THE BANDCHASER PRESENTS...James Maple with Elli Perry

I couldn't be more excited for this Thursday's first-ever THE BANDCHASER PRESENTS show. My pal James Maple is returning to York for his second Sign of the Wagon performance, and he's bringing another solo artist, Elli Perry, with him. Judging by their Instagram posts, they're having a blast on this tour, and I can't wait for them to roll into town.

James is the sort of person who, within minutes of meeting him, you feel like you've known for ten forevers. His personality is so well-suited to the traditions and overall feel of folk music that I can't imagine him doing anything else (although his resumé includes such widely varied experience as styling hair, masterful leather tooling, and small-batch coffee roasting).

James playing Sign of the Wagon in May 2013

James playing Sign of the Wagon in May 2013

The tour comes on the heels of James' recent solo release, American Dreams , an 8-song album recorded at Dirt Floor Studio in his home state of Connecticut. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love a good sad song, and James is a master of the sad old country song. American Dreams is his first official release as a solo artist, and it's been in constant rotation at Bandchaser world headquarters these last few months.

I asked him if he had any sense of just how he'd come to be such a connoisseur of the Great American Sad Song, and he said it's a question people - his mother, in particular - often ask.

"I really don't know," he says. "I think because it's the most honest and stripped-down and sincere feeling you can find. Everybody goes through loss or death or that kind of thing and I think it's easy to be happy with people, but it's another thing to kind of share something sad or a hard time you're going through. So I think it's easier to put it on paper and get it out that way."

"Whenever I put on a record, I always gravitate to the ballads, the slow, driving ballads," he says. "They’re always my favorite tracks, so I feel like I tend to write my favorite tracks. Because I love listening to them, and I feel like one or two on a record is never enough."

Couldn't agree more.  

James and I first became acquainted by way of social media. We have some mutual friends, and ended up following each other on Instagram. Sign of the Wagon's reputation preceded it and James reached out to me to ask about playing there when he was on the road this past spring. So often, touring musicians end up playing bars and other venues where people aren't necessarily there for the music, and it's easy to get lost. House concerts and other listening room environments draw attentive audiences where solo artists get to play for people who are there specifically to see them perform. Sign of the Wagon is one of my favorite places on Earth, and after only one visit, it's one of James' favorite places to play.

So I didn't hesitate to book him again when he told me he and Elli Perry were hitting the road. If you're in the York area, I cannot recommend this show highly enough. 

My good friend Philip Given from The Susquehanna Photographic will be covering the show, and I'll post a recap here next week.

 

THE BANDCHASER PRESENTS...James Maple and Elli Perry
at Sign of the Wagon
154 East Philadelphia Street, York, PA
Thursday, July 11, 2013
Doors at 7 p.m. / Show at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $10 (advance tickets via PayPal)
More details on the Facebook event page
 

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Brown Bird's Time of Need

I recently wrote a story on the Rhode Island-based duo Brown Bird for a regional entertainment publication. Dave Lamb and MorganEve Swain were touring in support of their April release Fits of Reason, and making a stop in Harrisburg, PA. I knew them from their past performances at the Newport Folk Festival, and was honored to have the opportunity to do the story. I'm a fan for sure, and we have some mutual friends, so I especially enjoyed the interview with Dave.

I'm on their email list, and two days ago I received the message that they were cutting their tour short after Dave had been admitted to the hospital in Houston, TX. He had had flu-like symptoms for the past six weeks, and blood tests during his Texas hospital stay showed that he was severely anemic and needed a series of blood transfusions. At the time of the message, they hadn't yet gotten a diagnosis or a plan for treatment, but had already racked up over $29,000 in medical expenses.

I know what it's like to be without health insurance. It's like one of those giant, cartoon anvils hanging over your head, and you can constantly hear the creaking of the rope as it frays and threatens to drop the hulking mass and squash you flat. The best you can hope for is to, you know...not get sick or injured. But this isn't always within our control.

I am also consciously aware, at all times, of how much I appreciate that there are people out there who are willing to take the leap and pursue music full-time. It means that people like me get to have amazing experiences that we would not otherwise get to have, were it not for the hard work and sacrifice bands like Brown Bird are willing to make to take their show on the road.

