Live Review: Willie Nile @ The Hamilton Live — 7/8/22

Willie NileWillie Nile (Photo courtesy Madison House)

Midway through his set at The Hamilton Live recently, Willie Nile sat down and performed “The Crossing.” The song appears on the soundtrack of Martin Scorsese’s film Gangs of New York. As Willie explained, it’s “about the Irish crossing the ocean.”

When he was writing, he was “thinking about my own relatives” who came over from the Emerald Isle, settling in Buffalo, where he we would eventually grow up one of eight kids in a Catholic family. That Willie’s song would be chosen by Scorsese, who is known for making strong picks in rock tracks to set the mood for his movies, isn’t surprising: while he has he achieved limited commercial success, Nile is a critical darling who’s been at the center of the New York music scene for 50 years.

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Live Review: Sarah Borges @ Pearl Street Warehouse — 6/28/22

Sarah Borges 16
Sarah Borges performs at Pearl Street Warehouse on June 28, 2022. (Photo by Mark Caicedo)

This one’s “about going home to your house you share with a loved you never want to see again,” Sarah Borges said about “House on a Hill” in her thick, unmistakable Boston accent. Sarah is very real, she writes great songs, she knows how to engage an audience — and that has won her a small but devoted following who gathered recently at the Pearl Street Warehouse in DC.

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Interview: Willie Nile (@ The Hamilton Live, 7/8/22)

WillieNile_Cristina Arrigoni
Willie Nile (Photo by Cristina Arrigoni)

Willie Nile is a New York City-based singer-songwriter whose recording career span reaches back to 1980. He’s hard to place in an a precise genre, as his influences range from Bob Dylan to Lou Reed, and he’s also covered The Clash. He’s a rock ‘n’ roller who, even into his 70s, is still the sameĀ  guy who wasn’t afraid to fight the record companies in a legal case that set a precedent.

But he’s also a trained pianist who can just as easily do a ballad as he might just rock out. His work finds a great balance between raw musculature and cerebral refinement, managing to thread in literary and cultural references without pretension. It’s rock with brains — it sounds great, and there’s steak to go with the sizzle.

Willie released a new album, The Day the Earth Stood Still, last year, and now he’s on tour. Willie and his band perform at DC’s The Hamilton Live on Friday, July 8, and Parklife DC’s Mark Engleson talked to him in advance of that show.

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Live Review: Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway w/ Downriver Collective @ The Birchmere — 6/27/22

Molly Tuttle

Molly Tuttle (Photo courtesy the artist)

Guitar virtuoso and singer-songwriter Molly Tuttle’s “San Francisco Blues” is about how, to cite a cliche, you can’t go home again. When the Bay Area native returned to the area where she’d grown up, she found that it felt different, and she told us about it at The Birchmere recently. Her friends had moved away because they couldn’t afford it. That’s happening in major cities across the United States.

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Live Review: American Aquarium w/ Caroline Spence @ 9:30 Club — 6/26/22

American AquariumAmerican Aquarium (Photo courtesy Red Light Management)

“I hoped this song would become irrelevant when I wrote in 2016,” said BJ Barham, frontman of country-rockers American Aquarium, when he introduced their song “The World Is On Fire” at the 9:30 Club recently. He continued, “It scares me that my daughter has less rights than my mother.”

BJ excoriated the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Dobbs, which eliminated the constitutional right to abortion. There was a real flash of anger as he spoke about the tyranny of old, white Christian men imposing their values on the country.

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Live Review: Fantastic Negrito w/ Mike Montali @ 9:30 Club — 6/22/22

Fantastic Negrito
Fantastic Negrito performs at 9:30 Club on June 22, 2022. (Photos by Rashad Polk; Words by Mark Engleson)

Fantastic Negrito’s latest album, White Jesus, Black Problems, is deeply personal. It delves into family history, into the story of his seventh-generation great-grandparents, an enslaved Black man and indentured Scottish servant woman, who came together in Virginia in 1759. That’s not to say his other albums aren’t personal as well: The Last Days of Oakland is very much about the city where he was raised as one of 14 children. But the focus in his recent performance at the 9:30 Club was on telling the story of that interracial union.

“I wasn’t who I thought I was,” Fantastic Negrito explained. “But I’m exactly who I need to be.”

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Live Review: Sheryl Crow and Jason Isbell w/ Waxahatchee @ Wolf Trap — 6/16/22

Jason IsbellJason Isbell performs at Wolf Trap on June 16, 2022. (Photos by Jason Nicholson; Words by Mark Engelson)

In the new documentary about Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell credits the singer-songwriter as an inspiration, not only as a musician, but as a person. The two shared a bill in twin nights at Wolf Trap recently in a celebration of generations of rock and roots music.

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Live Review: The Bros. Landreth w/ Mariel Buckley @ City Winery — 6/15/22

The Bros. Landreth
The Bros. Landreth (Photo by BnB Studios)

One of my favorite singer-songwriters, Texas legend Ray Wylie Hubbard, likes to say, “The problem with irony is that not everybody gets it.” That’s a damn shame, because irony is all around us. Star Wars posited an invisible Force that surrounds all life and binds it together. Maybe it’s some Ashkenazic connection to Kafka motivating this statement, but I’m partial to the notion that the driving force of the universe might be irony.

One of those ironies surrounds the term “Americana” as a genre of music. You might think, given the word, that it’s specifically to, well, America. But that’s, at the very least, an oversimplification. The Band, who were, with the exception of Arkansas’s Levon Helm, all Canadian, are often considered the founders of Americana. That conversation could also include, reasonably, Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons, and Neil Young, who is also Canadian. 

Canada has a thriving Americana scene, and when the roots-rock duo The Bros. Landreth appeared at City Winery in DC recently, we get to see some of that in the states.

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Live Review: John Doe @ Jammin’ Java — 6/14/22

John Doe
John Doe (Photo by Jim Herrington)

In its review of his new album, Fables in a Foreign Land, the site Allmusic praised John Doe for having one of the finest voices in roots music. John’s fine singing voice was on full display when he appeared on Tuesday night at Jammin’ Java with his folk trio, playing songs from that new album, along with old favorites from his solo catalog, hits from his band X, and an eclectic collection of covers that absolutely worked even if you might not have pictured a stalwart of the punk scene performing them.

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