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Tuesday, November 11, 2008


It is raining here in Portland. That is all.
posted by axton kincaid #

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Another Review, in Which Our Dirty Little Secret Is Revealed...

3rd Coast Music has discovered something about us we had been planning on telling you ourselves. It's just, things move so fast, you know? You promise yourself you'll come clean and then keep waiting for that perfect moment. Well now we know that perfect moment never comes. If we could, we'd go back in time and do it all different. Because it's true, and we wish we could have told you in person...we are lesbian vampires!!!

"Joan Baez's version of
Long Black Veil (In Concert Pt 2, 1963) was unsettling and not in a good way, t he song just flat didnt' work for a female singer, unless "I had been in the arms of my best friend's wife" was intended to be a rather bizarre subversive lesbian statement. However, though the Lefty classic has been recorded by, among others, Marianne Faithful, Hazel Dickens, Joni Mitchell and Sammi Smith, 45 years later, it still doesn't work for Axton Kincaid's Kate Howser.

That apart, there's lots to love about Howser's quintet, formed in the Bay Area now based in Portland, OR, none of whom are called Axton or Kincaid, and one of whom, steel guitarist Mac Martine only plays on three tracks. The three part harmonies iwth Jennifer Daunt (electric guitar, mandolin) and Ryan Waggoner (bass) are just gorgeous and the original songs, mostly by Howser solo or in combo with some or all of the band, are almost unnecessarily good for a band with such a great, fluid, unfussy ensemble sound (what's more, you can hear the words clear as a bell).

Howser and Daunt's background is playing together in various no name Bay Area indie rock bands [ed note: ouch!], Waggoner and drummer Jon Fojtik played together in Fojtik's father's rural Michigan wedding band, which seems a rather unlikely combination for what started out as more bluegrass (
Songs from the Pine Room, Free Dirt, 2007), but has evolved into country.

It's easy to make fun of not-kids-anymore who think they can transition from indie or punk to country, as the results are so often glaringly awful, neither fish nor fowl, but it has to be said that occasionally some of them pull it off, bringing fresh approaches and sensibilities to the genre without trying to reinvent it.

I've just learned from Howser that Axton is a homage to Hoyt Axton and Kincaid "would've been my dream name for a kid, but instead it became a band name." On minor oddity about the group is that they seem very camera-shy. I'm not asking for a fold-out poster, but there are no pix on the CD and a few very small ones on the website. Well, that's different, I guess."
posted by axton kincaid #

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

First "Silver Dollars" Review!

Thank you, San Francisco Bay Guardian!

Axton Kincaid gets close to the source with their new release

Silver Dollars
(Free Dirt/ Trade Root Music Group)
By Todd Lavoie

Bay Area three-part-harmony whizzes Axton Kincaid might no longer remain as geographically close to each other - three-fifths of the band recently relocated to Portland, Ore. - but their musical kinship appears as mighty as ever with their latest release, Silver Dollars.

Dishing out 11 barnburners, honky-tonk stompers, and beer-sobbers over the course of 35 minutes, these folks are the real deal: genuine, heartfelt, and pleasantly irony-free. While some of the younger, urban exponents of rootsy sounds tend to approach country, folk, and bluegrass idioms with a bit of emotional distance, Axton Kincaid feel closer to the source - not to mention more reverential to the material which inspired them in the first place.

Many months ago, I’d described the band as an updated Carter Family. The assessment still rings true, but I’d also stick them in the same class as the Be Good Tanyas, Freakwater, or the Walkabouts, all of whom display an obvious love for classic twang while still bringing a little contemporary attitude along the way.

One gets the sense that the members of Axton Kincaid are informed by far more than just country - hence their inventive re-working of the decidedly-un-country Stone Roses anthem “I Wanna Be Adored” on last year’s Songs from the Pine Room (also Free Dirt). The brooding interpretation was a stunner, to be sure, retaining the sense of yearning in the original while seeking out a different expression of the song’s sadness. This newest offering might not feature any similar overhauls, but it does showcase the group’s formidable songwriting skills and reaffirms their worthiness of being mentioned in the same breath as folks such as the Be Good Tanyas or Freakwater.

Particularly noteworthy are lead singer Kate Howser’s versatile vocals, switching seamlessly from aching to sassy - sometimes within the same song. Disc opener “The Saddest Story” tells the tale of a friend who gives up on life and surrenders to the bottle. The heartbreaking-potential is pretty high, obviously, but Howser tempers the mood with a delivery full of warmth and brightness. Joined by a driving rhythm (courtesy of Ryan Waggoner on bass and Jon Fojtik on drums) and spirited fiddle and mandolin romps (Katy Rexford and Jennifer Daunt respectively), she carries the song a considerable distance from the less-than-happy subject matter.

The lyrics, however, keep things abundantly clear: “Was he trying to die? / Was he reaping what he’d sown? / Did he think it was too late to come clean?” Interestingly enough, the feeling almost becomes sunny when Howser links with Daunt and Waggoner in sweeping three-part harmony - hell, I’d even forgotten I was supposed to be sad! Here’s my guess for the song’s message: learn what to do and what not to do by the examples of others. Perhaps therein lies the key to happiness?

“Walking Papers” begins with a gorgeously-rendered slow-tug of heartstrings by Howser yearned out over single strums of guitar - echoes of the devastating balladry of the late great Kirsty MacColl popped immediately into my head - before kicking into a rollicking, mandolin-ringing plea for one last chance from her fed-up sweetie. “Take back those walking papers and tell me we aren’t through” - so goes the bright-eyed chorus, offered up so sweetly that it’s hard to imagine what possibly could have pushed the couple apart in the first place.

The song also contains one of the disc’s biggest surprises: a feedback-distorted electric guitar solo, albeit subdued in tone. “Spend Some Time With Me” makes for some great vocal give-and-take between Waggoner and Howser - a snappy duet a la Dolly Parton/Porter Wagoner flirted over jaunty mandolin and runs of saloon-piano. Classic country lyrics, too: “Well I’ve been hurt by you / But I’ve done the hurtin’ too/ It happens to us all eventually.”

Elsewhere, the title track fashions a tearful ballad from whirring electric organ, weary fiddle cries, a shuffling brushed-drum rhythm, and - to top it off - a lovely few moments of harmonica sobs. Here, Howser rattles off a list of all of the things she has, but there’s one thing missing: her beloved. I’d assumed it was a cover song of an old standard, until I read the liner notes: it’s a Howser composition. (Note: nearly everything on Silver Dollars was written by the band.)

“Silver Dollars” has that timeless feeling, though - had me fooled! The insertion of trumpet, along with haunting pedal steel from guest player Mac Martine, gives the slow-train-coming melodrama of “The Narrows” an impressive Calexico feel, while Waggoner’s solo vocal turn on sauntering two-step “Let The World Go By” brought to mind the Handsome Family (with a little less mordant wit).

Endowed with an evocative baritone croon, the bassist balances out the song’s spooked-out vibe - helped along by a haunting whistle refrain and a few cries of the trusty pedal steel - with just a touch of tongue-in-cheek. Lastly, Axton Kincaid’s take on the old standard “Long Black Veil” - covered by everybody from Johnny Cash to the Band to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - is one of the most sprightly versions I’ve ever heard, powered by exuberant three-part harmonies and a pulsing rhythm. Who said the song had to sound weepy?
posted by axton kincaid #

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