music review: Lauryn Peacock

lauryn peacock euphonia

Nashville-based musician Lauryn Peacock’s sophomore album Euphonia combines piano with lush arrangements for memorable, moving melodies. The vocals shimmy and simmer. Soft and gentle and soothing on “All My Mind” and “February Song.” Just this gorgeous high and sweet octave range. The songs provide a dance-trance groove with depth in the lyrics. The lushly arranged and gorgeous seven-minute track “Weighted” sounds like the film soundtrack for a bittersweet love story. The unusual instrumentation provides the weird circus feel and staccato beat of “Wounds Grow Grass.” With vocals and swirly mesmerizing songs reminiscent of Lush, Curve and Chvrches, this is a collection of exquisitely dark indie folk songs with ambitious orchestration and instrumentation.

Peacock earned a Master of Liberal Arts degree from University of Pennsylvania where she focused on the pedagogical nature of Bob Dylan’s work to the 60s Civil Rights movement and the pedagogical nature of arts to our cultural zeitgeist. Peacock started playing piano at a young age as her mom taught Suzuki piano. She later played house shows in Chicago with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and toured with mewithoutyou.

Tour Dates [no Boston date!]

08.07 McGuinness Pub, Appleton, WI
08.07 Dr. Jekyll’s , Appleton, WI
08.08 Copper Rock, Appleton, WI
08.08 Jim’s Place, Appleton, WI
08.09 High Noon Saloon, Madison, WI
08.12 Uncommon Ground, Chicago, IL
08.14 The Living Room, New York, NY
08.16 PhilaMoca, Philadelphia, PA
08.19 The Purple Fiddle, Thomas, WV
08.20 Blue Moon Diner, Charlottesville, VA
08.21 Caffe Driade, Chapel Hill, NC
08.22 Common Grounds, Greensboro, NC
08.23 Muddy Creek Music Hall, Winston-Salem, NC
08.25 The High Watt, Nashville, TN

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: Beth Bombara

Credit: Nate Burrell

Credit: Nate Burrell

St. Louis, Missouri-based musician Beth Bombara creates Americana/folk songs with bluesy undertones and earthy vocals. Growing up in Grand Rapids, Mich., Bombara played in a punk band in high school The 32-year-old singer/songwriter moved from Michigan to St. Louis in 2007 to embark on a solo music career. Her musician/producer husband Kit Hamon collaborated on her moving and diverse self-titled fifth album. The recurring themes are existentialism and travel. Quite thoughtful and provocative. She’s currently on tour and plays Club Passim in Harvard Square tonight.

I spoke with Beth Bombara during one of her days off.

Amy Steele: How’s the tour going?

Beth Bombara: It’s been a lot of fun so far.

Amy Steele: How did you get into music and singing and playing instruments?

Beth Bombara: There were always instruments around my house. We had a piano and my mom had a guitar. I was just really into music and teaching myself how to play guitar. I met some kids that wanted to start bands and it was something I always remembered doing.

Amy Steele: What do you like about being a solo artist?

Beth Bombara: I like both but I like playing with a band, in terms of having more band members to play with. In some ways it’s more fun because I don’t have to carry as much weight. I can just focus on singing more and maybe move around stage a little more. I like both. They’re just different. The band aspect there’s more collaboration. Solo. I’m rarely just playing me alone. Usually I have at least my husband playing bass with me.

Amy Steele: You moved to St. Louis in 2007. How has the music scene had an influence on your music now?

Before I moved to St. Louis I was in rock bands and went to a lot of sweaty basement shows and it was fun. I guess that can tie back into why I got into playing music in the first place. It was so fun to go see live music as a teenager. There’s a raw energy and getting to be part of that was fun. I was enamored with instruments and melody. When I moved to St. Louis, I really started experiencing music in the Americana roots music genre and even some blues. It was this perfect evolution of these things coming together. Moving to this place that roots and blues and heritage. A lot of folk coming out of the Ozark mountains. Banjo players and things like that. It definitely had a big influence. Examples of bands that played a part in my evolution after moving to St. Louis: Wilco; Uncle Tupelo; and more underground bands like The Rum Drum Ramblers (who are now a part of Pokey LaFarge’s band); and the Hooten Hallers.

