Fri, March 15, 2013

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:30 pm

$15.00 - $16.00

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When Matt Costa first started writing for his fourth full-length album, he envisioned the end result as a stripped-down selection of rootsy folk songs. But once he plunged into the songwriting process something much more grandiose and sonically adventurous began to emerge. Soon Costa found himself in the midst of a highly unanticipated yet deeply expansive evolution of artistry as a singer, songw
riter and multi-instrumentalist. "The songs started morphing and twisting and taking on a more mystic sound," says Costa, "and at the same time I began opening up my sense of what's possible with melody." Thanks to his resculpting those songs with elaborate yet naturalistic instrumentation and some boldly inventive merging of disparate musical styles—as well as decamping to Glasgow to record with longtime Belle & Sebastian/Mogwai cohort Tony Doogan and an illustrious ensemble of Scottish musicians—the new self-titled release proves to be Costa's most ambitious and magnetic album to date.

The follow-up to 2010's Mobile Chateau (hailed as a "gorgeously garage-sounding album with organic percussion instruments, crackling tube-driven amps, and jangly guitars cascading in every direction" by AllMusic), The new record again reveals Costa's penchant for blending sun-soaked pop with sweetly ethereal, British-folk-influenced rock. But in a marked developmental departure, Costa builds on that pairing with lush arrangements and sprawling melodies that elevate his sound to a stunning new level. Produced by Doogan (also known for his work with Teenage Fanclub, Mojave 3, and Super Furry Animals) and recorded at Castle of Doom (the Glasgow recording studio created by Doogan and Mogwai), the ferociously creative self titled LP also features a prestigious lineup of supporting musicians, including Costa's friend and guitarist Danny Garcia, Belle & Sebastian guitarist Stevie Jackson and bassist Bobby Kildea, and former Isobel Campbell collaborators Chris Geddes (organ) and Dave McGowan (pedal steel, piano, double bass).

For Costa—who taught himself to play guitar at age 12 by strumming along to Nirvana records—the musical evolution evinced on Matt Costa came from some careful studying of orchestral approaches to composing songs. "Once I got really into writing I knew I was going to add strings to the songs, so I listened to a lot of symphonies and a lot of Mozart, then played around with figuring that all out on guitar," says Costa. "It was a huge help in terms of giving me the inspiration to work with more interesting chords and these bigger, grander themes." Costa also focused on constructing songs that could accommodate horn arrangements, a throwback to his childhood days of playing the trumpet (an instrument he ended up pawning at age 17 to get the cash to purchase a Rolling Stones songbook).

Throughout Matt Costa, the artist shakes up those sophisticated arrangements with infectious melodies, artful touches of whimsy, and elegant lyrics rendered in lilting yet powerful vocals. On the lead single "Good Times," for instance, he offers up a cabaret-worthy, piano-driven stomper with a clever twist at its chorus ("Good times are coming/To an end"). Another deceptively breezy number, "Loving You" finds Costa channeling T. Rex's glammy romanticism and freewheeling pop spirit as he reminisces about the carefree early days of a longtime love. On "Shotgun," meanwhile, he brightens up a melancholy meditation on his fascination with tragic figures ("All the winners I know were just born to lose") by weaving in shimmering guitars, falsetto harmonies, and a pounding, handclap-backed beat.

Even in its quieter moments, the intricately textured soundscape and storytelling give the album a hypnotic intensity. With its warm strings and sorrowful horns, "Clipped Wings" perfectly captures the nostalgia for the boldness that comes with youth ("Once we were young and lived dangerous/But the rains poured down/They started to change us/We both grew so ancient"), while the dreamy and fluttering "Early November" makes for a more than worthy response to Sandy Denny's 1971 reverie "Late November." Inspired by a classic track from another one of Costa's musical heroes (the Neil Young-penned "Expecting to Fly" from Buffalo Springfield), "Golden Cathedrals" enchants and entrances with its gauzy orchestration and angelic harmonies. And while the mournful "Silver Sea" comes on like a gutsy revival of a traditional folk song, its subtly haunting message feels strikingly of-the-moment.

