Eugene Weekly : Music : 4.17.08

Off to The Races

Kids never appreciate how cool their own parents really are. Ellis Paul was an architect of Boston’s 1990s folk music revival, so it had to smart a little that his 3-year-old daughter was running around the house singing the music of Barney, the purple dinosaur.

Paul spent six weeks at home after the birth of his youngest daughter and was dismayed to realize that his musical influence had given way to Barney’s Colorful World. Maybe it was the overabundance of Juicy Juice in his bloodstream, but the famous folk singer with 13 releases and an equal number of Boston Music Awards decided to create a children’s album — one that would get his kids off the Purple One.

In January of 2008, the doting dad released The Dragonfly Races, a record for kids and the parents who love them — which the parents will probably love just as much as their progeny. Paul said in a recent phone interview from his Maine home that his goal was not only to create entertaining music, but to impart his and his wife’s perspectives on the world: the importance of imagination, the strength of women, playfulness and the hope of peace. Barney couldn’t measure up. “She started singing my songs again,” Paul says.

“I didn’t feel like I was dumbing down the music at all either” he says, “and if kids don’t understand some of what is happening in the songs, then parents can talk to them about it.” “Wabi-Sabi,” the CD’s opening track, is a good candidate for conversation, with its theme of the Japanese concept of beauty and fragility. “They’ve got wabi-sabi souls,” Paul croons.

Paul is writing material for a new album to be released in the fall. Whether he’s seeking inspiration from Juicy Juice or something top shelf, he won’t say. Paul comes to Eugene with one of the most exciting new singer-songwriters out there, Antje Duvekot, whose opening performance for Lucy Kaplansky at Luna caused fans to mob the stage trying to get a copy of 2006’s Big Dream Boulevard.

Ellis Paul and Antje Duvekot perform at 7:30 pm Friday, April 18, at Cozmic Pizza. $15. – Vanessa Salvia


A Blessed Man

From living in a van to touring with James Brown, Portland-born MC Braille is the Horatio Alger of hip hop. A high school dropout who spent most of his teenage years making music, Braille bet it all on his rhyming talents (at best, a high risk endeavor) and came out ahead of the game. At the beginning of his career, Braille toured the country in a van with his wife, performing for free and using the proceeds from merch sales to buy food and gas. Now, almost 10 years later, Braille runs his own independent label, Hip Hop Is Music, and recorded his fourth record, The IV Edition, in a house he bought with his hip hop income.

An improvement on Braille’s last recording, The IV Edition features a smorgasbord of catchy, danceable tracks that rely on different central elements — strings, piano, a standard heavy bass line — to keep the tracks from blending into each other. When it comes to the rhymes, though, the non-Christians in the audience might find Braille and The IV Edition a little bit, well, preachy. Almost every song he writes mentions God or Jesus either in passing or as a central theme, though Braille’s obvious sincerity, modesty and uncritical approach to faith make it easier for non-Christians to swallow.

Religion aside, Braille’s success proves that there is a market for uplifting, clean hip hop that you can bump in front of your grandparents. Even if you’re uncomfortable with the Jesus themes that pervade the music, the overarching message of hope and love doesn’t just apply to Christians. A personal artist rather than a political one, Braille speaks about God’s influence in his own life while documenting his own trials and tribulations, rather than sanctimoniously attempting to convert his listening public. You might not share his beliefs, but even atheists must admit that the product of them is positive. And all talk of religion aside, Braille is a welcome antithesis to the materialism and anger that pervades so much of mainstream hip hop.

Braille, Pigeon John, Ohmega Watts, Theory Hazit and Vursatyl (of Lifesavas) perform at 9 pm Friday, April 18, at WOW Hall. $8 adv., $10 door. — Sara Brickner


No Question

The genre-busting album has been one of pop music’s better hit-or-miss concepts. Indeed, the musicians who endure well past their expiration dates have been those who blended genres in the service of that higher nirvana: catchy, unforgettable tunes that seemingly never die. I’m thinking now of The Pixies, Daft Punk, Beastie Boys and, more recently, M.I.A. While sometimes the trend hasn’t worked so well (U2’s Pop flirtation with dance music; Garth Brooks’ faux-emo-persona Chris Gaines), more often than not the risks turn out to be worth it. And if risks could be measured in pounds, WHY?‘s new album, Alopecia, would be one big, fat record.

