Category: Stephen Malkmus

California Coverfolk, Vol. 6: Oregon Transplants
Stephen Malkmus, M. Ward, Tony Furtado, & Darol Anger

August 17th, 2010 — 09:46 pm

Here’s some fun to cap off our Summer 2010 Vacation Coverfolk series: just as we’ve moved on from California to Oregon, crossing the state line for a final week with friends and family, so did these well-known boundary-pushing artists leave the long, banana-shaped state of their birth to settle north of the border, helping make the “Portland scene” the vibrant hotbed of music it became in the wake of the indie and folk revivals of the post-grunge late nineties.

Funk-fusion banjo player and bandleader Tony Furtado may not have Bela Fleck’s following or fame, but it’s not for lack of trying or talent. Instead, even as his career has explored the intersection of electric production, fingerpicking, and slide guitar, Furtado has hewn closer to his roots, fitting traditional folksongs and bluegrass numbers smoothly in and among his original compositions, his overall sound not so much challenging the genre envelope as balancing on the knife edge between innovation and graceful evolution – as seen, for example, in his comprehensive reinvention of early bluegrass standard Mollie & Tenbrooks.

Now, 14 albums into a thriving career, the man hovers just under the national radar, though his free concert at Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square this Thursday afternoon and a top-of-the-marquee headline turn alongside Peter Rowan and Joy Kills Sorrow at this weekend’s first annual Beavergrass Bluegrass Festival down in Corvalis speaks volumes about his regional recognition. We most recently heard Furtado covering the ol’ standard Man of Constant Sorrow with Tim O’Brien; here’s a few more faves from a long overdue appreciation.

Indie rock god Stephen Malkmus – founder of prototypical indieband Pavement, spearhead of the 1990s indie underground revival, member of The Silver Jews, and more recently of solo “and The Jicks” fame – is a terribly prolific artist, whose numerous studio recordings in all these incarnations shuffle in and out of time, mixing elements of post-punk, basement grunge, alt-rock and true blue rock ‘n roll. And I’ve always liked his songwriting, which manages to capture a detachment and a sneer with reasonably spare lyrics and the basic melodic craft you’d expect of a man known for his understated prowess in all four of the basic instruments of rock: guitar, bass, drums and vox.

We actually did a feature on Pavement way back in February of 2008; the writing remains, so there’s no need to rehash the obvious here. But the songs we posted alongside our deep exploration of the band and the man – both the Pavement covers, and Malkmus’ Dylan covers from the I’m Not There soundtrack – bear repeating.

Though torn-voiced singer-songwriter M. Ward was born in California, in just a decade of active recording and performance he has come to define the Portland scene more centrally than any, having grown to prominence in the region as a solo artist, producer, and guest vocalist before joining She & Him and his fellow Monsters of Folk on his way to further fame and fortune.

Thanks to a tendency towards especially prolific coverage, we’ve featured the frequent indie-crowd collaborator previously known as Matthew Stephen Ward plenty here on the blog, both solo and in conjunction with Beth Orton, Lucinda Williams, Conor Oberst, and of course Zooey Deschanel, the “she” to Ward’s “him”. But though Ward’s ragged, whispered tones and gentle nuance bring majestic tension to these pairings, the sparser balance between his delicate stringwork and voice in solo performance is no less potent. Today, we honor the man by letting that solo work shine.

Finally, from back in the realm of several traditions – classical, folk, and jazz among them – comes fiddler, teacher, and bandleader Darol Anger, perhaps best known for his work as a founding member of both the newgrass Dave Grisman Quintet and the chamber jazz group Turtle Island String Quartet. Over 30 years into a stunning career at the forefront of acoustic and string-band genre-experimentation, Anger has collaborated with dozens of artists, from guitar god Michael Hedges to jazz violin god Stephane Grappelli, from Appalachian revivalist Mark O’Connor to bluegrass standard-bearers Tony Rice, Tim O’Brien, Alison Brown, Jerry Douglas and Bela Fleck, from folk cellist Rushad Eggleston to newgrass bands Nickel Creek and Yonder Mountain String Band.