For Costa, creating the new album away from his homeland was essential to building the bittersweet mood that permeates the new album. "Before I went to Glasgow, I thought I was going to end up with all these rainy songs that would sort of reflect my idea of what Scotland was like, as someone who comes from Southern California," says Costa, who grew up in Huntington Beach. "But then once I got there, I realized I was neglecting my more upbeat side, so I started to work that into the album as well."

Indeed, Costa's Southern California roots have long played a key role in guiding his musical career. A former skateboarder once on the verge of going pro, Costa suffered a broken leg at age 19 and shifted his attention to music. "I got my first electric guitar when I was a kid, but ended up trading it to a friend for some skate shoes and a board," he recalls. "Then when I was 18, I bought an acoustic and learned how to finger-pick like Donovan and started teaching myself Bob Dylan songs." Costa next tried his hand at songwriting, as well as recording his own demos with the help of a four-track. In 2003 he released his debut EP (the simply titled Matt Costa EP, produced by No Doubt guitarist Tom Dumont) and, in 2005, put out his first full-length album (Songs We Sing, which was re-released the following year by Brushfire Records). Costa then devoted the next few years to touring extensively both in the U.S. and abroad, supporting everyone from Modest Mouse to Oasis and playing all of the major U.S. festivals (including Coachella, Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, Sasquatch and Bonnaroo). In 2008 he recorded his sophomore release Unfamiliar Faces (featuring the tune "Mr. Pitiful," which was selected for the I Love You, Man soundtrack), and in 2010 self-produced Mobile Chateau.

Now, with the new self titled album, Costa's ceaseless exploring of vast musical territory has yielded a selection of songs that carefully mine his influences while conjuring up an uncommonly fresh and visionary new sound. "I was thinking about the Basement Tapes [a collection of tracks that Bob Dylan recorded with The Band in 1967] and how I always loved the way those songs made me feel, and also how they were all recorded so simply," he says. "With this album, part of what I wanted to do was work with all these big, over-the-top arrangements that burst open and take off into a whole new dimension—but still ultimately create that same kind of cool, pure feeling."
The rich, burnished, folk-rooted sound of Carly Ritter's self-titled debut album makes it seem that this music was unearthed from a time capsule buried during the late '60s, with its distinct echoes of Jackie DeShannon, Buffy Ste. Marie, the Stone Poneys and, on one especially whimsical track, the Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazelwood partnership.

With refreshing modesty and characteristic genuineness, Carly credits the extended family she made the record with for the sense of authenticity that permeates every note: the husband and wife team of Joachim Cooder (drums, piano) and Juliette Commagere (keys, electric guitar, backing vocals), who co-produced, along with Juliette's brother, Robert Francis (bass, electric guitar, vocals) and Joachim's dad, living legend Ry Cooder (guitars), who filled out the marvelously skilled studio band. Martin Pradler, who works extensively with both the Cooders and Commageres, engineered, mixed and played various instruments on the album.

"Joachim and Juliette have such a feel for mid-'60s and '70s music, and they got this amazing sound," says Carly. "And, of course, Ry Cooder and Robert Francis. They all know that music so well and how to bring that feel to my songs. It was so humbling to be in a room with all of them, seeing how they work and communicate. They speak this special language. It was so much fun to be part of that."

Carly grew up surrounded by music. Her parents' record collection skewed toward rock & roll, and she remembers her mom singing the kids Leonard Cohen songs as lullabies as they were going to bed. But there was one genre she wasn't exposed to as a kid—not surprisingly, her dad, the beloved actor/comedian John Ritter, had gotten his fill of country music during his own childhood; his father was seminal country singer Tex Ritter. It was during her junior year in Scotland at the University of St. Andrews that Carly became obsessed with traditional idioms.

