Casey Prestwood Keeps It Real (Westword 3/1/2017)

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Casey Prestwood Keeps It Real
by Adam Perry for Denver Westword 3/1/2017

Casey James Prestwood, veteran of Colorado country-rock band Drag the River and acclaimed Alabama emo group Hot Rod Circuit, is a country-music encyclopedia. Get him talking about legendary session musicians and he’ll spin a yarn the size of Texas. Discussing the earnest, emotional and sometimes downright depressing lyrics he sings over his backing band, the Burning Angels, however, doesn’t come so easily.

“I think I’ve kind of found a groove with when I should write and how I should write,” the Littleton resident says about his new album, Born Too Late, which drops in early March. “I lead a pretty happy life now. I’ve got a great wife and kids, and my band is awesome, so I kind of write when I’m down, because it feels like stuff’s more real. I pretty much keep it real in the songs story-wise, too. It’s almost always told from something that happened to me, so most of it is taken from earlier times, before I was settled down.”

For instance, “Jailbird,” from the new album, is about a family member who was incarcerated long-term and other references to Prestwood’s past, including somebody knocking his teeth out in Houston and spending time in jail himself.

“Sometimes you write a song because you’ve gotta get it out,” he explains.

On Prestwood’s first solo album, 2007’s The Hurtin’ Kind, he sang about being “passed out and kicked around” and “sleeping under the stars” — similar to the “blue, lonely and wasted” life he describes on Born Too Late, a crisp, lyrically deep and musically entrancing twelve-song trip through heartache and heavy drinking.

Prestwood’s most interesting recent travels include a month-long tour of Belgium, where, in true Johnny Cash style, the Burning Angels’ gigs included maximum-security prisons.

“About eighteen inmates came to see us, and they were, for lack of a better term, violent — serial killers and that sort of thing,” Prestwood says. “It was real clinical. They’re in the room with you, not shackled up or anything, and the guards didn’t have any weapons. They were real strange characters, but fascinating. We just did songs about prison and murder ballads.”

The bandmates — decked out as they almost always are in rhinestone suits made by the legendary Manuel Cuevas — played country gems about incarceration, such as “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Mama Tried.”

“The guy they call the Belgian Butcher, a big guy who was a schoolteacher and serial killer, he stood up while we were playing, and it kind of freaked me out,” Prestwood recalls. “He came up to me after and said, ‘Hey, man, great set. I really loved the tunes. Nobody really comes through here and does country music. But you guys don’t need to do “Folsom Prison” if you come back. Everybody who comes here plays that tune, no matter what kind of band they’re in. We’re sick of it.’

“I don’t think we’ve played it since,” Prestwood says of the song. “Maybe that’s the last time I’ll play it.”

Around the time the Burning Angels got together, in 2009, Prestwood — who has kept a side gig at Whole Foods for many years — thought maybe it was the last time he’d pursue a musical career. He says that bandmate Kevin Finn inspired him to keep going.

“Kevin was bugging me to get a band together, and I was kind of nestling in on my Whole Foods career, working up the ladder a little bit in that,” Prestwood says. “I’d cut my hair and was just, like, ‘Oh, man, I’m not gonna do band stuff like I used to when I was a kid.’ Really, if it weren’t for Kevin, I probably would’ve hung it up.”

Prestwood says it’s “wild” how many bandmembers have come and gone since the Burning Angels’ salad days, which are highlighted on a recent compilation disc called The Best of the Early Years. He calls Born Too Late “the most cohesive material I’ve written,” and bassist Jeffrey Martin seems equally pumped about the new record.

“Even though it was recorded in five cities, it all jells and sounds cohesive, like we did it as one session,” Martin says. “It features some of Casey’s best writing, and he’s really growing as a songwriter. The best is yet to come.”

SHOW REVIEW: Steve Earle at Chautauqua (Westword 8/24/2015)

photo by Adam Perry
photo by Adam Perry

More Than Music: Steve Earle Soars Sober at Chautauqua
by Adam Perry for Westword, 8/24/2015

Even if he or she is in peak form — like country rocker Steve Earle surely is, as evidenced by his new blues album, Terraplane — a true musical legend always ends up putting on a show that’s about more than the music. That was a bad thing when egomaniac Bono repeatedly prostrated himself at the Pepsi Center earlier this year while walking through his life story. It was a halfway good thing when a chatty, fall-down drunk Eddie Vedder celebrated Pearl Jam’s 24th anniversary in Denver last fall.

