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Big in Europe: Tokyo goes from Chapel Hill to Ireland

Singer/songwriter Tokyo Rosenthal has a decent-sized following around his hometown of Chapel Hill, but that's nothing compared to his profile across the pond in Ireland. In fact, he's set to receive an honor as part of The Gathering Clare on Friday, in a ceremony in the Irish town of Killaloe -- where he is held in very high regard thanks to "Killaloe," a song on his current album "Tokyo's Fifth."

"Killaloe" features instrumental contributions from Chatham County Line fiddler John Teer (who knows a thing or two about popularity in far-away places) and dB's co-leader Chris Stamey. Rosenthal's aunt and uncle lived in Killaloe 30-some years ago, and the song is a remembrance of his visits there. It's the seventh track listed here, if you'd like to take a listen.

Chris Stamey works the lovesick blues

Chris Stamey’s pop has always had a streak of ornate studio magic, even back when he was doing semi-rough garage rock in the original incarnation of the dB's 30-plus years ago. And now he's made his most direct orchestral move yet, an album he says is "the closest I've ever gotten to the sound I hear in my head in the middle of the night." That's "Lovesick Blues," which has nothing to do with Hank Williams but everything to do with lovely and emotional pop done up with strings, woodwinds and Stamey's customary melodic grace.

For more, see an interview with Stamey from Friday's paper, which also has details about that evening's album-release shindig. While I'm at it, I'd also direct you to this 2004 profile of Stamey; and this from last year, when the dB's broke a three-decade silence with a new album.

The Chorus Project will be home for Christmas

Between Rosebuds and Brantley Family Band, 2012 has already been a really fine year for Christmas music around here. And now we have a late addition to the Triangle holiday-music canon, "Bing Crosby" by Chapel Hill student singing group The Chorus Project. Co-produced by Seamus Kenney (who originally recorded the song with his band SNMNMNM) and iconic dB's co-founder Chris Stamey, it's a lush pop gem with impeccable vocals from the 25-member chorus and 15-year-old lead singer Wilson Plonk.

Hot off the presses, recorded just last Saturday, "Bing Crosby" is available for only $1; but you might opt to kick in a bit more than that since a portion of proceeds are earmarked for KidZNotes, a Durham-based orchestral music program for low-income students. You can buy the song here; and check the video here.

The dB's -- finally, finally back!

I've been waiting a couple of decades to be able to say this, and finally I can: The dB's, godfathers of North Carolina underground pop, have just released a new album. It's been a long time coming -- 30 years since the last record put out by the original lineup -- so the fact that it's out at all is good news. The great news is that it's an excellent record, and you can take a live listen on Saturday night. For details on that, see the interview in Friday's paper.

Don't sleep on Big Star

Back in December, you might recall that I was urging you to catch the live performances of Big Star's "Third/Sister Lovers." Fortuitously, there's an encore performance tonight in Chapel Hill. It's a pretty elaborate production and there's no telling when or if they'll stage it around these parts again, so check it out.

Before the show, there will be a multimedia program this afternoon on the life and works of the late great Jim Dickinson, producer of "Third/Sister Lovers" and a legendary Memphis raconteur; plus some yackety-yack about the album and the project from ringleader Chris Stamey and friends. That starts at 2 p.m. at UNC-Chapel Hill's Wilson Library. More details on that are here.

ADDENDUM (3/4/11): "Holocaust."

SECOND ADDENDUM (3/29/11): New York performance.

Friday night suggestions: Big Star

If you're not otherwise occupied Friday night, you really should head for Cat's Cradle and night two of Big Star's "Third/Sister Lovers" live performances. Thursday's opening-night show was truly spectacular, a wonderful night of music and warm communal vibes. Chris Stamey showed his usual attention to detail in overseeing the proceedings, which saw scores of great singers and players coming and going to bring the cult-classic album to life.

