“I’m moving to America,” Kathleen Edwards sings over and over in the chorus of “Empty Threat,” the lead track of her new album, Voyageur. Thing is, it wasn’t an empty threat: The Canadian singer-songwriter recently relocated to Wisconsin, leaving behind a marriage to a former bandmate and finding a new beginning both musically and personally with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon.
It’s an auspicious new direction. Voyageur, her fourth album, is brimming with exploration and confidence, perhaps the full bloom of an artist who first surfaced a decade ago with a self-released recording that became the little album that could (2002’s Failer). While Edwards was recognized primarily in Americana circles with her debut, she’s always had a steadfast indie streak, and so Voyageur—co-produced by Edwards and Vernon—sounds less like a departure than an arrival long in her sights.
“Some people have been saying, like, ‘This is a big departure for you,’” Edwards acknowledges, “‘but, well, no, not really. It still sounds like me. Although there are things I set out to achieve in making this record—a different style of production, a different approach to some songs—it still sounds like me, in the end.”
The record was indeed made in an entirely different manner than her last one, 2008’s Asking for Flowers. That was recorded in Los Angeles with ace producer Jim Scott and a first-rate cast of studio musicians; Voyageur was more homegrown. “This was the first time I’d done a significant amount of work in a home studio—Justin’s studio [in Fall Creek, Wis.]—which allowed for a certain amount of trial and error, without having to be careful that you didn’t waste time that you wouldn’t get back,” she says.
Working outside of the pro studio environment presented another opportunity for Edwards to push herself to be more involved in the process of actually making the record.
“It’s really hard when you show up in the studio and you’ve got Jim Scott, the best engineer, and [studio aces] Bob Glaub and Don Heffington and Greg Leisz,” she says. “You can’t help but just barely participate, because those guys are just so incredible. It was an amazing experience … but in retrospect, it didn’t push me to step out of my comfort zone in trying things.”
On Voyageur, though, Edwards is credited with playing 11 different instruments, more than twice as many as she’d handled on any previous record. Many were variations of keyboards—piano, organ, Wurlitzer, B3, Rhodes—and if her new record stands apart in some respects from her earlier work, it’s probably this shift away from guitar twang toward keyboard atmospherics. Part of the credit for that goes to Durham musician Phil Cook (of Megafaun and Vernon’s former bandmate in DeYarmond Edison), who contributed various piano and organ parts to seven of the album’s 10 songs.
“Phil played a huge role in the early stages of the record,” Edwards explains. “He came back to Eau Claire to work on it at Justin’s recommendation, and some of the things he did transformed the early direction of the record.”
The bedrock foundation of Edwards’ touring band—guitarist Gord Tough, bassist John Dinsmore, drummer Lyle Molzan and especially multi-instrumentalist Jim Bryson, whose ties with Edwards go back to before she even made her first record—complemented the newcomers. Bryson and Edwards co-wrote “Sidecar,” which is one of Voyageur’s standout tracks, even as its more straightforward rock ’n’ roll delivery contrasts with the broader sonic palette on most of the record.
If Vernon and Bryson bring different elements to the mix, Edwards says she’s often struck by their common ground. “There have been moments when Justin got credit for things Jim did, and vice versa,” she says. “It’s funny, because I really think they have a similar aesthetic and a similar ear. They’re the two people in my life the most willing to try things; they’re always thinking about new approaches and new treatments, and just throwing stuff up against the wall. And that’s so important.”
Kathleen Edwards performs Tuesday, Jan. 31, at Cat’s Cradle, with opening act Hannah Georgas. Tickets to the 8 p.m. show are $20 in advance—$23 day of show. Visit www.catscradle.com.
Spider Bags, Paint Fumes, Flesh Wounds, Brainbows, Snake
Thursday, Jan. 26
La Salamandra, Durham
La Salamandra isn’t designed for hosting rock bands, and it shows. The unassuming taco shack on Hillsborough Rd. features a long, narrow floorplan, divided by an elevated bar and chest-high barricade. The stage, if you want to call it that, is little more than a nook set back into the middle of the room’s length, just large enough for a drummer and some amps and placed so that, last night, most of the crowd would be treated to a side-view of the five performing acts. The sound was problematic, too.
But none of that really hindered the benefit concert organized as a fundraiser to help alleviate the medical bills that local artist Dan Melchior and his wife, Letha Rodman Melchior, have been accruing since Letha’s cancer diagnosis more than a year ago. The show, despite the less-than-ideal setup, roared away.
Plagued by feedback from the PA, and inaudible backing vocals, for instance, Spider Bags started their headlining set at a disadvantage. Still, through the course of it, and especially in their more well-known songs—“Que Viva El Rocanroll,” “Teenage Eyes” and “Dog In The Snow”—the band managed a solid performance.
