singer /songwriter

Quarter Notes

Artist name: Andrew Bird
Album title: Hands of Glory

Record label: Mom+Pop Music
Songs to download: “Three White Horses,” “If I needed You”

The last four years have been extremely productive for Chicago-based singer/songwriter/violinist/whistling extraordinaire Andrew Bird. After releasing an album in both 2009 and 2010, Bird signed with the indie label Mom+Pop Music, composed the score to the film “Norman,” released his sixth studio album, Break It Yourself, and screened the concert documentary “Andrew Bird: Fever Year” at dozens of film festivals around the world.

With the release of Hands of Glory, Bird continues his torrid pace. The 8-track album, which was recorded in his barn-turned-studio just outside of Chicago, serves as a companion piece to Break It Yourself, containing alternate takes of album cuts alongside several cover songs and one new original.

As a whole, the album is darker and folksier than previous Bird releases. Recorded live with all-acoustic instrumentation around a single microphone, the band displays both precision and vibrancy, showcasing pitch-perfect harmonies, virtuosic violin playing and notably little of Bird’s trademark whistling.

“Three White Horses” opens the set, cantering in at an ominous pace. “Don’t dismiss it like it’s easy / Tell me what’s so easy about coming to say goodbye,” Bird exhorts in his crystalline tenor.

The reverb-soaked cadence of “When That Helicopter Comes” follows, introducing a minor-key apocalyptic urban ballad that picks up the tempo as well as the intensity. An insidious guitar line plays patiently beneath what could be either Bird’s screeching violin or the howling ghosts of rural east Illinois.

The mood lifts incrementally with “Spirograph” and “Railroad Bill,” the latter a foot-tapping train-hop shuffle complete with a steam-whistle violin fill. “Wheeeeeeew!” cries one of the musicians in exuberance at the end of the take, followed by rounds of infectious laughter.

The most obvious highlight of the uniformly strong album occurs two tracks later with an imaginative rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.” Featuring deep, rich harmonies cast over a slow-rocking country tempo, the song pays poignant homage to the legendary Texas troubadour without retreading the same path as the dozens of others who have covered the song.

A heartfelt acoustic version of “Orpheo Looks Back” from Break It Yourself and the 9-minute, one-violin loop-pedal reprise “Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses” close out this concise, uplifting record. For fans of Andrew Bird, it will be a welcome addition to their libraries; for the uninitiated, it just might have enough stripped-down charm to win some new converts.

With the release of Hands of Glory, Bird continues his torrid pace. The 8-track album, which was recorded in his barn-turned-studio just outside of Chicago, serves as a companion piece to Break It Yourself, containing alternate takes of album cuts alongside several cover songs and one new original.

As a whole, the album is darker and folksier than previous Bird releases. Recorded live with all-acoustic instrumentation around a single microphone, the band displays both precision and vibrancy, showcasing pitch-perfect harmonies, virtuosic violin playing and notably little of Bird’s trademark whistling.

“Three White Horses” opens the set, cantering in at an ominous pace. “Don’t dismiss it like it’s easy / Tell me what’s so easy about coming to say goodbye,” Bird exhorts in his crystalline tenor.

The reverb-soaked cadence of “When That Helicopter Comes” follows, introducing a minor-key apocalyptic urban ballad that picks up the tempo as well as the intensity. An insidious guitar line plays patiently beneath what could be either Bird’s screeching violin or the howling ghosts of rural east Illinois.

The mood lifts incrementally with “Spirograph” and “Railroad Bill,” the latter a foot-tapping train-hop shuffle complete with a steam-whistle violin fill. “Wheeeeeeew!” cries one of the musicians in exuberance at the end of the take, followed by rounds of infectious laughter.

The most obvious highlight of the uniformly strong album occurs two tracks later with an imaginative rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.” Featuring deep, rich harmonies cast over a slow-rocking country tempo, the song pays poignant homage to the legendary Texas troubadour without retreading the same path as the dozens of others who have covered the song.

A heartfelt acoustic version of “Orpheo Looks Back” from Break It Yourself and the 9-minute, one-violin loop-pedal reprise “Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses” close out this concise, uplifting record. For fans of Andrew Bird, it will be a welcome addition to their libraries; for the uninitiated, it just might have enough stripped-down charm to win some new converts.

Artist name: Neil Young
Album title: Psychedelic Pill

Record label: Reprise Records
Songs to download: “Ramada Inn,” “Walk Like a Giant”

Fresh off their headlining performance at ACL Fest, Neil and the gang unleash their second album of the year, following the dismally received Americana.. Never one to make concessions, Young and company open with the 27-minute garage jam “Driftin’ Back.” The “Ragged Glory” energy is somehow sustained through the album’s double-disc, 87-minute run time.

