Under the Influence: The Dry Spells offer a heady debut

Posted by Kells, December 31, 2009 08:00am | Post a Comment

Too often it seems those who write about music resort to whittling albums, by means of record reviews, into a pronged rod of divination in an attempt to dowse the well from which the music-makers' inspirations originated. For San Francisco folk-rock locals The Dry Spells, reviews of their debut LP Too Soon For Flowers (Empty Cellar Records) read alike in that the word "witchy" is summarily mentioned in almost every critique and comparisons to Fleetwood Mac, Espers, Citay, Fairport Convention and even Loreena McKennitt drop in abundance like heavy fruit from a burdened bough. It's easy to see the common understanding, as the Dry Spells are comprised of Citay's one-time and sometime players, though they've been at it since before Citay's inception and their esteem for rocking on traditional folk-ballads perceptibly deals in some of the same magic conjured by Espers, sure, not to mention that both bands share a cover of "Black is the Color" between them (Espers play it like a heart-sick maid pining over a years-dead lover, whereas the Dry Spells almost flaunt the tune, fleshing out into a verdant composition worthy of Willow the inkeeper's daughter on Summerisle). They also lend their trademark harmonies to a beguiling cover of "Rhiannon," arguably Fleetwood Mac's most enchanted mom-rock tune (I fancy many a mother-to-be has considered naming a girl-child after such a spirited strain as this), and I have to applaud the effort, as the Dry Spells manage to leave Stevie Nicks' leather and lace leanings intact despite weaving in their own fibrous skeins of alternating folk, rock and light-in-the-dye psyche threads; indeed, the Dry Spells craft complex song compositions not unlike heavy tapestries laden with meaning, tradition and more than a hearts-worth of woeful devotion.

I could go on along these lines of correlation, offering more aural comparisons to the Dry Spells "witchy" ways (imagine Dolores O'Riordan kidnapped by the Deal Sisters meeting a wayward Meriel Barham altogether singing Steeleye Span and the Trees while on a backwoods journey to liberate the hidden mythology of the lost city of Ys via melody and romantic lyricism), but I'll let it be in favor of the band for who they really are: Thalia Harbour (vocals/guitar/melodica/glockenspiel), April Hayley (vocals/violin/melodica), Adria Otte (guitar/vocals/violin) and Diego Gonzalez (bass/oud/viola). However, I would like to take the focus away from the more obvious sounds-likes to indulge in a little examination of what makes this record great under an entirely different lens. The perspective being that their record is, for me, almost the equivalent of a very good read of high fantasy, or at least as good as any old anthologized, oft-told yarn.

From the very beginning of the first song "Lost Daughter," a slow-burning build from Bedouin streaked bass, oud and sandy rattlesnake-like percussion to an almost heavy, beat-driven rock crescendo, the listener is put in a place of choosing between following the ever present, layered harmonies of the lyrical narrative or being swept away by the twists, turns and overall richness of the sound. It's a lot like picking up a book for the first time and deciding whether to glean what you can from its contents by looking at the pictures or simply starting from "Once upon a time..." But who gives a fig what the illustrator makes of the details visually as long as the quality of the literary content is lively enough of its own accord, right? As it happens, listening to the Dry Spells has thrust me back into a literary cocoon where I once again explore my collection of Andrew Lang's Fairy Books of many colors (my favorite of the twelve being the Orange Fairy Book), masterfully illustrated by the adroit  H.J. Ford. This anthology, culled from obscure, far-flung folk tales to better-known, traditional fairy stories, mirrors the work of the Dry Spells in my mind in that the music they make is like the perfect pairing of elegant, lyrical storytelling and moody depiction by virtue of thematic instrumentation, the timeless balance of words and pictures. Perhaps this is why Bob Boilen, host of NPR's All Songs Considered has selected Too Soon For Flowers as 2009's album of the year. 

Maybe I stretch too far to assume that members of the Dry Spells are as influenced by heady Victorian era storybooks as I am, but all the same, I'd like to think they are. I get definite maybes from songs like "The Golden Vanity" what with its wah-washed, sea-faring sailors' voices, and then there's the contrast of the Scandinavian strings that begin "Evangeline" that yield to sunnier sways as voices sing of loss and of a steadiness as "steady as hard times." In "Batwood" the rapidly plunging violin strains evoke the feeling of falling into a rush wilderness and regret after waking "one morning in a hollow tree," and in "Sruti," quite possibly the most beautiful composition of all, chimes and crystalline rings mingle with ethereal vocal highs that sing of a hand reaching out from the trees, pointing to a sea "where hungry voices were calling." As this record has become available just before the crossroads of the year, a time when most folks are granted leave to hole up indoors as seasonal disfavors dictate, doing their best to make cozy with a hot posset and a good book or an equally good record like this one, I cannot recommend this stellar debut from the Dry Spells enough for your fire-side listening pleasure. 

