Where you'll learn to shoot a gun

As I write this, it’s overcast and about 87 degrees out, so humid I almost feel like I’m swimming. It’s also only 9 am. Oh, summer! How I longed for you, and now you do me like this? I can complain endlessly about the Southern summer, but the truth is, I love it when it’s like this in the mornings. [This is hardly even the South. Srly.–Mimi] If I could, I would sit on the porch, drinking iced coffee and watching the world go by for hours until the sun burned away the clouds, and it finally got too hot to sit outside. The swampy heat slows me down in a way that’s oddly pleasurable. Sure it sucks to stand up and realize you’re sweaty, even behind your knees, but if you’re lucky a breeze will kick up and make it all worth it. Plus, I’m not exactly cold-blooded, but I do want to wallow in the wet heat a little, as it makes me feel warm through to my bones, which is always excellent (expect perhaps when I’m trying to sleep–but who needs sleep, I’ll sleep when I’m old).

I was going somewhere with that previous paragraph. A comparison of The New Tragedies recent EP and swampy summer heat, perfect mornings, bone-deep warmth and being slowed down by the very atmosphere. And I can’t quite seem to thread it together in the way I want, so I’ll stop while I’m ahead and just talk about the music. Specifically, the before and after of The New Tragedies’ 2006 release of VanityVanity. Aaron Weidner, his gorgeous wife, Bev, and handful of their fellow musicians have just released a follow-up EP, Souveniers. And hey, we’ve never discussed their first release in 2004, the self-titled EP. So today it’s double the EP joy.

Before writing this, I spent some time poking through other reviews online, which I don’t usually do until after I’ve written my own review, but procrastination can make you do strange things. I did learn something from poking around, though. [Non sequitur approaching in next sentence, kids, watch for the drop off!–Mimi] I often try and sell my friends on The New Tragedies. I’ve listened to VanityVanity probably more than any other album in the last year. It’s the understatement of the century to say that I love this band, and yet I’m at a loss when I’m trying to sell my friends on this musical crush. [Maybe because it’s indy rock and your brain is confused since you don’t listen to that much anymore?–Mimi] So, I go read these reviews and every review compares them to a bunch of other bands. Pretty much the same bands in each review and you know what? I’m not familiar with any of these bands (okay, well Nick Drake obviously, but not any of the others). So clearly there’s a bunch of music out there that I’m missing while I’m over here futzing around with all this alt-country stuff. Which is cool. I mean, I’m happy with what I’ve got, I’m just always a little surprised when I’m reminded how many musical spheres exist outside my own and only barely overlap. [I’m fairly certain you know who The Shins are. However, why the reviewer compared this group to them, I’m not exactly sure of. They sound nothing like The Shins. I think what those lazy reviewers were attempting to impart is that The New Tragedies have that low-fi, jangly folk-infused rock sound that is very popular with the kids today. It’s stripped down emo.–Mimi]

Anyway, on to this new music, Souvenirs is a five song EP, just released for my listening pleasure and hopefully yours too. The opening song “New & Improved” happily rings clearly with the sound and lyrics I expect from The New Tragedies. You can immediately hear the newness of it. There’s a quality to it, aged like wine perhaps, that distinguishes it from their last full length album. If the sound hadn’t sold me right away, the lyrics surely would have: “Give me a jukebox in the corner / And a drink to make my memory opaque.”

“Chandelier” echoes the other end of my earlier metaphor about summer. The lyrics play through, comparing summer turning to fall and pitting love against reason. The sound is definitely less folky than Bev and Aaron’s past release–it falls more towards, um, something I currently find indefinable, but surely some good music that exists outside the sphere of what I listen to. [Emo.–Mimi] [Definitely emo. — Daisy] And yet it twangs and brings me joy.

The acoustic folk sound returns on “Simple Things,” and appropriately so. “There’s something to be said for the simple things / and the moments worth remembering as simple human beings.” The music excellently reflects the same simplicity. Oh, no, I’m having a very hard time not making bad puns here about simplicity. *sigh* In any case, this is one of the strongest songs on Souvenirs, and that’s saying a lot because there isn’t anything here I don’t like (or am even ambivalent towards).

