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Showing posts from October, 2012

I'm Writing A Novel - Father John Misty

from the album Fear Fun (2012)

Master songwriters have the ability to use visual imagery in their opening lines to set the scene and hook the listener.

Bob Dylan is always stellar, with openings like "Early one morning the sun was shining, I was laying in bed / Wondering if she changed at all, if her hair was still red."  Willie Dixon offered "Gypsy woman told my mother, before I was born / You got a boy child coming, he's gonna be a son of a gun."

Bob Marley spoke for an entire race with "Old pirates yes they rob I, sold I to the merchant ship / Minutes after they took I, from the bottomless pit."  And then there is a personal favorite from Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five "Broken glass everywhere, people pissin' in the streets, you know they just don't care."

Of all the new music I've listened to lately, none firmly plants and image in my head like this opening to I'm Writing A Novel by Father John Misty:

I ran down t…

The Same Old Ground - He's My Brother She's My Sister

from the album Nobody Dances In This Town (2012)

He's My Brother She's My Sister fire up a brand of swingin' twang, well-suited for smokey lounges full of thrift-store shopping hipsters, with The Same Old Ground.  This song - written by frontman Rob Kolar and Lemon Sun - won the John Lennon Songwriting Contest for Best Rock Song of 2010.

Aside from the songwriting, the things that really caught my attention were Rob Kolar's lead vocal, the upright bass groove, and the lap steel guitar work.  However, when I later began to watch You Tube videos of the band, I became fascinated with the band's eclectic fashion sense and drummer Lauren Brown, who actually tap dances on the skin of her bass drum.  How cool is that?

I also dig the song's theme of longing to reunite with old friends at the places where they used to hang out.

Will we all come back again
To the same old ground
The one where we began

It makes me think of the places where I might reunite with my friends of …

Wishing You The Best - Campfire OK

from the album When You Have Arrived (2012)

This song was introduced to me by an Indian woman who runs a drum therapy clinic in Colorado.  Her sessions, which can run several days at a time, invariably produce positive results.  So, when she told me that I needed to listen to the drumming on the new Campfire OK tune, I cleared my schedule and advised the Apple folks that I really do want to download this song.

Glad I did.  There is something psychotic about a hard plucked banjo played over a steady, pounding beat that I really enjoy.  Add to it the hook line of " I am sorry if I was overbearing, but I didn't mean it" and I'm bopping my head like a woodpecker with Huntington's Disease.

Despite the banjo, this is not a country song.  It feels more like a murder ballad.  I wonder if this was the songwriter's intent.  If so, I dig the hook line even more.

Campfire OK is a Seattle band.  I do not know how this city keeps pumping out one great act after another, bu…

Afro Blue - Robert Glasper

from the album Black Radio (2012)

I have an odd fantasy of being a great conga drum player, like Mongo Santamaria.  For me, he is the only "conguero" that matters. Listen to his classic albums, like Watermelon Man, and you will understand.

Mongo was immortalized in the movie Blazing Saddles.  In the scene where the bad guys - including Alex Karras as "Mongo" - ransack Rock Ridge, a fleeing Hispanic exclaims "Mongo, Santa Maria." ...  I am usually the only person in the room who laughs.

Mongo was also a gifted songwriter.  His song Afro Blue has become a jazz standard.  Aside from his own version, the rendition by John Coltrane on the album Live at Birdland (1963) is amongst my favorite jazz recordings of all time.

Afro Blue is one of many songs I dig on Robert Glasper's new album, Black Radio.  This album takes the experimental jazz stylings that Robert Glasper is best known for, and adds a sophisticated, urban vibe.  The songs, musicianship, and produ…

Chromatic Crumbs - Big Pete

from the album Choice Cuts (2011)

Once upon a time, I had a basement apartment in Milwaukee.  My neighbors were two hippies named Mike & John.  They were pretty cool dudes who operated an ice cream truck and played blues harmonica.  It was during late nights, sitting in their living room, that I first heard Little Walter, Elmore James, and Willie Dixon.  I am so much richer for that experience.

