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Author: Megan Morgan

Beaucoup Blue = U.S.A.?

Somehow I didn’t realize how much traffic I would run into driving on a major highway on Labor Day weekend. But that’s why I’m extra grateful that I was introduced to the relaxing yet engaging Americana blues of Beaucoup Blue.

Beaucoup Blue is Philadelphia duo David and Adrian Mowry, a father/son team that play mainly steel and slide guitar, respectively. Their latest release, Free to Fall, made a wonderful companion for me while inching across flat Oklahoman plains, stuck in a situation that very easily could have been fodder for road rage.

It’s not just the novelty of the band being centered around a father and son, although this is interesting in itself. And it’s not just that the two clearly have a strong handle on songwriting, although this certainly doesn’t hurt. What makes Free to Fall really special is its pure and simple “Americanness.”

Songs like the opener “Delta Rain” evoke a country/folk/bluegrass/blues sensibility that sounds traditional and original at the same time. References to places in America abound throughout the album, but even more than this, it’s the “down home,” honest, twangy and rich sound that paints a picture of the country.

Both father and son have earnest and soulful voices that further enhance the already rich instrumentation. But when joined by the aptly-named Melody Gardot in the pretty ballad “Bluer than the Midnight Sky” and by the female group Red Molly in “Oh America” and “Free to Fall,” the result is nothing short of beautiful.

“Oh America” puts a new spin on the traditional “America the Beautiful,” adding a knee-slapping beat and wonderfully satirical lyrics like: “Purple mountains majesty/ above the fruity plains/ sell it for a billion bucks/ and buy your own jet plane. Beautiful for spacious skies and amber waves of grain/ put a casino in the middle/ do an Eagle Dance for rain.”

Other highlights include “By Your Side” and “Free to Fall,” which both exude the same earnestness and “Americanness” found throughout.

So while Beaucoup Blue made me look at the (slowly moving) green fields around me in a calmer light, Free to Fall would really make for a great listen anytime.

"Starlite" doesn't shine so bright in places

At his best, the Canadian Nathaniel Sutton on his new album Starlite sounds catchy, but at his worst, the album feels unimaginative and repetitive. Unfortunately the misses are more frequent than the hits. Yet, the better songs from Starlite show how Sutton can grow and improve.

Sutton’s sound is a bit like a spacey, electronic version of Modest Mouse, with a hint of Grandaddy mixed in. The problem is that a lot of the songs repeat the same themes over and over without making any changes, which tempt the listener to skip to the next track. The first two songs fall into this category, but the album picks up with “High Holy Day.”

“High Holy Day” has an interesting, sporadic and hectic-sounding riff that gives the album a darker feel, which is truer to the remainder of the songs than the peppy opener “Starlite” would initially lead you to believe. It is also much more high-energy, like the other better songs on the album.

Several of the songs on Starlite are so dark that they’re actually quite creepy to listen to, like the ominous “Serious Crime,” “Subliminal Messages,” which is downright frightening, and the slightly-too-weird “Killer in the House.” Part of what really makes these songs so sinister is the way that Sutton sings them, with exaggerated wavering bass, overbearing special effects in places, and especially over-breathiness in “Subliminal Messages.”

“Blow My Mind” in the middle of the album surprises with its extreme DJ-type sound which the songs preceding it don’t come close to in terms of electronics. “Creepy Crawlers” also falls into this genre, but both of these songs feel a bit out of place on the album overall. However, the all-important “dancibility factor” is high in “Blow My Mind” and “Creepy Crawlers.”

The slow-paced, sentimental lullaby “Photo Album” sounds like it belongs on the same album as the opener “Starlite,” but these songs don’t really mesh with the others well. Sutton could really improve if he narrows his focus and doesn’t attempt so many clashing styles.

What is interesting to consider about this album is that it is entirely Nathaniel Sutton. He plays all the instruments, and he also recorded, mixed, and produced the album in his own home. While this is an impressive accomplishment, it seems that Sutton would also benefit greatly by with others. Maybe with a band, he could develop a tighter sound, and could grow as a songwriter working with others.

A Love Like Pi’s Lief Liebmann says ‘take an extra five seconds’

A Love Like Pi’s recent debut full-length album, Atlas and the Oyster, combines catchiness and intellectualism in an electronic-rock package that utilizes elements of classical music. Frontman Lief Liebmann says the group’s name comes from this dichotomy and duality of their sound.

