Iron & Wine/Calexico at 9:30 Tonight

Last time Iron & Wine tiptoed into the D.C. area, it was for a sold-out show at Arlington‚Äôs Iota Club & Caf?©, a venue petite enough to make even Sam Beam‚Äôs whispering discernible. Playing the considerably roomier (but equally sold-out) 9:30 Club requires more powerful projection, a detail that might have worried Beam if he wasn‚Äôt rolling up on November 30 with Calexico at his side. Iron & Wine bonded with the Tucson-based duo in 2004, a union that birthed the collaborative and critically acclaimed ‚ÄúIn the Reins‚Äù in September 2005. Calexico‚Äôs addition of trumpet, pedal steel and operatic outbursts to Beam‚Äôs feathery murmurs make for an album ‚Äì and, conceivably, a performance ‚Äì that‚Äôs as hearable as it is heartfelt.

Since only seven songs were released on their joint CD, here’s hoping that I&W&C have a back catalog. Then again, seeing as 9:30’s doors aren’t opening until 10 p.m. for this Wednesday show, maybe they should rein it in.

The Areas of My Expertise

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John Hodgman photo
John Hodgman

This coming Friday’s eclectic event dubbed The Areas of My Expertise reminds me of my mother’s post-Thanksgiving turkey soup — it’s got a little bit of everything. The event takes its name from John Hodgman’s recently released literary parody deemed “a compendium of COMPLETE WORLD KNOWLEDGE.” Hodgman, a New York Times magazine contributor among other credits, offers up a hilarious twist on the American almanac. The book has received critical praise and Hodgman also recently appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Among other highlights, the collection includes a list of 700 hobo names which has inspired an online movement to render what each of these hobos might actually look like.

The evening also includes a motley crew of other performers. Musician Jonathan Coulton writes an original song for each of these events, but if you’re real lucky, maybe he’ll bust out his mean rendition of “Baby Got Back.” Cartoonist David Rees will be showcasing his futuristic “transparencies” and overhead projection technologies. And rounding out the pack, Adam Mazmanian, local writer and contributor to the Little Grey Books lecture series, will be sharing a short story or two. His unusually unattractive yellow bicycle can also often be found locked up outside of the Whole Foods in Logan’s Circle. Consider yourself warned.

The Areas of My Expertise takes place at the Warehouse Theatre beginning at 8pm on Friday, Dec. 2 and admission is free. That’s right — free. You can thank us later.

Old & In the Way – That High Lonesome Sound

Old & In the Way CD
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INSTANT REPLAY: overlooked moments in music history — by Ryan Kailath

Old & In the Way
That High Lonesome Sound
Acoustic Disc | 1973/1996

“That High Lonesome Sound” was the first bluegrass album I ever heard. My sister turned me on to it in high school and I taped it for all my friends, telling them, “If you don’t like this music, you’re just lying to yourself.” Within weeks I’d bought a mandolin, my best friend had a banjo, and we could perform the album start to finish, including the banter in-between songs.

It wasn’t just the music that inspired us, it was the culture and way of life captured on wax. We recruited friends and hauled our instruments downtown, playing on the sidewalk for awestruck children and an empty hat. We dreamed of escaping adolescence on a freight train and finding love in the arms of an upright bass. The bluegrass formula of heartbreaking lyrics set to upbeat music (also known as the reggae formula) is a pop tradition, as ingrained in American hearts as a Norman Rockwell painting.

Old & In the Way was together for only nine months in 1973, yet released the fastest selling bluegrass record in history, their self-titled 1975 LP. The bulk of their success lies in the eclectic mix of master musicians: Jerry Garcia plays his first love, the banjo, leaving the guitar duties to a competent Peter Rowan. David “Dawg” Grisman, not yet a roots-music icon, picks the mandolin, and old-time legend Vassar Clements bows the fiddle. They take turns on solos and sing four-part harmony. Even James Kahn, nicknamed “Mule” for his slow and bulky instrument, shines when driving his bass to a gallop on songs like “Lost” and “Orange Blossom Special.”

The 1975 release was immensely influential for it’s new-grass sensibility, where the band covered hippie anthems like “Wild Horses” and “Panama Red.” This melding of genres has become a tradition echoed ad nauseum with the increasingly ridiculous Pickin’ On series of bluegrass tributes. The tapes from the San Francisco Boarding House shows in 1973 (recorded by the infamous Owsley “Bear” Stanley) were mined again in 1996 to produce the criminally lesser-known That High Lonesome Sound. This release features more bluegrass traditionals than covers, including two foot-stomping fiddle instrumentals.

I recently found my copy of That High Lonesome Sound, after years of thinking it lost. I brought it immediately in to work, and was pleasantly unsurprised when a customer pointed upwards and asked, “What is this music?” I couldn’t help but smile as I wrote down the name of the album. “This is Old & In the Way,” I told her. “If you don’t like this music, you’re just lying to yourself.”