Austin City Limits Music Festival – October 8-10, 2010, Austin, TX

The 2010 Austin City Limits Music Festival continued to make the three-day event’s case as one of the best festivals on the planet. It went off with nary a hitch, and in fact, this year’s edition may have had the festival’s best weather yet. There was no dust, no rain to turn Zilker Park into a giant mud pit (like last year) and the high temperature never reached 90. The sunny afternoons were still plenty hot, but the evenings were downright balmy. Some local fans bitched about the overall lineup when it was first announced, but there truly was something for everyone in the festival’s ever-eclectic lineup. The festival once again sold out well in advance, and again proved to be one of the best weekends of the year for any serious music fan.

The tasty local cuisine available at ACL is topped only by New Orleans’ Jazzfest (although unfortunately neither fest seems willing to bring in local beer), and the football tent returned to enable sports fans to get a fix in between music sets. There were only a handful of occasions where the crowd scene proved overly massive and hard to navigate. Overall, it was three days of near-utopian rock ‘n’ roll bliss. If the word “groovy” is overused in this review, it’s only because there were indeed so many such moments. The biggest problem was choosing between competing bands in a series of mind-bending conflicts: Silversun Pickups vs Broken Bells, Monsters of Folk vs LCD Soundsystem, Phish vs The Strokes, The Flaming Lips vs Band of Horses, and the terrible three-way Friday night dilemma of Sonic Youth vs Robert Randolph & the Family Band vs Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses. Cloning technology can’t arrive soon enough.

Friday, October 8

Those Darlins, Austin Ventures Stage
This upbeat Tennessee quartet featured a relatively unique mix of country punk and garage rock to create a fun vibe. Singer/guitarist Jessi Darlin’s gritty voice recalled Courtney Love at times in its ragged splendor, but with more of a country flavor. “Red Light Love” saw the band at its best on a fuzzy, melodic rocker about the combination of good love and good music.

Blues Traveler, AMD Stage
It seemed like a flashback to the mid-’90s when Blues Traveler drew a huge crowd to the festival’s second largest stage to really get ACL going. It’s been great to see the band able to persevere through the tragic death of original bassist Bobby Sheehan and the health problems of singer/harmonica ace John Popper, who is now fit and sounding great as ever. Underrated guitarist Chan Kinchla always keeps things groovy on his PRS guitar and his brother Tad fits right in on bass. A cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” was a surprise crowd pleaser, followed shortly thereafter with the band’s 1994 hit “Run-Around.” But the clear peak of the set – and one of the top highlights of the entire weekend – occurred when the band welcomed 15-year-old violinist Ruby Jane to sit in on “Mulling It Over.” Jane, who would play her own set on Sunday morning, proved to be a dynamic prodigy. She immediately accented the hard rocking tune in tasteful fashion, before teaming with Popper for a superb violin-harmonica duel that won the weekend’s first huge cheer.

The Black Keys, AMD Stage
The Akron, Ohio-based blues rock duo hit the stage at 4 pm in front of a massive crowd that made it tough for anyone arriving late to get close enough to enjoy. There were so many people camped out in their lawn chairs that the entire area became quite difficult to navigate. The Black Keys are clearly surging in popularity – they played to about 10,000 fans at the 2008 Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco, but this crowd was at least three times as large. I finally gave up and decided I’d rather check out the next band on the intimate BMI stage.

ACL Black Keys


Read the rest after the jump...

Jackson Browne: Going Home


RIYL: The Eagles, Bonnie Raitt, David Lindley

In 1994, Jackson Browne released I’m Alive, a strong collection of songs that was a return to personal songwriting after years of political. In conjunction with that release, the Disney Channel, when they still offered programming that would appeal to adults, presented this documentary, “Jackson Browne: Going Home.” The 90-minute production captures the artist performing live with his great band from the ’90s, as well as footage of Browne, mostly at his home, sharing stories about his life, his career and the process he goes through making music. Interspersed with the concert and backstage footage are rare photos and filmed performances that span his career up to that point.

The live concert production is tight and immaculately produced. Like many of his Laurel Canyon 1970s singer-songwriter comrades, there is an attention to detail when Brown performs that makes you appreciate the professionalism of the artist. No note is out of place; what has been recorded on the record is duplicated perfectly in concert. However, Browne is also one of those artists who knows how to connect with his audience, making each concert unique. So, whether singing live in front of 20,000 or in a sterile TV studio for a small number of fans, it never feels like he’s going through the motions.

The abundance of music in the documentary seems far too much for only an hour and a half, but it all fits and everything sounds fantastic. The song selections must represent Browne’s set list in the early ’90s; mixed in with ’70s classics like “These Days,” “The Pretender” and “Before the Deluge,” are standouts from his late ’80s period like “In the Shape of a Heart,” “World In Motion” and “Sky Blue and Black.”  There are also some excellent deep cuts, like “Farther On” and “Birds of St. Marks.”