A friend and fellow lover of The New Tragedies mentioned that she didn’t really dig “Onward Christian Soldier” on her first listening. It made me think a bit on how different we all perceive things, especially music, as this song is the one that really jumped out at me on my first play of the EP. It’s a war protest song of sorts. Although I wouldn’t have described it that way until I heard someone else say it. It plays for me more as story, one with a moral, though you’ll have to trouble out the moral for yourself. The song makes me thinks of soldiers I know who have been/are/will be in Iraq. It makes me think of what it means to be good person, Christian or otherwise. It makes me think, which is really the most important thing when talking about war, no? Draw your own conclusions, think what ever you will, based on your background, your place in life, but think on it yourself. Don’t let anyone else do the thinking for you. Yeah, deep I guess, the song is powerful enough to send me spiraling into some philosophical stuff about war, so whether it’s a protest song or not, it surely succeeds in provoking a thoughtful response.

Currently “90 Proof” is my very favorite track on the EP. That could change after 50 or 100 plays, but now, having listened to the EP 30 or 40 times I’m still in love with this song. It feels like a giddy new relationship. Something too intense and too fast, but it’s still so new that you’re too immersed in it to care that it will surely end in flames. Hmm, rereading those last two sentences, I’m not sure if I’m describing my reaction to the song or what I hear in the lyrics. Excellent! I’m nearly ready to quote the entire song, but I’ll leave you with only a few lines, in no particular order:
“Tonight the truth goes down clear and 90 proof”
“Tiptoe past the tip of your tongue and bottom lip”
“Sing to me, something in a minor key, and we’ll sift through the debris that’s left of each of us”
The song very much appeals to the romantic in me, which regular readers will recognize is like 90% of me. [What’s the point of me being here if you mock yourself?–Mimi]

[As much as it appears I’m slagging this record off because of Cric’s refusal to realize she loves emo, that’s not the case—well, I am slagging her, but I’m not mocking the music itself. I’m a little surprised this group isn’t more well known because they have a sound, on this EP, that’s very hot right now in the “indy” scene. It’s part Ryan Adams—“90 Proof,” part Garden State Soundtrack—“New and Improved,” and part very original lyrics. My favorite track is “Onward Christian Soldier,” but I’ll probably give this one quite a few more listens. The duet style isn’t something I particularly care for, so I would never have listened to this if not for Cricket, but it’s definitely worth a listen if you enjoy music for the lyrics. Also, according to the reviews I read—because of Cricket not knowing the bands in them—both of these people are apparently super hot. I guess that’d be a reason to catch them live if you’re not impressed with music and stuff.–Mimi] [I, for one, am a fan of super-hotness. — Daisy]

What? That’s all? Five songs. Goddamn EPs! I’m so glad to have them, new songs and all, but they are never quite enough. Oh! Wait! What’s this? The New Tragedies released a self-titled EP back in 2004 that I just now got my hands on? Why it’s four more songs. It’s almost like having a whole album after all. Let’s step back in time a look at these songs too, shall we?

Where you can hear Souvenirs as a natural outgrowth of VanityVanity you can also hear how VanityVanity grew from this self-titled EP. It’s a glorious continuum of music. Or perhaps more like the light spectrum, with songs yet to be heard, yet to be recorded, are for now outside the limits of the range of human sight.

“Her Majesty” opens the track list here. This song resonates with me. I don’t just mean that it simply plays well as something I like. Rather it actually vibrates through my body, alters the rhythm of my heart, changes me every time I listen to it. Aaron and Bev’s harmonizing here feels totally complete. I find I have a hard time focusing on the lyrics to write about it. I just want to sink into it. It’s a deep purple velvet chaise lounge of a song. It rocks and twangs and bumps along like floating down a shady river on a hot summer’s day. [Purple velvet chaise? Are we vacationing at Prince’s villa on Lake Minnetonka?–Mimi]

Overall this entire EP is more stripped down, simpler, acoustic, folky version of the later New Tragedies sound. “Cannonball” owes more to rock n’ roll for its influences than most their songs, but it works to good effect here. “I’m a wishing well, trying to wish you well / it all goes to hell in such a hurry.” There’s so much about relationships in all these songs, but not the traditional loved-and-lost kind of themes. It’s all the tiny complications of sharing your life with another person as you both try and find your way in the world. “Cannonball” sharpens the focus on these details, and that makes all their songs sound so genuinely meaningful.

“Overboard” also appears on VanityVanity and is presently one of my favorite songs. The version here is slightly less refined though doesn’t suffer at all. The lyrics are ethereal and wistful. As the song draws to its end, the music builds up, coming over your head, like you’re underwater, and it finishes leaving you not panicked about drowning, but rather glad to be submerged and yet still floating.

