Having released one of 2014’s finest albums just a few months back, you might think Steve Gunn would rest on his laurels just a bit. But the singer-songwriter-guitarist is keeping very busy this year, with plenty of tour dates, a collaborative LP with Kurt Vile slated for summer and this fantastic, just-released session with avant-Appalachia masters, the Black Twig Pickers. Gunn and the Pickers go way back; multi-instrumentalist Nathan Bowles is in Gunn’s touring band and don’t miss Melodies For A Savage Fix, a duo effort with Mike Gangloff or this excellent (and free) digital release.
Seasonal Hire showcases the musicians’ easy familiarity. Even though Gunn gets separate billing, he’s very much a part of the ensemble here, adding to rusticosmic flow. “Trailways Ramble” ( a re-imagining of a tune that first appeared on Gunn’s Time Off LP) unfolds gorgeously, with guitar, banjo, harmonica, fiddle and jaw harp all blending into some kind of beguiling West Virginia raga. But the album’s real treasure is the side-long, 16-minute title track, an epic that sees the musician’s chasing the eternal drone into uncharted territories. You’ll want to follow them there. words / t wilcox
Much has been made surrounding the origins of the ‘freak-folk’ movement, for which Vetiver – the songwriting vessel of Bay-Area native Andy Cabic – has often been accredited. And while certainly an important snapshot in time, to look upon Cabic’s body of work solely through that narrow lens serves the listener a disservice. On Complete Strangers, his sixth studio album since 2004, it’s obvious Cabic has grown immensely attuned to his own capabilities. These, like so many Vetiver songs, have a long-lasting fortitude to them – they are old friends, the comforts of home and sound better with age.
Speaking with Cabic is much akin to his music. His voice is mellow, inviting, imbued with a righteous confidence. Ahead of his first release for new label-home Easy Sound, we caught up with Cabic while preparing for the onset of the first full-band Vetiver tour in a couple of years.
Aquarium Drunkard: The last tour found you playing solo alongside old friend Devendra Banhart. Tell me about that string of shows.
Andy Cabic: Those were all around northern California. A lot of places I hadn’t been before, let alone played before…some really nice venues. It was promoted and arranged by Folk Yeah who do a lot of shows in cool spots around Northern California. They were small intimate shows, short drives. It was an idea that we had a few years ago to book some short tours in places that are really beautiful that we’d want to spend some time in and not be hurried along with a show every night at some breakneck pace. Spots we could really enjoy being on tour.
In 2012 we did this for the first time in Japan and then we did it just this last fall in California. We’re about to go to Spain in May to do it once again. It’s great…we just kind of get on stage together and are there the whole time just playing songs of both of ours, back and forth. One of Devendra’s and then a Vetiver Tune.
AD: Having known Devendra for so long, does being around/playing with him bring out anything in you creatively or otherwise?
Andy Cabic: Yeah…I don’t get to perform my songs in that style of arrangement very often. I’m happiest when I have a stage full of friends playing off each other. To just do songs with two guitars isn’t something I do often and the songs that sound best that way tend to be old ones. So here I am on stage playing with Devendra playing the songs we used to do a decade ago and it does bring me back. There’s a fragile sturdiness to doing songs that way. I don’t get to tap into that often. He’s super fun to travel with…a goofball who doesn’t take things too seriously. We got to see a lot of friends. It was familiar.
“The world is filled with too many restless people in need of rest—that’s why I filled my sleeping tapes with intriguing sounds, noises and other things to help you get a good night’s rest…Sit back, close your eyes, and nod off.”
That’s how Jeff Bridges, the Dude himself, pitches Sleeping Tapes on Dreaming With Jeff, the site dedicated to the musical project which unites the actor/musician/activist with Keefus Ciancia, a composer known for his work on True Detective and Nashville. Ostensibly, the idea is to create an atmosphere for relaxation, but in true Dude form, it’s more peculiar than that. Sure, Bridges’ stories, word paintings, and gentle murmurs are soothing and warm, but the recordings that accompany his voice are often haunting, veering into strange and uncanny territory.
Bridges was keen to discuss the project with AD by phone, as well as the national No Kid Hungry campaign. Proceeds from Sleeping Tapes downloads, vinyl, and cassette sales benefit the organization, which is dedicated to fighting hunger.
Aquarium Drunkard: Sleeping Tapes is a really enjoyable album. Your affirmations, conversations, and musings are indeed very soothing.
