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Chosen One: William Tyler

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Interview with William Tyler.

“I look at someone like William who was in a band signed to a major label when he was, like, sixteen or something, seventeen or whatever, and he’s never known anything but playing music to people. He’s about the most steady, normal, grounded person that I know.”

—Kurt Wagner (‘No Such Silence’ Documentary, City Slang, 2007)

Words: Craig & Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry


This spring sees the release of ‘Impossible Truth’, Nashville-native William Tyler’s second solo LP and much-anticipated follow up to his debut masterwork ‘Behold The Spirit’ from 2010. ‘Impossible Truth’ will be William Tyler’s Merge label debut (his debut ‘Behold The Spirit’ was put out on the Tompkins Square label). The first taste of the new album, ‘Cadillac Desert’, is a truly astounding composition and its recent presence online has ensured ‘Impossible Truth’ will be one of the most keenly anticipated albums for 2013.

Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, William Tyler has spent his life playing music – whether for himself, collaborating with friends, or as a band-member to firmly established bands. Tyler has played with an array of musicians (as both recording artist and touring band-member) over the years; Lambchop, Silver Jews, Wooden Wand, Hands Off Cuba, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Charlie Louvin and Candi Staton just to name a few. Tyler has been a Nashville native (where it’s not uncommon to play in several bands at any one time) all his life so he knew music would be his destiny early on. As he has said himself: “I think the good thing about being in Nashville is that we have a lot of good role models of people that have been doing it for decades and still do it.” From a young age though, Tyler would be all-too-aware of the many pitfalls associated with life as a musician in Nashville: “It was an interesting way of growing up and learning about music because it seemed – honestly it was really unattractive to me – because I saw the good and the bad but a lot of what I noticed as a kid was just how hard and how much of a struggle it was.”

William Tyler’s debut solo record ‘Behold The Spirit’ was put out by the Tompkins Square label in 2010 to wide critical acclaim; Tyler’s incredible artistry backed by familiar friends and colleagues from both Lambchop (Tony Crow on piano, Adam Bednarik on bass, ) and Hands Off Cuba (Ryan Norris on synthesizer, Scott Martin on drums, percussion and electronics). Tyler himself shared production duties on ‘Behold The Spirit’ with Lambchop’s bass player Adam Bednarik (the album is also recorded and mixed by Bednarik). Across its nine tracks, it’s very difficult to surmise in mere words the sheer beauty and breathtaking achievement on display throughout. From the opening strum of ‘Terrace Of The Leper King’ ‘Behold The Spirit’ unfolds majestically. What is most impressive throughout is how the various instruments work alongside Tyler’s guitar playing. Subtle use of sound recordings (field recordings from the natural environment – ‘Missionary Ridge’ opens with the sounds of  a dusk scene; or the use of fuzzy tape recordings – sometimes of indistinct voices), some beautiful brass and string arrangements (Alex McManus on brass, Kelli Hix on violin), and the delicate piano notes played by Tony Crow. All the while though, it is Tyler’s stunning array of guitar playing that weaves the ‘Behold’ tapestry together so magnificently. The compositions, very much like a painstaking oil painting, all layer together gradually culminating in a stunning climax for the beholder. In fact, if these pieces of music were ‘paintings’ they would be more likely abstract but in the representational mode (Sean Scully for example), very much rooted in the real world of rich experience and human emotion.

Of course, William Tyler’s talent would have long-ago been noticed by many, most notably anyone who has witnessed Kurt Wagner’s Lambchop on record or live in concert over the years, whether touring the soulful wall-of sound masterwork ‘Nixon’ or the sparsely arranged gem ‘Is A Woman’, or indeed any one of their sonic masterpieces. Take, for example, the ‘Damaged’ tour where both Hands Off Cuba and the Dafo String quartet would join the core Lambchop group; William Tyler would memorably open up proceedings alongside both Scott Martin and Ryan Norris of Hands Off Cuba where beautifully manipulated electronics and percussion-backed arrangements would backdrop Tyler’s patiently looped meandering guitar work. Some of my own favourite Lambchop live memories involve Tyler. Standing stage right (to the seated Kurt – with obligatory ‘Co-Op Horse Feeds’ peaked hat over his eyes), Tyler would navigate the Lambchop songbook effortlessly on guitar; from the groove and brass-aided ‘Grumpus’ to the intimate ‘The New Cobweb Summer’, or from the ‘older’ classics like ‘I Will Drive Slowly’ to the ‘newer’ classics like ‘Fear’ or ‘Prepared [2]’.

