Here - Modern Acoustic


Here - Modern Acoustic
Sarah, Jenny, Neko, and Sally give our ears
reason to smile. Page 6
PLUS: The ‘Fabulous Tour’ hits Dublin. Page 7
Modern Acoustic
The music magazine for really cool people
MARCH 2006 - Volume 9
“Miles conceived these settings only hours before the
recording dates and arrived with sketches which
indicated to the group what was to be played. Therefore,
you will hear something close to spontaneity in these
performances. The group had never played these pieces
prior to the recordings and I think without exception
the first complete performance of each was a ‘take.’”
Bill Evans, from “Kind of Blue”
Lost & found
An ode to liner notes: A casualty of the digital music age
I like music.
OK, by now everybody knows
that. But it’s more than the sound
of music that I like. I like the
process of music. I like hearing
about band dynamics, I want to
understand the recording process,
the push-pull between musician
and record label or between
musician and stardom.
And that is why I have always
loved liner notes. Seeing pictures
of a band or finding nuggets of
information about a certain artist
made me feel like I understood
those processes more fully, made
me feel I knew the band or musician I was listening to even a little bit.
That is why the continuing
demise of liner notes disturbs
It’s a strange situation to be in
because I love downloading
music. It makes so much sense
technologically. It is much more
convenient than spending time in
those crowded big box stores.
Financially it makes sense too,
because downloading an album is
much cheaper than buying a CD
at a store. But it is costly in the
loss of liner notes. Hopefully a
company like TuneBooks, who we
introduce in our cover story, will
help bridge the gap.
We would also like to introduce
you – or reintroduce you – to four
and download past issues
women with new albums: Jenny
Lewis of Rilo Kiley, Neko Case,
Sarah Harmer, and Sally Ellyson
and her band Hem.
I’m a sucker for beautiful
women’s voices, and all four really bring it.
I suggest you download all of
these albums, and if you care to
know more about the artists, visit
their websites. You may find out
something about them to make
you feel like you know them too.
Rich Kassirer, editor
Vols. 1-7
Laura Cortese with Zack Hickman at her CD release party at Passim in Cambridge.
Duly noted
We’d like to thank liner notes for all the great memories
and for teaching us a few things about music
A couple days ago, I was listening to Patty Griffin’s “1,000
Kisses” album and my daughter
became interested in the lyrics.
She began browsing the CD’s
booklet. “Did Patty draw the pictures in here, Dad?,” she asked?
It reminded me how much I
like – and miss – album liner
This isn’t the first time I have
come to this sad conclusion.
When records were replaced by
CDs there was an outcry that the
reduced size of recordings would
destroy the “art” of the album
— which it did. There was truly
something great about being able
to discover a band’s personality
by browsing an album while you
were listening to the music.
Inside, you might find a collage
of photos taken while the band
was recording the album, the
lyrics of each song, who played
on the songs, or maybe even
some written nugget of information that gave color or insight
into the band. It was also where
you’d discover trivial details that
made you a “real” music fan:
Duane Allman played slide guitar on Eric Clapton’s Derek &
the Dominos album “Layla &
Other Assorted Love Songs” or
the fact that Muddy Waters’
“The band thanks Elissa, Madison, the Schwartz’s,
Debbie, Denise, Fender, Dr. Altoids, The Geltman’s,
anyone who’s given us a place to crash or picked us
up on the side of the road...
From Laurie Geltman’s “No Power Steering”
songs were actually written by
McKinley Morganfield, which
later you learned was Muddy’s
real name. Finding those morsels
about a musician or band in the
small print was the best part,
and made you feel like you
“knew” them. On Laurie
Geltman’s “No Power Steering”
album, she thanked a bunch of
first-name-only folks, Dr. Altoids,
the Geltmans, and “anyone else
who’s given us a place to crash
or picked us up on the side of
the road.” OK, it’s not vital
information, but it does give you
a sense of her personality.
With CDs, you could still find
that information, albeit in even
smaller print. It was not nearly
as intimate to sit down with a 5inch square booklet to check out
the band photos, and at times it
took a magnifying glass to read
lyrics and other information. But
at least the information was still
Now comes downloadable
music, and the end of music
As many of you know, I’m a
huge fan of downloading music.
I do it all the time and love the
convenience, the cost savings,
and even the online searches for
nuggets not available on albums
or lesser known bands and musicians.
But despite that joy, there still
lingers a sadness from losing
some of the intrigue I got from
spending time with the liner
Jazz, I believe, may be hurt
the most from this loss. Because
jazz musicians tend to play with
many different pairings rather
than stay with one band. Unlike
in rock, it is much harder to
keep track of who is playing on
what album. Joshua Redman’s
“Wish” album features Pat
Metheny, Charlie Haden, and
Billy Higgins. I know that
because the album cover tells me
so. The iTunes version of the
album does not mention the supporting players. If I had bought
Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” by
download, I may never have
known that John Coltrane played
on the album. When I borrowed
the original album from the
library, I remember pouring over
Michael Marashian, a vintage poster dealer and former co-owner of Festoons and
Underground Records in Harvard Square, Cambridge, offers up his favorite liner notes.
