As I join the members of Kingdom County in a corner booth at the Pantry & Pub near 18th and Chambers, it becomes immediately clear to me the local indie-rock quartet is as much a family as a band. Good-natured ribbing and razzing is traded back and forth like rowdy siblings at the dinner table. One-liners are dropped, inside jokes fly freely. Their recently released sophomore album, Love and War, is one of the strongest records to come out of the Eugene music scene in quite some time.
A bittersweet song-cycle of acoustic-based indie rock, Love and War mixes the lo-fi production of legendary Northwest label K Records with the lush instrumentation of Arcade Fire. But if Arcade Fire tends toward the grandiose and self-important, Kingdom County stays decidedly innocent and fun.
This is not a band bulging with rock-and-roll egos ã it takes some prodding for vocalist and primary songwriter Nick Cervantes to admit, "Im the lead singer.” Instead, Kingdom County is more of a collective in the style of Canadian indie-rock gods Broken Social Scene. Cervantes is quick to assure me that although the band is centered on the lifelong friendship and creative partnership between him and guitarist Josh Humphrey, each member adds something to the mix ã whether that be a whistle-solo chorus, a soaring violin melody from Humphreys wife Jenny, or charming vocals and playful "miscellaneous” percussion from Claire Catania.
Love and War was recorded in a converted woodshop and mixed in town at Sprout City Studios. "We like to keep it local,” jokes drummer Andrew Harmon. The strongest track on this very strong record is "Ive Been Waiting for You For So Long,” a sweetly brokenhearted love story that showcases Kingdom Countys finer points: romantic male/female vocal harmonies, driving rhythms mixing acoustic and electric guitars, simple and sweeping string arrangements, and a willingness to take hard musical right turns.
Such traits also define one of Kingdom Countys biggest musical inspirations, Idaho-based indie rockers Built to Spill. In fact, the members of Kingdom County would prefer their trajectory follow the "slow-burn” arc of those Northwest underground legends, as opposed to the unlikely prospect of getting rich and famous overnight. "But we wouldnt turn it down if it happened,” says Humphrey, smiling slyly.
Kingdom County plays 8 pm Thursday, June 30, at the Axe & Fiddle; FREE. ã William Kennedy
The Oregon Bach Festivals second week opens at UOs Beall Hall Thursday, June 30, with one of the nations finest early music ensembles, Portland Baroque Orchestra, led by the dazzling early music pioneer and violinist Monica Huggett and performing Benjamin Brittens charming Simple Symphony and choral dances from his 1953 opera Gloriana, along with the music of Henry Purcells fabulous Baroque opera Dido and Aeneas. Then, Saturday, July 2, in the HultCenter lobby the UO saxophonist Idit Shner and pianist Svetlana Kotova play a free concert of music by women composers.That same evening, much loved Eugene Symphony conductor laureate Marin Alsop returns to the city that really launched her conducting career, toting a rarity: a costumed, narrated, semi-staged version of 20th century Swiss composer Arthur Honeggers colorful, dramatic ã occasionally melodramaticãcantata, Joan of Arc at the Stake,whose cinematic, sometimes Impressionist score is performed by the Schola Cantorum and OBF orchestra and chorus.
The festivals Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy seizes the Hults Silva stage Sunday, July 3, in a concert featuring music by Portland-born Morten Lauridsen, Portland-based Do Jump! composer Joan Szymko, plus Leonard Bernsteins sublime Chichester Psalms and one of Bachs mightiest cantatas,#147. Hard to imagine a more fun Fourth of July treat than Portland Cello Project at Alton Baker Park Monday night. Tuesday, July 5, Jamie Bernstein leads a trio and singers in music by her dad, Leonard, Americas greatest man of music. And Wednesday, July 6, features an all-Brahms recital at the Hults Soreng Theater by superb young pianist Shai Wosner.