In fact, under Wagner’s direction, Lambchop would have served the greatest possible ‘stage’ for Tyler to hone his craft as a guitar player but also, possibly more importantly, to learn and appreciate the arrangement of a song and the painstaking choices (and time) inherently involved. For, in short, who better to appreciate than Nashville’s Lambchop for what makes music work. On listening to the Lambchop catalogue one truly appreciates the full potential inherent in music in all its beauty.

In the wonderful Lambchop documentary ‘No Such Silence’, William Tyler recalls when he was first approached by Kurt Wagner to join Lambchop:

“He just came up to me one night at a bar and said, “Do you want to play with us? Do you want to do this tour with us? We need a keyboard player. Do you play keyboard?” And I said, “Well, no…not really.” He said, “Well, that’s not really that important. Do you have a keyboard?” 

“Well, no.”
“We’ll get you one.”
(William laughing)
It was a pretty convincing sell, you know. That worked for about a year and then I think he realized that I’d be more happy playing guitar and he sort of let me started letting me play the guitar.”

—William Tyler (‘No Such Silence’ Documentary, City Slang, 2007)

‘Behold The Spirit’ was a true beauty to behold; and, together with ‘Impossible Truth’, William Tyler has earned for himself the reputation for being one of the most truly original and utterly compelling artists making music today.



Interview with William Tyler. 

Please discuss the inspiration behind your latest solo album ‘Impossible Truth’ and the diary of time this music is taken from?

Well my music tends to be pretty deliberate, both in mood and in composition. I have friends like James from Wooden Wand who are ridiculously prolific and I am like the total opposite. It takes me two or three years to write a record usually; I was joking with a song writer friend once that my role model was Terrence Malick and his was Fassbender because our rates of completing projects were so different!

So I started a few of these pieces in 2009 when I was touring on my own for the first time to support my album “Desert Canyon”, but a lot of these melodies and sections never really gelled in an arrangement form until late 2010/2011 when I started focusing on recording again.

To give you a little bit of context, the song “The Geography of Nowhere” contains a minor key melody that was inspired by a long distance train ride through Turkey…I was traveling from Istanbul to Antakya which is near the Syrian border; it was the summer of 2010 and I was taking a sort of crazy impulse solo trip along the shadow route of the Orient express. Anyway, I was in the dining car of this long distance train and there was this old folk song playing on someone’s mp3 player, just over and over, one of those amazing mournful Turkish melodies….it was the only piece of music I heard in a 12 hour period and when I got to a hotel that night I tried to transpose it on the guitar….that’s how that song began.

But all of the songs are similar travelogue type stories…none of them have words but they all have a pretty interesting and singular genesis point.


‘Cadillac Desert’, taken from the new album is breathtaking. The layers of instrumentation and intricate arrangements is such deeply affecting music that is rare to find. The opening cello line could be Van Dyke Parks. The different sections to this piece is like that of movements in a concerto. My favourite moment comes towards the final close just as the lap steel floats along the ocean of sound. Can you please shed some light on this piece of music, and the title choice? 

Well, as a Capricorn and a Mississippian I am always flattered at any comparisons to Mr Parks! Ha. But thank you. In actuality, it’s a fuzz bass that I played underneath two 12 string electrics with a vibraphone in the background…I guess all together it gives the illusion of a concerto, which was the effect intended.

The title of the piece is in reference to a book of the same name by Marc Reisner that deals with the twisted history of water policy in the American west and how the great irrigation and dam projects evolved before and after World War II. It was a book that I was reading on tour in context along with Mike Davis’s “Ecology of Fear” and Barney Hoskyns’ “Hotel California”…it gave me the idea for this kind of apocalypse song cycle about the decline of the American empire and the tyranny of nostalgia.


What is the live line-up for your ‘Impossible Truth’ tour? Do you plan a European tour later in 2013?

I do plan on touring Europe, I am coming over to England and Ireland in May with Hiss Golden Messenger but it will be solo…I would love to bring along other musicians and I think at some point the music really calls for more complex live arrangements but right now it’s still one man band economics.


Can we go back for a moment to ‘Behold The Spirit’, your 2010 solo album. This really is a work of art. The guitar instrumentals create an otherworldly odyssey of sound. It’s spiritual, folk, country, blues in one whole gorgeous spectrum of sound. Can you discuss for me please the recording process involved with ‘Behold The Spirit’? Looking back on the record now, how do you feel about it? You must be deeply proud.