Apparently I'm not the only one who feels protective of people like Dave Lamb when something like this happens - I have been following the outpouring of support over the last few days, and it's so incredibly heartwarming to see how many people want to help Dave, even before there's been a diagnosis. Seems like my entire Instagram feed, and a large portion of my Twitter and Facebook feeds, were reposts of this photo of Dave, along with a link to the fundraising campaign. Word is spreading quickly, and friends and fans are stepping up to help.

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In just three days, people have donated over $40,000 toward Dave's medical expenses. Most of these people, like me, don't really know Dave and MorganEve. We're fans. Friends of friends. Members of the Newport Folk family. Music lovers. People who feel that contributing what little we can is the least we can do after all the joy we've gotten from Brown Bird's music over the years. People who feel part of a community, and as part of it, like showing our support in their time of need is the right thing to do.

If you'd like to join me in helping Brown Bird, visit their YouCaring page to make a contribution.

Another opportunity for giving is to purchase prints from photographer Nate Burrell, who will give 100% of the proceeds to Brown Bird. He's got great shots of some of my favorite artists, like Jonny Fritz, John McCauley, Justin Townes Earle, and of course Brown Bird themselves. Like me, this guy doesn't know Dave and MorganEve; he's photographed them and, like me, feels compelled to help out how he can. I don't know Nate either, but I suspect we'd be friends.

A Darling Weekend Indeed

A few months back, a folk duo from Seattle called The Gloria Darlings stopped in York while touring on the East Coast. They're friends of my friend Ronn Benway, and he encouraged them to visit York during the tour. He booked them a few shows around town and made plans for them to stay at my house. Pandi and Milly fall into the category that all my favorite people fall into - they're the sort of people you meet, and then five minutes later you feel as though you've know them forever.

The girls got to experience what many touring musicians have discovered about York: it's welcoming, people appreciate music, the cost of living is low, and it's easily accessible to many larger markets. Within 48 hours of their arrival, they were looking around at houses and wondering whether they ought to make York their home base.

So they returned last week, this time with boyfriends in tow so they could check it out, too (the guys were visiting from New Mexico and New Orleans). Ronn helped arrange some more gigs, and also included them in a monthly open mic he hosts at an office furniture outlet (yes, really). The plan was for the Gloria Darlings to be the featured act at the Thursday open mic at The Depot, hosted by local musical genius and all-around good guy Andrew Naylor, then play at Bistro19 (a restaurant/bar) Friday night, the furniture store gig on Saturday, and then be on their way on Sunday.

They arrived at my house very late on Thursday night after playing the Depot and immediately fell into bed. I worked on Friday, so I didn't get to catch up with them properly until Friday evening during a set break at Bistro. Pandi's boyfriend Joby played a set at Bistro, too. He plays banjo while sitting on a vintage suitcase outfitted with a kickdrum pedal, and has a kazoo in a harmonica holder around his neck. It is impossible to be in a bad mood when there's music like that swirling in the air around your head. Joby got up early the next morning to stake out a busking spot outside Central Market. The GDs joined him a little later in the morning.

Saturday was my first visit to the furniture store open mic. I was pleasantly surprised by how many people were there, and especially by the variety of people - from many different circles within the community. By the time I arrived, the sign-up board was completely full and the performances were in full-swing. At some point, two guys I'd heard about but had never met showed up: Shine Delphi and Nathan Rivera. There was a small commotion when they arrived; apparently they knew Joby from New Orleans, and there was a happy reunion. Since they were scheduled to play Bistro19 a short while later, they were bumped up in the order and I got to hear them before I left. Within the first 30 seconds of their first song, I was completely enamored.

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The furniture store has a stage, and a baby grand piano on the floor in front of it. Joby joined Shine and Nathan on washboard and in the middle of a song, Nathan took off his accordion, hopped off the stage, played the piano, then hopped back up and strapped his accordion back on in time to sing the next verse. By the time they finished, I'd already decided to cancel my other plans for that evening and go hear them play a full set at Bistro.

The long weekend was full of good music, my house full of good people and good cheer. My guests decided to extend their visit by another day, so we invited a few more friends over and had a big family dinner on Sunday. If they decide to relocate to York, I hope we'll have many more family dinners with them in our future. Earlier in the afternoon, while most of the gang was out running errands, Milly and her boyfriend Jacob sat on my front porch playing the violin and mandolin, respectively, as I happily bustled around the house tidying up and wishing I could run a musicians' hostel full-time. 

