Don Ross

Brooke Miller

Send to Kindle

You know that I love acoustic music, and more specifically, acoustic guitar. I have written about a number of great acoustic guitarists in the past few months, among them Andy McKee and Don Ross.

I had heard that Don Ross’ wife was a musician as well, but I didn’t have the time to check her out. Yesterday, as a result of some of my posts on Andy and Don, I received an email from someone who is associated with Don’s wife (he fully disclosed the relationship in the email), pointing me to her new CD release, including links to a few YouTube videos of her.

Her name is Brooke Miller. You can read an interesting bio of her on her label’s site Candyrat Records. That’s the same label that Andy, Don and a number of the other acoustic guitarists that I love record on. I’ve also written about the label, separately, in this post.

So, the first thing I did to check her out was watch a YouTube video of the title song of her new album, You Can See Everything. A number of things immediately spring to mind when watching it. She has a lovely voice, she plays the guitar beautifully, she’s attractive (no, that’s not important, but it doesn’t hurt either, if you’re watching a video). πŸ˜‰

But, what’s more striking, is that she’s a wonderful lyricist (that’s songwriter for you folks that prefer my usually lower-brow vocabulary). What I really like is that the imagery is rich and deep, without being forced (like someone looking up rhymes in a dictionary). It flows from her and really works.

As an example (a tiny, but beautiful one to me!), the phrase that immediately precedes the title phrase is (together with the title phrase):

A heart can travel, given the right set of wings, you can see everything

I then watched two more YouTube videos (Two Soldiers and Country From The Dome Car). I think that’s all of the videos currently available. All three of the songs are on the new album.

You Can See Everything is a love song, written for her husband, Don Ross. It seems only fitting that he should respond (OK, I don’t know the order they were written in, so perhaps it was she who was responding to him). His is instrumental though, so you can feel his love for her, whereas you can decipher the imagery in her song more directly. Here’s a YouTube video of Don playing (amazingly!) Brooke’s Waltz.

So, I assumed (I know, I know, don’t assume) that the CD was like the videos, meaning, Brooke singing and playing the guitar solo. That would have been fine, and made for a beautiful CD, but I’m not sure I would have rushed out to buy it. Instead of living with my assumption, I went to the Candyrat page for the CD and listened to clips for every song (the links are on the right side of the page).

While I wish that Candyrat followed the lead set by Magnatune in allowing every song by every artist to be streamed for free, an unlimited amount of times, they don’t. What they do (at least on this album) is give you roughly 60 seconds per song (some even more), which is significantly more than the 30 seconds on Amazon. On each song, it’s more than enough to give you a great flavor of the song, music and lyrics.

Wow! I liked her solo, but on the CD, she has a band behind her (including electric guitar, bass, drums, and occasionally what I believe is a violin). There are also rare snippets of harmony, which I guess is Brooke’s voice dubbed in a voice-over. It’s gorgeously produced (I think by Don!). It’s a lush sound, built on top of fantastic songwriting (both lyrics and music). In other words, more exciting than the solo performances on YouTube, not that there’s a single thing wrong with the solo performances!

Now the dilemma, how to buy it? This comes back to my original post about Candyrat. They are a great label, promoting fabulous artists in creative ways, and distributing their music widely in DRM-free packages. Nothing to complain about. But, to download a CD on their site (yes, I’ve bought from them before, and written about it), I have to pay more than to download the same album from Amazon.com.

On Candyrat, this CD is $9.95 to download. On Amazon, it’s $8.99. I still can’t understand that. If there was a definitive statement that the extra $0.96 went exclusively and entirely to the artist, I might happily pay the difference. But, if it’s going to Candyrat, I don’t see why I should pay more, especially since Amazon packages it better, so that it auto injects the album into my iTunes library.

Andy McKee with Antoine Dufour and Craig D’Andrea

Send to Kindle

Last night, Lois and I went to Canal Room to hear three amazing acoustic guitarists, Andy McKee, Antoine Dufour and Craig D’Andrea.