I recorded “Behold” at a studio called House of David with my friend Adam Bednarik, a great bass player and engineer who has collaborated with Lambchop and the myriad of side projects associated with that group. House of David is a great warm old school Nashville studio, wood-paneled walls , low ceilings, ghosts of John Prine, Barefoot Jerry, and Neil Young creeping around. 
 We recorded all analog to tape, mixed in pro tools…I played most everything, a few friends came in to help with drums and piano, but it was a supremely fun and gratifying experience doing that record the way we did. It took a long time though, on and off through 2009, basically whenever Adam or the studio was open.
In terms of inspiration, I mean obviously there is a heavy Takoma vibe in there, there is also a pretty defined nod to acoustic Zeppelin , Terry Riley, Nicky Hopkins’ “Tin Man was a Dreamer”, Bill Frisell, Skip Spence. I envisioned it as an imaginary lost Nashville psychedelic record of the mid seventies…the kind of thing session guys did late at night stoned in the studio after a country session. It’s a very acoustic and folk informed record, and the framing of the acoustic guitar as the central instrument made that pretty obvious.


You are a native of Nashville. Describe Nashville for me please as you were growing up and how and when did you realize music would play such a vital role in your life?

My father is a songwriter and he and my mother moved up to Nashville from Mississippi in the mid seventies so my sister and I grew up around the music industry…as a kid I thought country music was the lamest most backwards stuff imaginable and I fantasized about British rock music, silent films, being a history professor…anything but what actually occurred in my own life, which was that I stayed firmly planted in my home town and grew to love and respect deeply the music of this community and its history.


Please discuss Lambchop and the importance this band has had on you to develop as an artist in your own right?

It follows from what I was just talking about…Kurt from Lambchop is another Nashville native and I think the biggest part of being in Lambchop was that it kept me here…It gave me a reason to stay be based out of my home town because I was nineteen, hadn’t gone back to school and was drifting a little, and here was a chance to join a band I had tremendous respect for and tour the world. And musically I was able to grow up in a sense in the context of this band, changing the way I viewed country and soul music certainly, giving me a real focus on the guitar, on ensemble playing, on the power of space and tension. And Kurt has always been such an important mentor and he really allowed me to grow as a person and a musician with the band, I owe him and them quite a lot.


I’ve seen Lambchop countless times and your guitar playing was an almost constant in those special nights. My memories of Lambchop concerts that stay with me is the wonderful musicianship the audience witness. Your guitar tones and notes has such a characteristic sound, as does Tony Crow’s piano playing and Kurt’s phrasing and rhythm guitar, and so on. Please discuss this special musicianship present in the band and the live performance dynamic playing in Lambchop?

Playing with Lambchop is all about listening. Not just to Kurt but to everyone…The whole reason it ‘works’ is because here are ten people really listening to each other and not playing too much or too little. Kurt is a great band leader because he knows how to get what he wants out of the people he surrounds himself with and a lot of that is being more of a social scientist than an arranger…almost like the way Miles Davis in his electric era used to just assemble a group of folks and let them play together.

But yes, dynamics are paramount with that band. A lot of people on the outside probably don’t understand just how complex the ‘subtlety’ of the music is.


Take me back please to ‘Master & Everyone’ by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy who you played on?

I played guitar on I think three of four tracks….it was easy, I came in one day and overdubbed. It was the first record Will did with Mark Nevers. I love that album but to be honest I have gotten way way too much credit for it; I’ve never toured with Will or collaborated with him in a bigger context so it’s funny to me that people always bring up that album.


What albums proved the biggest inspiration for you when it came to recording ‘Impossible Truth’?

Sandy Bull’s “E Pluribus Unum”, Gavin Bryars’ “Sinking of the Titanic”, Kaleidoscope’s “Beacon From Mars”, the film soundtracks of Jack Nitzsche and David Shire, Ry Cooder, Fairport’s “Full House”, “Another Green World” by Eno, anything Popol Vuh.


Tell me please about your own record label, Sebastian Speaks and what releases are planned?

I have kind of wrapped up Sebastian Speaks as an active entity. It started years ago as a hobby and I released a few things by friends, a few reissues. It was mainly a way of me figuring out the process of actually pressing and selling records, specifically vinyl. A labor of love, but when the labor started outweighing the love I decided to step away from it.


Discuss please the importance of David Berman and Silver Jews, in which you have played a pivotal role in several records.

I met David through Mark Nevers and came to play guitar on ‘Bright Flight’….and then a few years later when David decided to make the Silver Jews a live entity I was included in that. David is another very important mentor; his intense focus on projects and his very intuitive deliberation and perfectionism really shaped the way I wanted to approach making my own music.


The person who has recorded a lot of your music is your good friend, the highly regarded Mark Nevers in Nashville, and is of course synonymous with many a Lambchop record among so much more. Can you give me an insight please into his production technique and what makes this place such a wonderful place to record music?