Artist name: Mike and the Moonpies
Album title: The Hard Way

Record label: Self-released
Songs to download: “Sunday,” “Things Can Only Get Better” 

The local honky-tonk favorites tear through a set of hard-core country that has made their successive residencies at the Hole in the Wall and the White Horse one of Austin’s most popular regular gigs. Standout tracks include lead single “Sunday” and the Harry Nilsson-tinged closer “Things Can Only Get Better”.

Artist name: Thrice
Album title: Anthology

Record label: Staple Records
Songs to download: “Promises,” “Anthology”

This compilation by the prolific southern California post-hardcore quartet collects 24 songs recorded live during the band’s recent farewell tour in May and June. The album serves as a comprehensive overview of the band’s catalog, containing songs from its 2000 debut Identity Crisis all the way to its most recent studio release Major/Minor.

Patterson Hood, also a member of Drive-By Truckers, will be performing in Austin beginning on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Andy Tennille.

Photo Credit: Andy Tennillee | Daily Texan Staff

In the 57-plus-year history of the rock ‘n’ roll singer/songwriter, a recognizable archetype has emerged: that of the brash blues-shouting rock band frontman who can also lay down the electric guitar and bear his or her soul with a set of sparse, introspective, acoustic-based songs. It is a trend that arguably began with Bob Dylan, was mastered by Neil Young and has continued through the years with albums by songwriters such as Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Beck, Ryan Adams and Dylan’s son, Jakob Dylan.

Patterson Hood is a proud inheritor of this tradition. As singer/songwriter and bandleader for the Drive-By Truckers, his primary job is to bash out straight-ahead dirty Southern rock in ballrooms and music halls across the country. However, over the last decade, and despite the Truckers’ relentless touring and recording schedule, Hood has also managed to release three intimate, stripped-down solo records, the last of which, Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance, came out in September.

“The Truckers, we kind of thrive on a certain amount of anarchy,” Hood said via telephone, about 170 miles outside of San Diego en route to Austin. “Like, I never tell anyone what to do more than maybe a suggestion at the most in that band. So with this I had this very specific ... I wanted it to be sparse, I didn’t really want any kind of lead guitar-type playing or anything like that. I wanted to keep it personal and intimate.”

This week Hood will bring his softer acoustic approach to two Austin stages: a two-night stand beginning Wednesday at UT’s Cactus Cafe, followed by a 6:30 p.m. Friday performance on the BMI stage as part of the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

“I’m totally psyched about all of it,” Hood said. “Austin’s always been one of my favorite cities. In the last few years it’s kind of hit where we get to Austin and then have another show the next day somewhere else and we don’t get to hang out. So it’s going to be cool having, like, three days there. That’ll be a great experience.”

Hood is accompanied on the road by his backing band, the Downtown Rumblers, as well as fellow Athens, Ga., residents Page and Claire Campbell of the alt-folk duo Hope For Agoldensummer. The group is in the final leg of a four-week tour that wraps up Thursday in Central Texas before Hood rejoins the Truckers.

“It’s been great, one of my favorite tours ever,” Hood said. “When I put this tour together, we were very careful to kind of book it mainly in venues that were small and intimate and that tended to be seated shows, more like the Cactus. But we also had like three festival shows mixed in with it, and I was kind of curious how this show would work on the big outdoor stage kind of thing. But it’s really kind of amazed me how well it’s worked. The show the other day in San Francisco was at Golden Gate Park, and, I mean, there were literally thousands of people there, and it went over really, really good. It worked in that setting far better than I ever would have predicted.”

The band will play Wednesday and Thursday night at the Cactus at 8:30 p.m. before hitting the big stage at ACL Friday. It will be Hood’s first performance at the revered venue since a South By Southwest showcase for ‘No Depression” back in 2006.

“I think it’s going to be great,” Cactus Cafe manager Matt Muñoz said. “This album in particular is a little bit less Drive-By-Trucker-y, in-your-face kind of rock ‘n’ roll and a little bit more of an Americana thing. So I think it’s the right room.”

Utopiafest Press Art

In the western hills outside San Antonio is Utopia, Texas, a small town with a population of 227, according to the 2010 census. In addition to being known as an idyllic rural community, it has recently been put on the map as the home of Utopiafest, an annual music festival that started in 2009. This year’s festival will take place Friday, Sept. 28 to Sunday, Sept. 30 and features psychedelic/indie rock band Dr. Dog, Texas singer/songwriter Ben Kweller, bass virtuoso Victor Wooten, Widespread Panic’s Jimmy Herring and, coming all the way from Mexico City, electronica act Mexican Institute of Sound.