“I Want Candy,” Strangeloves. This collection of
mid-’60s Bo Diddley ripoffs
and inspiration for BowWowWow’s cover of the title track
has tongue firmly in cheek.
Three American songwriter/producer types
(Feldman, Goldstein and Gottehrer … sounds
like a law firm!), who worked with the McCoys
and a lot of others, jumped into the studio and
became the Strangeloves.
The notes: “All of England was shaking their
derrieres to the Afro-English beat of the three
sons of Mr. and Mrs. Wilmot Strange of
Armstrong, Australia.” There is talk of crossbreeding sheep on their farm and African
drumming, etc., stuff for the teenage readers to
actually believe.
brought a “human” element to the flip-city
takes on world history. The Elektra reissue
has wonderful notes by Charles Tacot, and gives
the master his due.
“The Best of Lord
Buckley,” Lord Buckley.
The Royal Holiness of the
Far Out, eons before his time,
known to the hip of the ’50s
for his linguistic gymnastics,
is an inspiration to me. Since most of his original output of 10” records were long out of
print, his rebirth in the mid to late ’60s was
helped with reissues on World Pacific, Elektra
and Straight (thanks, Mr. Z).
The notes: All of these have wonderful notes
lovingly written by family or friends who knew
his highness personally, and who touchingly
“Gravest Hits,” The
Cramps. This EP from
Illegal Records, recorded in
’77 is the world’s first look
into this wonderful band.
With the liner notes from a
Dr. J.H. Sasfy, Professor of Rockology at the
American Rock and Roll Institute, who could
resist buying this vinyl.
The notes: “...The Cramps began to fester in a
NYC apartment.” Talk of sci-fi reruns and
southern culture falling apart, and crossing
Elvis with Vincent Price. ... Priceless!! “They
ooze, and you’ll throb.” For anyone who ever
the sleeve notes to see who else
played on it. That information
today is readily available on the
Internet, and I’m sure some
eager music fans will take the
time to research it, but I worry
that the average kid listening to
the album for the first time
would not take the time to find
out such details.
There is some hope on the
horizon though. A company
called TuneBooks has begun to
produce “digital liner notes” for
certain albums sold on iTunes.
According to its website
(, “TuneBooks combines traditional visual elements — liner notes, cover
art and band collateral — with
custom-designed interactive art
and media to create a new visual
experience.” The company produced such materials for the
Click Five, the Darkness and
While it will never take the
place of the visceral experience
of sitting alone, headphones on,
“The Rolling Stones Now!,”
Rolling Stones. The third
Stones LP released in ’64
saw Andrew Loog Oldham
(Stones manager and publicity agent extraordinaire)
doing his best Clockwork Orange take on the
notes for this LP, written as if from a fan.
The notes: The Stones music is “Berry-chuck
and all the Chicago hippies. … Please autograph this leg I send you ’cause, man, that’s the
sign of a real fan!’ Great photography by the
famous David Bailey as well.
saw the band after that, life would never be the
same, and you’d realize that Dr. Sasfy was right
on all counts.
“Buffalo Springfield
Again,” Buffalo Springfield,
and “Freak Out,” The
Mothers of Invention. (tie,
because of their similarity)
Both LPs, the former from
’67 and the latter from ’66,
have individual song info, who
played what – somewhat normal on the Springfield LP
where the Mothers just ran
off the edge of the flat world
with their song “descriptions.” With titles such
as “Who Are the Brain Police?” and “Wowie
Zowie,” the possibilities were endless for the
The notes: The Springfield album is such a
wonderful LP, and to complete the aural and
visual togetherness, they have an extensive list
of “friends, enemies and people we don’t know
from Adam for their influence and inspiration.”
And the Mothers: “These people have contributed materially in many ways to make our
music what it is. Please do not hold it against
them” Also a great quote from a noted LA DJ
saying, “I’d like to clean you boys up a bit and
mold you. I believe I could make you as big as
the Turtles.”
TuneBooks: The future of liner notes?
With liner notes nearly extinct, there is some hope. A
small New York company called TuneBooks hopes not
only to bring back album credits and song lyrics, but
to, according to TuneBooks co-founder Josh Koppel,
“make the listening experience more fun,” offering
interactive audio and visual options for iPod users.
TuneBooks, in its first year, has produced digital
liner notes for the Click Five, The Darkness, and
Prodigy, which are available when you purchase the
albums on iTunes. The company has recently signed a
deal to produce 50 more such “booklets” for Rhino
Records artists.