He is an amazing engineer, absolutely the best. Most of his records, including “Impossible Truth” are recorded at his home studio, the Beech House. He’s very organic in the way he approaches recording and hence a great producer for a lot of the stuff that comes out of Nashville…he understands the sonic continuity of Bobby Fuller, Beefheart, the Ramones, and George Jones.
A lot of sessions with Mark are what I imagine people fantasize “Nashville” to be. You show up at nine in the morning, meet a singer for the first time, make charts for five or six songs you have never heard before, and record them. Pretty old school, in the best way.


‘Impossible Truth’ will be released on Merge Records on March 19 (US) and on April 29 in the UK and Europe.



“To conclude this interview
Many facts and fictions you construe
The dog gives you the paw
You pat his head and you wipe his jaw
He’s the only one who knew
(about) my blue wave”

—Kurt Wagner, ‘My Blue Wave’, (taken from Lambchop’s 2002 album, ‘Is A Woman’)


Label Of Love: City Slang

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Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

New City Slang releases adorn Spanish filmmaker’s Pedro Almodovar’s list of musical inspirations for his new film ‘Los Amantes Pasajeros’. The albums in question are the latest albums from two greats, Lambchop and Tindersticks. Lambchop’s ‘Mr. M’ album is the closest thing you can get to a solo Kurt Wagner album which is dedicated to the late Vic Chesnutt. In Kurt’s words, ‘I felt Lambchop had one more good record in us, and this time I was going to do things as directly and true to my desires as possible.’ The result is a heart wrenching jazz-folk opus of, and about love. ‘The Something Rain’ by Tindersticks is their debut for the German label and what an album it is. The album is a milestone in Tindersticks’ long and fruitful career, showing the band in a rejuvenated and truly inspired form. From the opening David Boulter spoken word of ‘Chocolate’ to the closing cinematic piece ‘Goodbye Joe’, compelling experimental rock of ‘Frozen’, jazz infused soul of ‘This Fire of Autumn’ and ‘Slippin’ Shoes”s gorgeous chamber pop noir, ‘The Something Rain’ is a stunning masterpiece in sound, emotion and style. The inclusion of both albums on the legendary filmmaker’s ‘stress lifting’ playlist is a testament to the sheer quality of ‘Mr. M’ and ‘The Something Rain’. In Almodovar’s films, music is a central character and is forever integral to the creation of the unique and wonderful world that Almodovar’s characters inhabits.

The album I hold most dear to me is ‘Neon Golden’ by The Notwist. The album was released on City Slang in 2002. I will always remember the first time I heard The Notwist in the form of ‘One With The Freaks’, taken from ‘Neon Golden’. Every Sunday night I would stay up late, into the small hours of the morning and listen to Jay Ahern’s late night music program on 2FM. The show was my gateway into exploring new and alternative music. I felt the magic in the air’s airwaves for the three captivating hours, from 11PM ’till 2AM. As a teenager, at 17, a whole world of new possibilities opened up before me. Every weekend I spent waiting for the arrival of Sunday night and every Monday at school I would be lost in thought, trying to recapture the music that drifted in my ears from the night before.
My musical discoveries were endless. I first heard the exciting sound of electronic music from the likes of Brian Eno, Aphex Twin and Kraftwerk. A new generation of electronic music in the shape of Four Tet, Manitoba and Schneider TM. The NYC guitar scene of LCD Soundsystem, The Strokes, The Rapture and Interpol were burning brightly. Detroit were doing their thing with The White Stripes, Detroit Cobras, The Von Bondies among others all in full swing. Hip hop was introduced to me, from the legendary Jurassic 5 to new protoges on the Anticon and Def Jux labels. The guitar disco of the DFA label reinvented rock ‘n’ roll for me. Hour 2 was nearly always based on Americana and folk music. I fell in love with James Yorkston & The Athletes album ”Movin’ Up Country’ and M. Ward’s ‘Transfiguration of Vincent’. Oh, and I heard Chan Marshall (AKA Cat Power) for the first time, whose (classic) album ‘You Are Free’ was recently released at this time. The array of bands and artists I became obsessed with are too numerous to mention!