Many of Browne’s famous friends show up. David Lindley, Bonnie Raitt, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Don Henley, Jennifer Warnes and the rest of the Eagles all make appearances, with Lindley, Crosby, Nash and Warnes performing live with Browne and his band.

It’s hard to believe that “Going Home” was shot in 1994. Aside from some graying hair and additional wrinkles here and there, Browne doesn’t appear to have aged at all in all of these years.  Moreover, his voice continues to sound as youthful as ever. A nifty video montage of “Doctor My Eyes” edits together performances that range from early in his career to the ’94 show.  So often with these type of DVD releases, only hardcore fans will buy them. However, this is one release that stands on its own as a quality film whether you’ve been following Jackson Browne for years or just heard of him yesterday. (Eagle Records 2010)

  

The Dixie Chicks: Playlist: The Very Best of the Dixie Chicks


RIYL: Keith Urban, Faith Hill, Sheryl Crow, The Eagles

A cynic might say that this best-of collection by the Dixie Chicks was thrown together so that the group (which consists of sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, and lead singer Natalie Maines) would have something to sell fans during their tour with the Eagles this summer. However, the press release assures us that these songs were handpicked by the Chicks, implying that they were deeply involved with the collection.

I suppose. I get the feeling that by “handpicked,” the record label means that the ladies used their hands to text “yes” when the list of songs popped up in their email boxes from their record company reps. Despite the green packaging (liner notes and song credits only appear in PDF form as extras on the CD), Playlist (which is actually a line of “best of” collections that Sony BMG releases for veteran artists) is more or less the same as one of those cheap cassette collections you find at every truck strop across our great nation.  Still, as this is the first major collection of hits by the Dixie Chicks, it’s worth looking at.

Playlist is arranged chronologically, pulling tracks from the Dixie Chicks’ four studio albums featuring Maines at the front of the band (there were two earlier incarnations of the band before her).  Two tracks from Wide Open Spaces, including the lovely “You Were Mine;” three songs from their excellent sophomore album, Fly, including  Patty Griffin’s painful “Let Him Fly;” three songs from the multi-platinum Home, including the superb, shuffling “Truth No. 2” (also penned by Griffin); and four from the 2007 Grammy-winning Album of the Year, Taking the Long Way, most notably “Not Ready to Make Nice,” their angry response to the backlash they received for comments made at the build-up of the Iraq invasion.

Each track is crisp, clean and slickly produced. Each production is so flawless, it’s difficult to distinguish which album any of these tracks come from. Whatever growth these ladies display comes through in their lyrics rather than fiery studio performances. Nonetheless, all of the songs are excellent, except maybe their rather bland cover of Fleetwood Mac’s classic “Landslide,” however, that just may be my personal preference for the sparse Buckingham/Nicks version.

At 12 songs, the only surprises here are the omissions of several of their top ten country hits like “I Can Love You Better,” the group’s first top ten hit from 1997, “Without You,” which was a number one hit, and “Travelin’ Soldier,” also a number one hit song, and perhaps one of their finest recordings.

Still, the casual Dixie Chicks fan uninterested in downloading individual tracks can get the entire MP3 album for just $5 at Amazon, leaving plenty of money left over to round out the collection of missing songs. Playlist definitely offers a taste of the impeccably played and sung music of the Dixie Chicks, a reminder of why they’re one of the best country acts around. Hopefully a new album is coming soon. If not, one would hope  a more genuine greatest hits collection, one that includes all of their hits, as well as some samples of their wildly popular live act. (2010 Sony/BMG)

Official Dixie Chicks webpage
Click to buy Playlist: The Very Best of the Dixie Chicks from Amazon

  

The Trampolines: Between the Lines


RIYL: Toad the Wet Sprocket, Gin Blossoms, The Hooters

If you are a fan of well-produced, well-written, harmony-drenched power pop, you may have found a new favorite band in Denver’s the Trampolines. Back with their second album and first since 2005, Between the Lines, this trio delivers a solid set of material that deserves to be heard by those who champion the type of stuff that came out of the Aware Records camp and what today passes for AAA (adult album alternative). Think Train or Toad the Wet Sprocket, with throwback flavors from bands like the Hooters and the Eagles. Don’t let lofty comparisons like that make you skeptical either, because this stuff is as addictive as that bag of chips you pick up at a truck stop when you’re really hungry – and maybe that’s just it, that we’re all starved for good, melodic rock. Frontman Mark Sundermeier and his band mates have not only written extremely catchy material, but they also deliver it with conviction and with some exceptional vocals. Right from the start, the harmonies and guitar tones on “The Need” are very Toad-esque and then some of the other standouts are the breezy “Shelter” and “Green Lights,” as well as the rocking “Letter,” which effectively marries fuzzy guitar with some nice driving piano. If you’re into any of the acts mentioned here, you need to do yourself a favor and check out The Trampolines, stat. (self-released 2009)

The Trampolines MySpace Page

  

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