Highlights included a seasonally appropriate "Jesus Christ," sung by R.E.M.'s Mike Mills; Stu McLamb from The Love Language on "Stroke It Noel"; Brett Harris singing a lovely and moving encore version of the Chris Bell classic "You and Your Sister"; and most of all "For You," sung by Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and with a string part so beautiful it induced chills.

Go. Seriously.

Big Star's "Third" comes alive

If you put together a pantheon of most cult-ish albums of all time, Big Star's "Third/Sister Lovers" would have to land somewhere near the top. The album emerged from somewhat sordid circumstances, sat on the shelf for years and never sold much when it was finally released. But "Third" nevertheless left quite a vapor trail, profoundly influencing R.E.M., The Replacements and most of the rest of the American underground rock generation of the 1980s.

One of those descendents, Chris Stamey, is overseeing a live performance of "Third" next week, dubbed "Stroke It, Noel: A Fully Orchestrated Performance of Big Star's Third Album," which should be amazing. See some thoughts from Big Star drummer Jody Stephens in the preview from Sunday's paper.

ADDENDUM (12/9/10): Cool pics from rehearsal.

Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey: Catch 'em while you can

If you've not yet caught Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey playing live on their current run of shows, I'd highly recommend doing so. They're playing Wednesday night in Durham at Duke Gardens,  and here's some possible incentive to get you to go -- some really terrific performance footage of a recent show in Nashville, shot by Steve Boyle for his "Return To Comboland" video project. Check it out.

Reivers' second reunion show delivers sound, fury, good vibes

It's a shame you can't be two places at once, which would've come in handy on Saturday night. That's when Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey were playing Cat's Cradle, but I was in Austin, Texas, for another reunion show by the Reivers. I've got no complaints, though, because it was pretty great, although it was less emotional than last year's reunion show (which marked their first performance since 1991). And it took place outdoors in the midst of an overpowering heat wave that felt more like the deepest dog days of August than June.

Still, there were warm feelings of fondness all the way around, from first song ("Warehouse Jam," an instrumental from the band's first single back in 1984) to last ("Ragamuffin Man," a Reivers signature since the late '80s). The vibe was very casual, a band playing for friends and family, which is basically what it was. And just for the occasion, they offered up a homage to the recently passed King of Pop, a cover of "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough."

At one point, I was missing my pal Peter Blackstock and wishing he'd been there -- he's one of the few people who is even more of a rabid Reivers fan than I am. Alas, he couldn't make it to Austin this time. But he called during the show, and I was able to let him listen a bit by cellphone. Even better, he was calling from that Holsapple/Stamey show at the Cradle.

It was the next best thing to being there, for both of us.

Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple fight the tape-op blues

Nowadays, Chapel Hill underground-pop icon Chris Stamey is probably better-known as a producer than a performer. But it would be wonderful if that changed with "Here and Now" -- his new album with longtime collaborative partner Peter Holsapple, and a terrific record (although not everyone agrees). "Here and Now" closes with an ode to the agonies and joys of working in a recording studio, "Tape Op Blues," which describes what it feels like to stand at a microphone and try to sing with everyone watching.

"I like to get the singing done during the initial recording, when possible, then shape everything around that," Stamey says. "Often records start with the instruments one by one. The singing is done only at the very end, after weeks or months of work, when everyone is exhausted by the process, and waiting for the singer to make it all work somehow at the last minute -- and discovering, sadly, that all that work was done at a tempo or in a key that really makes it hard to sing. And the rest of the band is often crowded into the control room, impatient and inattentive. The singer sees lips moving but only hears bits of the conversation when the talk-back button is held down. It's easy for paranoia to set in. I try to avoid this scenario, but it is one that is familiar to me."

For more talk from both Stamey and Holsapple about "Here and Now," see the interview in Friday's paper; and for more about Stamey's production methodology, check this feature from 2004. Then go see their show at Cat's Cradle on Saturday.

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