Check out the live video below of the Dry Spells performing the title piece Too Soon For Flowers:

The Dry Spells - Too Soon For Flowers - Luxury Wafers Sessions from Luxury Wafers on Vimeo.


Posted by Billyjam, May 21, 2009 09:34pm | Post a Comment
fleetwood mac
Above is the wonderful recent version of the timeless Stevie NIcks/Fleetwood Mac song "Landslide" sung by the PS22 Chorus, which is a children's choir of about sixty kids from a New York City public elementary school. Since this video was posted on YouTube yesterday (May 20) by Agreggofsociety, who works with these kids and is seen/heard playing guitar in the piece, it has gotten close to 80,000 hits. And no wonder: it is hard not to be moved by the power of these young souls pouring their hearts into the song. Their hand and facial gestures alone just grab you.

Below is Stevie Nicks with Lindsey Buckingham singing "Landslide" on the Late Show with David Letterman twelve years ago when the song appeared on the live album The Dance. The original version can be found on the band's 1975 album Fleetwood Mac and to this day remains a favorite amongst both Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks fans as well as many other artists who have covered it over the years.

Mick Fleetwood's Autobiography: Fleetwood - My Life and Adventures with Fleetwood Mac

Posted by Miss Ess, May 6, 2009 04:48pm | Post a Comment
Ever since I wrote this post a few months ago, it's been a full on Mac attack in my life -- I have been listening non-stop to Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, everywhere I go, over and over. I picked up Mick Fleetwood's 1991 autobiography as well, Fleetwood - My Life and Adventures with Fleetwood Mac, hoping for some salicious tidbits about the band that is known not only for its instantly addicting, mega-popular music, but also for the many interband rumours...

The book is pretty great. Mick describes his childhood and early life with candor, including his stints in boarding school and his feeling that he was not smart, upheld by his poor academic performances and difficulty memorizing facts...thus, he turned to music, and with perfect timing. Although he certainly slaved away upon moving to London, paying his dues in one dank club after another, he makes the process of gaining early fame and fortune seem somewhat simple -- after all, this was Swinging London! He was in the right place at the exact right time to make a career for himself.

Mick portrays himself as the glue that held the various incarnations of the band together over the years, and it appears to be true -- he and a rather mute John McVie are the only two members that have stuck with the band since its creation in the mid 60s. Mick felt he had no back up career; holding the band together was what he pledged his whole heart to, even at the expense of his first marriage, relationships and children.

Mick tenderly describes being in love with Stevie Nicks fairly early on in their friendship, but when it comes to the actual relationship that occured between them, we don't get many details-- I guess some things must be left private. Mick mentions that he realized he must have a talk with her former flame/bandmate Lindsey Buckingham about his new relationship with Stevie, but never details when, where or how that conversation took place. And it must have at some point, because Stevie and Mick were a couple on and off for a few years. He hints that he's never gotten over her, although he did go on to marry one of her best friends, Sara! (Nowadays he is married to someone else though.)

On a fairly random aside, did you know that Christine McVie's mother was a healer? I always wondered how it was that Stevie Nicks and Christine got along so easily, considering Christine seemed like a stiff upper lip kind of Brit, but now I see that they were probably connected in a great many ways, including their spiritual leanings, and of course there is also the fact that they were talented, driven women in an overwhelmingly male-dominated field.

Mick's book was contested by Lindsey Buckingham and it's easy to see why, as Lindsey's quitting the band in 1987 is carefully, detailingly documented. Buckingham quit at the moment when Fleetwood Mac was coming back together to tour to help Mick, who had recently declared bankruptcy. Lindsey comes off as a chauvanistic egomaniac. Who's to say what's right and what's wrong? We only have Mick's side of the story, and I have to say, overall the entire book was definitely an interesting read.

One of my favorite over-the-top, decadent moments came late in the book, when Fleetwood Mac is recording and living at an old chateau in France. It's a foggy morning and Mick and a friend are returning via car to the chateau when they pass a stable and Mick is overcome with the sudden desire to ride on horseback the rest of the way home, to make a grand entrance. He somehow secures a grey horse and rides off through the mist, galloping to the chateau, right up the front stairs and into the entryway! Suddenly, a caped and hooded Stevie Nicks comes flying down the staircase, leaps on the horse and takes off back out into the countryside. Now that is why I read this autobio!&n

What Your Favorite Fleetwood Mac Member May Say About You...

Posted by Miss Ess, February 5, 2009 02:39pm | Post a Comment
One of the best things about working at Amoeba is that I am surrounded by people who think like me. No, I don't mean we all worship Brian Wilson and Jeff Mangum and listen neverendingly to Roy Harper imports... I just mean that employees here always already relate everything back to music somehow. Our life lessons are only concrete when they are reverberating in song.

A friend and I were chatting yesterday with a customer at length about Fleetwood Mac. We talked around and finally settled on the idea that you can really tell a lot about someone by which Fleetwood Mac member is his or her favorite. I should add though that we only took into account the band's current incarnation -- this doesn't apply to the Peter Green-era Mac. Anyway, I've been enjoying thinking about it over the past day, so I thought I would share our musings here. Sure, they're reductive, but come play along:

If your favorite Fleetwood Mac member is...

