Travels with an Oxonian, a hot date, murders & more..

Here’s the next installment of the ‘travelogue’ folks..

Good time in London. Got connected online for a bit at inSpiral Lounge, a cool veggie eatery and hangout on the Camden Locks, beside the famous long-running Camden market. Walked around a bit and met Philippa for dinner and catching up. Bumped into Boy George’s band, too, getting out of taxis and rushing into Jazz Cafe, where they played. We caught a show at inSpiral that evening, songwriters-in-the-round featuring Alex Berger, who writes great songs. His piano ballads made me think of Randy Newman. He had me up for a few songs as well. Next morning rushed to Victoria Station and caught an all-day bus to Newcastle. Pretty out of it for most of the ride, but managed to watch the scenery and read a bit from Travels with a Tangerine, which I slowly worked my way through the past few weeks. It’s a good read with some admirable adventures and travels, although the author, Oxford-educated Tim Mackintosh-Smith, flashes some high language which is way beyond a lay person’s capacity. It’s over the top, actually.

Got to Newcastle and enjoyed a nice night at Jumpin Hot Club, opening for Manitoba’s Cam Penner and his brilliant guitar/lap steel player Jon Wood. Saw some familiar faces- folks who were at my last Newcastle show in late summer 2009. The series is run by Graham Anderson, who’s a good guy and big roots music supporter. Nice to see him and Sid, another music lover and supporter who came to the last show. He has one of the hardest accents to understand. Thick Jordie Newcastle accent. Got some take-out Chinese (food) and hung out with Cam and John late night at the hotel talking shop about music.

Next show was in Belper, near Nottingham in Derbyshire. Beautiful area. Drove in with Cam and John and stopped off for a pint at a local pub. Were told we were staying with Dick, who was a character they’d spoken about on the drive. When we got to Dick’s I asked about a chip shop to find some fish and chips, since I’d somehow managed to spend three days in England without eating any yet. He gave his ten year old daughter Tia some change and told her to bring me to George’s. Busy spot, great fish and chips. Tia warned me as we started our little date “I should let you know I talk a lot.” And she launched into a number of topics, including school, Wii, and a Super Mario Bros. game with cheating codes which allows her to change into Luigi whenever she wants. Heard a good bit of detail on that. At the chip shop she saw a teacher at school and tried to hide, whispering “Oh no. I don’t want to see her. She’s a teacher at school,” as if the lady were covered with maggots. Full blown accent. Back at Dick’s we watched the end of a rugby match and hung out in the large backyard patio where Dick’s sons and a ton of friends were having a bbq, the grille sitting on the table. The house swarmed at all times with people, mainly teenagers and young ones. They get free reign over there in language and action. Good bit more open than most family homes I’ve typically seen. Pretty empowering for the kids, perhaps. Had a good time at the venue and show, playing in an intimate space with fine ambiance. Listening crowd which enjoyed the show, and I met some folks and hung out. John Wood joined me on lap steel and guitar for a few songs. Fantastic player, sparse and precise with feeling. Back at Dick’s place we ravaged on English muffins, bread, and made weird sandwiches with stuff lying around- cheese, some sort of pickle spread, hot sauce. Serious eating session, and other friends from town were there. Then the kids came back smashed and the party got rowdy. All the while Tia was sleeping upstairs. As the night died down Cam, John, Dick and I sat chatting about a number of interesting things- the need for more community co-ops, English farming (cheese & bread are imported), economics, etc.