“It’s basically an extended metaphor. Love and pi operate in different arenas of your mind but they are both eternal,” Liebmann said.

A Love Like Pi hails from New Jersey and have been playing together for about two and a half years. The trio consists of Liebmann on lead vocals, synthesizers, and violin, bassist Collin Boyle, and drummer Chris LoPorto.

“Collin and I grew up playing music together,” Liebmann said. “This really benefits the band because there’s this kinship. We know each other and our playing so well.”

Liebmann and LoPorto were once members of feuding groups, he said, but that they eventually reconciled and became great friends.

Liebmann got started in music at a very young age when his parents enrolled him in violin lessons around age 4 or 5.

“As with all things that your parents make you do, I hated it at first,” Liebmann said.

But eventually, he said that he grew to love the violin.

“The violin introduced me to the world of music,” he said.

However, this early start did have a disadvantage.

“I never really listened to music as a kid because I plunged right into playing,” Liebmann said. “I feel like I’m missing that element because I was always taking apart the structure or listening to chord progressions.”

Atlas and the Oyster both reflects this classical influence while also sounding amazingly modern. Liebmann writes the band’s music, saying he felt like an “alchemist in sound” in the studio, and Boyle and LoPorto add their own spin to the songs.

Liebmann said that the recording process took about a year because he wanted to make sure that he got everything right.

“I’m a little bit insane when it comes to the organization and sequencing of songs and lyrics,” Liebmann said.

The debut is also (ambitiously!) a concept album. The first half reflects on Atlas, a character in Greek mythology who was forced to hold the world on his shoulders. Liebmann said that the oyster portion of the album is about “taking pain and making it beautiful,” like an oyster’s pearl.

Atlas and the Oyster is a multi-dimensional record,” Liebmann said. “It has songs that are fun to listen to because the spoonful of sugar method is important – you don’t want to preach on a record.”

Liebmann said that now that the album has been released, he has mixed emotions.

“I feel two things: one is an overwhelming sense of completion and satisfaction. Another is apprehension because I spent a whole year of my life working on this album and now it’s out of my hands,” Liebmann said.

But, he said that so far, the reviews of Atlas and the Oyster have been very kind.

“I’m still crossing my fingers against that one bad review that says, ‘who does A Love like Pi think they are, singing about mythological creatures?’” Liebmann said.

Currently, A Love Like Pi is touring the country. Liebmann says that sharing the music is important to him.

“We’re playing every night, which is important for me because music is my reservoir,” he said.

Without getting it out there, Liebmann said that he could get a little crazy.

“Things inside of me become songs, so I can get neurotic if they are kept bottled up,” he said.

Another benefit of touring is the time spent with band members and the strong friendship this produces.

“We all really love each other – no lies. We’ve been through so much together,” Liebmann said.

Liebmann said that A Love Like Pi’s live shows are in-your-face, powerful, and emotionally-charged.

“As intellectual as our record is, the live shows are wild. We really try to take elements of what makes one of the songs good on the record and amplify it,” he said.

This summer, A Love Like Pi will continue touring and they will also be working on a video for “The Atlas” in L.A., but the details are a surprise. Liebmann plans to keep busy.

“I have to be doing projects forever – as the band and everyone who knows me knows,” he said.

Liebmann hopes that all the touring will expand the band’s audience, and that the new album will reach a point where the imagery and message of the songs are recognized on a national level. A Love Like Pi also wants to create a name for themselves in the music industry.

“We want to establish a place in the industry where we can release music that constantly surprises people,” Liebmann said.

The scope and range of Atlas and the Oyster certainly surprises, but very pleasantly so. Check out the band’s myspace or website to order their debut or sample some songs.

Liebmann encourages listeners to spend a little time considering or analyzing the music.

“Never fall for music just because it’s catchy,” he advised. “Take an extra five seconds to think about what the music is actually saying because this might make you love the music even more or make you realize that it’s not worth your time.”

Fun, pleasant release from Baltimore’s The Seldon Plan

Looking for some indie pop with lush harmonies and a bright sound? Then you’ve come to the right place. The Beechfields, a record label based in Baltimore, Maryland, released The Seldon Plan’s third full-length album earlier this month.

The Seldon Plan’s Lost and Found and Lost is a showcase of melodies easy for the listener to pick up on and enjoy. The album’s opener, “Caldecott,” has punchy verses that lead up perfectly to the slower (but no less catchy) chorus.