On Sunday afternoons (unless there was a Green Bay Packers game), they went to The Up & Under Pub on Brady Street for an open mic show hosted by Milwaukee bluesman Leroy Airmaster.  It was a great atmosphere to learn from seasoned musicians.  There was as much talk about tone and technique as there was about women. There was also a fair amount of drinking.  I miss those days.

Chromatic Crumbs is a cover song by Dutch bluesman Pieter van der Pluijm, aka Big Pete, of the William Clarke original.  At first, I was surprised that someone would attempt a remake.  The original version is that g…

There's A Whole Lot Of Heaven - Iris DeMent

from the album Sing The Delta (2012)

Iris DeMent is best known for her musical collaborations and for the use of her songs in television and film.  Perhaps her most notable performance is the duet "In Spite Of Ourselves" with John Prine. She has also sung duets with Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris. Her song "Our Town" played in the last scene of the TV series Northern Exposure and - more recently - her song "Leaning On The Everlasting Arms" was used in the closing credits of the Coen Brothers remake of True Grit.

There's A Whole Lot Of Heaven is a song I really dig off Sing The Delta, her first album of original material in 16 years.

The song begins with a 16 bar introduction that includes piano and organ.  It has been a long time since I've heard such good rockin' country piano.  The piano track alone makes this song an instant favorite of mine. It gets me boppin' and makes me happy.  The same goes for the organ track.

And, of course, there…

What You Wanted - Seapony

from the album Falling (2012)

Seapony is a Dream Pop band based in the Seattle area.  I instantly connected with the song What You Wanted, largely due to the no nonsense way the band gets straight to business.  It has that "I can name that tune in three notes" sensibility.  The beat, groove, and lead guitar riff are instantly established.  This is not typical of Dream Pop.

The second thing that hit me was the lead vocal.  Jen Weidl has a voice that blends sweetness, indifference, and vulnerability into something alluring.  I dig it.

The third thing to hit me were the lyrics.  You've been waiting for something you've forgotten / You've been waiting for something that you wanted / So long / You're too old now.  It caused me to reflect on my unrealized dreams and ask myself "Am I'm too old now?" Thankfully, the answer is no.

The forth thing is how effectively the guitars use tone to frame different parts of the song.  The little "ring" at…

Cigarettes & Truckstops - Lindi Ortega

from the album Cigarettes & Truckstops (2012)

Close your eyes and escape into a great country song. Synchronize yourself with its slow tempo and let the space in the music free your mind.  Listen to the lyrics and place yourself on a Greyhound crossing the wide open American plains.  Think about the person you are riding the bus to see.  Imagine the words you would say to them, as you lay in the cold, blue light of dawn.

Cigarettes & Truckstops is a song I really dig.  To me, it comes from a different era, where Glen Campbell sings Gentle On My Mind and Kris Kristofferson is putting on his "cleanest dirty shirt."  A time when songs told stories that helped reveal inner truths to the listener.

Lindi Ortega is a singer / songwriter from Toronto, Canada.  After establishing herself in Canada, she has moved to Tennessee where makes great music on Last Gang Records.  But rather than go the "pop country" route, she has embraced a classic country-folk style.  Bravo…

Lime-Lime - The Subsonics

from the album In The Black Spot (2012)

A few years ago, I was at a mindless conference in Park City, Utah. The only thing keeping me from Hara-Kiri was a rockabilly bass player from Texas named Chad.  We spent most of the "networking time" at the bar drinking Jim Beam and talking about bands we dig. This is how The Subsonics first came to my attention.

Soon after, I caught a show at The Star Bar in Atlanta.  They knocked me out.  The frontman, Clay Reed, played guitar with a ferocity that was only matched by the expertness he applied to every chord.  The drummer, Buffi Aguero, played a stand-up kit. Nothing like a sexy girl pounding out a beat.  And, oh yeah, they had a bass player.

Their music has an original garage vibe.  Inside it, I hear shades of The Velvet Underground, Richard Hell & The Voidoids, and Bo Diddley ... but the sound is all their own.

