Last week New York saw the umpteenth installment of the CMJ music marathon. I go every year, but this year I chose not too, opting instead to stay in Atlanta where I ended up enviously reading the tweets and blogs of all my friends who did decide to go, and as soon as Tuesday rolled around, I totally regretted my decision. In spite of all the hype, and the difficulties in getting from venue to venue, CMJ is a great place to network, and to see several hundred bands in a concentrated space in one week's time. And when you do what I do for a living, why WOULDN'T I go? Insane decision, never to be made again. Of course the cool thing to say is that CMJ is like so totally mainstream now, so there's no way I would go back, but nope, I just made a bad decision. Oh well.
So instead of wallowing in my regret, I decided to make my own CMJ, right here in Atlanta. Granted I didn't see hundreds of bands, nor did I network with a ton of people (unless you count driving around a VERY drunk Mayor of Ponce who I gave a lift to one evening as "networking"). Instead I saw seven bands, and was very pleased with all of them.
Here are my top 3:
1.Steel Train. Ok, seriously-If you haven't heard of, or seen this New Jersey-based band you should change that immediately. Be not deceived, in spite of the 70's southern rock sound that you would expect to exude out of a band called Steel Train, that's not even close to an accurate description. Take Cold War Kids and Arcade Fire, and add a little more pop to the mix and you're getting warmer. Their current album,Trampoline, came out last year and was instantly praised by all the critics. Their live show backs it, and that's probably because they've been touring relentlessly (250 dates per year minimum) since 2004. Well worth checking out the next time they hit the A.(Check out a review of the ATL Steel Train show on our sister site TALive. –ed)
2.Oh Dorian. After the Atlantis Music Conference in September, I wrote feverishly on this very site about the amazing voice on Atlanta's own Heather Kemp, aka Oh Dorian. The problem is that during Atlantis I only got to catch three songs. This week I saw an entire set, and was even more blown away then expected. It's still early in her career, but I predict big things. Take the soulfulness and tone of Fiona Apple's voice, the smoothness of Norah Jones's , and the quirkiness (in a good way) of Regina Spektor, and you're getting close. One of the best voices I've heard all year. Take my word for it, Oh Dorian is well worth checking.
3.Arum Rae. I've seen Savannah's Arum Rae six times this year alone. It's like I keep going back thinking that surely what I saw the last time was too good to be true. But nope. Every time I see her she's even BETTER then the time before, and that's no easy feat. When telling friends about her sound, I usually say something about how she's like a southern Amy Winehouse. That comparison still holds, but if I were to add Billie Holiday and Johnny Cash to the description, it would be more accurate. She's got it down, and its only a matter of time before shes at the next level, whatever that means.
So there you go. Although I missed being at CMJ this year, I made up for it by seeing some great shows right here in the ATL. Next year I think I'll do both.
Current Listening: Steel Train "Trampoline"