I have written about all three before, as well as their label Candyrat Records in this post. I also posted about Andy McKee (including how I discovered him) in this post. I owned all seven albums that the three artists had out between them (or so I thought). πŸ˜‰

It was my instinct to cover the bad parts about last night first, and then end on a high note. Lois intuited that I was leaning that way, and asked me to cover the good parts first. Since Lois is always right, I am acceding to her wishes. πŸ˜‰

Even though Andy McKee was the clear headliner, he came out first, and introduced the other two guys. Well, aside from saying who they both were, he actually introduced Craig D’Andrea, who opened the show. Here is a photo of Andy during the intro (click on any photo for a larger version). I’ll describe more about the place and the stage and other things you will see in the photos, in the bad section of the post. πŸ˜‰

Andy McKee

Craig had an instant rapport with the crowd. Perhaps that was partially because his parents were there as well (two tables over from us). Just kidding, since we didn’t know it was his parents until near the end of the show. He’s a superb guitarist, who entertained both with his music, and his self-deprecating humor, which he worked well. He played for roughly 25 minutes.

He opened the show with Morrison County. Here is a YouTube video of him opening his show at CMU with the same song (therefore live, and close to the experience we had last night). He’s being introduced by Antoine Dufour, so you can get a sense of his gentleness on stage as well. You can also get a sense of the pacing of this type of concert. The song itself doesn’t start until nearly the two minute mark, but watch the whole thing, it’s most definitely worth it!

Next up was Antoine Dufour. In my Candyrat post, I mentioned that while I love all of them (that includes Don Ross, Kaki King and Peter Ciluzzi as well), I probably have an ever-so-slight preference for Antoine. The rest are brilliant, so I feel silly sharing such a razor-sharp distinction, but, if I didn’t say it, I wouldn’t be sharing my complete thoughts.

Antoine was a little slow to engage the crowd with banter, but when he got going, he was quite hysterical. He is a soft-spoken Canadian (I covered that fact in a short Canada Rocks post) with a French accent. Completely entertaining in every way, including his amazing guitar playing.

So, earlier I mentioned that I owned all of the albums that the three had between them. It turns out that Antoine released a new album last week. I bought it at the end of the show, and got to shake his hand and tell him how awesome he is, so now, again, I own every album that they have released. πŸ˜‰

Antoine played half of the songs from the new album, so when I listened to it today at home, it was comfortable and familiar. Here is a YouTube video from the same CMU concert of Spiritual Groove, which is off of his Development album (not the newest, which is Existence).

Antoine played for roughly 35 minutes. Here is a fuzzy photo of him. I like to think it’s fuzzy because his hands are moving at the speed of light while he’s playing. πŸ˜‰

Antoine Dufour

After an intermission (there was no break between Craig and Antoine), Andy McKee took the stage. He too is completely personable, and when he tells a story, you hang on his every word. He too is a genius with the guitar.

Here is a YouTube video of him playing Art of Motion at the same CMU concert. The music starts at the one minute mark, and he tells a story about how the song came to be named, which he also told last night.

Andy played for roughly 70 minutes. When he was done, he called Antoine and Craig up to the stage, and they played one of Antoine’s new songs, A Hiding Place for the Moon. The only word to describe it is Wow! Here is a YouTube video of them playing it together. While it’s incredible, it really doesn’t match the quality of sound or experience that we enjoyed last night. The CMU recordings are better quality…

Here is a still photo of them during our show last night:

Andy McKee with Antoine Dufour and Craig D’Andrea

After the trio played that song, Andy stayed on the stage for one final solo. Between the trio and the solo, the encore was roughly 20 minutes, and was awesome.

The crowd was nuts about all three of them, with ovations lasting a pretty long time after each number.

That ends the good part of the post, and if you are spiritually averse to negativity, this would be a very good time to close your browser.

Last night was far from perfect (though the music was as close to perfect as you could hope for in a live show!). Let’s start with the one part that was entirely my fault. πŸ™

We have never been to Canal Room before, so I committed the cardinal sin of assuming I knew where it was. From the website, I just zoned in on Canal and Broadway. I know where that is. Given that I cut it way too close on Thursday for the Al Jarreau and Najee concert, I decided to grab a cab rather than risk another bus ride. It was raining, but not too badly.

We got to the corner of Canal and Broadway at 7:15pm, and the doors were scheduled to open at 7:30pm. Perfect. Except for the fact that from the addresses, it was obvious we were in the wrong place. Oops. I used Google Maps on my Treo to see that it was on West Broadway. I knew it was close, so I didn’t panic, but I didn’t know exactly where. Again, Google Maps with Directions, led the way. It was a three block walk, and we got there at 7:34.

The doors were open, but the line was still outside, as only a few people at a time could get in. It’s completely unclear whether we would have been near the front of the line if we had gotten there 10 minutes earlier, but it’s possible, and might have made a world of difference.

