Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Kate Vargas -- "Second Skin"

I got back from Jazz Fest on Sunday night. Thought I'd have some time to write posts during my down time, but instead a slept, played with my friend's pet bunny, and ignored the fact that I had brought 50 student essays with me to grade just in case I got bored. (I did not get bored.)

So while I had a great time (and there will be many new-to-me New Orleans artists to be featured here soon), that unfortunately meant my post about Kate Vargas, who recently answered a few questions for me and performed with the Paisley Fields (who are on tour now!)

"Second Skin" is a foot stomper, showcasing how Vargas uses her raspy vocals to add texture to her songs. Vargas juxtaposes a playful melody with ominous lyrics that can only be driven home with her unique sound. I, for one, am stoked for the full album.


Kate Vargas -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp, iTunes

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Gay Ole Oprey Tour

I've been pretty apathetic about the recent spate of anti-trans* laws sweeping the South. I mean to say that I've been upset, but beyond reading an article here or there I haven't done anything about it. I haven't donated money to any particular group, but I also haven't done any research on which groups I should donate to. (Given its history of spurning the trans* community, HRC, the largest queer rights lobbying group, will never see a red cent from me.) If there have been solidarity protests in NYC, I haven't heard of any, much less gone to any.

I mean, it's bad. But I live in New York. While the number of hate crimes against LGBT and trans* people has been steadily climbing over the past five years, it's safe here.

Except it's not. The other day, while walking home from school -- in Chelsea, of all neighborhoods -- I passed by some of my students who were walking with a young person from another school. He somehow found out that I was their teacher, but he was most surprised to learn my gender. "THAT is a FEMALE?!" he shouted after me several times. When I ignored him, he ran up behind me and then tried to walk next to me to get a good look at my face.

I knew I didn't face any real physical threat -- what would he have done knowing that I had potential allies in my students? -- but I was so thankful they were there. How many gender non-conforming people have had those (or something similar) be the last words they heard before getting savagely beaten or worse?

I've talked to various people about how to follow up. I mean, this kid needs to be taught that his behavior was unacceptable at best. But most of the other educators I've spoken with have said that, unfortunately, it's not my job to be his teacher.

If we lived in a culture that was more accepting of trans* and gender-non-conforming people, incidents like this, I'd like to think, would become a rarity, if not extinct. How do we change the culture? Through art. And that's why queer music matters.

Proudly queer bands Karen and the Sorrows and the Paisley Fields are touring the South over the next few weeks. Of the tour, Karen notes “As the struggle against violent new laws like North Carolina’s HB2 continues, we are looking forward to being in community with so many amazing Southern queer country musicians and activists. Country music tells powerful stories about family, love, heartbreak, strength, and healing. Those stories should include our families, our love, and, especially in this moment, our heartbreak and our strength.”

Show solidarity and build community by seeing these two fantastic bands in a college town near you:

April 23rd - Harrisonburg, VA at The Artful Dodger with The Sugar Jackets and Tim Fitzgerald, 7:00 pm
April 24th - Durham, NC at Monkey Bottom with The Blue Tailed Skinks, 3:00 pm
April 25th - Asheville, NC at The Crow & Quill with Lilli Jean and Mawk Chunk, a benefit for QORDS, 8:00 pm
April 26th - Atlanta, GA at Hodgepodge Coffeehouse with Emily Backus, 7:00 pm
April 27th - Nashville, TN at The High Watt with Indiana Queen, 8:00 pm
April 28th - Lexington, KY, house show with Sam Gleaves (email for details)
April 29th - Johnson City, TN at Willow Tree Coffeehouse with Amythyst Kiah & Her Chest of Glass, 8:00 pm
April 30th - Charlottesville, VA at Firefly with Debra Guy, a benefit for Cville Pride, 9:00 pm


Karen and the Sorrows -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp



The Paisley Fields --  Official, Facebook

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Ben de la Cour -- "Down to the Water's Edge"

"Americanoir" hero Ben de la Cour has graced us with a new single. He's also touring the Northeast and you should go see him. (I, unfortunately, will be in New Orleans for Jazz Fest.)


Ben's first album, Ghost Light, is one of the most memorable albums I've reviewed for the site (and I've listened to several hundred at this point.) Go see him.



