April 2018 Newsletter
Friday, February 23, 2018
THE EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY OF LINER NOTES
I have a masters degree in evolutionary biology, obtained in what increasingly feels like a former lifetime. However, I have always been interested in where things come from and how they got that way. I was a dinosaur kid, obsessed with learning all the different names and habitats of each creature. Indiana Jones really resonated with me, as I pretended to be a swashbuckling archeologist uncovering ancient mysteries. I also just really loved to dig in the sandbox, searching for lost toys and hidden treasures below the surface.
Upon adolesence, liner notes became the sacred texts that I would sift through, looking for clues that helped explain where the music came from and why I loved it so much. I didn't yet understand how to make records, but I could tell that my favorites always had a distinct feel, a unique personality of their own. Even the same artist could sound wildly different from record to record, which I deduced must be in large part due to the musicians, producers and engineers involved.
I loved finding the throughlines that helped explain why I connected with seemingly different artists. For example, what did Randy Newman and John Hiatt have in common? The answer: the distinctive slide guitarist Ry Cooder. Why was it that nearly every time I heard a record with a great drummer on it--from Roy Orbison to Neil Young to Pink Floyd--that drummer was Jim Keltner? The first record that I fell in love with produced by Daniel Lanois, U2's The Joshua Tree, set me up for wanting to revisit his lush, atmospheric soundscapes in future work with Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris. And I still buy anything produced by Joe Henry or engineered by Ryan Freeland, because I love so much of what they've previously done.
Making connections like these, between seemingly unrelated artists, is now largely dictated by algorithms. You can still discern some of the same patterns and relationships in the music, but with everything moving towards digital streaming it's getting harder and harder without those liner notes to examine and decipher. There are ways to include such relevant information on newer platforms (why not tack instrumental credits on to the lyrics in Apple Music, and maybe fix all the errors in the lyrics while we're at it?), but it doesn't seem to be a priority for service providers. You can access some of the info online, via Wikipedia or allmusic.com, but if there's not a computer nearby, or you're driving and can't Google something, you may often forget to look it up later.
Here's to all those jackets and booklets, with arcane information printed in miniscule font sizes. There are coded messages in those liner notes, sign posts that can show you the way to more music you will love. Like with many things in life, you will be surprised at what you find...if you bother to look.
MIXTAPE ALBUM RELEASE TOUR: I just got back from a half dozen shows with the band and string quartet from the record, and my heart is so full. Thanks to everyone who bought a ticket, got a babysitter, found a parking spot and came out to hear what I hope you agree was a pretty singular show. Check out some live videos of Solomon Burke, Richard Thompson and Prince covers. You'll still hear a few of these covers here and there in my performances, but I'll be transitioning back to a more straightahead show now, largely focused on my songs, new and old. Come on out and see me, I'll be waiting for you.
MP3 of the MONTH: What better way to celebrate the end of the Mixtape tour than with a live recording of a song that we recorded but ended up leaving off the album? It killed me to not be able to include Willie Nelson on the record, but it felt great to sing one of my favorites of his--"Angel Flying Too Close To the Ground"--live. It's available for free for the month of April, enjoy!
Sat Apr 7 - Regent Theatre, Arlington MA - 8 pm (SOLD OUT)
This very special show is a benefit for legendary Boston folk DJ Dick Pleansants, now struggling with Parkinson's. Such is the degree and scope of his influence that artists like Cliff Eberhardt, Patty Larkin, Lori McKenna, Garnet Rogers and myself didn't think twice about donating our time and talents to raise money for his Supplemental Needs Trust. I hope you are one of the lucky ones who got tickets.
BARNSTAR! is BACK!
Fri Apr 13 - The Sinclair, Cambridge MA - 9 pm (opening for Della Mae)
It took a band of kickass ladies to a kickass band of grown-ass men on the same stage again. We haven't been avoiding Barnstar!, just super busy with various other projects. We are psyched to throwdown and warm up the stage, then we'll look forward to our very own show at Club Passim coming up on Father's Day (June 17th).
Thu Apr 19 - The Met Cafe, Pawtucket RI - 9 pm (opening for Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams)
Between Larry and Teresa, they are a couple of my favorite singers, as well as one of my favorite songwriters and multi-instrumentalists. I basically campaign to open gigs for them so I can watch them work and try to figure out how they do what they do.
Thu Apr 26 - Charles River Museum of Industry, Waltham MA (guesting with Dan Bern)
This is one of the 2nd Shift Music Series shows that I'm curating for the museum. Dan Bern's left hand recently had an unfortunate encounter with a snowblower. Like the master troubadour he is, he is finding a way to do his gigs and will be backed by a band for this show. When I expressed my concern for his health, he graciously invited me to come play a few of my own songs in his set, which I am honored to do. This is such a cool space, you should really check it out.
Fri Apr 27 - Private House Concert, Santa Barbara CA
Sat Apr 28 - Private House Concert, Oakland CA
Sun Apr 29 - Fog House Concerts, San Francisco CA - 8 pm
Mon Apr 30 - Private Show, San Francisco CA
I haven't done a solo show in California since about 2004, and I'm coming back but the only things I could find were house shows. There is only one of these that is truly open to the public--Sunday 4/29 in San Francisco--and you can click on the link above to email the host and reserve tickets.
No sideman gigs this month, but you never do know where I'll show up.
ON THE HORIZON:
May 3 - Seven Steps Up, Spring Lake MI
May 4 - Cafe Carpe, Fort Atkinson WI
May 5 - Three Springs Barn, Lancaster WI
May 18 - Lizard Lounge, Cambridge MA (special guest for Session Americana)
May 31 - O'Shea's, West Dennis MA
June 2 - Passim, Cambridge MA (5 & 8 pm shows!)