The group consists of four members, two of which both provide vocals and play guitar. What is interesting, though, is that one of these singer/guitarists is Dawn Dineen, and her presence adds a lot to the harmonies. The songs that feature her singing lead vocals, like “Fire in Day’s Field,” “Run, Go!” and “See a Word” add a unique aspect to The Seldon Plan’s indie pop. Dineen also has a lower voice than a lot of female singers, and it is steady and easy to listen to.

The only real weakness of Lost and Found and Lost is that some of the songs (“See a Word”) can get a little repetitive, with choruses that are played over again without making any musical changes a few too many times. But this can easily be forgiven because despite the fact that this can get a little annoying, most of the choruses on this album are gosh-darn catchy.

Some of the standout songs on this album are the title track and “Philadelphia and a Moment.” “Lost and Found and Lost” (which is a very cool name, if you ask me) includes irresistible, snappy hand claps (or percussion that at least sounds like hand claps) and a fun keyboard line. “Philadelphia and a Moment” is a bit of an acoustic ballad that picks up the pace and changes toward the middle. Its unique instrumentation, which includes wind instruments, gives “Philadelphia and a Moment” a full feel that nonetheless seems intimate.

The group describes the album’s themes as a story of “expectant hope and recession blues.” The Seldon Plan’s Lost and Found and Lost is recommended for fans of Death Cab for Cutie and The New Pornographers.

Austin band Built by Snow coming to Tulsa, bring catchy keyboard pop

Built by Snow, a band hailing from Austin, Texas, describes their music as “catchy keyboard indie pop rock with an explosion of velcro melodies and magnetic hooks that hit your brain like an Atari blasting out of a bazooka.”

“Whoa,” I hear you readers say. “That band sounds like they would be fun to see live.”

Luckily for you, said group Built by Snow is on tour this June and they will be playing in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Monday June 15 at Soundpony Bar at 10 p.m.

This particular show is especially exciting for band member Matt Murray, who grew up around Tulsa.

“This will be my first show back in my hometown!” Murray said.

The four-piece Built by Snow is currently working their way up to the NXNE Music Festival in Canada, playing shows on the trip there and back. This is their first big tour, although they have played out-of-state gigs.

“We’re gonna be covering a really long distance compared to anything we’ve done before. It’s exciting!” said band member JP Pfertner.

The group also recently released a new album called MEGA in January.

“It’s kind of like plugging your brain into an 8-bit Nintendo. Then plugging guitars, vocals, and rock and roll in at the same time,” Pfertner said of MEGA.

Concert attendees can expect a very high-energy, fun performance, with lots of instrument-swapping between songs.

“We move around and sweat quite a bit. Sometimes we might look clumsy on stage when we’re all jumping around, but it’s all under control… sort of,” Pfertner said.

The group met one another at a local Austin TV station where they all work, and have been playing music together for about 3 years. But music was a major part of their lives even before Built by Snow.

Pfertner said that music runs in his family.

“My uncle even invented an instrument called ‘the hamatar.’ It’s crazy – two guitar necks stuck together pointing opposite directions. It allows one person to play two guitars at the same time. It was 80’s excess at its best,” Pfertner said.

Murray does not have quite the same familial claim to fame as “the hamatar,” but said that he also became interested in music at a young age. Murray began taking piano lessons at 11, only to quit, fall in love with guitar, and then get back into keyboard again.

Tulsa residents, check out Built by Snow this Monday at Soundpony Bar next to Cain’s Ballroom. The complete Built by Snow tour schedule is available on their myspace.

High highs and low lows with Josh James

The most recent release from Tulsa musician Josh James, Asbestos Honey, has some really great moments and some not-so-great moments. James has also released an EP and another full-length LP with backing musicians called Painted in a Corner.

Asbestos Honey is a mix of pleasant, emotive songs with catchy melodies and also, unfortunately, some songs that are rather boring. For example, the album’s opener should normally be the place for an attention-grabbing number. But “Truth” is sadly wishy-washy and forgettable. The album improves vastly with the next song, “Rock Alone,” which has a bit of a Ryan Adams alt-country influence. The only problem is James’ overly breathy and strained vocals. If he loosened up a little and maybe didn’t try so hard (or at least sounded like he wasn’t trying really hard), the songs on Asbestos Honey would be much easier to listen to. And yet, the vocals on some songs, like the rockin’ “Ball and Chain” that has a fun falsetto vocal line, and the slow, folky “1829,” are much cleaner, clearer, and less self-conscious.

