Sunday, April 6, 2014

Remembering Dave Lamb (Brown Bird)

It's not that I really knew Dave Lamb of Brown Bird. I'd only meet him and MorganEve Swain twice at shows in Seattle and Spokane. But they were the first band I met from all the bands I got into after discovering the Outlaw Roadshow, and they were the first band I wrote about for the blog. Dave was always super nice each time I met them, even giving me a shout out from the stage the time I saw them in Seattle (I had driven out from Spokane for the show.) Though they technically weren't friends, I still referred to them as such, and it's hard when bad things happen to good friends.

Just under a year ago, Dave Lamb was diagnosed with Leukemia. He fought the hard fight, but on April 5, 2014 he lost the battle. For as sad as this made me, I can't even imagine what his family is going through right now. Sure, they knew going in that this may happen, but no one is ever really prepared for someone so young passing away. Dave Lamb is the only person I've ever known in my age bracket to die. It's kinda weird for me to think about.

Dave was an amazing person, musician and songwriter. His brand of Americana Folk was a refreshing thing to discover. I instantly fell for Brown Bird's music after I heard their song "Fingers to the Bone," from 2011's Salt for Salt. For being a two-piece band, they have the sound, heart and soul of a "full" band. Salt for Salt is now one of my favorite records, and their follow-up record, Fits of Reason is amazing as well, showing the duo's musical evolution. I can't say enough about how much I love the music, and even though I really didn't know Dave, how much I will miss him and the music.

There's a track on Salt for Salt called "Bilgewater," which is one of my favorite songs. There's one bit of the song, a couple lines, that have meant so much to me, and helped get me through some stuff, and I'm grateful to have it in my life:

"when everyday’s like a war between the will to go on
and a wish that the world would spiral into the sun
turn your head toward the storm that’s surely coming along"

But there is one line from that song that I've sort of adopted as a personal mantra of sorts, one line that now that I have it, I don't think I can give it up:

"have the strength to know you’re wrong
and when you’re right the strength to stand your ground"

Thank you Dave Lamb for all the music. You will be missed.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Album Review - The Wait - Runaway Dorothy

Art by Frank Germano (
I hate most modern country music. I've hated it since about 1998. But there are a small handful of modern country bands I love. Runaway Dorothy is one of them. I first heard Runaway Dorothy's song Hard Way Home in early 2012, after downloading it from a selection of songs from bands playing that March's Outlaw Roadshow during SXSW in Austin, Texas. Very shortly after hearing that one song, I got their first record, The Arc, and it has been an almost constant companion over the last two years. Over those two years I've had the opportunity to see Runaway Dorothy play live twice, both times at the Outlaw Roadshow in NYC during CMJ, both times been completely blown away by their stage presence and all their heart. I am honored to be able to call singer/songwriter Dave Parnell a friend, and hope that I do the record justice talking about it.

Still riding the wave of The Arc, Runaway Dorothy released their highly anticipated second album, The Wait, on February 25, 2014. 

The Wait is a prefect blend of alt-country beats, lyrics and vocals that will being out all the feels, and all around fantastic music, with undeniable heart and soul, that keeps you yearning for more. Dave Parnell is backed up on the record by Brett Parnell, Sammy Gallo, Evan Mitchell, Price Stephens and Stephen Price.

The simple acoustic guitar intro of the first song, Sing With Me, will pull you in to the whole record. The song has a twinge of gospel-country to it, as do a couple other songs on the record, but it's not overly so. The harmonies and melodies of the song get you past that, if that's not your sort of thing.

The second track, Let the Right One In, is sort of an anti love song, or at least a cautionary one. Around all the guitars and upbeat air of the song, you'd never realise it, until, of course, you listen to the lyrics:
"I won't fall, I won't brave it, just enough to loose my head, to tell the truth, well I'm worse now then before...
Won't you please, won't you please, won't you please, don't fall in love with me"
Let the Right One In is easily one of my favorite tracks on the record. Not to say that all the tracks aren't good, they all are, but this is one of my favorites. My other favorite is Hurry. I'd go on a limb to say that Hurry completely sums up the feel of the whole record, or really of Runaway Dorothy in general. You hear the song and it sticks to you; it becomes part of you. The beat, the banjo, the vocals, the drive, it's all there, and it will get you.

There are a few ballad-y songs on the record, they are all great, and I'd love to talk about all of them, but I won't. So I'll just talk about my favorite one: Background. It's another one of those anti-love songs (I see a theme here...) but it's more than that. It's a song about breaking up with someone who really wasn't all that good for you in the first place, someone who being with just wasn't meant to be, but you'll always be in the back of each other's mind.