We end with “Drinking and Decadence” which could perhaps be the alternate name of this blog. Or maybe the motto hanging above the door at HCT HQ. “I’m all for drinking and decadence tonight / I’ll hang all my problems with the pictures on the wall.” What? Whiskey and avoidance? Yes, we do subscribe to that idea here. This song is the most stripped down, clean, simple, slightly twangy of the bunch, it’s like they’ve taken out the undercurrent of all the songs and brought it forward.

Yeah, this is all even more over the top than my ramblings about Lucinda Williams, but the music does it to me. I’m a teenage girl with her first perfect pop album all over again. I cannot get enough of this band. I can’t say enough insane, flowery, overdramatic things about them. I love them. And hey, I love you guys, because without you there is no HCT, it’s just me and Mimi nattering on in our living room. And without HCT, I never would have stumbled on to the New Tragedies. So it’s love all around, people. Now if only I had a hot boy to rub my feet while I ate peach ice cream and watched endless re-runs of Dirty Jobs, the world would be perfect. Why doesn’t Matt Damon return my calls? Or Mike Rowe for that matter? [You’re s.o.l. since the cable’s still broken.–Mimi] [And Matt Damon requires cable before he’ll return your calls. As if he can’t afford his own damn cable. — Daisy]

Both EPs (and their full length album) can be bought on CD or in digital format from New Scratch. Go on and get you some. You can hold me responsible if you don’t like it. It’s okay, I won’t pay attention if you have complaints, I’ll be too busy enjoying these songs over and over and over.

Everyone I know, rivers to be dragged and tragedies, new ones

It’s settin’ to be hell week or a damn good time here in Nashville. The Americana Music Association is having their big conference in town and everyone is here. No, really EVERYONE: Dale Watson, Scott Miller & The Commonwealth, Corb Lund, Will Kimbrough, Jeffrey Foucault, The Hacienda Brothers, Lisa Hayes, Wrinkle Neck Mules, Dave Alvin, Rosanne Cash, Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, Alejandro Escovedo, the Cherryholmes, the Derailers, Delbert McClinton, and about 700 other folks. The shows are happening all over and all at once, but we’ll be hitting as many of them as we can. If you’re in town or can get to Nashvegas, this is the time come. Full show schedule is here.

So last night I’m out on the town gearing up for this whole week of good shows and the whole place is a buzz with gossip. Rumor mongering everywhere about some “high class” male prostitute named Big Red, and how he was sent to a nice to hotel room, paid cash and then told to wait for the actual client (as apparently an intermediary was needed to broker this deal). Thunder rolled and in walked the real client demanding some rough, all night, mano a mano action that perhaps went down until the sun came up. You know what I’m sayin’?

Yeah, right so I suck at the blind item thing. The fact is sleezy tabloid reporters are going around saying how this story is going to break big! Make everyone forget all about Willie Nelson’s recent troubles. Apparently Big Red signed no non-disclosure agreement and he’s ready to talk. I’ll believe it when I see it, but if it does happen, just remember you read it here first, even if you couldn’t figure out what I’m talking about. Just don’t be namin’ names if you do.

I’m clearly all giddy from drinking too many PBRs last night and hearing too much insane celebrity gossip. I’ll spare you most of it so I can go on about my new favorite soon-to-be celebrities, The New Tragedies. They are on tour with our pal Cory Branan. You can see them both! Two birds with one stone! Check the dates:

9/22 – Fayetteville, AR – The Gypsy
9/23 – Memphis, TN – The Hi-Tone
9/24 – Louisville, KY – Rudyard Kipling
9/25 – Morgantown, WV – 123 Pleasant Street
9/26 – Baltimore, MD – Side Bar Tavern
9/27 – Richmond, VA – Gallery 5
9/28 – Charlotte, NC – Evening Muse
9/29 – Opelika, AL – Eighth And Rail
10/1 – Conway, AR – Sound Stage
10/3 – Kansas City, MO – Davey’s Uptown

And since I know some of you can’t make any of these locations, you’ll have to satisfy yourself with their charming little video. And as before, you can get all their incredibly awesome songs at their site.

In even more cool tour news, Drag the River and Lucero are going out together!!