Ben de la Cour -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Grisly Hand -- Flesh & Gold

The Grisly Hand is one of the first bands I've reviewed on the blog, and it's exciting to see them continue to evolve. While the band proved themselves adept at writing country-inflected tunes, Flesh & Gold sees the group transitioning into a luxurious, fuller sound with elements of Memphis soul and, embracing their Kansas City roots, heartland rock.


Though it's the band's third album, Flesh & Gold sounds like a true beginning to me. The band is clearly energized by the songs, and it truly feels as if they've found their own voice. It's not as if the subject matter necessarily separates the Grisly Hand from the pack -- what's rock'n'roll without tales of heartbreak, loneliness, and dysfunction? -- but the band is certainly selling it in a way that wasn't necessarily evident before. Maybe it's that they're just having a helluva lot of fun recording these songs -- lucky for us, we get to join them.



The Grisly Hand -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, April 8, 2016

Brad Armstrong -- Empire

If there was an award for atmosphere, Brad Armstrong's new release, Empire, would be a shoe-in. From the opening cricket chirps, sounding like a ghostly patch of road, we know we're not in for an easy ride. Armstrong is best known for his work in the band 13ghosts and, more recently, his joining the Dexateens. Empire combines both of these influences, giving us a heavy, gothic album that is light enough to have a song featured on Nashville ("Them Old Crows")but weird enough to feature a song about someone wanking to their high school crush ("School Bus.")


What strikes me most about Empire is its sense of urgency. These songs have to exist, and they have to be heard. They represent the yearning, regret, and frustration that is the very lifeblood of rock'n'roll. Through the album, Armstrong serves as our Virgil, guiding us through this welter of confusing emotions with a confident performance. At the end, he drops us off on that same lonely patch of road, but we can't help feeling a little wiser, knowing we don't bear our burdens alone.




Brad Armstrong -- NoiseTrade, Purchase from Cornelius Chapel Records, Purchase on iTunes

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Robbie Fulks -- Upland Stories

800 is a nice round number, and so it is with pleasure that for my 800th post, I present Robbie Fulks' remarkable album, Upland Stories. Fulks has a long and storied career that I'm going to have to investigate. Regardless of where it stands in Fulks' cannon, though, Upland Stories is one of the best albums this year.


Upland Stories takes it title from the region Fulks grew up in Virginia and North Carolina. The songs are folk and country storytelling at their most fundamental: simple, provocative, and richly textured. They call to mind a time and place that I, as a New Yorker with an immigrant in my family's living memory, have a hard time believing ever existed. But unlike modern country songs, which either wag their finger at you for forsaking your "roots," or proudly proclaim their...provincialism, if we're being polite, Fulks's songs are imbued with warmth and empathy. Whether or not you're from a town small enough to gossip about "Aunty Peg's New Old Man," or from a family cold enough to turn you away after returning from the big city, like in "Never Come Home," you'll find yourself feeling deeply for these characters, populating their lives with people and experiences that Fulks never mentions in his songs.

The music itself is gorgeous. Fulks is known as a guitar virtuoso, and his colleagues are certainly in friendly competition. Producer Steve Albini also deserves note for his creation of an album that feels remarkably intimate. The press materials go into the gory details, but suffice to say, Albini went analog but in doing so created a textured listening experience that demands to be heard on vinyl. Overall, Upland Stories is a truly special labor of live that combines expert craftsmanship from all hands with the rarest of all commodities: the truth.



Robbie Fulks -- Official, Purchase from Bloodshot Records

VIDEO: The Paisley Fields -- "Brooklyn Rodeo"

The Paisley Fields are two-stepping it up with their video for "Brooklyn Rodeo." It features lead singer James Wilson in a dashing suit, Anna Volpe in a dashing cut-off, and the rest of the band in dashing plaid, and some dashing cameos from this blog's favorite queer country bands.



If you like what you hear (and why wouldn't you), the Paisley Fields will be kicking off their Gay Ole Oprey tour on Saturday, April 16 at the Bowery Electric in NYC with recent Adobe and Teardrops fave Kate Vargas. You can get tickets here.

The Paisley Fields -- Official, Facebook