Amy Steele: What makes you work well with your husband, to produce and collaborate on the album?

We have different ideas about things. We come at things from different perspectives. We might not always agree but we realize each perspective is valid. Having a certain respect enables us to use that different perspectives to find the best thing for the song.

Amy Steele: What do you think makes a good song?

Beth Bombara: I feel like the best songs are deceivingly simple if that makes sense. It can’t seem too forced. Simplicity makes good songs. Lyrics that are simple and a melody that is simple but also says something in a brief way .

Amy Steele: Let’s talk about some songs. What they’re about or what the writing process was like.

Amy Steele: “Promised Land”

Beth Bombara: It describes a point in life where I thought that a lot of things are unknown. It’s kinda scary when you don’t know, to plan things, to get a vision for what you’re doing. That definitely came from a place of uncertainty. Feeling this is kind of scary but we have to go into this darkness, unknown and it’s good to do with someone who supports you.

Amy Steele: “Give Me Something”

Beth Bombara: The writing of that was interesting: I did that as a writing experiment where I gave myself only a couple of days to write and record it. It’s kind of an anomaly in my songwriting. I didn’t have a specific idea. It was more stream of consciousness. It speaks to that whole cycle of getting to know somebody and feeling like you’re close and then that’s gone and navigating that.

Amy Steele: “Great the Day”

Beth Bombara: It kind of embodies my mantra. My philosophy. My life philosophy. So many things happen in life that we can’t control. We’re going to experience happiness, we’re going to experience sadness and you have to take that all with a grain of salt and support each other.

Amy Steele: “It Slips Away”

Beth Bombara: I feel like I was in the same emotional state with that song as I was when I wrote “Promised Land.” You’re on a journey and things are a little bit uncertain. Questioning yourself. Did I do the right thing? Am I headed in the right direction?

Amy Steele: What are your greatest challenges?

Beth Bombara: It’s challenging to be a singer/songwriter but not to get stuck in that box. Especially as a female singer/songwriter people have expectations about that. I’m going to show up to a gig with an acoustic guitar or a piano. And those stereotypes are hard to shake off. It’s only hard for me in my mindset. I don’t think it effects how I write songs. It’s just something I run into sometimes.

Amy Steele: What do you like best about being a musician?

Beth Bombara: I like the spontaneity. There are a lot of different areas where being a musician is spontaneous whether on stage playing a song and something happens you didn’t expect to happen. Collaborating with other musicians. I always enjoy that. Getting to meet a lot of people.

I enjoy creating songs. I think that speaks to my personality. I think I’m a maker. I like to make things. I like to garden. I like to screen-print. All these things I like to do have to do with building things. Creating something from nothing.

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book review: Project Animal Farm

project animal farm

Project Animal Farm By Sonia Faruqi.
Pegasus Books| July 2015|390 pages |$27.95| ISBN: 978-1-60598-798-9

Rating: *****/5*

“The Miller mindset that we owe animals no more than food, water, and shelter is flawed.”

Even when you know that there’s mistreatment among dairy and animal farms, as I do, this remains a shocking and detailed expose into the disheartening and mostly cruel world of food production. I dare any meat eater to read this book and not think about the farm to table process. Author Sonia Faruqi worked on Wall Street after graduating from Dartmouth College. When the market plummeted and she lost her job, she decided it might be interesting to volunteer on a farm for a bit. A vegetarian, Faruqi visited a dairy farm, a pig farm, a chicken farm, an organic farm, a pastoral farm and a slaughter house in Canada. She then traveled to Indonesia, Malaysia, Dubai, Singapore and Belize and then Vermont [primary agricultural state in New England] and California [second in the nation in animal agriculture behind Texas]. Both Vermont and California have no AG GAG laws—laws which prohibit undercover investigations on the conditions of industrial agriculture operations) to visit farms and factory farms there.