This morning Dick cooked a fine breakfast of eggs with tomatoes, mushrooms, and toast, and the day got going. The boys had been out until 8am, but were moving around by 10 o’clock. I asked Aaron, Dick’s son who just returned the day before from Germany, where he recorded a hip hop record, and who’s off to Australia to be a cowboy tomorrow, how he was already awake and active, and he said “You can’t miss the day. It’s awful to miss the day!”. Scanned a bit of Norman Lewis’ The World The World (Dick had recommended him) and soon after parted with Cam and John and headed to the bus station. Gorgeous scenery driving the Peak District with its old millworks (many converted into shops), Matlock Bath, a lovely town that had five or six fish and chips shops on the main drag alone, bikers were out in full force and others walking around town, going into the chocolate shops, eating out on patios overlooking the river, lounging, and enjoying the beautiful day. Passed the Derbyshire Dales on the river and drove across from rocky cliffs and a view point above called the Heights of Abraham. Old, short rock walls separated land plots with light and lush dark green grasses and grazing cows and sheep into different sizes and shapes on the hills on either side. As we crested a hill dark clouds suddenly loomed low above and the rain tore down. First rain on the whole tour I’ve seen. As it stopped a tremendous rainbow arched itself above the distant hills. Made it to Manchester and with some help from folks on the bus, got to The Cheshire Ring for the gig. Put my bags down and enjoyed the rare tour experience of walking unburdened, no guitar, duffel bag, or rolling bag, heading into the center of Hyde past a closed market. Got some Indian take-out and stopped off at the town hall to check out a statue on the Chartists. Apparently Hyde played an important role in the social movement for labor rights in England, circa 1838- 1848. Over the rest of the century and into the early 20th century labor improved in baby steps following the Hyde Charters. First the number of hours children could work was limited to twelve, then the work age was raised, etc., culminating, it seems, in minimum age of fourteen years to work. Turns out Hyde is also known as the murder capital of the world. A friendly local doctor killed 200- 300 patients over the years. Everyone seems to have known a few of the murdered. Even the doctor was said to be nice if a bit old-fashioned. The case came to trial only a few years ago, roughly, and the doctor hanged himself. Heard from Graham, banjo player from Mr. Biggles War Time Band, who also runs the show, that a body was found a few doors down from his place. Also, a couple who lived just outside of town murdered children forty or fifty years ago, and buried them in the moors. All in all a great visit, though- met some nice folks and it’s a good series in a great room. Definitely hope to make it back again.

Had an interesting return visit to London. Didn’t get to sleep that night until after seven in the morning, but a fun time at the show. Skipping to Monday, did some ‘business’ online in the late morning and made my way to London Victoria for the mid-afternoon bus to Swindon. Was hoping to do a few things- go back to my favorite fish and chips place near Covent Garden, walk to Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and Parliament, and also walk along the south bank of the Thames to the Globe Theatre. Timing and the weight of my bags won out, and I didn’t make it to any of those spots, unfortunately. Really liked the time in Swindon. Loved the Arts Centre- great room and excellent sound run by a cool chap name Alan. Fun night- met some neat folks and enjoyed meeting up with Larkin Poe again and opening the show. Managed to get a room at a local ‘hostel’ (w/ excellent British breakfast of eggs, bread and toast, and tea), a shave, fish & chips, sound check, and some hangin backstage before the show. Worked on a song for a while backstage and caught the last few songs of Larkin Poe, which were terrific. With all the running around on the tour, getting to the next town and making my way to the venue, hanging out and chatting, etc., I didn’t make much time to actually sit and play and work on new material. So it was always nice to step out of things for as long as possible and think about the scraps of new songs I’m working with.

Liverpool & Oswestry

Well, so much for the up-to-date in-the-moment viral content news and updates from the road- videos on twitter, daily photo blog, audio from shows, etc. How about an old-fashioned lengthy account (tends to be that way, coming from me) of the past few weeks’ tour in Netherlands and now England?

To start with the most recent, the past few nights have been excellent. I made it up to Liverpool on a train from Dover (crossed into UK via the P&O ferry from Calais, France, which is a decent enough place to get detained and stranded) just in time to be picked up by Vinny Spencer, the night’s first act, and brought to the venue for The Good Intentions’ final song. Few minutes later, I was playing and couldn’t have been more thrilled to be there. Great Tuesday night crowd at Mocha Lounge in the heart of downtown, near the Cavern Club and other Beatles’ spots. Enjoyed the show, and was well received by a nice audience of ‘Scousers’ (or ‘Liverpuddlians’; I was certain ‘Scousers’ must have been a derogatory term, but they’re perfectly happy with the moniker). Scott Poley, TGI’s lap steel and guitar player, jumped up for a few songs. Scott gave me a quick driving tour, past the new civic arena, through Sefton Park, down the street John Lennon grew up on (we weren’t sure which house. There’s a plaque apparently but we couldn’t see it in the dark) and over to Strawberry Fields. Saw the old Salvation Army-run home for children through the red gate and snapped a picture. Scott said it was a sort of hideaway for Lennon as a child- he used to walk to Strawberry Fields and listen to the Salvation Army band play for the kids. Sargent Pepper’s was initially meant to be an album of nostalgic songs about childhood memories. “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields” were written for it and it later morphed into a concept album which, although realized musically, was never fully realized in its original intent of childhood songs or secondary version as Billy Shears’ concept record. But no one’s complaining. Beautiful songs, of course.. “Living is easy with eyes closed”, “Penny Lane the barber shaves another coostomer”. Headed back to my friends Gabi and Peter’s (The Good Intentions) place an enjoyed catching up a bit, talking music and listening to Dwight Yoakam, Emmylou Harris, and others’ duets with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, had some dinner and wine. A good night’s sleep late into the morning, and spent some time with Peter having tea and talking shop.

