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THAO & THE GET DOWN STAY DOWN
Earlier this year, a few websites began streaming preview singles from Thao & The Get Down Stay Down’s new album. These two recordings made the group’s recent progress apparent on first blush. “We the Common (for Valerie Bolden)” answers dirty banjo strums with synth stabs, slap-back vocal delays and pulsing rhythm section entrances; “Holy Roller” matches a luscious tremolo guitar and vibraphone to plaintive lyrics about a woman of leisure who has “been looking for the end of want.” The production for “We the Common (Ribbon Music),” helmed at SF’s Tiny Telephone by John Congleton, gives more space for Thao and her bandmates to sweeten and diversify the arrangements, and the results are rich, satisfying and subtle. Fans of their previous album, “Know Better Learn Faster (Kill Rock Stars),” should not be put off by the more thorough realizations; this is not studio trickery aiming for gloss and commerciality, but a set of carefully chosen ingredients added sparingly. spring.
Live, the group is playful and responsive, and has performed in a variety of configurations over the years. As part of WNYC’s Radiolab Live: In the Dark tour (for which they performed in several cities with comedian Demetri Martin and hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich), ace percussionist Jason Slota brought his mallet work to bear in illustrating scenes. For Noise Pop 2010, Thao performed as a duo with Mirah, and that notable show resulted in a tour together as well as a collaborative album the following spring.
Thao’s vocal style shines in the live setting, and the old wood of the Great American Music Hall promises to lend the warmth and depth of setting to match. Her singing is emotive and intimate, often sounding conversational in its breathy directness. Some writers might craft sad songs for that type of instrument, but Thao places it into brighter settings, and in doing so, she wrings flirtation, pleasure, and melodic lift out of the situations she faces, rather than navel-gazing or sorrow. As she sings in “Holy Roller,” “I wanna live in times that touch / I wanna stay when my temper beats.” KEVIN SEAL
SALLIE FORD & THE SOUND OUTSIDE
On “They Told Me,” the new single from Untamed Beast, Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside lay down a grimy shuffle that conjures visions of backwoods moonshine stills and juke joints. While Ford herself comes from Asheville, North Carolina originally, she and her band are now firmly rooted in Portland, though they will spend the next six weeks opening for Thao & the Get Down Stay Down across the US. Ford’s bluesy wail is up to the challenge of the music, calling to mind the defiance and swagger of Bessie Smith. KEVIN SEAL
BEFORE THE BRAVE
Before the Brave is a relative newcomer in San Francisco’s indie-folk scene, forming in 2011 and releasing their debut EP, “Great Spirit,” late last year. Yet, the quintet, fronted by the soulful dueling vocals of frontman Jason Stevens and Beth Garber, wasted no time in expressing themselves through well-crafted songs and polished performances. Gaining quick praise and early support, Before the Brave have been compared to folk artists like Ryan Adams and rock acts like the Arcade Fire. As difficult as it is to pin down their wide-ranging sound, it’s easy to enjoy the music and spirited live shows. CHARLIE SWANSON
San Francisco’s Porto Franco Records has been releasing a steady stream of interesting, well-played albums that approach pop and folk from a jazz context, and Kacey Johansing’s “Many Seasons” is a great example of the label’s sound. Upright bass and piano ostinatos support a string arrangement that would sound at home on a Grizzly Bear record, while Johansing’s alto patiently and carefully unfolds the melody. This is jazz making a bed for pop not with showy solos and scatting, or by means of Starbucks-ready hokum, but through coloring and phrasing and harmony. KEVIN SEAL