Live Review: Whiskey Wednesday with Western Centuries at Landmark Saloon

The Big Three: Western Centruies featuring (l to r) Jim Miller, Cahalen Morrison and Ethan Lawton on the tiny stage at Landmark Saloon in Portland.

Western Centuries
Live at Landmark Saloon
Portland, OR, USA
1-10-17

By Phil Favorite

When it comes to West Coast country bands, it doesn’t get much better than Western Centuries — the five-piece, Seattle-based unit featuring three distinct singer-songwriters and a harmony sound all their own.

So when Western Centuries loaded into the tiny Landmark Saloon for a couple of intimate sets of high quality Honky Tonk, the Whiskey Wednesday regulars knew they were in for a treat. The place packed quickly but there was just enough room for the dancing crowd to shake and spin, just a step or two from the band and arm’s length from the tip jar.

With singers Jim Miller, Cahalen Morrison and Ethan Lawton sharing the spotlight, the band famously rotated instruments and kept it loose. Lawton and Morrison switched back and forth from fronting the band to playing drums, and Morrison and Miller swapped duties on lead guitar, with one plucking a clean telecaster while the other strummed a rich acoustic.

Describing Western Centuries sound as straight Honky Tonk would be misleading. It’s easy to identify influences from across the Americana spectrum — R&B, country, soul, folk and cajun music all color the sound.

The band played favorites from their excellent 2016 record “Weight of the World,” but much of the first set drew from their upcoming album, “Songs From The Deluge,” due out April 6 on Free Dirt Records. The sweat and smiles pouring from the dance floor all night told the rest of the story.

Late last year,Western Centuries premiered four of the songs from the new album n KEXP’s Swinging Doors program, hosted by DJ Don Slack. For a taste of what this band is all about, check out live versions of “Wild Birds,” “Wild You Run,” “How Many More Miles To Babylon” and “Three Swallows” in the video below.

Learn more about Western Centuries and their upcoming album release at Free Dirt’s Western Centuries page.

 

Episode #67 featuring Evening Bell

Evening Bell-2

Down from Seattle, it’s Evening Bell (l to r): Aaron Harmonson, Jason Merculief, Caitlin Sherman, Hart Kingsbery and Olie Eshleman. Photo by Anne Marie for Local Hero Media

Stream or download Episode #67: Episode 67 w/ Evening Bell

Traffic at the Landmark Saloon in Portland came to a sudden halt last Thursday night as folks crowded the tiny dance floor to get their first listen and look at Evening Bell, one of Seattle’s finest up-and-coming bands and purveyors of Alt-Country Noir. Led by singers Caitlin Sherman and Hart Kingsbery, the band ripped through an inspired set of original music that kept the normally transient Landmark crowd riveted from opening notes.

Beforehand, Evening Bell stopped by The Helm to record Episode #67 of That Much Further West Podcast. Just off the road from a set of shows on the Washington coast, the full band set up shop and shared an interview and a pair of songs they’ve been refining on the road. With Aaron Harmonson playing bass, Jason Merculief working a slightly stripped down drum kit, Olie Eshleman plucking the pedal steel guitar and Sherman playing The Helm’s house piano, Kingsbery led the band through “Devil’s House” and “Prairie Calls,” the second of which will appear on their debut album to be released in the fall.

The band also talked about their rise from Seattle’s burgeoning country music scene and their plans to tour once the album is released in the fall. We also squeezed in a few of Evening Bell’s already-released songs, which can be heard at band’s website. Check there to stay on top of the band’s activity in and around the Pacific Northwest and be sure to look for the album and tour this fall.

Here’s the playlist:

Strange Mama
Devil’s House (Live In The Helm)
Prairie Calls (Live In The Helm)
Restless Angel
Dust Storm

Evening Bell-1

Evening Bell, all settled in at The Helm. Photo by Anne Marie for Local Hero Media

 

TMFWP Special: Willy Vlautin Live at Landmark Saloon

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Willy Vlautin of Richmond Fontaine

When Kelly Blair Bauman invited his friend Willy Vlautin to play a set of music for Bauman’s weekly “Unhappy Hour” at the Landmark Saloon, Vlautin had never been to Portland’s “Best Little Honky Tonk.” In fact, since moving with his girlfriend to the outskirts of town, Vlautin has been mostly staying out of bars and concentrating on his burgeoning fiction-writing career, which has taken off like a rocket since the publication of his first novel, “The Motel Life,” in 2007.

So without much fanfare, Vlautin came to the tiny Landmark on Sunday, Aug. 4 of last year for a late-afternoon performance of songs new and old, many familiar to folks who been following his band, Richmond Fontaine, during its 15-year run as Portland preeminent alt-country band. This was before the release of “The Motel Life” movie — which hit theaters last fall — and before the release this year of his fourth novel, “The Free,” which has been making headlines around the globe.