There have only been three CDs in rotation in my car over the last week: The Gloria Darlings (their new album, "Come Home to Me," is wonderful, and I'm so proud to say I helped them release it with a modest contribution to their Kickstarter campaign), the Gin Jars (Joby's self-produced album), and The Black Resonators (Shine and Nathan). Combine any - or better yet, all - of these CDs with a little sunshine, and you've got an instant mood enhancer. Just try not to smile.

Every Heartbroken Man

I think it would be most accurate to say I became a fan of Joe Fletcher before I'd even really heard his music. There was a summer where I saw his name, and then him, in person, everywhere, although I couldn't seem to catch an opportunity to see him perform. He and his band, The Wrong Reasons, played at the Newport Folk Festival in 2012, but we were late that morning and missed their set. I also missed them when they played one of the Deer Tick-hosted after parties at the Newport Blues Cafe that weekend; we had tickets, but I didn't make it there that night. I was bummed, because they were one of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing.

We somehow ended up following each other through various social media channels (Twitter and Instagram, mostly), and then he came to York to play a solo show at Sign of the Wagon at the beginning of October. I had the privilege of booking the opening act for that night, and called Leo DiSanto, frontman of Vinegar Creek Constituency. It was a perfect fit and the two found an immediate and apparent mutual respect for each other.

The highlight of the night for me came when they played a song together near the end of Joe's set. I'm slightly fuzzy on the details, owing to the bottle of bourbon we were passing around, but I think Joe saw "Bottom of the World" on Leo's setlist during soundcheck, and asked if it was his song or the Tom Waits song. It was in fact the cover, which Joe had also played before, so they decided on the spot that they'd play it together. When the time came, Leo grabbed his harmonica and they simply took turns singing the verses and harmonized on the chorus. You know me well enough by now to be unfazed when I tell you that I cried a bit. It was one of those magical, spontaneous musical moments I'm always chasing, where talented people who are reverent about music come together and do something beautiful for music's sake.

I kept in touch with Joe, and even got to have an impromptu lunch date with him and his girlfriend when their travels brought them through York en route to Nashville. I sent him a copy of Vinegar Creek Constituency's new album when it came out, and he seems to love it as much as I do. He and Leo have kept in touch, too, and may meet up in Rhode Island later this year.

Joe's a prolific Instagrammer, and I enjoy seeing where the road takes him, what other musicians he's playing with, and what venues he's performing in. Since I couldn't make it to South by Southwest, I lived vicariously through Joe's posts, and felt delighted when he went to see other friends of mine perform. When he left Austin at the end of the week, he said that his favorite discovery of SXSW this year - "by far" - was Toy Soldiers. They're a Philadelphia band that I've had the pleasure of watching grow and amass a devoted following over the years. My friend Dominic Billet is their drummer, and told Joe he was coming to see him play in York a few weeks later and asked if he'd like him to sit in on some songs with him.

So when Joe played at York's Holy Hound Taproom last week, he played a few songs on his own, and then Dom joined him for the rest of the set. They hadn't rehearsed the songs together; it was Dom's first time playing them. And it was perfect. Joe would lean over between songs and give Dom some quick notes on the vibe he wanted him to shoot for, and then they'd just play. They sounded great together, and I was pleasantly surprised by how good it sounded in the room overall. Kudos to Holy Hound for going out on a bit of a limb and adding a national touring act into their schedule. It was a great evening, and I was especially pleased with how many friends from Lancaster showed up - including Leo DiSanto.

Near the end of the evening, Joe asked Leo if he might like to try doing the Tom Waits song together again. He joined him onstage and with the addition of Dom on drums, it was even a little more heartbreaking than their first performance back in October. I only cried a little this time.

All photos by The Susquehanna Photographic.
It bears mentioning that GQ included a photo of Joe in their SXSW style watch photos. He's a stylish guy, in a cool, timeless, and effortless kind of way. I was sitting in front of the stage thinking that my friend Philip, of The Susquehanna Photographic (who was shooting for this post), was really going to appreciate Joe's sense of style. While I was consciously thinking about this, I looked over at Philip, just as he crouched down to photograph Joe's shoes.