The Berkeley-based trio of Yoni Wolf, brother Josiah Wolf and Doug McDiarmid love to push buttons — both literally and figuratively. Their 2005 LP, Elephant Eyelashes, was an opulent sampler fantasia of white boy raps and personal testimony, lending itself to Yoni’s singular 4-track-in-the-basement vision. Whereas Elephant Eyelashes achieved its greatness from this personalized pastiche, Alopecia truly shines by its full band sound (including guests Andrew Broder and Mark Erickson). Recorded mostly live in Minneapolis as a five-piece, Alopecia kicks off with the drunk-swagger of “The Vowels, Pt. 2,” the opening lyrics setting the album’s themes of sex and suicide: “I’m not a ladies’ man, I’m a landmine / filming my own fake death.”

The iTunes music store categorizes WHY? as hip hop and rap, but they probably find their core inspiration in poetry slams, garage sales and advanced philosophy courses (in other words, more hipster than hip hop). Yoni Wolf’s scruffy, Jewish-bred voice effortlessly delivers “By Torpedo or Crohn’s,” a meditative, masterful rap on mortality, with staccaco precision: “living in the tier between two spaces condemned / in one of the many places / you’re not I am / hiding from my friends in the bathroom at Thrift Town / to write this tune down.” A bit of a downer for such a fun band, but who said existential angst wasn’t a staple of hybrid rap music? Alopecia is WHY?’s All Eyez On Me.

WHY? concludes their North American tour with DoublePlusGood and Cars & Trains at 8 pm Saturday, April 19, at Indigo District. $10 adv., $12 door. — Chuck Adams


Dreams May Tell You More Than You Think

Shelley Short has a delightful quirkiness, admitting to Magnet that her career began at an annual Holiday Hot Dog Rodeo. Short grew up in Portland but left upon recording her first full-length album in 2003, Oh Say Little Dogies, Why?, which is now out of print. She left the City of Roses for the Windy City (that’s Chicago, in case you didn’t know) and recorded her critically acclaimed sophomore effort, Captain Wild Horse (Rides the Heart of Tomorrow).


But one big move wasn’t enough for the sweet little Portland native, who recently packed up her guitar and headed back west to Los Angeles (what would you call that, the City of Smog?) She had recorded half of her upcoming album while in Chicago and finished putting the pieces together with recording engineer Raymond Richards.

A sense of poetic abstraction bleeds into Short’s latest album, Water for the Day. According to her press kit, the record’s title comes from a dream Short had before moving to LA. “I was told I was saying in my sleep, ‘Water for the day! Water for the Day!'” she says. Her lyrics read like dreams, beautiful and abstract at times yet simple at others. Her songs seem to be about relationships and emotions and her pixie-like voice illuminates the sensations she felt at these times in her life. Rachel Blumberg (M. Ward, Bright Eyes, Decemberists) accompanies Short on drums while Tiffany Kowalski of Bright Eyes plays violin on the album.

Water for the Day was released by Hush Records, a Portland-based label that has alumni including Bobby Birdman, The Decemberists and Kind of Like Spitting, and currently releases albums by Norfolk and Western and Loch Lomond.

Shelley Short plays at 8 pm Thursday, April 24, at Axe and Fiddle, Cottage Grove. 21+ show. $5. — Katrina Nattress


Barr Band

Some folks call Scotland Barr and the Slow Drags “West Coast Roots,” but the Portland six-piece sounds like standard beer-swillin’, shit-kickin’ y’allternative to me. Not that there’s anything wrong with that either. They saddle up on the country-rock horse as surely as any alt country act I’ve heard in recent memory. Recalling the jangly twang and swagger of Old 97s as well as the desert howl and soul of Gram Parsons, Scotland Barr and the Slow Drags open the creaky door to dusty barrooms and tattered bedrooms and reveal the same boozy characters in different states of emotional undress.

On their second full-length, All the Great Aviators Agree, the band veers from high-speed honky-tonks to smoky bad-seed ballads, firing off heartache and hard times along the way like buckshot at a rusty stop sign. Singer Scotland Barr sounds like he’s been heaved headfirst out of enough bars to have gravel permanently stuck in his throat. And he seems like he’s had enough lonely nights and shattered dreams to have sorrow forever stuck in his chest as he sings, “At this degree don’t count on me / I won’t hold out much more / half way ‘tween suicide and the liquor store.” Throughout the album, pedal steels push up to the bar with acoustic six-strings and accordions while four-part harmonies hover like unfiltered smoke over the whole countrified scene. It’s music that’s probably meant to be listened to in front of a run-down doublewide, but a Cottage Grove dive is the next best thing. Scotland Barr and the Slow Drags play with Forest Ressener at 8 pm Saturday, April 19, at Axe and Fiddle. 21+ show. $5. — Jeremy Ohmes