The NPR Tiny Desk Concerts have been a great pleasure here at the Hearth Music office, and we've been toying with the idea of doing something similar ourselves. If you're not familiar with this video series, it's a simple premise. Great bands from all genres perform live in NPR's office behind the "tiny" desk of NPR Music's Bob Boilen. These past few months, NPR has been running a contest for unsigned bands to get a chance to play their Tiny Desk, and while contests can be pretty divisive in their nature, there's been a real outpouring of creativity around this that warms our hearts. The rules of the contest are simple: "make a video of you performing one original song behind a desk of your choosing." As is so often the case with creative people, these few constraints got bands really thinking outside the box and there have been some great videos coming out. Here are a few of our favorites at KITHFOLK!
Prom Queen - "This Town Ain't Big Enough"
Seattle country-noir singer Prom Queen just released an entire album of videos. That is, her most recent album is made up of a series of super cool videos based around a common theme. So she makes great videos. And her smoky vocals and cold-as-fuck country singer persona may be the vaccine to inoculate Nashville against its own bullshit. Too bad they aren't listening. But you should be!
Wesley Jensen & The Penny Arcade - "Control"
Part of the fun of the contest is seeing what cool ideas people come up with for incorporating the desk itself. This video from Northern California folk-rock/surf outfit Wesley Jensen & The Penny Arcade makes really creative use of office space, from the rhythms they're beating out on a stapler to the ultra-cool old-school organ they crammed in there. Great video and a fun song!
Wild Rabbit - "Grace"
Bellingham's own Wild Rabbit (formerly Br'er Rabbit) have been making some great videos in the great outdoors, taking full advantage of the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. The new video for their song "Grace" is set on a Mexican beach, with little waves rolling in. You can hear the ocean behind the band and you can feel all the love in this group. Wild Rabbit's music is a great slice of Northwest Americana if you're looking to find out more about what kind of music lives well up here.
Spirits of the Red City - "Halfway Poem"
nother great video that features music and place. Set in a bitterly cold Minnesota (according to the band it was -33 degrees outside) near Amelia Lake in the town of Villard, Spirits of the Red City huddles together in a cozy cabin to sing in harmony up to the rafters. It's an uplifting video, and lead singer and songwriter Will Garrison has a powerful charisma to his voice. This is the kind of place you'd love to curl up in for a warm house concert, sheltered from the elements outside.
Curtis Eller's American Circus - "Busby Berkeley Funeral"
I remember Curtis Eller from way back in the MySpace days. He was the first handlebar-mustache-banjo-slinging-steampunk on the scene, and though that's a surprisingly fecund field right now, he had his old-timey worldview down very early on. This video features Eller and a large band of compatriots tearing it up in a storage unit (?) and singing about how they want a "Busby Berkeley Funeral." Berkeley was the famous Hollywood dance choreographer responsible for those huge set pieces and massive dance-ins in early Tinseltown. The whole song has a great back-alley hokum vibe with some 1920s flapper vocal harmonies. Here's hoping Eller moves beyond the MySpace era into a post-Facebook world of deliriously fun banjo steampunk shenanigans, because his music has always been great.
Cameron DeWhitt - "Substance Without Form"
I'm grinding my teeth with annoyance that I haven't heard of Cameron DeWhitt before. I mean, this is perfectly up my alley. Killer clawhammer banjo (for real, he can seriously pick), great songs that meditate on life and faith, and an old-school folk singer's attitude. His song here has beautiful lyrics and I love the interplay between banjo and cello. That's a somewhat unusual combination you don't hear too often. I'm off to do my homework tomorrow and listen to a lot more from Cameron DeWhitt! You should too.
W.C. Beck - "Colosseum"
W.C. Beck has long been one of Portland's best kept underground country secrets. He plays in a kind of supergroup called The Portland Country Underground with folks like Lewi Longmire (way old-school icon of Portland country) and has a remarkably polyglot life. Last we talked he had just come back from living in France, as I recall. Now he's off in New York, I think, and this video was shot in Colorado. It's hard keeping up with W.C. Beck, but check out either of his last two albums and you'll see this is a train you should be following. The video above is simple, but great, filmed in the foothills outside Boulder, CO. This is the kind of literate country songwriting I wish we had more of.
Manatee Commune - "Wake"
I don't want to spoil this one, so all I'll say is watch this video from beginning to end. It has a GREAT reveal about halfway through. Manatee Commune is Seattle-based electronic musician (and lovely violinist) Grant Eadie, first from Bellingham. Eadie gets the Northwest through and through and the rain-drenched forests of our land inhabit his music beautifully.
The Brothers Comatose - "Knoxville Foxhole"
There are a lot of bands gunning for the Old Crow Medicine Show crown, but with this video West Coast indie-roots band The Brothers Comatose make a solid case as contenders. They've got the rough-and-tumble vocals, kickass three part harmony (including a great tenor harmony holler from fiddler Josh Rabie), songs that could almost fit into a square dance rhythm, and the kind of hard-picking Americana that borders on punk more than folk. I've been watching these guys for a while and it's great to see them getting better and better. I was very happy to hear they signed on an old friend and one of my most favorite old-time musicians, Josh Rabie formerly of the Water Tower Bucket Boys. Expect big things from these guys in 2015!
LYNX - "Goodbye California"
This one came out of left field! LYNX is a well-known singer-songwriter on the West Coast scene with ties to the really interesting musical movement coming out of first Burning Man and then other like-minded, consciousness-elevating festivals like Beloved Festival or Lightning in a Bottle. She's known for her beat-boxing and eclectic songwriting, so I was surprised at how restrained this song is. Electric slide guitar lines and gentle atmospheric playing bookend her gorgeous vocals, and the song is a lovely heartfelt affair about leaving California to head to the Northlands (I assume Portland, where she's living now). Bonus points for the outtakes at the end of this video which involve some pretty funny beatboxing. But in the end, "Goodbye California" is just a killer folk song. I love this! I gotta check out her new album!!
BONUS: Cold Blue Mountain - "White North"
Just for fun, check this video out from these crazy metalheads. Such a fun take on cubicle culture and the headbanging janitor just put it over the top!!
These are just OUR favorites! What were some of yours? There were something like a thousand or so submissions, so lots to choose from! Mention other favs in the comments!