Thursday, July 23, 2015

Lewis and Leigh - A Fine Slice of Celtic Folk and Americana, One Year Old and Preparing Third EP

Photo ©2015 Ross Trevail

When you live for music discovery, somedays you wear out your delete key. But occasionally, there are days (like the one recently) that keep you getting up in the morning. On such days you might turn on your computer to find something like this Facebook post from Lewis and Leigh:

"Happy 1st Birthday to this our first ever video. It was the first thing we ever posted/released as L&L and now here we are looking ahead to our third EP. Can't believe how quickly this year's flown by! We'll be unveiling our newest video very soon so stay tuned!"

"Say You Miss Me" (Wilco Cover) - First video recorded live at Urchin Studios, London (June 2014)

Upon hearing their two EP's my first thought was The Civil Wars. Although there are numerous parallels, Lewis and Leigh are more energetic, more electric, more country, and more Celtic. They call it Celtic folk and Americana or "Celticana". He is from London, she is from Mississippi, they both made solo albums in Nashville, and they met at the London concert of their mutual friend, Matthew Perryman-Jones (Ten out of Tenn).

Alva Leigh and Al Lewis have irresistible voices, they sound amazing together. Both of the EP's feature first-rate songwriting, inspired arrangements, and expert production. Bands like this don't come along everyday. Check out track five of their debut EP Night Drives, this is "Paradise".

Night Drives features the gorgeous pedal steel guitar of BJ Cole. The second EP, Missing Years, explores some different styles such as on "The Late Show" which has a bluesy swagger with a nice jazz touch of clarinet, and a trumpet part that threatens to take the tune to New Orleans.

What I take away from Lewis and Leigh is that songs this good coupled with voices that trade lines and sing together the way they do is pure magic. This music needs to be heard; theres no reason why Lewis and Leigh shouldn't have as much success as say, Mumford and Sons or The Civil Wars. The other day they posted a perfectly lovely cover of Elton John's "Country Comfort". Even if you've heard the original a million times, Lewis and Leigh really bring you inside the lyric and find, I think, even more beauty in this terrific song.

"We've chosen "Country Comfort" by Elton John for our latest cover video. We shot the live portion in a local church and paired it with archive footage of American farms from the 1950s. Check it out here."

Night Drives EP
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Missing Years EP
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Lewis and Leigh's Website
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Here is the complete text of Lewis and Leigh's bio (from their website):
The roots of Lewis & Leigh stretch from the Deep South all the way over to the Welsh coast. Drawing on the rich heritage of these two musical hotbeds, Al Lewis and Alva Leigh create a unique blend of Celtic folk and Americana... or 'Celticana' as they like to call it.

Though they hail from Wales and Mississippi respectively, it was through their Nashville connections that Al Lewis and Alva Leigh met.

Alva moved to London from Nashville in 2012, and both Al and Alva's last solo albums were recorded there with Charlie Peacock (The Civil Wars) and John Mark Painter (Ben Folds) respectively. It was these Nashville connections that brought them together two summers ago at the London show of their good friend Matthew Perryman Jones.
In early 2014, Al & Alva began writing songs together, and they quickly bonded over their love of Whiskeytown, Gillian Welch and The Band. In a matter of weeks, these country-tinged folk songs tumbled out to form a life of their own, and suddenly Lewis & Leigh was born.

They released their debut EP, Night Drives, at Urchin Studios in October 2014. It features a guest appearance from the legendary BJ Cole (Elton John, Elvis Costello) on pedal steel. During the session, Lewis & Leigh decided to record and film a live cover version of one of their favourite songs, “Say You Miss Me” by Wilco. In January 2015, they recorded their second EP, Missing Years. They teamed up once again with Matt Ingram & Dan Cox at Urchin Studios - the team behind Laura Marling’s new album ‘Short Movie’. The EP showcases a darker side to the duo’s work and features their take on Coldplay’s ‘Spies.’ Missing Years is out now.

2015 has already been a busy year for Al & Alva, performing at both the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow and Country 2 Country at the O2, sell out shows in Cardiff, London and Glasgow. They’ve also performed live in session with Dermot O’Leary on BBC Radio 2 and Ricky Ross on BBC Radio Scotland.

Levi's Men's 505 Regular Fit Jean

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Joan Osborne, Keswick Theater, 6/18/2015, Opening Richard Thompson Concert, A Rare Treat

Brilliant. My night was made when Joan Osborne sang "Brokedown Palace". And she was just the opening act. Oh, and what an opening act. Osborne, a confirmed headliner for many years, jumped at the chance to be the opener on this tour because of her love and respect for the music of Richard Thompson. She used this short opening set to step outside the realm of her usual concert format to perform in a duo with musician Keith Cotton, each playing a variety of instruments. This gave rise to new arrangements and new interpretations. It even allowed her to do songs that she might not ordinarily play in concert.

In one such instance, she talked about a song that has long been considered a signature for Bonnie Raitt. Recently, she heard Susan Tedeschi of the Tedeschi-Trucks Band do it, so she decided to include it in her set saying, "Bonnie can have it back when I'm done with it," and she proceeded to sing a gorgeous version of John Prine's "Been Too Long at the Fair".

