Maudlin You Liar

Mystics Anonymous is playing another show on December 7 at The Basement in Northampton, MA. To prepare, we’re adding a few songs to the set, and one of the interesting things about doing that is that some of these songs have never been played live, and I have no memory of how to play them. So first, I have to sit down and learn my own songs (“What was that chord again? Is it major or minor?”), and then we can arrange and rehearse our version.

Songs take on new meaning depending on their context. Playing acoustic guitar alone in the studio in the middle of the night, a song sounds so intimate and has an almost secret life. Playing them in a room with a band, they are exposed to the light, and there they bloom into something else (the thorns can also become more apparent). Add an audience, and it’s another song altogether.

It’s so great to hear musicians bring themselves to a song. All the little (and big) touches that change the song’s impact are what make it fun to play in a band. Brian’s drumming takes advantage of the space, Matt’s guitar playing chooses moments to raise its hand and exclaim something, and Andy’s bass playing locks it all together in a way that sounds effortless but I know is not.

All of this is what I’m experiencing with the song Maudlin You Liar, a track from the Winsted in the Space Room album. On the album, I play all of the instruments, and as a lo-fi home studio recording, it works. You can listen to it here:

Maudlin You Liar.

Next, come to the show, and hear the live band version. You won’t be disappointed.

November Shows: Part 2

I’m starting to think that blogging about great shows in the Valley is a crazy task. There’s always too many to mention, it would be a full-time job. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two coming up this weekend.

The first is at least semi-shameless self-promotion: Fiesta Brava is playing Friday night, November 16 at the Iron Horse in Northampton, MA. Show starts at 10:00, and we go on first. Next up will be Jason Anderson. This is going to be a great show–it’s had a lot of momentum building, and we’re excited. We’ll be debuting a new song, and also a special surprise cover song (a Fiesta Brava rarity). Don’t miss it.

Then on Sunday, The Salvation Alley String Band takes the stage at the Iron Horse to celebrate the release of their brand-new album, The Space Wanderer. Sal Al is full of great musicians and people, three of whom are Mystics alums as well! So go on out again on Sunday for some special treatment from that fine band of folks.

November Shows: Part 1

Suddenly, it’s November! I’m pretty swamped with finishing up the Fiesta Brava album, but quickly wanted to point out three shows this weekend:

First, tonight (11/2) John Hodgman is playing the Calvin Theater in Northampton, MA with Jonathan Coulton opening. Sure to be a funny time.

Tomorrow night (11/3) John Vanderslice and Crooked Fingers are playing at Great Scott in Allston, MA. Two great artists, both not to be missed.

And Sunday (11/4) The Original Cowards are having a release party at The Elevens in Northampton, MA with the excellent Ribboncandy opening.

As always, there are tons of great shows in our region. Get thee to a show!

This Is Halloween

Halloween Is Coming…

Today as I was driving along in my car, a really quiet, sad song had just finished playing on the car stereo. Suddenly, the stereo erupted in a cacophonous, dark, yet utterly joyous sound. It was the song Ichabod! by Th’ Legendary Shack*Shackers!* In short, it was the sound of Halloween. And it served as a reminder that the holiday is almost upon us.

First off, I need to say I’m a huge Danny Elfman and Oingo Boingo fan, and a pretty big fan of Tim Burton as well. So my adult memories and perceptions of Halloween are forever tinged with that particular brand of macabre. But rather than discuss at length the obvious choices—films such as The Nightmare Before Christmas (look, two holiday movies in one!)—I want to tell you that a Halloween-themed film worth seeing is the live concert film Farewell! Live from the Universal Ampitheatre. This is Oingo Boingo’s farewell show, filmed during the band’s last iteration of its legendary annual Halloween event. And it is not only theme-appropriate, but one of the best concert films of all time. “Well, he must mean if you’re already an Oingo Boingo fan,” you say to yourself. No, that’s not what I mean. I have sat down at least half a dozen non-Boingo fans to watch this, and each one left a fan. Some went out and purchased the film themselves—not an easy feat because it’s out of print now. But this is the age of the Internet—go find a copy!  Watch this film with friends!  If you love music, and you love Halloween, this is well worth your time.  Let’s see if I can find a clip online.  OK, here you go: Oingo Boingo performing I Am the Walrus.

