Monday, January 23, 2012

Concert Review: Robert Earl Keen, The Deep Dark Woods -- January 22, 2012, Royale Nightclub, Boston, Massachusetts

A true pioneer of the Red Dirt music scene brought his winter tour to the Northeast this past weekend, with stops in New York City and Boston.  I had the great fortune to attend the Boston show last night at the Royale Nightclub just a short walk from Boston Common.  The Royale is a beautiful club with excellent acoutics, I highly recommend catching a show there when the opportunity presents itself. 

Robert Earl Keen has been travelling the roads of America for decades and is one of the forefathers of Texas Red Dirt music.  On the road to support his latest release "Ready for Confetti", Robert Earl Keen delivered the stellar performance that you would expect from the veteran singer-songwriter.  Opening with the catchy "Whodoo Man", it was clear Robert Earl came to Boston to have a party with the hundreds in attendance.  And the audience obliged, chanting the familiar "REK! REK!" refrain that is common at Keen's shows.  Moving comfortably from the blues-tinged opening number to the soulful, laidback "Feelin' Good Again", to the humourous "Merry Christmas From The Family", Robert Earl showed why he has been, and continues to be, a relevant factor in music for well over 30 years. 

One of my favorite performances of the evening was the title track of Robert Earl's previous album, "The Rose Hotel."   I always appreciate when artists allow their backup band to shine on their own for an extended run on a song, and such was the case with "The Rose Hotel" as well as a great tune I was not familiar with, "Corpus Christ Bay."  Performances such as these are the reason that I've been tuned in to the Red Dirt music scene.  Just pure, rockin' soul and country that you can rarely hear anywhere other than at a live show on a Sunday night in Boston, or any day of the week in Texas. 

Bringing the show to it's much anticipated peak, Robert Earl and the boys did another extended take on what may be his best known tune "The Road Goes on Forever", which has been covered many times over, perhaps best by Billy Joe Shaver.  Like many of us out there, Robert Earl commented on the current state of mainstream country music with "This Old Porch", a tune co-written with fellow Texas singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett.  Robert Earl closed off his excellent set with "Comin' Home to You", and encored with "Shades of Amarillo."   After hearing much about Robert Earl Keen over the years, it was great to finally catch one of his shows.  It's not hard to see why he is regarded as a legend in Texas and the influece he has had on that music scene.  Without Robert Earl, it's hard to imagine groups like Cross Canadian Ragweed, Reckless Kelly or No Justice come to being ... or at the very least, having the sound that they have.  He is a true original and should gain your attention when playing in your town.  I promise you will find many, hardcore Robert Earl Keen fans at the show.

Speaking of true originals, opening act The Deep Dark Woods are an excellent band based out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada that is beginning to make their rounds in the United States.  One might ask why a Texas legend would bring a fairly new Canadian band out on the road with him as the show opener.  One would get their answer when they see and hear The Deep Dark Woods.  This is my second opportunity to catch a performance of The Deep Dark Woods, but my first time catching a more fulsome performance.  I attended their showcase segment at the Americana Music Conference and Festival in Nashville last October where they were the rave of the week.  With a voice that sounds much older than the gentleman possessing that voice, lead vocalist Ryan Boldt and the band introduced themselves to the Boston audience.  I can assure you, the Boston audience will not forget The Deep Dark Woods. 

Serving as the opener for Keen is a great opportunity for this young group from Canada.  Touring to support their US debut album, The Place I Left Behind, the boys opened up with the initial track on the album, "Westside Street."  It was great to watch the crowd, many of whom I'm sure had not heard of The Deep Dark Woods before, turn toward the stage eyes wide and ears open and move closer to get a glimpse of the band they were hearing for the first time.  With each passing tune, the cheering and applause got louder.  The tight performances and songwriting on such tunes as "The Banks of the Leopold Canal" and "Back Alley Blues" quite clearly won a whole room full of fans, many of whom walked immediately to the concession table to find their copy of The Place I Left Behind and other earlier works of the band. 

The Deep Dark Woods have a very unique sound that served as the perfect compliment to Robert Earl Keen's set.  I had the great fortune to meet with the guys for a few minutes as I was leaving the club and I'm proud to say they are very pleasant, humble and friendly.  True Canadian boys, indeed.  The Deep Dark Woods are:  Ryan Boldt on vocals and guitar; Burke Barlow on acoustic, electric and steel guitar; Geoff Hilhorst on keys; Chris Mason on vocals and bass; and Lucas Goetz on vocals, percussion and pedal steel.  I list them by name here today because I believe this is the beginning for The Deep Dark Woods and you should get to know them.  The next time this group comes to Boston, it will be as well-deserved headliners.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Killing Time in Boston

Good Saturday night everyone!

It's a Saturday night in Boston, Massachussetts, and what else could I be doing but sitting in my hotel room and posting a quick blog piece.  It's not a problem really, it's too damn cold to be going outside tonight anyway!  I hear spring will be back tomorrow afternoon sometime, so I'm not too worried about it.

Anyway, what brings me to Boston is a show that I'm looking forward to seeing tomorrow night at the Royale Nightclub (on Tremont Street, if anyone reading this happens to be in the area).  Texas music legend Robert Earl Keen is making his way to Beantown, along with a group that I wrote about following my trip to Nashville, The Deep Dark Woods.  Both are touring in support of their respective new albums that have recently been released.  Robert Earl's latest is "Ready for Confetti", while The Deep Dark Woods have released "The Place I Left Behind" to much critical acclaim. 