Vlautin played three short sets that summer day in Southeast Portland, swapping stage time with Bauman as both played to a nearly empty room. A few of Vlautin’s friends were on hand, a few other regulars, and a couple of tables worth of chatty patrons who clearly had no interest in the music nor any clue as to what they were hearing or who was playing.

Undaunted, the easy-going Vlautin played through the clanking glassware and jibber-jabber, letting his well-worn voice and left-handed Martin acoustic tell his true-to-life tales of society’s down and out. During the first set — which Vlautin asked us not to share due to the unfinished nature of the songs — Vlautin sat with a notebook of fresh ideas at his feet and could barely get a reaction from the small crowd while strumming and singing a batch of brand-new songs.

The small crowd proved a bit more responsive during the second and third sets, which we share here. Afterwards, podcast host Phil Favorite caught up with Vlautin outside the Landmark for an interview that was featured in Episode #2. As longtime fans of both Vlautin’s fiction and the great music of Richmond Fontaine, we’re thrilled to be able to share these couple of sets in all their ragged glory. Big thanks to both Willy and Kelly for helping us make it happen.

Listen to Willy Vlautin Live at Landmark Pt. 1 Willy Vlautin at Landmark Pt. 1

Two Alone
$87 And A Guilt Conscience That Gets Worst The Longer I Go
Lost In The Trees
Unknown Song

Listen to Willy Vlautin Live at Landmark Pt. 2 Willy Vlautin at Landmark Pt. 2

Moving Back Home #1
Moving Back Home #2
Santiam
“Tapped Out In Tulsa (?)”
The Boyfriends

Willy Vlautin will be promoting “The Free” with readings in the Los Angeles area on March 26 and 27, and at St. Johns Booksellers in Portland on April 10. He will also be performing at Wesley Stace’s Cabinet of Wonders at the Aladdin Theater in Portland on April 4. Learn more about Willy Vlautin’s fiction writing and music career at willyvlautin.com.

Episode #13 featuring Fredd Luongo of The Swearengens

freddluongo

Fredd Luongo

Episode #13 with Fredd Luongo of The Swearengens

This week, Eric and Mike are back in all their vulgar, politically incorrect glory as we bring you another fun show from The Helm. Philly missed the taping because he had band practice, but he did catch up with Fredd Luongo of The Swearengens, a great Seattle alt-country band named — fittingly for this episode — after the foul-mouthed saloon keeper and general all-around bad guy played by actor Ian McShane in the HBO drama Deadwood.

The soft-spoken, kindly Mr. Luongo (not at all like Al Swearengen) was nice enough to sit down for an interview before his band’s terrific show Friday night at The Landmark Saloon in Portland. Among other things, he talked about his influences from the late-90s Americana scene and also some of the kindred spirits he’s connected with in Seattle. Later in the podcast, we share a Swearengens song and also hear from a couple of those key groundbreaking bands of the Seattle alt-country scene, Chuckanut Drive and North Twin.

You’ll also hear some wonderful females voices on the show, including recent breakthrough star Holly Williams and the great Lucinda Williams, as well as a pair of showings by Portland’s own Annalisa Tornfeldt: one with her band Black Prairie (on the heartbreaking and haunting Richard Manuel) and another with her fantastic female trio Calico Rose.

We also get a bit folky on this episode with a tune by Utah Phillips and a tribute to a giant in American music, the recently departed Pete Seeger. We’ll always remember Mr. Seeger not just for his profound musical impact, but also the never-wavering political courage he displayed in bringing his songs of hope and legend to audiences around the world.

Here’s this week’s songlist. Enjoy the show!

That Much Further West (Show theme), Lucero
Ain’t Nothing Free, Root Jack
Ballad Of The Opening Band, Jeff Tweedy
Railroads, Holly Williams
Wrong Way To Run, Willy Tea Taylor
Interview with Fredd Luongo of The Swearengens
Timebomb, Old 97’s
Long Winter’s Feeling, Freddy Trujillo
Never Gonna Change, Drive-By Truckers
By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Glen Campbell
If You Come Around Here, The Swearengens
Richard Manuel, Black Prairie
Jesse James, Pete Seeger with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Ed McCurdy
Pineola, Lucinda Williams
Portland, Drag The River
The Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia, Utah Phillips
Thunderstorms And Neon Signs, Wayne Hancock
Hangin’ Up, Chuckanut Drive
Trouble, Have Gun, Will Travel
Write Home (Live At Al’s Den), Calico Rose
Oh Me Oh My, Deadstring Brothers
Drunk Dial, Whiskey Shivers
Hurricane, Possessed By Paul James
Bar Scar, The Whipsaws
Just To See, The Low Bones
Whiskey For Breakfast, Adam Lee and the Dead Horse Sound Company
Thinking California, The James Low Western Front
Darken My Door, Cory Branan
Wreck, North Twin