Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New Artist: April Smith and The Great Picture Show

The release of April Smith’s new album, “Songs For a Sinking Ship,” comes on the heels of a fantastic live performance that I was lucky enough to witness a couple of weeks ago when she and her band came through my town. You get the feeling that April Smith is on the cusp of bona-fide success; or at least, she would be, in a world where fan-funded talent, independent of a major record labels, won Grammys. But I digress. April is getting a lot of love from the music press these days and she deserves it. And to those accolades, she can now add the full endorsement of this little known Zealot.

I learned about the New Jersey-native April Smith several months ago when I stumbled upon video of one of her live performances. I was intrigued by her stage presence, the ease with which she traded banter with the band and her audience and, most importantly, THAT VOICE! I was not disappointed when I saw their performance in person. A talented and entertaining band supports April’s great songwriting and powerful voice. Watching them play together was a pleasure because they appeared to be having a fantastic time. They have a big band feel at times - using an upright bass, an accordion, and even April’s mouth-made horn sounds – but they also switch out instruments for a more guitar rock sound for some songs.

April radiates good ol’ spitfire sass, and that is one of the reasons she is so much fun to watch and to listen to. Her songs have a nostalgic feel to them, but also an acerbic edge: for example, in answering whether or not she still thinks of that past lover: “Bitch, please . . . I’ve got better things to do” (Stop Wondering), or the love song written from the point of view of being committed to an asylum (Bright White Jackets). Throughout album, the dichotomy between the sweeter love songs (Movie Loves a Screen, Colors) and the darker, defiant songs (Terrible Things, Dixie Boy) offer the listener a wide range of emotions with which to relate. Overall, nothing on the album gets either too sweet or too dark; it is all lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek, good fun.

It is also worth noting that April’s new album is entirely fan supported through Kickstarter, a website in which artists identify the amount of money needed to fund a project and fans and friends pledge money to meet that goal. The result is 100% artistic ownership of the finished product. I love this concept, for many reasons. First, I appreciate any trend toward greater populism in the music industry; it breads more creativity and greater diversity. Second, listeners can be assured that they are getting a finished product that is creatively controlled by the artist, and not the result of cutting room compromises between an artist and their management. And third, in theory at least, this method of funding and production elevates the role that music fans play - from just a consumer of music to active participant in the process - and to some degree makes the band-fan relationship more of a two-way street than it has ever been before.

“Songs For a Sinking Ship” is a great album with the heart of a community of friends, fans, and very talented musicians behind it. I wish April Smith and the Great Picture Show the best of luck as they make their way around the country touring the release of the album. Stop by her website to check out her videos and see if she and the band are playing a city near you. She’ll hook ya!


April Smith Music Site

Performance of "Stop Wondering"

Friday, February 5, 2010

Bands Paying Homage: Eddie Vedder to Tom Petty

A couple of months back, I wrote a post about how the Gaslight Anthem honored Joe Strummer with a great song about the first time Brian Fallon heard the Clash, and the profound effect that discovering their sound had on him. As I mentioned in that post, I find it so heartwarming to hear famous musicians pay homage to the artists who inspired them. They have sold records, become famous, toured the world, and perhaps become jaded in certain respects; yet, when they hear a well-loved song they are humbled by the impact that song initially had on them. It is a reminder that no matter what paths we take in this life - successes we have, failures we endure, lessons we learn – we can play an old song and become instantly transported to an innocent, more naive, place and time.

All great songwriters were once inspired by artists who came before them: Dylan had Guthrie, Van had Lead Belly, Petty has Elvis, and so on. In the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers documentary, “Running Down a Dream,” Eddie Vedder talks about hearing “The Waiting” for the first time as an adolescent. The best part of this clip, and one of my favorite parts of the whole documentary, comes at the very end when Vedder says the following:

I don’t know if an artist completely understands, or needs to be reminded sometimes, how deeply these songs affect people . . . in such a way, that when you hear the song, you know where you were - and even the feeling in your gut - when you were 14 hearing that song. And the artist - if they can accept that, that’s a potent thing. What a gracious situation.

It doesn’t translate in text as powerfully are watching the interview, so check it out! The clip also includes a portion of the live performance of “The Waiting” where Vedder joins Petty and the Heartbreakers on stage. Vedder is a perfect vocal match for this song, and I have to say, I think I actually prefer him to Tom in this case. Below the clip, you can also find the link to the entire performance of the “The Waiting.”


Full performance of "The Waiting"