I think the wild card track on the record is Ballad of a Dead Man. It's a short story in a song, a haunting tale of a man who loses his family in a "botched robbery, now the thief he runs loose on a technicality" and decides to take matters into his own hands.  The first time I listened to the song I was on my way home from work, and I was so into the song, into the words that Dave was singing, that I actually missed a turn and had to go the long way home. This is what Runaway Dorothy does. They pull you in, keep you in. There's just something about Dave Parnell's songs that keeps bringing me back. I'm not just plugging this record because these guys are friends, I'm plugging this record because I truly love the music. You can find The Wait on iTunes, Amazon or, or if you're not sure yet, check out the (FREE!!) Runaway Dorothy mix tape over at NoiseTrade.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Show Review - The Head and The Heart - Seattle, WA 2/21/14

They say there's nothing quite like playing to a home town crowd. Seattle's own Homecoming Heroes, The Head and The Heart proved that last night, playing to a sold out audience at the historic Paramount Theater. The indie folk-rock band had no trouble keeping the crowd enthralled in every moment of every song on their set list. Mixing together just the right amount of old and new material, The Head and The Heart captivated every head and every heart in the room that night, mine included.

I became an instant fan of The Head and The Heart the moment I listened to the self-titled first record. Their second release, out Oct. 2013, Let's Be Still (read my review here,) kept me a fan. When I saw they were playing in Seattle on their current tour, I jumped at the chance to see them. And frankly, after the week I had leading up the night of the show, I needed this happy in my life.

The band opened with the lead off single from their new record, Shake, winding up an already electrified crowd. They played on, the hometown crowd soaking in every word, every harmony, every note, every drum beat. You could feel that the band was glad to be home. With their jovial banter, and song break chatting you could just tell they were having an amazing night. They were feeding off the love from the audience and weaving that into their performance; there's no disputing that Seattle fans are the best.

As our hearts swelled from the music, the critic in me was also very impressed by the pure musicianship from the members of the band. Everyone was in top form. The drummer, Tyler Williams, brought the room to a near stand still with his intensity on Rivers and Roads (which was really one of the greatest songs that night)

It's magical when a room full of near strangers, gathered together for the sake of music, all join in singing the same song. These are the experiences I live for, this is one of my favorite things about going to live shows. I think the best example of this all night was during Rivers and Roads. All around me I could hear voices singing along, voices throwing out all their cares in the world and focusing on that moment, coming together for the music.

The Set list:
Homecoming Heroes
Coeur d'Alene
Honey Come Home
Another Story
Let's Be Still
Lost in my Mind
Winter Song
                                                                                                        Heaven Go Easy On Me
                                                                                                        10,000 Weight in Gold
                                                                                                        Sounds Like Hallelujah
                                                                                                        Rivers and Roads
                                                                                                        (Unknown new song - Josiah acoustic)
Down in the Valley

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Album Review - Augustines - Augustines

I hate genres. I hate putting bands into genres. Sometimes there isn't just one genre big enough to hold a band, or sometimes there just isn't a word to describe that band. Augustines is one of those bands. Sure, they're rock and roll, but these days that's such a broad term. They are just damn good, that's all there is to it. The Seattle via Brooklyn based trio, Billy McCarthy, Eric Sanderson and  Rob Allen, (formerly We Are Augustines) released their sophomore album on February 4, 2014. The self titled album is more than just their second album, it's a sort of come-back album, a reemergence album, a "hey, we're still here and we're not going anywhere" album.

A follow up to 2011's Rise Ye Sunken Ships, Augustines is chock full of emotion, feeling, heartbreaking stories, melodies, lyrics and life. At times it's almost overwhelming, but in the greatest way possible. When you're listening to these songs unfold, they just keep getting bigger and bigger, with several having an epic, anthem quality to them. Lead singer Billy McCarthy's vocals trap you in each and every song. His intensity is incredible. He brings all he has into these songs. This is an album that once you turn it on, once you get it started, you're not going to stop it, not going to turn off until its done, until the last note of the last song ends, just to see how it plays out, just to stay wrapped in the feeling.

The lead single, Cruel City, keys in to this feeling. The African beats keep the song in your head all day. It really is an all around perfect song. Perfect beat, perfect feel, perfect sound, perfect lyrics. Weary Eyes is probably my favorite song off the album. It has the feeling of an old 80's Peter Gabriel song. The perfection from Cruel City carries into Weary Eyes. OK, who am I kidding, this whole album is damn near perfect. All of the songs holding your heart, your attention (but my favorites are Weary Eyes, Cruel City, Now You Are Free, and Hold on to Anything.) They all have stadium rock qualities, a throwback to U2, The Who, Bruce Springsteen, but with the pure heart you only get from Augustines. This is another album where there aren't a few stand out tracks, every single track is is 10, but should be played cranked up to 11. Mosey on over to your trusty online music retailer and pick this album up.

Friday, February 7, 2014

What's in a name?