Friday night at old-fashioned Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder, the 60-year-old Earle was captivating as he put on a veritable clinic of country, blues and home-fried rock ‘n’ roll, with self-deprecating tales of his seven-marriage love life and his widely publicized struggles with alcohol and narcotics.

After opening the show with “Baby Baby Baby (Baby)” (featuring Earle on harmonica and the “Big Boss Man” nod “Can’t you hear me wail my call?”) Earle commented on how hard it is to make a powerful blues album if you’re from the South, “because the bar is set pretty high.”

“There’s no such thing as a Los Angeles shuffle,” he quipped.

Though the sound at this particular show was uncharacteristically bad, with the bass almost non-existent and the drums as flat as you’d expect at a high-school Battle of the Bands, multi-instrumentalist Eleanor Whitmore (who soared on violin most of the night) and lead guitarist Chris Masterson shined. Not only did they bring snippets of Earle’s fifteen-album catalog (plus a little Hendrix) to life, Whitmore and Masterson also showed what anyone who has seen a top-flight country band knows: country’s finest are the most versatile and tight, and arguably the best, musicians in popular music.

When the “’80s hits” portion of the show kicked in (beginning with Guitar Town’s title track and “Copperhead Road”), Earle and his Dukes finally got some energy back from the virtually all white, middle-aged Boulder crowd, partly by doing something it’s been hard not to notice at concerts lately. During anthemic instrumental passages of well-known tunes, everyone in the band (except the drummer, of course) walked four or five paces closer to the audience, which went wild.

Earle, for his part, spent most of his between-song banter joking about his wild past. He mused on his failed relationships, stumped for action on climate change, and deservedly gave himself praise for using his early ‘90s bottoming out (heroin, cocaine, weapons charges, etc.) to transform himself from a Grammy-winning mess to an outspoken, recovered — and humble — musical icon who is also a respected actor and poet.

“After the show I’ll be at the merch table,” Earle said at one point, “because diesel is expensive.”

Earle — who is currently single, looking relatively healthy, with a salt-and-pepper beard and Santa Claus physique — also touched on his seven marriages (two of them to the same woman) by commenting that at least he “gets to keep the songs,” though not necessarily the royalties.

“Goodbye,” which Earle (whose affable stage presence has moved closer to Ramblin’ Jack Elliot’s) called “the first song I wrote sober,” was delivered beautifully, sung with gut-wrenching clarity and common sense. He followed it by joking that when he “sees the mirror out of the corner of my eye I think, ‘Who the fuck let Allen Ginsberg in here?’”

Other than the darkly powerful song-poem “The Tennessee Kid” from his new album, Earle’s high point at Chautauqua was following the pointed self-criticism “A lot of these songs have a tendency to make my [substance abuse] sound a lot more fucking fun than it was,” with the inescapable misery of “CCKP (Cocaine Cannot Kill My Pain).”

For a bona fide living legend whose songs have been recorded by the likes of Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, Earle was remarkably self-effacing, which was even more interesting for those of us who’d seen Earle’s son Justin Townes, who is also a recovering addict, play the Fox Theatre last year. The younger Earle, who plays a lighter, mellower form of country-rock, also regaled Boulder with comical, earnest tales of debauchery.

One hopes that the few young people inside Chautauqua Auditorium on Friday night—side note: Why don’t they open the big doors and let the music out anymore?—trusted the elder Earle’s lesson they can write, and play, great music without getting in as much trouble as he once did.

WORDS FROM THE ROAD: Luke Redfield’s Life in Music (Boulder Weekly 1/15/2015)

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Words from the Road: Luke Redfield’s Life in Music
by Adam Perry for Boulder Weekly, 1/15/2015

“It’s just like me singing in your living room with a three-piece band, or in some little dive bar,” indie-folk singer-songwriter Luke Redfield told me about his new album, The Cartographer, by phone from Minnesota just after spending Christmas with his family there.

Redfield, 31, grew up a preacher’s son in small, humble and peaceful Minnesota and Nebraska towns, and is quick to quote memes about the morality of work, such as “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.”

Redfield consciously recorded The Cartographer in a more stripped-down, expedient fashion than his four previous releases. With a vocal style heavily influenced by Blonde On Blonde-era Dylan and Conor Oberst and lyrics steeped as much in folk and blues tradition as classic American literature, Redfield had been more of a patient perfectionist with past recordings. The Cartographer, the result of isolated woodshedding at a comically tiny house in Austin, is essentially Kerouac-style “first thought, best thought” set to music.