Then off to Oswestry, south of Liverpool, for a show at The Ironworks- a beautiful venue with excellent sound, candlelit tables, and what I’ll call a high Bavarian-gabled ceiling, opening for Georgia belles Larkin Poe and their cool rhythm section from Knoxville. Seemed like the perfect town to start eating fish and chips here in UK, but we all ended up ordering tasty Indian instead. Good stuff. Wasn’t quite sure about accommodations and was figuring on going to the travel lodge with the band and getting my own room for 40 quid (the Great British Pound is dominating the dollar- 40 pounds is roughly $70 I’d guess) but in the closing moments of the upstairs bar a new friend, Keegan, invited me to crash in an extra bedroom. Cool guy who’s travelled to Austin loads of times and received the kindness of the fine folks out there, he returned the favor to a stranger and I’m grateful. We closed out the bar downstairs just as I was about to get a Welsh lesson from the bar maid, and headed to Keegan’s for some music listening, late night snack (fish finger buttie for me!), and ginger beer.

Had a bit of a slow morning and Keegan cooked an awesome breakfast of eggs benedict and tea. Caught a ride to the nearest train station, in Gobowen, and I’m riding down to London now to catch a show by Alex Berger (a singer/songwriter friend I was supposed to play with this past Sunday night at the good ole Slaughtered Lamb in London) and see my friend Philippa. And I know where I’m staying tonight so that’s a relief! Beautiful land here, mainly flat green fields and farmland dotted with sheep, the occasional town with its old churches and stone castles, and a single hill with a broken stone fortification on top. Looked pretty old. Turns out, on the train from Chester (south of Liverpool) down to Gobowen one passes from England into Wales and back a few times. Happy to hear that at the bar last night. So got to be ‘in’ Wales on the train for a bit. Like the little bit I saw. The station names were written on placards on the platforms in both English (black letters) and turquoise for Welsh. Two translations: ‘Chirk’ (a station name/town)- ‘Y Waun’ in Welsh. ‘Information’- ‘Gwybodaeth’. Interesting. Also liked the following sign on a Merseyrail train from Liverpool to Chester:

“Feedback from our customers shows us that people putting their feet on train seats is a habit they find particularly annoying. This also includes the framework sections between, and either side of, the seat cushions. Enforcement teams are on the Merseyrail network and may film and interview people who put their feet on seats, or any part of the seat structure, as evidence for prosecution. Feet on seats falls within the Merseyrail Electrics 2002 Int’l Railway Bye-Laws.”

As I hadn’t arranged an interview for local press or radio for the Oswestry show, it occurred to me I could at least get an interview on the train. At any rate, I was reminded to be on the most proper behaviour here in Britain.

west coast baby!

Hey everyone. Figured I’d chime in again with a blog.. been a while. Busy fall with touring, working on pre-editing outlining of the documentary, the cover art and packaging for the Mali album, booking shows in the states and Europe, one trip to Nicaragua with another coming in two weeks. A bit of a whirlwind, actually.

It’s been great to get back to the west coast. Played some fun shows with my cousin Gabriel Mintz in Seattle and Portland, and was joined by two fantastic musicians- Sam Anderson (played cello in Seattle, bass for Portland show) and Aaron Benson on drums. The material was new for them and they played great. Got to see some friends in Seattle and check out West Seattle, Ballard, brunch at a great spot called Dish in ‘Freelard’, International District, and a quick trip to Green Lake.