At this moment I realized I’ve transgressed from my original recount of the Notwist and ‘Neon Golden’. Jay Ahern played ‘One With The Freaks’ almost religiously every week. The song’s chorus ‘Have you ever been all messed up?’ sung by Markus Acher moved me hugely. Acher’s vocals were heartfelt and the song was both indie and electronica in equal measure. I was mesmerized, particularly at the moment when the electric guitars and drums crash in so magnificently. This, the DJ told me is ‘indietronica music’, the combination of the traditional indie music guitar/drums elements and electronic music’s experimentation. I soon scanned the shelves of Plugd, my local record store and happily found ‘Neon Golden’ gracing the ‘Electronica’ section. ‘Neon Golden’ is an album I’ve returned to most often in the last ten years, although Calexico’s ‘Feast of Wire’ (also on City Slang) could have broken this record! The album is the amalgamation of electronic and acoustic instrumentation. From the opening ‘One Step Inside Doesn’t Mean You Understand’ wrapped in seamless beauty to the closing lo-fi lullaby ‘Consequence’, the album is the most natural thing in the world. Since its release in 2002, The Notwist’s ‘Neon Golden’ is among the best, most vital and innovative albums of the 21st Century, and branded a universally acclaimed masterpiece. Frontman Markus Acher has said ‘We want (the music) to be fragile, vulnerable. And in a way we want it to include the weaknesses.’ The sonic and emotional journey ‘Neon Golden’ takes you on is otherworldly.

Hazy pop melodies drifts in and out, lo-fi ballads float slowly, beautiful, dreamy electronic textures circulate and delicate instrumentation creates an album of true magic. The poetic lyrics of Acher ring in your ear long after the music has stopped. ‘In your world my feet are out of step/my arms don’t move, my hands won’t grab’ is a lyric from ‘One Step Inside Doesn’t Mean You Understand’. A gently picked acoustic guitar, conga and soft woodwind sounds floats heavenly amidst Acher’s poetry before Martin Gretschmann’s electronic prowess arrives over heavenly strings. ‘Pick Up The Phone’ is perfect electronic pop with New Orderesque bass from Micha Acher, ‘Today I will step out of your past’ are Acher’s final words. ‘Trashing days’ opens with a banjo before Gretschmann’s magical electronic beats guides the song along before a gorgeous flute line enters on the chorus, ‘They’re skipping backwards, they’re trashing days,is that all they’re believing in?’ ‘Solitaire’ weaves its magic, containing a Michael Nyman sample. The violin and Gretschmann’s slowed down beats combine to form an utterly compelling dreamscape of sound. Acher sings ‘We stay here and bare until dawn everyday ‘ on the song’s chorus. I soon realized many off-shoot projects stemmed from The Notwist, namely Lali Puna, Tied & Tickled Trio and Console. These artists were often played by Jay Ahern, together with The Notwist, and often all consecutively for the ultimate German-electronic-indie-tronic journey. The album’s closer ‘Consequence’ is probably my highlight. In fact, the lyrics ‘Fail with consequence, lose with eloquence and smile’ is engraved on my precious ipod! The song is achingly beautiful with layers of intricate textures woven together. The album’s title-track is sublime. Flutes, banjo and layers of percussion creates the perfect backdrop for Acher’s vocals, ‘Neon golden like all the lights/Neon golden, don’t leave me here/For I glow’.

In 2003, I discovered Calexico. Their fourth studio album ‘Feast of Wire’ came out in February on the City Slang label. This was my most important musical discovery as over the past decade, Tucson Arizona’s finest have been my most beloved and cherished bands, unlike no other. Each new Calexico release is a celebration of pure joy. Equally, seeing them on tour is always of paramount importance. The band holds such significance to me that music without Calexico would seem unthinkable. Since discovering ‘Feast of Wire’ I discovered their previous masterpieces, ‘Spoke’, ‘The Black Light’ and ‘Hot Rail’. Listening only to Calexico’s studio albums is merely scratching at the surface. Before Calexico, Joey Burns (guitars, vocals amongst varied others!) and John Convertino (drums, vibes and more) were the rhythm section of Giant Sand and were in Friends of Dean Martinez. Furthermore, Calexico collaborated with a vast array of musicians, including Neko Case, Richard Buckner, Marianne Dissard, and more recently, Iron & Wine, Vinicio Caposella, Depedro and Amparo Sanchez. Calexico have written and composed scores for a wide range of films from the heart-wrenching Mexican documentary ‘Circo'(Aaron Schock) to the Fellini-inspired Dylan biopic ‘I’m Not There'(Todd Haynes). The wealth of music the band have produced and released over the years is staggering. Not to forget their many tour albums that are released in the space between the major label releases, all of which are essential listening.
‘Feast of Wire’ is a masterpiece of beauty and diversity. I first heard the album’s songs on Jay Ahern’s Sunday night alternative music program. The likes of Dirty Three, The Black Heart Procession and (labelmates) Lambchop were often close at hand! The night in question was a rare musical treat where Joey Burns was the guest for the full 3 hour duration. It reached epic proportions! I escaped to Tucson, Arizona, the expansive Sonoran desert, downtown Tucson, Wavelab studios, Craig Schumacher, Cormac McCarthy, the U.S/Mexican border and mariachis, folk, jazz, gypsy, latino music galore. During the show, the entire ‘Feast of Wire’ album in addition to sprinklings of older material was played. What I heard was simply the most exciting and momentous music, unlike no one else. The genres and styles of jazz, gypsy, folk, lo-fi indie, cinematic scores a la Morricone were immersed in their deep-rooted sound.

