Caroline Smith has been very popular in Madison, and for years I’ve been on the outside looking in. I first saw Smith with her band The Goodnight Sleeps at the High Noon Saloon a couple of years ago and was so bored that I actually went to go sit down in the back. I tend to be overly picky about female singers, and women in the singer-songwriter category almost never are a hit with me. I saw the band again after the release of Little Wind and while there was a song or two that wasn’t bad I still just couldn’t get excited about Caroline Smith the way so many of my friends did.
Smith released a new album, Half About Being a Woman, in October and it was reported that her sound was markedly different. When I saw she was opening for Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires at the High Noon Saloon on December 4, 2013 I thought I should give her another look.
What I’d heard was right – she has taken a new approach to her style. Most notably she’s replaced her band and moved from acoustic to electric. The more robust instrumentation allows Smith to push her voice and for the first time I noticed how lovely it really is. While some remnants of her shared past with Haley Bonar and Colbie Caillat remain, the new material references soul and 90s R&B. Generally Smith seems to have left some of the wide-eyed earnestness behind and has embraced fun – her set was full of smiles and dancing and even a few of Kendrick Lamar’s verses. I’m still not head over heels for Smith, but I can say that I’ll no longer skip her set when she’s on the bill.
Caroline Smith returns to Madison & the High Noon on January 16, 2013 as part of FRZN Fest.
See more photos from her December show here.
You can find more from Caroline Smith here.
Madison favorites Count This Penny bade farewell to the banjo-wielding John Ray on Saturday, July 20th, 2013 at one of Jenny and Lou Sanner’s beautiful backyard concerts. Here are a few photos from the night. Click here or any image to go to the album.
On June 6, 2012 we made our first trip to The Shitty Barn to see The Altos. It was an amazing show and an incredible venue. Here are a few photos from the night. For more, click here or on any of the images below.
To listen to a mix from The Altos’ Brendan Benham, click here.
Champions of the slow and deliberate, Duluth, Minnesota’s Low are back with their ninth studio album, C’mon. A fairly straightforward effort, Low employs dreamy buildups grounded in country twang. Opening track “Try to Sleep” has the sweet gauziness of a dream. Mimi Parker’s vocals float in an ethereal unconsciousness, tethered to waking life by husband Alan Sparhawk’s earthy wakefulness. Parker takes the lead on “You See Everything”, a supremely calming track despite the undercurrent of naivety and false security. Things take a bit of a dive at the end of the album, but “Nothing But Heart” is so good that it almost wipes one’s memory of the acme-less songs that precede it.
“Nothing But Heart” was a high point of Low’s set at the Majestic Theater in Madison, WI on April 20, 2011 as well. A bulk of the song is Sparhawk repeating the phrase “I’m nothing but heart” over and over, but instead of being monotonous the tune adds layer after layer with each invocation. When the song finally breaks, there’s a sudden awareness of lushness as Sparhawk soldiers on as Parker skims the top with a lovely counter-melody. Low’s set was primarily cuts from C’mon with a sprinkling of favorites to mix it up – “Breaker” to start and “When I Go Deaf” to end. Regardless of what era they were culling from, the most remarkable thing was almost always in the vocal interplay between Sparhawk and Parker. While their physical interaction was nearly non-existent – Parker stood several feet behind and to the side of her husband, and eye contact consisted of a single fleeting glance at best – their vocals had an intimacy that most can’t achieve.
Breaker, Try to Sleep, You See Everything, Monkey, Silver Rider, Witches, Especially Me, Done, Sunflower, $20, Majesty/Magic, Nightingale, Nothing But Heart, Something’s Taking Over
ENCORE ?, Murderer, When I Go Deaf