So Much Denim

Quick apology for the lack of activity on here lately. Classic JJ to have launched a blog and then promptly dumped an entire peppermint vanilla chai latte into my laptop. Fried the damn thing and had to say bye-bye to those stolen moments between appointments where I could shoehorn frenzied fits of writing. Serves me right for ordering such a pretentious beverage. I'll spare you the details of the nightmare that's followed; the upshot is that I am no longer mobile, am instead chained to a desktop during the moments when I can physically be in my home office. I will never, ever forgive myself for spilling that drink. Enough of all that; I want to fill you in on some of the shows I've been to since our last visit.

My friends Pete & Lindsey are unbelievably gracious about opening their home in downtown York for house concerts. I am fortunate to sometimes help, peripherally, with booking and promoting some of the shows there. The venue is known as Sign of the Wagon, and artists who have played there have enjoyed Pete & Lindsey's hospitality and the attentive audiences.

At the end of January, Sign of the Wagon hosted a performance by Andrew Combs and Spencer Cullum, Jr., with special guest Ron Gallo. Combs and Cullum, who are roommates in Nashville, had both played SOTW before, just not together. Combs was here last summer when he was on tour with The Kernal & His New Strangers (Jackson, TN) and Mechanical River (Charleston, SC). We got to see all three bands, plus Rachel Kate Gillon, in the same night, and it was an absolute blast. Spencer, the 6'7" pedal steel player from London, England, had come through town with Jonny Fritz. I adore both Combs and Spencer, have seen them both play many times separately, and was delighted with the opportunity of seeing them play together. I was also very much looking forward to seeing Ron Gallo open with a solo set. I'm a big fan of his band, Toy Soldiers, but had never seen him perform solo before.

It turned out that Jonny Fritz was traveling with Combs and Spencer as their road manager on this tour, and since York cannot get enough of Jonny, it was with great pleasure that we announced a few days before the show that Jonny would play a set that night, too. My phone buzzed for hours once the news started getting around. (Note the countdown clock on the lefthand side of your screen - ticking ever closer to the release of Jonny's album, Dad Country.)

I sold tickets to many of the usual suspects, as well as a handful of people who had yet to experience a show at SOTW, and a couple who were not yet familiar with these talented songwriters. My phone blew up again the day after the show with people talking about what a great time they had and the sense of community they felt at SOTW.

Spencer sat in on a few songs with Jonny, and Ron was joined for a few by Toy Soldiers drummer Dom Billet and the wildly talented Ali Wadsworth. Then most of the guests left and we ate a 28" pizza and Ron entertained us by demonstrating the quintessential Philly accent. Ask him about it if you ever run into him.

Photos by Digital Ephemera Photography, except for the pizza ones. But I had to show you.

Religious Experiences

The only way this past weekend could have been better is if some sweepstakes crew would have shown up with a handful of balloons and one of those giant checks. Let me get right into it and tell you about two soul-soothing experiences I had.

On Friday night, I attended the much-anticipated Vinegar Creek Constituency album release show at the Chameleon Club in Lancaster, PA. The place was packed full of people celebrating the release of VCC's third album, "Don't Go Back in Time." These guys always put on a great show, but this one was, of course, extra special. I arrived with a few good friends, met up with a few more, took a spot along the rail, and just kinda basked in the glow of one of my favorite good-time bands. My only regret is that I sang along, despite the fact that I had completely lost my voice (not an exaggeration - all that comes out when I open my mouth is a little puff of dust) several days prior to the show. Drinking plenty of tea with honey to mitigate the damage.

If you want to hear more about "Don't Go Back in Time," I did a brief write-up on the new album for Tri State Indie.

Then on Saturday night, I attended the fifteenth annual Jazz Vespers at First Presbyterian Church. The event draws over 500 people to one of York's most beautiful churches and features such a stellar line-up of musicians that I get teary-eyed before I even set foot in the sanctuary. The event honors the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so the theme is peace and unity and social justice. Indeed, the pews are filled with a who's who of York, representing a wide cross-section of our community in terms of race, age, faith, socioeconomic status, sexual preference, political leaning - name a demographic or identity group, and it's represented at this concert.

My friend Jeff Stabley coordinates this event each year, booking the musicians and arranging the instrumental pieces. Jeff is an absolute rockstar. Each year, the line-up includes a host of other rock (jazz) stars, with exceedingly impressive credentials. And we get to show up and listen to them play for FREE (it's part of First Presbyterian's Abendmusik series).

