Friday, March 29, 2013

An Inside Look at Moonalice: Dave's Way - Part 1

Welcome to the Bootleggers Beware blog!  Over the next 4 weeks, we'll be breaking down and looking at the new Moonalice 8-disc box set Dave's Way, recorded with Grammy winning recording engineer, Dave Way at the helm.  This week, we'll take a look at the first two volumes of the set.

One should never underestimate the value of an experienced producer; and it is evident through these two volumes that having the capable hands and ears of Dave Way in the booth gives the band a unique advantage.  They show a comfort level in the studio that exudes confidence, knowing that they only have to worry about playing; everything else is taken care of. That knowledge gives Moonalice the freedom to explore different styles of music; they've drawn on their considerable background of blues, bluegrass, jam rock and classic rock to put together a diverse running order of songs that can and do appeal to just about anyone.

Moonalice is a band that clearly places significant emphasis on its live recordings, and creating a communal, all-inclusive and easily accessible concert experience.  They've even gone so far as to invent the "Twittercast", which allows fans to stream video of every one of their live shows through nearly every media channel possible. One of the most interesting things about a band that focuses such considerable energy on their live performances, is seeing how they adapt to recording in a studio.  Can they mix concise, lyric driven songs, with focused, extended jams and deliver the same communal concert energy to the listener, without sounding limited by the studio environment?  In the case of Moonalce and Dave's Way, the answer is clearly yes.

Volume 1 clocks in at just over 17 minutes, but this 5-song set is not without its share of highlights.  It leads off with the band's hit 4:20 Somewhere, which has been met with massive success, having been downloaded over 2.5 million times.  That success is hardly a surprise.  The song is catchy and features just enough of the member's Grateful Dead bloodline to reel in the legions of Dead fans the world over.

As the set progresses, you can almost feel the band loosen up, get comfortable, and lock into a concert-worthy groove.  Red Crow features some of the excellent musicianship and chemistry that comes only from musicians who are intimately familiar with each other, highlighted by a brilliant guitar solo by guitarist Pete Sears.  One of the most interesting twists of this volume is without a doubt American Dream Rag.  This acoustic tune harkens back just a bit to the days of the 1960's, when social commentary and music were intertwined, with the lyrics touching on some of today's somewhat sensitive societal issues, but doing so in a light and enjoyable way.

If Volume 1 was the appetizer for Dave's Way, Volume 2 is definitely the beginning of a solid main course.  The band begins to stretch it out here, with 3 of the 6 songs clocking in at over 6-minutes long.  Right out of the gate, the band reaches into it's bag of tricks, rolling out a cheeky, country tune, Foxtrot Uniform. Excellent musicianship and a couple clever acronyms (Which I won't give away here!) will get you listening and engaged in the music immediately, and probably cracking a couple smiles while you're at it.

The most difficult part about listening to this disc is picking a highlight.  Each of the songs includes some kind of shining moment.  The longer songs, Who Can Say and Daylight, offer the perfect opportunity to highlight the rhythm section of John Molo and Roger McNamee.  The key to any band that specializes in instrumental jamming is a solid backing track to allow the guitar and in this case the keyboard to freely and confidently solo away.  Pete Sears and Barry Sless set the tone on both, by reaching back and perfectly complimenting the songs with well crafted solos.

Lyrical brilliance takes center stage on Love to Remake, with Ann McNamee's thoughtful, heartfelt lyrics about repairing and rekindling love.  It offers the perfect transition to the Grateful Dead classic Stella Blue.  Stella is the perfect place to bring this installment of the Dave's Way review series to a close.  Moonalice do a spot-on job on this tune, complete with vocals that you'd swear were Jerry Garcia, and pedal steel guitar playing from Barry Sless that is touching, tasteful and soaringly brilliant throughout the 11-minute closing track.

With three more weeks of steady Moonalice on my listening menu, I can safely set down my silverware and napkin and confidently say that I am thoroughly looking forward to the next six volumes. If the first two are any indication, they will be full of excellent musicianship and a fair share of surprises.

If you're looking for a preview of some of the tracks from this review, you can get your free download of 4:20 Somewhere here.  You can also check out a live version of Red Crow in this week's edition of Bootleggers Beware, streaming here from 10AM to noon EST.  Next week, we'll take a look at Volumes 3 and 4 of Dave's Way, but until then, happy listening!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Short History of the World's Only Live Music Radio Show

Hello, and welcome to the official Bootleggers Beware blog!