Canal Room is not a full-time concert venue (like Joe’s Pub, BB King, Blue Note, etc.). As an example, there are only three nights in the next 11 days in February that have a show listed, and 10 dates in March. Perhaps because of that, it’s a complete waste of space as far as concerts are concerned. If you click on the link to their site (at the top of this post), you can see an automatically rotating slide-show of photos of the place. It’s beautiful, and comfortable, but not oriented to maximum quality seating for a concert.

So, comfy leather chairs and booths, but spread out for their bar/lounge business. By the time we got in, there were no seats left on the lower level, near the stage. You could stand there, but we weren’t interested in standing for hours on end. We went upstairs, where most of the seats were taken as well, but one round booth that comfortably seats six, and could easily accommodate eight (though more snugly), was empty.

The two end seats on one side had a reasonably good view of the stage (you can judge for yourself, as all of the photos that Lois took were from that seat). I would say that we were between 30-50 feet from the stage (so not far), and elevated (which was good), so they weren’t awful seats. The acoustics turned out to be excellent, so hearing the subtleties of their guitar playing was not a problem.

That ends my contribution to the bad parts. While our seats were fine, it was still very annoying that there was a ton of wasted space right near the stage. On the top level (as can be seen in all of our photos) there was a glass divider. You could easily see through it, but it also often cut the performers at the neck, meaning, part of them was above the glass, part below. It was mildly irritating.

Much more irritating were the gigantic columns that obscured the view of many people on the upper level. While it didn’t obscure ours at all, it affected where people wanted to stand, sit, etc., and possibly caused some people to talk more than they otherwise would have, if they had a clear view of the stage.

Next, the service. Most people started off walking to the bar (downstairs) and bringing back their own drinks. Neither of us was in a hurry to drink, so we just relaxed at our table. After a bit, a waitress came over and asked if we wanted drinks. I asked for a chocolate martini (surprise!) πŸ˜‰ and Lois asked for club soda (because, at the time, we just assumed that there was some kind of drink minimum).

The waitress asked me what the ingredients were for the chocolate martini (which didn’t bode well), but, when it showed up, it was perfect, so no complaints there. Lois’ club soda came completely flat (which I guess, technically makes it water). The waitress knew it in advance, telling Lois that the machine lost it’s compression, but that she would bring her another one when they fixed it.

At that point Lois asked if there was a drink minimum, and we were told no, so she just canceled the drink. Now it got weird, very weird. The waitress asked me if I wanted to run a tab. I said yes. She asked me for my credit card (for her to keep until the tab was closed), and for my driver’s license. When I showed her my license (should I have been flattered that I was being carded, or was it just to check photo id to match to my credit card?), she said “I need to take it with me.”

What? We were incredulous. We’re no youngsters, and this has never happened to us at any restaurant, bar, club, concert, etc. Perhaps when renting a car. She said she needed to photocopy the license because of credit card fraud. Wow, Canal Room must attract some type of crowd for this to be such a problem there, and not at our other haunts. I’ve gone on too long about this, but suffice it to say, it was weird at best…

More peeves on the way. The show was scheduled for 8pm. No announcements of any sort were made. Andy McKee walked on to the stage at exactly 8:30pm. No apologies or explanations for the late start. At best, it’s rude. Why not just print 8:30pm on the tickets and be done with it?

I’ve already covered the show, which was simply awesome, so in the midst of these complaints, I need to reiterate that point! πŸ™‚

Craig D’Andrea’s set was relatively unmarred, in other words, completely enjoyable. One other couple was sitting at our booth (and they got there just minutes after we did). The booth is a large semi-circle. We were at the left edge and had a clear view. The right edge had an obstructed view. So, the couple slid in, but not entirely to the middle. We all seemed OK with our situation.

When Antoine started his set, a bunch more people started drifting upstairs, looking for seats. I feel like dragging this part out, because it completely annoyed us, but I’ll cut to the chase. An extremely rude couple ending up sitting back-to-back with us (meaning, they were the right edge of the next booth over). The people at their table warned them when they asked if the seats were available that they would provide little-to-no view. They sat down anyway.

They then proceeded to talk to each other, rather loudly, nearly non-stop. Stares did nothing. This continued into Andy McKee’s set as well. When Andy was playing a song he wrote for his father, who had passed away (a clearly emotional part of the show), finally, someone shushed them. They looked around angrily, to see who might have been so rude as to interrupt their conversation.