When I set out to write this post, I thought I might tell you about my favorite part of this concert. But I haven't been able to narrow it down to one thing. Perhaps it's the way my arms break out into goosebumps when Diane Wilson drops her voice down to a whisper, and it's all you can hear in that giant room with the impossibly high ceiling. Or maybe it's when she raises her voice back up and it fills that same space so completely that you wonder whether the doors are going to blow open. It might be when Tim Warfield and Chris Bacas stand during the Coltrane piece and trade solos back and forth, until the excitement is so palpable it gets difficult to breathe. Or it could possibly be the part where the entire congregation stands for a call-and-response prayer of commitment, promising, in unison:

          I will not keep silent. I will struggle with myself. I will not rest until the dream of justice and freedom becomes my personal dream. I must realize that I am not an innocent bystander. I can help realize the dream by my action, or delay it by my inaction.

As someone who insisted my son memorize the Birmingham Pledge by the time he was a toddler, it is empowering to stand among so many from my community and declare our solidarity with Dr. King's vision.

But I think if I had to list one favorite thing about this event, it would be the fact that it moves me in a way that represents everything I love about live music. The spirit of togetherness around something intangible and fleeting, something that exists only in that moment, and won't ever exist exactly like that again. We, the members of the audience, have that one wholly unique moment in common while it's happening and forever after. It's that moment I'm always chasing, that feeling of being a part of something bigger and more beautiful than I could ever be on my own.

The thing is, I don't know shit about jazz. I really don't. I've taken classes, and I could tell you a little bit about the history and the context in which it began and grew. But the mechanics of the music itself? I cannot speak intelligently on that subject. I can't articulate why that concert moves me to tears and makes my heart swell to two times its normal size in my chest. But I think that's what makes it so magical, so powerful. 

Mack White, who was a featured percussionist at the show, also played with another group at last year's first York Jazz Fest, which my company produced. At the end of Jazz Fest, Mack came and found me and gave me a big hug, thanking me for putting the festival together. Mack White, whom I've seen perform at the MLK Jazz Vespers service, hugged me and thanked me. I thought about that while he played the conga on Saturday night, sharing his talent and passion with his fellow musicians and all of us seated in the audience. It reminded me how much I love my job...jobs...life. I love my life.

The Rest of My 2012 Favorites

OK, we've got to get moving and talk about the rest of my favorite releases from 2012, because I want to start talking about 2013. Train's leaving the station, so without further fuss, let's get down to bid-ness.

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Hoots & Hellmouth - Salt

The thing about Hoots & Hellmouth is that when you see them live, or even listen to a studio recording, you're having so much fun that you sometimes forget what a beautiful voice Sean Hoots has. The dude sings like a damn angel. Plays guitar like one, too. If you're unfamiliar with this band of folk superheroes from Philadelphia, I'll tell you the thing my son loves most about them: their stomp boards. Hoots and mandolin/keys player Rob Berliner stand on these plywood platforms, which have tambourines zip-tied to them, and when the tempo picks up and the party really kicks into high gear, they start jumping around on them and all hell breaks loose. Anyway, this album is lovely.

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Andrew Combs - Worried Man

I am such a big fan of this kid. He's a wonderful songwriter (he's a staff writer for Razor & Tie Publishing), a gifted guitarist, and his voice oozes so much old soul that it's tough to believe he's only in his 20s. Hell of a nice guy, too. The album includes some of my favorite Combs songs.

SIDE NOTE: I feel like every time I see Andrew, I have to apologize to him for some half-assed nonsense I pulled the time before. Last time I saw him, I said I was sorry for all the tequila I insisted he drink straight out of the bottle when he was in town to play a show with The Kernal and Mechanical River (don't worry; we'll talk about all of them here soon enough). When he comes to town at the end of January to play a show with my favorite 6'7" English pedal steel player, Spencer Cullum, Jr., I'm going to have to say I'm sorry for when he was here a few months ago and I was sitting at the piano with my friend and hollering Jonny Fritz songs at the top of our lungs until 3 a.m. In our defense, we did not know that Andrew had retreated to the living room (through a doorway, buy only about 10 feet from the piano) to go to sleep. Oops. Sorry, Combs.

If you are in the area (South Central PA), Andrew and Spencer will be at Sign of the Wagon on Wednesday, January 30. Ron Gallo (of Toy Soldiers) will play a solo set to open the evening, and I couldn't be more excited about this line-up. Tickets are $10 each and should be purchased in advance (click here!).

