This past Sunday, while a stream of soft, late-morning light was tumbling through the living room window I’d left open overnight, I awoke on the couch, sat up (sort of) and snapped the above photograph. It is as much an illustration of how not to treat your records as it is a testament to how much fun the previous day — Record Store Day — had been.
I’d planned on writing a preview post on Friday but got distracted by and thoroughly wrapped up in Boston manhunt coverage, deciding ultimately that a blog post about which limited-run records I was hoping to get my hands on would seem incredibly trivial next to the day’s headlines. Instead, with Dzhokar Tsarnaev safely in custody and that boat somehow — miraculously, I think — not in a million pieces, I’d like to roll out my Record Store Day highlights through a series of open letters. I’m not sure how many there will be, but I do know where I want to start: with the kind folks who joined Bandmate 4eva Doug and me in lining up outside BK Music early Saturday morning.
A sizable percentage of you are probably groaning, closing this tab of your browser and saying something like, “Ugh, I can’t stand hearing about those self-congratulating millionaires and the mass-marketed, radio-friendly, auto-tuned crap they give each other awards for making.” Maybe a few of you even added air quotes when you said “making” to drive the point home. Would have been a nice touch.
As much as I enjoy and care about the Grammys, I can’t blame people for detecting, and reacting to, a degree of fakeness. Sunday’s broadcast certainly had its share of artifice, with a Maroon 5/Alicia Keys duet that perfectly embodied pop music’s insider culture and a Bob Marley tribute that hit so far off the mark it seemed genuinely bizarre. (Speaking of which, I made a note a little while ago to write a post about how Bruno Mars might not be human. He’s too good. His voice, stage presence and skin are all unreasonably perfect, and he has this general aura of unreality about him. I’m starting to think that birthers have been rooting around for the wrong Hawaii birth certificate…)
But here’s the thing. There are real people at the Grammys, too. Actual human beings who buy garlic and orange juice at the grocery store and make music that finds success on its own terms. I thought I’d use today’s post to tell you about one of those people, someone whose appearance on the TV screen during Sunday’s ceremony made me cheer out loud as reflexively as I would have if someone had told me that Chris Brown was stuck in an airport somewhere and wouldn’t be available for reaction shots. That someone is Bryn Davies.
“I would rather watch somebody actually going through something.”
Her words jumped off the ‘Pad (See? Just doesn’t have the same ring to it…) for a very specific reason — they immediately made think of Justin Townes Earle. May 22’s fantastic installment in the Groovin’ in the Garden concert series at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden was my fourth time seeing Earle perform, and a common source of amazement I’ve found in each of these experiences is the substantive nature of the connection he forms with the audience.
I have a confession to make. Promise you won’t be mad if I tell you? Pinkie swear? OK, here goes… I’ve been holding out on you. I’ve been to some amazing concerts — 3, to be exact — that I’ve yet to tell you about. Uh oh, you look furious. C’mon, you said you wouldn’t be ma… oh, you just have to sneeze? Gesundheit!
To fix this grave injustice, I’m declaring a Concert Catch-Up Week. Over the next 5 days week or so, I’ll be offering quick recaps of the wonders these eyes have beheld in the last few weeks, starting with Todd Snider — the second of two acts that opened up for Justin Townes Earle on May 22 at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, VA. With all due respect to Jeff Tweedy, whose cantankerous-cuddly routine made his show at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville a few years back one of the best and funniest shows I’ve ever seen, Snider’s set was fucking hysterical.
Miracles happen, you guys. Wanna know how I know? OK, besides Tim Tebow. I know they happen because it’s January 11, and I’m still rockin’ and rollin’ with my third New Year’s Reso-tune-tion! In case you missed it, as part of my resolution to start keeping better track of concert and album release dates, I created a special Google Calendar — the YHT Pumped Up Calendar — and made it public so all the interweb could join in on the fun (and… um… keep me honest). Click here to check it out — you’ll see that it’s been filling up with tons of great stuff (the upcoming Reptar and Rodrigo y Gabriela concerts in Charlottesville are two highlights), but yesterday I added what very well may be the most important calendar entry yet: the March 27 release of Justin Townes Earle’s new full-length, Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now. I was reminded to add it because Rolling Stone just posted an exclusive download of the album’s title track. I’ve been hearing amazing things about the album from the lucky ducks who managed to score an advance copy (my jealousy of these folks knows no bounds), so getting to download this track is an unexpected thrill, and it confirmed some of the best rumors about the nature of the album. For instance, rumor has it that Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now goes in a Memphis soul direction, which suits me just fine, with plenty of horns, which suits me just super-fine. And yes, I did spend extra time on that last sentence to keep the phrase “rumor has it” intact so I could link to the Adele song. My bizarre obsession with that song also knows no bounds. What were we talking about? Oh yeah — listen to “Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now” below and click here to download the track over at Rolling Stone.
Whether they’re cover songs or tracks that have been scooped up off an album’s cutting-room floor, B-sides are a great way to get to know your favorite bands even better. And you don’t have to be a vinyl collector to get in on the fun! Look, I’ll prove it to you! My current bout with B-side fever started on May 23, when Justin Townes Earle released the digital Christchurch Woman single. Its B-side is a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Racing in the Streets,” a tune JTE played as the closer of his recent show at the Camel in Richmond. The cover first appeared on a limited-edition Record Store Day 7″, and since I didn’t manage to get my hands on a copy, I was elated when I learned it was available on iTunes. I have to confess, I’m a HUGE fan of Springsteencovers. I didn’t grow up listening to the Boss, and have never been able to jump into his catalog with both feet. For whatever reason, I need to hear his songs through the prism of another band’s style for the original versions to come into focus. In exactly this way, JTE’s version of “Racing in the Streets” has given me another Springsteen song to love. The recording is sparse, just vocals and acoustic guitar, but JTE’s mastery of dynamics is what makes the cover really shine. Have a listen below, and run to iTunes to download the two-song single. And if you don’t already own it, for the love of all that’s holy, get his most recent album Harlem River Blues. Srsly.
My friend Giselle and I like to argue about who told who about Justin Townes Earle (you’d think we’re both claiming to have told the other, but it’s the opposite … weird, eh?). I DO know the first time I saw him live, he opened for Old Crow Medicine Show, and he made a hell of a first impression. It’s a few years later, and I listen to his music nearly every day. I saw him at the Camel this past Friday, and he was outstanding as usual. He’s the consummate performer – tells stories, sings with raw emotion, and he occasionally slows his songs down live, which has a deeply haunting effect. Here’s a slow, contemplative, soulful performance of “Midnight at the Movies” from his album of the same name.