Josh James incorporates a wide range of genres, including country, folk, rock, and indie. The best songs on this album are the ones that have strong choruses that set them apart. The almost-anthem-esque “New Beginnings” and the upbeat, funky “Ball and Chain” are both examples of this. However, listeners can get lost in-between choruses on Asbestos Honey due to verses that can sometimes run together.

James just recently added a backing band called True Story with Adam Hewett on lead guitar and Sean Wilson on drums. Check out his schedule for upcoming shows around Oklahoma on his myspace.

Blues that won't leave you feeling blue

There’s something about the blues that speaks to everyone. Maybe it’s just part of being human to value a guitar’s raw power, or to feel something from the earthy, no-fuss qualities of blues. But whatever the reason, blues is an important American music genre, and The Teague Stefan Band’s recent release, Game of Life, is a great blues album.

There are also elements of rock and funk on Game of Life, but blues is still the most prevalent style by far. The three-piece group, with Teague Stefan on guitars and vocals, David Marder on drums, and Todd Warsing on bass, consistently delivers tight, guitar-heavy head-nodders. (Of course “head-nodders” is a word, don’t be silly!) And the best part? The scorching, uptempo momentum never falters. All throughout Game of Life, the aim is clear – The Teague Stefan Band wants you to rock with them. And I say – mission accomplished.

Game of Life opens with “The Leavin’ Blues,” an angry, bass-thumping song with a very catchy guitar riff. There’s also a guitar solo in the middle that might just melt your face if you’re not careful. In fact, it’s obvious throughout the album that Teague Stefan is a very talented guitar player.

The title track is a bit mellower, but still fits with the rest of the album’s high energy songs. Other standout tracks are the aggressive and forcefully funky “No Matter What” and the really bluesy, sexy closer “Dues.” (No, it’s not weird to call a song “sexy.”)

Fans of The Black Keys will love the minimalism of the instrumentation and fans of Led Zeppelin will appreciate the emphasis on guitar. But The Teague Stefan Band’s Game of Life would also be perfect for anyone who needs a little more tell-it-like-it-is, good old-fashioned rockin’ blues in their life. (That’s everyone.)

D.B.G. releases a solid folk concept EP

D.B.G., also known as Dan Barnaby Goddard, has released an EP called Earthling, and it has an unusual premise – it’s a folk concept album. The four songs on the EP are called, in order, “Man,” “Woman,” “Boy,” and “Girl.” Earthling is quite short, but these sleepy folk tunes are soothing and pleasing to listen to.

The first song, “Man,” is probably the darkest song on the EP, especially with lines like “man was the warrior, man drew the lines.” I almost think that it could be a better closer than an opener for this reason, but maybe that would mess up the song order and flow. From the beginning of this song, the listener can feel the philosophical vibes, which continue throughout the EP. But “Man” also gives the listener a false idea of what the rest of the EP will be like, because it sounds so moody and mysterious.

For example, the lazy-summer-day-sounding “Woman” really fits the feel of the rest of the songs on the EP. The organ in this song is a great addition – it gives “Woman” a nice fullness. And speaking of organ, a neat aspect of Earthling is that D.B.G plays every instrument, including guitar, bass, viola, mandolin, drums, and the pleasant organ in this song.

“Boy” picks up the pace a little bit, and D.B.G. does a great job of writing a youthful-sounding melody. Would it be weird to say that this song actually sounds like a boy? And the happy, delicate “Girl” also reflects its subject matter well using mandolin as the main instrument.

D.B.G.’s Earthling is recommended for fans of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young who doesn’t mind a little philosophizing or for anyone who wants some good, calming morning music.

Andy Werth Successfully Gives Birth to a Mountain

When Andy Werth began playing trumpet in the middle school, he probably didn’t realize that this instrument would be the first of many that he would learn. As a sophomore in high school, Werth started teaching himself piano after hearing some ’50s songs on the radio. And then, as a senior, guitar almost literally fell into his lap.

“I actually picked up guitar because a friend of mine left his acoustic guitar over at my house when he went on vacation, and I began teaching myself,” Werth said.

Werth gradually began writing his own songs, and now, years later, this singer/songwriter and accomplished musician has two EPs under his belt, and a full-length album that has just recently been released. He says now that learning so many instruments helped him grow as a songwriter, especially with writing for his band members.