Drove down to Portland Saturday night, stopping off for some food on Olympia’s main drag. That town is punk rock all the way. Got to Portland and went directly to Mississippi Studios, a great venue, to see what was happening. Missed the show, but met up with my friend Count Kellam at a cool local tavern and went over to his studio to hang out. Stayed up all night hearing the stuff he’s been recording, including an awesome group called Mali Dusu (‘Heart of Mali’, featuring Ali Farka Toure’s nephew), and played my Mali album. Fun times. We were crashed out on the floor at noon when his studio partner came in to show his bother-in-law’s family the space. Kids started streaming in as we woke up in a daze. Went to an amazing biscuits joint for brunch- Pine State Biscuits- and dropped in to Stumptown Coffee to visit another Athens expat in Portland. Walked with my friend Michael across the river and I went straight for Powell’s City of Books. Unbelievable. Spent the first half of the Super Bowl checking out the books and ended up getting one about war brides from WWII, a story of a Mali desert trek, and Travels with a Tangerine, a modern author’s work about following in the footsteps of the great medieval traveller ibn Battuta. Watched the second half of the Super Bowl in a bar nearby and we made our way to Mudai Lounge for the show. Neat little spot above an Ethiopian restaurant on NE Broadway. Great people, and a fun night. Drove back in the van with Gabe, the band, and new friend (and great singer/songwriter and bad ass Lizzie Huffman). Spent the ride chatting with Sam and Aaron about music. Another late night.. crashed out around 4 or 5am.

On Monday I slept in a bit, got some computer work taken care of, and met up with my friend Stacy for tea and pizza in Ballard. Visited KEXP for an interview with Jon Kertzer on his fantastic program, ‘Best Ambiance’. Enjoyed playing tracks from Dugu Wolo and chatting about Mali. He asked me if I was busy this weekend (I am- shows in North Carolina) and mentioned I could have been of help to him at the Grammy’s, going around with Bassekou Kouyate and translating for him in Bambara. Hope I can be there with them next time. Hung out with Gabe and Marc Johnson from the American Hotel, a cool hostel in Chinatown that kindly put me up for the Seattle visit, back at Gabe’s place and got some late night Chinese food.

Had an early morning and rushed to the airport and flew down to San Fran. Beautiful flight- Mount Rainier pointing above the clouds and the jagged northern California landscape below- sharp snow-capped mountains, lime green mountains of the wine country, what looked to be some sort of mesa plain in the distance..

Took BART (Bay Area transit) to Mission and 25th on the prowl for Tacqueria Cancun, one of my favorite burrito joints anywhere. Had one in 2002 and have been waiting to get back. Didn’t find Cancun (walked right by it) but ended up eating at La Taqueria, which was equally fantastic. Unforgettable meal (veggie burrito). Walked with my stuff (guitar, rolling bag, and backpack- always a bit of a drag) all the way to my friend Dana’s in the financial district. Heck of a walk, past a ton of crackheads tweaking out on the sidewalk, and some in the middle of the road.

Visited with my cousin Carly and her family for some excellent Indian take-out. Hadn’t seen them for nearly ten years. On Tuesday I slept in a bit and had a slow morning, played some guitar, and finally headed back to the Mission for Taqueria Cancun. Found it, and it did not disappoint. Veggie burrito, again, and it’s a dream. Walked down Valencia in the Mission- cool street with bookstores, venues, bars, coffee shops, art galleries, etc. Bused to The Music Store on West Portal (other side of Twin Peaks) and played the in-store. Great record store- two floors, tons of vinyl and a great ambiance. Some friends and locals came down and we hung out for some beers and caught up at a bar nearby. Walked around with my friend Elliot in the Lower Haight to end the night. Got about three hours of sleep and headed to the airport. Slept most of the flights. Didn’t get to North Beach, Berkeley, or some of the other favorite Bay Area spots, but I’m hoping to make it back to west coast before too long.

It was exhausting, but a great trip. If you’re still reading I applaud you. Here’s a link to the radio show on KEXP. Not sure if you can stream the program and hear the interview and tracks from Dugu Wolo anymore, but ‘Best Ambiance’ is worth checking out and listening to any week.

Thanks for reading & hope to see ya soon,

October tour blog

Well hello there! It’s been a great month of touring and solo acoustic shows. About to head back to Athens tomorrow to start the southeastern portion of the tour (band shows on the weekends, mainly.. psyched to turn it up and rock!).