Jeff Bridges: Alright, good! [Laughs]
AD: That’s what you were going for, after all.
Jeff Bridges: Sure! [Laughs] Ah, I kind of didn’t really know what I was going for. I sort of let it do itself, you know? I was given that assignment, to make these “sleeping tapes,” and I was encouraged by the ad agency Wieden+Kennedy and Squarespace to kind of do my thing, you know? I got very excited by the absurdity of it and the openness of it, about the idea of engaging my friends, Keefus Ciancia and my buddy Lou Beach, who wrote some of those stories and designed the cover. I looked at it as a fun creative project, and I had just a ball doing it.
AD: You’ve made a few records now and really started performing a lot of music in conjunction with Crazy Heart, but I imagine that this projected presented an opportunity to experiment much more.
Jeff Bridges: One of the exciting things about it was that it really kind of created a new genre for me. It was opening the “genre” box. In the opening, the introduction, I talk about how the word “sleeping” implies “waking up,” and of course sleeping implies “dreaming,” and those three words kind of imply the whole kit and caboodle. You can put anything into those things — write lullabies, and stories, and all kinds of different things. It just set my imagination going. It was really freeing that way, and I’m hoping to continue with the website and make different installments to this thing, more albums with the same team and same kind of ideas.
AD: At various points I’ve listened to records or sounds to fall asleep, and while this definitely shares some commonality with the ambient or new age things I’ve employed as sleeping aids, Ciancia came up with things that are more intriguing sounding than I’m used to falling asleep to. It’s not all major key stuff. There’s some dissonance, even some eerie or spooky sounds on this record.
Jeff Bridges: [Laughs] Well, like I said, it’s such a broad spectrum. I say in the introduction “everything implies everything else,” which is a psychedelic thing, but sleeping, you know, you got good dreams, you got bad dreams. It kind of opens the whole thing up about bad dreams. We go to scary movies. We like that kinda shit, you know? It makes it interesting. I love to make and watch movies that are surprising, where you don’t know what’s gonna happen next, and that’s what we were happy to see was happening with this album.
AD: I’ve listened a number of times, but last night I decided to put it to the test and listen to it while going to sleep, and I found myself a little too drawn in — it sort of required an active listen for me. But you acknowledge that with the closing song, “Goodnight (We’re All In This Together),” when you say, “You’re not asleep yet? Well hell, fire this thing up again.” You can just give it another go and maybe fall asleep that time.
Jeff Bridges: Yeah! And I don’t know if this is how you did it, but the best way to listen is to download it and burn it to a CD in iTunes, so you can set it to burn with no space between songs. We really designed it to be seamless. I’ve noticed with the website between each track is a small little space. You can get the record, or the cassette — those would be seamless too, I imagine, [but] for that seamless listening, you have to go through that process.
AD: Some very interesting things happen listening to this in that state between being awake and asleep, that hypnogogic space. It was enjoyable, even if I didn’t fall straight asleep.
Jeff Bridges: You mention that last track, which is the most important really. All of the sales from the downloads of the album go toward Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. I’ve been the national spokesperson for them for about five years now. That’s really important to me that that’s being funded. And it’s been funded to the extent of something like $200,000 dollars with the sales from this project. As you know, that’s all donations. People can pick it up for free, but the fact that people are inspired by what it’s really for and what it’s championing, that’s a great sign that our hearts are in the right place.
AD: You open with the statement “Everything implies everything,” and close with the statement “We’re all in this together.” It really brings things around, and speaks to the interesting relationship with this project and the No Kid Hungry campaign.
Jeff Bridges: I’ve been involved in ending hunger for about 30 years now. It started out being concerned about world hunger, and we formed an organization called the End Hunger Network, which was made up of folks in the entertainment industry and folks that were involved in the media. Once I learned that what was keeping hunger in place wasn’t that we didn’t have enough food or money or not even that we didn’t know how to end it – everybody knows how to end it – but what’s missing is the political will to do it. Making it a priority.
In democratic societies our politicians are supposed to represent us, the individuals so it finally gets down to “What am I willing to do?” Now that I know the facts, am I going to ignore those and just go about my business, or am I gonna look into my own life and see what part I might play in turning that around? [I wanted to do that] rather than just making a gesture, like giving a few bucks to something and scratching my guilt itch, you know? That could actually be part of the problem, because the individual feels like they’re off the hook now, they’ve done their part, and the problem persists.
