This is part two of a two part post. Please see part one here. That covers my initial set up and the amazing Joe Stevens, a tremendous talent that deserves more attention.
PART TWO (Eli Conley and Adhamh Roland).
(RECAP) When I lived in Japan I found a very talented performer, a guitar player and song writer named Yara Asatomo. I really liked his style and aesthetic and the lyrical manner of the language he used. He sang of ordinary lives filled with rich emotion. Back in Sacramento in 2009, I came up with nothing after a year of searching. In Spring 2010, at a local fundraiser arranged by a friend, I was amazed to hear a wonderful voice. I literally thought as i heard him sing for the first time, “Hey, he sings maybe as good as Yara-San.” True story. Most people are content to live a monocultural, monolingual life, but that’s not me. I ate the apple, even if epic song sycles are still a bit beyond me.
Eli is orginally from Virginia, now living in Berkeley and Oakland. He’s been playing gigs and putting out his own albums for over five or more years. He’s toured both east and west coasts. He is very serious about his music. Eli takes elements from folk, old spirituals and southern music and goes in his own direction, singing more laments than ballads . His love songs tend to be breakup songs with fight and sass to them. His modern sensibility in his lyrics tranlates his particular lovelife into something powerful that crossover audiences enjoy, which is something I look for in performers. What I like about Eli’s melancholy laments is that you always get the sense that the protagonist will always live to fight another day.
He is an expert crooner known for his voice. He is a very modern artist, doing breakup songs like I’m Doing Me (with Ashley Moore), or issues of social justice, like Dry as Sin, a lament about big coal’s corrosive effect on an entire region of the country. The novelist James Baldwin is also a major influence on his work. Eli also has a classical chorus background and something else, that makes you think of a old country spiritual sung by June Carter Cash back in the old days. Eli is adept at merging modern elements with more popular, traditional idioms pulled from disparate places.
Eli’s song “Pinochio” was a very important song for me, shaping my earliest thinking (2010) on characters that would later appear in a story called “Oberon Destroyers.” Four years later and Eli’s released two albums and been real busy.
Eli Conley. I have this picture at home (signed) next to Julie Benz (also signed) and Ozaki Yutaka’s picture, dedicated to talented performers who put the audience first.
Eli is very political, but he doesn’t go for the direct, artless, nagging approach in his music. Eli writes about how people experience these things in the context of an ordinary life, avoiding all the usual categories and cliches. And yet, he has this almost conservative ballad style that sounds mainstream until you listen just a little bit closer.
Besides Siren Song, a big popular favorite among the fans is Call You Out. It’s a funny song, set to really cool music. Its about stalking on Facebook, seen from the view of the perp. It’s brilliant, and the hook, melody, all of it. It’s a great reminder that despite his traditional influences, Eli is a thoroughly modern voice. It’s quite fascinating to see how he weaves together a life that encompasses Richmond, Virgina in the South, and the bohemian quarters of Berkeley and Oakland.
Great News – Eli announced on his website that he is getting together with long time friends and fellow musicians “Papaya” Wiitala (bass, guitar) and Koralie “K Sugar” Hill (accordion, banjo, fiddle). One hopes we shall have recordings with that wonderful full sound on Eli’s first album with Hip for Squares (see his website). soon from Eli in due time. Keep in touch.
Eli Conley Official Website – www.eliconley.com
It’s a little difficult to write about Adhamh’s music because I feel the greatest affinity with his work. I feel it so immedietly and viscerally i have no idea what it sounds like to other people.
There’s a lot more punk and rock woven in with Adhamh’s folk roots. He sounds to me like the natural descendent of the edgy but lyrical punk band Violent Femmes (80s), known for Blister in the Sun. When I was Tokyo in 91, I bounced between two songs on the Violent Femmes 3 album – Outside the Palace and Nothing Worth Living For. A lot of Adhamh’s work has that same quality as Outside the Palace – kind of melancholy but still with a bounce in the step. I think it has something to so with an eccentric rhythm on an acoustic guitar. Something like that.
Like Joe and Eli, Adhamh is a true original that weaves together a variety of sources seamlessly into new combinations, built on solid platform of popular folk music that makes Pete Seeger applaud up in heaven. Adhamh’s first collective was something called RiotFolk, that featured other performers of note like Ryan Harvey and Evan Greer. Adhamh has done his share of “message music,” usually songs that are quite subversive in an inventive, orignal way. He did a version of the old spiritual sung by June Carter Cash and her mother Maybelle, but turned it into a fiery song against religion. But he knew the song well enough to adapt it, y’know? In recent years he’s created more intimate, personal worlds in his music, about lives often blighted by an unforgiving world of lopsided power.