“Certain forms of enjoyment are dependent on drinking a drug of ignorance. Where suffering exists, it’s always there in the shadows, ready to strike at a moment’s notice. Our method of acquiring wealth says more about us than the wealth we acquire.”

Faruqi writes about her experiences at each farm with meticulous details and vivid descriptions. Interspersing her personal experience with facts and figures, Faruqi provides an eye-opening, devastating and shocking explanation of why the food industry must change. At these various farms, she witnessed animals living on top of each other, never getting outside, animals dying from abhorrent conditions. The farms reeked of ammonia as animals stood in their own waste. Dead animals often weren’t located for days because of the over-crowding. In the egg industry, the norm is to slaughter hens at 18 months old. Hens are de-beaked with a hot blade. Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland and Denmark banned this barbaric practice. Animals get artificially inseminated and are bred with particular strains that serve one purpose: to feed the masses. Chickens have abnormally large breasts that make it difficult for them to move. Faruqi writes: “Artificial insemination is not only unnatural, but harmful. Millions of dairy cows today all over the world are the descendants of only a few dozen bulls. This is the equivalent to passing a complex, swirling pot of genes through a needle pinhole. Such narrow genetic limitation never occurs in nature, because the long-term survival of any species depends on genetic diversity.”

Most factory farmers don’t need to interact with the animals or spend any time near the cages. Using a smart phone and various apps animals can be feed, watered and monitored. 70% of antibiotic use in the United States is in farm animals. Americans spend 10% or less of their salary on food while Europeans spend 50% of their salary on food. Throughout her journey, she meets people with various approaches to farming. Some extremely kind, some who treat animals as products. A few get stressed out by their jobs. Others turn the other way and ignore the negative impact farm life takes upon the animals. Interestingly many of the farm workers or owners are vegetarian. Faruqi notes: “I realized that I’d hardly ever heard about vegetarianism more than I had in this animal farming community that I happened to stumble into. It can’t be a coincidence that some of the people closest to the system of meat production are boycotting meat.”

“When animals suffer, people also suffer. Many farms I investigated were in the throes of disease.”

One question I have is why we are crueler to animals than Europeans. Why does Europe have many more sensible and humane protections for animals and farms? Americans love their cats and dogs but it’s completely different when it comes to how that hamburger or chicken breast arrived at the grocery store. Most choose not to think about it or to just think that the way it’s always been done is fine.

If you don’t care about the animals maybe you care about your carbon footprint: “a single factory farm can generate as much waste as an entire city.” While Project Animal Farm commands the reader’s attention through its well-written prose, conversational style and thorough research, it’s so disturbing at times I had to leave it for a bit. The United States remains one of the worst offenders in humane treatment and protection of animals in the food industry.

Some other tidbits [and there are plenty, so read the book]:

— hens are slaughtered at 18 months
— 9 out of 10 sows in the United States and Canada spend their lives in crates.
— about piglets at a pig farm, Faruqi writes: “From head to hoof, they lived marinated in manure.”
–the veal industry is a by-product of the dairy industry. If you support the dairy industry you support the disgusting practice of “raising” veal. Male calves aren’t wanted by the dairy industry and are sold to veal farmers.
–eight and a half billion chickens, 239 million turkeys, 112 million pigs, 32 million cattle and 2 million sheep and lambs were killed for human consumption in the United States and Canada in 2013. “It is impossible not to view the raising and butchering of animals for food as wasteful and hopelessly inefficient.” Approximately 50% of an animal is actually consumed.
–in Malaysia [population 30 million] there are 500 KFCs, 300 Pizza Huts and 300 McDonalds. Malaysians eat more fast food than Americans. 1/3 of Americans eat fast food once a week while 3/5 of Malaysians eat fast food once a week.
–Mexico [population 122 million] has 240 Walmarts, 150 Sam’s Clubs, 30 Costco, 500 Dominos, 380 McDonalds, 300 KFCs and 180 Pizza Huts.