So I wondered, “What could I do that I could keep doing until the problem is solved?” The most natural thing seemed to be doing something like what I’m doing with you now, spreading the word. That’s what I do making movies: tell stories and spread the word about those stories.
Then about 20 years ago the End Hunger Network shifted its focus from world hunger to hunger here in the United States, because some of the programs that were [combating hunger] weren’t being properly funded. We couldn’t be telling other countries how to do it when we have one in five of our kids struggling with hunger. Then about five years ago I got in cahoots with Share Our Strength and their No Kid Hungry campaign.
Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice, every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.
SIRIUS 378: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ Landline – Wire ++ Fugazi – Lusty Scripps ++ Disappears – Gone Completely ++ The Damned – Neat Neat Neat ++ The Fall – A Lot of Wind ++ England’s Glory – Shattered Illusions ++ Parquet Courts – You’ve Got Me Wondering’ Now ++ Wire – Ex Lion Tamer ++ The Mekons – Where Were You? ++ Ultimate Painting – Talking Central Park Blues ++ Real Estate – Fake Blues ++ Family Portrait – Mega Secrets ++ The Soft Boys – Old Pervert ++ Harlem – South of France ++ Exploding Hearts – Black And Blue (alt mix) ++ Television Personalities – Part Time Punks ++ Jana Hunter – A Bright-Ass Light ++ Ian Dury – Clevor Trevor ++ Blur – Blue Jeans ++ Roxy Music – All I Want Is You ++ Talking Heads – Warning Sign (’77 demo) ++ The Smiths – What Difference Does It Make (Peel Session) ++ Big Star – Mod Lang ++ T. Rex – Explosive Mouth ++ David Vandevelde – Nothin’ No ++ Amen Dunes – Spirits Are Parted ++ Loose Fur – Answers To Your Questions ++ Kevin Morby – Random Rules (Aquarium Drunkard Session) ++ Kevin Morby – Caught In My Eye (Aquarium Drunkard Session) ++ Kevin Morby – Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You (Aquarium Drunkard Session) ++ Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – A Sucker’s Evening (live) ++ Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Master And Everyone (live) ++ Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Pushkin (live) ++ Jessica Pratt – Strange Melody ++ Merit Hemmingson – Brudmarsch efter Florsen i Burs ++ Julie Cruise – Floating ++ Sonic Youth – The Empty Page (acoustic) ++ Sonic Youth – Disconnection Notice (acoustic)
*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.
Lagniappe (la·gniappe) noun ˈlan-ˌyap,’ – 1. An extra or unexpected gift or benefit. 2. Something given or obtained as a gratuity or bonus.
Kevin Morby’s week-long tour of the west coast with Jessica Pratt begins today, followed by an east coast tour in early March. Before he hit the road, Morby recorded three covers for the Lagniappe Sessions at his home in Mount Washington: Dylan, Silver Jews and a re-imagining / taming of The Germs’ “Caught In My Eye”. Morby, in his own words, below. . .
My girlfriend and I had our neighbors and friends Kyle and Amy over for dinner a few months ago. Kyle (King Tuff) was playing around on one of my guitars towards the end of the night (the dude knows how to play every song ever) and ended the night with “Tonight Ill Be Staying Here With You” by Bob Dylan. I had never heard this Dylan song before, which was surprising, because in case you can’t tell by listening to my own music – I’m obsessed with the guy. But it made sense, as the song is off of Nashville Skyline, an album that, for whatever reason, I had always had an aversion to. I also like to space my Dylan albums out as far as possible, and save them for a rainy month. Anyways, Kyle and my girlfriend scolded me for not knowing the song – or the album – all that well, and then they both forced me to listen to it over and over and now I’m of course obsessed. I recorded all these songs right after having woken up and sitting at my kitchen table right into my phone. I like singing first thing in the day, it gets the dirt in and out of the vocal chords. This one syncs up with the tea kettle starting to whistle.
About 6 or so years ago, one of my best friends (Johnny) told me it would be his dream come true for someone to reinterpret the Germs song “Caught In My Eye” onto acoustic guitar and try to make something pretty out of it. For some reason, at some point last year, I was taking a shower and suddenly remembered him saying that all those year ago, got out of the shower, looked up the lyrics, recorded it too a riff I had lying around and sent it to him. And wouldn’t y’know it? It was his birthday that day! I hadn’t even a clue. It was in the cosmos, I suppose. This song reads amazingly and I think that’s why Johnny wanted it reinterpreted – to highlight the poetry that is Darby Crash’s lyrics. Johnny, happy birthday forever.