“It was a special time and a magical time, one of those magical moments when it all just comes together,” Redfield says. “And that’s what it was like for me in this little house. I enjoyed it while it lasted. I was working at a food cart while I was writing, and every day I devoted myself to five to 10 hours of playing guitar and writing these songs. I was ‘in it’ for a couple of months, where these songs would just come to me. “

Haunting, spacious tracks like “Frida” give Redfield the chance to muse — along with gentle harmonica, piano and acoustic guitar — on “making love to some actress” and being “just stardust.” Lilting folk-rockers such as “Sweetest Thing” find Redfield, playful like a young Bruce Springsteen, waxing romantic with the spirit of a troubadour: “I’ve been around this country and fucked it up and down / but you’re the sweetest thing I ever found.”

Growing up on Mark Twain, baseball, ice cream and fireworks in the conservative innocence of the Midwest had a deep effect on Redfield, but the wandering tales in his songs aren’t just for style. When he’s not on tour, Redfield (who has lived everywhere from Nashville to Alaska) works in food service — “waiting tables, cooking, working as a barista, whatever I need to do in the moment” — and when he’s traveling around America playing shows, he feels connected not only with his music but also his ancestry.

“My family is musicians as far back as we can trace the family tree,” he says. “That’s something that I always think about when I’m on the road: ‘This is in my lineage.’ My dad actually played folk music and rock ‘n’ roll [before becoming a preacher]. He was a flower child in the ’60s, served in Vietnam. I learned a lot from my dad about music and life and spirituality and work ethic.”

According to Redfield, recording The Cartographer, which was released Jan. 7, included choosing 10 songs out of approximately 100 he’d written in Austin.

“I generally have enough material to record an album every year,” Redfield says. “A lot of my favorite artists don’t make a lot of albums, but then there are singer-songwriters like Dylan or Johnny Cash who always seem like they’ve got more songs that I’ve never even heard of. And I think I’m more in that category. I got to a point where I thought, ‘I gotta just start recording.’ The Cartographer is really down-to-earth in a way that I hadn’t been on previous recordings. Our mind gets in the way so much when we are artists who care about what we do. I think just based on previous experiences, [I was] just spending too much time and too much money in the studio and just sitting with the songs too long. The Cartographer is more of a stream-of-consciousness thing. But I’m happy to have made albums on both sides of the spectrum.”

Redfield, who is also a semi-pro Frisbee-golf player, is on tour with a band for the first time, and is excited about bringing a fuller sound to his live performances. He’s also looking forward to sharing his love for the road with good friends.

“I’m pretty stoked. It’s been a long time coming. They’re musicians I’ve been working with for a while, friends of mine and people I feel comfortable living with or going on the road with, people who are enthused. I’m all about the right enthusiasm, because I have that about traveling and touring and I want people who will have that same sort of mindset and enjoy the adventure of being on the road in what I still think is an amazing country we live in, in terms of its natural beauty.”

Redfield might allude to “a bed of darkness in my soul” in his gentle, sometimes bleak songs, but he’s an optimistic, self-described “nature boy” whose only New Year’s resolutions are to “be kind and loving…eat better and make more money.” And, as evidenced on gorgeous tracks like “Holy Ghost, NM” on his last album, 2013’s East of Santa Fe, Redfield is proud of his Midwestern roots but has a distinct affinity for the West.

“I love it; there’s something about the air and the water and the mountains,” he says. “There’s something about Colorado that just draws me. I feel like I come alive when I’m in those spaces. It’s hard to really articulate. I think because I grew up in farm country, I really do connect with the earth. My soul is just happier; my heart feels happier when I’m in the kind of lush scenery you find in Colorado. I love that drive from Colorado to New Mexico. It’s one of my favorite parts of the country.”

Redfield is self-deprecating when it comes to his poignantly unassuming voice. He says he identifies more as a songwriter than as a singer, and even plans to write a book in the next year or two about his experiences living on the road.

“Probably because I have never been super amazing at playing an instrument or singing, I think my lyrics are definitely my strength,” he says. “And if I don’t want to be just another folk singer I have to think of myself as a writer. For some reason, I decided to write songs.”

Luke Redfield plays Shine in Boulder on Saturday, January 17 at 8pm and the Walnut Room in Denver on Sunday, January 18 at 7pm. Kismet & Dough opens both shows. 

