Music Review: Driftwood Fire – How to Untangle a Heartache

Hey there!

Since college, I’ve been entranced by the chanteuses of modern folk and Americana, especially those who prefer playing acoustic instruments. (Nothing wrong with electric guitars, but I find it harder to actually hear melodies and voices when the volume is cranked.) Among some of my favorites are the Indigo Girls, Shawn Colvin, and Brandi Carlile. Each of these not only has an amazing voice, but understands the power of strong songwriting, layered harmonies, and how to play the right instrument for the right mood.

I love adding new artists to my list and it’s definitely grown and changed over the years – moving from more rock-n-roll to bluegrass, Americana, and folk as I get older. All it takes is a lick, a verse, or a bit of harmony that leads me to discovering more about a new voice or musician…

But it’s hard to argue when you’re pointed to musicians who went to school at your alma mater and are based in the college town you called home for five years. Lynn Scharf (singer, guitarist) and Charlotte Formichella (multi-instrumentalist) are known as Driftwood Fire and they call Fort Collins, Colorado home. And though it’s been a long road for them from inception to album, How to Untangle a Heartache has a purity about it that makes it a joy to listen to.

There are qualities to Lynn’s voice that reminds me of Brandi Carlile in “Let it all go”. With Charlotte’s opening pick line… “Don’t break my heart / it’ll never mend / we’re starting something / and we don’t know how it ends / just drive me someplace I’ve never seen / so late at night I mistake / you for a dream / and kiss me real slow / and just let it all go…” It’s a song about doing what feels good even if we know better. And sometimes, life is like that. There’s an honesty there that shines through.

“Apalachian Hills” has a haunting quality, sort of like something Sarah Jarosz would sing. It tells a story about a place chased by its past and showing through to the present. Here there’s a simple arrangement that lets the guitar, banjo, piano, and voice easily express the sadness of the place. Between the Civil War, silver miners, and other folks seeking their fortunes – leaving many dead in the fields, forgotten by time. Though not cheerful, again – there’s an honest appreciation for the history of a place without overblowing it with loud electric guitars.

The simple strum and lead guitar at the beginning of “One Thing Left” reminds me a Big Head Todd and the Monsters song… But again, it’s the lyrics that bring it alive. “You wrote a letter / apologizing / for your absence / not realizing / that only hurt me / I read it slowly / shaking like a bird fighting with the wind / shocked I was all alone…” This is almost a country song with the Americana showing through. But that “one thing left” to tell you – is that I’ve moved on. I keep repeating that there’s an honesty in the music and the words, but that’s what it is. A simple message – you hurt me, but I got over it.

Love can definitely hurt – but at least when poets and songwriters survive it, it’s “food for songs” as Del Amitri once said. Thank goodness Lynn and Charlotte have managed to work out their heartache in song so that we can enjoy the fruits of that musical therapy. Definitely check out Driftwood Fire’s How to Untangle a Heartache if you’re looking for something new in the Americana/Folk vein for your collection.

Check out the Driftwood Fire home page for more information about the album or their ongoing tour.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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DVD Review: Reel Big Fish: Live! In Concert!

Greetings!

Simply put… Live music is better than recorded music in most cases. There are a few examples where that isn’t the case. Reel Big Fish (RBF) isn’t one of them.

[amazon-product]B002ANHMDI[/amazon-product]RBF has been around since ska music was young. If you’re not sure what ska is, you’re not alone. For me it boils down to mixing swing with punk — a horn section, rock guitars, and an attitude. There are many definitions of ska, but they all seem to start in Jamaica and the UK in the 1960s and end when both RBF and No Doubt appeared in or near the mainstream in the 1990s. Personally, I don’t buy that ska is dead.

Live! In Concert! was recorded at The Grove in Anaheim, California, at the start of RBF’s “Fame, Fortune and Fornication Tour” on January 4, 2009. 2500 insane fans packed into the venue to watch these guys play and I have to say I was impressed.

If you’re looking for extras on the DVD, don’t bother. But I think twenty of the band’s hits and covers that found their way into the set list is enough. It’s quite obvious that these guys know how to have a good time on stage. And I doubt anybody in the audience sat down once the band got going.

RBF consists of Aaron Barrett on lead vocals and guitar; Ryland Steen on drums; Scott Klopfenstein on trumpet, guitar, and vocal harmonies; Dan Regan on trombone and backing vocals; Derek Gibbs on bass and backing vocals; and John Christianson on trumpet and backing vocals. And all of these guys can wail. Yes, they play loud and have a great time doing it, but every one of these guys has serious musical chops.

The audio recordings were about as good as you’ll hear from a live performance on CD or DVD. Crisp and clean sound throughout the concert.

My only problem with the whole DVD was some of the camera work. It appeared they had a few steady cams recording footage throughout the night and those were fine. But it was the two or maybe three handheld cameras that drove me nuts. There was a period a couple of years back with films like Cloverfield and The Bourne Supremacy where the “shaky cam” shots were overused to get the viewer more into the action. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But for a concert? At more than one point I had to look away from my TV while watching the video simply because I was getting nauseous.

Beyond that quibble, the picture was crisp, the color was bright and lively, and overall I think this is one of the best live concerts I’ve seen on DVD in quite a while… so long as you look away every now and then when the shaky cam is on.

The music during the concert was amazing. I had only heard of RBF in the context of other ska bands such as the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and No Doubt, but now I’m going to have to pick up an album or two for my collection.

The mere fact that Barrett can play an electric guitar while dancing like he does is simply amazing. And at one point he plays a guitar solo with the instrument up and behind his head where he can’t see it. I’ve never seen anything like it.

The RBF covers of “Kiss Me Deadly” (Lita Ford), “Nothin’ But a Good Time” (Poison), and “Take On Me” (a-ha) gave new life and a ska edge to all three songs. I never would have thought to have transformed big rock guitar songs and electronica from the 1980s in this style, but it worked! Christianson has an amazing trumpet solo during “Kiss Me Deadly” that I watched twice just so I could catch it again. My wife and I were both laughing as we struggled to remember who played the songs originally and now we’ll think of RBF the next time we hear them on the radio.

Klopfenstein is absolutely hilarious throughout the concert when interacting with Barrett. You can tell these guys have been working together forever. He can definitely hold his own against Barrett’s powerful personality. And Klopfenstein has some serious vocal talent as well. During the song “S.R.” near the end of the show, he takes lead vocals a few times as they sing the same song a few different ways and surprised me each time.

The music for me on the DVD is amazing. The arrangements are great, the lyrics hilarious and with some serious attitude, Barrett’s guitar is unbelievable, and the horns rule. That’s the one thing that keeps me coming back to swing and ska music – the horns. Where else can you hear ripping trombone solos like the one Regan has in “She Has a Girlfriend Now“?

Beyond my complaints about some of the camera work, this is one of the best concert DVDs I’ve seen in quite a while. If you are looking for an awesome live concert DVD with a ton of energy, check out Reel Big Fish: Live! In Concert!. There are some mature lyrics in some of the songs, but it’s part of the ska attitude. If you can’t swear in the lyrics at least once, it’s probably not real ska. Check out Barrett and the boys and enjoy the ride!

–Fitz

p.s. Click below to pick up Real Big Fish CDs and DVDs at Amazon!

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