Archives For February 2012

It’s an interesting paradox when you feel like you’ve been a fan of a band since their inception. When they finally get their big break and make it into the “mainstream”, do you remain an adamant fan or jump ship, wishing to go back to the “good ole days” where you felt like knowledge of the band was a shared secret amongst a select few people. Maybe it’s just me, but when those bands come into their own and get the recognition they are so deserving of, I imagine it’s like the feeling a dad has when their kid rides away on down the sidewalk on their bicycle for the first time without their training wheels on. It’s one of those rites of passage in life that I imagine are ingrained in the minds of a countless number of people.

This past Thursday night I had that kind of engrossing experience when I witnessed Needtobreathe’s first of two nights playing at Nashville’s famed “Mother Church”, the Ryman Auditorium, in what can only be described as what rock and roll was meant to be. Displaying some of the strongest musical chops to grace the newly refurbished stage, the boys from Possum Kingdom, South Carolina, left every member of the packed-into-pews audience spellbound, seamlessly moving from heart-pounding, foot-stomping rock and roll to hear-the-pin-drop-quiet ballads.

The night’s opener, Ben Rector, probably deserves a post all his own after captivating the audience as the opener, with his up tempo brand of piano-driven pop rock. It’s been said that going to the Ryman for a show can be a worship experience all its own, and with Rector as the worship leader for the evening, you might as well have been in a church in the Deep South, swaying to-and-fro, hands clapping and toes tapping along to every ebb and flow of the music. There may or may not have been hands raised from some of the more charismatic of the night’s patrons. Rector along with his backing band mixed in some of his best songs from his two albums, but probably brought the most joy to the audience with his superbly original take on Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”. The video he recorded of the song was actually made back in January, prior to the queen of soul’s untimely death, and his version at the Ryman could not have seemed any more apropos.

So much could be said about any one of Needtobreathe’s songs on that uncommonly warm February night, and every song seemed like a highlight in and of itself. Their opening rendition of “Oohs and Aahs” could not have been any stronger, with the typewriter lighting in the background spelling out “The Reckoning”. My comment to my friend Josh who was at the concert helping run lighting for the band was “now THAT is how you start a rock concert!”

Perhaps the highlight of the night was Needtobreathe bringing out a string quartet and playing an all acoustic version of “More Time” midway through their set. It was another wrinkle to the live repetoire that they have developed over the last eight years, and for the fans who had been with them since the very beginning, it was a poignant tribute to the band’s past and a signal of just how far they have come in a short period of time.

Discussing the February 23 show would be incomplete without mentioning the near-perfect encore of the 1-2-3 punch of “Something Beautiful”, “The Reckoning” and “Slumber”. The crowd favorite “Something Beautiful” brought any late adopters to their feet before the band put forth  a convincingly gritty rendition of “The Reckoning”. Transitioning from that to “Slumber” showcased both Needtobreathe’s range and their famous propensity for bringing crowds to a hushed silence at the end of a show, as they unplugged their instruments and all gathered at the front of the teakwood stage to put their stamp on what was the best show of theirs I have seen out of the 15 or so I have seen in the past.

By the time they reached the climactic conclusion of “I wanna sing like we used to / I wanna dance like we want to / Come on darlin’ open up your eyes” the crowd had responded in kind, with eyes open wide to the wonder of the way live music can transform you. And in a lot of ways, Needtobreathe had undergone the same transformation that night, going from the boys they had been playing at fraternity parties throughout the Southeast to men with a commanding presence on one of music’s grandest stages.

Turn My Swag On

LarryKloess —  February 17, 2012 — Leave a comment

One of my favorite musical discoveries of late 2009/early 2010 was the fantastic Irish troubadour James Vincent McMorrow. A few short notes into “If I Had a Boat” and I was hooked with his unique falsetto that was somewhat reminiscent of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. I still remember opening up the package shipped to me from Ireland like an expectant child on Christmas morning, overjoyed to dive headfirst into the album once I laid the ornate packaging to the side. Pretty sure that album became the soundtrack of an entire season of my life.

So despite being an early adopter of sorts with JVM’s music, I had never heard his cover of this song made famous by Willow Smith. It’s a true manifestation of the phrase “being able to sing the phone book.” I think this is proof that ole James could sing just about anything and his audience would be transfixed.

And this version from Jimmy Fallon as Neil Young and The Boss is equally fantastic:

My good friend, Jonathan Snyder, of the soon-to-be-famous bow tie company Brier & Moss, asked me recently if I ever write about the classics on the blog, or if it’s just “new” music all the time. My initial thought process went back to the jazz greats of Miles, Coltrane, Monk and the Duke then gravitated to the soundtrack of my childhood playing billiards with my dad: Zeppelin, The Who, CSN(Y), and some John Hiatt sprinkled in for good measure. More than anything, the short conversation brought on a wave of nostalgia for those times gone by where those classic songs were present in my life. At the same time, it made me reflect on where I’m at now and how far that journey seems to be some days and the songs that have guided me along the way.

One of those songs that I feel a longing toward like a long-lost friend is The Avett Brothers‘ beautiful love letter to their family, “Murder in the City.” I hope I speak for everybody when I say that the brothers Avett can fashion one heck of a song through lyrics that seem pulled straight from a Faulkner novel, at once having a gorgeousness and a near Gothic quality to them.

Each time I hear the words two and a half minutes in of “always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name” I feel a sense of joy over my own family. I am sure I am far from the only person who has experienced the chilling effect those words can have on you when they come sauntering in through your speakers, sneaking in like a ghost before wrapping you up like a warm blanket.