His subtle touch in bluegrass supergroup NewGrange’s albums is a reminder of how fiddle should lift the ‘grass without overpowering it. His six-album run with partner and mando player Mike Marshall are staples of the Windham Hill and Compass Records labels. Recent collaboration Fiddlers 4 and folk journey Heritage, linked to below, are light and amazing. And yes, that’s his strings you can hear at the end of NPR’s Car Talk.

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features, sets, and sentiment on Wednesdays, Sundays, and the occasional otherday.

1,077 comments » | California Coverfolk, Darol Anger, M. Ward, Pavement, Stephen Malkmus, Tony Furtado

Covered in Folk: Pavement (Kathryn Williams, Nickel Creek, Cat Power, Casey Dienel)

February 2nd, 2008 — 02:15 am

Late Saturday night, a couple of weeks ago: my brother’s in from out of town, and he’s flipping through my iPod. We’ve always had vastly different ears for music, though we passed plenty back and forth through the years; he’s looking, but he isn’t seeing much he’s in the mood for. Still, keeping a folk blog means finding commonality in strange places. As in:

“Wait, how many folk covers of Pavement could there be?”

Just enough, man. Just enough.

I dropped out of college in 1992, just around the time mid-nineties alt-rockers Pavement were hitting the ground running. My post-adolescent rejection of radio as a primary source for music immediately precedes Pavement’s mid-nineties heyday as minor indie alt-rock radio gods. And I just plumb never discovered their earliest work as a fuzzed-out post punk group.

Okay, I’m old. But I’m not too old to recognize that, to a particular generation just out of my reach, Pavement’s indiefolk cred is impeccable. That’s partially because Pavement’s sound is so prototypical of its time, able to represent fully a particular sound in an otherwise dried-up musicial historical moment. It’s also because Pavement is considered by many to be the first truly indie modern rock band, the ones who showed the rest of the world it was possible to make it that big without the benefit of major label promotion and corporate backing.

It is this folk politic, plus the unique timing of their fame and significance, which makes Pavement worth knowing. And it is this curiously narrow window of time which has brought a certain next-gen group of blog-favored musicians to just begin covering Pavement songs, almost always with reverence and a certain glee, a nod and a wink between indie listener and ripening singer-songwriters paying tribute to their past.

These covers tend to be pretty diverse. Pavement’s sound drifted significantly through their short career; finding its way from post punk through an almost classic early nineties alt-rock sound to 1995 release Wowee Zowee, which would turn heads later, but was a bit too eclectic to catch fire at the time of its release. By the time the band broke up just before the turn of the century, their sound had passed through its college-rock stage to become something both more experimental and more melodic. Along the way, they picked up a small generation of pre-indie fans — one reason why, today, bloggers and musicians of a certain age need no introduction.

There’s not that much in the way of pure folk covers of Pavement, though there’s certainly plenty in the non-folk indie world, as befits the band’s proto-indie status. But we aim for quality, not quantity, here on Cover Lay Down, and the following songs are the cream of a very recent indiefolk crop.

A short Friday set, then, just enough to turn you on: scratch-voiced blogfave Cat Power, the pianopop of still-rising youngster Casey Dienel, and two acoustic covers of Spit on a StrangerNickel Creek‘s sweet newgrass version, and a slower, more mystical take by UK alt-folkstar Kathryn Williams. I’m older than all of them, I think. Plus bonus tracks to follow, as always.

Want to hear more Pavement? Start with Hype Machine; though Pavement is no more, and half the guys who started it have day jobs, these days founder and core member Stephen Malkmus is a darling of the indie world.

Once you get hooked, pick up the diverse collected works of Pavement over at Matador Records (Also Cat Power’s label). Folk fans who like a little alt-rock in the mix might start with Terror Twilight, their final album. The new CD by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks is pretty sweet, too.

Bonus tracks? Sure, they’re on the playlist, too. Here’s a few recent Malkmus-does-Dylan cuts from the I’m Not There soundtrack, to give you a sense of his more recent sound.

And, just for fun, something lo-fi and grungy and feedback-y from near the end of Pavement’s career, after they had moved on past traditional song structure, before they started turning into a Stephen Malkmus project. It’s totally not folk, but most definitely a Pavement cover you’ll love if you’re of a certain Schoolhouse Rock age.

237 comments » | Casey Dienel, Kathryn Williams, Nickel Creek, Pavement, Stephen Malkmus