Regarding the aforementioned "Brokedown Palace", in the summer of 2003 Osborne got tapped to sing with the Dead on one of their first summer tours without Jerry Garcia. She related that she had to learn about 350 Grateful Dead songs in a period of one and a half weeks. I have heard a number of shows from that tour with the Dead and Osborne sounded superb singing that material; she is so fearless and so crazy talented that she can sing anything. One regret she had from that tour was that in all those shows, she never got to sing her favorite Grateful Dead song, "Brokedown Palace". So when she went to Nashville to record her country record, Pretty Little Stranger, she included it. Hearing her sing it at the Keswick was one of those rare treats that felt satisfying deep in your musical soul. This show had a number of such moments.

Osborne opened with "Do Right Woman", one of two songs she did from her 2012 blues album, Bring It On Home. She mentioned that she was proud of her Grammy nomination for that album.

She did two songs from her latest album, Love and Hate, a breathtaking piece of work that is her first all-original album. It is her most personal statement, and (I think) one of the best albums of her career. She did the gorgeous and haunting "Where We Start", and also "Work On Me", a song that Osborne said was inspired by Gershwin's "You Can't Take That Away From Me".

It was great to hear "Saint Theresa", one of two songs she did from her 1995 breakthrough album, Relish. Osborne's vocal on this was truly intense. She closed with "One of Us", noting that it was written in Philadelphia (by Eric Bazilian of The Hooters).

After a 15 minute intermission, Richard Thompson began his set by bringing Osborne back out and, accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, they sang a compelling duet version of the Everly Brothers' "Let It Be Me".

Photos: Carolyn Orth

Bonus Video: "Brokedown Palace" recorded at the FTC Theater in Fairfield, CT. This is a duo performance with Keith Cotton on piano, just as she did it at the Keswick Theater.

Joan Osborne - Love and Hate
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Richard Thompson, Keswick Theater, 6/18/2015, Reconciling With Richard - A Stunning Guitar Driven Show

Photo: Beverly Kates

This was my first time seeing Richard Thompson live (more on that in a moment). That I was totally blown away by his performance should have come as no surprise. I was working at my college radio station back in 1975 when I first heard Richard and Linda Thompson on their second album, Hokey Pokey.

After college I moved on to Starview FM, a commercial rock station in central PA. Later that year the Thompson's released Pour Down Like Silver, with cutting edge song composition and even more cutting edge guitar work by Richard. It was clearly music unlike anything else to be heard in 1975. I played it on air often, and even more at home.

Richard and Linda continued to release albums into the early 1980's. Their marriage broke up and their professional association ended soon after. Back then there was no social media, no internet. All we had to go on for music news was that which you might find in newspapers, magazines (Rolling Stone), and the album covers, lyrics, etc. The Thompson's divorce seemed to be a bitter one. This was compounded (in my view) by some rather insensitive songs released by Richard ("Tear Stained Letter", "I Feel So Good"). Thereafter, I continued to follow Linda's career and basically ignored Richard's. Many years later, I was pleased to hear the music of their son, Teddy Thompson. At that point I realized that it had been such a long time since the divorce, that maybe it was time to reconsider Richard.

The key moment in all this came last year when Teddy released The Thompson Family Album. It contained two tracks a piece from Richard, Linda, Teddy, brother Jack, nephew Zak, and the Rails, consisting of sister Kamila and her husband James. I figured that if Linda and Richard could co-exist on the same record that it was time to finally embrace the career of Richard Thompson. And thus I found myself at the Keswick seeing an extraordinary show.

This tour offered a rare opportunity to see Joan Osborne as an opener. After the intermission, Thompson began his set by bringing Osborne back on stage for a beautiful duet performance of the Everly Brothers' "Let it be Me".

Photo: Carolyn Orth

After performing several songs from his excellent new album, Still, he said "enough of this new song rubbish, let's go back to the 70's". When the applause died down, he said "I was just testing you, so now we'll have a set of Journey and Foreigner tunes". When the laughter subsided he introduced the next song, the 1975 gem "For Shame of Doing Wrong"; my night was made again.

He also did the XPN favorite, "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" which sounded terrific.

He reached back to 1982's classic Shoot Out the Lights album for two great songs "Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed" and "Wall of Death", one of my very favorite Richard and Linda tracks, not the least because it's about a rollercoaster; my night made yet again.

"Tear Stained Letter" was his big show closer before being brought back for two encores. The sell out crowd was delirious.

The show was being filmed (a pro shoot with at least three video cameras), perhaps for DVD or maybe videos.

One of the most amazing things about Richard Thompson is what a stunning guitarist he is, on acoustic and even more so on electric; Thompson's records have always had phenomenal guitar work. At the Keswick, Thompson's power trio featured Taras Prodaniuk on bass, a prodigiously talented player. The solid drumming with the loud yet excellent drum sound was played by Michael Jerome.

On the night of the show, Michaela Majoun interviewed Thompson for a World Cafe session (most likely recorded during sound-check). About Thompson's guitar prowess, show host David Dye said, "Thompson was honored in the U.K. as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, and is universally acknowledged as one of the greatest guitarists of our time..."

Listen to the World Cafe interview and live session.

Bonus Video #1: Tom F posted the following video from the Keswick Show to YouTube. This is "For Shame of Doing Wrong".

Bonus Video #2: "Patty Don't You Put Me Down" This is a track from Thompson's new album. He dropped by the WFUV studios to perform it live (the WFUV videos are the best in the business).

Richard Thompson - Still
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