September 28, 2008
Originally published on the Austin American-Statesman’s Austin360 28 September 2008.
When Alabama’s A.A. Bondy took the Dell Stage with nothing more than an acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder and a harmonica fastened to his neck, the booming echoes of drumsets from other stages threatened to drown out his expertly finger-picked licks.
Bondy moved confidently through his Dylanesque folk tunes nonetheless, keeping the crowd’s chatter to a minimum and their response enthusiastic.
“I kind of feel like I should be out there among you,” he said a few songs in.
But he had no reason to worry about the performance lacking intimacy. The audience was transfixed by the Southwestern crunch of his slightly distorted acoustic riffs and the graceful imperfection of his crackling melodies.
The music was punctuated by his haunting revivalist poetics. Over the dreary drag of the minor chords in “Rapture (Sweet Rapture)” Bondy sang about trees swinging like hanging men, while in the upbeat romp “Vice Rag” he asked Jesus to take his sinner’s hand after singing that he’d drink dry an ocean full of whiskey.
Though Bondy has only released one album, 2007’s “American Hearts,” he played a surprisingly small number of cuts from it. The rest of the set was made up of equally impressive unreleased numbers. In one, he picked out a sunny, gospel-like progression while singing, “Dress well/Get pretty/You got to die.”
Judging from the strength of such songs, Bondy’s next album will be just as good or better than “American Hearts.”
September 28, 2008
Originally published on the Austin American-Statesman’s Austin360 26 September 2008.
With the Wallflowers’ breakthrough album, 1996’s “Bringing Down the Horse,” Jakob Dylan proved himself a solid songwriter, showing that there was more to him as a musician than just his father’s famous last name. Now with five Wallflowers releases under his belt, Dylan has dropped the roots rock for a stripped-down folk sound on his debut solo album “Seeing Things.”
Dylan’s new act translated perfectly to ACL’s AT&T stage on Friday afternoon. Dylan and his bandmates, the Gold Mountain Rebels, took the stage dressed in black suits, white shirts and shades, then breezed through an hour’s worth of softly floating folk tunes and hard-driving blues rock numbers.
There was some trouble with the mix at the start of the set and the band’s harmonies wavered slightly for the first few songs, but they found their stride with “Here Comes Now.” In the song, soft snare strokes and egg shakers created an atmosphere of understated percussion to underlie Dylan’s twinkling, finger-picked guitar lines.
The next song, “Three Marlenas,” was a pleasant surprise for longtime Wallflowers fans. The track from “Bringing Down the Horse” had audience members singing along and clapping.
The highlight of the show, however, was “Will It Grow,” a cut off Dylan’s solo album lush with imagery and smooth-flowing guitar solos. “Jet black starlit midnight rolls/I am down in the valley where I let go,” Dylan lamented with his rich voice as clean guitar lines danced in the background.
This was Dylan’s first ACL performance, but fans will surely be eager to welcome him back.
September 18, 2008
Originally published in the Austin American-Statesman’s XL 18 September 2008.
Former teacher made the grade outside class
Since switching careers from second-grade teacher to musician, Amos Lee has released three albums and toured with the likes of Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello, among others. Lee’s rich and soulful voice carries his latest album, “Last Days at the Lodge,” through 11 blues and folk-tinged tunes. Lee, who’s based in Philadelphia and plays La Zona Rosa tonight, took a few minutes last week to talk on the phone from a tour stop in Southern California about his new album and his career.
American-Statesman: What made you decide to stop teaching?
Lee: I was already going to end it because I wasn’t really digging it. I wasn’t really feeling good about what I was doing, and that’s never a good thing. But the toppling factor, or the tipping point of the whole thing, was I started going to these open mikes with people. Actually, I went by myself, but I started meeting folks. And these people really inspired me and changed me a lot. It was like a whole new world for me because it was people just making songs and hanging out and drinking beers, listening to each other and supporting each other. There was no real haste involved and no heavy judgment happening.
How much time was there between when you started doing the open mikes and when you really started taking your career seriously as a musician?
Well, I’ve never really seen it like that. When I stopped teaching I said to myself, “I’m going to do this music thing, and I’m going to give myself a couple years to make some inroads and get some gigs.” But I was also bartending while doing it. So I gave myself a couple years to see what was going to happen with it, you know? So I started playing the open mikes in ’02, and then I signed a deal with Blue Note in ’04.
You’ve toured with some of music’s biggest players, like Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello and Paul Simon. When did you start making those connections?
Well, the first big gig I ever had was opening up for B.B. King, so that was pretty much a big head trip. The next one was opening up for Dylan, and then I went on tour with him for a little while. And it was just making those connections slowly along the way.
The new record is called ‘Last Days at the Lodge.’ Is there a story behind the title?
I was staying at this place called Sportsmen’s Lodge in Los Angeles. It’s this old hotel in the valley where a lot of people stayed, and it’s got an old L.A. vibe to it. It’s just a funny old hotel that I really loved, and as I was staying there I started making the record, and in between I found that they had changed ownership and things were going to change a lot. And who knows what governs change in this world, but whoever or whatever it is, be it the owners of that hotel franchise or something greater who decided that it was time for that hotel to make a change. It made me really sad because I loved the vibe of the place. A lot of things happen where change occurs and things aren’t what they used to be. I don’t know the whole history of the hotel, but in our generation, it seems like this sort of corporate takeover of America has happened pretty fast, and I love to stay at places that are a little bit more independently owned, if possible, but that was one place in particular that I really loved.
It sounds like that was definitely an inspiration for the record. Were there any others?
A lot of these songs were written in and around a few years span, and I went through some changes personally in my life, especially with the transition between someone who’s done a little bit of a time on the road and someone who’s done a few years on the road. It’s a real different kind of scene. You lose a lot of friends, a lot of love. So that’s where a few of these songs started. Also, socially it’s kind of difficult as I get older and I put my nose into the affairs of things to keep a perspective on things and try to really understand where everything is and where it might be headed. It’s kind of impossible to know. These times we live in move really fast. I travel a lot, there’s a lot of information being strewn about, and I think we have a pretty heavy responsibility to understand things in that way.