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Diamond Rugs - Diamond Rugs

Diamond Rugs is another John McCauley III (of Deer Tick) supergroup (see also: JJ favorite Middle Brother). It includes fellow Tick Robbie Crowell, The Black Lips' Ian Saint Pé, Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, Dead Confederate's Hardy Morris, and Six Finger Satellite's Bryan Dufresne. When I first heard who was involved in the project, I said, "wait, who is recording with John? That can't be right." I guess it's not necessarily an unlikely group, but it's an interesting mix of people, for sure. I knew John is a big Los Lobos fan, and as the story goes, he met Steve Berlin after a show and asked him to record with him, then got the others on board, and they recorded in Nashville with Adam Landry and Justin Collins (the same guys who produced Middle Brother's album). So all the buzz in 2011 was about Middle Brother, and all the buzz in 2012 was about Diamond Rugs. Wonder what JM3 will have up his sleeve for us this year?

This is a straight-up rock & roll album. John lives in Nashville, and when he travels from his hometown of Providence, RI or other points north back to Nashville, he sometimes stops in York to rest before the next leg of the trip. On one of his visits, he brought the newest Deer Tick album (2011's Divine Providence - holy crap that's a good record; if you don't have it, go get it now. I'll wait.) and the Diamond Rugs album, both still unmastered. We had a little listening party in the living room at Sign of the Wagon and I was so completely blown away, not only by how good each album was, but with the reminder of how incredibly talented and versatile John is. He's become one of my favorite musicians and favorite songwriters over the last few years, and I try not to go too long without seeing him live. I'm always excited to see what he's going to do next.

I think that day we listened to those new albums was the day Pants had followed John around all afternoon, talking his ear off. Pants ADORES John, which might sound a little funny, since John has a reputation of being the quintessential rock & roller. But the fact is, he's also an incredibly nice guy. The funny part to me is that after spending the afternoon hanging out with John, Pants heard someone reference Middle Brother, whom we listen to ad nauseam. Pants looked at John incredulously and said, "wait - you're John from MIDDLE BROTHER??!" He had no idea. To him, John was just a nice dude he was having a good time talking to.

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Will Johnson - Scorpion

Will Johnson is the frontman of Centro-Matic, a Texas band my friend Daniel Markham (One Wolf) turned me onto this year. Johnson's solo record is spare and beautiful, and a gentle companion to a rough day, a happy day, a cold night, or a warm morning.

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Larry and His Flask - Hobo's Lament

I only saved this for last because it's an EP, rather than a full-length album. This is a six-piece from central Oregon that uses folk instrumentation to play punk rock songs. How many bands do you know of who have a banjo, mandolin, and stand-up bass...and were on Warped Tour??

The first time I saw them was when they opened for my beloved Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls in Baltimore. I hadn't heard of them before that night. Two nights later, when I saw the show in New York City, I was as excited to see them again as I was to see FTHC (well...almost). I sent a few angry text messages to friends who have been longtime fans of this band and did not introduce me to their music (I'm looking at YOU, Broken Headphones!), then checked their tour schedule, and lo and behold, they were scheduled to play Harrisburg, PA (about 20 minutes from my house) a few weeks later.

Of all the acts I saw live for the first time in 2012, Larry and His Flask was, far and away, my favorite. BONUS: their lead singer looks like Robert D. Burrito.

More 2012 Favorites

I've shared my top three with you and appreciate your feedback. Here are three more 2012 releases I couldn't wait to get my hands on and then couldn't get enough of once I did. Three at a time seems like an easily-digestible amount; I hope you agree. More to come.

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Langhorne Slim & The Law - The Way We Move

I adore this man, this band, and this album. They're one of my favorite live acts and Sean (Mr. Langhorne Slim) is one of my favorite people to interview. He is a magical person, with a magnetism that is so immediately engaging that after five minutes, you feel as though you've always known him. That's exactly the sort of person I try to surround myself with, and for me, all that vibing comes across in his music, so I think that's why he's one of my favorites. I'm not alone in this - wherever you see them play, it feels like a hometown show. They exude a lust for life and love, and their fans mirror it right on back to them. Their live show is a wholly delightful experience. The crowdsourced album, which was released at the beginning of June, is one of those rare gems that you want to put on, turn all the way up, and play straight through without skipping any songs. This guy's got soul for days and days. If you're unfamiliar, this album is a great place to start.