A few months ago, one of the DJ's I was training asked me: "What was the turning point in your show?"  I thought about it for a moment, and quickly realized that there was not just one, but many.  As I talked through them that day, I was a little shocked to see how much the show has changed and grown - as marketing guru Roy Williams once said, "It's hard to read the label from inside the bottle."  As we close in on the show's three year anniversary, it feels like the right time to sit back and reflect, and share the story of Bootleggers Beware with you:

The first edition of Bootleggers Beware aired on June 19, 2010; at the time, I was looking for a way to get back into radio, and for something to give my Saturday's some structure and purpose.  Lo and behold, The Radiator appeared out of the mist one day, and dropped the opportunity in my lap to revive my radio 'career' - one that had been hibernating since my final days at WIUV Castleton ended nearly four years earlier.  In its first several months, Bootleggers Beware was a far cry from the show you hear today - it was just me, sitting in the studio, listening to the live music that I've come to love over the years, blissfully unaware of whether anyone was listening… 

In January of 2010, I decided to flex a little social media muscle and see if I could attract a few people to join in my journey.  Born were the Facebook page (How many of you saw the first post? - January 20, 2011) and Twitter account ("Bonus points" if you saw my first Tweet!) In their early days they were also nothing like what you see today.  But this marked the first turning point in the life of the show: It took several months, but in mid-June of 2011, things began to change:  That change took place when the first 'likes' showed up on the page from people whom I didn't know personally - Sallie and Jim, (the first of the folks I've dubbed "The Regulars" - the small and growing group of dedicated listeners who brave the time differences across the country to tune in every week), then Greg and Derek of the Melted Horses.  It was then that I realized that the show was no longer just for me.  People were listening.  I had to step up my game.  That realization set the show on the path from hobby to what I refer to now as my second full time job.

A couple months later brought about the next big change, and the only show that has become an annual tradition: The Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute show.  The inaugural broadcast of this show, on the anniversary of Stevie's passing in 2011, was an incredible day for more than one reason: It saw listeners join in from around the world, and set a then-record number of listeners at about 20.  As the show wrapped up that day, something new hit me:  What I was doing was beginning to mean something to people; those who listened that day were grateful for having a place to both enjoy the music and (completely unexpected to me) grieve with their fellow fans. 

That single episode of the show brought several people who are now regular contributors and listeners on board.  With the third edition coming up this summer, it continues to be one of the most meaningful (and most popular) shows I do every year.  In 2012, the second annual Stevie Ray tribute, the show was enjoyed by listeners new and old (some of whom will be hearing their third SRV tribute in 2013). It served as a truly meaningful and cathartic listening experience by all involved, allowing us all to share stories and appreciation for Stevie and his talents together.

All the new faces did more than just make show day more fun, they also began to bring bands into the fold, beginning with Mike Peralta, the Melted Horses and The Honey Wilders from California, then comeback classic rockers Iron Claw from Scotland, and Wisconsin's The Pushers, even the gang from the jam rock band Moonalice have been known to chime in from time to time.  All of these great bands bought into the Bootleggers Beware philosophy, and shared live cuts that have since been featured on the show regularly.  The next several months brought even more requests from up and coming blues and rock bands the world over for their music to be included in a show.  I must admit that interest in the show from bands was truly unexpected and has been quite an honor.  It has been a privilege for me to have worked with and listened to all of these great bands, and I am humbled to know that the show is considered a venue for bands to promote their music.

By mid-2012, things took another very exciting turn: In studio performances.  May 2012 brought about the first of what would be three in-studio performances, featuring Michael Bernier of Michael Bernier and the Uprising.  Michael came to me looking for a place to promote his music while in town playing at the Radio Bean Café. I was again a bit shocked to find that the show was becoming an outlet for musicians to promote themselves while in town.  I was of course excited at Michael's interest in the show, and to share his music with you, my listeners.  August brought the Jessica Prouty Band into the fold; they crowded into the studio and performed songs from upcoming album. Just a couple weeks later, the band invited me to join them for their concert at Higher Ground, leading to the first (and not likely the last) recording done especially for the show.  December saw a third in-studio visit: Rosh Rocheleau from The Blind Café stopped by to hang out and play some tunes during their time in the area.    

The forward momentum has done anything but stop since the calendar has turned to 2013.  The first few months of this year have seen two landmarks on the social media front: The Facebook page surpassed 300 likes (and is well on the way to 400), along with the Twitter side of the family climbing steadily past 700 followers.

Along with that, 2013 saw one of the biggest landmarks to date, and an opportunity I never would have expected three years ago: the chance to sit down and talk music with blues legend Johnny Winter, an experience that was a true honor and privilege.  What's more, the acknowledgement through that experience, from both Johnny and his manager Paul Nelson, that Bootleggers Beware is truly as unique and one-of-a-kind as I have always intended it to be.

February brought about the most recent development in the show: The fine folks at the The American Blues Scene became official members of Bootleggers Nation.  Their support and promotion of the February blues show brought over 40 new members to the Bootleggers Beware Facebook page, and single-handedly smashed the previous high for listeners during one show at 76, a few of whom have become regular listeners and contributors to the page.

And that, my friends, is the story behind "The World's Only All Live Music Radio Show."  I would like to thank all of those who have listened, liked, shared, retweeted, favorited and supported the show in the in the last three years.  It is with the support of each and every one of you that Bootleggers Beware has become what it is today.  Without you, the show is nothing.  As you can tell, it has grown considerably since that first show back in June 2010.  The sky is truly the limit of its growth, and I look forward to sharing it all with you.