Lime-Lime is a song from their upcoming release.  Although the song is only 1 minute 33 seconds long, it is loaded with…

Birmingham - Shovels & Rope

from the album O' Be Joyful (2012)

Over the years, I have had many friends who play for indie labels or travel around promoting self-released recordings.  I have the utmost respect for anybody who chooses this hard road.  They haul their gear from town to town, set it up, tear it down.  And, all too often, there is not enough money to go around.  You can help their cause by getting out of your lazy chair and checking out their gigs.  You will be better for it.

Birmingham is a travelogue about two wandering minstrels who find clarity and direction under difficult circumstances.  The song also gives some insight on this band's curious name with the final verse:

When the road got tough and the wheels all broke
Couldn't take more than we could tow
Making something out of nothing with a scratcher and our hope
With two old guitars like a shovel and a rope

This song hits me like a rebel yell.  Every time I listen, something different grabs me.  The songwriting, the lead vocal, the dru…

Rest - Michael Kiwanuka

from the album Home Again (2012)

Like many people, I have a playlist of my all-time favorite songs.  It consists of a wildly diverse collection of music from the past 85 years.  Many are classic songs that represent the soundtrack of the times.  But what I find most interesting, is that many of these songs were not particularly popular at the time of their release, if ever.

As I listen to new music and artists, I have developed a growing obsession with finding the songs that will find their way onto someone else's playlist decades from now.  Chances of finding these songs are greatly improved thanks to all our whiz-bang technology.  Yet the commoditization of quality recording equipment complicates the task by enabling millions of musicians to create and publish new material every year, almost everywhere.

I have found that focusing on two items - great songwriting and great vocalists - really helps you sort thru all the noise.  British singer / songwriter Michael Kiwanuka is a new…

Darkness - Leonard Cohen

from the album Old Ideas (2012)

Leonard Cohen is a master songwriter and performer.  He is included on a short list of mature artists that have earned my deepest respect - including Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Jimmy Cliff - as they continue to create great, new, original music.  I really dig the song Darkness from his album Old Ideas.  The long list of things I admire in this song include:

-->  The acoustic guitar introduction that lays down the blues progression and simple hook that carry the song
--> The first verse that establishes the song's dark imagery and story line:

 I caught the darkness, it was drinking from your cup
     I caught the darkness, it was drinking from your cup
     I said "Is this contagious?", You said "Just drink it up"

-->  The perfectly subdued beat and groove
-->  The "tickling" piano accents
-->  The organ solos, beautifully counterbalanced by the seductive backing vocals
-->  The hushed, gravelly vocals that…

Hold On - Alabama Shakes

from the album Boys & Girls (2012)

Great tone is one of the qualities that I value most in a song. Achieving it requires technique, a trained ear, and quality equipment.  Whenever I see live music, I always check out the gear the band is using.  This usually gives me a good feel for the sound they are looking to achieve and an idea for how serious they are about tone.

Last Saturday night, I saw Alabama Shakes at the Masquerade Music Park in Atlanta.  When I saw their equipment sitting on stage ahead of the set, I immediately knew that this band either 1) had a great appreciation for tone, or 2) had a really rich sugar daddy buying their gear.  Thankfully, it was the former.

The first thing to catch my eye was the Gretsch drum kit.  Gretsch was the preferred brand for drumming legends like Chick Webb, Elvin Jones, and Charlie Watts.  Next was the leslie speaker spinning behind the keyboards reminding me of Booker T. Jones or Steve Winwood on A Whiter Shade Of Pale.  The bass guitar…

Ready To Go - Kaiser Cartel

from the album Secret Transit (2010)

Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel are a singer / songwriter duo based in Brooklyn, New York.  Their music connects with me on several levels that include the quality of the songwriting, the honesty in their vocals, and a quirkiness that makes me feel like we could be friends.  Their day jobs are as art and music teachers in NYC schools.

An interesting phenomenon for me is that the titles of their songs very often reflect exactly how I feel about the song.  Favorite Song is indeed my favorite song.  Okay is - at a minimum - okay.  For this reason, I refuse to listen to Dead On The Lawn.

Ready To Go has a beat and groove that puts a bounce in my step and leaves me ... ready to go.  The vocal harmonies are stellar and Courtney's vocal performance, at times,  reminds me of The Bangles (in a good way). But my favorite thing about this song is its almost magical ability to make me sing along, sometimes days after my last listen.  I dig that.

Click He…