Music Features

Eat skull

Dyed, fried, and straight out of the hospitals
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I knew I was getting into some trouble when I first discovered that Eat Skull — a noisome bunch of skuzz rockers from Portland, Ore. — has two members who used to bring the motherfuckin' ruckus alongside Adam Stonehouse in the Hospitals. But I knew I was in for a treat as well. Read more »

More sad hits

Another dream date with Damon and Naomi
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It's been nearly two decades since Galaxie 500 broke through with their languid, fuzzed-out dream pop, and rhythm section Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang still live and record in the Ivy Leagued shadow of their Cambridge, Mass., alma mater, Harvard University. Perpetual college rock? It's true their recordings as a duo have retained Galaxie 500's moody overtones, but the self-consciously wide-screen canvas is gone: instead of soaring chorus and spiral-jetty guitar wails, Damon and Naomi emphasize smart pop arrangements and subdued vocal harmonies. Read more »

Acousticity

Colleen and Jose Gonzalez pull strings and sound out reverberations
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johnny@sfbg.com

The Night of the Hunter is at the top of a list of favorite films compiled by Colleen, a.k.a. Parisian musician Cécile Schott, and Iker Spazio's lovely cover art for the new Colleen album, Les Ondes Silencieuses (Leaf), more than hints at that film's magic and menace. In Spazio's paper cut–influenced dark and starry nighttime vision, Colleen is viewed from the back as she plays the viola da gamba at the edge of a forest by a body of water. Read more »

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass: Fresh air

Life after Smog with Bill Callahan
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"I could tell you about the river," Bill Callahan bellows on "From the Rivers to the Ocean," the opening salvo of his most recent record, Woke on a Whaleheart (Drag City). There's a pregnant pause, he drops his voice between ascending piano chords — "Or ..." — and then a sweet melody buoys the rest of the line, "... Read more »

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass: The Sadies

Good to go
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On the horn from his native Toronto, Sadies vocalist-guitarist-keyboardist Dallas Good sounds as courtly and old-world as any immaculately suited and Stetsoned gentleman picker doing time in Boys bands that go by the name of Blue Grass or Foggy Mountain. Read more »

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass: John Prine

The great and the really great
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Although he has never made it commercially, John Prine has been considered one of the premier songwriters in Americana and folk since his first album, John Prine (Atlantic), came out in 1971. "Sam Stone," the story of a Vietnam vet turned junkie, "Hello in There," made a hit by Joan Baez, and the monumental "Angel from Montgomery" were instantly and forever pasted on the American psyche, even if Prine has never reached household-name status.

Prine released records steadily through the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, without a drop-off in quality. Read more »

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass: The Mekons

The love of The Mekons
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I used to think this was such a self-deprecating title — The Curse of The Mekons — but over the years I've come to a much different conclusion about the declaration being made by these punk–post-punk–posteverything spark plugs on their landmark 1991 Blast First album. Now celebrating their third decade together as a band, the Mekons do indeed suffer from a curse: their ability to switch effortlessly from style to style, sometimes even within the same song, without a single slip. Oh, affliction of afflictions! Read more »

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass: Charlie Louvin

O Brother
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A duet is a delicate thing, often recognized as romantic exhibitionism, rapport spilling forth. In classic Americana arrangements, in which verses are traded back and forth and choruses framed by intricate harmonies, the duet possesses a trippy if not schizophrenic grace: a singer begins the story, then it's suddenly someone else's. Read more »

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass: Emmylou Harris

Myth America
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Emmylou Harris tends to overwhelm with her beauty in flesh and in voice, so it's instructive to look to her new rarities collection, Songbird: Rare Tracks and Forgotten Gems (Rhino), for reminders of earthly frailty. From the get-go, the recording reveals that even she has feet of clay. Harris can be derivative — exhibit A: disc one's "Clocks." This early song displays her in warbly thrush mode. She sounds like a Judy Collins also-ran, and this is a good thing. Read more »

Smokin' grass

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival: Our guide to this weekend's best free pluckin' in the sun
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San Francisco's biggest - and likely best - free outdoor music festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, returns for year seven, boasting such performers as Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, T Bone Burnett and friends like John Mellencamp, Los Lobos, Gillian Welch, the Knitters, Nick Lowe, Boz Scaggs and the Blue Velvet Band, the Flatlanders, Teddy Thompson, Hazel Dickens, the Mother Hips, Heartless Bastards, Steve Earle - the list goes on. Read more »