Stevie Nicks: You may have always been a misfit or maybe you just have a flair for the dramatic. You might even have an affinity for crystals and spells. You live life with passion and are an opinionated leader. You are unfailingly guided by your intuition. Just guessing, but I bet somewhere inside you have always been a storm.

Lindsey Buckingham: You have a bit of an ego on you and it takes you time to check out and coif your hair in the mirror every day. You are intelligent and stubborn, and pretty much a perfectionist. I'm not saying you have a lot of chest hair but that might also be the case. And you probably have a penchant for wearing eyeliner (guyliner) on occasion as well.

Christine McVie: Her maiden name was aptly Christine Perfect. You are easy going-- cool as a cucumber, in fact. You are a fairly quiet individual, maybe a bit traditional. Still waters run deep with you. Your face does not often betray your inner emotions, and it's not just from that face lift you had a few years back. You root for the underdog and take pleasure in life's details.

Mick Fleetwood: You are probably a drummer too, or were one in a past life. You really don't care what anyone else thinks about you. Maybe you have a thing for berets too.

John McVie: You are a sarcastic jokester. Or maybe you are one of those people who just has to be different at all costs and likes an argument. You are the kind of person who is perhaps overly self-aware and so defiant that you wear shorts year round -- weather be damned! Look, McVie is clearly not the greatest member of the Mac. He just isn't.

I'm sure many people buck these trends and are nothing like the person they enjoy most in Fleetwood Mac; it's just kind of fun to think about.

The main thing about the Mac is that they are stronger and more powerful, moving and electric, when they join forces together onstage or in the studio -- The Chain, people! Different strokes for different folks is what makes the world go round -- and thank goodness or we wouldn't have an entity as dynamic and flawless as Fleetwood Mac! Truly a supergroup.

(In which history repeats itself.)

Posted by Job O Brother, November 24, 2008 06:10pm | Post a Comment

It seems like only a year ago that it was November 24. How time flies. Time flies less often than it did, it seems. Probably due to all the crazy “safety” precautions that airports employ now.

You know, they can make sure I don’t carry-on my switchblade, my flame-thrower, or my collection of vintage anthrax samples onto my flight, but they can’t confiscate my NINJA ABILITIES. Think about that one, my friends. My lightening moves don’t fit in no Ziploc baggie.

It was on this day, in 1963, that Lee Harvey Oswald was gunned down by man-about-town Jack Ruby, which brings to mind a song I quite like by Camper Van Beethoven, which brings to mind an album I rather fancy by Camper Van Beethoven.

The album is called Key Lime Pie and it takes me back to my high school days; though not actually my high school itself, because I never listened to rad tunes on campus. Only the Peanuts-like drone of adults as they lovelessly forced us to recite Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.
From the scene in which Juliet drinks Romeo's blood while clutching her highly-prized, ball-point pen

It’s a wonder I love The Bard as much as I do considering that nothing was more painful than listening to a classroom full of barely literate teenagers haltingly fumble their way through iambic pentameter. It didn’t help matters that these same teenagers called me faggot to my face and probably f**ked with my locker. (Joke was on them, I never once figured out where my locker was.)

I never plan these blogs out in advance. Hard to tell, right?

I tried to find a clip of the song "Jack Ruby," but it, like my high school locker, remains elusive. But here’s a song from the same album, and you might find it a pleasant surprise, as it’s one of those records that a lot of people have heard without realizing who it was that recorded it.

The song was originally a hit for the British band Status Quo.

Camper Van Beethoven played an in-store at Amoeba Music Hollywood in the past, and I was there, singing along joyfully.

The group also recorded an album called Tusk. “But wait,” you say while balancing a plate of fresh trout on your head, “Didn’t Fleetwood Mac already… whoops!” And now you’ve dropped the fish to the floor, which is why your grandma always warned you to not balance seafood while reading a blog and talking about it at the same time. I don’t know why you don’t listen to your grandma. She’s way smart.

To finish and answer your ill-timed interruption, yes, Fleetwood Mac did record an album called Tusk, and Camper Van Beethoven’s version revisits each song, in order. It’s a delight for those who, like me, believe Fleetwood Mac’s album to be one of the very best in the history of modern music.

Let’s sample some of these gems
Fleetwood Mac...
...and Camper Van Beethoven

Once again, The Mac...

...versus The Van

It's important to note that the above video is something I swiped from YouTube, and features home movies of some baby crying. This baby, as far as I can tell, has nothing to do with Camper Van Beethoven, rather, is the work of some eager new daddy who has a remarkable amount of free time considering his baby is obviously colic.

Anyway, yeah. Jack Ruby. The Kennedy assassination. High school Shakespeare and Stevie Nicks with still some fat on her cheeks. "It's all a rich pageantry," as my boyfriend would say.

I don't plan these blogs ahead of time.
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