Utopiafest reflects the size of the town by embodying the saying “less is more,” aspiring to be a smaller scale alternative to bigger festivals like Austin City Limits and Fun Fun Fun Fest. The producers have capped the maximum amount of tickets to be sold at 2,000. Just like Utopia’s tightly knit community, the small audience of Utopiafest makes it easier for people to recognize each other and turn strangers into friends.

“We want to maintain a feel of comfort and intimacy first and foremost,” said Travis Sutherland, founder and producer of Utopiafest. “Sometimes people get sick of being in massive crowds.”

Utopiafest takes the good parts of a bigger festival while trying to eliminate the negatives. There are no long lines or overwhelming crowds, and, perhaps most importantly, seeing a famous band doesn’t require staking out a spot hours in advance. None of the set times overlap, making it possible to see all 28 acts, 17 of which are local to Texas. 

The two stages are strategically placed between two large hills, creating an amphitheater that resembles a natural venue. The festival encourages interaction with the environment by allowing attendees to camp out on a plot of land only 150 yards away from the stage.

The Four Sisters Ranch is a 1,000-acre plot that Sutherland’s family has owned and lived on for five generations. Having become an Eagle Scout at age 13, Sutherland wandered the West Texas hills as a youth and has since sought to combine his passion for music with his love for the environment.

“I wanted to give everyone the opportunity to experience this land that we’re so blessed with,” Sutherland said.

New additions to this year’s festival include a second stage, an opportunity to pre-camp Thursday, three times the parking space, additional food vendors, upgraded lights, a laser show and more Porta-Potties.

“After last year I kept hearing ‘I had the best weekend of my life!’ from people, so that’s set the bar for me,” Sutherland said. 

Since its inception the festival has steadily grown in attendance and size every year, but Sutherland and his co-producers Aaron and Jamie Brown of Onion Creek Productions have expressed their intent to limit that growth.

“My only goal is to make the land self-sustainable while minimizing destructive tendencies,” Sutherland said.

In addition to the music, there will be a disc golf course with workshops led by professionals. Black Swan Yoga, an Austin studio located on Fifth Street, will offer yoga classes.

“I’m really looking forward to hearing great music and doing yoga out in nature,” said Joshua Whisenhunt, a Black Swan instructor and UT alumnus.

Utopiafest offers a diverse music lineup in a scenic environment.

“This is as close to a perfect festival as it gets,” Sutherland said. “It would really suck for you to miss it.”

Printed on Friday, September 28, 2012 as: Utopian hills come alive with indie music

Review

There is a haunting thrill to listening to Russian-American singer/songwriter Nika Roza Danilova’s voice backed up by layers of goth-wave-gloom-pop generated by synth, drum and bass. Danilova’s musical project Zola Jesus’ latest album, Conatus, serves as a testament to her musical genius.

Conatus, meaning effort or striving in Latin, starts off by implementing the industrial edge that has contributed to Zola Jesus’ inspirations. There is an impending sensibility produced by a menacing synth, mechanical-sounding samples and a pounding double-bass drum.

However, the tracks soften, both lyrically and audibly as the album progresses. The sound begins to flow a bit more at ease, with touches of cello, piano, violin and viola, allowing the listener in on Danilova’s anxiety and strife through a unique twist of symphonic melodies.

The seasonal appeal of Conatus sets a chilling frost, Danilova’s voice reminiscent of Siouxsie Sioux and resolution comparable to Patti Smith. The album itself seems as though the artist were venting in the middle of a tundra horizon, her song oscillating against icebergs.
The cohesive song titles reveal a wintery aesthetic, and the white-schemed album art resonates with the transient-like nature of Zola Jesus. The album cover is suggestive of the album as a whole: Danilova’s face hiding behind sheer fabric, echoing her forlorn state, yet evoking her willingness to share her pain with the world.

“Hikikomori” allows the listener to writhe along with Danilova, as the vocals convey a sort of helplessness. The artist seems to grapple for air and her song struggles to escape from her vocal passage. The term “hikikomori” refers to an individual being withdrawn from society through self-confinement and is reflective of Danilova’s childhood of secluded opera singing.

“Seekir” is one of the more upbeat tracks on Conatus. With a quicker-paced drum beat and synth frequency, a more poppy element is introduced to the album, generating a livelier timbre and higher-pitched vocals. “Collapse” concludes the album, and as the song implies, demonstrates Danilova’s complete vulnerability. It expels any abrasive notions attached to the previous tracks, and wraps up the album in the utter rawness of emotional struggle.

Zola Jesus - Seekir by sacredbones

Printed on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 as: Operatic seclusion informs longing songs of Zola Jesus