May 21st, 2011
Ever since my band broke up last fall I’ve been thinking to do something acoustic, just a couple guitars and a vocal, sometimes switch in a bass for one of the guitars, something minimal and a little raw, sometimes mellow, sometimes chunky in that acoustic way electric guitars simply cannot mimic. I’ve spent many afternoons in Guitar Center in the quiet room plucking the $2200 Martin guitars and thinking it’s time. I wouldn’t be the forerunner though. In my acoustic plans, it seems I may simply have picked up on a larger vibe that’s been going around town for some time, the new Seattle sound perhaps. Seattle Unplugged, acoustic, folksy, popsy, even a bit country.
To my knowledge, The Head and the Heart are the most most successful Seattle band of the moment with recent national exposure on both Conan and Jimmy Fallon as well as selling out back to back nights at the Moore and the Showbox at the Market. I don’t know any other local bands that could pull that off. And they are of course acoustic with a sound that in their words is, “a folksy Beatles or Crosby Stills Nash & Young with more instrumental force.” I agree.
There are others having success with the acoustic though. Kristen Ward‘s latest CD was an acoustic duo effort with music partner Gary Westlake and to my ears is a step above her previous efforts. The format lets her voice do what only such voices as hers can do, and in a way that cannot be done when competing electric guitars. I’d love to see her open for The Head and the Heart. She’d gain a larger audience of her own for sure.
Rachel Flotard of Seattle rockers Visqueen has dropped the electric to join with Cobirds Unite which describes themselves as “folk noir”.
They did a good job of filling the Tractor earlier this year before heading off to SXSW. I have no idea what the balance between the two bands will be for Flotard, but I hope Cobirds continues because I like them, and if Seattle is to be defined in the moment with the acoustic rather than the distorted, they deserve ot be a part of that.
Jamie Nova, singer for Seattle’s Sabbath-like riff heavy Witchburn, has gone acoustic on her just released a solo CD. It’s more the rock than the folk flavor of course, but it’s there, the acoustic, and perhaps it’s her CD title that aptly describes the acoustic Seattle, The Softer Side. Her version of AC/DC’s Hells Bells, or “Belles” as she labels it from her time with AC/DC tribute band, Hells Belles, is certainly a far bit softer than any I’ve ever heard.
One of my favorite up and comers is Tacoma’s Gina Belliveau. She’s a young talented musician, and every time I see her perform (three times and counting at my mainstay club the Skylark) I like her more. In the live setting, she doesn’t make one think “folk music” but rather “good music” with no label. The Head and the Heart makes me feel the same way, and honestly I was a little prepared not to like them before I saw them at the Moore. But they were good, very good. And seeing them made me realize, I’ve seen a lot of that happening in Seattle now.
I have a few reviews coming of some good heavier stuff, and I know a few good artists doesn’t necessarily define a sound, but it seems a possibility. One band breaks out. There is success. The record companies swoop in to find and push similar things. Record label execs might be meeting at this very moment and when thinking of Seattle say in the manner of Fletch, “It’s all ball bearings these days.” Or rather, “It’s all acoustic these days.” Well, maybe not all of it, but much of it is, and much of that very good.