Listen up folks. There are a million places in NYC to sit and chat, with and without drinks, with and without food, with and without music. A concert, where people specifically pay to see a specific artist is not once of those places. Thankfully, due to their annoyance at being shushed, they moved far enough away from us that we were able to enjoy the rest of the show without having to hear them on their date.

Anyway, we’re old folks, and this is the third night this week that we’ve been out later than we’re usually awake. Last night was 30 minutes later than it needed to be, just because they started late.

I’m probably leaving out a number of additional nuisances. We basically don’t like the place, even though it’s reasonably beautiful on some levels. We are hoping that these (and other) Candyrat artists discover the joys of playing a place like Joe’s Pub, where you hear zero conversations during the performances, ever. We also hope that no one else that we love ends up playing Canal Room. We’d likely go, with eyes wide open this time, but prefer not to find out if this was unusual or not…

Canada Rocks

Send to Kindle

We love a number of Candian artists. They are producing very fresh sounds north of the border. At the top of our list is/are The Wailin’ Jennys. Some others include The Duhks, Celine Dion, Don Ross, Antoine Dufour, Barenaked Ladies, Chantal Kreviazuk, Shania Twain, Sarah McLachlan and many others.

Today, I was alerted to the following short blog post. That post includes the following link to the Candian Broadcasting Corporation’s live concert archives, all available for streaming! It’s a very long list, so there’s lots of music to discover and listen to.

There is a concert by The Duhks, and one by the Jennys there as well, so you can’t go too wrong. πŸ™‚

Candyrat Records

Send to Kindle

I have written twice now about Magnatune as a real leader in the new age of publishing music. I am completely impressed with their business model and operation, and if you missed the first post, here it is.

Candyrat Records is another cool online music label, but they don’t quite measure up to Magnatune in my opinion.

First, let’s cover what makes Candyrat Records cool.

  1. They have some amazing artists on the label
  2. They actively promote many (not all?!?) on YouTube
  3. Those that they promote, are very high quality videos (specifically, the audio is very good quality, so you really get a good sense of the artists capabilities)
  4. They offer DRM-free downloads (320Kbps MP3’s)
  5. They sell some/most (not all?!?) albums on Amazon.com MP3 downloads also

I’ve been threatening for a few posts now to tell how I discovered Magnatune and through them Jeff Wahl. This is as good a time as any. πŸ˜‰

In this post, I mentioned that Rob Page (CEO of Zope Corporation) had introduced me to an Andy McKee video on YouTube. That video was posted by user “rpoland”, who I believe is the owner of Candyrat Records. He has 108 videos posted. Most of them are for a variety of acoustic guitarists that Candyrat represents.

At the time, I didn’t pay attention to that, but I did fall in love with Andy McKee. Instead of going to Candyrat’s site, I searched for Andy McKee on Amazon’s MP3 downloads site. I found three albums and bought them all immediately.

A few weeks after I bought those albums, I was listening to Pandora. I have six different stations that I’ve created on Pandora, and one of them is mostly acoustic music. On January 2nd, 2008, I heard a song that I thought was fantastic, so I made sure to write down the artist’s name: Don Ross. I went to YouTube and found tons of videos of him as well, and noticed that it was the same “rpoland” and Candyrat Records.

This time I went to the site. I saw on the front page of the site that a few days from then, Don Ross was releasing a new CD with Andy McKee. Cool! I went to Amazon.com and checked for Don Ross, and sure enough, they had something like five of his CDs available. I decided to wait to see if they would pick up his new CD when it was released.

When the day came, I checked, and Amazon was not carrying the new CD. They still aren’t, over a week after release. So, I decided to investigate Candyrat a little further. I searched for Candyrat DRM. I found a very interesting blog post here. As you’ll see if you read that post, he makes a lot of the same points I make here (or will make, shortly). πŸ˜‰

When I clicked on Magnatune, I listened to Jeff Wahl (and watched a bunch of his YouTube videos as well), and ended up buying all three of his CDs (as previously reported).