That handicap was exacerbated by their placement behind a double header of scrappy, relatively new bands. Charlotte’s Paint Fumes slobbered through a half-hour of addictive garage rock, sneaking flashes of 13th Floor Elevators psych-rock and Cramps surf into their set (which ended, naturally, with a busted Silvertone and a cymbal tossed off the drum kit). Flesh Wounds—the Chapel Hill trio of Last Year’s Men’s Montgomery Morris, The Moaners’ Laura King and The Future Kings of Nowhere’s Dan Kinney—offered a set of Oblivians-inspired garage favorably shaded with early-Jawbreaker melodies.
Brainbows’ post-punk rumble and Snake’s fluid twang-jam served as capable openers as the audience, which eventually spilled out onto La Salamandra’s large patio, filled the room. It’s easy—and probably unavoidable—to wonder if the show might’ve been better in a different venue with stage lighting and a better sound system, but that actually misses the point.
Craig Powell—the Durham promoter who often books shows at his nearby house, The Layabout—took the mic between sets to remind the gathered crowd why they were here, and why he’d organized this gig. Dan Melchior Und Das Menace, the band in which Letha Melchior Rodman plays with her husband, played both Powell’s 29th and 30th birthday parties, he said. This was about returning the favor, he said: “It’s the least we can do for them."
Donate to Dan and Letha Melchior at melchiorfund.blogspot.com.
For more than a few years now, Hillsborough Street’s Schoolkids Records claimed the title of “only independent record store in Raleigh.” That’s no longer the case: In The Groove Records—a used-only record store that buys, sells and trades vintage vinyl, with plans to expand into new goods—has moved into the Carter Building, an art studio-dominated space just down from the intersection of Glenwood Avenue and Hillsborough Street. The store opened on January 18 and is owned by long-time Raleigh resident and artist Greg Rollins, who says he saw a niche for a used-only shop in the Triangle.
“Used LPs—there’s always going to be a need for that,” Rollins says. “There are hundreds and hundreds of millions of them out there.”
One of the inspirations for Rollins’ store, he says, was his father, who owned Treasure Chest Records, a beach music-centered shop that operated on Peace Street between 1979 and 1983. Rollins' own selection comes mainly from the classic rock canon. Last week, highlights included a first pressing of Miles Davis's Bitches Brew and Buckingham Nicks, the 1973 pre-Fleetwood Mac LP by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Rollins eventually plans to diversify his stock, possibly breaking into turntables and stereo equipment, new vinyl and also used cassettes, of which he has a collection of more than 3,000.
The circulating word is that the International Bluegrass Music Associations (IBMA) Awards are looking for a new home. A group of local bluegrass musicians and enthusiasts are, of course, trying to make that new home here in Raleigh. Indeed, a five-minute video produced by the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau recently landed on YouTube, appealing to IBMA on behalf of the state’s bluegrass traditions and the city’s entertainment assets. I sat down with Hank Smith, banjo player extraordinaire, last week to discuss this effort:
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: Who came to you with the idea of bringing the IBMA to Raleigh?
HANK SMITH: We first heard about it from a videographer friend of ours who mentioned he interviewed bluegrass stars Jim Mills and Tony Williamson about IBMA moving to Raleigh. He approached us to interview because he wanted our perspective on the subject as younger members of IBMA with the thought that we could appeal to a younger market. Our role is the same as any other person interested in bringing IBMA to Raleigh. Hopefully, our perspective on the subject will help persuade the folks at IBMA to relocate to our fair city.
Our band, Kickin Grass, has been a member of IBMA for 10 years, and we have attended the conference eight times over the last decade both in Louisville and Nashville. We went last fall and showcased three times, attended seminars and jammed in the suites with industry folks. We love what IBMA does for bluegrass and the bluegrass music industry. As the industry and the music itself naturally evolve and change, so must we. We are harbingers of that change, along with all bluegrass musicians involved with IBMA. Bringing IBMA to the home state of such major bluegrass events like Merlefest, for example, seems natural.
Following a MySpace-sponsored reunion show more than three years ago and last year's Folds box set containing some unreleased material, Ben Folds Five is reuniting for its first album since 1999. You can check out Ben Folds' Twitter for updates on the story.
This information is all that was contained in something like a press release that Sony Music circulated yesterday, save for one unfortunate screen shot—of an Internet Explorer window, with a Tweet, containing a picture of the band in the studio. (C’mon, intern, right click, “Save as...”) Folds, bassist Robert Sledge and drummer Darren Jessee are set to record through March. Folds said via Twitter that he anticipates a spring release. Congrats, Five, on the laziest album announcement ever.
It's been an uneven few years for Folds, who sounds more and more like just another guy playing a piano. He recorded an album with author Nick Hornby (weird, but sort of cool) and released an LP of college a cappella groups covering his songs (ha!). Perhaps surrounding himself with a real band is just what he needs.