How Murder By Death is Bringing Live Music to Colorado’s Most Infamous Hotel (Westword, 12/30/14)

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How Murder By Death is Bringing Live Music to Colorado’s Most Infamous Hotel
by Adam Perry for Westword, 12/30/2014

With song titles like “As Long As There Is Whiskey in the World” and “Rum Brave,” Murder by Death — whose best album is 2012’s ambitious Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon — is a little bit like Jack Nicholson’s legendary character in The Shining, who famously said, “I’d give my goddamn soul for just a glass of beer.” The Indiana-bred American Gothic indie-rock group is led by baritone-voiced singer/guitarist Adam Turla, who makes MBD sound not unlike Arcade Fire fronted by Johnny Cash.

Speaking by phone recently from his new home base of Kentucky, Turla says he’s just hosted a yearly “whiskey party” and is about to rehearse for MBD’s much-anticipated return to Estes Park’s infamous Stanley Hotel, the inspiration for the setting of that same classic 1980 horror flick.

“It’s our way of having the band throw a whiskey party,” he says. “Everybody dresses up if they want to, and we just play and hang out with people until they shut us down. It’s a rock-and-roll ball.”

Last year, Murder by Death announced two Shining-inspired shows — according to Turla, the first-ever concerts at the Stanley — and sold out in one day, quickly adding another. Nine months ago, when MBD announced another run (January 2, 3 and 4) at the haunted hotel, the shows sold out “instantly.”

“It was just an idea I had about five years ago,” Turla explains. “I’ve played every club before, but sometimes it’s nice to do something that’s an experience outside of just a concert. The band has always had such a great cult following, but it never felt like the right time, and we’d never tried anything like it before. I’d always wanted to do concept shows. I just went out on a limb and talked to Scott Campbell at AEG and said, ‘Hey, this is something I want to do. Am I crazy? Do you think this will work?’ — and he helped connect us with the Stanley people, and we figured out how to make it work.”

The fire marshal okayed a larger capacity than last year, and Turla hopes this time around will be even more special.

“[The hotel] has multiple haunted rooms. There are all these different figures who have died there or are claimed to haunt the place and revisit it. We were reading up on these people last time, and I stayed in one of the haunted rooms, [but] I didn’t have any ghostly experiences. None of us did. If ghosts are more likely to appear at night, with the amount of whiskey we were drinking, there could’ve been an earthquake every night and we wouldn’t have known.”

Murder by Death will release Big Dark Love, its seventh album, in February, and will debut most of the new material at the Stanley shows. The beautifully written and recorded Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon‘s mood and subject matter were about as haunting as the Stanley Hotel claims to be, and Turla says the soon-to-be-unveiled new songs will fit right in.

“The thing we realized made us stand out when we first started playing is that most of our songs are [in a minor key]. Not that many bands do that, so it’s just natural for a band that has that to have a connection with an old haunted hotel. It makes sense to me, and based on the response, I would argue that it made sense to a lot of people.”

Tickets for the threes sold-out Stanley shows were originally $50, so expect to pay at least several times that if you’re a latecomer hoping to make one of these intimate gigs part of your holiday season. Turla, who says the quintet will come “flexible and prepared,” with plans for a different set list each night, laughed when asked if his band “shines.”

“I wish I had the shining, but I don’t. I actually went around wandering the halls last time at like three in the morning, trying to get into some ghost trouble. I will say I hope somebody has an awesome ghost experience this time around, because it’s a fun element.”

CD Review: Johnny Cash “Out Among the Stars” (East Bay Express, 3/26/2014)

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CD REVIEW:

Johnny Cash Out Among the Stars
by Adam Perry for the East Bay Express, 3/26/2014

Listening to previously unreleased music by Johnny Cash in 2014 feels a little eerie at first. But Out Among the Stars is positively startling: a diverse and mostly impressive collection of “lost” recordings Cash did in the early 1980s with “countrypolitan” producer Billy Sherrill, who was known for polishing gritty artists and bringing them mainstream success.

Cash’s glossy version of the popular country song “She Used to Love Me a Lot” has received the most media attention, but the real highlights are “Out Among the Stars,” which contains the brutally beautiful lyrics when they’re shootin’ at this loser/they’ll be aimin’ at the demons in their lives, and the Cash original “Call Your Mother,” in which he sings please call your mother/gently break the news that you don’t love me. Especially powerful are Cash’s duets with his late wife June Carter Cash and the late Waylon Jennings. The latter, “I’m Movin’ On,” is upbeat, outlaw country at its finest, and includes a few sly bars of the now-legendary half-time “Waylon beat.”

Perhaps most notable, however, is the fact that Sherrill’s countrypolitan production — which didn’t work with Cash’s “outlaw” persona and arguably contributed to Columbia Records’ decision to drop him — couldn’t tarnish “Don’t You Think It’s Come Our Time,” Cash’s duet with his wife. Try listening to Johnny and June sing Let’s gather up our scattered words of love/and make them rhyme without getting gooey. 