Once downloaded from iTunes, the booklet can be
opened on your computer desktop and offers photos,
lyrics and other pertinent credit material.
Koppel believes in the near future his company’s liner notes will include features such as band
photo collages, moving pictures, enhanced lyrics and liner notes read in bandmembers’ voices,
and other “psychedelic” cool stuff. A prototype of a Talking Heads album included a fun, interactive, dancing David Byrne (inset).
Now the big question: Do you think the average listener still cares about liner notes?
“Packaging is important,” says Koppel.“I think people really do want that stuff.”
scouring the inner depths of an
album jacket for clues to your
favorite band, I am hopeful that
liner notes will not disappear
forever. And when the next
youngster is turned on to the
Beatles’ “When My Guitar
Gently Weeps,” they will read
somewhere on its liner notes
(digital or otherwise) that helping out on guitar was none other
than Eric Clapton.
No doubt Sarah Harmer, Jenny Lewis,
Sally Ellyson of Hem, and Neko Case can sing.
But on their new albums their voices stand out
in a way they haven’t in the past
Jenny Lewis
With the Watson Twins
“Rabbit Fur Coat”
Sarah Harmer
“I’m a Mountain”
Sarah Harmer could
have been the darling of
FM radio had she followed
up her last album – 2004’s
“All of our Names,’’ which
contained the hit song
“Almost” – with another
pop release. Instead, she
decided to take a seat on
the back porch and mull
over a batch of wonderful,
sincere country and bluegrass inflected folk music
that almost defies commerical success. Sarah’s voice
perfectly fills these songs,
which are backed by mandolin and accordion. My
favorites include “Oleander,” a sunny afternoon
tune, and the Dolly Parton
cover “Will He Be Waiting
for Me?’’ And “Goin’ Out”
is a song written about an
AIDs vigil, with backup
vocal assistance from her
dad. The standout is
“Escarpment Blues,’’
which she wrote about her
homeland. It is a passionate plea to save the
Niagara Escarpment
in her native Canada.
She sings: “We’ll need
to build some new
apartments / And I
know we’re gonna
have to fix the roads/
But if we blow a hole
in the escarpment /
The wild ones won’t
have anywhere to go.’’
I’m not a big fan of Rilo
Kiley; they just don’t do it
for me. But Jenny Lewis’
solo album is tremendous.
Another female artist
embracing country roots.
The album opens with
three-part harmony of “Run
Devil Run,’’ which clues you
immediately that this is not
your usual “side project”
for the lead singer of a
band. Many of the songs
tackle personal subjects
such as love, religion. But
instead of simply asking
questions, Jenny tackles
them with grace and power.
She begins the resiliant
“Rise Up With Fists!!’’ with
“What are you changing?
/Who do you think you're
changing?/ You can't change
things, we're all stuck in
our ways.” “Charging Sky’’
is filled with delicious slide
guitar and backing vocals
as Jenny grapples with religion and God. Finally,
there’s a fun cover of the
Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle
With Care,’’ featuring
Jenny, M. Ward, Ben
Gibbard of Death Cab for
Cutie and Conor Oberst.
“No Word
From Tom”
Let’s just get this out of
the way: Sally Ellyson could
sing the phone book and it
would sound great.
Normally an album of “outtakes, covers, demos, live
recordings and rarities” usually is reserved for bands
over the hill, are packed
with filler and are not very
good. Younger bands usually
don’t have enough material
to pull it off. But “No Word
From Tom’’ is an exception.
The covers, including “Rainy
Night in Georgia,’’ Fountain
of Wayne’s “Radiation
Vibe,’’ and R.E.M.’s “South
Central Rain” fit nicely into
Hem’s quietly exquisite
style. Sally’s voice is sumptuous on “Rainy Night” and
“Betting on Trains,’’ and the
band, which often plays second fiddle to Sally in the
press, fills this set to perfection, adding elegant swashes
of guitar and piano. Also
check out the old-timey live
version of “The Tennessee
Waltz.’’ One caution: It’s
best to take this album in
portions, as it tends to be a
little sleepy listened to in
large chunks.
Neko Case
“Fox Confessor
Brings the Flood”
When I first listened to
“The Tigers Have Spoken,’’
Neko’s live album and my
first exposure to her music,
I was not blown away. The
critics fawned over it and
she has become quite a
media darling. This is no
way her fault, just fact.
With “Fox,” my first reaction was similar. But on successive listens the album is
growing on me. Her voice is
country without being
twangy; her lyrics tell mysterious stories. My favorite
track is “Star Witness,”
which includes wonderful
imagery of what appears to
be a car accident without
giving away any cogent
details: “Trees break the
sidewalk/ and the sidewalk
skins my knees/ there’s
glass in my thermos/ and
blood on my jeans...” She
often backs her songs in
minor-key splendor from
electric guitars and keyboards. She even updates a
traditional spiritual,
“John Saw That
Number.” It opens in
true gospel form, then
with a few drum
beats, it becomes a
rollicking country
number, only to
return to its original
roots at the end.