There is such a strength in family, in that sharing of a name. I think what this song teaches me the most now, years and easily a hundred or two plays after I first heard it, is the incredible joy of growing into adulthood with your family around, and the way our relationships with our parents and our siblings and our extended families change and evolve and come out more fully formed as you settle into your groove in life. The Avetts’ words remain truer each time they are recalled to mind, trusting full well that there is no earthly love like the one you give to and receive from your family.

And on a less sentimental note, a show of hands of all of those who are dying to catch wind of any news of an upcoming album release from these guys? Seriously, it’s time, fellahs. The world is waiting to be blessed once again by these wordsmiths.

We all have those songs that get stuck in our heads that we just cannot seem to release ourselves from the stranglehold of. In the same respect, we tend to have songs that get thrown into a category known simply as our “guilty pleasures”. Just in time for St. Valentine’s Day is a song that fits both criteria by the magnificent Jenny Owen Youngs with the song “Your Apartment” off her recently released An Unwavering Band of Light.

So why is this song worthy of being put into your mixtape for your significant other? First, because it is about the catchiest song to come out this year so far. And secondly, because it nearly perfectly encapsulates the feelings we all have when we are finding the delicate balance in a relationship where we aren’t sure exactly how the other person feels about us and we know full well of the feelings we have toward them. I mean, with the lyrics “why is it so hard to stay in love?/I just want to be good enough for you” it’s easy to find ourselves in that exact situation, left with the feeling that somehow this other person is going to complete us. And how about this doozy of an opening verse:

Take me back to your apartment so I’ll see if I’m correct 
About where you keep your heart, love, cause I’m starting to suspect 
That it’s chained up in your basement inside an oaken chest 
That’s padlocked up to heaven to keep out what comes next

There is such a pleading in Youngs’ lyrics that the listener is left desiring the same thing she is if they don’t already have that relationship in their life. It’s an aching, really, putting your heart on the line just hoping the other person responds in kind. On this Valentine’s Day, I hope each of you finds that love to be of the requited variety. It’s a special day for many and a nauseating one for others, but all in all it’s an excellent reminder to love the people in our lives deeply. “Your Apartment” is no exception as it celebrates that yearning for another so very eloquently.

Jenny Owen Youngs plays in Nashville at The Rutledge on Monday, March 12. If you want to see a woman put on one heck of a rock show, I recommend being there with bells on.

This past week has been a busy one with an ongoing job search and working on setting up house shows for the spring, so it was a natural time for writer’s block to set in in a major way. I had ideas of what I wanted to write and I hit a brick wall with every turn of a phrase. There are plenty of artists I want to talk about and let you all know of, but nothing was clicking.

Then nights like tonight happen, and the muse comes from the most unlikely of places for someone who professes to champion artists that are flying just a little below the radar, that have nothing to do with what is mainstream at the moment. And that “muse” came in the form of a friend of mine, Phillip “Pip” Arnold on the hit NBC show, “The Voice.”

Now I’m not a huge fan of singing competitions on network television and I usually just tune into shows like American Idol to see the early rounds for the cheap laughs and entertainment, but when I heard Pip was going to be on The Voice, I was hooked, DVR set and everything. And boy, oh boy, did he not disappoint on tonight’s episode.

Taking a step back and getting to the crux of why I’m writing this in the first place, let me give you a little history of our connection. About a year after graduating from Samford University, I moved back to Birmingham to take a job as an admission counselor for the greater Atlanta area. Somewhere along the line, I met Phillip and his wonderful parents, Jim and Chris, during his junior year. Going into my second year of recruiting, the Arnold family asked me to stay with them while recruiting in Atlanta, as they had heard I typically decided against staying in hotels and preferred spending more time with families in the area. Immersion recruiting I think a mentor of mine called it. Who knows, but it was really just an opportunity to pour my life into these Atlanta people’s lives. During the week or two I lived with the Arnolds, I had the unfortunate illness known as the “swine flu” and was rushed to the doctor by none other than Mrs. Arnold. It was an adventure to say the least, and I was glad to be staying with folks that took great care of me.

Long story short, Pip grew up in a musically inclined family, with a dad who was a radio DJ for many years and who had quite the collection of music in their basement. Pip had a gift for singing and for entertaining, that much was evident in YouTube videos (see below) that his mom would show me as any proud mother would do. But it was different when she showed me those videos: she knew there was something special about his talents.

When it came time to make a decision on college, it was evaluating a practical path that lead to a high income (pharmacy) or following a passion for music. Daily I heard about the struggle to make a decision of which path to follow when I talked to them over the phone, with Pip eventually deciding to pursue pharmacy, but you could always tell there was something about music that he couldn’t quite let go of. Obviously it turned out that Pip followed his passion and his dreams and chose music over pharmacy, and that is the reason for this whole post: I want YOU to pursue your passions in life. We NEED people to pursue their passions in life and stop doing just what seems practical or likely to help them land a decent paying job.

It was an absolute joy to watch Pip on The Voice tonight, and see him live out his passion on stage and see his dreams fulfilled as ALL FOUR judges turned their chairs around hoping that he would choose them to work with. I mean, seriously, can you imagine being in a situation any better than having four stars of that caliber battling for the right to groom you into an artist? Wow!

I say all this not to make light of “practical” professions, because we absolutely need people who are passionate about their jobs in those industries, but to encourage you all to aim high in what you hope to accomplish and pursue your dreams with as much tenacity and strength that you can muster, because I guarantee you it will be worth it and that the journey that you go on will grow you immensely. As I write this I’m reminded of John Eldredge’s quote that says “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive because what the world needs are [people] who have come alive.”

So Pip, thank you for reminding me and reminding so many others, that there are things in each of us, purposes and passions, just waiting to come alive that will allow us to change the world. Hope you win the whole dang competition!