REVIEW: Danzig at the Boulder Theater

photos by Dane Cronin

Danzig
Boulder Theater
Saturday May 3, 2011
by Adam Perry for Westword

Better Than: Watching Jerry Only, bassist for the original Misfits—the seminal punk band fronted by Glenn Danzig, who wrote all their songs—trudge through laser-quick versions of Danzig’s classic songs while dressed like a professional wrestler. Sadly that’s what’s passed for “The Misfits” for many years.

The first time I went out to see Danzig, over a decade ago as a teenager in the Pittsburgh, Pa., of my youth, the concert was inexplicably canceled minutes before show time and I returned to my ’89 Pontiac Sunbird to find it towed. Last night in Boulder, I feared some similar fate would follow me to Colorado, but, when doom appeared in the form of a dead camera battery, local photographer Dane Cronin tapped on my shoulder just before the Satanic cacophony began and offered to use my much-coveted photo pass to provide professional-quality pictures of his own. And he even bought me a beer.

Cronin proved talented, altruistic, and even courageous, as Danzig appeared onstage just after 10pm at the Boulder Theater—flanked by Spinal Tap-worthy statues of giant skull-octopi—and literally ripped an expensive camera out of a concertgoer’s hand mid-song before handing it to a roadie. The former Misfits frontman has been known to walk into record stores and snatch bootleg recordings of the Misfits and Danzig, but Tuesday night was the first time I’ve seen him, or any other artist, prowl the crowd for cameras. It’s hard to see the point—a true metal legend, Danzig looks fine for his age (55)—but at least the guy sticks to his convictions.

Musically, Danzig’s Boulder Theater performance was surprisingly impressive, considering the departure of Danzig’s bandmates from the group’s heyday (1987-1994). After a few incomprehensible newer songs that found the audience excited to see its longtime hero but puzzled by unexceptional and unfamiliar music and lyrics, Danzig plunged deep into his treasure chest of darkly themed classics and won the crowd, many dressed in just-purchased $35 t-shirts, over easily. With the muscle-bound vocalist’s booming, vengeful voice mostly intact, “Twist of Cain” and “Her Black Wings” energized the whole building, inspiring Danzig to repeatedly give the Boulder faithful a chance to sing into his microphone, and “How the Gods Kill” provided a reminder of just how powerful and enjoyable heavy music can be.

There’s a reason Danzig—who still sports long black hair, a massive skull and horns belt buckle and a skin-tight muscle t-shirt—influenced just about every relevant heavy American band from the mid-‘80s on, from Metallica to Korn. His huge voice, equal parts Elvis and Mephistopheles, is inimitable and startlingly compelling, even today, 35 years after his debut with the Misfits and 24 years after Danzig’s eponymous debut. And his best lyrics, from the psychosexual horror of “Bullet” to the somehow soulful murder-obsessed rage of “Long Way Back From Hell,” pique the primitive American intellect just enough to remain a guilty pleasure for decades after teenhood. At least for myself and the few hundred other headbangers surrounding me last night at a venue where considerably mellower acts, such as Jolie Holland, Nick Lowe and Broken Social Scene, have treated me to some magical performances in the recent past, it was metal heaven for a while. And man, Danzig and eTown would make for an incredibly interesting evening together.



CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK

Personal Bias: It was a fun show, but in reality watching Danzig perform forceful favorites he wrote and recorded 20-25 years ago is only marginally more significant than seeing one original member of the Misfits—Jerry Only—pounce on a bunch of songs he played bass on 30-35 years ago. But I was in the Boulder Theater bathroom when Danzig broke into “Mother,” the group’s 1993 MTV hit, so maybe I missed the high moment of the evening.

Random Detail: Danzig’s current backing band, which dons matching black wife-beaters and jet-black manes of shoulder-length hair, looks like it’d be equally comfortable giving the devil sign to audiences of weight-lifter automobile enthusiasts and excelling behind the counter at a pizza parlor at the gates in Hell.

By The Way: It’s unfortunate that Danzig, a New Jersey native and comic book enthusiast who reportedly turned down a chance to play Wolverine in the X-Men movie series, may end up being best remembered not for his impressive recorded works but for amateur footage of him getting knocked out by a rival band a few years ago, which ended up on YouTube and has been viewed a million times. I mean, Johnny Cash even recorded one of his songs, for God’s sake. Either way, both his classic music and the video below are all kinds of awesome.