‘Feast of Wire’ opener ‘Sunken Waltz’ begins with an angelic accordion and acoustic guitar waltz before Joey Burns sings, ‘Washed my face in the rivers of empire.’ ‘Quattro (World Drifts In)’ is next and for me, is still the finest moment in Calexico’s songbook. John Convertino’s drums echo Joey Burn’s lyrics, ‘hit the ground running’. The sheer atmospheric feel and weight of the song is mind-blowing. Paul Niehaus’ pedal steel pours emotion, as do the soaring trumpets on the song’s chorus. A song rarely carries such power and emotion like ‘Quattro’. ‘Black Heart’ is sublime. The mesmerizing string section beneath Convertino’s illuminating drums creates a timeless sound. The song is cathartic and its magical power cleanses your soul, ‘ heart, crawling its way to the four corners of the world’ Burns sings on the chorus. The album contains as many instrumentals as it does vocal tracks. ‘The Book And The Canal’ is my favourite of the instrumentals. A cinematic tour de force. Meandering piano builds into a crescendo before eerie cello strings appear halfway through. The piece isn’t even 2 minutes long yet the spell it casts is undeniable. This piece always brings me back to seeing Calexico perform in the Cork Opera House in 2003. The lights went off and ‘The Book and the Canal’ came on the venue soundsystem. A short black and white road trip video of Calexico (featuring all members exploring a city’s streets at nightfall) was shown before Calexico entered onstage. ‘Across The Wire’ transports you to the heart of the Mexican border. The song title is taken from Luis Alberto Urrea’s novel ‘Across The Wire’. The song offers a compelling look at life for those refugees on the Mexican side of the border. The song is full of hope and dreams, searching and longing. The rise where Burns sings ‘some say a new day will shine here’ is one of the defining moments of ‘Feast Of Wire’. The glorious mariachis and waltzing accordion is empowering, celebratory and casts light of hope on the darkness ‘across the wire’. The album is an artistic treasure and a feast of musical sounds and styles.

Nashville’s Lambchop is a band, like Calexico, who constantly inspire, no matter what sonic avenue they travel down. Kurt Wagner and co. came to Cork Opera House for their ‘Is A Woman’ tour in 2002. Fortunately, I witnessed this magical night. At 17, this concert (as well as Calexico in the same year at the same venue!) blew me away. I can always remember the presence Kurt Wagner exuded onstage, sitting down with his trademark Nashville Co-op cap and a book of lyrics close at hand. The musicianship in the band was clear to see. Tony Crow’s piano was in constant dialogue with Kurt’s storytelling. The intimacy of the night was something I will always remember. Sitting next to my brother and my Dad, I felt the special spark in the air brought by Lambchop’s deeply soulful creations.

‘Is A Woman’ is a Lambchop album I’ve returned to many many times since it was released 10 years ago. Each song pours with such raw emotion, creating an album of deeply affecting songs that resonates powerfully to this day. ‘The Daily Growl’, ‘New Cobweb Summer’, ‘My Blue Wave’, ‘I Can Hardly Spell My Name’, ‘Caterpillar’, ‘The Old Matchbox Trick’ are all vintage Lambchop. ‘I Can Hardly Spell My Name’ may be my favourite. Gorgeous female backing harmonies appear after Kurt sings, ‘this may not appeal to you, but I can hardly spell my name’. Tony Crow’s piano, Paul Niehaus’ pedal steel beneath Kurt’s gentle guitar provides a meditative soul sound. Moments of magic are dotted all over ‘Is A Woman’. Take ‘Autum’s Vicar’ with Kurt’s lyric on the bridge, ‘believe you me, believe me you’ is life affirming. ‘Caterpillar’ closes with haunting strings amidst Niehaus’ atmospheric lap steel. The title track evolves into a soulful reggae opus. ‘The Old Matchbox Trick’ contains a deep bassline groove. The lyrics on the final verse/chorus is perhaps my favourite of Kurt’s, ‘the old matchbook trick, keeps the table from wobble, slipped under the short leg, steadies the unsteadiness, of the lopsided conversation, makes a solid place to rest, arms and thought upon’.

