Over the past few years I’ve come across a few artists that have taken places among my favorites. So this week I’m checking out what’s new with Lake Street Dive, Snarky Puppy and Chris Thile.
In an amazing convergence, Chris Thile performed with Snarky Puppy at a recent live show. Chris jumps in to play jazz mandolin at about 2:30. You’ll hear Snarky Puppy’s band leader Michael League say, “We got six minutes, Chris Thile you got four-and-a-half!”. Suitable homage from one supremely talented musician to another.
Chris also dropped by the Steven Colbert show where he played his Punch Brothers song “My Oh My” with Jon Batiste & Stay Human. You don’t often get to see Stay Human play a full song, so check out their work including Batiste’s fantastic piano accompaniment. You’ll see why Thile exclaims “This band!”.
Lake Street Dive’s members seem to have taken time over the winter for some side projects. Listen to Rachel Price tap into her jazz roots with a 1930’s Gershwin Brothers tune, in a duet with Brooklyn-based guitarist/singer Vilray.
And LSD’s base player, song writer, backing singer and all around super talented Bridget Kearney put out her own album “Won’t Let You Down” a couple of weeks ago. Here’s the video from “Wash Up”.
Though I’d considered it to be the exclusive province of college students lurking under stone archways, it seems that a cappella singing is engaging the talents of a much broader range of performers these days.
Pentatonix, the Texas based quintet leading the art form’s revival, has delivered a string of hits and interesting performances since winning “The Sing-Off” on NBC in 2011. Their recent Christmas album topped the Billboard charts, and this performance with Dolly Parton of her 1973 hit is up for Best Country Duo/Group Performance at this year’s Grammy’s.
In 2013, around the same time the movie “Inside Llewyn Davis” went into wide release, an all star cast put on a concert to celebrate the film’s music. One of the songs from the movie performed at the concert was “The Auld Triangle”. The performance includes most of those on the movie soundtrack, including Chris Thile, other members of his Punch Brothers outfit, and Marcus Mumford – minus Justin Timberlake.
Professional musicians are contributing only a small fraction, it seems, of a cappella performances – as a cursory trip around YouTube suggests. Indy Dang, an film student at the Rhode Island School of Design, has a YouTube channel with 15,000 subscribers checking out his expanding set of arrangements. He’s not the only one making these covers of pop songs, but it’s hard to find anyone better. Here’s his version of “Heathens” by Twenty One Pilots, a song from the soundtrack of the summer hit movie “Suicide Squad”.
No talk of a cappella singing is complete without mentioning The Persuasions. The group made it big after Frank Zappa heard them perform and booked them to open for the Mothers of Invention at Carnegie Hall in 1971. Here is their excellent version of “People Get Ready” written by Curtis Mayfield.
Paul Simon released his thirteenth solo album on June 3rd, a few months shy of his 75th birthday. “Wristband” was the first track released from the album, and here is what may have been the first performance of the song. It took place on A Prairie Home Companion backed by Chris Thile, Chris’ Punch Brothers outfit, and PHC regulars. Listen to all the lyrics, and you’ll be reminded that Simon remains one of our great social observers and poets.
Chris Thile, by the way, will become the new host of A Prairie Home Companion this October. He’ll take over from Garrison Keillor who hosted his final episode this week after 42 years at the helm of the live radio variety show he originated. Keillor could not have chosen anyone to bring better music and musicianship to the future of the show than Thile, and Chris has also shown he can keep the comedy flowing.
Paul Simon’s performance of “Wristband” took place on February 6th, the day before Superbowl 50. Enjoy Thile’s homage to Peyton Manning on the eve of the quarterback’s final performance.
Over a year ago we wrote about the then recent doings of Nickel Creek alums including mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile. Around the time Nickel Creek disbanded in 2006, Thile formed a new group called How to Grow a Band, since renamed The Tension Mountain Boys, since renamed Punch Brothers. Their fourth album “The Phosphorescent Blues” was just released – thanks for the reminder Eric!
The album contains the eclectic mix of styles that fans of the band and of Thile have come to expect. Give a listen to the first single released from the new album, “I Blew It Off”, with its pop vocal harmonies. Then dip back to “Movement and Location” from their prior album “Who’e Feeling Young Now”.
The Barr Brothers released their sophomore effort “Sleeping Operator” last October. Brothers Andrew and Brad Barr originally played together in The Slip, a Boston-based band that performed together through 2011, but have put most of their recent effort into the Montreal-based The Barr Brothers. Here’s a live performance of “Even The Darkness Has Arms” from that album.
“Even Rats” from The Slip’s 2006 album “Eisenhower” was one of the songs adapted for the video game “Guitar Hero”. Listen to a bit of the original, then watch a young guitar hero go at it back in the day!
The trio of Sara Watkins, brother Sean Watkins, and Chris Thile formed Nickel Creek in 1989, and after polishing their sound for a decade, won a slew of Grammy, CMA and other awards between 2000 and 2005. The band made its farewell tour in 2007, with the members pursuing their individual careers since.
Chris Thile pulled together a fantastic string quartet that included Yo Yo Ma for the Grammy-winning “Goat Rodeo Sessions” released in 2012. The perfectly synchronized vocals of Thile and Aiofe O’Donovan on “Here and Heaven” are incredible, and pay close attention to see if you can figure out when the members of the quartet switch instruments.
2012 also saw Sara release her second solo effort, “Sun Midnight Sun”, which she supported by touring with Jackson Browne that summer. Here’s the video for “You and Me”, released in April 2013.
In case you hadn’t heard much of Nickel Creek back in the day, here is a track from their eponymous third album released in 2000. The album was produced by Alison Krauss and launched the trio’s big run.
And since we’ve mentioned her name, we can’t end without adding something from the exquisite Alison Krauss and her all-star band, Union Station.