–review by Amy Steele

Sonia Faruqi will be reading and answering questions about Project Animal Farm at the Capitol Theatre in Arlington on Saturday, July 25, 2015 at 6pm.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Pegasus Books.

purchase at Amazon: Project Animal Farm: An Accidental Journey into the Secret World of Farming and the Truth About Our Food

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music preview: Bim Skala Bim at The Middle East Friday July 24

bim-skala-bim-2013

Ska– cool beats, swinging horns and upbeat attitude. Third-wave ska band Bim Skala Bim formed in Boston in 1983. I’m almost positive that they played Simmons College when I was there in the early 90s. This band makes me happy–you must dance to ska– and that’s not an easy feat.

remember this amazing cover of Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage?”

Bim Skala Bim is:

Dan Vitale (vocals)
Mark Ferranti (bass)
Jim Jones (guitar, vocals)
Jim Arhelger (drums)
Vince Nobile (trombone, keyboards)
Dave Butts (keyboards, saxophone)

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discography:

Bim Skala Bim (1986)
Tuba City (1989)
How’s It Goin’? (1990)
Bones (1991)
Live at the Paradise (1993)
Eyes & Ears (1995)
American Playhouse (1995)
Universal (1997)
The One That Got Away (1998)
Krinkle (2000)
Chet’s Last Call (2013)
Musical Biscuits (2013)

Bim Skala Bim play The Middle East Club in Cambridge, Mass. on Friday, July 24.

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cookbook review: Vegan with a Vengeance [10th anniversary edition]

10th_anniversary_vegan_vengeance

Vegan with a Vengeance By Isa Chandra Moskowitz.
Lifelong Books| June 2015|276 pages |$22.99| ISBN: 978-0-7382-1833-5

I adore Isa Chandra Moskowitz and have many go-to recipes in Vegan with a Vengeance including: Punk Rock Chickpea Gravy [my mom loves this as well]; Corn Chowder; Classic Pesto; Basil Tofu Ricotta [perfect for lasagna] and Seitan. I actually just made Seitan this week and I’ve been vegan for eight years and vegetarian for decades prior. This recipe for seitan is delicious and super easy. I made several delicious stir-frys and will get 4-6 meals out of one batch.

In 2014, Moskowitz opened Modern Love, a restaurant in Omaha, Nebraska, where she serves up seasonal menus of “swanky vegan comfort food.” Her Post Punk Kitchen blog is an outstanding source for recipes and tips. When cooking I often refer to her Appetite for Reduction and Veganimicon [co-written with Terri Hope Romero] which many consider the vegan bible. It’s a must-own for any vegan.

This is the 10th anniversary addition. There are additional recipes including: Black Bean & Quinoa Soup; Chickpea & Rice Soup with a Little Kale; Lentil-Walnut Burgers; Olive Oil Double Crust; Ginger Peach Pea; Asian Tofu and Call Me Blondies. I will definitely try those soups. A vegan must.

The index is much improved. Items organized by both recipe name and ingredient. Moskowitz includes her “The Post Punk Pantry” which gives you suggestions for the spices seasons and other vegan essentials like dried beans, grains, canned foods you should always have on hand for simple cooking. She also suggests knifes, pans, appliances to make your cooking and baking simpler in “Tools and Kitchen Stuff.” Vegan cooking and baking shouldn’t be difficult. It needs to be nutritious and delicious. Right? I’m not much of a vegan baker but she has some delicious baked goods items. There are better pictures, easier directions and streamlined ingredients. I’m as much a one-pot cook as I can be and when you have limited space for cooking as many of us do, that’s key.

Sections: brunch; muffins and scones; soups; little meals, finger foods, and sammiches; sides; pizzas and pastas; entrees; cookies and bars; desserts.

purchase at Amazon: Vegan with a Vengeance, 10th Anniversary Edition: Over 150 Delicious, Cheap, Animal-Free Recipes That Rock

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music news: new album from Wilco available for free download

wilco

Chicago indie band Wilco is offering its ninth studio album Star Wars for free download for 30 days through its website wilco world, and anti.com as well as through iTunes, Google Play and Amazon Digital. It is also available through traditional streaming services including Spotify, Apple Music and Rdio.

