinished, begging the thought that the bottom of Cobain and company’s alt-rock barrel might have finally been reached. Indeed, the real prizes are outtakes of album cuts, like a more R.EM.-influenced take on “All Apologies,” and drummer Dave Grohl’s first solo rendering of the B-side “Marigold.” Sadly, Nirvana would never get to realize the potential showed by such songs’ drastically different-sounding versions, but now listeners can rejoice in the group’s defiant last gasp.

Of course after the dust finally started to settle on the time when Seattle rock ruled the world, there was still one band from the scene that was left standing – Pearl Jam. In 1993, there was probably no other group that understood the pressure Nirvana was under to record a follow-up to its breakthrough album better than Eddie Vedder and company. After riding in on the grunge tidal wave with its 1991 debut Ten, the band released its sophomore effort, Vs., in 1993 and watched over a million copies of the album fly off shelves in just its first week of availability.

20 years later, the record still holds up. Sure tracks like “Daughter,” “Animal” and “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town” now receive airplay on classic rock radio stations instead of Top 40 outlets, but little of the record’s vitriol and aggression has waned. And the band responsible for such material isn’t settling into elder-statesmen status just yet either.

Pearl Jam’s 10th studio album Lightning Bolt is set to be released in just a few short weeks on October 14th. Featuring the singles “Mind Your Manners” and “Sirens,” the album is already garnering praise for nodding to the past with a frenetic pace on some songs and for employing a mature vibe on others, proof positive that the band members are ready at times to embrace their status as survivors.

Watch the official video for “Sirens” by Pearl Jam here:

Speaking of survivors, there are few, if any, musicians that can lay claim to being fired from one band and intentionally disbanding another, only to rejoin and reform each group respectively with no drop-off in the quality of output and critical recognition. However, by reuniting with the other original members of Dinosaur Jr and by reconvening his other project Sebadoh over the course of the past decade, former Westfield resident Lou Barlow has accomplished such a feat. It just didn’t happen overnight.

In 1993, Barlow was several years removed from his bitter ouster from Dinosaur, and his new band Sebadoh was on the verge of a notable period of success. The group would release its final album recorded with founding member Eric Gaffney, Bubble and Scrape, during the course of the year. But as the decade wore on, the release of acclaimed albums like Bakesale and Harmacy would bring the band even greater recognition in indie rock circles and beyond.

Then after the tour for Sebadoh’s 1999 album The Sebadoh, the group went on an extended hiatus. Barlow had a new project dubbed The Folk Implosion, and group member Jason Lowenstein was hard at work on solo material.

Various Sebadoh reunions started to occur as early as 2003. But after Barlow rejoined the original lineup Dinosaur Jr in 2005, things really started to kick into high gear. In 2011, Sebadoh, now consisting of Barlow, Lowenstein and new drummer Bob D’Amico, hit the road for a tour to promote reissues of Bakesale and Harmacy. And just one year later, the band began releasing its first new music since The Sebadoh.

Fortunately for ‘90s music fans, that release, The Secret EP, has proven not to be just a one-off. In fact, the band released, Defend Yourself, its first full studio album in 14 years just last week. Featuring indie rock gems like “I Will” as well as more alt-country influenced tracks like “Inquiries,” the release is more than just a nostalgic tour through the halls of college radio’s past, at times it even plays like a hopeful wish for the future.

Watch the official video for “I Will” by Sebadoh here:

Perhaps the chill in the air that comes with crisp autumn mornings has always existed as a reminder. Every time we pull our collars up to shield ourselves from the change in temperature, or maybe every time we see the leaves change color and fall, we are being told to look back. Though 1993 was a flash in time, 12 short months split into 365 days, the echoes of that period can still be heard today. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Sebadoh – the music of the ‘90s lives on in the 21st century. So look back or lean forward, it makes no difference. The season is changing, but the soundtrack stays the same.

For more information on Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Sebadoh, please visit nirvana.com, pearljam.com, and sebadoh.com.

Plus, don’t forget to follow the Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter:

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Album review – Walking Papers “Walking Papers” – September 19, 2013

Album review – Walking Papers “Walking Papers” – 9/19/13

Music News: Neil Young Preps Pono and Trent Reznor’s Record Cost

Neil Young (photo-credit-danny-clinch) edit

Neil Young (Photo credit: Danny Clinch)

In a statement sure to bring joy to audio purists, classic rocker Neil Young issued an update Tuesday on the state of his Pono Music project, which he hopes will one day “save listeners” from the compressed sound quality of MP3’s.

“The simplest way to describe what we’ve accomplished is that we’ve liberated the music of the artist from the digital file and restored it to its original artistic quality – as it was in the studio,” Young wrote on the official Pono Facebook page this week. “Our mission is also to make Pono just as accessible as any music you buy and listen to today.”

Eyeing an early 2014 launch for the project’s Pono music portable player, which will be a direct competitor of the iPod, the singer of such hits as “Rockin’ in the Free World” and “Heart of Gold” has already teamed with the Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group and Sony Music, encouraging the “big three” to convert their audio libraries to higher sound quality in preparation of being made available through Young’s service.

But the former Buffalo Springfield member isn’t the only artist to throw his hat into the audio distribution ring. The Warner Music Group has also already invested millions of dollars into another venture spearheaded by rapper/ producer Dr. Dre. The “Beats Music” project, formerly known as Project Daisy, has been described as an “Internet music service,” where listeners can create their own playlists, much like the project’s competing streaming service Spotify. However, one big difference between the two companies is the involvement of Nine Inch Nails’ artist Trent Reznor, who has helped design the “Beats Music” service, emphasizing the importance of “intelligent curation” with recommendations coming from “connoisseurs.”

Speaking of Reznor, the artist made waves last week in an interview with Spin Magazine, where he declared the cost of what listeners should be willing to pay for his music.

“I’m saying my personal feeling is that my album’s not a dime,” Reznor said. “It’s not a buck. I made it as well as I could, and it costs 10 bucks, or go fuck yourself.”

Though his comments garnered flak from others, who cited the hypocrisy of Reznor previously releasing albums for free online only now to release his band’s latest work Hesitation Marks via a deal with a major label, the Nine Inch Nails frontman also received support from fellow musician, Amanda Palmer.

“When Trent went from doing-it-himself back to using a major label a little while ago, I saw a lot of people bitching about it on Twitter and calling him a ‘traitor’ or whatever,” Palmer wrote on her blog. “I totally stood by and defended his decision to work with a label. He can do what he wants. Why the fuck not?”

Later declaring, “IT’S THE ARTIST’S DECISION. LET THE ARTIST DECIDE,” Palmer also seemed to harbor no ill will towards Reznor, even though in his Spin interview the singer seemed to make a snide comment in her direction, saying, “I know that what we’re doing flies in the face of the Kickstarter Amanda-Palmer-Start-a-Revolution thing, which is fine for her, but I’m not super-comfortable with the idea of Ziggy Stardust shaking his cup for scraps.”

Palmer responded, “Even though I may never do it like NIN, or like Radiohead, or like Miley Cyrus, I think whatever path they choose is fine. Use a label. Don’t use a label. Make mainstream music. Make loud dissonant noise. Twerk your brains out. Being an artist is about forging your own path (in content and in business practice) and following your own path.”

And to think I almost made it all the way to the end of this blog post without mentioning Miley Cyrus or twerking…maybe next time.

For more information on Neil Young, Pono Music, Beats Music or Trent Reznor, please visit the following websites: www.neilyoung.warnerreprise.com, www.mypono.com, www.beatsmusic.com, www.nin.com.

Plus, don’t forget to follow the Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter:

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