In any case, '90s band reunions couldn't be hotter right now (read: not cool, if you want), so they stand to make some solid bank. The album will be the band's fourth LP and their first since The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner.
American Aquarium has a lot in store for their fans this year. One is a live CD recorded at The Pour House, which will be available February 11. We caught up with the band’s Bill Corbin in Muscle Shoals as he was recording their new album, which will be out later this year. And yeah, it’s being produced by some guy named Jason Isbell.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: What lead to the decision of doing a live album at this point in the band's history?
BILL CORBIN: We've always wanted to do a live record and people always ask us to put one out, but the timing was just never quite right. Finally, the stars kind of aligned for it. We've been playing really great and are tighter than we have ever been thanks to a lighter touring schedule that actually allows us time to rehearse.
Combine that with the fact that we haven't released anything in almost two years, and a live record seemed like a no-brainer. We play some of the songs a lot differently live and recently had worked out a new arrangement for an old song, “Anne Marie.” We wanted to capture these with the energy and intensity of our live show. Overall, I think AA fans will really dig it.
Corrosion of Conformity, Hail!Hornet
Sunday, Jan. 22
Orange Peel, Asheville, N.C.
When we parted ways, Corrosion of Conformity drummer Reed Mullin offered an apology for what was, by his estimation, the worst show he’d ever played.
The band had struggled through “The Moneychangers,” a cut from the band’s forthcoming eighth LP. It’s a characteristically complicated song, moving from steamrolling Motörhead speed-metal with Bad Brains-referencing cowbell clomps, into second-wave hardcore stomps and an atmospheric bridge before ending up somewhere near the lumbering doom of COC’s 2005 album In The Arms of God. And Mullin’s missed cue left a visible tension on the stage.
But that soon dissipated as the band raced into the rest of a set list that included plenty of songs from the new album—the ripping, Mullin-sung “Leeches” was a clear standout—1980s favorites such as “Mad World” and “Technocracy,” and even a few nods to the band’s commercial peak with an explosive, crowd-pleasing rendition of 1994’s “Deliverance.”
Leading the band, Mike Dean furrowed his brow and unspooled an endless supply of counterintuitive bass lines as he howled into the microphone, bridging aggression and urgency with melody. Guitarist Woody Weatherman seems to have lost neither the finesse of COC’s metal days nor the chaotic squall of the band’s hardcore beginnings. Sunday night in Asheville, he seemed to channel Tony Iommi and Greg Ginn in equal measure.
The crowd, which half-filled the Orange Peel, made up for its small size with big enthusiasm. Hail!Hornet couldn’t have seemed more excited to open for Corrosion of Conformity. A veritable supergroup of Southern metal bands comprising frontman T-Roy (also of Sourvein), bassist “Dixie” Dave Collins (Buzzov-en, Weedeater), drummer Erik Larson (Alabama Thunderpussy) and guitarist Vince Burke (Beaten Back To Pure), Hail!Hornet delivered a tight set of sludgy death metal that hardly indicated it was only the foursome’s fourth show together.
All of Hail!Hornet’s members are featured in the documentary Slow Southern Steel, which screened before the show. Filled with commentary from members of Eyehategod, Down (including COC’s former frontman Pepper Keenan), Zoroaster, ASG and others, the film focused on a small contingent of heavy bands in the South. Judging by the crowd’s response, it might have understated Corrosion of Conformity’s role in the growth of heavy music in these humid parts.
But COC doesn’t carry the air of idols. And that was particularly true for this performance, which Mike Dean said, with cutting sarcasm, revealed COC’s “human fallibility.” Instead of an encore, Corrosion of Conformity played “The Moneychangers” again. After a false start (yes, another one), they nailed it.
The only ones unsatisfied by Corrosion of Conformity’s performance were the ones in the band. Ultimately, I’ll remember watching Weatherman explore the boundaries of his riffs on “Your Tomorrow” and hearing the audience sing along to “Deliverance,” fists hoisted in the air. Mullin owed me no apology.
Les Enfants Terribles
Thursday, Jan. 19–Sunday, Jan. 22
Fletcher Opera Theater, Raleigh
Kill your idols, sure—but what happens when your idol tries to kill you? Perhaps, as in Les Enfants Terribles, you abdicate reality for a dark fantasy world you share with your sister, where mutual cruelty becomes a twisted but biddable kind of love.
Les Enfants Terribles is a fusion of opera and ballet by Philip Glass; the last in a trilogy of such hybrids based on the works of Jean Cocteau. Premiered in 1996, it was staged at Raleigh's Fletcher Opera Theater last week in honor of the composer's 75th birthday, with a French libretto and English narration and supertitles. Drawing talent from the NC Opera and Carolina Ballet, with new choreography and direction by Robert Weiss, the sold-out Sunday matinee was a crowd-pleasing, if muddled, enchantment.