11/13 – Philadelphia – North Star Bar
11/14 – Baltimore – Otto Bar
11/15 – Richmond VA – Alley Katz
11/16 – Carrborro NC – Cat’s Cradle
11/17 – Charleston NC – Cumberland’s
11/18 – Atlanta GA– Variety Playhouse
11/30 – Conway AR – Soundstage
12/2 – Baton Rouge LA– Chelsea’s Cafe
12/8 – Orlando FL– The Social
12/9 – Orlando FL – The Social

Also check the rest of the dates for Drag the River and Lucero. And hey, if you haven’t pre-ordered and gotten the digital download, the new Lucero album hits the stores next week.

So here it comes, my babies, starting this week a full fall season of alt.country goodness. Are you ready? Am I? It’s comin’ whether I am or not, so I better polish up my cowboy boots and y’all better brace yourselves for a bunch tales of country music goodness.

The stars are watching them and so should you: The New Tragedies

I almost gave up on this album. Not because it isn’t good, it is, but the second listening filled my head with memories of a long-gone relationship. A third listening had me poised to Google the ex-boyfriend and see if he’s still alive. Finally, a fourth put me past all that and made me glad that for all the horror of that relationship, I at least have the stories to tell and the experiences and memories of when it was good. (Though those are still tempered by the badness that came after.) So let me just say to the ex-boyfriend who surely isn’t reading this: I’m sorry I couldn’t save you from yourself, but I’m not sorry you’re gone because no one really needs an alcoholic asshole like you. Suffice to say, over all, the album was actually pretty cathartic for me and if that doesn’t mean great music, I don’t know what does.

VanityVanity, the debut release from The New Tragedies is a leisurely night swim in a warm deep pool whose bottom is covered in broken glass. It slides over you, calming, a bit sexy but a little dangerous at the edges if you good down too far. Musically, it’s the kind of thing you want to wash over you as you lay on the couch with your eyes closed, wondering if you can make your heartbeat match the tempo. The lyrics, though, are emotionally jagged and will poke at you, stirring up and digging at things you might once have tried not to feel.

Six listenings in and I’m still trying to pin point who it reminds me of, maybe Yo La Tengo or the Delgados, perhaps the Pernice Brothers or Guided by Voices? Maybe none of those and something all its own. It’d almost be indie rock if it wasn’t nearly folk broken down and shaken up with steel guitar, cello, piano and an unlikely but well utilized glockenspiel. The New Tragedies are at their core a duo, Aaron and Bev Weidner, who sound exponentially larger than a pair of singers with great lyrics.

With husband and wife duos I fear I will end up with saccharine-sweet songs, thick as clotted cream with sappy romance. The first cut off this album, “Lipstick Kiss,” dispels any notion that this is that kind of act. “There’s a lipstick kiss on my cheek/you couldn’t miss/and the night before/you smelled perfume you never wore.” The lyrics play though a couple that never sees each other, teeters on the brink of cheating and only almost resolved as they come back together. The rest of the album doesn’t necessarily get more upbeat, but there’s deepness and a reality to it that makes the painful poetry of the lyrics worth listening to over and over again.

There is a certain amount of even-tempered romance in “Talk to Me” and “Eye for an Eye” that feels all at once like a new relationship and the solid comfort of being with someone who knows everything about you. The wobbly danger of a relationship about to crumble come back through in “Someday Tomorrow” and “Hand Word Heart.”

“Kansas City Misery” is by far my favorite track here and not just because of the steel underlying the melody here (or am I that easy?). “The wrong time with the right girl/As you stare down my cigarette smile/I’m looking back sweetly/As if you didn’t know me.” The harmony here is strong and fairly heart-wrenching as it plays over the moaning heartbreak of the steel guitar. As much as I love this album, a whole album of songs just like this would assure that I never listened to anything else for weeks. It’s really that good.

I expect to hear “Monday Morning Makeup” on the radio some day soon. Or I would if I listened to the radio. It definitely does recall Yo La Tengo to some extent, in a pleasing almost pop kind of way.

“Overboard” and “To Be Sung To” almost make me wish I was in love, so I could sing them to someone as we listened to them. When someone finally falls in love with me and writes a song about me, I hope it’s something lyrically like “To Be Sung To.” The album closes out as solidly as it starts, leaving me nearly wanting more, but glad to just push ‘play’ again and go through it all once more, twice more.

This album is fresh out from New Scratch, and because they are cool like that, you can listen to the whole thing at the band’s site, so you can fall in love with it before you buy it.

I hope more tour dates are coming for this band. I’d love to go see them somewhere where I could drink red wine and smoke too many cigarettes and just close my eyes and let my mind make up all the details of the stories the lyrics tell.