Next up, for those of you in the Happy Valley region of western Massachusetts, or those within driving distance, I want to mention a weekend residency worth checking out. Rub Wrongways, the wonderful local label, is taking over The Basement in Northampton for two nights this weekend—Friday 10/26 and Saturday 10/27. They’re calling it the Rub Wrongways Halloweekend Explosion, and it promises to be a good time. Friday night you’ll find School for the Dead and When Particles Collide. Saturday night you’ll find A Severe Joy, The Fawns, and Sea Level. Both nights will feature costume contests, with prizes featuring tickets to other great upcoming shows like Dinosaur Jr. and John Hodgman. Shows start at 8:00. And did I mention they’re free? Get thee to a good time!

Parting thought:  on this day in 1969, Pink Floyd released Ummagumma. Let’s take a listen to the most, er, Halloween-esque track: Careful with That Axe, Eugene.


* In case you’re wondering, I was listening to my iPod through the car stereo, on Shuffle mode.

Toot Suite

One of the things I love most about recording in one’s own home studio is the freedom to explore and experiment, and to slowly work on pieces of music, letting them evolve and become something other than what they began as. This works on the level of songs themselves, and also on the larger level of albums or collections of songs. In other words, if you’re always working on a bunch of tracks, all at varying degrees of completion, an album or collection begins to take shape. Some newer stuff gets added, some older stuff no longer fits, and suddenly you find yourself narrowing your focus to a dozen or so tracks that you’re excited to finish and publish. This is generally how Mystics Anonymous music gets recorded.

I am currently working away in the studio and planning to publish the next Mystics Anonymous album, Dreaming For Hours, sometime in 2013. I’m going to say April, but the truth is it’ll get done when it gets done. I say April because it’s my birthday in April, and on some level finishing another album could serve as my birthday present to myself. But anyway, the point is… this upcoming album has its first casualty now, and it’s a track titled Toot Suite.

Toot Suite is an instrumental track, and like a lot of my instrumental tracks, it’s inspired a little bit by jazz, a little bit by film score, a little bit by rock, and a little bit by experimental music. Most of all, it’s inspired by sounds, ideas, and that aforementioned freedom of exploration and experimentation. I really love it, and I really want people to hear it; however, as the album edges ever closer to completion, I find that this track just doesn’t seem to fit the feel of the larger work anymore.

For a while, I tried to justify leaving it in, taking my inspiration from such oddball album tracks as “Front Parlour” from McCartney II. But now I think, no. There is a way to share oddball tracks these days. Call it the 21st century version of the b-side. If you’ve got the resources, sometimes things like this come out on “extended versions” or “limited editions” of albums, such as Wilco’s The Whole Love Limited Edition Deluxe CD, which comes with a second disc of four extra tracks. But if you’re an underground, independent musician, chances are you don’t have these resources. You have the Internet. And though sometimes it can seem too large and too full, it is also a playground of discovery in which smaller artists thrive–not financially so much, but certainly in terms of access.

So, in that spirit, I present to you Toot Suite. Hope you enjoy it!


Jeff’s October Show Recommendations

There are a number of wonderful shows by some great performers coming up in the Happy Valley area. First off, this evening David Sedaris performs at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton, MA. For those of you haven’t read or heard Sedaris’s brand of essayist humor, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Next up, on Sunday October 21 there is a great show at The Flywheel in Easthampton, MA, featuring Bunnygrunt, Ribboncandy, The Bad Spellers, and Googolplexia. I am particularly fond of Ribboncandy, whose maestro Ken Mauiri is one talented fellow who is always fun to catch live. This man can pick up any instrument and have it make beautiful sounds. Not to be missed! Info here.

On Wednesday October 24, Electric Six hits the Iron Horse in Northampton, MA. Supporting are Little Hurricane and Trucks. Trucks is a fun Northampton-based band featuring Roger Knight from The Novels and Matt Silberstein, who plays with several outfits, including Mystics Anonymous and The Salvation Alley String Band.

And finally, on Thursday October 25, the jazz fan should note that Christian McBride & Inside Straight come to the Iron Horse in Northampton, MA. McBride may be the preeminent bass player of his age. Too strong? I don’t know. Go see for yourself.

That’s all I’ll recommend for October for now. November recommendations will be up soon. Remember to support live performers! Go see shows! It does a body good.