Now that I was sure that Candyrat music was DRM-free, I decided to buy the new Don Ross and Andy McKee album from them, which I did. While everything worked, and the experience wasn’t bad, it wasn’t Magnatune quality either. Here are the material differences:

  1. Music is available in one format only, 320Kbps MP3 (or you can order a physical CD). Magnatune is just awesome in offering a variety of download formats
  2. You can only pay with PayPal. I happen to have a PayPal account, so I personally don’t mind. I know that you can use a plain old credit card through PayPal, but there are still many people out there who will likely be nervous about new-fangled services like PayPal. It should be an option. They should get a Merchant Account and accept credit cards directly.
  3. All music costs $9.95 per CD. (OK, I didn’t actually check all the music on the site, but all of the albums I checked were $9.95.) There are two separate problems with that. The first is that as I mentioned previously, not all music is created equally, and therefore shouldn’t necessarily be priced equally. But, the bigger problem is that when the same CD is available on Amazon.com, it’s cheaper, so it would appear that they are driving you to purchase on another site. Perhaps that’s their intention.
  4. When you purchase on their site, the zip file you download has horrible naming conventions for the files inside. Magnatune unzips into a perfect directory tree for direct import into iTunes (and most other naturally organized music player software). I had to create my own directory structure and rename and move all of the individual MP3 files in the Candyrat download. Not a huge problem, but annoying nonetheless. Another reason to buy their albums from Amazon.com when available!
  5. All Magnatune albums (over 441!) are available on Amazon.com. Some (many?, but not all) Candyrat albums are. Why?
  6. On Magnatune, I can listen to every album, for free, completely. On Candyrat, I can hear 30 seconds of each song. The saving grace is that for the artists I was interested in, there are a plethora of YouTube videos, but Magnatune still gets it more correct on this feature.
  7. Pricing differences! Aside from the fact that Magnatune lets you name your own price (with a $5 floor), they suggest a price for each album. Their suggested price is the same price they’ve negotiated on Amazon.com. Candyrat sels their albums at a fixed price (that’s fine), but charges more than Amazon.com. How can their costs be higher to deliver directly when they don’t have to pay Amazon?
  8. Transparency with the artists. I love knowing exactly how much money that I spend is going to the artist with Magnatune. If I knew for sure that spending the extra $1 with Candyrat over Amazon was putting that $1 directly in the artist’s pocket, perhaps I would pay it happily. But, for all I know, that extra $1 goes only to Candyrat, in which case the Amazon experience is better, so why not save the $1 as well?

There may be some other differences, but those generally cover the big points for me. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing evil, or even wrong with Candyrat, but they don’t get it, quite like Magnatune does.

As for artists, I’m in love with the Candyrat acoustic guitarists, of whom they have a number of superstars! Since discovering Don Ross on January 2nd, I have bothered to look more closely at Candyrat, and have purchased one album by Peter Ciluzzi, one by Craig D’Andrea, and two by Antoine Dufour. All of them are spectacular, and all have amazing YouTube videos available. I have linked one to each of their names, but you should check them all out, and then buy their music (I bought mine on Amazon.com, not Candyrat.com).

In addition to the above, Candyrat also represents Kaki King, who I’ve written about before. I bought two of her CDs from Amazon as well, and a third is available on Candyrat, which I may buy in the future.

So, I’ve supported Candyrat and their artists quite a bit lately. I’ve purchased two more Don Ross CDs from Amazon, the Don Ross and Andy McKee one from Candyrat directly, the two Kaki King, the three Andy McKee, and the four mentioned above (Peter, Craig and Antoine), for a total of 12 CDs in a short period of time.

I know this is crazy long already, but I need to add one more story to the mix. When the Don Ross and Andy McKee album was announced, a quick search showed that they were touring together. I was really excited to see them. Unfortunately, they are touring in Hawaii and the West Coast only (for the time being). I mentioned to Rob Page that I really wanted to see Andy McKee live, and he said that he too had looked at his site and couldn’t find anything on the East Coast.

When I went to either Don Ross’ or Andy McKee’s MySpace page (I can’t remember which), I noticed that the top friends linked were all Candyrat artists. I think it’s really cool that they support each other so well, and it’s one of the benefits of the label I guess. That’s how I first discovered Craig D’Andrea. Then, on his MySpace page, I saw that he was playing in NYC on February 17th at the Canal Room.

When I clicked over to their calendar, I saw that Andy McKee was headlining that show, and Craig was the second guy listed. The third guy listed was Antoine Dufour. By the end of the day, I had tickets to see the three of them (I can’t wait for Feb 17th!), and had bought Craig’s CD and both of Antoine’s. I love them all, but even though Antoine is listed third on the bill, I may actually be most impressed with him. I’m listening to him on iTunes now as I type this post. πŸ˜‰

Whew. Another mega-post, sorry, but I had to get this all out of my head, and I finally did. πŸ™‚