Adhamh’s music about growing up in Missouri are filled with that sensibility, but never naked propaganda. Adhamh is too much the poet for that. The midwest of his youth, a frequent theme in songs like Don’t You Ever Forget, is a good example. He has a good sense of how stubborness works its way in things. This Week, a song he wrote about his grandmother’s passing and withering of family finances is another powerful song.
I think Adhamh seems to be at a point when he wants to focus on a constructive life of poetry, and just wanted to try to talk less shit. HIs gives his take on human relationships in the world of friends, family and lovers in You Treat Me Good I’ll Treat You Good. He doesn’t hold back, but you have to read between the lines a bit. Just follow that eccentric and charming guitar, and there you are.
Family, is about creating new families in new places based on acceptance rather than biology and old categories. He brings in feelings of mortality to family, giving the song a much deeper emotional texture. His focus on fundamental themes rather than “the particulars of each case” welcome in new listeners, as with Eli and Joe. And he always has an interesting take on things worth hearing.
One of my favorites is an upbeat, somewhat blue and very modern love song, Just Ask. He also frequently straps on his second (first?) favorite instrument – his accordion. It’s Good To Know You demonstrates that Europeans and Adhamh are a love affair waiting to happen. Blues on the Accordion, just as it should be.
More than anthing I like the tightly controlled intensity of his work, as in this live performance. After two years of not playing many shows, Adhamh is back and ready to play. In fact, he’s be in Portland in three weeks.
See? I can’t describe him at all. Too close to home, too mecurial, too … y’know. I also had a friend in Oakland, Brian the Baker, who adores Adamh’s music. He is one of those anarchist free spirits too, that always appeal to me before I throw up my hands – “Free spirit! They do what they want! Who told them they could that??!” I think its something to do with always preserving a place in your heart for the countering voice of someone who unplugs the usual power circuit, and trys something new. Prince Crow (of Oberon Destroyers) is the only character based so much on one person. Adhamh has probably seen the pictures and asked himself, “do I know that guy? I think I know that guy…” But Prince Crow also represents a mileu, outlook, and credo for a place I know so well I could write the police report without notes. We need those voices.
You can find a lot of Adhamh’s early work on Youtube, just search his name.
Many of the songs mentioned come from his album Patchwork and Threadbare (you can search the album on Youtube).
He just opened a new site to post his music, for free, and this is where I would go for his new music. I suspect the number of songs on soundcloud and wordpress will grow quickly as Adhamh uploads more new and old work – he’s written a lot of songs for a young fella:
ADHAMH ROLAND – http://adhamhroland.wordpress.com
Part One and Two – In the Can, that’s a wrap.
Two songs to go out with –
Best single moment of crooning in all history
Ishihara Yujiro from the film “Mad Fruit” (Kurutta Kajitsu), song written by his brother Shintaro. If you have to ask you just don’t know. Just listen to that voice!! Yujiro’s diving so deep he’ll hit the bottom of the ocean soon….
If any frequent readers think they something familiar about Yujiro’s face, you need to keep walking. Nothing to see here.
a lovely piece by the Anarchist, free thinking, humanity serving, awesome band Soul Flower Mononoke Summit, who made a name playing for the senior citizens made homeless by the Great Hanshin Quake in 94. This group specializes in adapting 80-90 year old pop tunes (prewar) and adapting them. But, they stick to mostly the original instrumentation. This song is a gorgeous, lovely little ballad (not a lament).
Brian says — You should check this song out.
USA dude – But I don’t understand Japanese.
Brian – Yeah but now songs have new things like melody, harmony and rhythym which can now be enjoyed in their own right.
USA dude – What are those? New apps?
Brian – Yes. New apps.
Europe dudes- (tittering in the background)
The International in French
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHNsRZ8iqFc (Pete Seeger!)
The International in English
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2MpX2GhPZA (Billy Brag!)
The International in Chinese (rock version by Tang Dynasty!!)
The International in Japanese
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wa2kTWYsjbc&list=PLc5AX98EvOAM5UilW_1l8vchwMcCJ5GMl&index=16 (Party Version) (Soul Flower Mononoke Summit!!)
Guess what – its the same song, in many different languages. Ain’t that crazy?