‘Nixon’ is another masterpiece from Lambchop that came out in 2000, the predecessor to ‘Is A Woman’. This in fact was my first introduction to the ‘Chop, and what an introduction!! I remember my brother and I were in HMV and we saw the colourful autumnal artwork of ‘Nixon’ and blurb that read, ‘A tenderly gorgeous hybrid of country, folk and soul’. That was enough for us to dole out the cash! Like The Notwist’s ‘Neon Golden’ and Calexico’s ‘Feast of Wire’, ‘Nixon’ is a rare treasure which breathes significance and life’s insights. If ‘Feast of Wire’ introduced me to jazz and latin music, ‘Nixon’ introduced me to soul. Funnily, this album got me into Curtis Mayfield shortly afterwards. Whenever I played it, my parents would say his voice (Kurt’s soul falsetto) is like Curtis Mayfield!

The album is sublime. Words can’t paint the feelings I have for ‘Nixon’. The strings, clean guitar tones, Kurt’s soul voice, brass, bass grooves, country licks pour out of the speakers. Each song is an anthem with a message delivered by Reverend Kurt. My favourite all time Lambchop song is ‘You Masculine You’, the third song on ‘Nixon’. The song has such a wide dynamic range from the opening delicate string soaked verses to the cascading soul grandeur it becomes. Kurt sings ‘Don’t follow me’ in refrain over the swirling strings, guitars and drums proving to be ‘Nixon”s climax. It’s breathtaking and live, the song becomes something more, an anthem for a generation, embedded in a whirlwind of emotion.

Similarly with Calexico, Lambchop have released countless tour albums for the fans over the years and each one documents the band in a particular moment in time. Recently both bands have released their tour albums in one box set; Calexico’s ‘Road Atlas’ and lambchop’s ‘Tour Box’ are steeped in inspiration and wonder. Lambchop’s liner notes say, ‘Making things difficult since 1992’. For the listener, Lambchop have made some of the most beautiful, moving and transcendent music of our time. The sound of Lambchop transcends time. Asking ‘What is your favourite Lambchop album?’ is like being asked what your favourite Beatles album is. It’s never a constant. It changes with time. It changes depending on life’s current circumstances. One day it could be ‘Rubber Soul’, the next day ‘Revolver’ or ‘Sgt Pepper’. Likewise with Lambchop, the latest ‘Mr. M’ is my current fave. A short time ago it was the double-album of lush instrumentals, thoughtful ballads and rousing rock of ‘Aw C’mon/No You C’mon. I love their older albums too, released during the nineties. ‘I Hope You’re Sitting Down’ is their debut and contains classics such as the infectious ‘Betweemus’, and the achingly beautiful ‘I Will Drive Slowly’. At the time of its release, Lambchop were pronounced as ‘Nashville’s most fucked-up country band’ with their unique songcraft and style(s). Since 1992, Lambchop have evolved into becoming American music’s true national treasures.

The German electronic artist Schneider TM (AKA Dirk Dresselhaus) was another discovery I made via Jay Ahern’s late night radio program, on the City Slang label. I first heard his collaboration with Kpt. Michi.gan on ‘Light 3000’. The electronica track is a re-working of ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ by The Smiths. I was already familiar with the Morrisey/Marr original but this complete re-interpretation was absolutely mind-blowing. I don’t think a better cover version has been made since. Schneider TM’s ‘Zoomer’ album was released on City Slang in 2002. Exciting and fresh electronic pop sounds painted each of the album’s eight tracks. The opener ‘Reality Check’ starts with a strumming acoustic guitar accompanied with strange effects and electronic blips. A lyric is ‘beware of the matrix, and keep a warm heart inside’. Schneider TM’s vocals are reminiscent of Beck and like Beck himself, creates exciting and cutting edge music. At the same time ‘Zoomer’ was out, Manitoba AKA Dan Snaith released his masterpiece, ‘Up In Flames’. Although this very album was released on the Leaf label, almost a decade later, Dan Snaith would release a classic electronic album ‘Swim’ under the ‘Caribou’ moniker, on the City Slang label! I fell in love with Dan Snaith’s unique sound found on ‘Up In Flames’. The single ‘Jacknuggeted’ is sublime as is the beautiful music video that accompanied its release. A great electronic-indie musician who effortlessly combines rhythms, percussion, electronics, jazz, indie/psych music among other styles, forming a unique and revelatory sound. Dan Snaith’s masterpiece arrived in 2010 under the Caribou moniker. ‘Swim’ was borne out of Snaith’s desire to create “dance music that sounds like it’s made out of water”. ‘Swim’ is an organic dance record with remarkable sonic detail and textures. Snaith has been at the forefront of electronic music for a decade, with the likes of Four Tet, who are capable of creating utterly compelling and transcendent music. I can’t wait for Caribou’s follow-up to ‘Swim’! Also, the remixes to ‘Swim’ are essential listening.