The curtain rises on a snowball fight. Wintry music floats from the three pianos in the pit as fake snow sifts down on children, pelting each other with wooly balls. Paul is injured by a snowball, thrown by his idol Dargelos. More than a snowball, a stone is embedded inside—an apt symbol for the hard, cruel core within the deceptive softness of innocent love. Now Lise must care for both her brother and her ailing mother, whose mouth-gaping death scene is one of the opera's few comical moments. When the mother dies, Paul and Lise are left alone to care for each other in the room they share. Their friend Gérard serves as narrator, witness and Greek chorus.
Cocteau's original novel and film revolve around Paul and Lise's "game," where they torment and manipulate each other with fantasies. Oddly, the game is downplayed in the opera; we catch a few oblique references to it in the libretto, and witness one or two clear instances of it being played, but mostly we learn of it in the program notes. This elision renders the characters' subsequent actions incomprehensible.
After taking a modeling job, Lise meets Agathe, Dargelos' female doppelganger. Just as Dargelos plunged the siblings into their seclusion, Agathe threatens to unravel it, igniting a chain reaction of secret loves, jealousies and missed connections. Here, the game tragically spills over into the real world, culminating with a loaded gun and a gift of poison. Because the game's nature and importance have barely been established, the slapstick coincidences and sudden reversals read more like psychological melodrama than surreal dream-logic. Paul and Lise simply come off as unpleasant, bickering people, and we don't understand what sticks them together.
At Fletcher, the stage was sparely appointed with minimal furniture and projected backdrops, making room for the extra bodies—each character was played by both a singer and a dancer. The latter got the short end of the stick. Beyond some uneasily co-dependent duos, the dancers often just aped the singers, simply doubling rather than multiplying meaning. Rich opportunities for dramatic irony were largely ignored. When all of the pairs were onstage at once, the presentation landed somewhere between experimental anarchy and the clockwork precision of quality ballet. The novel format, however, was compelling.
The music was a constant highlight. For "hypnotically snowy," you'd have to call John Luther Adams to top Philip Glass, who could turn a phone-book recitation into a magical dream-world. Three pianists—one of whom, Wilson Southerland, was also the conductor—provided grinding ostinati and twinkling arpeggios pocked with ominously thundering chords, and I admired the players for finding their entry cues in the lean, repetitive music. The voices occasionally struggled to project over the pianos, but all the principals gave strong performances: baritone Timothy McDevitt, as a vulnerable yet blustery Paul, especially gave me chills at the moments of greatest rapture, though the singer/dancer pair that played Lise (soprano Jessica Cates and Lara O'Brien, respectively) earned the heartiest ovation. The spiraling climax left me breathless, at least, repaying the rough or confusing passages along the way.
Two years ago, Jason Kutchma played the role of Bruce Springsteen in a wowing tribute to one of The Boss’s most enduring works, 1982’s Nebraska. That night, the frontman of Durham's barroom punk act Red Collar displayed a new side of himself, leading a brooding ensemble through devastating folk updates. He was brilliant, digging deep into the crises of the down-and-out with his reliably worn croon.
The same brilliance shines through in “There's a Light On,” the first release from his upcoming album with ace backing band the Five Fifths, which features members of Rat Jackson, Maple Stave and Aminal. The song builds from a gospel-like chant of the title, but piano eventually dances with weeping pedal steel as the rest of the backers chug along. They power this journey song with graceful energy. The narrative finds Kutchma’s character soldiering down the road, escaping a life that never felt right. “Like a lonely house on the hill,” he intones. “Given to me from some dusty will/ Mine by decree, but I knew to be/ It was mine, but it wasn’t me.”
No release date has been set for Kutchma’s entire album, but with a single this beautiful, it's certainly something to anticipate.
If there's one thing that connects most interpretations of hymns like “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” from your local church's dutiful recitation to this rapturous show-stopping turn by the Blind Boys of Mississippi, it's a sense of wonder and awe. In this light, Phil Cook's take on this hymn from a digital “seven-inch split” might seem to come up short. Cook doesn't have the transcendent type of voice that can inspire spiritual conversion, and his Band-like (or Megafaun-like, if you prefer) banjo-and-piano arrangement here lacks a similar oomph.
But what Cook & friends do bring to this song is a sense of fellowship and camaraderie, the same sense echoed by the mission statement of The Gathering Church, the organization for whom this song was recorded: “Our primary aims are to be present to God in our worship, connected to each other in our relationships, and engaged in loving and serving the world.” The notion of putting one's faith in a higher power to provide the strength to overcome any obstacle is a fine one to promote. But sign me up for any church that puts having faith in your fellow man first and foremost.