Many highlights. Both NYC shows, playing at The Living Room and for Brooklyn Songwriters Exchange, were a treat as far as sound, support, and fun times go. Gotta love New York. Opening for one man folk/punk act Hamell on Trial in Baltimore was cool. He puts on a wild show. Sharp wit, that one. Went to two awesome parties one weekend- a packed house party with friends and folks from all over the world and a kickin dj in DC, and my friend Ygal’s engagement party in NY. Persian-Jewish engagement party with the works. Like the coolest wedding ever, except it was the unparalleled party before the party. Had fun with the wild folks of Thomas, WV, plus hanging out with singer/songwriter Ashley Brooke Toussant and her crew in Ohio for two shows. And it was great getting back to Chicago for a quick visit. What a city! Drove up to Skokie to Ken’s Diner for possibly my favorite hamburger ever and also had Lou Malnati’s deep crust pizza in the city. Been great having a few days catching up on sleep and taking it easy in Bloomington.

A definite, major highlight was a late addition show in West Virginia, near Marlinton and Monongahela National Forest. Busted a tire on a mountain road, but made it to the show and was immediately thrust into a scene of wonderful people doing important community-based work and living healthy in the mountains. Talk and consumption of demolition derby, hot apple cider, brownies, hearty stew, West Virginia coal-mining history, shadow puppetry, accent-thick spoken English I could hardly understand, late night grilled cheese party, vinyl record listening, honey from a block of honeycomb, running on a water mill (dangerous), Pearl Buck’s birthplace and childhood home, and much more in the span of 18 hours. Left that area with inspiration for a future as-yet-unwritten album, but I know the stamp of the people and region will be on a song cycle down the line.

Watched the film Matewan last night, about the story of Bloody Mingo and the Matewan Massacre of 1920 in coal mining country, WV. Will Oldham plays the preachin’ son Daniel. Excellent film from the late 80s. The soundtrack was supposedly on Rounder Records but I couldn’t find it. By the way, have you visited the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings label website? Spent some time on there recently. It’s a folklore treasure-trove, and despite all the talk about the questionable value of labels these days, I encourage you to head to and start exploring. Integrity abounds.

Well, goin backwards, but here’s the start of a blog post I didn’t revisit to finish from a few weeks back. Might as well throw it in here. Gives ya a quick word on the first few days of the tour..

“Hello from Amherst. Been a fine few days touring in New England. All the leaves will be gone in a few weeks or so, but for now the landscape is ablaze with the gorgeous colors of the fall- browns, yellows, light reds. Been a while since I’ve spent time driving around the region, and it’s been an enjoyable ride. Turns out there’s no microphone in New London, CT, so I basically busked in the coffeehouse to mark the first night of the tour. Things got better. Next night at Club Passim was excellent- wonderful venue and staff, and it was great seeing friends in the Boston area. Took a trip to an impressive animal hospital in Jamaica Plain with my friend Ellen and her ailing dog Zorba (he’s better). The hallways and atriums were named after pets and featured their photos on a plaque. The ‘Ollie’ Williams Internal Medicine Wing. The ‘Spot’ Jackson Atrium. Stuff like that.

Last night was a highlight at The Red Door in Portsmouth, NH. Fun crowd of locals hanging out on a Monday night. The night’s curator, Tristan, stood the excellent band (Englishman, from Lexington, KY- made me think of Midlake a bit. Great songs, voice, and harmonies) and I to some whiskey at The Press Room, where most of the crowd had meandered after the show. Stayed at Tristan’s cabin across the river in Kittering Point, Maine. Beautiful place. Drove out to a beach and skipped stones with Englishman for a bit this afternoon. Maine is top notch. Portsmouth is a really cool little town, too. Turns out it’s the 3rd oldest city in the states. Home of pirates and prostitutes a long time back. Not a Puritan town in its founding. Englishman found a graveyard with some neat inscriptions. One stone read something to the effect of ‘He faced the king of terrors with no fear’. King of Terrors. Doesn’t sound too Christian. Must’ve been an interesting place.”

Been enjoying some new music lately- Mark Knopfler (Get Lucky and Shangri La), Anais Mitchell’s folk-rock opera Hadestown, Neil Young’s new Daniel Lanois-produced record, Le Noise, and Justin Rutledge The Early Widows, Justin Townes Earle’s new one, The Tallest Man on Earth’s The Wild Hunt, and Dear Companion, the Jim James-produced record by Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore, a song cycle about the damaging nature of mountain-top removal coal mining. Those and more have been in rotation on the road.

Look forward to seeing y’all at the shows down south!