"That was a special time for me," she says. "I was getting exposed to these old ballads, and the imagery was strong, heartbreaking, haunting and beautiful. At that point in my life it really struck a chord, and so, when I came back, I spent my last year of college in the basement of the music library scouring sheet music for all these old folk songs, spirituals, blues and country songs. As I started exploring all this music, that's when the seed was first planted for my own songwriting, and it's when I started to learn guitar. I already played classical piano and harp since I was little, but the guitar inspired me in a new way. About a year and a half ago, I decided that this was what I really wanted to do, so I kept writing and trying to learn as much as I could about this art form. And I couldn't have come across kinder and more supportive people than Joachim and Juliette and their families. All of them love making music, and so they were willing to help someone just starting out."

But it wasn't merely a matter of generosity on the parts of her newfound musical partners. They were blown away by this neophyte's innate feel and expressiveness, not to mention her angelic voice. It happened in the space of an afternoon.

"I sent them three songs, and they asked me to bring over any other songs and ideas I had," Carly recalls. "So I went over to their house, and they said, 'Let's just do this. We'll record a four-song demo and see what happens.' At that point, I hadn't even considered that something like that was possible. I couldn't believe that these two people I admired so much were willing to make that happen for me."

So they demo'd the four songs, and that was all Vanguard needed to step forward, sign the young artist and underwrite the album sessions. They tracked the album in a week at a Hollywood studio, then repaired to Pradler's home studio for vocals and overdubs. Throughout, Ritter's songs and engaging personality drew inspired performances out of her collaborators. "All of the songs are very special to me, and knowing how they approached each one and brought out the best in it makes me love them even more.

"'Princess of the Prairie' was an early one that I was really shy about sharing because I thought it was maybe too sentimental," Carly admits. "I had written it for a certain girl in my life, because I've been very fortunate—I have a very loving, supportive family, and I've never had to worry about my next meal or a roof over my head. But still, I've struggled with self-confidence and self-worth. So this song is for this child—and really any child—what I would say to her: This is your world. The sun is shining for you, and birds are singing for you and no one can take that away from you. I'm proud of that message.

"I adore 'It Don't Come Easy,' which Juliette wrote, and she asked me to add a verse. It's a kind of sad song that says love can be a difficult process. I played it recently at an open mic, and afterwards a man came up to me crying; he told me he had a catharsis when he heard it. Sad songs have a great purpose."

Carly cites the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard for the premise of "It Is Love." "I ended up majoring in religion, not thinking about a career, obviously," she says, "and one of the first courses I took was called Love: The Concept and Practice. It was like someone knew I was coming and designed a course especially for me—it's all I think about. In that class, we read Kierkegaard, and I basically paraphrased him for the lyric of 'It Is Love.' So I feel some satisfaction in the sense that I've finally used my obscure degree for a purpose."

Another linchpin song, the poignant "Save Your Love," occasioned a powerfully bittersweet duet with Robert Francis. "That one was written by Jerry Lynn Williams, a singer/songwriter from Texas who never got the recognition he deserved, although Bonnie Raitt and Eric Clapton covered his songs," Carly explains. " Bill Bentley, who signed me to Vanguard gave me the song he said he'd been holding onto it for 30 years waiting to give it someone. That meant so much to me. And then, to sing it with Robert was another unbelievable moment for me.

Clearly, Carly still can't believe her good fortune. "I don't know when or where I sold my soul, but it was a great decision," she says with a laugh before turning serious. "There are challenges ahead, but it seemed like everything just fell into place with this team of people. I got really lucky."

There is much more than luck involved. Carly Ritter is a captivating introduction to a fully formed artist with an old soul and a heart as big as the Hollywood sign.
Sam Outlaw is a country singer living in Los Angeles, CA.

He's just completed his first full-length album, produced by Kelly Winrich (Delta Spirit).

His live band seeks to emulate the musical dynamic of 60s Pop Country and Alt Country with layered harmonies, pedal steel and words that rhyme with 'sad'.

Sam's major musical influences are George Jones, Willie Nelson, Eagles, Poco, Gram Parsons and The Beatles.
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