A nice touch.
The ‘Fabulous Tour’
As many know, my brother Sam is a member of Josh Ritter’s band, which recently played a series of shows in Ireland, where the band is
immensely popular. It was on this occasion that my parents, my wife Sue, and Sam’s girlfriend Ari, and I journeyed for a weekend concert at the
historic Christ Church in Dublin. We dubbed our trip the “Fabulous Tour,” a four-day whirlwind of airplanes, jet lag, a concert, an afterparty, a
wonderful dinner, and the chance to meet some really nice people. Sightseeing? No. A few pints of Guinness? Oh yes! Here are some highlights:
It was an hour and into
Josh’s meet-and–greet
with the “punters” at the
afterparty at Vicar Street
and he was still working
the crowd. In his usual
wonderful style, Josh was
determined to hug, sign
autographs and talk to
every one of his fans in
the very long line of concertgoers. The band’s
family members, who had
flown in to catch the
show at Christ Church
earlier that evening, were
talking amongst themselves and with fans in
one corner of the bar,
while Josh was doing his
thing. I went to get Sue a
pint, but when I returned
she was gone…
Our trip actually began
Thursday night, but we
arrived in Dublin Friday
morning, jet lagged and
sleepy. After a quick rest,
we gathered in the hotel
lobby where a car was sent
to take us to the show. In
the lobby, we were joined by
Josh’s parents and bass
player Zack Hickman’s
mom. We hadn’t met them
before, but within moments
were totally at ease and felt
amazingly part of a bigger
“Good Man” is a rollicking
blast, “Thin Blue Flame” is
eerie and awesome amid
the historic surroundings,
and “Lillian” becomes electric with Zack playing some
wailing guitar. Josh plays
“Wings” in total darkness.
The crowd listens in rapt
silence. Spectacular. The
show ends with “Leaving,”
as Josh does a lap around
the audience, and offers a
thank you to the band’s
moms for making the trip.
The house lights come up,
and it’s off to the afterparty.
family than the one we left
Boston with. It was on to
the show.
Now an hour and a half
into the hugging session,
and Josh is still going
strong. My arm is getting
tired from holding Sue’s
still-unclaimed beer in
one hand. I wonder where
she disappeared to. It
becomes clear: She had
joined the masses in line
to get herself a hug…
We arrived at Christ
Church and marveled at its
historic beauty from the
outside. But it was the
inside — the divine architecture filled with chunky
columns, overhanging
Gothic arches, and stained
glass – that left its mark.
Before the show started,
the band’s amiable tour
manager Paddy McPoland
signaled me to join him for
a brief tour of the facilities,
which included (in
order) a chat with
show opener Corb
Lund and his guitarist
Grant, truly good guys;
an introduction to
the church’s priest,
another good guy!;
and finally the preshowstopper, a wall
“exhibit” honoring a
mummified cat and rat
that were found in the
church’s organ pipe in
the 1860s.
Closing in on two
hours now, and Josh
is still knee-deep in
fans. Paddy, trying to
put an end to the
seemingly endless
proceedings, spots
Sue in line and tells
her she doesn’t have
to wait and can
move to the front of the
line. Sue rejects the idea;
she’s enjoying her time
talking with the fans.
“It’s all about getting the
hug” it is determined…
Finally, the show
begins. The lights go down,
the mist machine starts
pumping. A light show, like
we’ve never seen for the
band in the US, begins. In a
misty shaft of a red glow,
Josh opens up solo, singing
“Idaho.” An honor to his
parents in the audience?
The band then joins him as
they deliver stellar, often
mesmerizing, versions of
songs from the new album.
Sue returns, a big smile
on her face, and shows
off her autograph from
Josh:“Sue, ooh la la.
Love, Josh Ritter.”
Upstairs in a private
room set aside for our
group, we spend the last
hour talking to band and
crew. I chat with Corb
Lund about his homeland
Canada, and, of course,
hockey. Sue talks
with Garrett the
lighting guy about
the intricacies of
putting on a show
in a cathedral. I
finally get my
Josh hug. At
3 a.m., the night
is complete.
And so is the
trip. While we do
have one more day in
Dublin, we spend much of it
sleeping, trying to overcome
lack of sleep and jet lag.
That night we have dinner
with our new “family.” And
I get a special birthday
treat: a tour poster signed
by the band. Dave Hingerty,
the quiet drummer, offers
the best of all greetings:
“Rich, Hope you enjoy the
Emerald Isle and all the
shenanigans. Dave H.”