More recently, a wave of indie-rock acts have been signed to the City Slang label. Most noticeably, Tu Fawning’s album ‘A Monument’ is an enchanting and truly interesting album. The opener ‘Anchor’ is reminiscent of Beach House and many fine indie pop moments are scattered across the nine tracks. Laura Gibson’s ‘La Grande’ feels ancient and new all at once, whose voice echoes the great Karen Dalton. Indie acts Get Well Soon, Nada Surf and O Death make their own distinct indie rock sound. Arcade Fire released their third album, ‘The Suburbs’ on City Slang to huge critical praise and cemented their reputation as the best indie rock groups around. The best of 2012 is yet to come with the imminent release of ‘Algiers’ by Calexico. The album was recorded in New Olreans so expect yet another melting pot of sound from New Orleans via Tucson Arizona.

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August 3, 2012 at 7:47 pm

The Last Waltz: Vic Chesnutt

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Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry


James Victor “Vic” Chesnutt
Singer-songwriter (born Jacksonville, Fla. on Nov 12, 1964), aged 45.

Earlier this year, Nashville alt country act Lambchop released their eleventh studio album ‘Mr M’ dedicated to the memory of Vic Chesnutt. The deeply personal songs on ‘Mr M’, written by Kurt Wagner, are each a tribute to a close and special friend and fellow artist. Love, loss, anger, anguish and pain thread deeply through the intimate creations. On ‘If Not I’ll Just Die’ Wagner sings ‘Uh, I adore you, and I represent you crying cause/We were born, we were born to rule’ over the ‘psych-Sinatra’ sound of Tony Crow’s piano and majestic strings. The aching ballad ‘Mr Met’ describes the flow of emotions following Chesnutt’s passing, ‘You made me spare/Like used software/It will not bring you.’ The album ‘Mr. M’ is deeply moving, personal and a fitting tribute to Wagner’s close friend and mentor. Kurt Wagner has said how the ghost of Chesnutt still lingers over his music. They first met in the early nineties and later in ’98, Lambchop themselves were the backing band for Vic Chesnutt’s ‘The Salesman and Bernadette’. I was fortunate to see Lambchop in Vicar Street, Dublin during their Mr. M tour earlier this year. The songs of Mr. M were performed from start to finish and was an utterly special and beautiful moment in time to witness.

Vic Chesnutt had many close friends and collaborators over the years, not least Michael Stipe who produced his first two albums. Michael Stipe was an early fan of Chesnutt and produced both ‘Little’ (1990) and ‘West of Rome’ (1991). The albums are dark folk masterpieces filled with a vivid realness that casts both light and dark shades of human emotion. ‘Flirted With You All My Life’ is a profoundly sad and haunting song Chesnutt wrote about his close relationship with death which deals with suicide, ‘And everywhere I go/You are always right there with me/I flirted with you all my life/Even kissed you once or twice.’ Songs can rarely strike such an emotional core like those of Vic Chesnutt’s proud songbook. His last two albums, ‘North Star Deserter’ and ‘At The Cut’ were released on Constellation Records and received unanimous critical praise. Chesnutt’s final album ‘In The Cut’ is as raw and honest as an album can get. The opener ‘Coward’ is an anthemic tour de force with crashing drums and violent strings pouring with deep emotion. Chesnutt’s refrain of ‘I am a coward’ is as powerful as Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds or Tom Waits at their best. The sparse ballad ‘When the Bottom Fell Out’ is reminiscent of Leonard Cohen. The final verse resonates powerfully:-‘So long, it’s been good to know you/But when I finally smash into that vertin grass/I will say it’s been pretty great going.’

Vic Chesnutt was paralysed from the waist down following a car accident in 1983, at the age of 18. In a recent interview, Chesnutt said ‘It was only after I broke my neck and even like maybe a year later that I really started realizing that I had something to say.’ Chesnutt wrote about a struggle for peace in a life filled with pain and on Christmas Day 2009, he tragically passed away by an overdose of muscle relaxants. Vic Chesnutt made a huge impact on so many people’s lives and his memory will forever burn brightly.

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July 29, 2012 at 8:25 pm


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