Wilco has made its music available for free since its 2001 breakthrough release Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

“Why release an album this way and why make it free? Well, the biggest reason, and I’m not sure we even need any others, is that it felt like it would be fun,” Tweedy said. “What’s more fun than a surprise? Enough of this 20th anniversary already, here’s something fresh.”

The new album was recorded at the band’s Chicago loft and features 11 original Wilco-penned tunes. Wilco is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary, and its label dBpm has recently released two anniversary-related collections: Alpha Mike Foxtrot, a box set of rarities and What’s Your 20?, a compilation of studio tracks from the band’s first eight albums.

“We’ve been feeling very fortunate lately being reminded of how long we’ve been able to do this,” Tweedy said. “We believe one of the primary reasons for our good fortune has been our audiences reaction to our impulse to be heard and our habit of erring on the side of that desire to override financial ambition. Not that we don’t enjoy getting paid. We do. But this is a recommitment to the idea that music is more important to our lives. Art is more worthy of our striving. And fun is more sustaining than cash. It’s not intended to be a comment on the music business, just one band’s wish to give our fans a jolt of joy: a fun surprise. In that spirit we hope you will accept this gift and if not, well, maybe next time.”

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Star Wars Track Listing:

1. EKG
2. More…
3. Random Name Generator
4. The Joke Explained
5. You Satellite
6. Taste the Ceiling
7. Pickled Ginger
8. Where Do I Begin
9. Cold Slope
10. King Of You
11. Magnetized

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: Petty Morals

petty morals

This Salem, Mass. all-girl electro-pop band with punk edginess has quickly become my new favorite local band. The shows exude energy, attitude and fun. Catchy songs with a mix of sweetness and kick-ass brashness. Female empowerment through and through.

Petty Morals are:

Taiphoon – lead vox
JC – lead vox
Chrissy V – guitar, backup vox
Ivahna Rock – bass, backup vox
LoWreck – drums
Allison Wonderland – keys

Tai Heatley [Taiphoon] answered a few questions.

Amy Steele: How did Petty Morals get together?

Taiphoon: Chrissie T (Ivahna Rock) and Lauren (LoWreck) were in a Joan Jett cover band. One day, they were listening to music at practice and a Metric Song came on. They both loved that kind of music and Lauren wanted to start a band that had that Metric sound. It was a far stretch from the punk bands they were in. They thought long and hard about how they wanted to put the band together. They knew it had to be all women. Feelers were put out and a band was formed.

Amy Steele: What makes you work well as a band?

Taiphoon: With us, there is no bickering and there’s no power struggles. From writing songs to picking out stage outfits, it’s all a big democracy.

Amy Steele: What is the best thing about being in a band?

Taiphoon: The free booze and babes. Just kidding…slightly. I enjoy creating music that makes people move. Being able to get on stage and connect with your audience. That feeling is powerful.

Amy Steele: There still aren’t many all-girl/all-female bands out there. why do you think there are fewer all-girl bands or even back-up musicians?

Taiphoon: We don’t really see it that way, probably because we tend to surround ourselves and seek out other female musicians.

Amy Steele: What all-girl bands do you admire?

Taiphoon: Of course, The Go Go’s and The Bangles. The Runaways, The Veronicas, Shonen Knife, Sleeter Kinney, The Donnas

Fun Fact: Much like Jem and The Holograms, Petty Morals has an alter ego band called GoBang. We’ve been booking shows and playing covers of The Go Go’s and The Bangles.

Amy Steele: What makes a good song?

Taiphoon: It’s gotta have a catchy hook and a great memorable lyrics. Ivahna Rock is great at coming up with perfect one-liners for our songs. She thinks of something and we write a whole song around it.

Amy Steele: Your shows are awesomely fun and high energy. How do you prepare for a gig? Any pre-show rituals?

Taiphoon: We practice and drill the sets frequently. Usually before a show, we sacrifice a virgin and do mad shots of whiskey. :P

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