Jay Farrar has the distinction of having been in two of the genre-defining bands of the alt. country movement, first as a member of Uncle Tupelo and then as the leader of Son Volt. Released in 1995, Son Volt’s debut album Trace has become known as a classic of the genre. Last week, Rhino released a remastered and expanded version of the album for its 20th anniversary, and Farrar came to the Birchmere on Wednesday night as a solo artist (backed by original Son Volt pedal steel player Eric Heywood along with Gary Hunt on electric guitar, mandolin, and fiddle) to support the reissue.
As one of the founding bands of the British folk-rock movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Steeleye Span has long been recognized as musical pioneers. Mixing traditional folk music with electric instruments might not seem all that unusual today, but when the band’s first album, Hark! the Village Wait, came out in 1970, it was nearly unheard of. The band has gone through numerous line-up changes over the years – husband and wife duo Gay and Terry Woods left after that first album (performing as a duo for several years; after that, Terry was a founding member of Irish folk-rockers The Pogues, and Gay returned to the Steeleye fold briefly for a pair of albums in the late 90s), then after their third album, Ten Man Mop, Ashley Hutchings left to form another seminal folk-rock band, Fairport Convention.
In fact, the band that came to The Birchmere on Tuesday night has not (yet) recorded an album together, with only singer Maddy Prior continuing to represent the original group and drummer (and sometimes guitarist) Liam Genockey, who originally joined the band in 1986 rounding up the old guard. New members Julian Littman (guitar and vocals) and Jessie-May Smart (violin) have managed to integrate themselves into the band’s sound, though, and last-minute fill-in bassist Nils Petersen handled the pressure of having to play a whole concert of songs he’d just learned with ease (Prior’s son Alex Kemp, who was supposed to be with the band on bass for this tour, had visa issues and was unable to join them for their US shows).
Richard Thompson has been performing for nearly 50 years now, first as a member of pioneering British folk-rock collective Fairport Convention, then as a duo with his then-wife Linda Thompson, and, since the early 80s, as a solo artist. His 16th solo studio album, Still, was released this week, and in advance of its release he came to The Birchmere for a two-night stand with his “electric trio,” consisting of Thompson, bassist Taras Prodaniuk, and drummer Michael Jerome – both virtuosos in their own right – and proved to be a performer still at the top of his game even after all of these years.
A new Waterboys album comes infrequently enough that when it does, it feels like something to celebrate. Despite a career going on 32 years, the band released only their 11th studio album, Modern Blues, at the beginning of this month. The album is a bit of a change of pace for the band – the only time they’ve rocked so hard previously was on 2000’s A Rock in a Weary Land, and in many ways this new album feels like a spiritual successor to that one. The driving guitar and soaring electric organ at the opening of “Destinies Entwined” sets the tone for the album, and also served to introduce the Waterboys of 2015 to a packed, standing-room-only house at The Birchmere’s flex stage last Tuesday night. The Waterboys have always had a rotating lineup – for this tour, bandleader Mike Scott and long-time violinist Steve Wickham were joined by several of the musicians behind the album, guitarist Zach Ernst, bassist David Hood, keyboardist Brother Paul (Paul Brown), and drummer Ralph Salmins.
Lloyd Cole may not be a household name in the US, but with a music career going on 30 years (and 14 albums) under his belt, he’s built up a significant catalog of songs, along with the legacy of his influence as a pioneer of smart indie pop. While his earlier work, both with his first band Lloyd Cole and the Commotions and afterward as a solo artist, was rock-based, in more recent years he’s focused, in his own words, “on making age-appropriate music,” both quieter and more introspective. His most recent album, Standards (released in Europe in 2013, but only finally available on this side of the pond late last year), though, is a return to form, a record that rivals his earlier work and shows that he can still rock out when he wants to.
Classic Lloyd Cole. Jangling guitars and smart lyrics will appeal to fans of R.E.M., Robyn Hitchcock, World Party, and other classic alternative bands from the late 80s and early 90s.
Why you should care:
The lead-off single from his recent album Standards (released in Europe in mid-2013, but only finally released in the US five months ago), “Period Piece” is classic Lloyd Cole, and a return to form. While Cole’s albums for more than the last decade have tended more in an acoustic singer-songwriter direction, this song (and much of the album) sounds like it could easily fit alongside tracks from his earlier, more rocking releases.