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Justin Townes Earle - Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now

My frequent concert companion and I counted, and we're fairly certain that JTE is the live act we saw most frequently in 2012. It's fascinating to me how I can see him over and over, and the stage banter can be the same each time - almost verbatim - and yet I never get tired of hearing him introduce the songs or give some context borne of his encyclopedic knowledge of folk, the blues, country, and Americana. I love his music, but I also adore him for his reverence.

Two notable performances I had the good fortune to witness were a show at Mr. Small's Funhouse in Pittsburgh (we made the four-hour trek because Mr. Small's was on my venue bucket list) and an event he curated at Pace University that was held in conjunction with a Woody Guthrie exhibit. Guthrie would have been 100 in 2012, and his daughter, Nora Guthrie, asked Earle to host an event in the spirit of her father; that is to say, she wanted Justin to play his own music, and invite some friends to do the same. "I guess she thought people might get tired of hearing 'This Land is Your Land' if they heard it too many times?," he joked that evening. The event took place in a campus auditorium and also featured short solo sets by Joe Pug and John McCauley of Deer Tick, as well as a reading from Woody Guthrie: A Life by biographer Joe Klein (Primary Colors, Time magazine). This was one of my biggest geek-out moments of the year. (It also bears mentioning that our buddy John McCauley left this gig early to get back to rehearsal; he was playing Carnegie Hall the next night. Seriously.)

I pre-ordered the album, and when it arrived, I put it on the record player and puzzled over the opening track. It sounded so slow that I thought I was playing it on the wrong speed. I lifted the needle, switched it to 45 RPM, and tried again. But that definitely wasn't right. I switched back to 33 RPM, sat down on the floor in front of the stereo, and let it wash over me. The sound is so low-down and rain-soaked that it nearly breaks my heart every time I listen. The album includes two of the saddest songs ever written ("Am I That Lonely Tonight" and "Unfortunately Anna") and I do so love a sad song.

JTE is one of my Holy Grail interviews. I've reviewed performances and written some light features, but I've lost count of the number of times I was supposed to interview him and it fell through for one reason or another. He's an interesting person to read about, and I hope that eventually I'll get to talk to him about his craft.

PRO TIP - Follow him on Twitter. That's all I'm going to say about it. I love his tweets so much that I have them sent to my phone as text messages so I don't miss any of them.

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The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten

Another one of my all-time favorite bands. Gritty, blue-collar punk rock from New Jersey (cue ubiquitous Springsteen comparisons). I was unaware of them until one night in 2008. I had attended a friend's gig at a local bar, and when I left, the roads were deserted and it had started snowing. I got in the car just as the song "Miles Davis and the Cool" came on WXPN. I was so mesmerized by it that I missed the turn to my house and ended up several miles out of my way. I got up the next morning and drove around until I found a copy of the album containing that song. It didn't occur to me for one second to purchase a digital download; I wanted a physical copy I could hold in my hands. It was their first full-length, The '59 Sound, and it is a PERFECT album. I love all their other releases, including this most recent one, but I rank The '59 Sound up there with Pearl Jam's Ten and Michael Jackson's Thriller in terms of absolute perfection.

Their lead singer, Brian Fallon, is one of my favorite songwriters. I really came to appreciate how good he was when I saw him at the Black Cat in DC in early 2010. He and Dave Hause (the Loved Ones) were doing a mini solo acoustic tour. I got tickets thinking that, when you see one dude with an acoustic guitar playing punk rock songs that you typically see him play with his full band, it's either really cool or abysmally lame. In this case, the stripped-down versions revealed such an incredible versatility in the songs themselves and in his musicianship. It turned out to be one of the best live music experiences of my life. He and Hause decided to play a few songs together at the end of the night, and compared notes before the show about what covers might be fun to do. When they played The Bouncing Souls' "Gone," and the entire room sang along, I cried *. I don't mean I got caught up in the moment and got a little teary-eyed. I mean I was full-on bawling and made my friend hold my hand through most of the song.

Anyway, this album: really great.

* If you're going to be a regular reader here, you should know that I cry at shows. All the time. That bit about live music being my church? I wasn't kidding. The most religious experiences I've ever had were standing in front of a stage. I mean, don't get me wrong, I cry pretty easily in general. The world is such a beautiful, heartbreaking place. But it happens most frequently at shows.