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This Monkey Has a Crush on Alela Diane

Dear Alela Diane:

You really are something else.

This humble Grumpy Monkey just happened to come across your 2006 album, “The Pirate’s Gospel”, on the emusic website while he was browsing through songs one day.

And he just happened to take a chance on the first two songs on the album; “Tired Feet” and “The Rifle.”

Wow, was he impressed.

You have done an excellent job of reinterpreting the traditional American/English folk song for a new generation.

Your work is distinguished by excellent songwriting, taunt fingerpicked guitar notes, a smooth voice and sweetly blended harmonies.

Your latest album, “To Be Still”, boasts an excellent first single in “White as Diamonds.” And your work with the Headless Heroes was recently featured on an All Songs Considered Podcast that one can find here.

And let’s be honest. You look a little bit like Jessica Biel, which isn’t exactly hurting your case with this bashful Monkey admirer.

But your Monkey is not a jealous Monkey. He is not greedy and overpossesive.  He does not want to hoard you in his ipod and on his computer like dragons used to hoard treasure and gold coins during medieval times.

Your Monkey wants to share you with the world.

Here is Alela Diane performing “Tired Feet.”

Music, Podcasts

NPR’s Newport Folk Festival Coverage

When your Monkey first saw the lineup of bands for this year’s Newport Folk Festival, he nearly dropped his banana and fell straight out of his tree.

The Fleet Foxes, The Decemberists, Iron and Wine, The Avett Brothers and Gillian Welsh all on one stage? Are you kidding me?

It sounded like a great show, but tickets were expensive and your Monkey had a vacation already planned. So he had to pass on it.

Luckily NPR and the All Songs Considered Program was there to cover the event and has been providing your Monkey with enough live music podcasts from that day that he almost feels like he was there.

All he needs now is a pair of Birkenstocks, a sunburn, and a guilty white liberal conscience.

But seriously folks…

Let’s talk about the good, the bad and the surprising from that day.

The Good:

Oh Gilllian Welsh! Your talent as a singer and songwriter is matched only by your suprising knowledge of Red Sox folklore.

Sure your flight was delayed and you barely made it to Newport in time for your show, and sure you had to get a police escort to the festival grounds like a certain Red Sox catcher once needed to get to Fenway, but boy did you knock your performance out of the park.

Awesome job with your standard stuff (The Revelator, Look At Miss Ohio) and a great cover of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit.

Find her performance here.

The Bad:

OK, bad is a little harsh for this act. Maybe disappointing is a little bit better. Your Monkey has had a love/hate relationship with Iron and Wine’s music for a long time now. Sometimes it is great and sometimes it seems so soft and dull that it almost disappears.

Sam Beam (the singer and guitarist behind Iron and Wine) started off strong with a cover of the Postal Service song Such Great Heights, but his performance then seemed to fade away into less interesting stuff.

Your Monkey would have been much happier had he played “Boy With a Coin” from his previous album or his excellent new song “Belated Promise Ring.”

But alas, how much can the non-paying, non-attending customer complain?

Judge for yourself. Iron and Wine’s performance is here.

The Surprising:

The Low Anthem. There is a great do-it-yourself story behind this Rhode Island band’s appearance at this year’s festival that you can listen to on the NPR All Songs Considered Saturday Roundup podcast here.

But aside from the story, the band’s performance of “Oh My God Charlie Darwin” from their new album of the same name beat out material from the Fleet Foxes, the Decemberists, Billy Bragg and others for the honor of most memorable song of the day. (At least in the opinion of a Monkey who wasn’t there and has only heard highlights.)

Here is a song from the Low Anthem.

Also, your Monkey has only listened to day one of the festival coverage so far. Perhaps there will be another update for day 2. Stay tuned to find out more.

Music, Podcasts

A frank discussion of stage banter

In which the Monkey asks the age old questions: what is the sound of one hand clapping, and more importantly (and far more relevant to this post) how much interaction should an artist have with the audience while he or she is performing?

The great thing about seeing a live music act is that it is always a different experience than listening to the recorded music. More often than not, the live show is better. It has more energy, more spontaneity, and more life.

Seeing an artist live will often give you a new appreciation of their recorded work. The next time you hear an album track, you can actually picture how the song is brought to life on stage.

Sure, there are plenty of performers who can’t hack it live. Some need studio tricks to make their magic, others just don’t have the stage presence needed to command a room.

But what is the key to having a good stage presence? Is it just being high energy performer, or is it understanding how to best use your talents to present your music to the crowd?

Your Monkey is asking this question after having two very different experiences listening to live shows in which the artist spent a great deal of time interacting with the crowd. Both of these shows were recently broadcast as part of NPR’s All Songs Considered Concert Series. A link to the page is here.

On the positive side, the Swedish artist Loney, Dear (real name Emil Svanängen) did an excellent job of incorporating the audience into his performance during a recent show at the 930 club in Washington, D.C. Svanängen not only engaged the crowd in conversation in a way that fit the flow of the show, but also used the audience as a choral instrument during a memorable performance of his single “I Am John.” It was awesome to listen to.

But sometimes, too much banter can be a bad thing. Take for example the recent performance by Neko Case at the same 93o club in Washington, DC.

This Monkey believes that Neko Case is a special artist with a magical voice and a wonderful, reverb-heavy atmosphere to her alt-country songs. Her talent is undeniable, and her live voice is every bit as good as her studio voice.

But….

The Monkey has to say that he found it hard to appreciate Case’s live performance because there was so much stage banter between songs.

Sure it is fun to joke around and be loose with the crowd and have a good time, but Case’s music is so soft and dense and dependent on atmosphere that it was distracting to have the performance cluttered with so much chattering.

One can’t get lost in the depth of her voice and the moodiness of her lyrics if there are jokes between each song.

Maybe the performance would have been more effective if she had saved the talking for the beginning and end of the show, and let the music take center stage for the bulk of the performance.

Or maybe your Monkey is just a grumpy old crank.

What do you think?

By the way, these are all nice problems to have given the fact that these artists are nice enough to let NPR podcast their shows and NPR is nice enough to archive them to you can go back and listen any time you want. Plus, Neko Case is great. Your Monkey is just being nitpicky because he is greedy.