As we mentioned yesterday, Aquarium Drunkard will be stomping around Fort Adams State Park next month, taking in the Newport Folk Festival. Following the obvious night-show of Brian Wilson, Kate Taylor, and Willy Mason on Friday night, here’s a quick preview of who we’ll be checking out on Saturday. If you’re going, drop us a line in the comments and tell us who you’re going to see.
Cat Power :: At one point in the not-so-distant past, Cat Power figurehead Chan Marshall was a notoriously flakey performer. Marshall had a history of playing shows with her back to the audience, sometimes even quitting the stage halfway through performances. Following the recording of 2006’s definitive The Greatest, Marshall entered rehab and emerged something of a sober fighting machine, effectively grabbing the touring market by the hand and forcing it to go along with her; where she once shied away from the public, she’s now the face of Chanel. This would be meaningless, of course, if Marshall’s music was anything less than stellar. The Greatest is a smoky, Memphis-smoked record that’s equal parts fall-down and get-up. while her latest release, Jukebox, is a collection of covers, with Marshall putting a mellow golden stamp on everything from Hank Williams’ “Ramblin’ Man” (or “(Wo)man,” as she re-titles it) to Dylan’s “I Believe in You” to a snaked-out version of Sinatra’s “New York.”
Willy Mason :: I was initially made aware of Martha’s Vineyard’s Willy Mason when the then-nineteen year-old opened for My Morning Jacket in Houston the Thursday before Austin City Limits Fest in 2004. The nervous, foot-shuffling folk was matched only by Mason’s gentle demeanor (at one point, he shyly asked if he could catch a ride north to Austin for his ACL slot the following afternoon). Following a self-imposed exile from the music world, Mason reemerged in 2006 opening several American arena dates for Radiohead, of all bands.
Richie Havens :: Let’s get this out of the way: this isn’t Havens’ first time on a big stage. The 67 year-old Brooklyn native famously opened Woodstock thirty-nine years ago, playing his entire repertoire to a raucous crowd that demanded more, and culminating in a jaw-dropping improvisation on “Motherless Child.” Havens’ take on the folkie tradition is decidedly rhythmic; his flapping, fluttering guitar style is found today in the rejoicing hands of Devendra Banhart and the multi-thumping of the Dodos.
Jim James :: My Morning Jacket’s weirdo-in-chief has always sounded more soulful when he sticks to his acoustic guns than he does when aping Prince. Some of MMJ’s early, reverb-and-wine-soaked recordings still stand among his best and most ambitious work. From The Tennessee Fire’s “I Will Be There When You Die” through At Dawn’s “Hopefully” and It Still Moves’ “Golden,” not to mention subsequent solo tours with M. Ward and Conor Oberst, JJ has earned his place among Newport’s headliners. If nothing else, it should be interesting to hear Evil Urges funk-blasted tracks stripped to their core.
She & Him :: Only in 2008 could a record that sounds like 70s FM folk be considered revolutionary. What started as a side project between M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel has quickly developed a life of its own. Deschanel’s warm voice – somewhere in the neighborhood of Patsy Cline, though far more sweet than bitter – is a perfect match for the transistorisms that Ward has tweaked over several albums now.
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Sydney Wayser :: Born in Paris and raised in Los Angeles, Wayser’s music reflects her international pedigree. Though she’s certainly a student of the Feist/Cat Power school of breathy singing, Wayser’s sound is a cleaner, slightly more traditional take on the form. Standout track “Papa Don’t Worry/Silent Parade” likely does little to assuage the fears of Wayser’s French father with its honky piano march and marching snares. This is coming-down music, a sad breakfast with no shoes on and no eye contact.
Steve Earle & Allison Moorer :: Steve Earle reportedly had his first taste of heroin at age thirteen, and has had a fast education ever since. Never one to shy away from controversy, the Texas-bred country-rocker made headlines in 2002 for writing a song that dared to humanize American Taliban soldier John Walker Lindh. Sober for fifteen years, Earle will take the stage with wife Allison Moorer. It should be interesting to see how the provocative Earle – who hosts his own show on the Fox News-baiting Air America radio channel – will be received by Newport’s upper crust.
The Felice Brothers :: Channeling the much-beloved spirit of the Band alongside the ragged community of Akron/Family, not to mention enough gypsy spit and big-city spirit to keep a crowd of thousands under their charm, the Felice Brothers should be Newport’s biggest surprise. The group – which includes a former traveling dice player named Christmas on bass – brings the same loose, frenetic energy of Dylan’s “wild, thin mercury” days to the folk scene, telling tales of drunks, outlaws, and gamblers that come across as more than mere imitation. The Felice Brothers make seriously good singalong country for late nights and college friends, and they’ve got a wicked sense of humor.
American Babies :: Featuring Joe Russo of legendary jam-funk group Benevento/Russo Duo, American Babies is the project of singer/songwriter Tom Hamilton. Hamilton’s voice is a dead-ringer for the cigarette-in-the-mouth, blood-on-the-fretboard workouts of Ryan Adams, though his Babies are decidedly more relaxed than Adams’ Cardinals. The Babies’ stacked harmonies and soulful melodies should be a perfect match for their early set. Along with the Felice Brothers, they have the potential to be the sleeper hit of the festival.
Jakob Dylan :: Jakob Dylan scored several hits in the mid-90s with the Wallflowers, whose Bringing Down the Horse has sold twice as many copies as his dad’s Blood on the Tracks in half as many years. His solo debut, Seeing Things, echoes his Bob’s early work much in the same way that the Wallflowers echoed Blonde on Blonde-era Dylan, which is to say that it’s a cleaner, more bleached version that’s bound to sell a million copies. The thing is, the younger Dylan is and will forever be better situated as a commercial artist than the elder; Jakob’s voice and songwriting are far more accessible than Bob’s. Whatever the case, any performance by a Dylan at Newport is worthy of attention for nothing if not historical reasons. Ooh, maybe he’ll go electric! words/marty garner