We all know that “Random Rules” is one of the best songs off one of the best albums of all time. It’s a song that’s so simple it’s hard to tell exactly what is even so good about it – what makes it rise so far above other songs in the Silver Jews catalog. You put this record on and it just comes out swinging. That opening line “In 1984, I was hospitalized while approaching perfection”. Jesus. This is the first album that I ever got on vinyl (along with Bikini Kills Pussy Whipped), and it’s really stood the test of time with me. It’s one of my desert island records for sure, but even more so, this is one of my desert island songs. It’s a song I used to cover when I’d play solo shows in Kansas City at age 16, and it’s a song that most every time I try out a new guitar or am idly strumming one, I end up playing this chord progression without even thinking about it. I’m singing from memory here, I didn’t look up any lyrics, so there’s probably a few mistakes, but as far as I’m concerned this song is a folk song that can take whatever shape it wants. And like all great folk songs do, it will live on forever because the people will carry it. There are few songs I enjoy more than this one. Maybe only two. Think of it like this: If I was on death row, and had to pick a last song rather than a last meal, this would be the appetizer.
Ben Hall isn’t Australia’s most notorious outlaw bushranger (those honors belongs to Ned Kelly), and the song Hall inspired, “Streets of Forbes”, isn’t the country’s most famous folk narrative (cue “Waltzing Matilda”).
“Streets of Forbes”, however, is the best, firmly in the tradition of outlaw ballads such as “The Ballad of Jesse James and Pretty Boy Floyd”. The song details the 1865 death of Ben Hall as he attempted to make his dreamed escape to America, ambushed by police on the New South Wales high plains in a Bonnie and Clyde-style death scene – “Like a dog shot down” and “riddled like a sieve”. The ode featured in the repertoire of many singers – from UK folkies such as Martin Carthy and June Tabor to Oz expats like Fotheringay’s Trevor Lucas, and latter-day troubadours including Paul Kelly and Weddings Parties Anything.
Sydney folk-singer Marian Henderson recorded the song twice. For the 1967 mini-series The Restless Years, which presented Australian history through songs, stories and poetry. Henderson revisited the tune on a 1970 album, Cameo, which also saw intriguing takes on Leonard Cohen’s “Stranger Song“, Sandy Denny’s “Fotheringay“ and ISB’s “First Boy I Loved”.
Full of drama and invective, “Streets of Forbes” still wields a magnetic power 150 years after Ben Hall’s death – an inspired story-song awaiting an inspired film treatment. words / c hollow
The late Vivian Jackson, better known as Yabby You, was cut from a different cloth. Though rightly considered one of the pioneers of “roots reggae,” hailed alongside Bob Marley, Culture, Dennis Brown, Burning Spear, and other Jamaican artists speaking to matters of social justice and fighting oppression, Yabby You was an outsider. He shared his Rastafarian brothers’ visions of righteousness, but found himself on another path, focused on the divinity of Jesus Christ as a professing Christian.
But Yabby You’s faith didn’t prevent him from mingling with great dub experimenters and becoming a remarkable force in the genre, as evidenced by Dread Prophecy: The Strange and Wonderful Story of Yabby You, a new three-disc box set issued by Shanachie Records.
The collection features classic sides by Yabby You – or “Jesus Dread,” as he was informally called – sides like “Conquering Lion,” “Jah Vengeance,” “Love Thy Neighbor,” and more, as well as highlighting his many collaborations with artists like King Tubby and Trinity, and productions for singers and groups like Wayne Wade, The Melodians, and Tommy McCook. Alongside dozens of unreleased cuts, the set also features unseen archival photos, a detailed discography, exhaustive liner notes written by music journalists David Katz and Randall Grass, and excerpts from a 1985 interview with Yabby himself on Los Angeles’ KCRW 89.9 conducted by “The Reggae Beat” hosts Roger Steffens and Hank Holmes.
As a collection, Dread Prophecy achieves the rare feat of serving as both a powerful introduction to his revolutionary work and a completists dream. “When you hear my music is me myself,” Yabby You says in his KCRW conversation, “…is me directly myself…if you should listen to my music and get to know me, is the same thing.” words / j woodbury
A week from today, February 25th, Aquarium Drunkard Presents: An Evening With Leon Bridges in Los Angeles. Gratis entry / invite only. Limited space available. RSVP at leonaqd at gmail.com. Confirmation replies with additional information will be sent to selected entrants.