For the last 21 months I've written this blog under the title "TopHats By Jennifer" and have done fairly well with it, however, it's time for a change. When I started the blog, the title was the hardest thing for me to come up with. TopHats by Jennifer has been an in-joke in the family for nearly 10 years, so that's what I went with, really more as a place holder than anything. Over the last couple months I've been thinking about that name, and that it really doesn't do the blog justice, so I'm changing it. It's by blog, so I can change it if I want.

The new name? My Music Life. It just feels right. Though it's always been in my life, over the last two years I've made music my life, it's kind of taken over, and I want the blog to reflect that.

I'm keeping the URL ( the same (for now anyway, it might change when I run out of business cards) just coz it's easy to search for, and for old time's sake.

Thanks to everyone for reading, and all the support. Thanks for continuing to read. Thanks for making my music life so special (you know who you are.)

~ Feel the music, breathe it in, this is my life

Saturday, December 28, 2013

TopHats By Jennifer - Best of 2013

Best of 2013

As I scour my musical memories for the best records, my favorite records, of the year, I think back on all the amazing musical journeys I've made this year. It's been quite a ride.

These records are in no particular order. I'm not going to explain why they made the list. Most of them I've already written about, so don't ask questions.
So here we go, my favorite records this year:

Brown Bird -- Fits of Reason
Golden Bloom -- No Day Like Today
James Maddock -- Another Life
Steven Roth -- Let it In
Star Anna -- Go to Hell
The Head and the Heart -- Let's Be Still
Filligar -- Hexagon
OldJack -- What is Home to You?
Roem Baur -- Roem & The Revival
Daniel and the Lion -- Final Night and Borrowed Air
Counting Crows -- Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow

There it is kids. Get these records. See you next year.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Album Review - What is Home to You? - OldJack

Sometimes listening to a band's new record is like hearing them evolve right before your ears. Let me present to you What is Home to You? from Boston's OldJack. Singer/Songwriter Dan Nicklin has done it again. With this new release the band seems to have taken a step just slightly out of their musical mold, into something even more amazing.

It can get a little tricky to try to explain the sound of OldJack to someone who hasn't heard them, but once they listen, there will be no explanation needed. The feeling and soul in these eight songs digs into you, and shaking it off will be nearly impossible. There's a common thread of home throughout the whole of the record, coming home, going home, being home, the feeling of home, what ever that may be.

Compared to 2011's Gone Before You KnowWhat is Home to You? seems slightly darker, slightly more emotionally charged. Seeing OldJack live is always a treat. Last year (2012) they were one of the stand out bands for me at the Outlaw Roadshow in New York, which is where I was really introduced to them. Back in October, at the Outlaw Roadshow in NYC I got the chance to see OldJack again, playing some of these songs in a stripped-down, intimate setting. During the set you could feel the raw power and emotion in the songs, almost leaving you breathless and yearning for more. Hearing them with a full band on this record perfectly emulates that feeling. The depth in the lyrics hits you with every word, brings up some new feeling each time you listen, and then, there's that one song, that one line, that after listening to it over and over, all of a sudden hits you like nothing before, and you just get it. What is Home to You? is full of moments like that.

Kicking off the record is Miles Away, which is a guitar driven, rock and roll number with that classic OldJack soul thrown in. As we dig deeper into the record we are given the gut wrenching Oh Daddy. Over the years there have been countless songs written about families waiting for their Daddy to come home, be it from war, from work, from whatever. But this one, this one song, captures the sheer passion of worry, of longing, of the almost utter hopelessness one feels when they're alone. The song builds as it goes, until it practically explodes in a mass of guitars.

Another song along these same lies is Letter from the Frontline. The "frontline" here could be war, but could also be what ever you want, whatever you need it to be. So many of us have waited for someone we love to come home., that this song speaks to everyone. Both of these songs are lyrically minimalistic, but that's all they need to be. All the words that need to be said are there, the guitars and drums fill in the blanks.

Lonely Alone feels most like a "classic" OldJack song, it's a bit peppy, a bit swingy, but then you listen to the lyrics, and you're like "hmm... yup. That's it." The opening line is one of my favorites on the whole of the record:

"You're all alone
in a place you know so well, you call home
one that welcomes you back with open arms,
a place called lonely alone"

This song and I connected. There are times I feel lonely, even in a house full of family, and this song gets it, get me.

Easy to Love has yet another one of my new favorite lyrics ever:
"Guess I chased the rainbow down
And my pot of gold is you"

Every stinkin' track on this record is brilliant. Nicklin's vocals carry the songs to every imaginable point, and the back up from Kelly Davis rounds out the sound. Though I don't know the guitarists names, the guitar work on the record in amazing. Right down the line, this is a good, solid, record. Definitely on my best of 2013 list. So. Damn. Good.

I'm not sure where you can get this record right now, but maybe if you harass OldJack on Facebook or Twitter they'll tell you where/when you can pick it up. All of their other stuff you can get here:

Until then, check out this video of OldJack performing Whistle Blowin' from their One on One Session from the Garden from the Outlaw Roadshow during CMJ, and find the whole session here.