It's a curious mix for these artists to perform on the same show, as their styles appear to be quite different.  Having said that, I think that's going to be a good thing.  Touring with Robert Earl Keen is a great opportunity for The Deep Dark Woods, as they are being introduced to an already large fan base that exists for Keen.  I can promise you, the fans of Robert Earl Keen will leave that show fans of The Deep Dark Woods.  These boys are good and if you're in Boston and looking for something to do on a Sunday night after the Patriots have a go at the Baltimore Ravens, slide on over to the Royale Nightclub for some outstanding Texas and Americana music. 

Of course, if you can't make it to the show, you can catch the write-up here on Monday. 

Have a good night everyone!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Questions and Controversy: Can't We All Just Get Along?

I was all set to write this next piece to set up my upcoming trip to Boston this weekend to attend and review the show with Texas legend Robert Earl Keen and Saskatchewan's own, The Deep Dark Woods.  However, as is wont to happen every once in a while, a story pops up that is far too interesting to pass up.  And what's a story without a little conflict.  It's especially interesting for me, as I am a big fan of the two artists at the center of the conflict.  

In addition to being a member of the Americana Music Association, I am also a member of the great roots/alt-country/Americana website No Depression.  This is truly a great web site made up of writers of all stripes and is the off-shoot of the No Depression publication that has since ceased.  One of the bloggers, Autopsy IV, submitted a piece which speaks to a recent Twitter post by Jason Isbell which levels a fairly serious accusation of song theft at Dierks Bentley regarding Dierks' recent hit "Home."  There is a strong feeling in the blog world that "Home" is far to similar to Isbell's song "In a Razor Town" that it can't help but be ripped off.  Bentley's responding comments on Twitter weren't what I would call strong, unequivocal denials, but I do get that Bentley could have been angry and speaking out of emotion without speaking clearly.  

Having listened to both songs a few times, I don't really know what to say.  Depending on circumstances and strength of evidence, I'm not a rush-to-judgement kind of guy. I like to hear both sides of the story, and then decide for myself.  And I certainly was not in the room with either of these great artists when they wrote or co-wrote their respective songs.  There is no way I would know the circumstances of how either of these tunes came about.  Lyrically, I don't see the songs as being all that similar.  Jason's "Razor Town" seems to have ill-timed love in a hard-knocks town, where Dierks' "Home" is undeniably an ode to the United States.   However, the melody is something to be considered.  To my ear, there is a real similarity that can't be denied, especially in the chorus.  The arrangements are different with "Razor Town" having an acoustic arrangement and "Home" is clearly electric and having a generally larger sound ... but the melody, to me, remains the same.

Here, courtesy of YouTube and Autopsy IV, are the two songs in question.  Have a listen and let me know what you think, I would love to hear back from all of you.  And, if you have a moment, stop on by No Depression and Autopsy IV's blog site on No Depression for a whole world of great articles, album reviews, musicians and Americana bloggers ... but be sure to keep coming by here!

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit -- "In a Razor Town"

Dierks Bentley -- "Home"

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Year That Was and the Year That Is

Happy New Year everyone!  I hope you had a great time these past couple of weeks enjoying the company of family and friends during the holiday season, whichever holiday you celebrate.

With the first week of 2012 now behind us, I wanted to take a quick look back at the past year and take a quick look forward in the year to come for Americana music.

I think we can safely say that 2011 was a banner year for Americana.  The year witnessed the breakthrough of The Civil Wars, the stellar songwriting duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White.  This is a duo that essentially came out of nowhere and managed to capture the attention and imagination of their audience by offering a sound that simply doesn't exist in any other format or genre today.  Their chemistry, both on and off the stage, is a beautiful and unique thing to see.  One has to witness it to truly appreciate it.  It is hard to believe they are married, but not to each other.  They will be back on the road in 2012, and hopefully will have new music to promote while on tour.  

One of the great stories to emerge from 2011 was what seems to be the emergence of arena folk.  For example, British Americana band Mumford and Sons moved from playing theaters and clubs to performing for sold out audiences at venues such as the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, and Copps Coliseum in nearby Hamilton, Ontario.  Audiences of roughly 20,000 people were filling huge arenas to witness an Americana act.  Recently, The Avett Brothers have been able to make the move to arenas as well, as evidenced with their recent shows at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville and the Bi-Lo Center in Asheville, North Carolina.  Clearly a number of factors came in to play for this to happen, but I think it comes down to new found exposure.  Mumford and Sons have found a place on mainstream radio in some markets, but I believe the appearance of Mumford and Sons and The Avett Brothers at last year's Grammy Awards televised tribute to Bob Dylan cannot be understated.  It is a clear indication of what can happen when great music is exposed to the masses.  I believe people are longing for something real, something honest musically speaking, and they are finding that in the Americana genre.

On a personal note, last year saw this site grow in audience to where it's now averaging 300 visits a month with readers from around the world.  That may sound like a small number, and it is, but for a guy who started writing this a year and a half ago on a whim, that's a big number.  Especially when I haven't really advertised the site to anyone.  That will change this year, along with some other changes that will be more efficient to the site and to those who read and follow whatever is posted here.  

Looking forward to 2012, all I can say is that I'm excited for the future of this genre.  I can't wait to see who the next breakthrough act will be, and the next act to make the big jump to the arena stage.  I think we can expect big things from emerging acts like Deadman and The Vespers.  Trevor Finlay is set to have a busy 2012, hitting the road with new music in tow.  I look forward to catching up with Trevor down the road.  The Americana Music Conference and Festival takes place in Nashville, Tennessee September 12 to 15, 2012, an event that is not to be missed.  I'll be there for my second conference and festival, where I look forward to getting together with the people I met last year.  

I believe 2012 will be the biggest year in Americana history, with many great stories to be told.  I'm excited to be a part of it, no matter how big or small that part may be.  Happy New Year my friends, and all the best to you and your families.