Festival Update: High Sierra, Smilefest, and More

Now that things have cooled off from the intense, day-long Bonnaroo lineup announcement, let’s see how the rest of the fest world is doing, shall we?

Quincy, California’s High Sierra Music Festival has announced their lineup, and they’re keeping things relatively low-key this year, playing to their built in audience with acts like The Avett Brothers, Ozomatli, Femi Kuti and Positive Force, Railroad Earth, Bela Fleck with Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussain, Dr. Dog, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, Cornmeal, Blitzen Trapper, the New Mastersounds, The Slip, The Infamous Stringdusters, Telepath, Zach Deputy, and more. It’s a modest but high-quality lineup befitting the event’s history.

The rejuvenated Smilefest has a slightly improved lineup, as Michael Franti and Spearhead, Jeff Coffin Mu’tet, Josh Phillips Folk Festival and Barefoot Manner (acoustic) have joined Acoustic Syndicate, Keller Williams, and a number of local artists. 1990’s-era jamband Quiver will also perform a reunion show at the event.

The Joshua Tree Music Festival keeps quietly adding new acts, such as New Orleans brass stunners Bonerama and mor eCalifornia talent such as The Heavy Guilt and Evaros.

February 19th will bring more news from the Nateva Festival, and March should be full of announcements from Mile High, Lollapalooza, All Good, Pitchfork, and maybe even some early leaks from Austin City Limits, along with “round 2” of Bonnaroo.

Album Review: Allison Moorer – Crows

Allison Moorer has always embraced a wide range of musical styles while exploring the emotion of life with her lyrics and vocals. Her last release, Mockingbird, was a stylistically sprawling collection of covers, and the album was appropriately full to the brim with guest musicians and instruments of all kinds. Crows finds Moorer exploring her own original tunes, and it is remarkable in the sense that her voice and sound have become as distinctive as the artists she celebrated on Mockingbird.

Despite plenty of instrumental counterpoint, Moorer’s voice takes center stage throughout the album. Even if spotlighting her considerable pipes hadn’t been the intent here, it wouldn’t have mattered; her voice has the clarity and fortitude to slice through the densest backdrop of sound. She elegantly dominates the lush “Just Another Fool” and soars above the radio-ready rhythms of “The Broken Girl,” and each song’s lyrical profundity is amplified by Moorer’s arresting delivery – a blend of resonant seriousness and magical expression.  Continue reading

Festival Update: Camp Bisco, Bear Creek, and More

We’ve got our eyes on a couple of new additions to our festival watch list – Camp Bisco 9 and Bear Creek Music Festival. Camp Bisco 9 is shaping up to be one of the most successful events of the year, and it’s still more than 5 months away. The event, which takes place July 15-17, 2010, in Mariaville, NY, sold out of the first batch of presale tickets and opened up a whole new presale period. The lineup for this one will undoubtedly be amazing and unpredictable, so check here and the festival website for updates.

The fine folks behind the Bear Creek Music Festival, held every year at Spirit of the Suwanee Music Park in Live Oak, FL, have taken a unique approach to their 2010 event. Tickets are already on sale and the lineup has already been announced for the festival, with is still 9 months away. I suppose their philosophy is sound – the longer tickets are on sale and the lineup circulating, the more buzz and press there will be. I must say, a $99 early bird ticket is a hell of a deal for the jamgasm of a lineup – Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Garaj Mahal, Lettuce, Soulive, George Porter Jr, Toubab Krewe, Zach Deputy, Will Bernard, and “artists-at-large” Fred Wesley, Skerik, Mike Dillon, The Shady Horns, and Kofi Burbridge are just a sampling of the monster funk lineup.

Bonnaroo rumors and confirmations continue to fly, with Wale announcing his plans to be on the farm and Zac Brown Band confirming their inclusion as well. As of right now, it looks like the speculators will be right on with their predictions of Dave Matthews Band, Kings of Leon, Pavement, and others.

We’re looking for anything we can find about Lollapalooza, High Sierra, All Good, Mile High, Austin City Limits, and other events, and we’ll be sure to post as soon as we hear anything!

Album Review: Vampire Weekend – Contra

It’s a cliche that often holds true – a stunning debut album foretells a slight letdown for a band’s next release. Well, don’t expect a letdown from this sophomore known as Contra. All of a sudden, Vampire Weekend’s short career seems incredibly promising, because Contra is equally as engaging and addictive as their first album. Thankfully, it is also very, very different. The band have not allowed their ubiquitous debut to influence their new musical path, and those who grew tired of the band’s overexposure would do well to give this album a dedicated listen.

Their peppy, preppy pop sound is still intact but they haven’t limited themselves to re-hashing the same formula of gently African-influenced indie rock. Instead, they’ve opened up the whole of their audio toy box, creating gems like “White Sky,” which simultaneously channels Paul Simon and Hot Chip. “Taxi Cab” takes the listener on a melancholy ride through mesmerizing piano figures, elegant melodic interludes, and sparse electronica. Perhaps the most ambitious track, “Run,” embraces the ears with lush, limitless sounds, from synthesized horns to pinging Postal Service-style electropop and dominant drumming reminiscent of u2’s Larry Mullen Jr.

“Holiday” is perhaps most reminiscent of their trademark sound, a straightforward creation with inconsequential lyrics and bouncy rock rhythms. “California English” also bears the unmistakable pulse of Africa-meets-NYC listeners have come to love, but this time there’s a string section and increased electronic manipulation. The exhausting “Cousins” puts the entire band’s abilities to the test, as manic, cascading guitars dart around a frantic beat and unflappable bass work.

For most of this album’s audience, gripes will be minimal. The general uselessness of the lyrics can be irritating despite the appeal of Ezra Koenig’s mellow vocals, and “Giving Up the Gun” doesn’t fit in as well as the rest of the album. Also, the final track, “I Think Ur A Contra,” isn’t going to garner many repeat plays. Still, Contra is just about all we could hope for from Vampire Weekend. Under intense critical scrutiny and palpable fan pressure, they have delivered a mature, forward-looking, and wholly exciting release.

Rating: 8.1 out of 10

Album Review: Mike Doughty – Sad Man Happy Man

Sad Man Happy Man is a perfectly fitting title for a Mike Doughty album. Anyone who reads the guy’s blog or follows his career knows how alternately volatile and friendly he can be, and his latest album might be the best representation of that divide since his first solo effort, Skittish. This album is more sparse and intimate than his last release, the shimmering pop effort Golden Delicious, and it’s no coincidence. Doughty has said that he consciously went back to sound that is not as fully produced and fleshed out for Sad Man Happy Man, since different cliques of his fans seem to like different things.

Apparently, some of those fans told Doughty that they liked Golden Delicious more than anything he ever did with Soul Coughing. Those people probably weren’t huge Soul Coughing fans to begin with. While Golden Delicious is Doughty’s finest effort since Soul Coughing disbanded, it hardly seems possible that, if given the choice, someone who genuinely loved Soul Coughing would prefer Doughty’s solo work. Anyway, we now have Sad Man Happy Man, an apparent attempt to sate the other groups of fans – the ones who like their Doughty with less sheen. The whole of the album is performed by Doughty, with just a little of Scrap Livingston’s cello here and there, giving the entire affair a personal, intimate vibe. It’s not on the same fearful, huddled tip as Skittish, but it’s close. Continue reading