Yearning for maritime music? Head for the coast July 1 and hear Igor Stravinskys delightfully wry fable"A Soldiers Tale,” narrated by renowned Oregon actor David Ogden Stiers, at Newports First Presbyterian Church. Also at the church July 3, The Newport Symphony plays music of Aaron Copland, Mozart and Samuel Barbers poignant Knoxville, Summer of 1915, as well as a pops concert on Independence Day. Or you can stay in town July 4 and catch the Eugene Symphonic Bands concert of American music and more at Washburne Park. ã Brett Campbell
The Devils Right Hand
Its easy to take Steve Earle for granted, in the same way its easy to take a musician like Elvis Costello for granted. Like Costello, Earle hit the airwaves as a precocious, angry rocker, and his gritty, impossibly catchy 1989 hit "Copperhead Road” turned heads, heralding so-called alt-country. And, as with the great bespectacled one, Earle also descended to the depths of his own personal hell ã in his case, a nasty heroin addiction and a stint in prison ã before re-emerging with the post-rehab focus of a mortal phoenix, determined to make the most, artistically and otherwise, of his short time on earth. This he has done, heroically, and with a range and ferocity his early work only hinted at. Earle, like Costello, seems to release a new album every year, always brilliant and always different than the last. For all but the most hard-core fans, such prolific and sure-fire output can be difficult to keep up with: Dude, Jerusalem was a masterpiece! What? He has a new one? Two new ones? And a novel? And an album with the same title?
If now were not now, and country and folk were still pure categories unsullied by such adjectives as "new” and "neo,” Earles name would be etched into the pantheon of all-time Nashville, anti-Grand Ole Opry greats that includes Hank, Johnny, Waylon and Willie. Not that Earle gives a rats ass about things like that. At 56, Earle ã singer, songwriter, producer, label owner, author, political activist and official coolest guy in any room ã is a Renaissance man in full, and he remains intent on making up for lost junk time with a supreme talent tempered by a ghetto wisdom and the Zen humility of a guy who knows exactly how, why and where he exists in the world.
Earles latest double punch is Ill Never Get Out of This World Alive, the title of a debut novel as well as a new album of spare, sawdusty country songs that cycle through like a sad lovers waltz across the mortal coil of memory and loss. Harkening to the work of his mentor-heroes Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, Earles latest is yet another departure, or rebirth, in light of his recent recordings; as with the Hank Williams lyric inspiring the albums title, the songs sound like they were recorded in a bootleggers shack during the dog days of August, with little but foot stomps, fiddles and Earles gruff, wizened voice calling the tune; it could almost be Copperhead Road Unplugged, though, honestly, there is nothing unplugged about the quality of his songwriting. The man is electric, wired to lifes raw currents and good to go. Always.
So, no, dont take him for granted: Steve Earle is coming to town, and the revolution starts now.
Steve Earle and Allison Moorer play 8 pm Friday, July 1, at The Shedd; $33/$35. ã Rick Levin
One Bass, Many Faces
Sometimes you get that feeling an artist is completely different away from his stage persona. If youve caught a Rootdown show recently, you're familiar with some of the antics of the local outfits bassist, Jackson Michelson. Random animal sounds, high-pitched cries of excitement, absurd costumes to match equally ridiculous facial expressions Ä all of these eccentricities can be witnessed at a Rootdown show. And yet, when encountering Michelsons music outside Rootdown, you get the sense you're not listening to the same guy. Its so serious, so "mature,” so surprising that upon first listen you arent really sure what to do with it. Its only when you accept the fact that Michelsons solo work is meant to be different that you can get with it just fine.
Michelsons songs are mainstream in production and appeal, filled with equal parts pop, rock and country. The catchy "Summer Fling” is a sly country banger about how a fling can grow into something more, and "As it Rains” is one of those swelling country-pop rockers meant to inspire you to live in the moment, dance in the rain, keeping dreaming, etc., etc.
Revealing a whole other side to his art, Michelson proves he can sing rather well when he isnt acting silly (not that theres anything wrong with silliness). His lyrics arent going to win any awards for cleverness or exceptional depth, but you get the sense thats not his intention; simple truths seem to most stir his interest. Best, then, to keep it simple at Michelsons upcoming show and enjoy his forays outside the silly.
Jackson Michelson plays 9 pm Friday, July 1, at Whiskey River Ranch; $5. ã Brian Palmer