“You learn how to speak with a different voice, and it unlocks possibilities and new capabilities for writing for others, too,” Werth said.

The new album, called Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass, is a step in a new direction for Werth and his band, because the music is moving away from piano pop-rock into new and varied directions.

“It’s all over the place, which makes it kind of hard to label,” Werth said of the album’s sound.

Werth describes Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass as a grab-bag, but adds that its diversity makes it possible to keep the fans of the EPs happy while also “bringing new people on board.” But it didn’t come easy.

“It was like giving birth to a mountain,” Werth says. “It ended up being very fun, but definitely exhausting.”

With the album out, Werth and his band are now focusing on playing live shows around their hometown of Seattle. Onstage, the musicians consist of two guitarists (one of which also sings backup), a bassist, a drummer, two trumpet players, occasionally different string instruments or saxophone players, and Werth singing and playing piano. In other words, their set is not usually what a concert-goer expects.

“Playing at indie clubs, people see instruments on stage that they don’t normally see,” Werth said.

Because the group is from Seattle, Werth says that there is a lot of competition, but also adds that the wide variety of music coming out of the city is more of a blessing than a burden.

“On any given night [in Seattle] you can hear a DJ, or a jazz concert, or a rock set. The clubs are overflowing with great music from Monday through Sunday. I love to be influenced by lots and lots of different music, especially hearing it live and then incorporating it,” Werth said.

Werth’s personal music taste is also diverse, like his songwriting style and the city he lives in. He listens to jazz, indie, and classical, among other things. And while he’s not rehearsing, writing, editing, or working on lyrics, Werth spends his time reading, writing in journals, enjoying the outdoors, and delighting in all the vegan food Seattle has to offer.

In eight or nine months, Werth plans to head back to the studio to record another album. But, in the meantime, Andy Werth is offering a promotion for Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass: send an email to promo@andywerth.com with the subject Andy Werth, and you’ll get a code that you can plug in on the homepage of the website that will enable you to download tracks from the new album.

For the Love of Pop

Marc Sirdoreus, aka Marc with a C, is a giving person. The entirety of his newest album, Losing Salt, is available for download on his website. In fact, he has done this with all of his albums, and there are nine of them. If your first reaction to this is “say whaaat?” then don’t worry – you weren’t the only one.

It seems that the reason for this is simple – Marc loves making records, and he loves getting them out there, no strings attached. Marc describes himself as a “prolific artist by nature,” a statement that can’t be denied when you look at his recent releases. There’s also the option of donating to Marc for his musical generosity.

Losing Salt is definitely another Marc with a C staple – a DIY manifesto full of acoustic, witty pop songs, most of which tell a story. It opens with the hilarious “I Will Repossess Your Heart,” in which the narrator threatens to take a girl’s heart by physical force if necessary. Its bubbly delivery combined with lines like “they will crack open your ribcage and take it away surgically” should crack up any listener. “Chicken Pox & Star Wars Guys” is one of my favorites on Losing Salt for several reasons: it’s undeniably cute, it’s super catchy, and it name-drops Boba Fett. The song is from the perspective of a little kid stuck inside because he’s got chicken pox, and all he wants to do is play with his “Star Wars guys outside.” Combine this concept with a heavy dose of pop fun, and that’s gotta be a recipe for success.

“You’ve Got This Curse” has a great chorus, even if it doesn’t quite match the tone of the rest of the song. The verses feel a bit unsettling, but the chorus is upbeat. It’s a little incongruent, but the overall song is still fun. “He Left You for a Punk Rock Girl” is another narrative song with funny lyrics, but Marc with a C can’t fail in this category, so I say, keep ‘em coming. This one’s got falsetto background vocals that add to the humor.

Marc’s voice sounds nasally at times, but it actually works with his type of songs. His vocals sound really good in the ballad “You Do Not Exist,” which I’m pretty sure is about an obsessive guy with an imaginary girlfriend. I’m not really feeling the spacey “Magazines” because it doesn’t fit in with the rest of Losing Salt, and it’s too long. But despite this, the album closes with on a strong note with “If These Walls Could Talk,” where Marc harmonizes quite nicely with himself. Its snarky, sometimes frantic, delivery matches the lyrics: “if these walls could talk they probably would have nothing much to say,” and later, “my neck hurts from all the ways I slouch.” I can’t believe that this song is autobiographical though – Marc just seems too darned motivated and driven. Check out his latest release on his website, and give Marc with a C some love for giving out his music so readily.